March 2, 2020

Queen's Ransom 2020

The cars started arriving shortly after 6a, not counting the El Freako van that had made camp the night before or Mr. Gleason who rode across the Valley and was spending the night with us. One by one they appeared, some familiar faces and a bunch of new ones. This was now the 8th rendition of the annual Queen's Ransom Bikepack. A 4-day, 3-night, 230 mile, self-paced loop I concocted from my front door. It was a sight to see as there ended up being 25 riders, including myself, ready to depart. We'd also be picking one up along the way and two more near the first bit of singletrack!! Let the party begin.
Quite the collection of characters, locals, other parts of Arizona and beyond - New Mexico, South Dakota & Ohio to name a few.
The route starts off easy enough, roughly twenty miles of flat greenbelt & canal riding with a bit of pavement. I like to keep the group somewhat together through here, it's a nice warmup and a chance to meet everyone as we ride.
Power Ranch greenbelt.

Shadow dancing.

First taste of dirt and there was a lot if you were near the back!!

We broke up a coyote stare-down as 3 coyotes were gathered on opposite sides of the canal as we approached. They waited until the last possible moment to split.
Desert Trails Park is the first stop, a good time to shed a layer and grab a snack before reaching the first singletrack of the day. It's also a fun little place to play around while everyone is getting re-organized.
Holly showing the little one how it's done.

This guy. Too cool for skool.
We were now only a mile or so from singletrack!! I needed to make a slight route adjustment on the fly with such a large group, no need for a conga line 100 yards into the trail. I rode ahead and directed traffic as riders began to spread out a bit on our way to our next stop: Bacon & Booze!!
Brian leads a long line of riders onto the TRW trail.

Jamie, Bailey & Mike rounding out the crew.
John & Jennifer C. graciously opened their home to us and provided the mid-morning treats. It was a very convenient stop, directly on route!! John & Robert would be joining the group from there, while Jennifer ripped around the Hawes portion of the route for a nice day ride. Thanks so much for the hospitality, it was amazing!!
Richard approves of the bacon!!
I'd say it was a hit. Photo by John C.

Great variety, local too.
One by one the riders left the SAG oasis, it was now a self-paced effort the rest of the day. First up is a fun twisting downhill rip through Hawes. Then the climbing begins. Up/down/up/down and all over the place. The trails at Hawes are fantastic.
Climbing towards the Twisted Sister turnoff.
I was making my way across Twisted Sister trail when Richard came pushing his bike towards me. Huh? His hub imploded, making it rather difficult to continue. Drat. We chatted for a minute and he was going to try and find a shop to get it fixed. I told him if he did, to shortcut the route and rejoin us wherever it made sense. I hoped he'd be able to continue.

Red Mountain dominates the early scene.

Greg & Jennifer caught up to me at the beginning of High Noon trail.

Curtis, another buddy out for a day spin, stopping to say hello.
Greg and I set off on High Noon. It's a great stretch of singletrack using all the natural contours given. Greg was in town from Sioux Falls, SD and doesn't ride a bunch of rocky singletrack. We were cruising along when I came around a corner to find Greg in a heap off the side of the trail!! May have been a pedal strike on a rock, but that's all it takes. Next thing you know, you're down. Unfortunately, he had a sizable gash in his knee. I felt so bad for him, he was finally going to see some prime AZ trails and now this?!? He was able to clean it up somewhat and ride out to the road.
Crossing over to Usery Mtn. Park along the Maricopa Trail.
I was beginning to drag a bit, but also knew the cold water at Pass Mtn. trailhead wasn't far off. It's a good place for a lunch break. I slogged my way up the Maricopa trail to join the mostly downhill Pass Mtn. trail towards break time. Caught up to Billy there and chatted with some hikers about our setups.
Billy cruising by Pass Mtn.
After lunch we took off towards the fast trails at Usery Mtn. Park. We saw a hiker freaking out about a rather large snake on the trail. He was visiting from New York and obviously had never seen something like that out in the wild. It wasn't a rattlesnake, rather a Bull snake. Billy didn't hesitate at the opportunity to educate the fella. He picked up the snake and put it around his neck. The NY'er just about passed out. Billy handed me the snake while our tourist friend became more at ease. I asked him if he wanted to hold it and he did, but not without video proof for his friends back home!! It was a cool interaction and hopefully he has a better understanding and appreciation for our slithering friends.
Billy's Bull snake necktie.
Phoenix, thataway.
Bailey & Liz dodging cholla at Usery Park. Photo by Jamie.

Ben & Billy on a new section of the route.
This past year a huge local milestone occurred, a new trail, Goldlink, was constructed. The significance was it officially connected the Usery Park area over to the Goldfield Mtns. via singletrack!! No more horse trails or pavement required. I updated the route to include this trail and while it may be more difficult, it's a fantastic addition. It will only get better with time as it was still fairly soft being a new tread. It didn't take long for Ben to leave us in his dust. He gone!
Billy making his way up to the Goldlink saddle.

The view from the Goldlink saddle is quite the sight, even on an overcast day.
Mike W. showing off his rig at the Goldlink saddle. Photo by Mike W.
I was really dragging, Billy too left me in his dust. I just kept plodding along. Keep the pedals cranking albeit slowly. Next up were the Goldfield Mtns. So much to explore over there, but this route has a fairly nice straightforward route through the surrounding ruggedness.
Brian caught up with me in the Goldfields, sure is pretty over there.

Superstition Mtns. finally getting close!!

Heading east on the Foothills trail.

Crossing AZ88 and over to the Jacob Crosscut trail.

Stunning views of the Superstitions here.

Brian powers through the chunk below the Flat Iron.

Waning daylight as we exited the trail. Next stop: Food.
John C. catching the golden hour show. Photo by Robert.

One last show before breaking out the lights.
Steven getting Silly earlier in the afternoon.

I was surprised how long it took to get here. I was a couple hours off previous years pacing.
Packed house at De La Cruz. Photo by Richard.
By the time I reached De La Cruz Mexican Grille, most of the other riders had already left towards camp, it was now dark. I wanted a good meal and margarita, but really didn't want to get to camp late. Brian and I agreed to just make a quick stop at Subway. Boring, I know, but it did hit the spot and I didn't need to go over to Basha's for the next day.
Sunsets are better when bikepacking. #truth Photo by John C.
We made our way to the Gold Canyon trails for a few miles up to camp. I arrived sometime around 9p and most everyone was still up and about, camp fire blazin' away. Even Richard was there, fixed rear wheel and all!! It was a good place for such a large group and I didn't feel cramped at all. As an added bonus, a nearby wash was actually flowing as it was a rare treat to fall asleep listening to a gurgling creek in Gold Canyon.

I had a couple of texts from a few riders who had called it off during the day. Jeff & Holly had pushed on, aiming to complete the loop in 3 days. Gerrit was one of the first to leave camp the next morning as he too, was looking for a 3 day finish.

Most everyone else began stirring around daybreak. I had altered the camp location to slightly shorten the first day, it's still a monster, make no mistake. By doing so, I added a few extra trails to the route in the Gold Canyon network. Lots of zigzagging, but we hit most of the fun stuff.
Rise & shine.

Early rays beaming light upon the Superstitions.

Proof!! Flowing water in Gold Canyon.

Saguaro forest.

It was such a beautiful, cool morning to be out on the trails.
Billy carving up some trail. Photo by Richard.

Mike maneuvering through the rocks of Micro Moab.

It's not much, but it sure is fun!!
Rare action shot!! Photo by Mike W.
We heard Ben coming up behind us, so I got ready with the camera. He begin yelling at us as he wound around the trail. As he approached we could see why...

Welcome to the desert, Ben!! Ouch. 1, 2,!! One by one Mike yanked out the Cholla balls from Ben. Don't get too close to the vegetation out here, it'll bite ya.

Ben, back in a more comfortable position.

Mike hitting one of the rock rolls on Phantom.

More friends in the desert, the Biking Viking, Lasse. This is the same guy who handed me a shot of whiskey during my AZTR750 run in 2016 near Rye. I'll never forget that, thanks dude!!

Leaving the trails of Gold Canyon behind. Next stop would be a resupply in Queen Valley.

Super cool mini Husky.

Plenty of water crossings on San Mateo Castro Rd.
Bailey, Billy & Liz at one of the many water crossings along San Mateo Castro Rd. Photo by Richard.

Wide open State Trust land between Gold Canyon & Queen Valley.
Ben, Mike and I were cruising along just pedaling out the miles when we some some people milling about up ahead. There were quite a few vehicles and an easy-up was off to the right. It seemed a little odd to me for that many people to be out here, it's usually fairly empty. As we rode closer we could see they had some serious video equipment. Perhaps they were filming a commercial? We rode up to the gate a little ways down the road, a few more vehicles were parked there. Then a bunch more riders caught up to us. One of them had asked what was going on and was told it was a filming project. Seemed odd. Gerrit would have a different version when we met up with him at camp 2 since he was the first rider through...

Lots of mud bogging opportunities out here after a rain.

A few of the locals.
El Freako Racing was here. Photo by Gerrit.

Somehow I managed to get ahead of the group and cranked through this powerline connector over to Silver King Rd.

A tributary of Queen Creek flows out of Whitlow Canyon.

Shade, cold drinks and some grub.
0.25 is quite the bargain. Photo by Richard.

Chowing down and getting a break from the sun.
 It was getting warm and there were some open dirt road miles coming up on route over towards Superior. This would be another section of the route where I instituted a change this year. In years past we'd ride along Hewitt Station Rd and join the AZT where it crosses. Last year the Legends of Superior Trail, L.O.S.T., was re-routed through picturesque Arnett Canyon. I rode through there on a few occasions and had to get it added to the Queen's Ransom. One added benefit of doing so, it put the route only a quarter mile or so from a Circle K convenience store in Superior. This would be a key re-supply on route as our next food option would be Florence on the morning of day 4. Of course this doesn't count the SAG stop on day 3 thanks to K.
Hewitt Station Rd. aka Gunsmoke Alley. #pewpew
My backpack looks much bigger than it felt!! Photo by Richard.

FS172, the scenery begins to take off.

Richard looking small beneath those cliffs.
Jamie digging in to the afternoon sun. Photo by Bailey.

Mike stamping out the miles.

Picketpost Mtn. comes into view!!

We now ride this route instead of Hewitt Station Rd. due to a private property closure a few years ago. I like the change.
No need to look both ways at this crossing. Dead tracks. Photo by Richard.

Conner, from Tucson, bikepacking the opposite direction along the AZTR route. 

Apache Leap cliffband near Superior.
Steven can almost taste the resupply in Superior. Photo by Steven.

Rolling into town below Apache Leap.

Snickers ice cream bar FTW!!

Ben, Mike & Richard getting set to roll out towards camp 2 along the AZT.
Still some water in Queen Creek.

Mike drops in to the Arnett Canyon goodness.

The trail winds its way down the rock ledges with ease.

Richard takes his turn.

Simply amazing terrain.

Cool rock formations to ogle at as well.

Mike and Ben begin to put the hammer down.

Lots of shade down here.

And water crossings, most are rideable when the water level in Arnett Creek isn't too deep.
Mike W. stoked to be in Arnett Canyon.

One last short hill before joining the AZT near Picketpost trailhead.

One final peek back into Arnett Canyon.

Richard joining me at the AZT junction.
I was feeling the effects of the warm temps, felt sluggish most of the afternoon. There were still 18 miles of AZT terrain between myself and camp 2. I had a feeling I'd be arriving after dark, but I'd give it a go and see how far I could get before the lights came out.

Making my way around to the south side of Picketpost Mtn.

One of my favorite views of Picketpost Mtn. Sure wasn't feeling the climb to the point though. Lots of walking.

Telegraph Canyon Rd. slices across the far hillside.

Atop an early switchback gauntlet, only cleaned 1 of 5.

This gate marks the halfway point to camp, 9 down, 9 to go!! It's also one of the last views of Picketpost Mtn.

This should be good, golden hour in Martinez Canyon. The unintentional side benefit of riding slow.

But first, I had to check this out. The new AZT rainwater catchment. A few storms rolled in shortly after it was installed and the vessel was full of clean water. Filtering is still recommended. I topped off my bottles and moved on as a section hiker came through and set up camp.

One of the early spires in Martinez Canyon.
As I was riding along I heard an odd noise coming from my back wheel. I thought I may have popped a brake spring, but upon further inspection it was a busted spoke. Drat. Not much to do about it out here other than wrap it around an adjacent one and keep moving. *It held for the remainder of the ride.

Such a magical place to ride, to be, made more special by the timing.
Martinez Saddle looks a little more interesting during the day. Photo by Gerrit.

The Martinez saddle, time for a long downhill shred. Some dismounts required.

Day or night, definitely two thumbs up!!
Robert paying homage to the mtb gods. Photo by Robert.

I rolled into camp at 8p and was a bit surprised to only see about 8 riders.
Where was everyone? I knew Mike & Richard weren't far behind. I had heard a few more riders bailed, the QR was taking a toll. Mike rolled in about 10 minutes behind me. We were sitting around the campfire when talk began about the film crew we encountered in the morning. According to Gerrit, when he rolled up on the 'scene', a few people began scrambling to cover up some others. Hmmm, desert porno?? Who knows, but it sure made for a lively discussion and probably answers more questions once everyone put two & two together. Not everyday you see that!! Hey now.

Hey Robert, where's the fluffer to stoke the fire?? :o

The antics settled down after a while and it was lights out around 10p. Sometime around 11 two more riders rolled into camp!! I believe it was Billy & Brian. They mentioned at least 4 others who decided to make camp farther up the trail. That was good to hear.

Day 3 is by far the shortest day in mileage, but that doesn't mean it's easy. There isn't as much of a need to hit the trail at first light, so I didn't get moving until 8a.
Breaking camp.

Looking back at Dale's Butte, camp 2 is at the top of the singletrack.

Mike enjoying our early morning roll down to the Gila River.

Information kiosk near the bottom of the descent.

Twenty minutes later a few of us were down at the Gila River filtering water for the push over to Kelvin. There was a couple from Alaska there who were bikepacking the Gila River Ramble route, they were mostly riding this area in reverse of us.
The Gila River may resemble Willy Wonka's chocolate river, but it filters clear & cold.

All stocked on water, it was time to head east on some wonderful singletrack.
South Butte back to the west.

Early rays on the Gila Valley.

One of the better Gila River views along the way. Don't let the proximity fool you, the river is virtually inaccessible for 16 miles.

The towering buttes of White Canyon Wilderness.

Rider roll call: Robert.

John C.

Mike H. rounds into view.

Joe and Ben.

Mike H. mashing the singlespeed, swore he was out of shape. Right.


Saguaro Alley.

So lush along the river bottom sections.

New fancy AZT signage marks the way across some wash sections.
Joe gliding through the Gila River Valley. Photo by Mike W.

Another familiar face out doing their own thing. Bob H. on the left, I met him last year at the start of the AZT300. His buddy, from CO??

Another Queen Creek homie, Maxwell, getting blasted by Bob H. & Co.

Maxwell taking off towards the west.

Barely 15 feet from leaving Maxwell, I heard that familiar rattle. Well, hello there.

The wildflowers were now beginning to strut their stuff. Tons of poppies along the trail corridor.

Such a flower sniffer.

The often dreaded Florence-Kelvin climb visible across the way. Always made easier during the Queen's Ransom with promises of a SAG stop over the top.

When the train trestle comes into view, the climb up Dale's Demoralizer is about to begin!!

But first, more grass to ride through.
High atop the Demoralizer. Photo by John C.

Slogging my way up in the warm air.

Near the top of the climb is this historical AZT marker. Hard to believe it's almost been 10 years.

John making his way down the buffed out descent. Photo by Robert.

Another biking pal!! Tim, an AZT legend, from Tucson. I think this is the second or third time I've run into him near here during the Queen's Ransom.

Classic AZT shot, with the upside down Reuleaux triangle logo. I think it's the only AZT logo like this.

Brian relaxing in the shade by the often sought after ADOT water spigot.

The new bridge really changes the feel down here. It will soon be used to haul mine tailings to Ripsey Wash.
Richard finding some needed shade. Photo by Richard.

Another steep climb towards the Kelvin trailhead.

Hike-a-bike mode.

Mike H. & John C. getting their hike on. Photo by Robert.

We exit the AZT and begin 5+ miles of graded dirt along the Florence-Kelvin Hwy.

Mental checkpoint on the 4 1/2 mile grind.

Brian digging in and thrilled to be on a slight downhill!!

SAG stop!! Photo by K.
One by one we trickled into the graciously stocked SAG stop. I can't thank my wife enough for being willing to give up a part of her Sunday to feed a bunch of stinky bikepackers!! She even brought drop bags for those who wanted clean clothes, different food, etc. The coolers were filled with ice, water, Gatorades, Cokes, Root Beer & margaritas!! Chips & salsa, pickles, cookies, donuts, fruit, etc. Such a great reward after slogging up the Florence-Kelvin climb.

George & Jalene from Binary Bicycles stopped by too, always great to visit with them. Thanks for supplying the large table.

This party stop also marks the end of the tough efforts on the entire loop. It's mostly downhill to camp 3, so no real rush to leave since it's only 12 miles away. I think we hung around for about 2 hours before heading off towards Area 52 for the night.
The ride to camp is highlighted by spectacular views of the Gila River Canyons. Our camp from the previous night is practically visible from here. It's at the far right of the large shadow on the left of the pic. Dale's Butte is sunlit.
Liz heading towards Area 52. Photo by Bailey.

Liz and the Gila River Canyons. Photo by Bailey.

Richard getting some quality hike-a-bike practice.

Brian making sure his feet are still functioning.
A bikepacking green thumb, she's a natural!! Photo by Liz.

A short bit of sandy riding gets us to camp 3.
Camp 3 attained!! Photo by Bailey.

Sand = soft. I had K bring my bivy for tonight as there was a slight chance of rain.

David, all the way from Ohio, crushing some calories.
We need a smaller log for the fire. Robert: 'I got this.' Photo by Richard.

It was another lively night around the campfire.
It was well after dark when we spotted an LED approaching. We called out to it, heckled it, but no response. A few minutes later a couple more riders straggled in, clearly whooped from the day, but they made it!! All of a sudden our group had grown again, not quite as big as night one, but almost twice the size of night two now that everyone had caught up or rejoined the route.

Sometime around daybreak I began to hear the pitter-patter of raindrops on the bivy. It picked up for a few minutes, then was gone. By the looks of things, that may be the only rain we see today. Let's hope so!!
Breakfast with a view. Photo by Bailey.
The final day of the route is more like a recovery ride. Not a lot of climbing, just some fast spinning through farmlands, suburbia and some fun trails over at San Tan Regional Park before topping it all off at Old Ellsworth Brewing.

I was one of the first to break camp as the sun began to light up South Butte.
Is it me or is that shadow a pear-shaped T-Rex?? Maybe I just need coffee.

The first mile of the day would be the hardest, reaching the small saddle on a rugged jeep road.

The saddle provided a nice perch.
Bailey offering a sacrifice to the mtb gods. Photo by Bailey.

The route zooms through a series of sandy, yet very rideable, banked turns. It almost feels like a bobsled run.

Down near the north bank of the Gila River, the trees grow thick creating a canopy of shade.

G'morning Joe!!

Hey, look!! It's our Alaska friends from the previous day.

A bunch of the guys caught up as we approached the canal portion of the route.

This area was under construction last year. The fence is new, but at least a very rideable access road was left open.

Chris cranking out the miles before breakfast in Florence.

Steven thinking about how many menu items he can devour.

I don't eat at McD's often, but when I do, bikepacking is usually involved.
It was still fairly early in the morning, setting us up for a late lunch arrival at the brewery some 40 miles away.

I stocked up on ice & water for the final push.
Florence is always a welcomed resupply stop on route.

Ben giving his full approval of the route. Thanks hombre.

Cruising towards Walker Butte.

A short spin through this neighborhood leads to a backdoor connection over to San Tan.

More ranch style properties and a bit more remote.

Cough up $2 for the right to pedal one mile up a sandy wash!!

Rock Peak Wash. Someday, someday, hoping for singletrack parallel to this.

Hangin' Loose in the desert.

Posing with the Shaka Cactus. Photo by Robert.
Now do you see it?? Yeah, brah. Photo by Bailey.

The San Tan trail leads us around the west side of the park.

One final climb up the Dynamite trail.

The ominous clouds made for a stunning backdrop.

Let's descend!!

The final hurrah of the Queen's Ransom, a 1.8 mile rip down the Dynamite trail.

It's a very popular hiking trail too, but we don't see much traffic since we wrap up on a Monday afternoon.


The golden Brittlebush were really putting on a show.

Off to the brewery!!

A perfect way to end 4 grueling days in the desert.

Nice to have patio seating available to keep eyes on our steeds.
Cheers to a great crew!! Photo by Bailey.

Smiles all around from this bunch!!

Mike putting his patch from last year to good use.

John C. really diggin' in.

Hatch green chile grilled cheese FTW.
Patches & stickers were handed out while we waited for our food to arrive. It's one of my favorite parts of the ride, especially to those who weren't sure they could pull off a ride like this, yet found a way. Kudos, you earned it.
Queen's Ransom '20. In the books. Photo by Richard.
I started a QR tradition a couple years ago by taking rider pics with their bikes at the brewery, I think next year I'll also do a 'before' pic from my house. Here are the riders who were at the brewery. (a few folks are missing since they did the route in 3 days: Gerrit, Jeff H. & Holly, Congrats!)

Mike W.

Robert, Mike H, Ben & John C.






John C. (He loaded his bike too quick!!)




Mike H.

Me, John S.

Way to go gang!!

We still had about 3 miles remaining to my house.

Liz on the Queen Creek bikepath.

Bailey following suit.

My busted spoke held up just fine.
Bailey's leg cleaned up nicely too!! Photo by Bailey.
I can't thank everyone enough for being a cool group to ride and hang with. That's what hosting these rides is all about. A huge thank you to K for once again delivering a stellar SAG stop out in the middle of nowhere, such an amazing treat. Thanks to George & Jalene for helping K with the SAG logistics, much appreciated. A huge thanks to John & Jennifer C. for opening their garage for an early day 1 SAG stop, that rocked!!


Look for a couple of minor tweaks to the route for 2021 as I'm hoping to shorten day 2 a tad. Dates for 2021 are: Feb. 26 - March 1. See you next year!!

Full photo album here.


  1. Awesome John, just awesome!!!
    I am sure it takes a lot of organisation but all those smiling faces must make it sooo worthwhile! Glad you could beat the CoviD lockdown b.s. too.

  2. thanks...really makes me want to be out there riding. maybe someday I'll join you on the ride or at least head down there during suitable temps to ride parts. Looks like a ball o fun

  3. I took a short cut and then my butt got scabby. Lesson next year don't take short cut and lotion butt.