November 27, 2020

AZT: Picketpost to Kelvin

 I've been subscribing to the Black Friday #optoutside movement for years. 2020 would be no different. My ride of choice was made for me when Igor lobbed a softball my direction: 'Do you want to join a couple of us for a Picketpost to Kelvin shuttle? Shuttle is taken care of, there's an open spot.' Duh. I verified my availability and it was set.

This ride is easily in my top 3 of all-time, anywhere. It's that good. Logistics can be a bit of a pain sometimes, but it's really not too hard to get takers for this one. I try to get out there at least once, if not twice per season. I like it so much I had to have it as part of my annual Queen's Ransom bikepack.

I pulled into the Picketpost trailhead a bit before 8a, it was 38 degrees. I tad colder than I was expecting since I didn't bother to bring a jacket. I did remember my long sleeve wool base layer, that would have to do. At least we'd warm up quick as the trail trends uphill for the better part of 10 miles. We'd also be in the shadow of Picketpost Mtn. early on, bring on the sun!!

We got rolling around 8:30a, five in total: myself, Igor, Lane, Jon & David, who would be doing an out-n-back to the Martinez saddle.

Brightly colored Lane, taking flight.

Basking in the warm glow as we climb south, away from Picketpost Mtn.

The trail heads into the foothills.

Approaching FS4, Telegraph Canyon Rd.

10 mile overlook and I was stoked to clean the entire climb. It's been a while.

The Arizona Trail, AZT, drops into this valley, then climbs up to the right, then peels left towards the notch on the horizon.

Double stoke day, cleaned the second climb too!! Haven't done that in a long time, always a loose section or two to slip you up. This view looks back to the 10 mile overlook at the rock outcropping on the left.

Busy day at the ATA rain collector.

Somehow the rain collector still has water in it!! Further proof this was a solid addition to the trail. It's slightly off the AZT, going southbound from Picketpost it's 12 miles, just after the second gate. Stay on the jeep rd. veering straight/left, singletrack goes right.

Into Martinez Canyon we go. It was Jon's first time riding through here.

Can't say I've ever ridden past here without snapping a least in daylight anyway.

For anyone who wishes you could ride in the Grand Canyon, just come here instead.

The ultimate bench cut. Find the rider!!

It feels otherworldly out here.

Jon making his way across the saddle area.

Igor's Arizona themed rig.

The distant dome on the horizon is Mt. Lemmon. It was exceptionally clear today.

David & Igor taking a break. We regrouped every 4-5 miles or so early on. Igor was chowing down on full Thanksgiving leftovers!!

Jon digging the views.

Cool vantage point about a mile down. Dayglo Lane can be seen on the trail below.

The descent to the Gila starts high above Dale's Butte, here we're about halfway to the butte.

Another classic AZT shot. One of my favorites for sure.

The Gila River was flowing low enough for the 4x4 crowd to easily navigate across.

I was more surprised at how clear the river was!! It didn't look like chocolate milk for once.

Lane rejoining the AZT after our water stop. 16 miles to go, but don't be fooled, there's still work to do.

Quickly gaining some elevation from the river valley.
The trail drops down onto a jeep road for a short bit, then resumes singletrack. Well, it used to. Thanks to a bunch of OHV driver's who tore up the ensuing 1 1/2 miles of singletrack there's now more dirt road to ride. It's not like there isn't over 100 miles of OHV accessible terrain in the area. Selfish effin' a-holes. And no, I'm not against OHV recreation, just do it responsibly and follow a few simple rules. Namely staying off non-motorized trails. That's it.
White Canyon Wilderness forms the backdrop here, thankfully, back on singletrack.

More White Canyon Wilderness in the distance.

Wall St. of the Gila.

It's kinda rare to have such nicely developed Saguaro arms so low to the ground.

A short dirt road section brings us to the final 10 miles of trail to Kelvin. There are four distinct climbs as you make your way through this valley.

Jon riding some sweet trail.

Bumped into Patrick & Karey out on their Gila River Ramble ride. This was Patrick's first bikepacking outing, so I lent him my Motobecane & bags so he could check it out...errr, get hooked!!

The Gila River Valley is typically awash in gold this time of year, but the warm temps have kept things green heading into December.

When you see the train trestle it means two things: the ride is almost finished and one climb remains - Dale's Demoralizer!!

At first I thought a flag was waving in the breeze atop the trestle...nope, just Igor goofing around!!
Igor wanted to try the Pinion gearbox on the final climb, so we swapped bikes. Holy moly is his seat hard as a rock!! Ouch. He has a slightly bigger build than myself, so I found the most uncomfortable seated position possible!!

We had barely rounded the first turn of the climb when we heard a train whistle blow. These tracks don't see a lot of use, so it was about to be a rare train sighting. Igor was bummed he wasn't still up on the trestle to grab a pic, but I'm sure it was for the best.

Longest train I've ever seen down here, it's usually only a single tanker perhaps dropping water at a local ranch. This one was more than likely headed to the Ray Mine.

Nice view nearing the halfway point of the climb.

The AZT was officially completed almost 9 years ago. Two weeks after this dedication, a group of us quite possibly did the first ever Picketpost to Kelvin ride. Been enjoying it ever since.

The final descent and a view of the monstrous open pit Asarco Ray Mine.

Finished!! Still plenty of daylight too as it was around 4:30p or so. This parking area is on the north side of the Gila River, close to the town of Kelvin, not up the hill at the official Florence-Kelvin trailhead. It causes confusion sometimes.

Jon's wife drove out to meet us and get us back up to Picketpost trailhead. Thank you!!
We toasted some cold brews and scarfed down some sandwiches from Basha's, I had no idea they made sandwiches so good!!

Thanks for the invite, Igor and the shuttle logistics, Jon. It was greatly appreciated. I didn't get many pics of Lane because he's too darn fast!!

I have a feeling this ride will happen at least two more times this winter/spring. If you haven't done it, what are you waiting for??


November 21, 2020

AES: Picketpost Punisher - B Route

 If ever there was an event name that accurately described the route, the AES Picketpost Punisher has to be near the top of the list. That's the middle distance route, B Route. The bigger, 76 mile A Route, is known as the Pulverizer for good reason. While difficult, both of these routes are amazing, unforgettable and keep calling you back for more.

I've done all the variations out at Picketpost over the years and was ready to give the B Route another go. I hadn't ridden the full route since I scouted it for inclusion as part of the original A Route, an 81 mile beatdown unlike no other.

I arrived early as others riders began to pour in. I found the A Route sign-in sheet and was stoked to see 10 riders had made the leap. That's huge for the big route. Nine more showed up for the 22 mile C Route and we had 21 for the 47 mile B Route (there's an optional 2 mile out-n-back time bonus through Box Canyon that would deduct 1 hour from the finish time).

I was now riding one of Binary Bicycles project bikes, a pinion drive Kinetik. I had taken it out on rides the previous two days. How would it hold up over extremely demanding terrain? I was about to find out.

7:30a rollout!!
For the most part, the first 9+ miles are generally uphill. It started out ok as I was keeping pace with the riders around me. Somewhere around the 4 mile mark I slipped back a bit. The highlight was cleaning the first 4 of 5 super tight switchbacks before reaching FS4, Telegraph Canyon Rd. I reached the road split and my legs were feeling heavy, the low end of the pinion gearbox felt like I could've used another downshift. I pushed on, literally.
Slogging up Telegraph Canyon Rd. Sure is purdy though.

Nearing the high point, looking east towards the Gila River Canyons.

Approaching the point of no return.
As I crested the Telegraph Canyon climb I seriously considered turning around and hanging out at the trailhead. I was feeling meh. I knew what lie ahead and as often as that can help you, it was doing me no favors on this morning. Randy caught up to me here and I'm not sure what it was, but I continued on route and began the steep, rugged descent towards Ajax Mine. I guess I'm doing this.
Ajax Mine is quite a sight.

The downhills in these parts are just as punishing as the climbs, rugged, steep, loose rock everywhere.

Lots of new-ish signage in the area directing the offroad crowd.

An up & over leads here, upper Box Canyon. The grade still trends downhill, but now you have to pedal and watch out for 4x4 traffic.

Lots of motorized traffic on this day, but everyone I came across was super cool. They either pulled over or stopped completely so I could pass by.

If I'm all the way down here, I'm riding through Box Canyon.

Again, it was a popular place to be.

The canyon narrows to a single lane on a few occasions.
My legs still hadn't come around and I was struggling to mentally wrap my head around the challenge of the ride. I took a snack break at the turnaround point in Box Canyon and weighed my options. I could continue on and exit out to Florence, ride the roads back around to Picketpost and be done well before dark. Or, stick to my guns and finish what I set out to do. I have had a string of DNFs lately that I wasn't too happy about for one reason or another. Either way, I needed to get moving. I was also surprised that I hadn't seen any other riders in a while. I figured all the fast riders either skipped Box Canyon or I was so far behind I never saw them. It was the latter.
Making my way back up Box Canyon.

I wish there was a better way to use this section in the route, but the out-n-back is fairly tame and doesn't expel a lot of energy. It's well worth it as far as I'm concerned.
A short ways up the return another rider was heading down, it was Jake. I was glad to finally see another rider and as I exited Box Canyon Steven was on his way down.

I was now about to enter the meat of the course. The section leading over to the Arizona Trail, AZT, traverses a 4x4 driver's dreamscape. It's nothing but ultra rugged rock crawling terrain. Years ago I created a segment in Strava for it, aptly named: Brass Knuckles. It's a series of five ups & downs testing your climbing legs/lungs and bike handling skills. Cue the hike-a-bike.

Top of knuckle #1.

Halfway up knuckle #2 I found some shade to cool off.
It's mid-November and it was in the low 80's. A solid 15 degrees above normal for this time of year. The heat was sapping my energy, the climbing was killing my mojo and while sitting in the shade I realized I forgot my water filter. Not a good combo. Once again I found myself in this mental battle of continuing on or tucking tail to retreat out to Florence. It was still a reasonable exit strategy. I was finishing up a snack when I opted to eject from the route. As I was packing up to head back, Jake came walking up. We chatted a bit and I told him I forgot my filter. 'I'll ride with you to the river and you can use mine', was his reply. Hmmm, well, shit. I can't quit now, can I? Nah, I need to finish this thing. Off we went.

We yo-yo'd this group of 4x4s a couple of times, but we finally were able to leave them behind.

Dale's Butte makes an appearance. The AZT is getting close.

Even the smooth sections are rugged AF.

Finally, knuckle #5. Push to the top.

A few mellow grades before one last steep loose descent to the Gila River Valley.

It may be super challenging, but it's some beautiful country out here.

The powdery sand under a canopy of mesquite trees.
At the Gila River access point I was shocked to find a few riders!! Ian, Randy, Craig, Jason & an A Route rider, Dylan were all loading up on water & calories. Jake arrived a few minutes later, lent me his filter and handed me a bottle of water a 4x4 driver gave to him to pass along to me. Those 4-wheelers were stunned by what we were up to.

I was finally starting to feel better both mentally & physically. That was a good thing since a 7 mile, 2000' gain climb was on tap. The other B riders had left by the time I got going, Jake staying back for an extended break.

Rejoining singletrack along the AZT on the climb away from the Gila. It was sometime around 1:15p.

I love this area, so fortunate to be able to experience it.

One of my single most favorite locales along the entire AZT. Dale's Butte.

A funny thing happened on my way up, my legs woke up!! I guess I needed a 30 mile warm-up.

What is this? Gerrit, the man himself, going back down to the Gila? He was in bad shape, bailing back to the river floor to get picked up. The A Route can do that to even the strongest of riders.

The Ocotillo were thick and lush.

The mid section of the climb is wonderfully benchcut trail.

I gradually caught up to Jason, Craig & Randy on the way up.

I stopped for a brief moment at an overlook with Craig & Randy, who warned me to watch out for the tortoise!! Whoa! Didn't see this fella, he blended in so well.

Closing in on the Martinez saddle.

The 7 mile mark, made it in my typical 2 hour timeframe.

Martinez Canyon. I love it because not only is it an amazing place to ride, but no matter how you get here, you earn it.
It was now around 3:30 or so, two+ hours of daylight left and 14 miles to go. I knew I wouldn't finish before sunset, so let's see how far I can get before flipping on the lights.

Traversing across the saddle.

It has a bit of a Grand Canyon vibe.

Can you find Craig riding down the switchbacks to the left of the spire?

How about now? He's dead center.

Iconic shot of Martinez Canyon. I still think it looks like a squirrel gazing out into the canyon.
Craig and I reached the gate marking the Tonto NF boundary and opted to skip the ATA rain collector. I still had a bit over a liter of water, only one significant climb lie ahead, the temps were cooling and it was 12 miles to the end.

10 miles to go, the final big climb behind me and the first view of Picketpost Mtn.

Pinal Peak to the east.

Mostly downhill-ish from here.

I began ticking off the mental trail checklist: last gate, check.

Fading daylight, 8 miles to go.

Crossing Telegraph Canyon Rd. completing the loop portion of the route.
I prepared for night riding as 6p was rapidly approaching. Dylan and another A Route rider, Mark had caught and passed me. A few minutes later Ian caught up to me and I wondered when I had passed him. He had stopped at the rain collector a few miles back, that's where. We yo-yo'd a couple of times, but I got ahead for good when he stopped to put on his lights.

The night riding gave me new life and I was feeling really good, the trail was flowing well in spite of the rocky bits. I rolled into the trailhead a couple minutes before 7p, tack on the Box Canyon time bonus and it was a 5:58p finish time. Not blazin' fast by any means, but I was stoked to finish and really glad I didn't throw in the towel earlier in the day.

I began looking at the finish times of the day and was amazed to see how many incredibly fast times were put down. The final results are posted here: Picketpost Punisher Results

Thanks to everyone who came out and challenged themselves on these routes. They are often regarded as the toughest on the AES calendar. 

The pinion gearbox ended up fine, it's funny how much better I thought it rode once I started feeling energized. My only issue is the the brake lever on the gripshift is too far away, not sure how to correct that. I'm not seeing an adjustment on the lever reach. The more I rode it, the more it didn't feel as awkward.

See you all next year!!