April 6, 2023

Brown's Ranch: Birthday Bash

 I completed my 52nd lap around the Sun this year and to celebrate I took the day off work to go for a ride. A lot of my friends like to do birthday mileage rides, but I was feeling like I wanted more. How about a double?? 104 miles, eh? I'm not one to simply hop on the canals to bang out some miles, I like them to be trails or at least more remote dirt roads. Brown's Ranch offers more than 100 miles of singletrack that is fairly tame by local standards. Almost every ride there, no matter the distance, averages about 50' of gain per mile. I'd go for my goal there, with the catch being it's only open a little before sunrise to sunset. Shouldn't be an issue, but I needed to be there when the gate opened.

I was the second car in the lot around 5:45a, sunrise was still a few minutes away. The forecast was also in my favor this year as it was only going to be in the upper 70's to low 80's, nice and cool in the early morning. What was my plan for the day? I didn't really have one, no mapped route, just ride. The only thing I knew I was going to do was a big perimeter loop, going clockwise, from the main trailhead off Alma School Rd. That way my car was centrally located as I had a cooler with ice/drinks and some salty snacks in stand-by mode. After that loop, I'd mostly just focus on riding trails I like to ride and let the miles stack up. I'd try to ride trails farther away from my car first and as the day wore on, do the final miles near the trailhead if I was cutting it close on daylight.

Moon setting to the west as I head out before sunrise.

Crested Saguaro #1. I'd make it a point to hit the natural highlights of the area today.
I had 3 miles done by the time the sun's rays made it to the trail. I kept a steady, solid pace going all the way around the perimeter loop reaching the Alma School trailhead almost exactly 3 hours after starting, 31 miles in the books.

It was still cool enough that I wasn't ready to shed my long sleeve wool base layer, which surprised me a bit. I took a short break, downed some calories and decided to head north to the Stagecoach trail, this would complete the full trail and also lead me to Hawknest. I could then take that all the way back to the Pima/Dynamite trailhead and complete that trail entirely. Seemed like a fun, mid ride goal of sorts.

Passed through the Amphitheatre Spur off Cholla Mtn.

I love riding trail among the boulders.

A very red Firecracker bush.

Cathedral Rock photo op.
I made quick work down to the trailhead, now 45 miles into the day. It was around 10:30a and I was feeling good. I started to wonder if I could tack on a few extra miles at the end, maybe shoot for 110, because, why not?

Next up was to route my way through the zigzagging trails in this part of the preserve. They're not the fastest trails, but they are some of the more fun ones as there are some rock options to play on.

Lupines off the Rawhide Wash trail.
Note: Rawhide Wash trail is signed, warning mountain bikers of the sand in Rawhide Wash. While this is true, you don't have to use Rawhide Wash at all. I noticed there wasn't much tire traffic on this trail and it's actually a really nice trail to ride. When you reach Rawhide Wash, you're also at a horse stepover gate along Pima Rd. Go over that and make a right, north, along Pima Rd. You'll find a singletrack trail in the dirt shoulder, follow it for less than 1000'. Look for another horse stepover gate and re-enter the trail system here. Follow the dirt road for another 1000' where you can join Axle Grease trail. It gives you another nice looping option close to the Pima/Dynamite trailhead.

This area is littered with boulders.
I finished one lap through the area and was taking a trailside snack break when a couple of guys came riding up. It's Mike!! He was out giving a guided tour to an east coast rider. He occasionally gives mtb tours through Wild Bunch Desert Guides. He knew I was up to something and asked what I was doing. I told him of my plan and that I was currently at mile 52. The look on the fella's face he was guiding was priceless!! Mike was wrapping up the tour and we agreed to meet up for a few miles in about 30 minutes.

We knocked out our miles then threw back a cold one, seltzer water, at the trailhead. Thanks dude!!

I was now approaching 60 miles and I could tell my legs were getting a little sluggish. The slight grades were now more of a chore and I could see my average speed dipping lower. It was now finally starting to feel warm, so I needed to head back to my car to ditch the base layer. I decided to hit a couple more fun trails in the area as I made my way around Cone Mtn.
Easter weekend was upon us, so I had to stop at Bunny Rock.
Back at the car, now at mile 68 and 2:15p, I topped off my bottles & water, had some snacks, ditched the base layer in favor of sun sleeves and headed back out for the final 35+. The heavy legs continued for the better part of the next 20 miles and thoughts of doing more than 104 miles quickly vanished.

The wildflowers were still putting on a great show in certain areas. Granite Mtn. often has thick flowers.

South side of Granite Mtn.


...and some more.

It's a beautiful area and a fun trail no matter which direction you ride it.

Owl Clover.

Hedgehog cactus getting in the action.

Crested Saguaro #2!!

Looks like another arm fell off the Michelin Man. I'm glad I saw this one in it's heyday.

McDowell Mtns. in the distance.
It was somewhere around here, mile 88 or so, that I began to get a second wind. Legs had finally come around, but it was now 5p. I had a little under two hours to get 'er done. Gotta keep moving.

Balanced Rock.
I stopped after Balanced Rock to see where I was at, mile 96 and it was almost 6p. 8 to go, what route should I ride? Another rider had stopped and we noted how nice the day was. I think he asked where I started from and his jaw dropped when I told him I had been at it since 6a!! His Dad rolled up, had to be in his mid-80's and still enjoying the ride!! The guy had to yell at his dad a couple of times for him to hear: 'He's at mile 96!!' I told him I was nearing the end and had to keep moving to finish before sunset.

Shortly after leaving those two I looked down an noticed my Garmin had powered off!! WTH?!? Dang it, I need those miles to track!! I didn't think it had been off too long. Afterwards, I think it missed less than a half mile, but still. 

I did a quick loop around Cholla Mtn. and was a bit disappointed it was only 3 miles. I thought it would be closer to 5. I zigzagged my way back towards the trailhead knowing I'd be really close when I arrived.

Rode the short out-n-back to the sign, added another half mile!!

There goes the Sun...
I rolled into the trailhead as the sun was setting, but I was not quite to 104, rather 103. There were still quite a few cars in the lot and I knew the automatic gates are triggered to get out. I rode north on the wide dirt path from the trailhead for a half mile as others sped to end their rides. I hit 104 as I returned to the lot. Perfect. Done. Not a minute to spare!!

Nice way to end it from the trailhead.
I'm really glad I pulled this one off in spite of the sluggish feeling through a good chunk of it. I'll probably just stick to a 53 miler next year!!

Strava link.

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