September 24, 2023

Prescott Circle Trail: DNF

 The Prescott Circle Trail has been on my list for, well forever, it seems. I rode it a bunch of years ago, but it wasn't officially finished back then. Last year I tried it and made it about halfway through before I decided I wasn't feeling it and was getting short on time.

The forecast was looking decent, low 80's for a high, and I was feeling good. This isn't an easy ride, plus I was going to do it AES style by starting at the east Ranch Trail parking area. That meant a 4 mile climb just to reach the Circle trail. It would also mean a nice 4 mile descent to finish. Total distance was about 68 miles with a boatload of climbing.

Cool logo too.

Steady grade the entire way. Now at the Circle Trail junction along the Badger Trail.

View to the west as the trail contours the hillside.

Thumb Butte and Granite Mtn. overlook Prescott.

Such a fun way to start the ride.

WTH?? Anyone?

The contouring seems to go on forever.

Nice long descent to SR69.

Sundog Trail approaching Watson Lake.

Thick canopy in the wetlands.

Change in scenery cometh.

The massive Granite Dells.

There are some extremely technical trails here.

Cool connector trail over the rocks.

Bypassed the festival activities.

Humphrey's Peak, highest point in Arizona, makes an appearance on the right.

I was about to begin my least favorite part of the route, the approach to Granite Mtn. The trail is just loose and steep enough to not favor riding. I made it through that section and as I was getting back into the groove of pedaling I felt that unwelcomed hint of an impending leg cramp. Dang it. Sure enough a few pedal strokes later, I came to a screeching halt. I had been drinking well so far, even stopped at the convenience store on route a few miles earlier for a mid-ride chocolate milk and frozen Snickers bar. That never lets me down!!

Well, this day was different. I continued on, battling twinges of cramps in both quads for a few miles. Ugh. I was about at the halfway point of the ride, similar location to where I had bailed on my last attempt due to time. Hmmm, what to do. I really wanted to finish the ride, but I also wanted to RIDE the route, not be forced to walk a ton of it due to cramps. My pace had slowed considerably over the last hour and I didn't have lights. Say what?? Yeah, I know, I should know better by now. I hadn't hooked up my new dynamo light yet and for some reason I left my helmet light at home because, you know, I won't need it.

So, my lack of preparation was kind of biting me in the ass at the moment. My legs still hadn't really come around yet, so I made the call to cut the route short by heading back through town. Not the optimal routing, but I needed to get back to the car. I texted K to let her know of my plans, but as I made my way to my escape plan, my legs came around. I thought to myself, let's continue on route a bit farther, and bail near Thumb Butte. I did just that.
Break time, contemplating the rest of my day.

Making my way to the road exit, my legs began to feel good. Yay!!

Back in the tall trees, the good stuff.

Blazin' fast dirt road section.

In the heart of the P-Town trails.

Happy Halloween!!

Contoured climbing.

Thumb Butte comes into view along my exit trail.

Now, the paved portion of my day.

Cruising through downtown on a gorgeous day.
I had settled back in to the ride and it was still mid-afternoon. I really wasn't jazzed about finishing my day on the tarmac. Plan C was hatched as I made my way through town. I'd turn right and climb the Senator Hwy and rejoin singletrack at my earliest convenience. That way I could tie back into the Circle Trail near the Ranch Trail staging area. From there it would be about 9 miles back to the car with the final 6 or so mostly downhill. That was something to get stoked about.

Just your typical east coast scene right here in AZ.

Leaving the neighborhoods and bike lanes behind, the climbing continues.

Back on singletrack, Upper Feldmeir trail.
I crossed back over the Senator Hwy and began the Ranch Trail. It was 5:30p on the dot. Remember earlier when I said I didn't have lights? I wasn't too concerned even though Ranch Trail has some climbing to start. I figured I wouldn't make it back to the car before sunset, but it would still be plenty light out.
What I didn't account for were the return of leg cramps. Those blindsided me barely half a mile into the Ranch Trail climb. Ouch.
Quick cramp break over Goldwater Lake.

Ugh, it's barely uphill and I'm walking. Progress was agonizingly slow. Tick tock, tick tock.
What made these cramps so difficult to deal with was it wasn't just one muscle, both quads, both hamstrings. Completely locking down. Sometimes I could continue if I walked, other times I had to stand there and wait it out. It was beyond frustrating. I knew pretty quick I was going to get epic'd out here. The sun set around 6:20p and I was still over 6 1/2 miles from the car, still climbing. Grrrrrr.

I finally topped out in the waning light.
I could at least get on the bike and coast. My legs were slowly cooperating, but it was now dark. My only saving grace out there was the 3/4 full moon that had just lit up the night sky. It's amazing how well your eyes can adjust. I could see enough to point the tire in the unobstructed path, only becoming extremely difficult when I'd cross through a large shadow.

The views didn't suck.
I was shocked that I didn't crash at all, only had to stop and walk a few sections due to darkness. Let's just say it was a very memorable descent!! I think I spooked a few trailside campers who were sitting around their campfire when I rolled by. I'm positive they couldn't see me, only heard my freewheel whirring. I said 'Hello' while laughing and could hear them mumble something along the lines of 'How can he see where he's going??'

Done & dusted. Another in a long line of getting epic'd on the trail. It was now 7:40p.
One of these rides I'm going to complete this damn route. Maybe I'll try again in spring or perhaps soon before the snow flies, but I'll have my lights next time.

Strava link.


  1. Sounds like we need to tag team this. Hell, let's bikepack it haha.

    1. I'd be down for that. I want the single push finish first, but I'd bikepack it as well.