May 4, 2024

AZ88 - Apache Trail OnB

 The Apache Trail, aka AZ88, has been closed since 2019 due to extensive road damage following massive rains over the Woodbury burn scar. It has been open to hikers & bikers for a few years, but I hadn't made it over to see the damage first-hand. I finally made it a priority when I heard of plans from ADOT to remove the rockslide boulders from Fish Creek Hill.

It was the perfect ride I was looking for, dirt road, climbing and scenic. It would be a solid 'training' ride for my upcoming New Mexico (Tour Divide) route in early June. I'd be using the same bike, Binary Bicycles Havok, with a Lauf fork and Jones Bars - more on those later.

I wanted to stage my ride from the tourist attraction at Tortilla Flat, mostly because I wanted to climb the hill leading up to the Fish Creek Vista - that's where the road is currently closed to through traffic. The only other time I rode that hill was during my AZTR750 ride and it was after 11pm and a 42 hour push. I was curious to see how it rode in daylight with no bikepacking gear and fresh legs. I'd then ride out towards Roosevelt Lake, with a turnaround point of 11:30a no matter where I was. The catch? K and I had a dinner date and I needed to be finished with the ride by 3:30...or so I thought. What could possibly go wrong??

7:30a rollout from Tortilla Flat.

Last year I heard the saloon was collecting old license plates, I donated a box from my collection. Over half shown here were mine. Really cool to see them on display instead of a box in my garage.
The first five miles or so are paved, ups and downs at the start. Then the steady climbing begins and it wasn't too bad, as expected. It ended up being about seven miles to the Fish Creek Vista, a few more miles than I had remembered. Hmmm, maybe I should've started from here today? At least it's almost all downhill to finish, right? Right.

The ruggedness of this area is unquestioned.

The Apache Trail winds up the canyon alongside Lewis and Pranty Creek.

Starting down the infamous Fish Creek Hill, known for its one-lane width with campers and boat haulers vying for position.

The road was in good condition, but a barrier approaches.

The bridge over Fish Creek marks the bottom of the hill.

Impressive rock slide. A trail has been cut through on the right side.

The road surface was in really good condition. ADOT has been working on sections since the closure, adding concrete culverts and general clean up. You can see where the boulders dislodged from the rock face about halfway up.

I didn't notice this fella sunning himself until he coiled and made some noise.

The views in the canyon are amazing as are the views when topping out on a climb.

Apache Lake comes into view as I clear the closure area. The closure is only about 5 miles long.

Anyone driving to Apache Lake must come through Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake along AZ188.

No doubt the road is closed ahead.

It would be nice if the powerlines were on the opposite side of the road. Photographer problems.

I was making good time, but also taking note of how many climbs I'd have to do on the return.
It was getting a bit warm, not hot, and I stopped for some electrolytes. Dang it!! My bottle of Gatorade on the underside of the downtube was gone. Popped off somewhere over the last 4 miles or so. It was a clear bottle with bright green drink, so it should be easy to find.
The second half of the ride closely follows Apache Lake.

Down along lake level where there's an easy access to filter water, if needed.

Roosevelt Dam.

The Roosevelt Bridge is a sight to see.

A full Roosevelt Lake is also a welcomed sight.
I reached the lake a good 15 minutes before I needed to turn around. I was stoked on that as I really wasn't sure how quick the riding would be.

I mentioned earlier this bike had Jones Loop bars, which I rode during the Tour Divide back in 2019. I didn't have any issues with them, but today it felt like the sweep was a bit much on my wrists, not necessarily uncomfortable, but noticeable. *A few days after the ride, George from Binary, posted that his titanium Falken bars had arrived, with considerably less sweep. I asked to try them out and Jalene sent me a pair for a future ride.

I had a snack at the scenic overlook, then started back.

Here's one of the non-drive side of the bike.

That looks like fun.

Can you spot the fighter jet? Hint: the shadow is just above the center Saguaro, jet is near the top of the ridgeline. This was the fifth in a line of fighters to buzz the canyon. It was incredible.

Pine Creek was flowing.
I'm not sure when it happened exactly, but somewhere on the second or third climb my legs began to get really heavy, lacking power. I stopped to filter water at the access point. There were a couple of folks down there fishing and a noticeably dead raccoon on the shoreline. I guess I'm not filtering there. I did grab some water a ways away.

The sluggishness didn't subside. I ended up walking a bit and could feel the initial twangs of oncoming quad cramps. Shit. Not today. I was still doing ok on time, but I needed to pedal, not walk. I hopped on the bike took a few pedal strokes and my left quad locked as I jumped off the bike. I steadied myself, then my right quad locked, dropped me in the road. Ugh. I couldn't do anything by lie there in the dirt road. It took a good 10 minutes before I could even attempt to stand up. Double shit.

I managed to get upright and hobble forward. I began hoping a pickup truck would come along and advance me down the road as the clock was ticking. Only a couple cars went by. No luck. Then I found my lost bottle, opened, empty and no lid. Looked like it had been driven over, kinda how I felt at the moment.

Eventually I was able to soft pedal a bit, all the while trying to figure out how I was going to finish the ride in time to avoid the inevitable doghouse at home if I were late. Now I was really regretting not starting the ride from the Fish Creek Vista. Dang it.

I was nearing the top of a climb when I had to hop off again to walk. In the distance I could see a vehicle approaching from behind...a white pickup truck. I flagged them down and the driver asked if I was ok. Nah, not really, I said. My legs are cramping and I need to get off this road!! They were heading to the Apache Lake Marina, really the only place you can drive in this direction. I asked if they could drive me about a mile beyond the Marina to the road closure. They happily obliged and offered a cold bottle of water. Delicious!!

The simple task of just sitting there, drinking water, as we covered ground gave me hope that I could still finish on time. It was a fairly long gradual descent from the closure to the bottom of Fish Creek Hill. That was the only climb remaining. I can do this. I thanked the couple profusely and readied myself for the final miles. Funny this is, they only drove me about 4 miles forward on route, but it felt like it saved me 2 hours of effort in the moment.

Back at the closure area. Five miles to the vista point from here.

The downhill section went as planned, then I was able to at least pedal up to the rockslide area.

I could tell my legs weren't up to the task of pedaling, but I can hike-a-bike at a good clip.

I recall riding up this grade during one of my final AZTR750 training rides, Chain of Lakes, it was near midnight during that ride and I recall the climb wasn't hard at all. The fitness delta was real, but as I like to say 'If you're not hike-a-biking, the views probably suck'.

The views clearly did not suck.
The walk up Fish Creek Hill took about 30 minutes, but that was ok. I reached the vista at 2:15 and right on cue as soon as I hopped on the bike, my left quad twinged hard again. Grrrr. So, I stood on the left pedal, hanging off the bike as I coasted downhill, total clown show. Steering was rather awkward too. I managed to finally get on the bike like a proper human and coast. There wasn't much pedaling to do until Tortilla Flat.

I arrived at my car at 3:05 and was really pumped about it. Whew!! Somehow, thanks to the kindness of strangers I made it back early. Time for a chocolate milk and ice cream from the general store.

My buddy, Matt, would have been proud of this Rootbeer Hero type of ride.
I sat in the car for a few minutes eating my ice cream and sent K a text to let her know I was done and heading home. It was 3:30. She responded: Uh, weren't you supposed to be home at 3:30? Insert head slap here.

Of course, she was right. We were invited to a fancy dinner that evening and had planned to leave home by 4:30. It's about an hour drive from Tortilla Flat to home. The maths were telling me I better hustle. So I did. I made it home in under 50 minutes and somehow we made our dinner date a few minutes early. Doghouse avoided!! *This time*

NOTE: The Apache Trail closure area is currently CLOSED to all access, including hikers/bikers while ADOT removes the boulders of the rockslide area and work on the roadway in preparation for its re-opening.

When it re-opens, it's a spectacular area to experience. Go ride it, drive it, enjoy it.


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