Sunday, April 6, 2008

Arizona Day 5: Mingus Mtn and Thumper Loops

51.8 miles, 6200ft vert, 4:38hrs
Sunny, 60's to 70's

I'm becoming such a roadie. It could turn out that my favorite ride from this trip will be a paved hillclimb. This ride almost didn't happen even. Logistically, it was hard to plan around what the women were doing. Mingus Mtn rises above the town of Cottonwood, just 20 minutes west of Sedona, and even closer to the Indian ruins that the women wanted to visit today. So they dropped me off in the morning and used the car for their activities.

Mingus Mtn is the last of the big Arizona hillclimbs for me to check off on my list. It rises about 4300ft in 19 miles. The first 16 miles from Cottonwood are paved on Rt 89A. The pavement is nice, but there is no shoulder. The last three miles are off-road on a decent gravel surface. In addition to Mingus, I have ridden Arizona climbs Mt Lemmon (6800ft, both ways), Kitt Peak (3700ft), Mt Graham (7000ft), and Mt Hopkins (5500ft). I've hit three of the five in this trip, with cumulative net gain of over 16,600ft.

Climbing Mingus via Rt 89A from Cottonwood reminded me a lot of the climbs in the Sierra Nevada's - open desert views, narrow road, twisty canyon topography. My legs were cooked from yesterday's 4.1hr ride, but climbing went well. I maintained steady tempo pace, pause only briefly to snap a couple photos. The steepest part was actually climbing through the village of Jerome, on very Old West-ish kind of mining town. Once above Jerome, traffic became sparse. There was only one significant descent on the way up. I reached the summit in 2:02hrs riding time. Cell phone coverage was good up here (Verizon), so I called Cathy to discuss rendezvous plans.

View of Cottonwood from Mingus summit

For the descent, I opted to take forest roads, aka 4WD jeep roads, back down to Cottonwood. I started on FR-413. This begins under dense canopy of large pines. Parts of this were utterly brutal. I began to wonder if the descent would take longer than the climb, as my speed in places was only 4mph picking my way through wicked ledgy terrain. There was nothing out here, so crashing was NOT an option. I passed a man and women coming up on mountain bikes. I started to think I should have done the loop in reverse, climb on rocks, descend on pavement. I caught up to two large 4WD trucks picking their way down and passed them.

FR-413 ledgy descent

Eventually I reached the junction with FR-493. The initial portion of FR-493 was a hairball plummet. It consisted of large, loose slabs of jagged rock, and it was so steep that I could not control speed without continuous skidding. I thought I was going to have to ditch the bike at one point. But FR-493 eventually levels out and transitioned into a well maintained gravel road. This is were you can really rip. The last 10 miles or so of the 20+ mile descent was pure bliss. The wide open views were fantastic.

When I got back to town, I called Cathy again. I had two options. One, ride back to Sedona via divided highway 89A, a great cycling route with wide paved shoulders but mostly up hill for 15 miles, or two, do a short trail ride at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood and get picked up. Cathy and Mom were wrapping up visiting Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte in Oak Creek and would be available to pick me up. I pedalled a couple miles over to the state park.

Lower portion of FR-493 descent

After paying the $2 entrance fee, I talked with the ranger a bit. He's an avid singlespeed rider. We talked bikes (he liked my Ti Dean) for a bit and about the Thumper Loop. He mentioned record course time is 31 minutes. When I told him what I had already done and wouldn't be racing the loop, he was impressed. In general, I find people, including drivers, are very tolerant of cyclists in Arizona. When I first got down from Mingus and asked for directions to the state park, I had three people offer to help me, a skinny white guy in spandex. I have not yet experienced a hostile motorist incident on this trip, and I've ridden a fair amount of pavement.

The Thumper loop was a nice way to cap off a day of riding. Mostly buff singletrack, but there were some sandy areas and a few very technical spots that forced me to dismount. I passed one other rider out taking his dog for a ride. Shortly after passing him, I had to hike my bike down a cascade of gnarly 2ft drops. This guys was big, on a hardtail, and just rolled down the mess like it was nothing as he passed me.

This brings the total climbing from cycling and hiking on this trip to well over 30,000ft now. Aerobic activity for the week exceeds 20hrs. Monday, we have to check out and head back to Phoenix for Tuesday morning flight. I hope to ride Llama, Broken Arrow, and possibly Templeton trails in time to clean up before noon checkout. The weather could not have been more perfect thus far. Chilly mornings, calm, temp rising to 70's, brilliant sun, with wind picking up late afternoon every day.

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