Two epic days down, two to go. Thursday's plan was to hit a 62 mile figure eight loop, almost all on dirt. The ride didn't go quite to plan, but there were zero disappointments. Since Arizona does not participate in Daylight Savings Time, there is a three hour time differential here. We were up wicked early, almost two hours before breakfast was going to be served. This gave me ample time to run two gallons of water and food up Mt Lemmon to roughly the midpoint of our ride. There is no potable water on the route, and I'd rather not deal with a filter. The water drop was about 2000ft up and only 16 minutes from the B&B we're staying at.
We're staying at Bed and Bagels B&B, perfect for bikers. Proprietor Sharon is an avid outdoors type too and is cool with our bikes in the house or in back by the pool. the view of the Santa Catalina's from her driveway is sweet. The top 2000ft or so is still white-capped with snow, which means the Mt Lemmon Control Rd up the back side is almost certainly impassible by bike right now unless riding studs. We came here to get away from that, not seek it out.
Bikes went together well. We were rolling on epic #1 by 9am. Temp was fast approaching the 80's. The ride begins with a bit of pavement to base of Reddington Rd, where a stiff initial 1500ft climb on jeep road awaits. Once we reached the height of land, the route followed a number of jeep roads swinging out near Chiva Falls, which we saw from a distance. Dave's bike fubar'd on him while climbing Reddington Rd. The derailleur pivot let loose and it pivoted all the way forward, rendering shifting useless. This was a rental from Souhegan Cycles back home, and it appeared a prior mishap sheared the nub off that keeps the derailleur pivoted rearward. The hanger was toast. This really blew. We got it going by tightening the retaining bolt super tight and relied on friction to keep it there. This was a funky Santa Cruz Superlight hanger, and we thought the odds of finding one after the ride were near nil. We pressed on.
We soon reached the Arizona Trail (AZT), the section called Bellota Trail #15. We could ride it to Mt Lemmon, but not south, as that was wilderness. This stuff was sweet, mostly buff, 12" ribbon of singletrack. We followed many miles of this, crossing back over Reddington Rd, then climbing moderately. I knew from Topo'ing this route that a ball buster of a climb was coming up before reaching the Mt Lemmon Hwy and our water stash. I had no idea what we were in for.
Our flowy singletrack eventually reached a point where there was no way out but up. Up a friggin wall. The trail degenerated into a full-on hike-a-bike that would put the powerline run-up in Ironcross to shame. I think it took us an hour to cover the next two miles. Sweating profusely, we both ran out of water before reaching the drop. This was four hours into the ride. We both refilled our 100oz hydration packs.
Now it was decision time. It took an hour longer to reach this point than I anticipated. The original plan was to ride up the Mt Lemmon Hwy to pick up the high side of Green Mtn Trail, but it would be even more brutal riding rated as "extreme" on The Map, and I had planned on going back over the big hike-a-bike we just finished so we could finish the ride on the famed Milagrosa Trail. Neither of us wanted to slog over the wall again, as what we hiked up would almost certainly entail lots of down-hiking as well at our skill level. So we cut out the Green Mtn extension and Milagrosa. This meant our final decent back to the B&B would be on pavement. Not the end of the world, as that decent rocks anyway.
Davie was starting to feel it climbing six miles up Mt Lemmon. Think we gained around 2000ft on pavement. We found the trailhead for our return route, the Bug Spring Trail, or locally called "Bugs." What I didn't know is that this too involved a rigorous hike-a-bike initially, several hundred vertical feet. At least the path was well manicured. Many hikers here. One group said another group of bikers was just ahead of us.
We finally reach the high point. This couldn't have come sooner, as we were five hours into this ride and I was beginning to get cramping spasms. Fortunately, the descent was almost all downhill, and it was uber steep in many places. Dave either is more skilled, has bigger cojones, or both. I wussed out in a few places. Skidding over embedded rocks marginally being able to control speed makes me feel my age.
Bugs crosses the Mt Lemmon Hwy and becomes the Molino Basin Trail on the other side. All of these trails are part of the AZT route. This offers miles more of riotous descent. Scared myself silly on some of this stuff. This was surely the right way to end this ride, other than the last five miles of Mt Lemmon Hwy back to town. Don't need skiing to keep the upper body tough. The last hour descending was non-stop pounding. Ended up with blisters on my hands.
We rolled back to the B&B totally depleted. The ride went 56.0mi with 7000ft of climbing in 6.3 hours riding time. We quickly showered and sped off to nearby Sabino Cycles in hopes of scoring a derailleur hanger. They didn't have one, but called across town to AZ Bicycle Experts, a small local shop. Amazingly, they had one, but we had about 12 minutes to get there before closing. We just made it. Neither of us could keep our eyes open much past 8pm, so lights were out before 9pm.
Reddington Rd climb
Bellota Trail #15 with Rincons in the background
Dave descending bony section of Bellota
Climbing on the Catalina Hwy (Mt Lemmon Hwy)
Still snow on upper portion of Bug's
Dave on Bug's slickrock
HJ coming down Bug's
Friday, AZT Near Sonoita
We pretty much decided after Thursday's deathmarch that we'd have to back it down a notch on Friday. The easiest ride I had planned for the trip was another section of the AZT near the Mt Wrightson wilderness. A section locals rave about runs from Box Canyon to Pistol Hill. The whole loop I had planned entailed lots of paved and dirt road riding with 35+ miles of AZT singletrack for 62 miles total. Trimming this back, we hit just the portion from high point near Box Canyon to Rt 83 crossing. This cut paved riding to 12 miles, gaining about 1500 ft, with 25 miles of singletrack return.
The forecast took a turn for the colder with slight chance of rain. Cooler is better. Makes water last longer. Rain is not good. The soil is more of a clay base in this area. The slog up Rt 83 kind of sucked, but not any worse than road riding. I knew there would be copious reward soon.
Our clear blue skies quickly faded. Dark clouds nearby were spewing rain, but it was unclear how much of it was reaching the ground. We were riding around 5000ft above MSL for a while, and it was much cooler up here than in town. Rain would have utterly sucked. I didn't bring any clothing contingencies with me. Davie was a little smarter and at least brought arm warmers.
The next 10 miles heading back to the car were a giant roller fest. Drop 200ft into a gully, climb back out. Repeat about five times. This finally gave way to more persistent elevation loss. A black cloud moved overhead, we felt a few sprinkles but it never rained. We came upon some guys shooting big guns from the back of a pickup in the middle of nowhere. Hmm, lots of that goes on here. Went by some of it on Reddington Rd the day before. I thought the trail was going to wrap around right behind the backstop of their firing, but no. The trail was rerouted through a nasty cactus infested wash. This was the only hike-a-bike section on this ride. I wondered if it was re-routed to avoid a spandex clad turkey shoot?
A bit of bombing down the only piece of doubletrack brought us back to singletrack. This section was what we ride for. It was five miles of gradual downhill, big ring speed fest, often at over 20mph swooping between prickly pears. Couldn't but help grin the whole time. We got back to the car with 37.3mi, 4000ft of climbing, and 3:44hrs riding time on the GPS. Still had lots left in the tank after this ride. Saving it for Saturday, when we have a double ride planned. 10+ hours of riding for our first two days is a great start for this trip. Hope to score another 10hrs the next two days.
Mt Wrightson from the AZT
Dave on AZT with ominous clouds on the view
HJ on the AZT