Monday, March 21, 2011

Black Canyon Trail

Saturday was our last day to ride in Arizona. Every time I revisit a riding destination, I'm always sure to check out something new. This is easy to do in states like Arizona or Colorado. Riding opportunities are vast, and passionate MTB communities in those states ensure continued access and lobby for new trails. One new piece of work in Arizona is the Black Canyon Trail. Local riders have been saying great things about it. I thought it would be a great way to cap off a week of riding.

The BCT isn't exactly a Sedona ride. In fact, it is closer to Phoenix than Sedona. We still started at a reasonable hour. I deeply questioned yet again the wisdom of riding with my chest condition. Each morning began with fits of lung clearing. There were times I conjured up a mass with nowhere to deposit it. Imagine swallowing an egg yolk.

From my limited research on the BCT, I figured our planned 42 mile route would take only about four hours. I fueled accordingly. The trail seemed non-technical for the most part and the biggest climb was about 800ft. The temp was an ideal 68F with some hazy sun.

Agua Fria river below, trail bench cut into canyon wall in distance.

Heading out, we were amazed by the flowy nature of the trail. Long 6% grade climbs were followed by long 6% descents. Most of the trail was meticulously benchcut into canyon sidewalls. It no doubt took many, many hours of labor to build this trail. Just because the trail had flow didn't mean you could carry big ring speed. The trail contoured into many nooks and crannies and dropped into and out of many washes. Grade and direction reversals were constant. Super fun, but after a couple hours of riding and nowhere near the half-way point, I began to doubt my fast twitch legs would carry me through the whole planned route with the food and water I brought.

We wrapped around the western part of the Little Pan Loop and crested the high point before the Boy Scout Loop. The Boy Scout Loop was to be the far point of this mostly out and back ride, but I knew if we bombed down towards it, considerable additional climbing would be required.  Of course, Alex was not concerned. Onward we pressed. At the far point of the ride, three hours were nearly logged. So much for a four hour ride.

Heading south on BCT. These Saguaros were massive.
Photo by Alex

Coming back meant two more Agua Fria river crossings, which meant a huge climb after the first crossing. With my food gone and six ounces of fluid left in my Camelbak, the last 2hrs of this ride pushed me deeply into death march territory. I saw three snakes on the way back, none of them rattlers, but this weirded Alex out no less. There was nobody else left on the trail late in the day.

Alex on ledge

The climb back up to the Skyline Segment nearly killed me. The descent was worth it. Even though my body was weak, my mind was still sharp enough to shred the next several miles of nearly all coasting, sliver of benchcut singletrack.

Alex continued his feud with thorns. See how long these are?
I pulled one out in the evening embedded as deep.

We got back to the car with 43.4mi in 5.6hrs moving time logged. Alex consumed about half a bottle of Perpetuum and barely touched the water in his Camelbak. What I wouldn't give for some of that fat burning, slow twitch muscle fiber. We were gluttonous fools at the Sonic on the way back to Flagstaff. A large chocolate malt, chicken sandwich and Supersonic cheeseburger (think double Whopper with cheese) never disappeared so fast.

BCT flow. Photo by Alex.

For the trip, we rode 260 miles, mostly off-road, climbed 28,500ft, with a moving time of 27.5hrs. I've done more off-road miles or more climbing before in a week, but never more riding hours. Many of the rides this trip were quite technical. I'd definitely repeat Black Canyon again, and probably Highline in Sedona too. I managed to lose a couple pounds despite eating as much as I could. My legs have a little more definition to them now, so hopefully I gained some training value from this trip even though I was sick the whole time.

Boy Scout Loop on left, Little Pan Loop in middle, Skyline on right.

I managed to see the doctor today. My welcome back to New Hampshire is antibiotics, a snowy landscape, and a work email inbox that I'll never recover from. We didn't quite lose all the snow in our yard before a refresh moved in today. Just maybe there was a reason I didn't put storage wax on the skies yet.

Spring in New Hampshire.

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