Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Trips can be disruptive. Even fun cycling trips. They dislodge us from routines. Some routines need dislodging, others not so. I tend to be singly focused when I go on a cycling trip. I don't run, avoid core work, and I fail to stretch. After all, I'm wicked wrecked from six and seven hour riding days, so why in the world would I do these other things?

Well, about 9 days passed with no running and almost as many days without stretching my hamstrings, something I usually do a few times per day, I went for my first run when I got back. It was an innocuous five miler at lunch last Wednesday. After a rest/travel day on Tuesday, which was sure to tighten me up even further, I felt ok heading out. I ran my typical just under 8 minute pace. Got back to work, showered, felt fine.

After sitting at my computer a short while, I got up, and nearly fell over. My left calf was seized up. I could not push off the ball of my foot whatsoever. Totally out of the blue. I had no indication things were going amok during the run. I thought maybe it was just a muscle spasm, tightness, or something that would resolve if I walked around a bit and stretched. But no. It persisted until I went to bed that night.

The next day, I felt much better, but a little pain was still there when pushing off the ball of my foot and I may have had a bit of a limp. By Saturday, I barely noticed any pain and did a hard 3hr hillfest ride. No problem.  After the ride, Dave's wife Beth asked if I knew about the half marathon Dave was thinking about doing this coming weekend. Huh? WTF! Dave is secretive about his training because he knows how nosy athletes are and it drives those around him crazy when he doesn't volunteer training information. I learn more from little random snippets from Beth than I do spending a week in the desert with Dave. So yeah, Dave has been getting in regular, long runs by his house which entail boat loads of vertical.

Sunday comes along, it is raining hard at my house when I got up, so what to do. It looked like Chelmsford just south of my house missed most of the rain. Maybe I could go for a long run down that way and hit the trails on the MTB afterwards. My longest run to date has been just over seven miles. It was time to up it a bit. I figured a flat paved rail trail 8 miler would be a safe bet. Have to keep up with the Penney's, you know.  I gave no concern for my tweaky calf, as there was no more residual pain. Never even registered.

I parked in Chelmsford center on the fairly new paved bike path. My planned route was to head about 3 miles out on rail path, a mile or two through cranberry bog trails, then return on back roads to rail path. Heading out at 8 minute pace felt good. About 3 miles out, still on paved rail path, I started feeling twinges in my calf again. Hmmm, seemed harmless enough, and if I went 3 miles before it started, I should be able to do another 5 without it getting too bad. I'd just tough it out if it did. I had no idea how big of a mistake I was making. Running is not like cycling.

After running through the cranberry bogs, where my paced dropped to 10-11 minutes, I was nearly disabled. Felt like a knife being thrust into my calf each step I pushed off. I stopped a couple times to relax the calf and stretch it a bit. Did not help. I had to get back, and I wasn't taking an hour by walking. Mistake grew bigger.

The roads I ended up on were pretty hilly, which only exacerbated the situation. In the hills, I ran into Cathy Rowell. She hoped I hadn't run all the way from my house out there.  I explained why I was ramping my running up a bit. I got into this little race called the Mt Washington Road Race, a foot race up Mt Washington in June. Dave and I signed up as a team, so we both made the lottery cut. Yeah, Dave is going to put the screws to me in this one, both physically and psychologically I'm sure.

After Cathy called me a nut case, I was back on my way, almost hobbling on one leg. Getting back to the car, I couldn't even lock my left knee out. I still planned on riding. I still didn't appreciate the risk. Riding wasn't actually that bad. Very different muscle dynamic, and it seems what I had damaged doesn't come into play on the bike. It still hurt like hell when bombing down root gardens where I had to suspend myself above the saddle. I was on my 29er hardtail.

When I got home, I was in rough shape. I didn't really know what I did. I've run five milers at much faster paces before. I can only speculate that hard riding, which tightens my hamstrings, and no stretching for over a week, made my back side as tight as a violin string. Then when I ran at a seemingly benign pace, I tweaked an underdeveloped muscle in my calf. It starts behind the knee and wraps around the inside of my calf almost down to the medial side of my heel. It seems to be a muscle used more for stability than one of the primary muscles mapped to the Achilles tendon.

Monday was a complete down day. I could barely walk around work. Today was better, but people would right away ask what I did, so I must still have a pretty noticeable limp. I did go out on my hardtail today for some dirt road repeats. I felt fine mashing high Watts on the bike. No surprise really. My cycling specific muscles should be very well developed.

So yesterday coach Al Lyman posted a timely link on FB about runners not training through pain. The article also notes that 70% of all runners are injured during a calender year. Why do people run again? Oh yeah, something about my bone density. I pushed through a little pain this weekend, and now who knows how long I'll need to lay off running. I suspect I have a muscle tear. Maybe not a major one, but disabling enough. I read these can take six weeks to heal, six weeks of laying low. Running seems very assymetrical. Injuries can randomly blindside you. Cycling seems to be the other way around. You can pummel your body into an overtrained stupor, but overuse injuries are much less common.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sunday Washout

As I alluded to in several post, we had less than ideal weather a couple days while in Arizona. Sunday the 17th was nearly a complete washout. It rained hard most of the morning. When the rain let up, Dave and I decided to hit the Pima Air Museum, since neither of us had visited it before. Worth the visit if you haven't been. I always thought the gravelly mix in Arizona drained well, but touring the outside displays suggested just the opposite. Uber greasy. No way could you ride on that. It was a good way to kill a couple hours on a bone chilling, wet day.

Sink to your ankles in places on the air field.

Late in the day it looked like the rain was tapering off and the roads were drying up. My legs were in a tight funk and I was itching to get on the bike for some recovery spinning. I thought maybe a ride up into Sabino Canyon would fit the bill, gaining maybe 800-1000ft from the hotel over eight miles. I pumped up the tires as high as I dared and headed off in near winter riding attire.

Dolomites or Santa Catalina's?

Sabino Canyon is a park and entrance fee is required. I saw bicycles were allowed on the closed to cars pave road up into the canyon. The park closed at 5pm, so I was sure to make it there before then. To my dismay, bikes are allowed in the canyon only after they close. That meant I didn't have to pay, but it also meant I had an hour to kill before I could ride there. I really didn't want to ride city streets. I thought about just heading back and calling it good. But hey, it was dry, I'm up in the foothills, so maybe I'll just bum around a bit. I toured some pretty nice neighborhoods, maybe a couple that I really shouldn't have been in. I wanted to see how high above the city I could get. I burned a lot of kilojoules, albeit at a slow pace, climbing in the foothills.

View of Rincon's I believe from near Sabino Canyon

Approaching 5pm, I headed back to Sabino Canyon. After I figured the last trolley came down, I headed up on my bike. Many walkers and runners were on the path. It climbed gradually at first. The stream had some nice flow. A few miles in, the grade pitched upwards. This was more work than I bargained for. With the neighborhood cruising, I had climbed at least a couple thousand feet now on my "recovery" ride. I wondered what kind of doom this spelled for the next day's ride with James, Monte and Dave. I didn't care at the moment. I was rather enjoying myself on this otherwise wasted day.

Looking back down Sabino Canyon

I reached the end and prepared for a chilly descent. The snow line wasn't much further above me. There would be no people for the first mile or so, so I could let it rip. A cool road to get away from traffic on at the end of the day. Other cyclists were coming up as I made my way down. I had ridden enough to earn a respectable meal that night. Dave and I hit El Charro, another fine Mexican eatery.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ride, Eat, Sleep, Poop, Repeat

Arizona Trail and Fantasy Island Double Header
Day three of our recent Arizona trip turned out to be one of the best days of the trip. The major Pacific storm was moving in the next morning, so we decided to go big despite tenderized legs.  I've ridden a portion of the Arizona Trail (AZT) between Box Canyon and Rt 83 a few times now. It will never get old. The trail has also seen some refinements and enhancements over the last few years. Sections of doubletrack have been replaced with incredible flowy singletrack.

The last two times I've ridden the AZT here, we parked on Rt 83, rode south on the state highway almost to Box Canyon, then came back on about 20 miles of singletrack. Today, Dave and I decided to expand on this a bit, not quite the full AZT Jamboree, but close. We'd park at the Davidson trailhead north of I-10, take a sequence of doubletrack and paved roads all the way to Box Canyon, then come back on 30 miles of pure singletrack, losing upwards of 2000ft on the return.

My legs were fubar starting out. Dave popped me out of his draft on the first little rise we came to on pavement. He had a lot of pent up angst from the tire catastrophe the day before, and I think he was venting it here. Poor me, I rode a bunch extra the day before, including a 2000 foot climb/hike-a-bike. A heinous headwind was blowing, bringing in the storm. On the flats I was ok, anything over about 3% grade I struggled mightily. Thankfully, Dave didn't mind doing 98% of the work heading out to Box Canyon.

I was surprised there were no cars at the the trailhead. You'd think on a Saturday with first rain in like three months hitting the next day, a bunch of folks would be shuttling this amazing section of the AZT. We did encounter four backpackers shortly after heading down the trail. Other than this, we had the trail to ourselves.  I had high expectations for fun-factor with a stiff wind to our backs, 2000ft to lose, and 30 miles of mostly buff singletrack.

Dave coming up the AZT with Mt Wrightson in background.
Just a hint of snow up there at 10,000ft. Photo take just above 5000ft.

Quite a bit of vertical is lost initially from the high-plains grasslands. High point elevation was over 5000ft, and it is noticeably cooler here than back in town. Then the hills section is hit. The terrain is something in between grassland and saguaro desert. The trail snakes through many deep washes, dropping down sets of uber steep switchbacks and climbing just as steeply back out. My fear of failure still holds me back on switchbacks, especially when you'll likely tumble 10's of feet down through jagged rocks and cacti if you fall to the outside of some switchbacks.

Heading north in the grasslands.

Our enthusiasm was pretty high. We were taking more risk than the previous two days. This caught up with Dave on a particularly nasty, off-camber switchback. I remember this switchback riding with Alex last year. I think Alex almost bit it on that one. Neither of us cleaned it that time. I've never even tried. Dave went into it hot, realized he was screwed, and basically just laid the bike down. The rocks were the sharp as glass embedded kind. There was blood and gaping cuts. After the tire debacle the previous day, we had more than enough tubes and patches and boots to fix any tire catastrophe between the two of us. But do you think we had a single repair item for our own bodies? Noooo! Dave's thinking crap, my shin hurts. I'm thinking dude, look at your elbow. Borderline needing stitches. We were still a good 20 miles out from the car. The gravel in Dave's elbow would have to get cleaned out later after we got back to town.

Contour singletrack.

One of many steep grinds. We each tried this one three times
and could not clean it. We're total Fred's.

A very tough switchback that requires a hop in place
maneuver to clean. Nope, we didn't clean it.

We got rolling again. Any little thing that bushed Dave's bashed up shin cause yelps. We were soon out of the hills section. The next 15 miles are possibly the highest fun-factor 15 miles of trail I know anywhere. Where else can you cruise 15-20mph on singletrack, not working hard at all, barely avoiding skidding into prickly pear and cholla cacti? Dave must have forgotten his boo-boo earlier, as he was shredding. I had dropped my tire pressure to crazy low in order to coerce my Small Block 8's into providing some traction on the loose-on-hardpack surface. It made a substantial difference. I was scaring myself at least once a minute with close calls. Dave got a 10 second or so gap on me. I came around a corner to find him remounting his bike. He sheepishly said "you weren't suppose to see that!" Guess he had a little more than close call.

Miles and miles of high-speed cruising.

This was the first time I rode some of this section. I think it was already in place when Alex and I road this part of the AZT last year, but my out-dated GPX track steered us onto the original doubletrack route.

We reached Rt 83 where we parked in past years. I wondered how the next 8+ miles were going to ride. This would be new to both of us. Turns out there was more fabulous high-speed shredding. With a huge tailwind blowing and wide-open terrain, I looked down at the computer at times to see 20+ mph on singletrack. The surface was gravelly, and I was coming mighty close to losing traction as the trail weaved through the desert.

We reached I-10 in a different place from where we crossed over a few hours earlier. The AZT passes through a culvert, which runs under both directions of I-10. Thus it is a long culvert. You could see light at the other end, but we had no idea how pitch black it would be in the middle. Dave flew into it, then screamed something midway. Riding into the culvert starts out on concrete. You assume it stays that way. But midway, it turns to loose beach sand. Scares the hebe jeebies out of you. Dave made it through. I almost endo'd.

From I-10, it was just a few more miles back to the car. The high sierra clouds were building. You could almost sense the moisture that was coming. We finished that 52 mile ride in less than 5hrs riding time. I thought surely it would take over 6hrs with that heinous headwind to start. This made squeezing a little more riding in before calling it a day. Since a winter storm warning was already issued for above 3000ft with 100% chance of heavy rain in town, Dave already committed to not riding on Sunday. So we planned to bury ourselves by hitting Fantasy Island on the way back to the hotel. Wounds can be cleaned out later.

We had about 90 minutes of good daylight left when we reached the Fantasy Island trailhead.  I was feeling mightily wrecked by this point, but something about Fantasy Island revives the most comatose legs. We weren't exactly riding stellar speed, but we did not hesitate to let our speed run out on sections that beg for speed. These sections abound at Fantasy Island. We rode everything except the Bunny Trail and the piece off of it. Thus, all the good stuff. That brought the day's total to nearly 70 miles and 6+ hours riding time.  Fun times.

Dave at Fantasy Island late in day.

Hill Junkie @ FI

We hit Walgreens from there to pick up first aid stuff. A soft toothbrush for wound cleaning (they didn't have brushes explicitly for this), steristrips, bandages, etc. I had neosporin back at the room.  I almost had to leave the room when Dave was cleaning out his cuts in the shower. Had to hurt.  After cleaning up, we had dinner at Guadalajara. There is no shortage of fine Mexican cuisine in Tucson. A late supper was not a problem, as we wouldn't be riding the next morning anyway. A three day trend had emerged of riding all day, gorging all evening, sleeping, purging the remnants of last evening's meal, then starting the process all over again. Life was good.

Interestingly, when I loaded our rides into Strava, I had the second fastest time on the fast, fun section of the AZT. I see Alex Combes in there too, further down, when he loaded his ride from last year. Both of  the day's rides, AZT from Box Canyon and Fantasy Island, are must-do's every time visiting Tucson. Other than Dave's mishap, riding days like these make trips to the desert worth every penny.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

McDowell Mountain Park Disaster

Day two of our trip targeted an area on the outskirts of Phoenix comprised of several conservation parcels, including McDowell Mountain Park and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. I sampled a small portion of trails here back in 2005 on a business trip. On that trip, two events were being held simultaneously on the east side, MTB races on the race loops and a ultra-endurance foot race on other trails. At first I was told I couldn't ride that day, then the park staff said well, ok, just be mindful of the few runners still out on the course, they've been going over 24hrs. They were literally walking dead.

Anyway, I never got up into the mountains on that trip, basically just riding a big loop on the Pemberton Trail. New trails with mountain biking in mind have been built since that trip. One was Tom's Thumb. It was a grunt of a climb up either of a couple routes, then a riotous six mile, 2000ft plummet back to the car. I worked up a route from mined GPX tracks for Dave and I to try, basically a variant of a "Double Bypass" loop. Going between east and west halves of the park entails climbing over the mountain ridge in the center, and hardcore riders can pick routes that cross it in four places for a "Quadruple Bypass" ride. We had just completed a 100km ride the day before and had big things planned again the next day, so no quad bypass for us. The 40 mile route I had planned would easily give us 5hrs of abuse.

Much of the riding in the Phoenix area is quite brutal, even by New England standards. It is all rocky, quite loose, ledgy, with ample thorny flora to tear you up. And tires too. Our ride would take us over the Sunrise Trail to the east side, loop around on Pemberton, then come back up to Tom's Thumb for a final descent back to the car. Things didn't quite go down as planned.

Working our way towards Sunrise Trail, we meandered through washes and backyards. Although very bony, the trail was well maintained and had nice flow. Occasionally we popped out on ragged doubletrack. On one fast, ragged descent, Dave flatted. Like instantly, the rear tire went flat. Pinch flat, presumably. He was running Slime tubes. I warned of running tubes in Arizona when we booked the trip. Dave heeded the advice and ordered a set of UST tubeless wheels. But they've been on backorder forever and didn't come in time for the trip. I couldn't just loan him a set of my tubeless wheels either, as his Yeti uses newer through axles front and rear.

Dave climbing Sunrise (I think)

Somewhere up high, probably Sunrise Trail

Descending Sunrise

Pulling the tube out, it was split nearly 1/2 inch in two places on the inside of the tube. It did not look like a pinch flat, as it was split at a machinery mark in the tube, a defect. We tried patching the splits, but nothing will stick to a Slimed tube. Dave had only one spare with him, and I had only one with me. He put the spare in, so now we had one spare between the both of us and 30 miles to go. He upped the pressure too.
A little while later, Dave flatted again. Same wheel, different spot on tube, but similar split in tube. We tried patching again. No success at all. The glueless patches didn't work either. My spare Slime tube went in. Now we had zero spares and 25mi of rugged terrain to ride, continuing away from our vehicle. See where this is going?

After inflating all of our tires rock hard, like 50psi, we bombed all the way down into the east side, nearly 20 miles into the ride and away from the car. Ever ride Kenda Small Block 8's on loose, sketchy Arizona terrain at 50psi? Frightening to say the least. We were on the Dixie Mine Trail, when I noticed Dave was no longer in site. Not again! I turned around, only to find him futzing with his rear wheel, again. Flat. No spares. Only a couple patches left. We tried patching it, overlapping glueless patches, hoping the Slime wouldn't ooze out around them. It seemed like it held, so we set off.

We didn't get far before Dave was no longer behind me. I turned around yet again, to find him walking his bike. Our ride now turned into extrication operation.  Dave was nearly 6mi from the nearest road, which was a long drive from where our car was parked on the opposite side of the huge park. Fortunately, even though the temp was well into the 80's, he still had a lot of water and route finding to the McDowell park entrance would not be difficult. We parted ways, Dave walking east, me riding west.

I felt badly for Dave, as the last time we went on a trip, he broke a wheel about 40 miles from the car in Georgia and had to be rescued. In that trip, Brett and I still finished the full ride. But nice people brought him to town and got him fixed up with a replacement loaner wheel before we came back to pick him up. That saved the rest of his trip.

I was more worried about myself. I had to go off our planned route, taking a shorter way back to the car, but still 10 miles of sharp rocks and dangerous terrain with no spare tube and no cell phone. I decided to go up East End trail from Windmill Trail to Tom's Thumb, so at least I could salvage that from the ride. Bad choice. I vaguely recalled the topo map suggested climbing East End might be challenging. It was not only challenging, it was very difficult to hike up with a 27 lb MTB. It was a rock slide of car and small house sized boulders. Hiking progress was so slow that both my GPS and bike computer failed to detect movement at times. I have the threshold set to 0.5mph on the GPS. 1200ft of vert like this would take a very long time. For those that have hiked Tuckerman's Ravine on Mt Washington in New Hampshire, this was like that. Descending Tom's Thumb better be worth this. East End topped my list as mother of all hike-a-bikes, even bigger than the 4WD route up Mt Hopkins Alex and I did last year.

Looking down the East End trail hike-a-bike
The scenery up top was nice. Much cooler too. I passed a couple trail runners up there. Otherwise I had the whole area to myself. Now it was time to bomb back down to the car. Or so I believed. Cresting the precipice, I thought uh, oh, how does the trail up here get down to the trail down there. It looked just as bad as what I just hiked up. Well, it wasn't as bad. The segments between switchbacks were rideable, but saddle to sternum steep. I could not ride many of the switchbacks. Just too scary steep with extreme drops to the outside. You'd fall 30ft to the next switchback below if you botched some of them. Needless to say, riding by myself with no cell phone, I did not take much risk. The descent was not what I hoped for.

Approaching Tom's Thumb

Terrain up top

Phoenix from Tom's Thumb, part way down

Tom's Switchbacks

Stacked switchbacks, didn't want to go over edge here

Self portrait on Tom's descent

Further down, after the grade relaxed, speed could be run out a little. Instead of 30% grade, it was more like 20% grade. And super chunky. I was cringing the whole time, fearing slashing a tire or flatting.  Eventually I reached the car. Dave left me a series of kooky messages indicating he was dying of thirst in the desert. That meant he was doing just fine.

Much of the descent was superchunk like this
Trail angels abound everywhere.  Part way out, Dave got a ride by park staff on some kind of an ATV. Then as I pulled into McDowell more than two hours after we split up, he flagged me down in a truck of another good Samaritan. Then to top off recovering from this disastrous riding day, I spied a tiny local bike shop just outside the park entrance, "Cycle Out" I believe the name was. The owner got both of Dave's wheels going again and I bought another spare slime tube. I think Dave and I both bought our Slime tubes from Jenson online. They were junk. Seems to be either manufacturing defect or old age. They were splitting apart at marks in the tube. The Cycle Out proprietor suggested they were old. His stock was constantly being turned over, so no fear there. The tubes Dave got from the LBS held up for the rest of the trip.

I finished with 30 miles for the day, about a mile of that off the bike. That 30 miles took 4.4hrs, a testament to how bony the riding is at McDowell. We both shuddered to think what if this had happened the day before on the AZT between Picketpost and Kelvin. It would have been a real rescue situation for sure, as Dave would not have had enough water to walk out.  We were actually fortunate for this to play out the way it did. We'd live to ride another epic the next day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

TMP Sleet Ride

Two years ago when Dave and I visited Tucson, we had this big loop planned in and around Tucson Mountain Park (TMP). It included a foray into the Robles parcel south of the Ajo Hwy and north all the way to Brown Mtn. and Sweetwater trails.  It was really hot that day, and it was the last day of our trip. The ride got truncated, and we never got to Robles. Monday, the last riding day of our 2012 trip would be our only chance to swing through Robles to check out some of the newest singletrack built west of town.

It was a raw day. The Pacific storm still hadn't cleared out.  There was a winter storm warning down to 3000ft. Tucson sits around 2600ft. There was 40% chance of rain, and looking around the horizon, it was obviously raining in many places. The Catalina Hwy up Mt Lemmon was even closed.  The previous day was a complete wash. Dave didn't ride at all. We visited the air museum midday. It rained hard nearly all day in town and snowed in the mountains above town. I did get out for a road ride late in the day. Trails were not rideable. We hoped things dried out a bit for Monday's ride. Back home in NH, it was in the 70's. It was 30F cooler with snow visible just above Tucson.

East coast riders James Harmon and Mike Montalbano were also in town and were interested in hooking up for a 3+ hour ride.  Would have been nice to hit some of the higher elevation stuff, but more weather was hitting those areas and we'd hit snow almost right away. A TMP loop would fit the bill.

We headed south to hit Robles first. Crossing under the Ajo Highway through a four foot high culvert, sand at the far end reduced the inside clearance. My overly stuffed Camelbak started rubbing until I was wedged. Later I learned it rubbed holes through my Camelbak.

From near high point in Robles trails. Sleet very close.

The riding in Robles was good. A single big loop gave us a good sampling. Coming around the back side, it got dark and began sleeting. If it all-out rained, we'd be at risk of hypothermia. At least the sleet bounced off us.

We crossed back under the Ajo Hwy via a different, 6ft high culvert. A questionable GPS track forced us to take a trail going who knows where. It went up. A lot. A bonus climb. James said he hadn't gotten in much climbing while out here. Perhaps this trail would help fill the void. James bolted at an impressive rate up this techy climb.  The trail dropped almost as precipitously as it went up, terminating at Starr Pass.

From top of trail between Ajo and Starr Pass. Is it Explorer Trail?
Weather looks nice from this angle, but not for long.

We climbed up Yetman Trail to Gates Pass Rd. It's been maybe 13 or 14 years since I've ridden up this rutted out piece of work. Time hasn't exactly improved conditions. A bit of hike-a-biking ensued. There were bits of sleet accumulation up there at about 3100ft elevation. The descent down about a hundred granite erosion control steps tested my limits. I cleanly rode it all, but not without some adrenaline shakies.

Bombing down from Gates Pass entailed some risk, as precip squalls were visible in nearly every direction. We pushed on anyway, towards Brown Mtn. The switchbacks up and down Brown Mtn are more than I can handle. Not sure why I wanted to go back. I do likes me a good ridge trail though, and Brown Mtn, although not very high, does give you a sense of riding at the top of the world. James killed the climb on his singlespeed, and even with my 22x34 granny gear, I felt utterly impotent heading up. I caved and hike part of it.

James, Mike and Dave heading up one of the peaks on
the Brown Mtn ridgeline.

Sleet moving in while on Brown Mtn ridgeline.

Near the high point of Brown Mtn, the entire horizon filled with dark strands of precip reaching the ground. We weren't avoiding this one. Outer shells went back on. Stinging sleet started before we got off the ridge. I reaffirmed how much I still utterly suck on switchbacks. I cleaned less than half of the descent. I bet the others were hypothermic by the time I got down. We rode into a campground area where there was an office building. We ducked inside to wait the worst of the rain cell out. It poured and sleeted pretty hard for about 15 minutes.  Very lucky to have shelter at that moment.

We pretty much hit what we wanted to and started heading back towards the car. I was fading by the minute and wasn't going to get back before total implosion. The trails were now moist and spongy. This sucked the life out of me climbing back up to the Yetman Trail. The riding down "The Wash" was not a problem. There was a punchy little climb climb just before getting back to the car that drove the last nail in my coffin though. I chuckled to see somebody in Strava named this climb the "F-You Hill." Yes, I think a couple of us felt that way about it.

Trailhead at end of ride.

We finished with 34.4mi in 3:50hrs moving time and about 4000ft of climbing. Turned out to be a great ride to cap off a trip. Nice to hook up with James and Mike too.  Dave and I thought about a millisecond on driving over to Sweetwater for a little more riding but risk of muddy trails and more sleet/rain were too high and body too weak.  Definitely need a break now. Overloading has reached a toxic level. Anymore would be squarely in overtraining territory.  Later this week I'll have to catch up on Friday's ride near Phoenix (a complete disaster with tire woes) and Saturday's double feature with nearly 70 miles of trail riding. We head back to New England on Tuesday. Resuming the daily grind on Wednesday is going to suck.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

AZT Deathmarch

I follow blogs from a few people that live in places I like to visit and share a similar passion for epic off-road adventures. One of these people is Scott Morris. Some months ago, Scott wrote about new sections of the Arizona Trail (AZT) being completed in between the Picketpost and Kelvin trailheads, the final sections of the AZT to be completed. Much of this segment was benchcut by trail building machinery into steep, rugged canyon country.

Cresting gap on Rt 177

I believe most riders would either bike pack or shuttle this section. Dave and I have just one car and no way to shuttle the ride by leaving a car at the Kelvin trailhead, then driving back to Picketpost to start the ride. We had to shuttle ourselves by pedal power, the only way! It meant 20+ miles of pavement with an initial 2000ft mountain pass climb starting right from the car. We parked in Kelvin, which was the far trailhead from Phoenix, so we wouldn't have to finish the ride with a 20 mile buzz killing pavement ride. In between the two trailheads were 40 miles of continuous singletrack with no bailouts, and no water (the Gila river is contaminated with heavy metals from mine run-off). It was going to be hot. There will be rattlesnakes. The trail could be quite technical. The ride would entail some risk.

Beginning of AZT at Picketpost Mtn

Dave leaving Picketpost

We got an early start to ensure we did not run out of daylight. The climb up Rt 177 went well. Already warm out, we were sweating profusely. I had stashed an extra water bottle at the Picketpost trailhead on the way to Kelvin for a jersey pocket. This with 100oz Camelbak and 28oz bottle on frame was not going to be enough in this heat for an all-day ride. We stopped briefly in Superior where we picked up some more water. In about 90 minutes time, we were off the pavement and on the AZT singletrack.

Dave on AZT

Working our way up to high point on the AZT

The trail was very well designed. Nice flow, 100% rideable. We encountered a group of older walkers on the trail near the trailhead, coming back from a Picketpost out and back hike. They were just heading out when we dropped water there 2hrs earlier.

Hill Junkie, trying to trackstand with Dave fumbles with camera

Cruising around high point on AZT

For the next 10-12 miles, we slowly gained vertical until reaching a maximum elevation of around 3800ft and rolled at that altitude for a while. Grade reversals were continuous. Many deep digs per minute were required to make it up the punchy rises. These were not only taking a toll on the body, but they also ensured high sweat rate. I became concerned about water consumption. The scenery helped take the mind off worries though. We cruised through some pretty amazing canyon country. Exposure was ever present. Not the die if you fall kind, but certainly you will be taken out by helicopter if you fall kind.  A mishap was not an option.

Canyon wall riding. The most amazing part of this ride. Can you
follow the singletrack?

Flowers and exposure in the canyon

Hard to keep eyes on trail with views like these

Canyon benchcut

Mid ride, we encountered a solo female bike packer, spending the night on the trail. She was probably not much younger than us and commented about how much hike-a-biking she'd been doing the last few hours. That meant our descent to the Gila River valley was soon to begin. We encountered only one other person on the trail, a solo male hiker. We pretty much had the trail to ourselves.

On the descent

Continuing descent to the Gila River in distance

The descent was a blast. A test of brakes and wits to be sure. Glad I put new pads on before I left. It was well into the 80's at the river. From there, we had to ride about 20 miles upstream back to the car. A small net gain, but there would be several significant climbs up the valley wall and back down to river grade along the way.

Finally, Gila River

Panic quickly set in. Much of the trail at river grade had the consistency of either talcum powder, beach sand or 6" deep pea gravel. It was barely rideable. What should have been an easy 10mph average pace turned into 4mph at very hard effort. We clearly did not have enough water for another 4hrs of riding. We were already 4-5hrs into the ride. After several miles of pretty cruddy, buzz killing riding, the trail began climbing. Up and away from the river, the typical decomposed granite surface resumed. But good riding had to be earned with significant effort. We'd climb, cruise on some nice trail for a bit, then bomb back down into sandy quagmire.

In one of these quagmires, I must have spooked a rattler. Dave heard it, riding further behind me. He stopped to look and didn't like how well it blended in with the environment, as in, you'll never see one in time just riding along. We were too far past it before he caught up to me to get a picture. Dave has girly fears of snakes.  I was hoping to see a Gila Monster on this ride, but no such luck.

We reached the train trestle. I seemed to recall that was only half way along the Gila to the car. I totally panicked. Dave was already out of water and I was finishing my last sip. We could not go another 2+ hours in 85F heat, already dehydrated, with no water. We still had a 500ft climb described as a hike-a-bike by others too. I was the most dehydrated ever, during a ride. I hadn't peed in 8hrs. We were clearly in death-march mode at this point.

We got to the 500ft climb shortly after the train trestle. Fears started to subside, as I knew the top of this climb was only 4mi out from the car and it would be mostly downhill.  The climb was not a hike-a-bike. Steep, very steep for legs with over 6hrs riding in them, but nicely graded. I did not clean a couple switchbacks though.

From the summit, the trail was wide and freshly graded. We soon encountered large heavy equipment blocking off the trail. Fortunately, the crew was done for the day, as reading the link at the beginning of this post, we would not have been allowed to pass if they had been working. They were doing the most interesting thing, something I have never seen before. They were converting a road into a singletrack. I guess this is so only human powered transport can pass through that section of the AZT and not four wheeled vehicles. Looked like 2-3 miles might be going through this conversion process, which looked quite tedious, with a very large excavator and bulldozer. Had to cost big bucks.

Seeing the car was a marvelous sight. I had two jugs of Gatorade in there, which were piss warm, but never tasted so good. I finished one in about one chug. We thought about scrambling down to the Gila river to rinse off, but it looked hard to get to. When I pulled my jersey off, a cloud of salt dust fell off it. My entire body was encrusted in lost electrolytes.

We finished the ride in 7:04 hours moving time, covering 62.8 miles, with 7000-8000ft of climbing. That was probably the hardest, non-race MTB ride I've ever done. One of the most satisfying too. The scenery and flow of the ride rivals that of my favorite Colorado rides, such as Trail 401 in Crested Butte or the Monarch Crest Trail. Very different climate, air to breath, and the views go on for hours and hours. I would easily do this ride again. Other than underestimating how much water was needed, the ride was flawlessly executed.  At nearly 50yrs old, I wonder how many more years I can do stuff like this?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One of many things keeping me busy

Cathy and I have a little home improvement, or rather neglect abatement work going on. We bought our house while it was no more than a foundation in the ground in 1997. Nearly 15 years have passed, and it's been a great 15 years of new home ownership. We've had to do virtually nothing to maintain our house, other than fighting with squirrels in attic spaces or ants in wet wall cavities because the builder failed to seal off respective entry points for vermin and water.

We're past due on interior maintenance. Only one room has been re-done, our son's bedroom after he moved out. Let's just say he held vastly different ideas on how walls and flooring can be used than I held. Other heavily used rooms weren't far behind in need of update. Having a large black Labrador in the house for many of those 15 years didn't help the main floor out. Boris was also an outside dog and brought a lot of dirt in.

We recently pulled the berber in the dining room and installed engineered oak flooring in there. The kitchen, fourier and bathroom are ceramic tile, pretty much impervious to any kind of abuse. That left the study and family rooms. The berber was well past due being replaced.

Funny how you adapt to your surroundings. You kind of know carpet is not that nice anymore, but until you move a 300 lb cherry desk that hasn't moved in 15 years, you really don't know.

Where the desk was. Gross, eh? Carpet initially cut back around
perimeter so I could run wires.

We decided to move all the furniture and haul away the old carpet ourselves. Our transfer station does not charge for carpet.  Cost a lot of money to have the carpet installers do this, plus they do it in a day and I wouldn't have chance to pull home theater wires. It always bugged me a little having wires run over the carpet along the baseboard in our family room to reach speakers. We'll be moving the home theater system to what is supposed to be the formal living room, since the layout is more conducive to theater. My study will move to the larger family room, where Cathy's spin bike and other exercise equipment will remain. Direct TV and phone lines have been pulled through under the floor. Speaker wires are now routed along baseboard under the carpet. The new carpet will come while I'm in Arizona. Cathy will be home to sign off on the work.

Family room. It's hard to believe how much crap was in here
when moving it all to kitchen or upstairs because there was no
more room left on main floor.

Next up will be kitchen work. Counter tops, sink and painting. Carpet ain't cheap, but kitchens can sink big bucks. The tile is a keeper. Happy with the quality, texture and color. Not quite sure yet how to fit in this remodelling effort with work and training.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Not what I had in mind

I totally mucked up this past weekend. I could have skied on what reports described as excellent conditions Saturday. But noooo, I had to head south to escape the overnight snow covering, only to bike in a snow storm on the Cape! Webcams showed clear skies and zero snow on the ground when I left the house. About the time I reached the Cape, visibility went to crap. The pictures show how things played out.

Neighborhood, Saturday morning. Roads were crusty.

Nearing Cape, it started to snow.

Coming off Bourne Bridge. I was BS by this point.

Not what I drove 1:40 for.

At least the terrain at Otis is a little more interesting than ToT.

What tires did I ride, and on which wheel?

This baby was putting out way more Watts than I did today.
Probably like 25,000x more Watts.

It snowed mightily for an hour or so. Heavy, wet shit. I was soaked in 30 minutes. When the sun came out, the snow turned to slush, and I spent the next two hours taking a slush bath. My clothes must have weighed 10 lbs and my shoes filled with water. The snow was nearly gone when I finished riding.  Yep, should've skied instead.

I finished with about 26mi in 3.1hrs. A pretty junky workout. Would have gotten much better cardio workout in on skis.

At least Sunday was a more positive riding experience. I hit local trails after hearing we pretty much skipped right over mud season this year. Hit a compilation of Chelmsford and Carlisle conservation land parcels, no less than seven named parcels I can think of off the top of my head. Bits of road link them up. Covered 32+ miles in exactly 3hrs.

Heading to Arizona on Wednesday. Dave Penney and I have a few big trail rides planned. On Thursday, we'll hit the final section of the Arizona Trail to be completed. This section of the AZT is receiving rave reviews from the MTB community. It is typically ridden as a shuttle ride from Picketpost to Kelvin trailheads, 40 miles of pure singletrack, through very remote, rugged terrain. Dave and I will be providing our own shuttle by riding pavement to close the loop, bringing the total ride to around 60 miles.

Don't want to see any snow on this trip. Looks to be very warm there this week, cooling by the weekend.