Sunday, March 18, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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?