of our trip targeted an area on the outskirts of Phoenix
comprised of several conservation parcels, including McDowellMountainPark 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
Stacked switchbacks, didn't want to go over edge here
Self portrait on Tom's descent
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
Much of the descent was superchunk like this
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.
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.