Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tucson Trip in Photo per Day

Another annual pilgrimage to the desert southwest was completed relatively unscathed.  I went a bit later this year so I could join Alex and Jason from Connecticut.  Rented a house this time, a much better way to go.  We arrived in Tucson on schedule, built bikes with no problems and had two hours of daylight left. Time to ride!


Unstable weather moved into the southwest as we arrived. Of course! Hill Junkie always brings crappy nor'east weather with him on trips. But it was actually a blessing in disguise. The temps had been pushing into the mid-90's. All-day sufferfests don't end well in that kind of heat. At least not for me. The Sweetwater trails were just 4mi from the house by road. We pedaled over and got in a quick 12 miles of singletrack before it got dark. Jason and Alex set a pretty sporty pace for eight days of riding, which gave me great consternation.


Day two led us to the nearby Tortolitas, one of my favorite places to ride in the Tucson area. The trail system here is relatively new and developed with riding in mind. It rained mightily in parts of the city this day, but only spit on our ride a few times.  Here Alex rounds one of many benchcut turns at the height of land on the Ridgeline Trail.


A planned capstone ride of the trip was hitting the Arizona Trail (AZT) from Picketpost to Kelvin. I hit this a few years ago with Dave and was blown away by the rugged beauty, remoteness and difficulty of this ride. There is nearly 40 miles of continuous singletrack which entails considerable climbing with no bailouts. We self-shuttled the loop by first climbing 2000ft over the Rt 177 pass into Superior. Topped water off there, then we had to be self-sufficient for the next 6+ hours moving time. A clear day, it was quite a bit warmer than the first two, but still not hot. Low humidity can deceive you into thinking you're staying hydrated. I fared poorly on this loop a few years ago, running out of water with about 2hrs of hard riding to go. Here, Alex is riding a fine example of benchcut you find on this segment. Later he reached a scary level of dehydration. It didn't help there was 2000ft of punchy climbs in the last 15mi in full sun with no water. Like dumbasses, we didn't leave water in the car either, and there are no business close to where our car was waiting. Fortunately, I spotted an older couple in their yard with a garden hose hooked up just as we were finishing. Sweet, We wouldn't need to wait another 40 minutes until we got to a store.


After a big day on the AZT, the plan for Day 4 was to back things down a notch, head out for a short "recovery ride." Uh-huh. At least the ride was short, around 1.7hrs. Had to be, due to threat of rain again. But it was anything but easy. As one of our friends commented, "you can only go fast at Fantasy Island!" There seems to be exponential return on fun-factor with speed. The place was designed for speed. Here Alex and Jason are carving around a giant ever-present cholla cactus. It would ruin your trip to crash into one. Heck, it would ruin a lot more than your trip. A sporty pace was maintained about three-quarters through, then Jason ramped it up to 10. Only 15hrs of riding were planned over the next three days, so why not?


Another one of my favorite rides near Tucson is the AZT south of town, roughly from Sonoita back to I-10. This was another self-shuttle with paved road and about 2000ft of climbing before picking up dirt. The 51 mile loop crests at nearly 6000ft before undulating back down to 3000+ft. The flora up high looks nothing like the flora around Tucson. It looks more like prairie grasslands. It was even a tad chilly here, where Jason is cruising on a buff section. It is not all buff. There are numerous steep punches on the way back, many of them loose and chundery. That "recovery" pace the day before, yeah, that was felt during this ride. There were some F-bombs on botched obstacles. The trail condition was mint though, the best ever for me, due to recent rains. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.


On Day 6, we backed it down a notch again, hitting a section of the AZT near Pistol Hill, east of town. I hadn't ridden a portion of this yet. It looked nice in Strava Route Builder with a seven mile near monotonic descent towards the end. Like many of the other rides on this trip, we self-shuttled on paved roads to quickly bridge the two ends of the AZT we planned to ride. This segment turned out to be spectacular and enjoyed by all. There were tricky ledge sections in the middle, and the buff parts were fast, flowy and long. At 3hrs duration, it was hardly a recovery ride, but it was not a hard ride. This segment will definitely see inclusion in future trips.


We got high on Day 7. No, not that kind of high, the Hill Junkie kind of high! We climbed more than 6000ft above Tucson to the summit of Mt Lemmon. This turned out to be another capstone ride, if a single trip is allowed to have two capstone rides. The prize for reaching the top? A cookie bigger than your head at the Cookie Cabin! I ate a whole cookie for the first time, and a slab of pizza too. The sustained effort up this beast on my 28 pound bike had me on the verge of cramping - 3.4hrs of nearly continuous climbing. Another prize for climbing this beast is some tasty singletrack on the way down, namely Bug Springs and Molino Basin trails. Bugs involves some hike-a-bike to get to the good stuff. There was some grumbling in the ranks, especially when the "good stuff" is pretty gnarly and you're tired with 8000ft of climbing in your legs. Here Jason and Alex are pulling away from me through hoodoos on the climb, as I made a conscious decision to back off in hopes of avoiding total implosion before the summit.


Our final, 8th Day saw temperatures approaching 90F. Glad the big ride days were behind us. I was wicked trashed from Lemmon the day before. We kept it local, riding from the house like the first day, hitting Tucson Mountain Park (TMP). TMP has a lot of diversity, leaning more towards the gnarly end of the spectrum. Many opportunities to hurt bike and body. Our 30 mile loop swung south into the newer Robles trails before swinging back north on the uber difficult Cat Mountain trail. Alex and Jason wanted only enough hours to bring the trip total to 30 hours. We got that and then some. Oops. So hard to estimate average moving speed in terrain like this, especially when you are tired and it is hot out. Here Alex is working his way up Cat Mountain. I had many dismounts on this trail.


After our TMP ride, we had all afternoon to pack up bikes, drop them off at FedEx and head to Phoenix for out last night to catch a very early morning flight. I often wonder how long I'll be able to keep going on trips like these. At 53, the body doesn't recover like it did at 35. I reached a level of fatigue at the end of this trip not experienced before. Young whipper-snappers!  I was impressed with Alex and Jason though. They had a fraction of the training volume for the year than what I had. Plus they had done no endurance riding, all short intensity work. It worked for them! Quality, not quantity. Most of my riding these days is junk training value, but it is fun.

Someone asked if I had a record number of Strava PR's on this trip. I really don't pay much attention to Strava BS anymore, but the question piqued my curiosity. I tallied them up, and yes, I rode 131 segments my fastest ever. I should have been fatigued at the end of this trip! The last thing I want to do on a trip is strive for PRs or KOMs. Every day at the office requires a PR effort from me. Why would I want to stay in that mode in the wild when I'm trying to flee from it at the office? Riding with others that share much enthusiasm for riding will net you a lot of PRs without even trying.  Anyway, I logged 333 miles with about 31,000ft of climbing in 30.7hrs moving time on this trip. A great trip, no crashes, mechanicals of flats were had by any of us. Now I'm already thinking about a fall trip to Colorado...

2 comments:

Joshua London said...

Doug,

Congrats on an epic week of riding. Yeah, I particularly enjoyed the single-track and solitude of the AZ Trail just north of Pistol Hill. I'm back in Scottsdale in August for work and am debating whether to head south to Tucson, Picket Post in Superior, or head up to Black Canyon north of the metropolis. Appreciate all the AZ posts,

-Josh

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