A place to share words and pics. Mostly bikes, but my photog eye does wander.

Bikes let the good times roll. In solitude or with friends. For a half hour or 8 hours. Pedals become the gears that turn the earth as the sun seems to track their motion, day after day. Miles become food, and you're hungry. The bike stops being a vehicle, or toy, or transportation and becomes an extension of will, allowing you to journey beyond the pain of self into the realm of almighty, joyous nature, she that feeds our souls. Pedal yourself into the maw of creation. Pedal yourself silly.

Friday, February 25, 2011

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

A lot of mountain biking is about suffering. Suffering up a long climb. Suffering through dozens of miles. Suffering through inclement, angry weather.  Suffering against sleep, hunger and cold. Sometimes mountain biking is all of them. Witness my first 24 hour race: The 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. 

I had no herculean effort, really, just tough luck. In fact I only did three laps. I even had the longest lap of the night for the team at two hours and forty minutes and managed to sleep through the night. So it wasn't all too bad, but the weather really was the battle. It kept us from properly fueling up, from sitting by the fire, from staying out of our cars and from getting those pedals around. 
The day looked very promising as we drove to the venue on Willow Springs Road. I even let myself think that the weather reports that kept changing for the worse all week were wrong.
We drove down at 6am in the morning to get there by nine. My first lap was at 1:22pm and my second was at 8:45pm. I hit my goal on the first lap with a 1:30 but my second was brutal at 2:40. I did stop to flip some guys chain around - it had somehow become twisted when he crashed and was quite the puzzle after being up for 16 hours and were on mile 22, heading on to 32.  Another racer next to him had broke his handlebar light, his only light, so I handed off four or five zip ties to him and let him have at it. The first just rode off after about three, "Oh, thanks man, whatever you need on the trail, whatever you need." I don't even think I saw his face. Just the bike and chain.I rode with all my normal riding stuff for the race. Just don't quite have that racer mentality to go light. I can't stand being without. 

Had to change a tire about 5 miles after that, then promptly started to bonk when my stomach decided it was desperately hungry.  Oh boy, another 7 or so miles. Forgot to stock the gu and cliff bars. I was without. And it was the weather's fault I figured. The story of the weekend.  Those nice blue skies soon gave way to clouds.

And then even more clouds.  Each becoming more heavy with gray.

Foreboding clouds gather over Mt Lemmon to the south.

The wind was a constant force as gravity, like there was a huge mountain biker magnet to the east, and we were being forced that way. It seemed relentless. We attempted to dull its cut, and made quite the wind block using carefully placed EZ-ups. 

Staked and tied to wood and tied to rock, this structure was very poorly ad hoc.
Our shield from the wind was destroyed in two hours. 40 mph gusts were predicted, but I'm sure they got stronger than that at times.  For half the time we were there, my tent showed the weight of the wind. 

I'm pretty surprised it didn't carry me to Oracle through the night.
The poor weather moved in pretty quickly. Our hopes for a nice weekend quickly vaporized and our ingenuity was not enough to keep us from Mother Nature this weekend. Only our vehicles could truly do that.
Without a proper camp, we couldn't get proper food together to cook. It didn't help that it started to rain. Rain like Forest Gump sideways and upside down rain. 

Visibility dropped to a minimum.
We couldn't fire the stove. I got a tri-tip at about 6pm, but they were closed by 9pm. It proved to not be enough food, since the only other thing I had all day were cereal and a bagel. Not too smart, but if we could have kept things together, I think we cold have finished much better, considering our plans. We had plenty of everything except for shelter.

I survived my sleeping bonk lap, thanks to a kind woman that gave me a large sip of her heed solution, which got me to the road crossing at June Bug where the road worker handed over a Cliff bar and an apple juice. That was amazing!  Thanks! I can't be grateful enough for that. I had to take breaks on the flat parts, the legs were being sucked into my hungry stomach and I was close to empty. If I stopped too long, I would start to doze just standing there.  I'd been up for 18 hours already, on not much food, rained on for the last few hours, and the temps were hitting the low forties, of not thirties. Those two items got me the last 3 miles off the trail. Got to camp, was handed a beer, and felt nauseous. Took the beer to the tent, took my shoes off and crawled into the sleeping bag, full riding gear. I was torqued. The night was often like this:

Slept the night through, about twelve to seven. Found free pancakes and sausage and biscuits and had two servings. Revved up, got dry clothes on, and headed out for the No DNF Lap at 10:30am. A bit less than two hours and we had finished. Too bad we all spent the night in our cars and not around the fire, but it was still a good time for me, regardless. I can't wait till next year, but certainly hope for better weather.

For teams, you'd have to wait in the exchange tent for your teammate to ride in, they call your number and you check in at the table. This requires you to estimate your buddies time so you can be there in time, without waiting forever.  Bummer for Keith, he had to wait about 40 minutes while I fought the bonk on lap 2.

Jay is a glutton for punishment, so he agreed to get in on the action, even though the last time he was on a mountain bike was when we ate up the first 30 miles of AZT from Parker Canyon Lake to Patagonia. That was real suffering there, deathmarch like and a tale for another day. Suffice it was good enough for Jay to sign up for more. The weather was going to break and break bad on his lap. He'd get his fair share of suffering as well.

I caught him heading out from the Exchange tent.  16 miles to go. Hope the weather is nice!

Oh, I think you're riding into......the Nothing.

He pulled in a really good time of 2:24 which, considering the conditions and lack of saddle time, is pretty rugged. True Grit. 16 minutes shorter than my second lap, which had great weather considering.  I even saw some stars in the sky. Our fourth man, Chuck pulled a late night lap at 3am to pick up his third. I'm sure if we could have stuck together through the night with good weather, we could have picked up at least another 3 or four laps, with the proper nutrition. I really wanted another one, and wished I had the juice to get out of the tent in the middle of the night. At least the little bit of community out there I experienced was pretty good. And with better weather comes more pictures.

Its truly a town with bike shops, food vendors, neighbors and even a radio station. About 3,000 racers and support camp out for the weekend.

Team 470, Over the Line. Here are the two rigid 29er singlespeeds that partook in the race. The red Karate Monkey inspired my black Monocog. Great bike and great track for the bike. My fastest lap was on this.
Proof that I was really there. Coming in off the last lap. I felt good, with food in my stomach, not super strong, but surely steady and a decent time of 1:43. I was lucky enough to get out of packing by doing my team duty and getting the last lap in so we'd finish. For all that suffering, we were not going to be DNF! I really wish I could have gotten more night laps in though. The one I had was well worth the effort. Hitting Skip the Bitches by myself in the dark desert after a hard rain was a wonderful experience.  I just followed my lights through the shimmering desert. Stars even broke through the clouds, real glistening and shining like.

Here's the course. We camped near the peak in the center, near the middle of the course. The two sections heading to the west are the Bitches and Skip the Bitches. The Bitches are the ones that keep going up and down, up and down. The detour was really quite nice, unless you're there to ride and race all proper like.

A lap was just a bit over 16 miles, and about 0.2 miles longer if you took Skip the Bitches. Total climbing is only about 1200 ft. Good course for a race, and I'd drive down to hit it again, and maybe tack something on in Tucson, to really make the drive worth it. Next year, we'll have it all dialed. Can't wait. Thanks to Keith for putting the team together, getting the logistics done. Let's do it again.

Monday, February 21, 2011

AZT Jamboree, How I love Thee. Let Me Count the Miles.

The Arizona Trail (AZT) is becoming one of my favorite trails, but with 800 miles of it, its hard to not find something that pleases you within it.  The section that was picked out for the AZT Jamboree, an event put on to raise money for the trail by enticing riders with a shuttle to the top of one of the "oh so good" sections southeast of Tucson, was all it was billed to be.  This took us the 35-ish miles from Box canyon off the 83 to Pistol Hill Road on the north side of the I-10. The first 15 miles were constant up and downs reminiscent of my AZT experience through the Canelos, replete with hike-a-bike, but from mile 15 to about 30 was dowhill swoopy goodness, the stuff MTB desert dreams are made of.  The last 9 miles were their fair share of fun and any other day would have been the cat's meow, but compared to the earlier singletrack bliss, they seemed alright.  I'm awaiting the day I can get back on that section.  AZT 300, perhaps?

The morning shuttle. I don't shy away form a climb, or even a long grind, as this is what drags me out of my skin, out of my mind, out of my worries, and away from Time, but for a day like this day, I was fine taking the ride. The relatively short 30 minute or so ride certainly did not hint at the 7.5 hours I'd end up spending in the saddle.  Oh, I wish is was 15 hours! SW Trekking did a great job.

We were let off at Box Canyon and soon found ourselves on the AZT heading north. The grasslands through this region always pull me to some place, I'm not sure where, but it feels good. The cows graze, my soul grazes.  Pedal, push, gawk, smile. Did we have to ride to the end?  Couldn't we ride to the beginning? Then turn around, and ride back to the beginning? I guess our shells aren't made for that quantum wrangling, only our imaginations. Freeskier is wrangling nothing here but MTB peace. This is the singletrack your grandad told you about and the blue sky our post nuclear winter great grandchildren will probably dream about. We live in a fortunate time and in a beautiful place, this AZ.

 For some reason, this feels like its straight out of my dreams, and not because Freeskier is in it. The contrast between sky and land is like the division between ego and id, between imagination and creativity, between dream and dreamer.
It was a perfect weather day.  Especially for January.  The sun betrayed the snow that the rest of the country was buried under at the time.  I read of family reports of chill and white, while I slightly burnt the back of my neck under a January sun. Indeed, I'm solar powered.

Mt. Wrightson is in the far distance to the south, with some snow for a cap.  The AZT 300 route skirts the western edge, dutifully avoiding Wilderness, as the AZT proper goes up and over. Ourselves, we had just come around the cone hill center left and made the climb to where I took this snap.

Panorama, I can't get enough of you!

It looks fun, to be sure, but there is work to be had.  Namely, in hike-a-bike. This is second gear when you ride a single speed.

Assume the position!

Prickly pear is of the softer variety of cactus to run into, which hugged the trail, lovingly caressing its curves.   

Freeskier takes a moment to contemplate the prickly and the pear.

I even found my own patch to play in. There was plenty for everyone.

Mountain bikers, when riding, are some of the friendliest and helpful folk you'll meet. Similar to how people on lonley Oklahoma roads will wave at you as you pass them on some non-descript country road. On the side of the trail taking a break, "Everything alright. Got what you need?" is bound to come your way. This fella was kind enough, not only to slow his pace for his pal that lost all fluid in his rear brake on the shuttle ride, but to share his Cazadores with us, not once, but twice.

Freeskier, I'm sure, is thanking the mountain biking gods for metal, rubber, and dirt.

One of my favorite snaps from the trip.  This is but a few miles after the trail got really good at mile 15. Swoop! Coast! A few pedal strokes! Ahh..... Rinse and repeat.

Pump track for giants.

Yeah, I got a piece of that.
We rode and rode, and after passing what seemed like a quarter mile culvert under the I-10, we approached the Three Bridges section.  There was some re-routing being done, but unfortunately for us, not complete. The underside of the tressel was not to be on our dinner plate of vistas, but alas, we were treated nonetheless. A ride isn't a ride without some bushwacking and trail-finding I say. Freeskier and I were accompanied by, what seemed to me, a tough old hippie, with blue round sunglasses and early nineties model bike. "The trail should go up on that plateau, man. We gotta get up there." Sure thing dude. We let his words guide us.  And soon enough we were back on track.

The water crossings distracted us from our distraction.
The smart folk took this easy crossing over the river. This route - 5 minutes. Ours - a good 40.  But no worries.  If you're not lost, you're not trying. And consequently, to deepen the profoundity of wordiness, if you're not trying, you're lost.

Notice the bikers, not having fun trying to find the trail.
The last bits of Trail was covered in long shadows. I cut through them by myself, as I hit the 35+ miles zone and had visions of food and beer dancing in my mind. In the last few miles, I had pulled away from Freeskier, not so much on purpose, as just feeling the trail. Sometimes it pulls. I imagine that's what destiny feels like. So I went. 

Back at Pistol Hill Road, we were treated to free beers and the fire was ready for cooking. I was given a steak filet sandwich. I must have been staring at it and was oh so grateful to eat it. Food is never so good as when you have to really, really work for it and the pit in your stomach crawls its way into your mind. This is when it nourishes spirit. A few stories were shared with those still hanging around and then we had to make the 2.5 hour drive back to home. Although I partly felt like I was leaving it....

A 3D topo overview of the route. Top to bottom is north to south. You're looking at 39 miles there. Brilliant!

One can easily see why this section was chosen to host the Jamboree. Down and down it goes. But don't worry, there was still 5,000 ft of climbing to be had. But on the good side, I got 6800 ft of downhill. Yummy.

A big thanks to Chad Brown for putting this together and getting over $5000 raised for the Arizona Trail Association (ATA). Over 140 riders took part. With a showing like that, mountain bikers can lobby for more rideable climbs (grade-wise, mind you, not dumbing techiness), more manageable and drawn out descents, and maintenance where needed. I remember at least one section around mile 14 that took us straight down the side of a hill that wasn't much fun or rewarding, especially after all the work to get up there. This is what we can change. This is what we can do. Thanks to all that are just a bit more motivated than me. You make the world go 'round.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Morning Cup of Bike

With South Mountain so close, its a shame not to head over there for a quick romp in the morning before work.  Plenty of trails to put together an hour ride, even more if you can give an hour and a half.  This morning had me appreciating my shadow.  Its not often that you see the bike that sits on the roof. 

It was a little chilly for 8:30 in the morning, but not as bad as it had been, with temps in the 20's. My day was warmer than that, and almost warm enough to not call it cold. The shadow soon gave way to real riding, which got me to the saddle at Javelina.

I couldn't resist the Bike Panorama. I had to push the camera to its limits. And it does well.  
I've always been impressed.

 National and Mormon live in this picture. To ride in the morning before work is a special privilege and I hope I never live in a place where this isn't possible. Phoenix is lucky to have so much riding, thanks to our own little bits of "Sky Islands". 

I took Javelina down through the end of the East Loops and back to my car, parked at the end of the park road.  I like the little singletrack that runs down towards the entrance. Its like the last bit of candies in a bag, just a few more bites....The ride was just over 6 miles, just under and hour and just under 1000' of climbing. Time for work.

The 6 mile route for the day.  With another half hour, I could run through Mormon-National before hitting the clock.

Picket Post

Hit the Arizona Trail out at the Picket Post trailhead off of the 60.  Heading south, the trail winds slowly uphill through a heaving, rolling desert.  There aren't many moments where the trail is straight and level.  It demands constant change.  Its a trail that will lull you into the zone. 

 The endpoint can be seen here, probably still a few miles away, the little
rock formation sticking out at center horizon.

 Saguaro, the trees of the desert.  Similar to the area south of the Superstitions in Gold Canyon.

The trail was cut in and every bit was welcoming to bikes. I remember no grades there were out of my reach.

The new steed.  Second ride on the bike and it performed very well.  The DW link is a far cry from my single pivot.  It climbs with confidence and rolls the chunk with ease.

VooDoo Canzo. 29er. Super Duper ride.
 Still riding south here, coming up on mile six of the ten mile out-n-back.  Nice place to stop and soak up some scenery.  Its great being far out, away from civilization.

Not many people venture past Jeep Road 4, as evidenced by the lack of tire tracks and effluence of horse-hoofed trail and nippy catclaw.  It was a trail with bite.  The slightly more aggresive type of desert riding. However, there were moments of respite. 

Working on one last hill before the big push to the top.

Working up to the high-point of the ride required one last effort.  
Worth the work, which I barely even thought about.  I just kept pedaling.

Here's the south side of the once distant rock.  I had lunch here, a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was quite tastey, as I had worked up a healthy appetite.  The lunchtime view couldn't have been much better. 

Heading back down to the trailhead was the reverse of all the effort it took to pedal up the 1300' elevation gain that took 2400' of climbing to attain.  Rolling in and out through the ridges never got old. I felt like water, seeking my level.

The grass reminded me of the grazing land around Kentucky Camp and the Canelo Hills.  I'll return in spring after a good rain to witness the Green.

Here's some of the trail-side plant life that has...personality.  The beauty out there knows how to defend itself.

Thanks to John for taking the snaps of me riding.