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.