Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tuesday rain--a day early?

 I'd been tracking a weather blip that was due to hit Wednesday. Showers. After my night ride on Tuesday evening I woke up at 3:30 AM to the sound of rain hitting the POD. Of course bikes were out and my generator wasn't covered up. So I staggered out of bed, pulled on my shoes, and went outside to get stuff out of the wet. Then right back to sleep.

Rain squalls have been blowing through all day, and it's clammy cold. Mid-40's, but given that I could still use a little recovery I'm taking a trip to town to hit the internet and grocery store.

Could be unsettled here through Thursday, but the weekend is supposed to be lovely. Sorry to my CO friends, just wanted to let you know that it isn't all sunny skies down this way, even though it's much better than snow and sub-zero.

Monday with exhaustion and night ride

Monday morning I woke up exhausted. My legs were tingling, my back was tired, and my right index finger which I smashed with a rock doing trail work Sunday morning was throbbing. Normally I’m up and brewing coffee by 5:30, but it was nearly 7:00 AM by the time I dragged myself vertical on Monday. I felt beaten.

Obviously I needed to take it easy for a day. Actually easy, not the phony kind of easy where I just do a 35 mile ride.

I drank coffee and ate breakfast, went outside to tinker with a couple things that needed tinkered with on the POD, then drifted over to talk to my neighbors. They were moving their camp to the spot they occupy during the race weekend. Normally they would move next week, but there has been quite a bit of activity up here. Over the weekend there were perhaps half a dozen RV’s and campsites set up as riders came out here to spend time practicing on the course.

After I visited with my friends for a while, I wandered back toward the POD and got into a leisurely discussion with a young couple who had set up a travel trailer near the POD. They had two scruffy little dogs, which of course meant they couldn’t be bad people. Turns out they had a pair of cats in the trailer. I wound up bringing a chair over from the POD and hanging out in their “front yard” for the rest of the morning. It got nice and warm.

Keith, the guy half of this couple asked me if I wanted to join him for a ride. I told him that I wasn’t going to ride that day—but perhaps an easy night ride after the sun went down?

So that seemed like a pretty good easy day plan, loaf around all day doing as little as possible, eat a big lunch, maybe have a nap, then strap on the lights and do an easy lap after dark. That would give me 36 hours off the bike, and a day’s worth of recovery, then take a really easy lap just to loosen up a little before bed.

I never did nap, but after lunch I pulled out the comfy plastic chaise lounge and sat in the sun reading a book. It was probably the nicest day here yet, by the way. About 68°, windless, high clouds--perfect.

Then the sun went down and I put my lights on the bike, suited up and rolled around warming up for 20 minutes while Keith finished his dinner and got ready to go. I actually have not done any night riding since getting to AZ. It’s been too danged cold at night to really get excited about riding after dark. Monday night was cool, but really very pleasant.

Keith and I rode really easy, chatting quite a bit. I insisted that he lead at one point and he rode away from me--pretty danged quick rider. I hustled for the first time a little just trying to close the gap. Then the pace went back to easy for another couple miles.

As we finished one of the singletrack sections we saw a group of riders who were passing through one of the gates and had it open. I called out for them to keep it open a few seconds so we could ride through. It was a group of guys I’ve met before who spend quite a bit of time at the venue. One of them is Wayne, a really good guy with fireplug legs who rides a Santa Cruz Superlight. Wayne was warning me about how I should move my trailer because of the 2 week limit on camping in one place. We discussed the finer points of Arizona State Trust land use as half a dozen riders rolled together in the dark down a rutty doubletrack.

When we got to the end of the doubletrack and the start of one of the last two sections of singletrack on the course, Wayne took the lead and I went behind him. Wayne’s lights were starting to run down, and he made a mistake and went wide around one of the first curves. I passed, and now I was leading. This caused a switch in my brain to be flipped, and I picked up my pace a little. Suddenly Wayne was right there. Then the game was on.

I started going faster, and soon was knifing around the corners. Wayne stayed right on my wheel. The whole line of riders were close behind. I would pick up a little gap, and then I’d hear Wayne right on my wheel again. Cactus and mesquite started to blur a little as I studied the trail in my headlight and looked for places to pick up time. I would roll over something, then almost instantly I would hear Wayne hit it. His lights were weak and orange since they were failing, so it was hard to tell just how close he was. 4 or 5 other riders’ lights back there were throwing all sorts of weird shadows around. It was intense, just like a moment from an actual night race.

Then I made a mistake and went wide. My front wheel was headed for a joshua tree at the outside of the turn, so I steered back onto the track, simultaneously braking hard. I felt Wayne’s front tire hit my rear tire then I heard him go down. I stopped, and instantly there were four more riders all skidding to a stop. Wayne had just fallen over in sand and wasn’t hurt so we all laughed and started talking about how fun and fast that was, and how this same section of the course invited lots of crashes during the first lap of the race.

It really got me going for race day. This is going to be fun. By the time it gets dark on race day I’ll be at least four laps in. I may not have the kind of speed that made this game of follow-the-leader exciting. But it’s going to be fun.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Big Adventure Lap

On Friday I did a ride with some of my friends from the local area, seeing a bit of secret trail called "Painter Boy". Reminded me of home: hidden trail entry, a hard to follow trail with some really nice sections and some insane routing. Several fences to cross. It was fun, but with flaws. Then I ran to Catalina on the road bike, flogged myself pretty hard for a couple hours so I could go to the library (that's livin large baby).

Saturday I was a little worked, but there was a long ride I'd been pining to do in the tradition of my favorite rides from home: taking off right from the front door and riding many miles including whatever but at least some singletrack. My plan was to ride north the 10 or 12 miles on the Willow Springs Road to the Freeman Road (both dirt) then Freeman for about 5 miles east to the intersection with the Arizona Trail. Then take the AZ trail north all the way to Oracle, then west on hwy 77 to my intersection with Willow Springs Road and home to the POD. I figured it would be at least 45 miles, maybe 65.

Off I went at 10:15. Plenty of clothing, plenty of water, full bottle of HEED, flask full of hammergel, camera, the works. I spent 1 hour getting to the Freeman Road, then probably another half hour getting to the AZ Trail. Perfect.

The AZ Trail starts with a doubletrack bit. I followed carsonite signs for a little over a mile, then singletrack started. Wahoo! It was narrow and very untravelled. At first the routing was a little strange. It would start switchbacking off a ridge, down around a couple turns traversing nicely, then boom staight down the hill. But I was having fun. Seemed to be heading a little too east, when I'd been expecting to head straight south toward Oracle, but I went with it.

It was good. I was having fun. I ran into a few places where the trail was hard to follow, and I encountered some jumping cactus (not a myth):

But I was having fun. Then the trail got really cool and started winding through Saguaro Forest.

I whooped and hollered. Not a single track other than bovine, and great trail.

Finally this thing switchbacked it's way down into a big wash, and I followed carsonite signs carefully to go right past this classic old desert ranch site:

I climbed hard out of that little basin, got onto a doubletrack which I followed for quite some time. Then I got a bit more fun singletrack that took me into another wash. The way was carefully signed across the scrubby wash bottom to a sandy doubletrack that went up the wash. About the time I left the ranch house, I started seeing some foot tracks--boots or shoes that had circle patterns on both heel and ball. I followed those tracks all the way to the wash road, then followed them up the wash for perhaps 3 miles.

Eventually, the AZT carsonite signs directed me and circle-foot to take a left, south onto a gasline road.

There are straight-as-a-rod gasline roads out here all over the place. The 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo course has a gasline bit that is known as "the seven bitches" because it has seven hills. Since the gasline roads don't even attempt to countour, they just throw the rises and falls of the land right at you.

Well, the gasline road I got on as part of the AZT was my destiny for several hours. It was the hundred and fifty bitches. Check this, the road you see to the horizon is road I have been on, and will be on for another half an hour when this was taken:

I had been congratulating myself for being a pretty clever SOB following these obscure trail markings through miles and miles of desert that I'd never seen before. But now I started feeling like a tiny piece of dust in a windstorm. My HEED was almost gone. They day was stretching into the far part of the afternoon. And this thing seemed destined to go on for a long while. After a while I stopped even watching for AZT signs and started watching for signs of civilization. I wanted to get to Highway 77 so I could just pedal in a direction that I knew would take me back to the POD. I wanted dinner. And a comfortable place to sit, and some gatoraide. And a motrin.

Long story short, I found my way off the damn gasline roads onto a graded gravel road. That took me past a very guady trailhead for the AZT (so apparently I did miss a singletrack departure) but I got onto my desired hwy 77. I climbed for about 20 minutes, then road flat pavement with a mile headwind for another 20, then got onto the Willow Springs Road with a mile tailwind. Four miles from the POD I drank my last water. The sun was just touching the horizon when I rolled up to the lovely, lovely POD.

Dinner tasted GOOD.

Trail Work Day part II

 Today was my second Pima Trails Association guest worker program day. We were back at the same section of the AZT, only this time I had to drive in from out north. I showed up a little late, but then immediately was given a chance to do Rock Work!

The Rock Wall I directed building

After yesterday's punish fest on the bike, today was a great day to grub around in the dirt fitting rocks together.

Check out this beautiful bit of new trail I've been able to help with:

Now it's off to the grocery store to provision up for another week of Trayler Livin.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tucson Mountain Park

I have been jonesing for a field trip down to Tucson Mountain Park after talking to some riders on the Old Pueblo race course about the riding there. I had a long list of stuff that needed to be done in town including a critical Full Shower not a dribbly little trailer shower, which hits the poop tank pretty hard even when you barely get wet. So I headed to town.

As usual, I got going too late and hit Tucson just as the lunchtime rush was in full swing. Also I had a map deficit, so I was pretty much going from memory on how to get to Tucson Mountain Park. I had spent more time than I should have online looking for beta about Tucson Mountain Park riding. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much. I considered stopping at Oro Valley Cycles to ask them. In hindsight, I think I should have done that.

When I got into the park I expected to find trailheads and maps. I did not really find that. It really seemed to be a kind of drive-thru attraction. I finally parked at a scenic view parking lot near Gates Pass and asked a stranger for any info. He told me that the Golden Gate Trail, which had sounded like the best in the park from what I could find on the net, was just over the other side of the pass. Good enough for me, it was already after 1:00 PM so I took off looking for any trail that headed off to the south.

A wide but steep and ledgy trail headed off from another scenic view parking area over there, and I rode up that. After climbing hard for about a quarter mile, I came to a trail junction with actual signage! Golden Gate Trail took off to the south. Yes!

Right away it got boy-howdy technical; a descent down a series of stairs, steep and windey. I had visions of a broken wrist and a back full of cactus spines. I rode much of it, but every once in a while I took a humble weenie walk respecting the fact that I was alone and that I really do not want to screw up my goal to do the 24 Hours in less than a month. Soon the wild technical drop leveled off, and it got to be a nice picturesque desert trail. 

There were unmarked trail junctions happening all over. I took one of them up when I missed the line of stones that marked the real route and got up into a nest of brush, rock and cactus. When I decided to turn around and go back, I briefly found myself lost not even able to find the way I had come. It was kind of a surreal experience. Like me and my bike had just been dropped into the desert on a steep slope full of thorny obstacles.

When I found my way back to the trail, it quickly became a very fun, flowy experience for a couple of sweet miles. Then it ended at the road I had driven in on. WTF? I found a trail on the other side, actually labeled Prospectors trail, so I took that. It was really nice, a little more rubbly than Golden Gate had been, but very rideable. Then it ended at a fence with a motorized vehicle barrier. On the other side was a hodge-podge of four-wheeler routes. Ick.

I turned around and rode back. At the same trail junction where I got off the trail on the way out, I got turned around and headed the wrong way. Hrumpf! Then I got back on track and soon started climbing the technical part. It was mostly hike-a-bike, but every once in a while I could do a completely anaerobic effort and make a small series of climbing stairs. When I got back to the marked junction, I saw one marked “Gates Pass” which was roughly where I was parked. I took that trail, which started out 4 feet wide, quickly narrowed to singletrack, then just sort of became impossible to follow. I wound up climbing back up the road.

So, it was a mixed bag; some wonderful terrain, some wonderful trail, great to be back in the Saguaro forest again, but really uncivilized in terms of trail markings and information. By the time I got back to the vehicle it was 3:30 and I had gone less than 10 miles. There was a trail that headed north from my parking lot, so I decided to spend half an hour checking it out. Again, at first it seemed pretty much bonafide, then it started to braid. The option I took became very overgrown. I got scratched up pretty well trying to follow it for another couple 100 yards, then gave up and turned back. Hrumpf!

I drove back toward the city of Oro Valley, looking for a YMCA I had noted on the net. Heinous traffic again. I’ve spent quite a bit of time fighting Tucson’s traffic this week. I’m over it! Makes my little enclave up north of Oracle seem pretty nice!

I got the shower, went to Safeway and filled a pretty detailed grocery list, then went to Target and got some key items, then I did laundry cleaning some key items. By the time I rolled out onto my familiar dirt road toward the POD it was almost 8:00 PM. I hadn’t had dinner yet and I was starving.

Screw field trips, I’m going to stay close to the POD until the trail work day on Sunday.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Good Day, Sunshine

Wednesday morning I got up and spent nearly two hours cleaning up the trailer. I reorganized a bunch of stuff, did some dishes, and got everything put back to where it needed to be. Then I went outside and noticed that a really nice day was shaping up; still chilly, and a little windier than I’d like, but not one cloud in the sky.

I suited up to ride, leaving off the leg warmers for the first time in over a week. I went with my long sleeve wool jersey, but bare legs! I rode a wide variety of singletrack on and around the venue all day. I was probably on the bike for a little over 5 hours. It got warmer as the day went by, perhaps as high as 60 by the end of the day. Wonderful. The Fisher was working perfectly, the trail was dry but very tacky, and my newest tire combo was working really well: WTB WW2.55 up front, Kenda Nevegal on the back.

I rode all afternoon, rolling back to the POD just a bit before sundown tired and happy. I was railing, all day. I actually nearly ran over a roadrunner at one point!

Finished the day with spicy beans, rice, and elk eaten on good local tortillas. Slept like a rock.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Trailer Day

When you live away from hookups and dump stations in a trailer, eventually you have to haul the thing in to dump yer poop tank. I had another nagging problem—my battery wouldn’t hold a charge. I was being forced to run my generator for longer and longer each day just to keep the basics working. It was becoming clear that the battery in her was dying. Used trailer, used battery.

The snow that hit us on Sunday afternoon made the road nasty. On Monday it was heinous. I drove out Monday morning on a mostly frozen road then drove back in Monday afternoon on pudding. The truck has adobe mud stuck all over it.

I knew that it would be a disaster to haul the trailer on that road before it firmed up some, so I took Tuesday mid-day to ride on the slightly mushy trails, then started preparing to haul the trailer in after 2:00 PM Tuesday. I needed go into Tucson a little ways to get my battery tested and possibly buy a new one, then dump poop, take on propane and fresh water, get some gas, etc.

I spent a bit more time securing items inside the trailer, since I had been hit pretty hard by things shifting around when I ran over rough road on the way in. I took everything out of the medicine cabinet. I laid the broom and wastebasket down onto the floor. I put food and utensils carefully into cabinets so they wouldn’t be able to shift. Then I locked up the POD, hooked her up to the truck, and drove on down the road as carefully as possible.

Everything took too long, so I found myself heading into Tucson at around 4:30, which of course means rush hour. I managed to get to the battery shop before it closed and my battery was judged to be a decrepit, old POS. This was actually not bad news. If I had been told that the battery was fine, I would have been either been fated to run a generator for 4 hours a day or start trying to figure out what was consuming all my juice. I happily paid 80 bucks for a new battery, and then headed back out north, rush hour now in full swing.

I got to the poop dump and unlocked the trailer to do some things inside. Oh my goodness (this is not what I actually said) things had happened in my little POD. The stovetop cover was on the floor, upside down. Also there was some kind of fluid all over the floor. Of course my first thought was sewage, since I knew the tank was pretty full. I carefully smelled the fluid. It smelled like root beer. And something else. I opened the fridge and said some bad words. The cap had come off jar of Newman’s Own Salsa and there was salsa all over everything. Several bottles of IBC root beer had sprayed all over. They had not broken, and the caps had not come off, but apparently the pressure in them had gotten high enough to breach the seals. Three of the six bottles were at least 2/3 empty. And everything in there had moved. I said some more bad words.

At least there wasn’t broken glass. That’s about the only good thing I can say. I did what needed to be done in there and then got on with the business of dumping. It was getting dark, so I figured I better just stay on task and do what needed to be done. Before I headed back out to the venue I threw out the root beer bottles that had been emptied, the empty salsa jar, and scooped up and dumped as much of the glop as I could quickly. I put the still full root beers up in the truck cab along with the stovetop cover. Then I hauled her back out that bumpy road as carefully as I possibly could, wincing hard when I rolled as slowly as possible over the badly washboarded parts.

Live and learn. Not only do I need to do even more to secure the POD when it’s time to run her over bad roads, but I need to consider the cost of running over bad roads with her at all. Certainly the shaking and jarring doesn’t do the whole thing any good, even if it doesn’t shake open a jar of salsa.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sprinting to save fingers

Friday and Saturday were “unsettled”, a word used in arid places to describe times when the normally peaceful weather becomes disturbingly rainy or stormy. I rode my mountain bike for nearly four hours Saturday, though it was chilly enough to make my feet icy cold by the time I returned to the POD at sundown.

Sunday dawned clear. I smiled when I saw the stars above and the light of dawn coming through clear air. There was thick frost, but the promise of a nice, fair day. At some point I heard on the radio that there was lots of snow happening in Arizona, and that it was predicted to come down to the 3,500 foot level. But I figured they must be talking about somewhere else. It was shaping up to be a nice day here.

Around 10:00 AM I got dressed to take a long road ride. It was staying cold, and I figured I would ride down to Tucson and see some warm desert. I loaded up my pack with a wind breaker and my rain jacket, just in case. I also threw my winter weight gloves and warm helmet liner in there.

As soon as I left the POD, the cold wind went right through me. A cloud line that had been north of me had slipped down and now was shielding me from the sun. I could see a sunny place down south. I stopped and put on my windbreaker. That just made it tolerable. I pedaled south, hoping for the kind of temperature change that would allow me to start stripping layers as I dropped down lower toward Tucson.

The wind roared in my ears. I gritted my teeth, my mind focused on the warm place to which I was heading. It seems that I was feeling that way as I left Colorado half a month ago.

The Willow Springs Road seemed longer in a head wind. And the road bed was moist, making my skinny tires roll less easily than last time I rode it with this bike. But my resolve kept me rolling. I hit pavement and some of the wind noise in my ears was reduced since I was now in a crossing head wind rather than dead on, but now I had traffic noise. I was OK though, because it would be worth it when I was down lower and warm.

I fought the cold wind down to Catalina. A little lower, but really no warmer. And thicker clouds. Hrmph. I kept grinding along, down the long hill into Oro Valley. Really no warmer, maybe even a little colder, and now I couldn’t even see any sunshine on the horizon in front of me. My plan started to dissolve. I thought maybe I should just return to the POD and read magazines all afternoon. I decided to go to a Conoco station that was reputed to have a free septic dump. My poop tank was going to need dumping soon, and I was only a mile or two away--might as well make this trip worth something.

I got to the station and found that there was indeed a poop dump. Super. I went to the next traffic light, since the road there was 6 lanes wide and jamming. Everybody probably was ready to get home and watch the football playoffs.

As I crossed over to start my return trip, a raindrop hit my face. For the first time I took a serious look at the horizon back towards the POD. Oh my, it was a dark grey up there. Another rain drop hit.

OK, tailwind now--uphill all the way home, but with a tailwind. Perhaps it would be a good idea to jump on it, get home ASAP and have a good workout to boot. Thirty miles home, probably take at least two hours. Maybe two and a half if the weather turns bad.

Still wearing the windbreaker I put on five minutes from the POD, I looked at my sleeves as the rain got a little more significant. They were starting to get spotted. This jacket is worthless in rain. It gets soaked. The rain jacket is utterly impermeable though, it can almost be worse when you’re working hard. You soak from the inside with brine. I figured I’d stick with this as long as I was warm enough and until the rain got serious.

I passed through Catalina and on toward Oracle Junction. Cars headed toward me started to have their headlights on. Uh oh. That’s not a good sign. Dark grey up there. I kept the tempo up on tried not to let things worry me. Nothing to do but keep going, might as well just do that.

At Oracle Junction the road turns to the east and climbs. My tailwind no longer seemed to be there, nor was it really crossing the way it had before. Sleeves of the jacket were pretty wet now, but not soaking. And I was not cold. I was running at about 93% and drinking my HEED.

Seemed like it took way too long to get to the Willow Springs Road, and once I was there the rain was pretty significant. The road looked really greasy. Luckily there’s a sandy covering along the margins over near the ditches. Bare clay in the middles, but I won’t need to be riding there. As I got started I found that those margins were squishy. I was still rolling in the big ring, but the resistance was non-trivial. My sleeves were soaked now, too. And I needed to pee. But I didn’t want to stop. I could not see the rocky rise behind the POD. It’s normally visible from the highway. Just dark grey cloud. Shit.

I should have stopped right then, peed, bundled up, and gotten ready for what was clearly coming. It was too late to miss getting involved in weather, but I just did not think that way. Momentum was on my mind. Go go go.

After about 15 minutes of grinding up the moist road, the rain started to turn solid. Wet sleet bounced off my arms and face. I would have pedaled harder, but I didn’t have anything more than was I was already giving. In another 5 minutes I was riding through big fat flakes of slushy snow. The road was getting softer and softer. I was looking for the Willow Springs Ranch gate, my sign that I was perhaps 20 minutes from the POD. Vehicles with bikes on top went past me with lights on. There had been lots of folks out riding the race course when I left. Now they were heading home. I knew I could flag one down and beg them to take me to the POD if I got desperate, but I was OK. Cold, damn but I was getting cold, but I was still OK.

When I finally got to the gate, it was snowing really hard. I crossed the road and went through the parking area and onto the singletrack. My chain was grinding away, wet and sandy. When I hit the first downhill section of the trail, my brakes barely worked. The rims were covered with sandy, icy slime. My fingers were getting numb. The thin gloves were soaked, as was my dumb windbreaker. My feet were incredibly cold. I looked down and saw dirty snow spats on them.

After a while it was obvious that I needed to stop and put on my rain jacket and dry gloves. I stopped in the shelter of a mesquite, pulled off my pack, and fumbled with the zipper. I yanked out the rain jacket and glove. Then I peeled off the wet gloves and jacket I was wearing and stuffed them into the pack. Shivering, I pulled on the stiff plastic rain jacket and pushed the velcro seam together. Getting my wet, numb hands into the dry gloves was a trial. But I shoved them into the gloves, put my pack back on, picked up my filthy, snowy bike and climbed on. I had to climb right away, and my slick skinny tire slipped on the snow covering wet clay. The clay wasn’t saturated yet, thank god. I was able to keep things going.

My gloves immediately became wet. My whole front was spackled with wet snow. I could not feel my fingers or toes. I had probably a mile, perhaps a little more, to get to the POD. I was really tired. And I was fighting back the panic. Visibility was maybe 50 feet through the thick, wind-blown snow. I was heading straight into the wind once I got off the singletrack and onto the dirt road that leads in to the race venue. Somebody driving an old 4x4 toyota with bikes on the back yelled something to me as he drove by. I waved and made some kind of noise, but I wasn’t stopping for anything. The snow on the road was perhaps 3” deep and slushy. I pedaled as hard as I could without making the tire slip.

When I finally reached the race venue and the POD I was nearly out of my mind. I quickly hung the bike onto the work stand that was in front of the POD, peeled off my wet pack and fumbled for the keys. It probably took me two minutes to get the door unlocked with my club-like hands. Once inside I peeled off the wet, sandy clothes and put on several dry layers. I turned on the heater and cranked up the thermostat. Then I began eating.

The Trucker after I had been home for less than an hour!

I made it. Damn. Southern Arizona?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Exploring to the north

Thursday morning dawned cloudy and windy, so I headed to Oracle early to get some provisions. Found a cool little place that sells biodiesel and also a variety of hippie wares such as home-made salsa and baked goods, coffee, and a small variety of groceries. It has wifi, which is quite a draw for a geek-on-the-road like myself. I hung out there for a while getting caught up on email and what-all, then rolled back out to the POD.

I had woken up tired, so I decided to just take an easy ride. The main road that I use to get out here is called the Willow Springs Road. It reaches and passes through the Willow Springs Ranch right near where the POD is located. Then it keeps going north for a goodly way. I had been asking one of my friends here about how to reach the AZ Trail as it passes through this country. I know it goes nearly right through Oracle from Mt Lemon, then heads north. I was told that if I were to go north on Willow Springs to the intersection with Freeman Road, then take Freeman right, eventually I would see some carsonite signs which would mark the AZT intersection. I figured that exploring that neck of the desert would be a fair way to stretch my tired legs, so I bundled up and rolled out to the Willow Springs Road on the Fisher once I got back and had some lunch.

This empty country is great for long rides when you just want to let your mind wander. There’s almost nobody driving, just the occasional rancher, blaze orange bubba, or powerline maintenance guy. I rolled north on Willow Springs, past the picturesque Big House of the Willow Springs Ranch. From a distance this ranch compound looks like a movie set. I’d love to check it out.

I had my GPS so that I could see a big picture of this exploring trip. It also was a tool for keeping this ride “easy”. I kept the pace casual and watched my odometer. Once past the Big House, the road started climbing gently. From about 3800 feet elevation I gradually eased up above 4K, then after about 8 miles from camp I crested out at 4,350, pretty tame by Colorado standards.

I hadn’t started out until 1:00 PM and the weather wasn’t great, so I was wondering how much farther I should go. I really wanted to know how far it was to the Freeman Road, so I decided to go a bit further, but maybe not 5 miles further. The road was descending gently to north, at about the same slope as the ascent had been. Miles clicked by through the scrubby high desert. Just as I hit my 5 mile limit, I came to the Freeman Road. “Ah yes”, I thought as I glanced at my watch. Around 2:30 pm, a bit over an hour’s ride time to get to this point. Better roll down the Freeman Road for a while to see if I can find the AZT now that I’m here.

Almost immediately I saw some no trespassing signs along the road, so apparently I was no longer passing through public land. Shortly I saw the road in to the Haydon Ranch. I figured I was not going to see the AZT for as long as I was passing through this property.

The road rolled up over some small rises and down through washes. For a while I noted the no trespassing signs, then stopped seeing them. But I did not see any Arizona State Trust signs, so I wasn’t sure whether I’d left the Haydon Ranch. My odometer was reading more than 15 miles. A 30-mile round trip wasn’t quite in sync with my “easy day” goal for this ride, but I was keeping the pace casual. And I felt fine. Curiosity kept me going. Way off on the horizon I could see a sign. I decided to go until I could read that sign. Five or ten minutes later I was able to tell that it was a picture of a cow. Bovine sign. Still curious, and not too worried about being caught out after dark, I pedaled on.

Bovine Sign

I was at about 16 miles when I decided I would go to 16.5 and then think about calling it. At 16.5 the top of a rise showed less than quarter mile away. I decided to see what was over that rise. When I crested the rise I saw another rise, with a small square sign next to it. Too tempting, I committed to the next rise. When I got there I saw that it was the gas pipeline crossing. I wondered if it was the same gas pipeline as the one that goes through the center of the race course (the bit containing seven hills known as the Seven Bitches). The topo says no, different pipeline.

Well, now it was time to look at the watch again. It was a bit after 3 now, a little over 17 miles on the odometer. Perhaps 90 minutes of ride time. Home by 4:30? Well, lots of that return trip was downhill. My curiosity helped me justify going to one more rise. I rolled less than half a mile to that last rise, looked to my left, and there was a carsonite sign. I laughed out loud. I looked to the right and didn’t see the one that signaled the route south toward Oracle. Immediately I pedaled down the northbound route. In perhaps 100 yards I encountered a cache of water bottles with fresh footprints around them under a mesquite, a clear sign of the endurance rider. Somebody was planning to ride this section soon. A warm-up for the AZT 300? I rolled a little farther and came to a short stunt crossing a gully. Then the trail became quite faint. No tracks, bicycle or otherwise. Just a place where the grass wasn’t growing as tall as it was nearby. After a quarter mile or so I turned around to look for the southbound leg.

Back out to the road, I rode along past the first intersection very slowly peering off the right side watching for the telltale carsonite. I started to wonder if I had already passed it before I noticed the other one. There was a cattle guard up ahead and a fenceline heading off south. Perhaps it’s just past the fence? Indeed, once I crossed the cattle guard there was a doubletrack heading off south. It was marked with a carsonite sign that had the AZT logo on it. I laughed again and rode out onto the two-track, looking for it to go single. I rode for perhaps 5 minutes, but the track looked like it was going to be the same for a while, and I knew it was time to start the return trip. But now I knew. And my GPS contained the whole tale.

As I got back onto the Freeman Road and started rolling west toward the POD, I saw that my odometer had a little over 19 miles on it. So it goes. Supposed to rain tomorrow anyway.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

OK, now I’m training

After a a 48-mile day on the mountain bike Tuesday and a 60+ mile day on the road bike Wednesday, I woke up feeling a little worked. It is time for an easy day.

Road bikes are such an effective instrument of torture! Isn’t it amazing how easily a skinny-tire bike can be used to make one’s buttocks burn? No hiding from the pedaling. Grind away up the hills, spin away down the hills, and listen to the wind howling in your ears.

I was on highway 89 just north of the little town of Catalina, just approaching one of the new mega-subdivisions being carved out of the desert when I spotted a coyote in the borrow pit. She was looking for a chance to cross, all business. Staying low and out of sight, watching cars and trucks whiz by. Waiting, waiting. I worried about her, and on my way back by hours later I feared I would see her broken body laying on the shoulder. No sign of her though--hopefully she made it to where she was heading safe and sound.

Arizona is a busy, growing place. Like Colorado, the growth seems to be spread around more or less all over. Anyplace that’s beautiful you’ll see earth moving equipment turning the landscape into a bland, flat building site. And then you’ll see the grey-headed baby boomers, zooming around in their Subarus and Lexi, looking for a dining room set or a Starbucks. But you’ll also see the native critters scooting around doing their thing.

quail running around near the POD

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race venue

I may be home for a while. This place is a pretty compelling spot to hunker down and train for a while. I have access to quite a bit of singletrack including the race course. I’m way secluded, a 20-minute drive on dirt from a lonely stretch of two-lane highway. It costs me nothing to stay here other than the propane needed to keep my POD from freezing and the gasoline needed to run my little generator.

There are miles and miles of empty dirt roads and double-tracks serving a gas pipeline and many bovine companions scattered across the desert. It’s about 1000 feet higher than Tucson, which means that it’s a little colder and probably a little windier than other places I could pick. But that also means it’s better for training.

There are three very cool people staying out here who I can visit with if I need to hear a human voice. I’ll not share their identities for the sake of their privacy.

pretty singletrack

Yesterday I rode the race course all day long. It is a good course, very fast and fun. Not too flat, not too much climbing. Unlike the Moab course, there are no dismounts. Riding it now one has to get off to open or climb over a gate here and there, but there is no hike-a-bike. I could remove my granny gear for the race. This would be an outstanding singlespeed course, but a big ring comes in handy now and then.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Out past Oracle Junction

I left Catalina State Park in mid-afternoon after getting some gas and other things, then started scouting for a library so I could get on the net. I needed to check email and get my fix in general, but more importantly I needed to look at the directions to the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo venue, where I intended to go set up camp. Library-finding just wasn’t happening for me as I headed north through the Oro Valley. I guessed that the library in Oracle might be a good setup, even though it was a Sunday afternoon and I did not expect it to be open. Libraries that have wireless usually leave it on, so you can just sit outside and surf the net. That’s what I was hoping to do, even if it was only for half an hour or so.

I drove on into Oracle. There was quite a bit less of it than I had expected. But I did find the library. I pulled in and fired up the laptop; nobody home. So I located the post office, dropped a letter in the box, and then rolled back west to drive out on the Willow Springs Road. I had seen the intersection to that road on the way by before, and the name jogged my memory. But it had been at least a month since I read the directions to the race venue.

I pulled the trailer out onto the dirt Willow Springs Road. This was the first time ever taking the POD on dirt. I winced as we slowly drove over washboards, envisioning the chaos that would be happening back in my little home. I really had no clue how to proceed from there, just driving along hoping to get a sign.

A pickup approached with bikes on the roof. I rolled down my window and waved them over. We stopped alongside each other and I asked if he knew where the Old Pueblo venue was. He nodded then looked forward and back. We had about 30 seconds before vehicles would be arriving looking to get around us. He quickly mentioned an arch I would pass through in about 5 miles, then a road to the left that I could miss. Then about a mile back on that side road the land would open up and that place would be the venue. OK, OK, thanks, good luck, and off we go.

So I had a few specifics, and off I went. I glance at my watch and it’s after 4. Less than an hour of daylight, then would come the darkness and the COLD.

In my head was the vision of the road into the 24 Hours of Moab venue, and watching people gingerly haul travel trailers down there. How bad would this road be? I drove slowly, watching closely for washboards and potholes.

After what seemed like quite a while I came to the ranch arch. I passed through. In maybe 100 yards there was a road on the left, and it would have been easy to miss. It seemed like I better check it out.

It was rough and narrow, way worse than that road into the 24 Hours of Moab. I ran into little gullies crossing it. I got through the first one, but each was a significant barrier. The trailer rocked to and fro, and there were lots of creaks and groans. The next one was deeper. I tried to cross, but the trailer frame dug in and I almost got stuck. I backed out and decided I just better stop right there, wait until morning and figure it out from there. In case this was a “real” road I figured I better not block it, so I found a spot barely off it to set the trailer and unhooked.

The cold was setting in hard even though the sun had not yet gone down. Shivering, I got out the generator and started it up, then I buttoned up everything and grabbed what I’d need for the night from the truck.

When I went into the trailer I was greeted with a scene of recent mayhem. The 4’ tall mirror that is mounted on my bathroom door had come partially off its mounting but had (luckily) not broken. The medicine cabinet had popped open scattering it’s contents through the bathroom. One other cabinet had also popped open. The dining room table had toppled over and was resting on the dining bench. The heater ran noisily and the generator outside added some noise to the setting.

Pretty depressing, especially when you consider that I really still had no real idea what I was doing. I cooked up some food and then crashed. I slept hard. Really tired.

The next morning I took off on foot looking for signs. The folks that I had been told were staying at the venue would be a source of good information. I hiked up the road that I’d started up. At first, I found nothing that would stop me if I could get past that one gully. Then the road intersected a high-tension power line and began to run underneath it. Service road, and I found several show-stopper barriers. It was still cold, and I did not feel like getting on a bike right away, so I kept hiking looking for sign. After about half an hour I came to a real road. Dirt, but graded! I trotted back to my trailer to get a bike so I could explore a little more effectively. Foot travel is so slow!

I briefly explored a branch of the road I had been camped on, then saw a trailhead that I had passed on the way in. Aha!

I rolled up north on the Willow Springs Road and took the side road I had hiked to. Before long I found the folks who were staying there. And the venue. Woo Hoo! Adventure concluded, time to move the trailer in to my new temp home.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Catalina State Park

This is a nice place to stay. Key amenities are showers and access to the southern terminus of the Fifty Year Trail. Cost me fifteen bones to park the trailer there overnight; would have been 20 with electric hookup. As it turned out the hookup would have been worthwhile since my heater ran all night and the battery was drained by 4am. Had to get up and go out into the 10° night to start up my generator. Cold like home! Just without the 18 inches of snow.

I rode the trail in the morning, then filled up with water and dumped my poop tank at the very nice dump station (there’s another amenity for you). Time to head north and go find the Old Pueblo venue.

The Fifty Year Trail

 Not sure how it got its name. Only took me a few hours to ride it…

This trail is great fun. Mostly smooth and fast, and once you get out to the northern reaches, an area called “the Chutes” is revealed. Oh baby. Think amusement park ride. Swoopy long turns through baked clay surface, death star channels, little airs, and a huge variety of routes through. Perhaps it’s a little braided, but what a playground! I only took the marked Fifty Year Trail route through, but I could see many interesting side routes.

It was a chilly Sunday morning giving way to a brisk afternoon when I was there. As I headed back the way I’d come, back toward the Catalina State Park, plenty of riders were heading in, many attired in mutant turtle costumes. I can imagine that during a normally warm weekend day there would be quite a few riders playing in there. Climbing some of the chutes I climbed could be pretty dangerous with lots of riders around—looks like a good venue for 1-way travel.

Time to move on

I’ve spent a whole week in the Rincon Valley. I’ve ridden the AZT along there many times. I’m becoming familiar with the amenities in the area (post office, library, Safeway, etc). Too familiar--it is time to shove off and see another place. Why the hell do you bother to live in a cramped little trailer if you’re just going to stay in one place?

I’m off to the Pima Valley-Catalina-Oracle area. Gonna probably go set up at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo venue for a while. Get a first taste of the race course, check the scenery there, maybe spent a little more time on lonely desert country roads.

Definitely time to step up the training a bit. I’ve pretty much been trying to do long-ish rides, but with no intensity. Just getting used to riding a bike again. I’d say that’s done. I’ve now got less than 5 weeks to race day. Time to go to bed tired for a while.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Guest Worker Program - Arizona Trail new construction!

 I ran into a local luminary when I was out riding on the fabulous bit of Arizona Trail near the La Posta Quemada Ranch in Colossal Cave Mountain Park the other day. He was Mark Flint, the designer of the trail sections I’ve been so impressed with, and the leader of the crews that were building trail there. He informed me that a workday was scheduled for Saturday, the 13th. It was a Pima Trails Association project. I told him I’d be pleased to join them.

It was very impressive workday. Even though it was quite cold by Tucson standards, in the upper 30s when we started, there were at least 45-50 workers there. We were doing new bench-cut trail construction. It was a very impressive effort.

I met quite a few people who are going to be at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, and just lots of cool people in general. I got a tip that there are some cool people staying out at the Old Pueblo race venue, and I can hang out with them if I head out there to stay and ride for a while.

I also got a t-shirt, a nalgene bottle, a great lunch, and an extra lunch to go! I ate the 2nd lunch for dinner. My back is tired, and I have that satisfied virtuous volunteer feeling. Hey, that was my MLK Day effort! I’m going to be show up at the next work day, which is January 28 at the same place.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Trayler Livvin

 After years of ridiculing overweight, lazy, gas-guzzling, RV-ing Americans, here I am hauling around a 21-foot travel trailer and sleeping in it every night. I guess becoming a hypocrite is part of getting older. It’s kind of funny--ten years ago I would have been unable to do something so contradictory to my long-held bias. But now, it doesn’t even phase me. Go figger. Some things get easier with age. Maybe if I became a parent, I could lose even the awareness that I’m a hypocrite.

Living in a trailer is quite a learning experience. Space is LIMITED. Some of the little conveniences that come with living in a house are available, but they take focus, attention, and hands-on problem-solving. Running water: “how much is left in the tank? Is the pump on?” Heat: “do I have plenty of propane? How’s the battery level?” Hot water: all of those questions, plus “has the wind blown out the pilot light?” I need to go potty “oh my, is my poop tank getting too full? Will I have enough water to flush the poo?”

Living in one of these things, especially away from 110 hookups, changes your perspective.
There’s a funny joke about boats: What are the two happiest days in a man’s life? The day he buys his boat and the day he sells it. It’s sort of a truism. I’m thinking there are some things that become universally true of RV owners:

1. The guy who sold you your trailer is a fucking idiot. Most of the stuff he told you about it has turned out to be oversimplified or just plain wrong, and the stuff that was broken that he lived with for years turned out to be trivially easy to fix. Maybe you are the idiot for buying anything from a guy with a haircut like that. (If you bought your trailer new, it’s quite likely that you are the idiot. You spent more than you can afford. If you can afford what they charge for new trailers, you should be staying in hotels anyway.)

2. The guy that wired your trailer was drunk, or on crack, or both. When something isn’t working, and you go to investigate the cause, you find that there are wire junctions that were sloppily joined with electricians tape, barely twisted together, often hanging down under the undercarriage where anything you drive over on the road could pull them apart. Your trailer’s assembler was probably a toothless elementary school dropout wearing a stained t-shirt advertising NASCAR or Canadian Lord Calvert.

3. You never really noticed before, but now you know your vehicle is terribly underpowered. It’s shameful, really. And it really could use a larger fuel tank. Those noisy, smelly diesel pickup trucks you see everywhere now seem remarkably sophisticated.

For the last week, I’ve been a whirlwind Mister Fixit. For people who know me, this is really pretty funny. I’m the kind of guy who drives nails with a crescent wrench. But lately here I’ve been diving right in and figuring out how to fix the stuff on this trailer that is broke.
By the way, the world of RV livin’ is a world where you become embarrassed if your grammar is perfect. Yer not some smarty pants, yer not a vegetarian, yer hetero-goldam-sexual, and you Love America. Folks you meet in this world take these things for granted. They tend to be friendly, they’ll happily lend you a pair of pliers or sewage drain hose, and lots of them like to talk. But it probably isn’t wise to start bitching about Iraq or talking about the wisdom of Howard Dean with the guy you just met at the dump station.

As I spend time living in this thing, slowly resolving issues and figuring out how to run stuff, I’ve become quite attached to it. Kind of like the way you value your bike more after resolving a bottom bracket squeak or chain suck problem. Living like this makes you really get into touch with the magic that is civilized American infrastructure. Utterly reliable hot and cold running water, flush toilets, refrigerators and microwaves, always-on internet access… we don’t even notice these things anymore.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Arizona Trail - Rincon Valley

 What a treat to find such a great chuck of desert singletrack as a setting for the first destination in my quest for warmth and mountain-biking!

Arizona Trail

On January 6 I rolled into southeast Arizona after fighting my way out of snowy Colorado and across icy New Mexico. I was tired of driving and sleep-deprived. A tip from my friend Jake that there was a nice park on the east side of Tucson called Colossal Cave Mountain Park led me in through Vail, AZ off I-10. I pulled the Pod into the park, found a spot for her and started unraveling the mess of my things. As I staggered around looking for things and scratching my head, I saw mountain bikers riding a section of trail a few hundred feet from the trailer.

My camp from the trail

Sunday morning after it was over 50° F I put on some lycra, swung a leg over the Fisher and headed out to see what they were riding. Lo and behold! Newly minted singletrack! I rolled on fun, twisty singletrack that still has McCloud marks from the builders. Clearly built based on IMBA trail design standards, it was fun, challenging, and beautiful.

I rolled north, first climbing through tight turns and over rocky obstacles. After a mile or so I reached a ridge top and the trail began to flow softly downhill, full of sweeping turns between a huge variety of cactus and thorny shrubs. I giggled, I whooped, I carved turns and slowly increased my speed and nerve. It had been a few months since I last rode a mountain bike on actual singletrack. I became reacquainted with my bike (my darling).

Shortly I reached a road and trailhead. I crossed the road and went through a gate, following the carsonite AZT signs. Now the trail became a bit less trimmed. Still flowing smoothly between the flora, but now with less extra room for error. Classic skinner box singletrack. Do everything right and you get that tasty food pellet, the pleasure of a perfectly carved turn, the sweet feeling of knobby tires tracking through dirt and gravel. Make a mistake and you get an electric shock, a scratch from the thorny plant life or the gift that keeps on giving, a cactus thorn or 12 stuck in you. At one point my shoe bumped one of those paddle-looking cacti and I had to stop 10 minutes later to find the thorns that were stuck in it, scratching my foot. Eventually it becomes clear that slowing down is a pretty good idea. Note to self: get tweezers next time I am in town.

I call this Arizona Leprosy

The AZ Trail pretty much peters out right at this wash, which is Rincon Creek

I will be doing trail work with the creators and maintainers of this section on Saturday, January 13!