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.

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