Riding the Arizona Trail with Rockman and Wolfman
This post is a work in progress. Please check back in a day or so to see completed version.
We arose at 3 am so we could drive from North Phoenix to Kelvin, leave Cindy’s car, then drive Wolfman Steve’s car back to the Picketpost Trailhead where Rockman Joe would be waiting in his monster van. All this so we could ride a 38 mile piece of the Arizona Trail.
As we drove into the trailhead Rockman Joe popped out of the van with his cup of coffee, having spent the night in the parking lot. I was looking forward to the cup he had promised me. The plan was for Steve to jump on his bike as soon as daylight permitted, while Joe and I relaxed in his van drinking coffee. Steve, a notoriously slow biker, would be given a 30 minute head start and Joe and I would then catch up later.
I was glad when Joe invited me into the van, as the temperature was quite low outside. Joe and I sat and relaxed inside, sipping our brew for almost an hour, when I finally told Joe we had better get going. I was worried Steve would come back looking for us, defeating our plan to shorten the time of the ride.
Picketpost Mountain is so tall it creates a huge morning shadow, engulfing everything between the trailhead and the massive block of stone. The first portion of the ride circles to the west of Picketpost Mountain.
Not less than a mile up the trail we came upon the Wolfman, his bike upside down alongside the trail. “Something happened to my derailleur, and I didn’t want to try to fix it,” he said excitedly. The chain sat on the cassette at a sharp angle, like when someone tries to shift a bunch of gears while not moving. I lifted the derailleur, turned the pedals a few rotations, and let go. Everything went back to normal so we turned his bike over and began to ride. I don’t think Steve was real happy that we had waited so long to start. The delay had cost him precious minutes toward his getting his best time on the Picketpost segment.
Just a few switchbacks farther and I saw Joe riding right past a large, black bull not more than two feet off the trail. The animal had been grazing as Joe approached and finally lifted his head as Joe passed him. As I approached the bull circled around me and a trail side bush, and stepped onto the trail, effectively blocking Steve’s path. A few minutes later the critter moved up the hill and began grazing once again, allowing the Wolfman to pass.
The first ten miles of this Arizona Trail segment is a steady uphill. Much of the trail consists of tricky rock gardens that require quite a bit of momentum and some higher level bike skills.
Joe, once again proved to be a talented rider, making the rock gardens look easy. I continually tried to mimic his maneuvers but seldom could duplicate them. At one point he guided his front wheel between two large rocks, did a nose wheelie (which lifts the rear wheel) shifted his real wheel to his left about a foot (to clear the rock in between) set it back down, and rode off without lifting his feet from his pedals (I didn’t try to mimic that move)!
Ten miles of trail finally brought us into the sun and to the first mountain pass. As with any desert ride we had open views in all directions.
Following the summit we were treated to a mile of fast downhill. Once again I tried sticking with Rockman Joe but lost him before the next incline.
Another half mile climb brought us to the highest point on the ride, topping out at 3,715 feet. From that high point ten miles of mostly downhill eventually brought us down to the Gila River. Joe and I rode these downhills hard, leaning hard into every turn and jumping everything possible. I am sure he felt the like I did … I didn’t want to treat the 38 mile ride as a marathon, something done at a slow pace. My approach was to break the ride into a set of segments … and to ride each as hard as I could.
Joe is called “Rockman” because he is a geologist. Joe told me almost everything we were riding upon was volcanic. He said the region had been flooded with lava, much like what Mount Vesuvius did to the city of Pompeii.
When I asked him why there were so many shaft-like columns protruding from the earth (like in the photo above) he said he was not sure, that he would have to check into it more.
The sides of the Arizona trail are usually protected by some sort of sharp plant. Sometimes those protectors sprawled right into the center of our path, as witnessed by the streaks of blood on our arms and legs.
While looking at this protrusion Joe pointed out the different layers in the soil. Did this mountain stand more vertical … with the rocky part as a cap rock? Was there some kind of fault along this demarcation line? Once again, Joe said he was not sure,
The autumn colors appeared as soon as we could see the Gila River drainage. Joe said the trees changing colors were the Tamarisk or Salt Cedar Trees. He said this species is very invasive and sucks huge amounts of moisture from rivers and lakes. He said, “Tamarisk is like the devil!” I had read somewhere that water agencies try to eliminate these trees as they significantly lower the water levels.
I had done this ride last winter but already I had forgotten how long we ride along the Gila River … fourteen miles! I also didn’t remember how many tributaries enter the river from the north and how much climbing and falling we had to do to cross each one of the creek beds.
About 34 miles into the ride we hit the uphill I had been dreading all day … a climb of 500 feet in the span of one mile. Last year I walked almost the entire ascent. This year I rode the majority as my legs felt much better. There are a few sections that are so steep I am not sure anyone could climb, … especially after already biked 34 miles.
Rockman and I finished close to an hour before Wolfman. We had to put on our jackets as the sun was setting and our core temperatures started to drop. I was about to climb in and start the car’s motor and heater when the Wolfman rolled into camp. He couldn’t wait to tell us how well he had done on the last part. He said he biked it all (which I doubted) and had done much better than his previous efforts. Joe and I just nodded as we loaded up the bikes and got ready to go.
The Picketpost to Kelvin portion of the Arizona Trail has been the most scenic of all the segments I have visited. Once we hit the ten mile mark I saw no signs of civilization in any direction, except the trail we were riding. For ten miles I was treated to the wild, open, and raw hills of mother nature.
Many people scoff when I tell them the desert is a beautiful place. I figure this lack of appreciation stems from not getting out into the true wild desert and looking closely. I saw beauty everywhere I looked as I mountain biked the Picketpost to Kelvin portion of the Arizona Trail.