When riding with Steve you start at sunrise and usually end at dusk. This ride was not different. We arrived at the Box Canyon Trailhead before the sun broke over the eastern hills and were pedaling on the Arizona Trail (AZT) a couple minutes later. I took the photo above when I got to the top of that first rounded hill.
I say the rounded hill because riding the first section of this trip requires just that … up the face to the top of the hill, and right down the back. Up the face of the next hill, and right back down. The AZT was a thin ribbon of coffee colored loam winding its way through thick forests of radiant, golden brown grasses. I loved the way the light played on the grasses, loved it so much I found myself stopping many times to try to capture the different tones and textures. I have posted several of these photos below.
While I was stopping Steve just kept on riding. That is one of the things I like about riding with the “Wolfman.” I can stop whenever I want and still be able to catch him within a few miles. Or, I can ride ahead, stop for whatever reason, and soon he will come chugging along … oftentimes saying something ridiculous, like, “We don’t really have time for photos, we had better get moving along.” Steve says he has only found one rider slower than him (which I do believe), but the fact is, he never quits, just keeps moving along. And like I said, that gives me time to eat something, take photos, or adjust something on my bike.
Because of the wind blowing we both word windbreakers to start the ride. But after grunting up a couple of hills I was ready to shed mine. Soon after disrobing I came to one of the many gates, which held a different sign. I read the sign slowly (which I usually do) and then found myself laughing to myself. The sign said to call a 1-800 number if I observed Vandalism or Game Law Violations (which I might have done if I had witnessed either of the violations). The problem? We had absolutely no cell phone coverage out there!
I guess I could have called in after we got in range of a cell tower but I am not sure our notice would have been timely enough to help.
So, as I was saying, for the first seven miles this segment of the AZT climbs rolling hills and drops down the reverse sides. However, most of the time the drop down the back side was much longer and descended a whole lot more than the corresponding climb. Eventually this pattern dumped us into a (dry) riverbed.
Climbing the northern side of this riverbed marked the beginning of the most difficult part of this ride, as the trail climbed, and then turned parallel to the mountains. The next 8 miles went real slow as we were dropping down into rocky ravines and then climbing right back out of them. The nice loam trails from the beginning of the ride had turned to loose rock and a whole lot of prickly pear cactus, with an occasional Ocotillo mixed in. On one of the descents my front tire washed out and I ended up rolling onto a dead (thank god) Spanish Bayonet plant. I got a few scratches but nothing serious.
Many of the ravines on this protion of the AZT were almost un-ride-able. If they had had a solid surface I might have had a chance. But the loose rock combined with the steep grade had me doing quite a bit of hike-a-biking.
We emerged from the rocky hillsides fifteen miles into the ride, and none too early for me. For the next fifteen miles on the AZT we were treated to the longest, smoothest, bicycle slalom course I have ever witnessed … with an overall elevation drop of more than a thousand feet. I could have coasted through most of this trail but chose to attack it … as if I was racing someone. I used the trail to work on my flat cornering technique … leaning my bike, keeping my body vertical, and pushing my outside pedal down hard to keep the tires hooked up. I kept a positive attitude, even though I could see 3 possible ways a rider could get messed up. 1) Have your tires wash out and slide into one of the prickly pair cacti lining the trail:; 2) Take a turn too wide and head out into a prickly pair jungle; or 3) Cut a turn too tight and end up with an inside arm and hand impaled with prickly pair needles. Fortunately, I did none of these!
While riding the worlds longest slalom coarse the clouds moved in and keep the temperatures in the 70’s. Thick clumps of clouds often gave the expanding terrain strange color patterns like the one below.
We eventually crossed under Highway 83 and Interstate 10 using cement culverts. We could not imagine how these culverts would look during a flash flood … yet we knew no one would be riding those sections of the AZT.
We passed the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead and crossed over the cement bridge and under the railroad bridges. I saw a sign which said the cement bridge was built in 1920.
I found the three mile ride from the bridges up to the Colossal Cave summit real challenging. Several sections of the trail were composed of jagged shaped limestone and I took it upon myself to ride each part. A couple of gauntlets I didn’t make at first, but tried again using a different line and cleaned.
We met a couple of mountain bikers at the top of the summit … a guy and his daughter (we think). They were from Colorado. When I asked if I could take and post their photo on my website the girl sounded excited but the man declined for both of them (the only other person I have had refuse a photo was a woman who didn’t want her ex-husband to know where she was).
We easily climbed the AZT up through the Pistol Hill area, once again being challenged by some rough rock gardens (which I cleaned)!
We were treated to seven more miles of slalom turns as we traversed the alluvial leading to Rincon Creek, which was mostly dry. Once across the creek we came upon Hope Camp, with its dilapidated windmill and storage tanks spread around.
I stopped and took photos as Steve passed by. I think he was getting anxious to finish the trail.
From Hope Camp we had just a couple more miles to reach the Camino Loma Alta Trailhead. We both rode hard to finish the ride. My legs felt great. I guess doing 48 and 38 mile rides 4 days previous did not take their toll. I think I could have done more of the AZT but … the trail travels into Saguaro National Park … where bikes are forbidden.