Bug Springs Trail — From Snow and Pines … to … Cactus and Dust
My Bug Springs mountain bike ride started at Le Buzz Bistro … well not officially.
We were (once again) planning to go to Tucson to visit our daughter, Alissa, her boyfriend Jeremiah, and our grand kids (Bubby and Sissy). Prior to out last visit, about a month previous, I had asked the Tucson MTB site users to recommend a Sunday ride for me. I secretly hoped I could not only get a recommendation, but, get someone to guide me. The previous trip I had lucked out and got Duncan (see 50 Year Trail). This time my wishes were answered by a guy named Shane.
Length: 7.4 miles
On the Friday before, Shane texted me to say he could do “Bugs” on Sunday, and to meet at the Le Buzz. I was immediately worried as I had just accepted an offer from a guy named David to ride Starr Pass that afternoon at 2:00. I sent Shane a message asking him if he thought I could do both rides back-to-back. He said it would be no problem and so I was set. David, seeing the post about riding the Bug Springs Trail, messaged me that we could start at 2:30. These guys had set it up for me to get the most out of my day … and what a great day!
One of the first things I had to do was figure out … what is a “Le Buzz,” and where was it located? Jeremiah told me it was some type of coffee shop and I was happy to find out it was just two blocks from Alissa’s apartment complex.
I decided to drive Cindy’s Highlander (with the bike rack) just in case it was needed for a shuttle vehicle. As I pulled into the shopping center I looked for some mountain bike racks and some riders who might be looking around for a stranger. Trouble was … I saw bikes and riders in every direction I looked! Dozens of them! Bikes on top of cars, on the back of cars, leaning against vehicles, and some just laying on the ground! And none of their owners appeared to notice me gawking around at them or pay any attention to my Stumpjumper on the bike rack. I managed to find an open spot about a hundred feet in front of Le Buzz and parked the Highlander. I looked at my watch …. 8:45 … perfect timing.
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As I exited the car I scanned the parking lot again and noticed most of the bikes were roadies and their riders were all wearing spandex. I saw one car with mountain bikes mounted on a roof rack but saw no riders in the vicinity. I didn’t think that car belonged to Shane as both racks were already full… not ideal for shuttling.
I walked to the front of Le Buzz and quickly gave up on the idea of entering and looking for Shane inside. The place was packed… with people waiting in line to enter. Most customers had some type of riding uniform… many were motorcycle riders.
As I turned away from the front of the shop I noticed a newer Tundra (pick-up truck) parked in one of the front spots that had a couple of mountain bikes in the bed. I approached the young man and hesitantly said, “Shane?” The fellow immediately said he wasn’t Shane, but he expected Shane to show up any minute.
Through introductions I found out his name was Art (which I somehow forgot later) and his wife was Tara. Both looked like they were in their 30’s and in very good shape. They seemed very friendly as we exchanged information regarding our expectations about the upcoming ride.
Shane did show up shortly, along with several other riders. After some discussion they figured out who would ride up with whom. I rode up in the Tundra with Art, Tara, and Shane. We were joined by one of their other friends … a big guy named Martin. Martin volunteered to drive his car to the Molino Basin Campground so he and Art could retrieve the Tundra from the top, where the Bug Springs Trail began.
I thought about what a beautiful day we had as Art pulled the Tundra out of the parking lot, with Martin right behind us.
Martin easily found a spot in the Molino Basin parking lot and jumped in the back seat with Tara and I. As we continued our trip up to the top of the Bug Springs Trail, Art asked Martin if he had been doing much mountain biking. Martin said he had broken his shoulder blade a while back and was just getting back into riding. Martin continued saying he had been having trouble letting go when riding … he had doubts and hesitated because of the injury. I assumed he must have hurt himself riding, so I piped in, “I know what you mean … try coming back from a broken neck.” I spent the next few minutes explaining how I broke my neck and my road to recovery.
At some point Tara and Art pointed out some pieces of the Bug Springs Trail that were visible from the road. Shane, who was sitting in the front with Art, asked how Art’s business was going and the two of them spoke mostly of the construction business.
While the guys in the front were talking, Tara asked me if I knew much about the trail … especially the first part. I told her I thought I remembered someone on the Tucson MTB website describing the start of Bug Springs Trail as a mile of hike-a-biking up a steep incline over hundreds of water bars. She said that was mostly correct except maybe not quite that bad.
Art then began to ask Martin about his flying lessons. I guess Martin was learning how to fly helicopters. Martin said he was just learning how to fly using only instruments. He said the instructors put some kind of blindfold on him so all he could see was the instrument panel. He said it was a real weird feeling, and that trying to keep track of which direction was up was harder than one might think. While he described this, I thought back to times bodysurfing, when I had been tumbled around by a big wave in the ocean, and how scary it was to not know which way was up or to swim. I couldn’t imagine having that feeling in a helicopter. At least in the ocean you will rise to the surface if you just hold still and don’t panic.
As we entered the trailhead parking lot we noticed quite a bit of snow on the banks, mostly in the shade of the pine trees. Yes, fifteen minutes of driving up the Catalina Highway had taken us from the dry, dusty desert to a thick pine forest. We parked next to the other pick-up, which had brought the remaining riders I had met in front of Le Buzz.
We all bailed out of the Tundra and began to unload our gear. I was a little shocked by how many of the riders had shin, knee, and elbow guards! A couple even had full faced helmets! Whoa! I had heard the Bug Springs Trail was a rocky trail, but wondered if all that gear was necessary?
I think there were 8 of us once we got together and headed up the Bug Springs Trail.
The first part of the Bug Springs Trail did entail pushing our bikes over a few dozen water bars (the ones that look like railroad ties). The trail was not as steep as I expected but the patches of snow did make the footing a little sketchy at times.
I was glad I was wearing my Lake mx 165 Biking/Hiking Shoes. They are not only set up for my clips but have a Vibram sole, just like most good hiking boots. They are also very comfortable to hike in. While some of the others were slipping and sliding in the mud and snow I just kept moving. I had started out near the rear of the pack but passed all but 2 by the time we reached the top.
We all waited at the top, letting everyone catch their breath. I was excited … for I knew the good part of the Bug Springs Trail was coming up soon! Shane seemed very tired and later said his asthma was acting up. I also think part of his tiredness came from pushing a downhill bike, up. I had unloaded his bike from the back of the Tundra and could not believe how heavy it was! Art made it a point to tell me about how the Bug Springs Trail would change just around the bend. Looking down to the part of the trail we could see, he said, “Just around that bend the trail gets pretty steep with some drop offs, some water boards, and some rocks … so be aware.” My eyes followed along to where the Bug Springs Trail disappeared around the bend and up to that point, looked pretty tame. He added, “From there on down there are some rocky sections … but nothing too bad.”
The macho guys went first, then Tara, then some other guys. I was going to let everyone go, but the other girl on the ride (I later learned her name was Meaghan) pulled over and insisted I go first. I took off down the nice part of the Bug Springs Trail and slowed as I made the bend. I looked at the first water bar then focused on the second one. It lay a good 18 inches below the second one with a shallow cavity in front of its leading edge. As I dropped my rear tire off the first water bar my front tire stalled behind the second one … and at that point my front suspension totally collapsed. Instead of going over the handle bars, I managed to fall sideways into a bush. Talk about embarrassing!
As I was getting back on my bike I was peeved at myself. I had noticed my shocks being real soft when I was riding with Bubby and Jeremiah the previous afternoon at Alissa’s apartment complex. I had ridden down a set of stairs and the shocks did the same thing … I sat balanced over those front forks for what seemed like seconds, before the front wheel rolled ahead … and the forks sprang back up … and I rode on. I had immediately vowed to put some more air in the shocks but, of course, had forgotten all about my promise within seconds of the incident.
I was able to redeem myself (somewhat) after dialing the shocks halfway (to the locked position) and rode the remaining water bars quite easily.
The Bug Springs Trail passed through forest and snow, crossing a creek a few times. I was riding behind Shane who was struggling with the occasional climbs. He asked me if I wanted to go in front of him but I declined, saying he knew the trail and did quite well on the downhill stretches. Finally he just pulled over and made me pass him.
Suddenly we emerged from the trees and found all the faster riders sitting on a large boulder, with an incredible view of the mountains and Tucson below. Since everyone else was a local, I was the only looky-loo taking photos.
The video was filmed on the top portion of the Bug Springs Trail, near Tucson, Arizona. To watch the video on a full screen click the icon in the lower right corner just to the right of the YouTube emblem.
To view all videos please go to my YouTube channel at MountainBikeDiaries.
Farther down the Bugs Springs Trail I came across a rock formation that reminded me of two men sitting side by side on a chair with their backs to me, looking down on Tucson. Both fellows had sports car type hats on (Tam or newsboy cap).
After a couple of miles of attacking a rocky, demanding trail I got to a point where I had to stop to rest my shoulders, fore arms, and hands. Meaghan, who had been riding behind me (since I had passed Shane earlier) slowed to stay behind me, but I told her to keep going, and I would be behind her.
I stopped to get my Contour video camera running, hoping to get some good footage of Meaghan riding in front of me … but I couldn’t get the camera to power up right away. I had to switch batteries already … only 10 minutes and it’s dead? By the time I got going Meaghan was half way down the hill. I got some good footage of the Bug Springs Trail as I was riding … but none of Meaghan. Luckily I would get some good footage of her later in the ride, on the stretch leading into Molino Basin.
The video below will give you an idea of what riding the was like on a middle portion of the Bug Springs Trail. To watch the video on a full screen click the icon in the lower right corner just to the right of the YouTube emblem.
To view all videos please go to my YouTube channel at MountainBikeDiaries.
I was the last to arrive where the trail crossed the Catalina Highway. The others all waited just across the road, most in conversation. I stopped and took a few photos of the highway and the riders getting ready to head on. As we sat and conversed, Art made it a point to ask me what I thought of the ride, and if I was doing all right. Also, as we talked, several road riders passed us heading up the highway. I wondered if any of them were ones I’d seen at Le Buzz earlier.
As we all left the roadside I followed Meaghan, who was following Shane … until he hit a patch of very soft sand and laid his bike on its side. Meaghan kept riding and I waited to make sure he was ready to go. Being a very good rider I think he felt a little foolish falling in that area … kind of like me on the waterboards above.
Once back on his wheels, I followed him down to some kind of horse camp just off the Catalina Highway, and boy was I glad I followed him. While the others rode a bridge that crossed a creek bed, Shane turned right and headed parallel to the creek bed for a hundred yards of so. He yelled back to me saying we were taking the “fun” way. I stayed right behind him wondering what the “fun” could possibly be.
To see what Shane meant by “Fun” please click Prison Camp Trail.