Milagrosa Trail … Full Suspension Recommended
The name of the trail was Milagrosa (which means “the image of the Virgin Mary believed to perform miracles” or just simply “miraculous”). Many of the Tucson locals call it “Millie.”
Wrong Time Zone
I had plenty of time to get ready, since my watch said 2:00. I was supposed to meet Shane at 3:00 in the Le Buzz parking lot … the same place I met the riders for the Bug Springs ride a year ago. I went into the bathroom with my riding shorts, riding shirt, and my phone, planning on getting dressed after checking my messages while … well never mind that. Anyway, while getting dressed my phone rang. I looked at the number, a 520 area code … Hmmm, I had no idea who it could be.
A voice said, “Hello Joe?” I replied, “Yea?” with a questioning voice. “This is Shane, I am in the parking lot and I don’t see you.” I looked at my watch again … 2:13.
Then it hit me. It was 3:15, and I hadn’t reset my watch since entering Arizona with a different time zone. I was operating in California time!
Milagrosa Trail … Interactive Map. The blue “P” marks the Trailhead.
Have you done this ride? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
“Dang it Shane, I have been going by my watch, which I didn’t reset since getting here late last night. Can you give me 15 minutes?” He said he would and I yanked on my riding clothes, hustled my bike out to the car, grabbed the three boxes of gear, threw them in … and sped down to Le Buzz.
Length: 8.4 miles
Shane said he understood, even though I again apologized and told him I am usually on time. Next we both drove to Snyder Road and Shane parked on the shoulder. After transferring his bike and gear to the Highlander, I drove us up the Molino Basin.
While driving up to the trailhead, Shane told me about a new organization he and his friends had formed called TORCA (Tucson Off Road Cyclists and Activists ), whose aim was to take care of the trails. The members of this organization take it upon themselves to clean, repair, and rebuild the trails in the area. Shane said they just started the organization and already had 70 members. I told him we didn’t have an organization like that but my friend, Drew, had begun filling a 33 gallon bag with trash at the end of each ride. With Drew setting the example, we all had begun to do likewise.
After getting one of the “good” parking spots (right by the Catalina Highway) we both hopped out of the car and began to get “geared up.” Gearing up was new for me (except for a helmet). Shane had told me I should bring some pads if I had them. The Sonoran Desert Mountain Biking Association had this to say, “… Milagrosa: Not for the easily cowed, armor and full-face helmets recommended.” So I bought some gear in San Diego and brought it. I also put on the full face helmet and the Atlas neck brace I had recently purchased. I felt like Robo-rider by the time I was finished.
Hike-a-Biking the Start
We crossed the Catalina Highway and rode down into a wash. Upon exit of the wash Shane got off his bike and asked me if I was a Billy Goat. I said, “What?” He said, “I am not going to try to climb this mountain but you can if you want to.” I looked up the trail … further and further and said, “Nope, I’ll walk with you.” So we set off pushing our bikes up the steep and rough hill, with all our gear on.
While trudging up the hill Shane explained that most people called this ride Milagrosa, yet the first part was actually a segment of the Arizona Trail. When we reached the beginning of of La Milagrosa then the Arizona Trail would continue and we would turn right … leaving the Arizona Trail.
Shane took his helmet off partway up but I left mine on, saying to myself, “Since Shane rides a heavy duty downhill rig and I had my light Stumpjumper, I would not get as hot as him.” I was also thinking, “We didn’t have that far to go so I’ll just leave my helmet on,” and, “I just rode 40 miles the other day, hiking up this hill in 85 degree weather won’t bother me.” Of course, all those thoughts turned out to be bogus.
By the time we got to the top of the mountain, sweat was dripping off my nose, my headband was soaking wet and had slid under my sunglasses to cover my eyes, and my full face helmet was a reservoir of sweat. I was huffing and puffing, couldn’t seem to catch my breath, and started to feel nauseated.
I whipped off all of that stuff, wrung out the headband, tried to wipe off my glasses, and let the helmet air out a little. After not being able to get my glasses dry and worrying my headband would slip over my eyes at a more critical time, I jammed both into my pocket and put the helmet back on.
That was not the totality of my screw-ups up until that point. Just before we reached the top of the mountain, (while swimming in my own sweat), I looked down and saw no GPS unit mounted on my handlebar stem.
Forgot My GPS
At that moment I knew I hadn’t lost it, nobody stole it! In the midst of all my “gearing-up” I had forgotten to take it out of one of my three containers and mount it on my bike. I looked back down to the parking lot and asked myself, “Should I ride back down and get my Garmin 800 Edge.”
My instant reaction was, “Are you kidding?” So I asked Shane to hold on a minute so I could start Strava on my phone.
I really wanted to get a track of this trail, but a partial track on Strava was going to be the best I could do (I used to collect GPS data on my phone and Edge for every ride, but my phone battery had gotten so weak I could seldom get a full ride recorded on that anymore).
Anyway, we were at the top of the mountain and Shane said, “This is where the fun begins,” and he was right, again. At first my arms and legs felt so weak I was worried I would not be able to control my bike. But lost in concentration on some real tricky (and dangerous) downhill I forgot about my arms, legs, and stomach (until the next uphill stretch).
Wild Horses (and Donkeys)!
We wound up way down into a canyon and eventually came to a place with a giant cement tank. Shane said there were usually horses in the trees by the creek bed and, sure enough, there were 2 horses and a mule.
I was wondering (foolishly of course) if the horses were wild. But just as I rounded a tree and approached them for a photo, one of the horses lowered himself into the sand and rolled around on his back. The other horse and the mule watched me approach but did not even flinch.
A little farther down we came to where the trail split. Shane reminded me we had actually been riding on the Arizona Trail. Taking the left turn would keep us on the Arizona Trail, while the trail to the right was La Milagrosa. As we started on La Milagrosa, Shane told me about an event where riders mountain bike the entire Arizona Trail from the Mexican border to the Utah state line (over 800 miles). He said he would not find that kind of event fun, and would get awfully sick of being on a bike.
Ride the Divide Fun?
I told him the longest mountain bike ride I had done was 52 miles, and I hadn’t wanted to get back on the bike for days. He said he had watched the documentary, “Ride the Divide,” (where bikers ride the Rocky Mountains from Banff Canada to the Mexican border) and didn’t think it looked like the riders were having a grand time.
At one point we came to what Shane called, “The Waterfall.” I saw where a wide rock slab dropped off about ten feet with some pools down below. I could not understand how anyone would ride off that, but Shane led me over to where a trail was built down on the left side of the falls. To ride the “trail” the biker would have to drop off 5 or 6 two foot high rocks, and then make a sharp right turn or run headlong into a huge boulder. Shane tried it a few times, got to the right hand turn, hesitated there, and rode the remainder. “That right hand turn always gets me,” he explained. If it was straight I could do it easily.”
Riding the Ridgeline
The Milagrosa part of the trail mainly involved riding down a ridgeline. The part which made the trail difficult was the ridgeline not being flat, but a series of 100 to 200 foot hills with rock nodules at the top. Just after dropping down the face of one nodule we would have to climb up the back of another. The good thing was, the parts we were riding/walking up were never as steep as the faces we were riding down.
Shane … a Great Guide
Shane was a great leader. He would stop every quarter mile of so and ask how I was doing, then explain the next stretch of trail to me. He pointed out distant sights and informed me of various trails in the area. On some of the real tricky drops he would stop and tell me how to ride them, and then demonstrate. For instance, near the end he stopped at the top of a hill and warned me about the next section, called the Rock Garden.
I found the Rock Garden to be the nastiest and most challenging stretch of the whole ride. When we reached the bottom Shane urged me to look back at what we had come down … almost straight down the face of the steepest bluff. That sight made me feel satisfaction. Milagrosa!
After the rock garden we shot across several hundred yards of slickrock, then dropped down into a river bed, and began our final climb.
At one point, just before dropping down a steep hill, Shane came to a stop at a tree. “That is what we call the Tequilla Tree.” Looking at the base I noticed a green ammo box and a bottle of some liquid. Shane asked if I needed a shot but I declined … as did he.
The sun was setting just as we topped out on the last rise. The air had finally cooled to a soothing temperature and the sky was a purplish gold. Shane said, “Well, you survived!” I countered with, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? How could the conditions be any better than this?”
While shooting down the smooth part of the trail leading to Shane’s truck I began to reflect on the ride.
Finishing the Ride
My arms, legs, and lungs never did feel strong. I had to attribute that feeling to the higher elevation. I had done a 40 mile ride a few days prior in (San Diego) with a maximum elevation of 749 feet but 3,373 feet of climbing, and felt great the whole way. La Milagrosa had a maximum elevation of 4,000 feet, had many ups and downs, but only had an elevation gain of 900 feet.
I tried a whole bunch of drops that I would not have tried without all the gear I was wearing (for extra assurance), and without Shane setting an example in front of me.
I came off my bike 3 times, but never fell. Each of those times I had hit a rock at a slow pace and sort of walked over the handlebars. Actually, not once did any of my new gear hit anything, not a rock, not my bike, nothing … although I did have to pull a few thorns out of my left elbow pad.
Milagrosa … the “Miracle” might be me doing this entire ride without a crash.
We quickly loaded our bikes into the truck and talked about what other trails I could possibly ride on Sunday (solo, since everyone else in Tucson was cleaning up after the 24 Hour Old Pueblo Race). Shane suggested I ride the Arizona Trail to the southeast of Tucson. He said his wife had done a long distance run down there and the trail was nice. So, I decided to head there next.