Wednesday, December 9, 2009

McDowell Mountain on the Single

I've been riding the full suspension BMC all week and didn't want to end the trip without riding the singlespeed. For some reason it just seems silly to transport a bike so far without riding it. In fact, that's the reason why I no longer bring my road bike to Arizona - I never rode it once I realized how good the mountain biking was.

So today I had to ride the single. One thing to consider was that, after 5 days of riding, my legs were tired. Tired legs, 1 gear, and a rigid bike I needed to select a trail that would be fun to ride with minimal climbing and, since my right wrist has been sore since my fall yesterday, it also needed to be relatively smooth. The answer? McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I first rode the Pemberton Trail clockwise, then did a quick Sport -> Technical Track loop, and finished after the sun had set with an even faster Sport loop. Totals were 1:51 ride time and 21.74 miles. My only regret is that I didn't have time to do the Long loop too. The singlespeed is definitely returning with me on my next trip.

The Pemberton Trail is more double track than singletrack, but the fantastic scenery and excellent flow keeps me coming back for more. It was a perfect match for the singlespeed.

The Sport Track is really, really smooth and very, very fast. My (then) 8 year old rode it with me December 26th last year and said it was like a roller coaster.

Here's one for the roadies. The road riding in Arizona isn't bad either. If the dirt wasn't so much fun I might actually consider bringing my road bike.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pass Mountain v2: This time I complete the loop

My previous attempt to ride the Pass Mountain trail in Usery Mountain Regional Park didn't go so well and ended with an early withdrawl. Two years later I returned to finish the loop and, while I certainly didn't ride everything, I was successful in completing the trail.

Mike, of Mountain Bike AZ fame, joined my brother and I this morning. Spend a few minutes reading his trail reports and watching the videos shot from his helmet cam and you'll realize that he has mad bike skills. Skills, I should add, that I don't currently have. He rides like a mountain goat, just floating up and down technical features, making the roughest sections of trail look smooth.

Yesterday, and last night, the area received a ton of rain. This was a good thing as it had been months since the last significant storm. This made for absolutely fantastic riding conditions and if not for the handful of puddles it would have been difficult to tell that a major storm had occurred in the previous 24 hours (unless you'd been riding the loose, dusty trails in which case the transformation was even more dramatic).

I had one fall on a mildly technical uphill climb where, for whatever reason, I was unable to unclip after stalling out on a rock move and fell to my left, landing on both hands and my left shoulder. Thankfully there were no cacti in the immediate vicinity for me to fall into. I view this as a minor miracle as, like most trails in the Phoenex area, Pass Mountain is full of cacti. The discomfort of my sore right wrist is nothing compared to the pain and discomfort associated with removing a couple of dozen cactus spines!

Adding a pair of tweezers to my pack would probably be a good idea, since you never know when you'll have a close encounter with a cactus. For example, after we'd finished Pass Mountain, and were riding the Moon Rock trail on the way back to the car, my rear wheel kicked up a piece of cholla that stuck to my right leg. Luckily it was embedded mainly in my knee warmer, but even so I ended up sticking my finger, and poking my calf, trying to remove it.

Some people (like Mike) get excited when they see a trail sign that says it's not recommended for bikes. Others (like me) get a bit nervous.

The trail lures you in with sections of flowing, smooth singletrack. Enjoy them when you can because they are the exception, rather than the norm for this trail!

Looks fun, doesn't it?

The views to the northeast on the backside are massive.

Looking at the east face of Pass Mountain.

This looks easy enough, but don't let the picture fool you. That rock is anything but smooth and there is a significant drop to the rider's right side. I walked this section.

This section of slickrock also looks easy, but is much steeper than it appears and is filled with gaps and folds waiting to suck in your tire. I walked this too.

Mike makes everything look easy. Well, at least the stuff where I was close enough to see him ride he made look easy!

Monday, December 7, 2009


My wish for rain has been granted, but now I'm worried that the area may get more than I'd hoped for. I started my lunch ride a little early this morning in order to avoid the heavier rain forecast for later in the day. When I rolled away from the house the roads were damp but it wasn't actively raining. That only lasted a few minutes, however, and from that point on it would rain off and on for the 1 hour and 40 minutes I was on my bike. Generally the rain was light, but as I climbed towards the Gateway Saddle in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve it would inevitably begin to come down harder (I rode both the north and south approaches).

I didn't mind the rain on the climbs as I could take off my sunglasses and see quite well. The descents, on the other hand, required that I wear the glasses to guard my contact lenses from the sand and small rocks my front tire would occasionally kick up into my face.

It was a fun ride and a unique experience to ride in the desert during a storm. I told my sister-in-law after I finished that I have a hard time leaving when it's raining, but if I get caught in rain after I'm on the bike it doesn't really bother me too much. Unfortunately for me, I was caught in a torrential downpour with only minutes left in the ride, ensuring that I returned home completely soaked!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2.5 Bypass in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Prospector Trail looking up towards Bell Pass

I say 2.5 Bypass (which is nothing compared to the annual Quad Bypass ) because we rode to Windgate Pass, Bell Pass, and the Gateway Saddle in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Riding from my brother's house in DC Ranch, our route was Desert Park to Windgate to Bell Pass (with a quick out-and-back on Prospector to the scenic view) to Gateway Saddle and back on Desert Park. One of these days I need to try the climb to Tom's Thumb, but after reading Mike's report I think my fitness level needs to be a bit higher than it is right now.

The descent down Bell Pass was better than I expected. After climbing (and hiking...) it in the spring of 2008 I knew it was steep, loose and rocky, with a handful of relatively tight switchbacks. Given my tentative descending skills I expected to walk a few sections. However, while I did unclip in a few spots (just in case I needed to eject) I never had to put a foot down.

The trails are dry and dusty as it hasn't rained in a long, long time. A cold front moved in last night and there's a chance of rain Monday. I'm actually hoping we get some moisture to freshen up the trails. Temperatures are in the high 50's to low 60's which is cold from a local's perspective, but feels great to me.

Windgate Trail, before the real climbing began

Looking down on the Bell Pass Trail before starting the descent

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Classic

I met my brother after work for a quick out-and-back on the always fun Desert Classic trail at South Mountain Park. We started late and finished in the dark with lights. Either my light batteries aren't holding a charge, aren't recharging to 100%, or my night vision is deteriorating in my old age because like last night, I was having difficulty seeing details of the trail. So I rode slow which was fine as my legs were tired anyway. The picture above was taken at the point we turned around to start the ride back to the cars.

My Lunch Tasted Better Than Yours

After a 10+ hour day in the car (and one super lame speeding ticket for going 65 in a 55 just outside of Jacob Lake that the officer empathetically reduced from 10 over to 1 over so my fine was only $62 instead of $120) I wasn't feeling too energetic when I finally arrived at my brother's house in Arizona. However, he was adament that we do a night ride so at 9:30 PM I found myself riding the Gateway Saddle loop in the nearby McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Unfortunately, this first ride didn't go so well for me. Historically my first couple of rides in Arizona are a bit rough - literally! - as I reaquaint myself with the rocky, rugged terrain that is more technical than what I normally ride. Completing my first ride in the dark, after a long day in the car during which I skipped lunch in favor of pretzels and leftover Halloween candy, didn't make it any easier. In fact, it made it extremely difficult and frustrating as I found myself off the bike hiking quite a bit. Fast forward 15 hours and the identical loop ridden at lunch today was much, much better. It's amazing what a good night's sleep and good visibility does for my riding! Plus, I was able to enjoy the scenery which isn't bad either.

It's been a while since I had a lunch ride that tasted this good!