Monday, May 26, 2008

Epic ride.

Every memorial day I try and do a century. I missed last year for some reason and this year I didn't do a century, but I feel like I did. The Apache Trail is marked as a highway on the map but don't be fooled. It may be paved for a few miles out of Tortilla Flat, and the first bit below Roosevelt dam but the interior is 22 miles of potholed, steep graded dirt road. That being said there are few roads in the state that are as scenic as the Trail. Yes, the scenery was epic, the weather was epic, and the climbing was epic.

I decided to drive to the end of the pavement rather than starting in Tortilla Flat as I was running a little behind. As it was I didn't get the bike off the car until 5:40. The sun was just getting ready to rise from the predawn twighlight. I had a mile or so to fine tune my setup before I would descend Fish Creek Hill. I had my new bike computer which measures Altitude and also had my GPS on board just for kicks (I will be using it next week for navigation so I thought it good to test the whole system out today).

Fish Creek Hill is a real piece of work. It is one and a half miles of severe elevation change. It climbs 1000' over its course evaluating to roughly a 15% grade. I will write more about Fish Creek Hill later though since going down is not so bad. At this time in the morning there was no one on the hill and descending was a bit bumpy but nice. I kept wondering if I was going to melt my brakes again like I did many years ago coming down Mt. Elden. I was discovering one of the major differences between paved road riding and dirt road riding was the speed of descending. On a hilly paved route you can at least make up time in speedy descents. On dirt you have to control the descent so you don't eat it. Coming down this particular hill I don't think I ever got over 16 mph just due to the nature of the road and the turns in the road.

I had not been down the Apache Trail in a long time and had forgotten the beauty of Fish Creek. The cliff walls are so tall down in here that it gives one the distinct feeling of being in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Last time I was down here Fish Creek was not flowing but today it was. Large cottonwoods filled the canyon bottom and the wonderful smell of the riparian vegetation filled the air.

Far above, the road I just came down climbs up into the sky.
Now that I was on to flatter road my speed jumped up to 18 mph for a bit leading into what would be the only easy steady climb for the day. The road going towards the Apache Lake Marina turnoff winds up a nice little canyon with large cottonwood trees growing next to the road. Also near the road is the highway maintenance yard (this must be a bugger of a road to maintain), and a ranch. Being early in the morning the feeling of solitude was wonderful. I saw two or three cars on my outbound trip but many more on the way back as the world of memorial day recreators came to life.

I got a little optimistic getting to the marina turnoff fairly quickly and thought how easy the rest of the road would be. It was a foolish thought really because after the Marina turnoff the outbound climbing really gets going. Incidentally, I was always of the opinion that the trail steadily climbed up to Roosevelt but the fact is that the end of the pavement where I parked is actually higher than Lake Roosevelt by 5-600 feet. So the majority of the climbing was actually to be realized on the way back.

Between the marina turnoff and Roosevelt lake there are around five hills. These hills have the peculiar attribute of not one of them being under an 8% grade. In fact most of them hit 10-12% in multiple places. I should have looked at the elevation profile a little closer. It was beautiful country, it is just that the road didn't do a whole lot of going back into the canyons it crossed to even out the grades. In all fairness though most of these canyons had steep walls and the places the road could fit into just happened to be that steep. Needless to say I got a good workout.

"Boy, I can't wait to get out of this crowded city and get up to the lake to camp."

Every hill seemed to give way to another one that was bigger than the one before. I would work up a good sweat mashing the granny gear of my MTB up one side and cool off carefully descending the other side only to launch right into another one as soon as I had crossed the bottom. This was rugged country and the last stretch of the road actually hugs the cliff just above the river/lake before climbing up to the Dam. This section was still in the shade when I got there. It was around this time that traffic started to pickup too.

I managed to snap a photo of myself when I got onto the pavement just before the Dam.

Getting to the top was an awesome feeling but I would soon discover that the store I was going to buy food and water at was out of business. I went down towards the marina but it's store was out on the water and it wasn't open yet. The visitor's center was my next idea but it was closed and the drinking fountain locked up. I ended up going over to the Sheriff's station down the road on the way back to the Dam.

I didn't stage this picture at all.

On the way back I took a few pictures which I probably shouldn't have as I would be getting back late. Still, I doubt I will be up this way again anytime soon with my bike so perhaps it wasn't that bad. After the permanent next week I am going to go back to training on the roadbike full time.

Ah, Margo, how do you interpret this dam? Well, Trevor, I think this dam is a metaphor, it is the fierce resistance to the forces of nature which buffet us all day to day, "Stand your ground" it says. Hmmm, well, I disagree Margo, I think it is more of a political statement, it is the icy space between the liberals and conservatives, and the water represents progress which has been brought to a halt by the immovable positions they each adopt respectively. But then again, perhaps we are over interpreting this......

For some reason I was thinking the way back would go quicker. I started to get really hungry but not so thirsty as I was ahead on hydration but behind on feeding. In the end I emptied the rest of my powder/maltodextrin (which I had brought extra of thankfully since the store was closed) to make a gel like consistency. A swig or two of this stuff every half hour provided ample energy, which was good because there was still a lot of climbing left.

The above picture doesn't really do the hills justice but it gives you an idea of what I was dealing with. These hills just kept going and going. I had to just keep settling down into a rythm I could maintain and just tell myself to keep turning the pedals and I would eventually be through. In the meantime I switched the screen on my bike computer and was amused to see that I was getting to over 4500 ft climbed and I still had Fish Creek Hill to deal with!

When they name a hill and put up a sign on it you know it is going to hurt. This mile and a half of road is why they say no 40 ft vehicles on this road. Even then there are problems. I had been pedalling easy for the last few miles to prepare for this ascent. Did I mention it was a 15% grade for a mile and a half and that it climbed over a 1000 feet? That's a lot of climbing for a mile and a half. In fact, the road hugs the cliff so tight it is barely one lane wide and I would catch up with all the people who passed me at one point since a boat trailer going up and one coming down did in fact have to stop and figure out how to pass each other. I was able to squeeze (and I do mean squeeze, I had to walk a bit and the handlebars barely fit between the car and the cliff face). I stopped to get a picture of some wrecked cars far below the road. Other than that I made it all the way to the top without stopping and I really didn't need to stop for the picture, just wanted to snap the picture (I was still hurting but I was hurting at a maintainable rate).

This is what happens when you either underestimate the law of inertia, or drink and try to drive Fish Creek Hill. I would see 4 wrecks in all lying strewn about the bottom of the cliffs under the road. It is interesting that these 2 cars fell so close to one another.

A parting shot at Fish Creek Narrows in the midday sun.
From the bottom of the hill to the top I got interesting comments from people (when you are in such a low gear that you are going 3-4 mph you can talk to people albeit in short sentences between breaths). An older coppertoned guy with his shirt off walking along the road at the bottom of the hill looked at me and asked if I was riding all the way up the road. I told him my car was parked at the top and he responded with a hearty "You da MAN!". Around halfway up the hill an SUV was passing me going down and a guy leaned out the window and said "Dude! You ROCK!". That made me feel good and was a good Morale booster. One of the weirder ones was a guy on a Harley and his Betty on back. First of all I admire his bravery for taking a Harley down this hill, not to mention with a passenger. His girl on the back got a look at me and with a surprised expression on her face just said "WOW!" (and I don't think she was referring to my manly hairy chest exposed through my unzipped jersey to avoid overheating). That was about 3/4 of the way up and getting into the thick of the steepest part so apparently I made quite an impression!

Yep, I climbed her. Didn't even have to walk. Of course I was going about walking speed but that is completely beside the point!
Incidentally, I didn't mention this before but I have discovered once you get to 9% or so you can't stand to climb as your back tire spins out so a lot of the worst of the climbing has to be done sitting down. That being said I did find spots occasionally for a good back stretch and a bit of time out of the saddle.

Old red at the corral after the great hill roundup.

It was a good ride. In the end I ended up with a time of 5 hours 22 minutes. I averaged 9.7 mph over the 50 miles. Tonight I am a good healthy tired. My legs are weak, and I feel like I have really pushed the envelope this time. This marks my longest ride on my 17 year old MTB. Previously I had a 40 mile ride under the belt with around 4000 feet of climbing but this one definitely pushed us into a new arena. Will I do this route again? Probably. Next time I will plan on more time though. You really can get lost back in those canyons.


Bruce's Bike Blog said...

An Epic Post for an Epic Ride!

Cheers! Bruce

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pics of your Apache Trail ride. I lived in Apache Jct. for a few years and then moved back to Michigan. I miss the trail, I have never biked it, but I have driven it a few times. Very beautiful scenery. Thanks again, Jon