Saturday, May 17, 2008

Whoa red, whoa old boy, I said whoa.......

If you have been reading lately you know I am trying to get some miles in on dirt to prepare me for the Dirty Mogollon Mormon Madness permanent I will be riding in a few weeks up on the rim. This morning's adventure would be climbing the Hewlitt canyon road up to the Woodbury Trailhead. I had originally intended to go up to the Roger's Trough trailhead but I ran out of time. Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself.

I had a terrible night sleeping. I woke up constantly. So, when 4:30 rolled around it wasn't hard to get out of bed. Fifteen minutes later I was in the Jeep and speeding down the road sucking on a juice box (yeah I know, breakfast of champions). D'Net had a recital we had to setup at 10:30 and a dance recital for our two daughters right after that so I had to be home around 9 ish. Well, I had to get out early to get a good ride in. Let me tell you it was a good ride. Maybe a little more than I bargained for in fact.

I opted to park at the fork in the road where Hewlitt Station road meets Hewlitt Canyon road to get me in the thick of things quicker since I would be short on time this morning. Dawn was in good progress at 5:30 in the morning as I got the bike ready and headed off up the road. I was not able to maintain a very fast speed due to a few factors. The lower part of this road is a fairly constant 4-5% grade with big dips down into each gully and creek. Also contributing were my "slicks" (treadless tires for mountain bikes for greater efficiency on the road). I had the slicks mounted as I figured they would be the most efficient on the forest roads of the rim. I currently am re-evaluating that assumption as it is much hard to steer the bike in dirt going fast, and the rear traction is not as good with the slicks.

A few miles from the car I had my fall. It was kind of a stupid fall really, my front tire caught some rocks wrong and I couldn't unclip fast enough so down I went. I just received a scrape or two and stood up and rode on again, remembering to be more careful. Everytime I should have been enjoying a good descent (however few there were going up) I always had to put the brakes on because the front wheel was just too squirrelly. I am sure I lost a few mph on average over the course of the ride due to this. As the sun came out and I moved farther up the canyon I hit the hill below. I had to walk down this one, and had to walk up it coming back.

It doesn't look that bad in the picture, but let me tell you, I saw trucks slowing to 2-3 mph on this thing and they were still sliding. This road is recommended 4wd not because it is a bad road per se, but because some of the grades on this road are really nasty. So why was I out here? Good question. Well, I uh, hmmm, I guess this really is a much harder road than any I will be riding up on the rim but...., well...., dang it sure is pretty.

Apart from the occasional truck or ORV it really did have the feeling of solitude out here. In the desert one often sees windmills out there standing as lost sentinels forlorn and forgotten, no longer worrying about pumping water for the cattle. I spotted one though that was spinning and it was actually pumping water. Next to it was a corral that looked like it had been maintained lately. There must be a ranch up in this here neck of the woods.

A little while after passing the windmill things started to get tough. The road was steep but at least it was rideable unlike the above hill which had too much scree on it. Still on some of the steeper pitches I could feel and hear my back wheel spin in spots. Checking out the elevation gains on my map software the last 2 miles of this ride climb around 1000 ft. Grades go anywhere from 10% all the way up to 20% in spots. Let me tell you it was hard work. There was one spot where my heartbeat was throbbing so hard in my ears I had to stop and let it slow a bit.

Reaching the fork in the road where the Woodbury trailhead road turns off I realized I had a command decision to make. I had to turn around in 15 minutes and I had 3 miles of road left to get up to Rogers Trough, combine that with another 800 feet of climbing and it didn't look like 15 minutes would do it. The Woodbury trailhead however was only a mile and a half so I figured I would knock that one off and call it good. I still had 350 feet of climbing to go though. I knew I had done some good climbing this morning when I noticed the Saguaro cacti were gone and here and there I could see Juniper trees. Of course there was the cooler air and the fact my ears had popped twice too.

Upon finally reaching the trailhead I noticed that I was on the edge of the Superstition wilderness. Bicycles and Hangliders not allowed. I knew I should have left my hang glider at home.

Just down from the trailhead old red was parched, and being the good old steed that he is I thought I would oblige him with a drink at the trough before we headed back.

Good old red. We've been through a lot together. I bought this bike around 17 years ago right after I got back from Japan. Suspension was just being invented then, and rear suspension was not even a twinkle in anyones eye yet. It was kind of a mid range bike back then. It was the first bike that I owned that I really rode a lot on. Every kid has a kids bike. This was not a kids bike, this was my first real bike. The bike I rode to all my college classes on. The bike I rode to the top of Mt. Elden in winter in the tracks of a snow cat and melted my brakes on the way down. The bike I road from my house to the inner basin and back on. I rode this thing everywhere. After I got married and graduated I stopped riding it. I moved to the valley and it sat forlorn in my parents garage until we moved into our house. It is only recently that I have started paying attention to the old boy again. Fortunately old friends are quickly forgiving. He may be a little small for me but hey, he's my buddy.

On a side note, I should have been a little more wary when the bike shop guy said hey, we have a last year model bike that is exactly your (and every other customer we have tried to sell this thing to) size!

Descending down those steep roads on old red I am reminded of a time last time I was on a trip with him. I had to put old red in the trailer (it was a boy scout trip where we were doing a mountain bike trek on the Arizona Trail from Flagstaff to Payson) due to a broken spoke and had to pull the bike out that my brother in-law lent us to use as a spare in such a situation.

No one in the camp wanted to ride up to the railroad tunnel just under the top of the rim so I went up alone. The trail/road had similar grades to what this road had. It was raining slightly making the stones slippery and on my way back I was cruising a long when suddenly the bike was out from under me and I gave the ground a big hug with my right shoulder. The ground was not very receptive of my affection and cracked one of my ribs and seperated my shoulder on that side. The ride back to camp would have been a lot less painful with some suspension.

Today I was reminded of that and took it easy. I would have been much faster if I had left the knobbies on instead of using the slicks. I made a mental note to ride old red on the commute this week with slicks one day and knobbies another and see exactly how much they slowed me down as this being super careful business was also a pretty hard blow to average speed.

Yup, that is the road in that picture heading right down the bottom of the canyon. Even after all the steep grades it was still slow going as I nearly ate it a few times hitting little holes full of loose rocks. I was seeing traffic increase on the road and as I descended it was getting warm. Almost too warm actually.

I stopped to take a few pictures but it was getting awful close to 8:30 and that is the time I had to be at the Jeep if I wanted to get back in time. In the end I made it 6 minutes late. Not too bad.

Well, I didn't wander into any ghost towns this time. I got between 2500-3000 feet of climbing in (topo usa says 2500 but it doesn't account for all the dips into the washes), in 20 miles. Not bad for a mornings work. I think I might bag the idea of using slicks for my adventure up on the rim. The knobbies absorb more shock, steer better, and grip better on steep climbs. If they are not that much slower then I am going to put them back on to avoid another cracked rib. In the end I averaged just under 8 mph and had a ride time of 3 hours.

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