Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lord Kelvin of the Wild Frontier......

Sunrise on SR177

Well howdy pardner! This here ride I tell about aint none o those pretty boy rides. No sir, this be one o' them rides through the desert on a horse with no name rides. This be a story of the Florence Kelvin highway. Not like any of them sissy high falootin paved highways y'all see today. This here highway be made o' dirt! Take them pansy 23c tires off old paint ya city slicker and get some of them 28c tires that'll help you get through this here country of dust and cacti.

Sunrise over the big hill down into Kelvin

Awhile back when I was working out a permanent route I got looking at the Florence-Kelvin highway and when I found out it wasn't paved all the way I dismissed it and didn't think about it anymore. Recently though I have been wondering about it and even thought about giving it a go now that I have a bike that will take some larger tire sizes. Larger tires are important as there are over 20 miles of dirt on the Florence-Kelvin highway. Overall I'd be quite pleased with how they worked.

butte above Asarco pit mine.

The original plan was to leave before 4 am and ride from my house out to Superior then over to Kelvin, down to Florence, and then back home. Well, I got to bed late and I was doing really good to be out of bed by 4:30. My 133 miles ride would be chopped down to 86 miles with me driving to Queen Valley to start. It still took me 6 hours to ride and was pretty hilly so I think it was a good training ride in the end even if I did cheat and drive out to Florence Jct to start.

Your's truly with a new riding cap.

I was not feeling like a ride today and it was tough riding up into Superior in the cover of darkness. The stars were pretty even if there was a little more traffic than one would hope for on a cold early Saturday morning.

The rest stop in Superior had the same cleaning lady there telling me about how they will be shutting the rest area down soon. I hope they are able to continue to keep it open. Unfortunately vandals are making us lose more and more places like this. May they eventually get what is coming to them hopefully sooner than later.

All alone under the mistletoe

Heading south I had difficulty generating enthusiasm for the 10% grade coming up that I would have to climb before dropping down all the nice grades on the other side. I was hauling 3 water bottles since it was 50 miles from Superior to Florence and 20 of those miles were hilly dirt road.

Old Adobe building in Kelvin

I discovered my commuting bike would do 40 safely but above 40 it got a little squirrely. It was a nice drop into Kelvin albeit cold. Riding through Kelvin I would see frost out in the fields.

The gila river was not running as much as I expected but I suspect they aren't letting as much water out of San Carlos this time of year and most of it was probably runoff. A lot of normally dry creekbeds were running though.

The mighty Gila river

The highway just on the other side of the Gila wastes no time in showing you what it is about. You start off climbing what has to be at least a 15% grade if not more. I have an extremely low mountain bike gear on this bike and I was standing a lot of the way. I was glad the pavement went this far or I would be spinning out. Just after the steep spot the pavement did end though.

15%+ grade just south of the bridge

The road was pretty good for not having any pavement. There were patches of sand but they never extended all the way across the road so I was able to keep up a good speed when I wanted too but it was difficult braking down the steep hill to the Gila just before the big climb. I couldn't go over 20 without risking going down in the corners.

There was a small ranch house down in the valley surrounded by mountains. Most of the mountains were not big enough to have snow on them but as I climbed out the other side Pine mountain would be visible which did have snow on it. As I dropped down to the house I could see the long grade going up the other side of the valley. I couldn't see the top, it just stretched out into the distance and disappeared. It also looked like it was healthy steep.

Me and my shadow

It was healthy steep. I was in my granny gear most of the way up keeping around 5 mph most of the way. I figured it was the equivalent of about a steady 9 or 10% grade on pavement. It just kept going and going. Most of the scenery was behind me but I did take the occasional glance behind me at the mountain ranges lined up one behind the other as far as the eye could see.

To the end of the pavement....and beyond!

I could see a microwave tower up ahead on the mountain top. These towers are few and far between these days. Before Satellites they were how the long distance telephone system ran. Today many have become cell towers or have been dismantled.

This was one of those roads that just seemed like it kept going up into the sky. My watch beeped at me and let me know I was running out of time before Noon. 10 o'clock was swiftly approaching and I was likely going to have to shave my hundred mile goal down to whatever I would get if I just shot straight up the Florence highway to get back.

Looking back over distant mountain ranges

Upon finally reaching the top after a relentless grade that never let up all the way to the top, I am seeing Manzanita bushes and century plants, signs I am in the high desert. The road rides along a high ridge at the top for a mile or so. There are gates of a few ranches up here and a LOT of wind. Having taken off my jacket further down and strapped it to my seat it is a bit chilly.

Climbing higher and higher. Theres snow on the furthest mountain and you can see part of the road way down there.

From the top there is 20 miles of mild downhill to Florence. It's just perfect. Steep hills aren't good on dirt but a long steady hill where you can keep 20-25 mph is just perfect. On this side of the hill you can see Picacho peak off in the distance next to the larger mtn next to it but other than that it is a vast plain of desert and cacti.

I was able to keep 25 and sometimes 30 much of the way but occasionally I would hit a washboard and my helmet would just about shake right off my head. These usually brought me to a standstill. Fortunately there weren't a whole lot of these. A lot of the road had packed clay and on these stretches it was like riding the smoothest pavement.

Short stop on the top of the ridge

There was a really cool boulder field off to the right on the way down and I stumbled on some scouts camping by some of the cooler rocks. I stopped for a picture near some that had graffiti on them. I refer to my previous statements about vandals.

Boulders along the highway.

Not too far past the boulders the pavement started up again. I stopped to mix another bottle of drink and noticed I really didn't need that extra bottle but it would have been absolutely necessary if the weather had been any warmer.

The Florence-Kelvin highway

I would spend the next 20 minutes riding down the highway to hook up with the florence highway just north of where the 300k joins up with it. It was 10 to 11 and I would need to head straight back to the car parked up on the hewlitt station road by Queen Valley. I would make really good time heading up the super smooth shoulder of the highway north of Florence and ended up finishing at 10 to noon.

Queen Valley road

1 comment:

Bruce's Bike Blog said...

Very nice ride--weekend here in Tucson was a rain-out, Paul.

Cheers! Bruce