Saturday, June 19, 2010

Of Fat Tires, Saguaros, Pines and Thirst.

Four Peaks at Dawn

It's been awhile since I did something adventurous on a bicycle. Paul needs adventure. They found me at the bottom of the big hill we lived on when I was 5 years old having ridden my push toy to the bottom, so it was something that started early for me. The last month since the 300k in May has been pretty devoid of anything adventurous. So this week, having been working on the Dirty Mogollon Mormon Madness 205k permanent I thought perhaps it should be mountain bike oriented. There is also the fact that I decided this was the week to move all my MTB components over to the larger frame a friend of mine gave me.  It fits me better and it would need testing of course. What should I do? Well, I first thought I might try the Reavis Ranch road again but then I had a wild idea, I had heard of pine trees up by four peaks and perhaps with fat tires the road would not seem sandy as it had earlier this year when I rode it in the rain. Hmmm.

Superstitions at Sunrise

A peek at the elevation profile was pretty illuminating. The climb starts at around 2000 feet and ends up around 6000 feet in elevation. A pretty good chunk of climbing to be sure. Looking at the elevation profile mapmyride coughed up looked like their was a bunch of 10% grades. I was pretty smug, with mountain bike gearing I can handle 10%. Yep, no problem with a few 10% grades. If only it was that easy.  The way I figured it,  this was the closest you could get to Mt. Lemmon this side of the Gila.  In hindsight I think that perhaps this is a little harder.   Unlike Lemmon you get a few rests when it has some intermediate gaps in the hills but also unlike Lemmon its.... well,  I guess that's the story so lets get to it.

Me and the Saguaros

The original plan was to hit the bottom of the hill at 5 but I ended up sleeping in a bit and got there at 5:30 ish.  I was pleased to note that although my front tire was a little squishier than it was last night, it had indeed held most of it's air so I was good enough to go with a quick pump up.  I was planning on a four hour ride and had a water bottle full of maltodextrin and a hydro pack of water.  I figure I had probably 80-90 oz of liquids all told.

Saguaros above the desert

The bottom of the hill was deceptively easy. The two inch tires and suspension made the climbing much easier than when I came up here on my commuter with 28c tires. I was pedalling in the shade of the desert peaks and the morning birds sang to celebrate the cool morning but would soon be silenced as the desert went into siesta as the heat of the day forced most creatures into their dens. I would continually scare rabbits away in front of me.   The rabbits were the continuity in this ride. I scared rabbits all the way to the top despite the changing vegetation and temperatures.
I could see the sun bring the landscape to life below me as I climbed ever further up the mountain. The beauty is a nice distraction as the grades get up into the 10% range and I think I am working hard, ha.

Looking down on the desert hills and mountains

The sun has not yet reached the flat spot where I turned around earlier. I think that it's pretty easy pedalling through here and there is even a short drop as I get into the sunlight. A turn of the corner brings a rude awakening. The hill has lurked behind a corner ready to pounce and thrust upon me the first blood. I breath heavy as I climb at 11% for a bit, and then the grade goes to 13%, 15%, and then I am sucking air as hard as I can as I pedal with all my might in my granny gear up a 17% grade, I want to stand to rest my back but the back wheel spins out. A lady in a Nissan Pathfinder passes me. She looks like she is working hard. Must be tough holding that foot on the gas pedal in the air conditioned chariot she commands. She is gone in a cloud of dust. I am discouraged to see puffs of dirt further up the hill at what seems like a direct line from where I am and no flat spots. There is no end to the pain.

Four Peaks Foothills
After a coronary or two I am approaching a flat spot. At least it looks flat compared to what I am on, in reality it is a 5% grade, still, a grade where I can spin a bit is almost as good as a flat spot. Then I find a flat spot but behind it is a lengthy downhill. Ah, a rest you say? Well, yes sort of, but whatever we go down we need to climb back up again. It is disheartening to lose 300 feet of hard fought elevation and enter a valley of consecutive hills and downhills. I am starting to get warm.

Under the Four Peaks
The valley would feature two small streams and also introduce a new life zone, it is the high desert in the valley. prickly pear cacti and scrub are taking hold and here and there I see a manzanita bush. Also in the distance I can just barely make out what look like pine trees in the canyons on the north side of the peaks. At one point I think I might be hallucinating from exertion as a Mountain Biker passes me up going quite a bit faster than me, I won't see him again. I don't want to make excuses but he did have a much lower body fat than me and his team kit smacked of a guy who was a serious racer. Still, on hills like this any extra weight is a major detriment and I have at least 5-10 lbs I don't need.
Two Jeeps and 2 pickups also pass me in this section along with a quad and a motorcycle. I thought perhaps the road would be getting busy now but the only other vehicles that passed after this were 4 people on quads. It is on one of the 15% grades in here I have to break down and walk a bit to get my heart rate down but I try to get on and ride if I hear someone coming just to keep up appearances.

Stream Crossing

The going is slow and the hill less forgiving.  I have given up on counting how many times the grade tops 15%.  I do make a mental note when my bike computer shows the grade at 18%.  Hmmm,  that's a little new.  When I reach the end of a particularly steep section I re pass the group of Quads that passed me below minus 1.  I find the missing around a few more corners staring at the valley.  My lungs and arteries feel like they will burst and I conveniently pull up to chat with the him.  He tells me he has no idea how I am doing it.  All I can do is gasp and ask how much farther the top is?  He says it's about a mile.  I've climbed almost 4000 feet in the last 14 miles with several sections that sucted all the glycogen from my muscles, and maybe even the marrow from my bones for good measure.  A mile seems like forever but I have 40 minutes before the time I have set aside to turn around at and I figure even if I walked it I'd make it.  I do walk a bit,  but I ride most of it. 

Looking way down on Red Mountain and the Valley

Then, just when it seems the road keeps turning corners into the very heights of the stratosphere, there is sky above the road ahead and a pine tree comes into view.  Pain is forgotten, the air suddenly seems cooler, the mood lightens noticeably.  A picture is in order.  Maybe even a few.

Hey!  That's a pine tree!

It's taken just under 3 hours to tame this beast and there's a little time left so I turn up to the trail head in search of a good stand of pine trees.  I worked for them and by golly, I'm gonna see em!

First I see Roosevelt lake,  the guy on the quad and I could spot Saguaro lake off in the distance when we talked. Here, only a mile away I was looking at Roosevelt lake down in the distance with the sun shining strongly on it.  It is only 80 degrees up here,  I am sure it is much hotter down there.

Suffering is forgotten (momentarily)

Soon I am amid the pine trees and snapping photos to feed my own ego later, or maybe to ease my back pain with self satisfaction or something silly like that.

Pine trees!

I am a bit annoyed to find I have descended a bit to come down to these pine trees and that my legs are not too thrilled with the prospect of my having them go up another hill.  After all, this has been much more of a workout than they had planned on.

The new frame.

Painfully I claw my way back up to the crossroads to ride all the way back to the car.  After all,  Mt. Lemmon teaches us that all epic climbs once they are tamed allow us to coast all the way back right?  One would like to hope so.   In all fairness I did get to descend for a while before there were a few frustrating hills to deal with.

More Pine Trees! (Sorry,  I was just really glad to finally see those pine trees)

Typically the grades on the hills on the way back are less so, and there are lots of places to coast in between.  Even so my legs are not pleased with any climbing.  I find that suspension allows me to go faster as my wheels hug the ground much better.  Why didn't I go to front suspension sooner?

Roosevelt Lake

There is still the 300 ft. hill before the first set of really nasty grades to deal with.  The guy on the quad gives me a wave on his way by.   I continue to sweat and burn my way up the hill.  At the top two things happen,  I get to go down,  and I run out of water.  I had drained my energy bottle up the hill a ways and now I was out of water.  The extra gel in my seat bag doesn't do a lot of good without liquids to wash it down.  My biggest comfort was that it was mostly downhill from here, even if there were a few more smaller hills.

More Roosevelt Lake

Running out of water is no fun and I am wondering where my next drink will come from, seeing as I am a half hour from town and so, even when I get back to the jeep, that will not be the end of it.  I soon remember that I have left 6 gallons of water in the jeep from last weekend's campout with my sons.  It might be a little warm but at least it's wet!  Did I mention the temps were in the 90's now?  A big difference from the 80 degrees it was at the top.

Brown's peak (the northernmost of the four)

A mile or two from the jeep I am greeted by Humvee after Humvee after Humvee,  filled to the gills with tourists out for a ride up the mountain to see the best the desert has to offer.  At least they were out in the open and didn't get an air-conditioned ride to the top.  I am really, really thirsty now.  But around one more turn is the jeep.

Getting ready to drop.

Soon all the windows are open and I am wrestling the water jug over the seat and I am gulping warm water down as if it was the nectar of the gods. In the desert it is. A much better alternative to the dust of devils.

Stony Valley

The final damages would put us at 35 miles ridden with 5000 feet climbed.  Not quite a Lemmon, but not too shabby either.  It was far steeper than Lemmon in a lot of spots, and then there is the fact it is all on dirt too.  I think it's on par with Lemmon if not a bit harder due to the nature of the riding surface.

The top of the first of many nasty grades.

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