Monday, January 10, 2022

Arizona Trip Part 1: Fools Loop/Black Canyon Trail

Things that are ded: 26 inch wheels, singlespeed, mullets, and Pittsburgh in the winter. So, I ditched the singlespeed, loaded up the geared bikepacking bike, [didn't cut the mullet], and flew to Phoenix (where it is very much alive in the winter).

Will and I got to Phoenix in the morning on New Years Eve, and immediately grabbed an Uber XL to my friend Joe’s house. We built up our bikes in his backyard, and he generously let us store our bike bags and carry on luggage at his house for 10 days. Major help, I seriously do not know what else we would’ve done.

All set to roll out after building up the bikes

We heeded advice from Joe and took a pleasant paved road all the way up to Cave Creek, where we met up with the Maricopa Trail and subsequently the Fools Loop. The Fool’s Loop is a 250-ish mile off road bikepacking route going north of Phoenix.

After stopping at a bike shop (where it was quite clear April 20th was every day) for some CO2’s, we stocked up at a gas station and set off into the national forest.

We made it about 35 miles on day 1 and found a nice campsite over a little ridge off a dirt road. It was a pretty mild evening, and we walked around a little checking out the Saguaro cactus. The whole time, we were expecting rain, but it didn’t really start to mist until around 8pm, just as we were trying to play a game of Blackjack.

We crawled into our tents, ready to get some good rest and enjoy sleeping in a tent as 2021 changed to 2022.

A big cactus near the tents. Plus a cactus stuck to my toe. And also Will seemingly too excited about re-staking tents in the middle of the night,.

Mother Nature had other plans, however. Just before midnight, winds starting howling across the desert mountains and the tents starting shaking violently. Soon, a tent stake got ripped off of my tent, and Will’s tent also suffered a similar issue.

We both got out of our tents - the wind howling, light rain - and walked around in the pitch black desert with underwear on trying to hammer in the tent stakes again.

We go back into the tents, and a little later, the same thing happens. But this time, the rain had picked up. We waited for a break in the rain then headed back out to re-hammer in the stakes and put some rocks on top of them.

After that fix, the tents stayed secure for the rest of the night. The rain, however, continued to pick up. Pretty soon it was a torrential downpour, probably 40+ mph winds, all while sleeping in a tent in the desert. Oh, and yeah, it was probably like 2am now on January 1. Certainly one hell of a way to start off 2022.

The next morning, we packed up camp and set off, planning to reach the re-supply town in the mid-afternoon.

About 3 miles into the ride, we reached a creek. It was too wide and deep to ride across, so we took off our socks and shoes and carried our bikes across.

Keep riding. More desert. More amazing views. And more sun. Dang, the sun was hot. Pretty soon I was just wearing a summer kit.

We kept cruising along the doubletrack before reaching a second, deeper creek crossing. We took off our socks and shoes again and crossed it. Keep on grinding.

Shortly after that creek crossing, the jeep trails started getting pretty muddy. And mind you, this ain’t no Yinzer mud. This is a sandy, cement-like mud that literally locked up both of our wheels entirely. We spent a lot of time picking mud off our bikes.

The scenery on day 2 was incredible. The mud, not so much.

Soon enough, we reached a third creek crossing. This one was much more serious. It was basically a flash flood plain, with raging water over a hundred feet wide with little islands in the middle.

We took off our socks and shoes again and carefully began crossing them. We had to roll our bibs up higher on our thighs because the water was so deep. Looking back at it, it was actually pretty dangerous. Probably not a smart idea.

For a brief moment, we had smooth dirt roads. I even lapped my Garmin, expecting average speed to vastly increase. I was wrong. Second picture is the Verde River sheep bridge.

We filmed each other crossing the first couple sections, but the last section seemed too serious to film. We watched cautiously as we took turns crossing. At one point, Will’s front wheel dipped into the water and I thought it might take him down. But luckily, we both made it.

After the last crossing, there was more mud, but we made it to the Verde River sheep bridge. It’s a really cool suspension bridge built to let farmers move their sheep over the river.

Around that time, we looked at the time, and realizing we only went 25 miles in 5 hours, we knew we wouldn’t make it to any town for a re-supply.

We kept grinding on, and with the scenery being so amazing, it’s pretty easy to have a good time. 

Just after the crest of one hill, I noticed my dynamo light was coming look. So, I yelled to Will to stop so I could fix it, and literally as I was yelling, I got a flat tire in the front.

Sealant was spilling everywhere, and I briefly tried to let the sealant fill the puncture. It held for a second, but I knew a plug was needed.

I got out my trusty dynaplug, and after a slightly kerfuffle, I plugged the flat and we kept riding.

The “road” was super rough. Literally rockier than a lot of Rothrock singletrack. 

At one point, we saw a sedan on the side of the road that had completely tapped out. Shattered windows, flat tires… it was never leaving that road. The mountain won.

We kept riding and eventually reached a little creek that went under the road in a metal pipe. We knew we needed water, so we stopped and filtered about 10 liters of water into our hydration bladders and bottles. To be extra safe, we filtered the water then added iodine tablets to kill bacteria.

After the water stop, I knew we had a climb coming up. I was expecting to top out at about 4200 feet. Boy, was I wrong. The climb kept going. Will turned the screws on me toward the top and I was hating every second of life as I suffered to the top. Ok, well, maybe I wasn’t hating life that much because the views were sick and the road was one of the coolest I’ve ever done, but it still hurt.

Finally, we reached the top. It was basically 5,000 feet elevation even, and darn, it was cold. I put my gloves and coat back on and we started the downhill. We planned to camp somewhere around 4,000 feet elevation about halfway down.

Within a minute of going downhill, my hands and feet were frozen. The temperatures were probably around 30 degrees.

We eventually found a little clearing next to a cliff that would hopefully break the wind. I honestly don’t remember a ton about setting up camp, because I was so, so, so cold.

Normally, I love to hang out around camp before climbing into the sleeping bag, but this time, I went straight into my sleeping bag at 5pm. I actually slept in a state of partial cryogenics for about an hour and a half before Will woke me up and we stepped outside briefly to arrange stuff before sleeping all night.

By this point, around 6:30pm, there was already significant frost on my tent. I put all my camp clothes on, did some jumping jacks to warm up, and crawled back into the tent.

It was a cold night, but we survived. In the morning, after sunrise, the temperature was 16 degrees. I bet that it was around 10 or so before it got light out. I got dressed inside my tent that morning; no sense in standing outside literally freezing my balls off putting bike clothes on.

Plenty of frost on the inside of the rain fly.  Also, here was the campsite where we nearly froze.

We started the ride into the town, and it got warmer quickly. It was around 40 degrees by the time we made it to the town around 9:30am. I remember going into the diner and ordered a big breakfast with a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate tasted very good, it was my kids version of coffee (which I don't like). After eating my eggs and pancakes, I wanted more.

Then, Will ordered more too.

“I’ll just have some more pancakes, some bacon, some eggs, and some toast, please”, Will says.

“So you want a whole second breakfast?” the waitress asks, rhetorically (and maybe slightly annoyed).

We were both hungry and cold, and hot food solved both problems.

After re-supplying at a Dollar General, we made it to the Black Canyon trailhead.

I’d heard a lot about the Black Canyon Trail, and I had high expectations. My friend Montana had ridden it before and gave it high marks, so I was excited.

Plus, cacti are maybe my favorite part about Arizona, and getting to ride perfect singletrack with massive Saguaro cacti all around was really special.

The first couple miles of the trail were sort of bumpy from cow footprints, and it reminded me somewhat of the Maah Da Hey trail I rode part of in North Dakota.

Soon enough, the scenery completely changed and ripped along a ridge line of smooth doubletrack and singletrack overlooking a crazy canyon and epic mountains.

I didn’t think it could get any better - and the we dove into a canyon on a trail that flowed perfectly. There were some spectacular views and awesome smooth trail sections punctuated by short uphills and tight twists around cacti and the occasional rock.

As we made it further down the trail, it started to get rockier. Pretty soon, we were in full-on rocky singletrack with drop bar bikes. There’s really no way to describe how fun it was chasing Will down mountainsides on rocky trails with a drop bar, fully loaded, rigid bike. Dang.

We descended into a canyon, hiked across a little creek, then climbed up the other side in search of a campsite. After freezing the night before, we were really looking forward to a warmer night. 

We crested the hill on the trail and found a little clearing off the trail. Perfect. We set up the tents and got a fire going. It was a warmer night, and we heated some tortillas over the fire with some chili spread on them. We also played some Texas Hold ‘em, which was a fun way to pass some time.

Heating food over the fire, playing cards, and some sick views. Pretty darn nice.

Sometime it was nice to sit in the shade to take a snack break.

The next morning, we rode about 7-8 miles on the Black Canyon trail before taking a connector trail down to a little restaurant and general store. I ordered steak and eggs, and dang, that steak was good. Perfect fuel for the day ahead.

We set back off on the Black Canyon trail, and man, I really can’t think of a time where I’ve had more fun on a bike. Endless flow mixed in with rocks, all through amazing scenery in the desert and mountains.

Toward the end, the trail changed from rocky, mountainous terrain to a more gentle grade with more sand.

Eventually, we reached the end of the Black Canyon trail and rode on some insanely sandy and rocky trails back toward Phoenix. 

I had booked a hotel earlier on Expedia, so we put that into navigation and headed to the hotel.

On the way to the hotel, and navigation tried to take us on a gated road, so we had to completely re-route to get there. Then, about 1/2 mile from the hotel, I must have hit a piece of glass on the road and rear tire instantly started spewing sealant onto Will’s face, who was riding with behind me.

I plugged it with one of Will’s Stan’s Darts, and cruised to the hotel with maybe 5psi in my tire.

We pulled into a residential neighborhood and reached the hotel. Which was actually a house that someone rented out rooms. Ok, not great, but ok. I didn’t know this when I booked it, and the website was misleading, so I was a little upset, but whatever.

I called the number on the email to check in, and the lady who answered was completely oblivious that I had booked a room. She said no room was ready, and we couldn’t stay there for the night.

“That’s ridiculous. We paid money for this hotel and now you’re gonna screw us and leave us stranded”, I said angrily to the lady.

Luckily, Will found another hotel close by, so I told the lady I better get a full refund right away, and we rode to the other hotel.

It felt sorta weird to sleep inside in a bed. It felt even weirder to walk to Olive Garden and eat in a restaurant in normal, non-Lycra clothes. 

I felt like an outside dog who was let inside.

No comments:

Post a Comment