Friday, December 30, 2016

Year in Review - 2016

This has been an amazing year on the bike for me. I knew even before the new year started that I was going to be in "prep mode" for the 2017 running of the Arizona Trail Race (300). This ultimately meant that I had a lot of planning and riding to do this year - some of which I knew would have to be way out of my comfort zone. There would also have to be some gear acquisition. So yeah....busy.

Training with rain gear (you never know for 24HOP) at Tbird. Photo courtesy of dirtbyte

I started off the year with an attempt at some fairly structured training, including intervals and the like. I really wanted to drop some pounds as well as develop some top end that I just didn't have. This lead me to some pretty decent gains that I took into 24HOP where I had a good time with friends and even though we were in a 6 person team I managed to somehow end up needing to ride 4 laps between the start and 1:30AM including a double lap in the middle of the night. 

Entering the party/ride zone.

Trying to relax in the middle of the night after a double lap doesn't really work for me. 

Ride fuel haha!!

Pretty sweet in race photo

With 24HOP out of the way, I knew I had to get some big rides in before summer came. I knew that one of the best ways to prepare for the AZTR would be to get out to as many AES events as possible.

First one up for me would be the Sedona BFL - unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to make the group start, but I did it on the Friday prior to the event. This was only my second time riding in Sedona - my first time was probably ten years prior to that and something lame and short. What an eye-opener. The more technical nature of the loop had me going pretty slow for even me - but as usual I have enough stubbornness to get through. The scenery made the suffering worth it!
The hiline descent is pretty sweet. Some sections are over my talent level, but WOW!
Breathtaking views all day. A little bit warm today though.

Pretty awesome refuel spot. A bit off-route, but worth it.

I returned back to the normal training schedule around home for a bit. Which included seeing normal Sonoran Desert things:

This guy was fairly upset...
And some not so normal things:

You just never know what you might see when you go outside...

Around this this time the heat was starting to get cranked up in the desert, and I knew I had to still build a good base. At the same time, a trainer didn't really appeal to me and I also wanted to impact the family life as little as possible.

Enter the twice a week work commute!! Commuting to work gets me the benefit of getting a training session (AM) that doesn't impact the family at all, and the one in the afternoon gets a portion of it "cancelled out" - I'd be driving some of the time anyway, so add an hour on and it's not really a big deal. So I get a 3+ hour training day with only a one hour impact to the family time. Score. Oh, and I ended up getting a new bike for it...

No traffic jam here...
May was coming up, and before it got too hot, I suckered Marcus into doing a Humboldt ride with me. Neither of us had ever done it - it was a beast, but awesome views.

Riding into the clouds at the top of Humboldt!
I think this was one of the few times I was dragging Marcus around. He's turned into a monster since then but was coming off of a wedding and the necessary celebrations that were part of that. I won't be seeing that slow guy again I'm sure of it!

In May was the AES AA ride, and this ended up being the first group start of an AES ride for me. It was neat being able to meet Ray, Nancy, Jeff and others for the first time. It's a totally different vibe than doing it solo that's for sure.

Photo courtesy of John S.

June and July ended up being either flatter MTB rides or commutes. Nothing too much to note here, just trying to keep the fitness that had been gained over the year. It was a bit of a bad summer here. A MTBer and some hikers ended up losing their lives due to heat/other circumstances. This brought out many haters - I ended up riding the techy side of TBird to the summit on a 110 degree day to gather my thoughts and get my mind right. Here's a pic that captures how I felt about everything and the people who lost their lives doing what they love:

August started to bring some life back to the schedule. Starting with a Flagstaff Weekend

In September, I got some of the first bit of gear that really set into motion the rest of the year and more prep for the AZTR...

Rogue Panda!!!

This phenomenal gear got my what I needed to start getting back into big rides, plus do a overnight route of my own design to really get a feel for what the 300 will be like.

Started October off right with a running of Prescott "Mini" Monster with Marcus - another great AES ride but we were running it ITT style, the group start goes in April usually.

Just about a month later was a test of our bikepacking skills. This would be Marcus' first bikepack and my third. This was was over twice as long as my previous longest as far as mileage and it really put the pain on us with an 18 hour first day and 15 hour second day. Plenty of hiking for me at least on day one. You can read about it here.

I can't say enough about that ride and what it did for me mentally. My previous long days never went over 10 hours. To do almost double that on day one and then follow that up with a 15 hour day was something I really needed to develop the confidence needed to put in big hours. This is good because the ultimate one day test was coming up...

The Picketpost Pulverizer is arguably the toughest ride on the AES calendar. Few attempt it, and not everyone finishes. This is a true backcountry ride. Bailout points are minimal, and way the eff out there so you better have some good friends if you need to get plucked out of there - and it won't be easy no matter what. There are a couple of good water sources, one being the Gila river. The other is in the small town of Kelvin which has no other commercial services that I'm aware of. I was weary of the route due to this, but coming on the heels of the CK/BCT ride, I knew I could finish it as long as I didn't sustain an injury to the body or the bike - that is no guarantee especially on this route. I ended up finishing right around when I hoped to - a 15 hour day. Even had a mountain lion sighting which might have helped me finish the last 8 miles a bit quicker haha! After this ride, I really felt that I now had the mental and physical ability to do the 300. My only regret is not being able to do this on the group start day... I did it the Tuesday after.

I enjoyed the following days eating too much food (Thanksgiving!!!) and relaxing a bit. There was one more event for AES (McDowell). I was really looking forward to doing the group start, but it got cancelled. I opted to do it the Monday after as there was going to be lots of traffic on the official day due to a running race. It was more a relax day for me than anything. It's funny how an 8 hour day can feel "short" after some big rides... You can check out the ride report here.

All in all I'm really happy with my progress this year and I'm looking forward to build on this for the next three months (holy crap) leading up to the AZTR.

Here's my year totals. I started out with a goal of 3600 miles, and totally smashed that. Would have liked to have gotten more climbing, but I have a feeling I'll get plenty next year!!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

McDowell AES Route (RIP)

As is the norm at the end of the year, I am stuck trying to burn off PTO days so I don't lose them. First world problems, I know. Of course this plays pretty well into my goals of starting and completing the Arizona Trail Race (300) next April. This started in October with an off schedule running of the Prescott Mini Monster followed by a full on real life test of gear, mind and long days in the saddle for a two day Bradshaw Bender. This was topped off with probably the biggest test I've had so far. Few attempt - and not all finish - the Picketpost Pulverizer.

That said, the beginning of December historically has marked the time frame for the McDowell AES ride. This is the the first ever AES route that I attempted and got the wheels turning on this whole endurance riding concept. That said, I liked some of those old routes better as they were based more around the mountain pass areas of the McDowell Mountains. The last two iterations of the route have incorporated the new area just north of the McDowell Mountains called Brown's Ranch into the ride.

I think (and am speculating a bit here) that a big reason for this was to reduce user conflicts on what has been one of the most popular AES events of the year. Unfortunately, lots of people want to be in these areas this time of year - not just official events but also just general use - so the powers that be got wind of this and shut it down. I honestly think this year's version would have avoided many of the conflicts and it is pretty obvious that some thought went into the creation of the route in order to prevent most of the high speed interactions.

Clearly, the start and heading up Bell Pass on the west side would have seen quite a few interactions, but these would have been primarily at low speed except for the very base of the mountain. Other than that, cyclists would have been going very slow - and near the top would have been hiking just like everyone else. Once on the east side of the McD's, hiking traffic is dramatically reduced so no real problems there.

After that, the the next fifty miles would have been so spread out at that point that I don't think it would have mattered much and by the time riders got ready to take on Tom's Thumb, I don't believe there would be any large groups, and if there were, everyone is hiking up anyway. The drop down the west side at that point in the day would be largely empty of any hiking traffic coming up until possibly the lower flanks, but even then with the utilization of Desert Park instead of Windgate the number of bikers engaging hikers would have been fairly low in my opinion.

Whatever. I think bigger and better things are going to be tested out to replace this event. It will however always be a special event for me, because it started me on a path that has changed my cycling life.

So that being said, I grabbed the route, loaded it on the eTrex and did the route on a Monday. Solo. Hopefully the city of Scottsdale is OK with that haha.

I got the bike loaded up and the first order of business was to drop by daughter off at school. This would put me at a later start than normal, but no biggie. I had lights just in case. It would have been awesome to catch the sunrise from the top of Bell Pass though. It was amazing. Oh well.

I parked at the Basha's and got ready and made the trek up a bit of pavement to the 104th street trail junction. Crossed the road to dirt and it was on! Just kidding it wasn't that exciting. I'm not racing anyone here. I settled into my full day ride pace and prepared myself for the ascent of Bell Pass.

Now, I'm not really a regular here in the McDowell's - I've done some after work rides out here - usually a double bypass (up windgate and down bell), so I really wasn't sure what I was in for on the ascent up the west side of Bell Pass. I knew the upper section with the switchbacks would be pretty dang steep and HAB for sure. I just wasn't sure how long I would get to ride before hitting the get off and push point because I'm just not familiar enough with the area.

The riding on the lower flanks of Bell Pass was surprisingly fun. Just enough technical bits to wake me up and steep enough to help me get warmed up well enough for the inevitable push. Eventually, the trail started to pitch up a bit AND get more loose with broken shale. As I usually do on long days, I saved myself the effort and just hopped off and pushed. Save the matches and potential mechanical issues associated with power moves in technical terrain.

When the route line is perpendicular to the topo lines and the lines are this close together, I get to walk my bike.
I continued my HAB, and spied some hikers taking a break a few switchbacks above. Could I catch them? I tried my darndest and almost did, but they took the "left" option near the top and I had to take the option to the right in order to follow the track. Rules are rules right? There was a short bit near the top where I was able to get back on the bike and finish up the climb. Made it to the top in less that an hour. I'll take that!

Looking west from the Bell Pass saddle. 
From here, there is a pretty quick descent down the the Windgate junction. This was my first time going down this way - I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the fountain in FH, but my timing was off. Bummer.

From here, the pictures kinda stop for a long time. Honestly, this is just simple, easy desert riding at it's best. This is why I mentioned liking the other more "mountain-y" versions of the route better. I jumped on windwill -> coachwhip -> pemberton. Fast and non-techy. I did run into a few riders who were heading the opposite direction. What a great day to be outside!

Eventually there was a connector trail which hooked into the Gooseneck trail which would get me access into the Brown's Ranch area after a crossing of Rio Verde Rd. It's really easy to get caught up in the all things to look at both near and far away, but you really can't because you the trail is constantly turning and going through little washes. If you aren't paying attention you could crash pretty easily.

This theme would go on for miles. Seriously no joke. Honestly it was fun at first but then got a little bit monotonous. Luckily, there is a new section that has more "tech features", they were all pretty easy except for one which had a front tire eater at the bottom of the rollout - some other riders where there sessioning that spot. I said "hi" and asked where they started from. They said the BR trailhead. They asked were I started... when I told them they looked at me funny haha! Anyway, the techy area woke me up a bit because I had to engage my brain. It reminded me a bit of the Dells in Prescott.

And then continue the smooth flowy riding.

This. Forever.

This had me laughing a bit. Lots of neat Saguaros out there!

I started to get a bit bored of grinding these miles and saw a sign for the BR trailhead in 1.8 miles. Sweet! But of course in AES fashion, the easy route anywhere is never the first choice, so instead the route made a big counter-clockwise loop around Brown's Summit and Cone Mountain before giving up the goods of the super nice trailhead. I took a quick break here and mixed up a drink and had a protein bar also. I was feeling a bit cold but didn't have anything else to wear. I already had two layers on which is usually more than enough more me, but I think due to the quicker pace of Brown's combined with the overcast day I wasn't running as warm as usual.

I headed out and made my way back south to tackle the monster of the day: Tom's Thumb. I see this rock formation everyday as I make my commute in to the office via the east-bound 101. It's a neat place for sure.

As was the theme for the day, it took miles of smooth singletrack to get to the climb, but now there was a bit of climbing in the mix as I was making my way onto the lower foothills of the mountain. Like the BR trailhead, this route took an out of the way approach to get to TT trail. At first, I got worried thinking I had somehow jumped on the wrong track and was back on the one from this morning. This would have been easy to do since the track overlapped in a couple of spots. I zoomed out on the eTrex to confirm all was good and then continued on. Then the terrain started to change dramatically!

Cool rock formations burst out of nowhere.
And then it hits you. Tom's Thumb. After the turn I rode for a hundred yards maybe. Then I assumed the position. I managed to pass four hikers on the way up so that was awesome.

Elevation is gained quickly!

Steeper than it looks!
Getting there...
Once you attain this spot you are in a "rock bowl" of sorts it's super neat. Ran into a few more hikers up here and they asked if I had ridden up. I emphatically told them "not a chance!" but that I hoped to ride a bit now that I was up here. There was a bit more hiking to do after that before I began the true descent down.

Rock bowl - singletrack hiding on the left side
Cool rock formation

Doesn't even look real.

The start of the "sweet" descent down the west side. Lots of elevation to give up now.
Now if anyone knows me, they know I'm not really into the whole "descent" thing. I've gotten better over the years, but I still lack a lot of talent there. Mix into that nasty trail conditions and remote locations and you have the perfect mix for the worst thing - downhill HAB. I don't think I managed to ride any of the switchbacks heading down from the top of TT. It was frustrating, but it's just the way it goes. Eventually after the top section it started to mellow out enough for me to slowly pick my way down while on the bike. The trail was super chunky and a broken spoke or worse would have been really easy to do all the way down. Again, as the elevation gets lower, the pitch reduces also so I got more comfortable as I got further down. Ran into a couple small groups of deer on the way down!

Hiding behind a bush. There were 3-4 that I could see.

Larger group of 5-6

Finally, I met up with Desert Park trail and it was a freaking mess! It's been a while since I've been on it, but it was pretty bad. I wonder if they are just going to let that trail be absorbed back to the desert? It honestly wouldn't surprise me as houses have popped up all around it. I guess time will tell, but it truthfully looks like they don't want bikers on it anymore based on its condition...

More of the same all the way back to Bell Road where the rocky beating stopped and I took a fast sidewalk bomb all the way back to Basha's. Fastest AES route completion to date! I would have disappointed if it wasn't as this was probably the fastest course ever with all of the Brown's Ranch miles.