Sunday, March 25, 2012
I realized earlier today while en route back from southern Utah that I've never lived in a place where it does not snow in the winter. While the move to Arizona has brought me farther south than I've lived before, it still snows here. Last weekend was a rather strong reminder of that fact.
After enjoying a couple months of dry trails and far-ranging exploring, that world came crashing to a sudden halt when I awoke to a solid foot of heavy snow. So instead of going for a ride, I grabbed a shovel and started digging out. Three hours and roughly 6,000 cubic feet of snow later, the steepest part of the driveway was passable, and my weak little arms were crying for mercy. And then it started snowing some more.
Lucky for me, a friend in the garage was eager to get out and leave some fat tracks in the snow and mud. So we did just that, climbing as high up Spruce Mountain as we could get, enjoying the familiar view covered in an unfamiliar white blanket.
Seven days later, I returned home to find no evidence of that 19 inches of snow. The driveway is clear. The woods out back are dry. The two-track road in is packed hard. But I did catch one glimpse of a rather wide bike tire track preserved in the dried muck, confirming that I did not imagine that three-day return to winter.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
The full moon has come and gone, as have hundreds of miles and some good late winter exploring right out my back door. It was time for another big training week, so I seized the opportunity to get out to some places I'd been eyeing out toward the edges of some of my new maps.
After being sick for a week, I suffered through one of the most painful races I've ever done up in Sedona last weekend. My legs had no energy. My lungs refused to take in more than half the air they normally will. My chest started cramping from working overtime to breath. But the scenery was incredible, and the course was more or less 50 straight miles of amazing, technical, challenging trail. Even with how miserable I felt, I was still smiling a good chunk of the time. That's the sign of a great race course.
Then the exploring began. It still amazes me how much ground one can cover in 8-10 hours in the saddle. Caroline and I discovered an illusive route skirting private property out the northeast side of Chino Valley, providing a mostly-dirt route over to Mingus Mountain and the upper Verde River.
The next day I headed north and west, riding ridgeline singletrack and then chunky ATV trails into Skull Valley before steering toward the setting sun and explored the rough routes out toward nowhere. The shadows grew longer, the glow more golden, and eventually, I turned back toward familiar territory and switched on my lights for the long climb back over the mountains.
Yesterday, my body was tired and my motivation lacking. It was nearly 2:00 by the time I finally rolled out. I aimed south, following Senator Highway toward Crown King. Senator Hwy is poorly named, quickly turning into a rough 4WD road that kicks steeply up and drops precipitously down rocky gulches for nearly 40 miles. Apparently it's quite common for unsuspecting tourists to find themselves on the "Highway," in far over their heads and their car's capabilities.
I got into Crown King just in time to grab a sandwich at the little general store before flipping around and racing the sun to the bottom of the big descent out of the southern Bradshaw Mountains. The women at the store seemed to think me more than a bit crazy (and possibly foolish) for intending to make it back to Prescott yet in the evening.
"It takes most people more than 4 hours to drive that route," the one explained.
They didn't quite seem to believe that I made it faster than that on my bike.
As I raced the sun, I watched it drop below the distant monolithic Harquahala Mountains and the half dozen nearer smaller ranges. I beat the sun down to the lowest point on the route, railed the miles of berms across the chaparral along the range divide, and climbed into the night back into the highest part of the Bradshaws. Jupiter, Venus, and Mars managed to outshine the bright stars that filled the sky, the wind whipped through the Ponderosa treetops, and I felt as if I had the world to myself. For nearly 30 miles, I passed nothing more than one old forest service outpost cabin. No campers, no houses, nothing.
Now for a little recovery. A little work. A little traveling. And a little thinking about the adventures that it seems this summer is going to be bringing.