Monday, November 20, 2017

El Camino del Diablo

"Can I ask how old you are ?" says the Ranger lady at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Ajo as I gather my permit to enter the Refuge and begin my ride. I tell her 68 and she says she and her husband ride their bikes around Ajo some and might do the canal paths along the Gila some day soon. I told her I thought that would be a good ride.

I parked my car at an RV resort for $4 a day, paid up through Sunday, and at about 10:30 I think began to roll on pavement, passing the slag heaps of the Ajo copper mine and onto Darby Well road which soon turned into Bates Well road. This first part was great riding, a few rollers, pretty well graded, a couple of campers off in the arroyos to the side and then pretty soon I was all alone. 

Several miles later I see the first Border Patrol truck, who pulls off the road and sits in his truck and I continue on. I pass the first Emergency Beacon and take some pictures. They are numbered, each one with instructions in English, Spanish and Tohono O'odham. After all, this is the land of I'itoi, the Elder Brother, Ho'ok the witch and Ban the coyote-spirit. The signs tell you to stay where you are and help will come. I have 9 liters of water and I hope I do not need help. At least not today.

Emergency Beacon ... they have saved lives

A few more miles and I am at Growler Pass and the Bates Ranch. It is quiet, and I take some pictures of the ranch house and the corral fencing. The windmill no longer works and perhaps there is water further back in the mesquite at a little shed, but I am ok. I am hot, it being unseasonably warm for November.
Bates Well Ranch windmill

yeah, that's what they call it 
There are more miles to go and I begin to encounter my first real sand. I still have all of the air in my tires and am reluctant to let any out. I press on, get tired and decide sitting down would be nice. I lie back and nod off and then am awakened by sonic booms from the Barry Goldwater Range just to the north as aircraft are exercising above the Growler mountains. Boom-boom  Boom-boom  Boom-boom ... six of them ( or maybe it was ordnance ?? ).

Sandy Road

Time to move on. Papago Well is someplace up the road. Another emergency beacon appears and I pass it by. And then as I exit Organ Pipe National Monument, I encounter a government installation. Four or five trailers bolted together with a fence with barbed wire on top. It's a Border Patrol forward base. I take a photo, eat a GU and look at a sign for Organ Pipe as a BP agent drives up and wants to know if I am ok and need anything. I am good. Still good.
Papago Well

There is a mesquite covered wash further up the road and the sand gets deeper. I ride a lot. I walk some. It gets done.  It's getting towards 4 pm I think and I make Papago Well. The water is great, as I take my cap and helmet off and soak my head and wash some. I was told the water was fine, but filter it anyways and I spend perhaps 20 or more minutes there. I finish the last of a breakfast burrito I bought in Ajo, tossing a little bit of it into the bushes for the ravens or who ever comes by next.

More sand. More riding, getting darker. The sun goes down quickly in November. It's still warm and I pass what I think is the Pima County - Yuma County line. I drove for 2 hours this morning to get to Ajo from Tucson at 65 miles an hour and now have ridden for 6 hours and am just now exiting Pima County ... bigger than a bunch of States and several countries.

Camp Grip shows up. It doesn't have as mean of a fence around it as the other BP Camp did. I pass it by, more sand and then pass the grave of O'Neil. He died in 1916 I think. I pour some water on it for good luck and look at the glasses, the 50 cal shell, the coins and the other things. The guidebook says when he was buried by his buddies they left and then remembered he had a chaw of tobacco in his pocket and came back and uncovered him to get it. Said it was "as good in his pocket as it would've been in mine".  Yes, this is the place we are in.

Day 1 Sunset
A little bit later it is getting very dark and my ability to find the good places to ride vs the sucky places to ride is diminished by the light contrast and I bag it. Pull off to the side and find a place out of sight of anyone on the road. Later that night the Border Patrol searchlights bounce off the saguaro to my side. They drive up and down the road. A largish noise must be the drag operation to smooth out the sand making footprints of crossers easier to see. Orion comes up and the Milky Way is spectacular as I lie in my bivy and think I have almost 50 miles in today. To the west I can see car headlights on Mex 2, the highway all along the northern frontier ... in del norte. I can hear the trucks and I fall asleep.

Up in the morning at sunrise, build a fire of dead cresote to heat some water for a pasta/sausage backpacking meal. Worked pretty well, a little soupy, but calories are all good.

A big playa comes next and the road starts to meander. It is good this is the dry season, you can see big ruts and I certainly don't have the horsepower to push peanut butter mud. And then soon I am at the Pinacate Lava Flow.  Black volcanic rocks all over the place. Much better riding. I think some day I must go to Parque National El Pinacate in Sonora and see the big craters. But not today.
the playa
more sand

Edge of the Pinacate Lava flow looking towards Tule desert

A short downhill and we are back to sand. The Tule Desert is here. The road has been dragged and dragged and dragged to cut it deeply into the desert two and three feet below the surface. It is sandy. I take the bike out and ride on the sides some. I ride. I walk. I sweat. I repeat.

Tule Mountains 
The Tule Mountains are coming up and the road gets better. Saguaro start to appear along with ocotillo and mesquite, something more than just cresote !  Pretty soon I am at Tule Well. The miles out here all seem to be nautical miles .. they are longer.  Space time dilation of some sort.
Tule Well

Tule Well water is more mineralized. It has a sulfur taste to it. I fill everything. Am doing ok on water, but once I leave this place there is none other.  Fast miles after leaving Tule Well. A footprint in the sand of a man's low-healed loafer. No other corroborating footprints. Keep riding.
Tinajas Atlas Mountains to the west
Sand and Darkness

I am now in the Lechuguilla Desert. Sand and cresote. Rinse and repeat. I can see Tinajas Atlas mountains in the west. I know of this place from Charles Bowdin and others. and as I arrive there it is getting dark again. I stop. It is dark. Headlights appear on Camino Diablo Oeste, and I watch and they begin to come closer. He brakes and I see the characteristic tail lights of a BP truck and he moves on. I turn and a few minutes after he leaves I see a campfire flare a few hundred yards south of me. I don't know who they are and so I move. Off into the dark, slowly pedaling with dimmed headlight and find a spot. I can't see them any longer and this is good. The wind blows the clouds away and the stars pop out.

At 6:00 in the morning I hear a noise and a truck is pulling up. The BP agent asks if I'am ok and wants to know which direction I am going. I wanted to go West, but signs at Cabeza Prieta said the Marines were doing artillery drills on the Goldwater West and that way would be closed, and so I tell him I am going North, to Wellton.
Tinajas Tank 
Morning Alpenglow

I get up and I look for the lowest of the tanks at Tinajas Atlas and I find it. It is a tricky little climb in bike shoes, but I get there. The water is murky, but if you really needed it, it would sustain you. The sun is rising and the rocks are spectacular. I am lucky to be here.
tiny little thing

I ride off and run into another cyclist !  Dave is out there. He had ridden from Yuma the day before. We chat and depart, he east and me north. BP has dragged the road and the coyote tracks go on forever. Then it gets messy and cresote becomes the only plant. There are miles and miles to go to Wellton, but I get there about 1 or so. I get a burger and then roll on Old Highway 80 towards Mohawk where it joins I-8. I take I-8 to Dateland and stop for the night.
Hi Dave !
BP smooths the road leaving a perfect canvas for the critters
It's hard, but it's pretty
My bike leaning against stuff
Rolling to Dateland on I-8

The next day yields about 90 miles on I-8 and Arizona 85 to get back to Ajo where my car was parked. Rode fairly well, some headwind, some tailwind. It is what it is. A beautiful section at about mile 30 with welded tuff just like in the Tucson Mountains around Gates Pass. This would have been an interesting place to live when the volcanoes were active !
Mile 30 outside Ajo

So, about 261 miles, about 130 of it on pretty sandy conditions.  Seem to have recovered after my TD debacle back in June. And Peppersauce was good again this year, but that's a one day only thing ... completely different than getting up and putting up some miles each day. Off to Mexico in January.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

One and Done

Quick version:   One day on Tour Divide. Overheated, threw up, couldn't eat the next morning. Weak, frustrated & back at home.


Waiting for 8

Good start on Friday morning, lined up with Mike G and Mike J whom I've ridden with before and several new folks. Got to meet Larry H. He's a great guy and awesome he's attempting this at 76. We had a little moment of silence for Mike Hall, and then we took off at 8am.

It was hot, always hot. I felt pretty good, took the camelback with a lot of iced water and tried to drink all the way to Hachita. Stopped there at the new little market for some drinks, and I downed two orange sodas.

I felt ok going to I-10, still a hard ride even though it's on pavement. You see the trucks on I-10 from about 6 miles away and think "I'am close" and no, you're not. But you finally get there. That little frontage road piece on the side of I-10 went well, even with a bit of headwind. As I got in, Mike J was leaving and Mike G and Evan were there. We all cooled as best we could, bought a bag of ice and split it up and everyone had cool water and headed out.

Not sure why my wheels came off, but I just suddenly ran out of energy. Evan went ahead and I rested for a few minutes. Rode a few more miles and got to a gas line crossing where there was a pole and some boxes bolted to it. It made for a shady spot and I tried to get a gel down. And I threw up. Not good, out in the middle of nowhere, mostly empty stomach, hot.

Cooler than in the sun
I lay there for twenty minutes, might have drifted off. Got up and rode past Thorn Ranch and up the hill to make the left onto Separ Road.  Then I saw something on the side of the road and it was this black lab dog out there also. He was thirstier than me, had been lying in the only mud spot I had seen yet. He came up to me, I put some water in my hands and he drank that, and then took a big 16oz swig from one of my water bottles. I couldn't spare any more for him, and I left and he followed me for a quite a while. No phone reception out there, finally called the High Desert Humane Society folks and left them some information, hope they find this fellow.

Hope they found this guy

Wind was blowing at me and I camped, knowing I wasn't even close to making Silver.  Beautiful moon rise and breezy making the tent flop around. I got up and left at about 3 am, and struggled into Silver City at maybe 7 or so. Headed for the Adobe Springs Cafe and ordered some breakfast, but I could only eat a nibble at an egg and a tiny bit of some tortilla. Stomach still flopping around. If you can't eat you can't ride and I barely made it to a hotel.

Got a hotel room, cleaned up a bit. And then just started shivering and breathing hard. Really wanted to finish this year a couple of days better than last, and just didn't feel like hanging around in Silver City for a couple of days to feel better to head into the Gila, so I called Jeff from Hachita and got a ride home. On the way back, Jeff dropped off a bunch of water & food to two guys who were touring and who hadn't gotten to pavement yet .. they were pretty red.

Coach Jen had recommended I get a rehydration at a clinic, I probably should have done that, but yesterday I couldn't even think of riding the bike to wherever that would have been, I was just in too big of a hole ( physically and mentally ).  Lost 6 pounds some place.

Kinda the mother of all "splats". Feel like I let myself & Coach down, lots of great expectations going out the window, but there it is.

Wish everyone still riding to have a fun and awesome ride. The finish is really really worth it and quitting sucks.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Always trying to figure out what the next thing will be. Do I want to do it ? Can I do it ? How long will it take ? The questions go on and on in your head.

So, I'd been thinking about this one, a new event called the America Trail Race that would start on June 1. It uses the Trans America Trail, a motorcycle trail, for the most part, from North Carolina to Oregon. The first one will be held this summer and it looks attractive ...

American Trail Race ( Trans Am Trail )

And then there's Tour Divide. Not sure, but I don't think anyone has done it 3 times Northbound .. little bit of cachet there perhaps. A course I know and won't even bother to take the maps if I do it again. Get back on the bike at Antelope Wells, head north and try to knock another couple of days off last year's time.

And then there's this thing ... Baja Divide. From Tecate to Cabo San Lucas on mountain bikes following the route Lael Wilcox laid out, and a big group followed last January.

Baja Divide

So my current plan is to get my 3'peat of Tour Divide done in June, spend a LOT of time trying to learn enough Spanish with my copy of Rosetta Stone until January and then hook up with whoever is going South around the first of the year.  Get to Cabo in whatever time it takes, not a race attempt but a hard touring pace I suppose.

Tour Divide

And then perhaps, next year, we'll see about that 5000 mile thing across the US on backroads.

Finished Whiskey 50 yesterday ... man, that was hard. I really need to up my game on technical rocky descents. Did well on forest road/fire road climbs, and thought I rode most of the single track well until I got to the techy sections, where I pretty much totally wigged out and walked way too much. I have to be better at that for Baja.

Fun, fun fun

Saturday, March 25, 2017

SC 400 - 2017

Wow, haven't touched the blog for a while, so let's get caught up.

Went up to Flagstaff for the Barn Burner, and I got bit again. Not quite sure what the hell happened but sometime after noon when I was starting on my 3rd lap, I just totally bonked out. Couldn't get recovered at all. Spent some time helping another fellow with a tire problem and felt a tiny bit better, but when I finished the 3rd lap it was getting late, I got some food in, but still felt like hell and I just sat down and quit. So that's the second no finish for BB.

El Tour de Tucson went well, I didn't push myself that hard and think I got in at about 7 hours. Had my first big cramp ever about 1/2 mile from the finish.  Coming up 22nd street just short of 6th Ave and my leg hurt like I've never felt before. I got over to the side and worked the muscle for a few minutes and got back on the bike and got it done.  That was an interesting lession, must've been just a little bit short of something. I think it was a 7 hour time, quite a bit slower than my fastest.

Then 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo came up and we managed to catch some serious rain. I did a lap at 8 pm I think and another at about 5 am or so as the sun came up. No big increases in speed, I seemed to not be able to get a lap done faster than about 1:35 during any of my practice laps or the race laps. Not sure whats going on, maybe just getting old.

So, I thought getting back to Southern California and doing SC 400 might be a "fun" thing to do and got myself signed up for it.  The race direction was different this year. In '15 when I did it, we left Idyllwild and went down Coyote Canyon, across the Anza Borrego, up the Lagunas and then into San Diego and back.  This year the route would be counter clockwise, with Coyote Canyon being one of the last things.

Ready to Go
We started at about 8 am on Friday morning, and I think I rode pretty good for the first part. I got partly up Thomas Mountain Road and noticed that my bike was handling funny and then looked down at a mostly flat front tire. I got off to the side, found the hole, added some sealant and let it fix the problem and pumped it up with my hand pump. Other than keeping my OCD worrying about now only having one sealant bottle left this went well. On the down hill side of Thomas Mountain before Anza, I managed to slide out on sand and landed chain side down. Bike didn't shift well after that, but most of the higher cogs were working ok, so pressed on.

Looking towards Lake Hemet

Thomas Mountain Road

I stopped at the Anza RV/Sunshine Market stop and hung with a few other riders for a while ( Shelly, Cedar, Brendan and Angel ). Got a sandwich and drank a little of a beer and then we all headed up Bailey Road and onto the California Riding & Hiking Trail. It's a long stretch through an area called the "Lost Valley" and somewhere around sundown we were getting to Warner Springs and making a supper stop at the newly opened golf resort.  The place was swamped with SC riders, a bunch of Canadians and our group, and I had a great patti melt sandwich, and got rehydrated with about 3 gallons of iced tea and Coke.  Our little group of 5 headed out together and we stopped on Mesa Grande road, at essentially the top of the climb and bivyed out in a cow pasture.

Above Warner Springs

Almost the end of the day

Shelly and Brendan .. Saturday Morning

Mesa Grande Store

Next morning we rode a bit, chilled at the Mesa Grande store (closed ), where Cedar made some coffee. I had a pecan pie tin that I tried to use as a coffee cup .... didn't know it had 5 holes in the bottom of it ... surprise, surprise ... as the coffee leaked out.
Residential Chaos

Was a good ride down Black Mountain road, and towards Ramona.  When we got to Pamo road we took an alternate route as some State Park people didn't want cyclists using a little wilderness traverse that we had used before .. up one of the steeper paved ascents I've done in a while and then down Hwy 78, along the San Dieguito bike path ( which is more of a trail than a bike path in a lot of places ) and we get to Escondido near I-15.  Gas station sandwiches and rehydration and then rolling along Lake Hodges.  Lake Hodges took a while, it was getting hot, Cedar and I got separated from the others .. at one place there was a giant washout with two logs crossing on it.  Trying to do a delicate balance of me on one log and my bike on the other and not falling into a 6 foot deep hole underneath me .. the stuff we do.

After that it seemed like it was mostly uphill, uphill through the residential switchbacks, part of a walking, riding path with excellent grade and railings, but a big gully in the middle, that pretty much kept me from riding any of it, I just got off and pushed. After that was a little snark through a residential area, and then a place where the road had been totally washed out and lots of mud and flowing water. It was pretty good to get to pavement and to start feeling the marine layer. About 5 pm, I found myself in Del Mar. Got a drink and then headed further south to Torrey Pines State Beach. Got off the bike, put the tires in the ocean and then back on the road again.

It was getting dark and I rode thru UCSD, along the freeway, stopped at In-Out Burger, rode by Mission Bay, made a couple of wrong turns and pressed on. At Ocean Beach, some folks had a big bonfire on the beach, was fun to see that. Got stuck in traffic in Ocean Beach and got to Hill Street. I was getting pretty beat, and walked most of it and at the top was rewarded with a nice view of the downtown San Diego skyline. Did a quick descent, and found a hotel at the bottom and declared victory for the day.
Wheels on the Beach

Ocean View

Sunday morning, I got up and rode along the San Diego airport, took pictures of an amphibious assault ship  ( berthed next to the cruise ship area for an open house ), saw the Midway, took a detour over by Seaport Village, and then along the San Diego port area. Saw lots of new cars with the shrink wrap still on them and then headed inland.
Morning in San Diego
USS Midway
Top of the Hill

In Bonita, I got breakfast at a Starbucks, and fretted about my bike as the cars were backing up awfully close to it ( I think I moved it at least twice while eating ), then headed onto the Sweetwater park area. Lots of good single track out there, I walked a bit of the downhill from the pagoda structure at the top of the mountain, and finally finished with that section as the others caught up with me. We rode together a bit, and I dropped back as we went up Sloan Canyon road.  It was really pretty, and I stopped and ate an orange that I scored from a road side fruit stand.  Finally we got to Alpine.
Sloan Canyon Road

Indian Creek Trail

Arroyo Tapioda

The Desert

At Alpine, I ate a bunch of White Castle burgers from the gas station as we watched the police process a stolen car in the gas station area.  Around 5 pm I was headed east toward Viegas Grade, a big long hill ( dirt ).  Not sure how long it took but a while, and then a fast downhill at the edge of darkness to get to Descanso.  I scored some great rolled tacos at Veronica's Kitchen there, resupplied at the grocery store and headed into the night.  It was getting cold out there, and the Merrigan Trail runs alongside a creek filled with noisy frogs and we climbed a bit, then got to Hwy 79 and had a couple of miles of uphill climbing, and a turn on to the Mesa Fire Road headed for the Laguna's.  I rode for quite a while, but in reality it was only a mile and a half or two at the most before I decided I was done for the day and bivied at the side of the road.

Up the next morning, ate a little, road some, walked some, repeat, got to the Indian Creek trail and I wasn't riding that well at all. I found myself walking a lot, it's all uphill with a lot of loose rock over a hard surface.  Think another gear might have helped me, I just didn't seem to have the horsepower to get over what should have been easy stuff. Later on the Noble Canyon trail I seemed to be riding better.  There was no water at the top of the Noble Canyon trail where it met Hwy 76.  So I started worrying about water.  I did a quick descent on 76, got to the single track across the meadow and then headed down Oriflamme Canyon. This thing almost killed me going up it two years ago and it's hard going down .... steep, loose, baby head rocks, sketchy.  Was glad to get off of it, but there was lots of sand at the bottom for that last 3/4 mile or so. Finally got to pavement and stopped at the Butterfield RV stop and it was closed for the day.  Found that the bathrooms were open and I scored some water at the sink and pressed on.

Got to Aqua Caliente State Park and the store had a closed sign, but in a minute or two, Mark, the owner appeared and said "Hi Mike".  He'd been tracking me. I watered up, got some sodas, some chips and decided it was time to hit the desert.

The desert crossing went very well. The rains had left the road pretty rideable, it was just a matter of doing thirty some miles with darkness falling and I got into the Fish Wash section before I stopped for the night around 10pm or so and camped.

I had big ideas the next morning that I would be able to make Idy on Tuesday and charged off, right into a big headwind, that kept me from getting to Borrego until about 10:30 or so. Feasted on huevos rancheros and a giant horchata at the restaurant, discovered the liquor store didn't have any bottled water, found the local grocery store, got water there and got back on course in time for the heat of the day and all of the folks out driving on the same sandy dirt road as me looking for flowers in the Anza Borrego.  The wind was really really strong.  I opened a soda after the second crossing while sitting on top of a hill and I thought the wind was going to blow my drink over.   I would ride on a high side of the road to stay out of the sandy bottom and the wind would blow me into the sandy bottom.

Before the Middle Willows I crossed paths with a Mohave rattlesnake. Scared me a bit, he was pretty unhappy I was on his turf.  Then got into the Willows and the path was pretty easy to follow.  When I got out of there, some parts of the route were right in the wash, but there was a hardened coating that was pretty easy to ride on, until that crust broke and you more or less "fell in". And as I got closer to the Upper Willows, the sky was getting darker, and that wind was blowing in a cold front and the mountains were being shrouded in mist and the sun was going down.

At Bailey's cabin, I thought about staying for the night, but the sun was still high enough and I rode well for a bit, and then hit sand that was probably a good 6 or 8 inches deep.  Totally unrideable and really really hard to push. I was pretty glad to get to the ascent out of the canyon as it was getting dark and rain started to fall. Near the top it was actually rideable, but it was raining enough that I really couldn't see where I was going and knew there was no way I could make Idy and started looking for a place to camp.  I saw a sorta grassy area on a hill above me, and put me and the bike up there for the night, and camped as a pretty heavy rain started to fall.

Woke up the next morning, pretty chilled and soggy with a pretty sunrise and was darn happy to get to signs of civilization.  During a lot of this climbing I could see other footprints of riders, so I know I wasn't the only person walking some of this stuff.

Back to the RV part, the Market was closed, but a jug of water was left out, so I got some and then headed for the last parts of the ride.  We took pavement for a little while, then a detour onto the California bike pushing trail running alongside Hwy 371.  Finally got to Paradise Valley Cafe and scored an excellent breakfast.  Met Dave C there, one of the guys doing to 500 mile version of this thing.
Borrego Springs sculptures

Unhappy Resident

Sunrise after a chilly night


Back up Hwy 74 towards Idy, with the wind in my face and I got finished around 2:45 pm ( all of about 3 hours faster than in '15 )  My feet were cold and wet and that shower felt wonderful. I ate and then saw two bikes in front of the Idy Inn where Kevin and Angie had finished their 500 mile ride and I met them for some beers at the Idy Brewery as sleet and rain fell.

Up the next morning for a drive back to Tucson and it was snowing !  Light snow, but snow nonetheless.

Happy to have done it. I always wish I could have done something faster, but this is a really hard ride, with about 390 miles and 28,000 feet of climbing on some pretty tricky surfaces.  If I ever do this again, it will be on a plus bike, something with tires really suited to the sand .. those miles north of Baileys cabin were pure torture !   Food intake worked pretty well, carried enough water although I was getting a little concerned at the bottom of Oriflamme.  Wasn't the last person to finish, I finished, and I was easily the oldest one out there. Call it a win.

Thanks again to Coach Jen at Desert Endurance for her help in getting workouts planned up for me and to my honey Susan for putting up with her old man disappearing on another Bilbo Baggins adventure !