Friday, February 28, 2020

How the West was Won

Phoenix to Tucson:
How the West was Won

Still reminiscing of my recent trip to Southwest Utah I told myself it was time to take a break from the desert. Where did I end up? The .......desert. Winter was in full effect and the Peloton bike at my apartment gym just wasn't enough. It was time to head back to Arizona, Southern Arizona that is. Many a Saguaro and Taco awaited my good friend Matt Beattie and I. The logistics were fairly simple: Jet Blue to Sky Harbor, Minivan, Trail forks, and throwing caution to the wind. The evening/overnight temps resembled New England, but the Sun was to make regular appearances in the forecast.

After breakfast and obligatory Starbucks we began our journey at the Pass Mountain Trailhead. Our goal was to sample the Usery Mountain and Hawes trail networks. It looked like a full day and a full day it was. Off we go.......

I was probably on the trail maybe five minutes before I got nailed by multiple cactus needles. I knew then that I was in for a treat. The first half (left side) of Usery Mountain on the Pass Mountain Trail was a nice gradual climb with several gardens of cantaloupe sized rocks to keep things interesting. It wasn't long before we hit pedestrian traffic and the occasional K9. Most were friendly, some were silent, but Matt and I figured many of the folks here are retirees enjoying their golden years. After about an hour we received some navigational assistance.

We turned the bars left, dropped the seatposts and rocketed down a very fast and sandy section called Bulldog Canyon. We both agreed the climb back up the canyon was going to hurt. We now entered the Hawes network and this is where things turned awesome. Fast flowing trails were in abundance. We came across a trail littered with berms, gap jumps, and drops aptly called All Mountain Party.

Additional fun was had on trails called Wild Horse, Stinger, and Scorpion. Upon smashing a king size payday bar I knew it was time to pay the piper. One of us payed more than the other. The climb back up Bulldog was a real grinder. That was the first part. We still had to climb the rest of Usery Mountain and decent to the trailhead. Suddenly things got real as the single track got tighter with some legit exposure. The trails morphed into some of the nastiest chunk I have seen in a while. No worries though, this lady told us "you guys should be good the rest of the way."

Vulgarities were thrown, bars were clipped, and pedals were struck as we forged on in the land of sketch. As I said before, one of us payed up.

In the end we both made it back alive without deformity or disability. It was time to hit the road for some food and a local brewery before setting up shop in Tucson. The drive was roughly two or so hours. We settled upon Thunder Canyon Brewery in downtown Tucson. The porter and IPA's were really good, but the food not so much. Nice atmosphere though.

To save a few bucks we booked the Quality Inn in Benson for the rest of our trip. Apparently we saved on the quality part as well. The multiple water stains on the ceiling, cryptic ventilation fan in the bathroom, and the smell of cigarette smoke all made for a cozy stay. 

Day two would bring the more miles, more smiles, and our favorite trail of the entire trip.  Our launch point was the Camino De Oeste trailhead to access the Yetman Trail Network and beyond.  

The climb up was gradual with some dry creek bed crossings and nice technical features. I love the stuff you come across on the trail.

The next few hours were nothing short of awesome and we both agreed that the Rock Wren trail was our favorite. It was the perfect mix of flow, tech, medium pucker exposure, and climbing. Other trails like El Grupo, Ledge Surfer, Tecolote, and Explorer all mad Tucson Mountain Park a real gem.

Cliff bars, Paydays, and tons of water were needed on this one. The climbing was fantastic, the downs exhilarating, and the overall scenery was gorgeous. Our second twenty plus mile day was far from disappointing. 

One hell of a day. Our next task was to find killer sustenance and libations. Matt suggested street tacos and I was on board. We found them at a place called "Street Taco" right in the heart of Tucson. Those along with the nachos and Mexican coke did not last long. Our final stop a few blocks down was the Ten55 Brewery. I highly recommend the Smashing Falcon on tap. 

Day three would prove to be the toughest as it served up the most climbing, the most tech, the most sketch, the most miles, a You Tube Micro Celebrity, and the most wow. Destination: Catalina State Park. The elderly lady at the booth was super friendly and very helpful in directing us to the trailhead. The views were beautiful before we even hit the trail. We were to start climbing on the 50 year trail and wing it from there.

50 Year trail was a very scenic climb. Then came the pain. Upper 50, Around the Mountain, Gem, and Hernia were real soul crushers. Quite technical and steep. 

The work was worth because we were then introduced to trails like Cowboy Slick rock, Tank, Rattlesnake, and Middlegate. Big rollers, steep angles, killer views, and fantastic flow made for one of the best downhill segments I have ridden. 

The final final decent was absolutely beautiful as the sun was setting and some of the locals came out to play. By the way, that is Van Girl Yuka who has a mountain bike channel on You Tube. She was such a cool gal. 

We dined at the El Molinito where I smashed more tacos and sucked down an RC Cola and Tecate beer while Matt ate 90% of the largest burrito I have ever seen. Even the waitress was impressed. 

Our final day was a blast as we made our way back to the Phoenix area to ride the McDowell Mountain Trail Network. There was a pretty impressive parking area that included bathrooms, showers, a water bubbler, and large canopies providing some nice shade. We rode three different loops called the "Long Loop", the "Sport Loop" and the "Technical Loop." We rode the Technical Loop twice is was THAT good. 

The riding was totally different than the previous three days. Matt and I had ear to ear grins. Later we both agreed that this was one of the best trips we have ever had. Phoenix and Tucson were real gems and served up the perfect winter riding getaway. Now it's time to pack up the bikes and take the red eye home. 

I know I wanted to ride somewhere other than the desert, but once again I returned. I love the desert and the remote beauty that it rewards you with along with the unsuspecting cactus strike that lurks around every corner. The climbing was painful, the views enchanting, and for one of us the chaffing was cataclysmic, but the West was still won.

Until next time my fellow Racer-X'ers......

Keep it Classy and Keep it Real,