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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Apache Trail...

...has been on my "Want-To" list of rides since before I moved up to Phoenix.  After I learned that I would be moving from Tucson up here permanently, the guys at the shop started spouting off all kinds of rides to do.  I also heard many, many times how the riding up here is nowhere near as good as Tucson....but that's a different story.

I had planned to jump in the AZ Gravel version of the ride at the end of January but then I crashed at Estrella, gouged up my knee....then crashed at PMP, tweaking my shoulder.  So the ride didn't happen for me.  I knew I had to get it in sooner than later 'cause the car/boat/truck traffic gets thicker as it gets warmer.  I wasn't sure when I'd do it...but after a good ride up in Chino Valley, I figured what the hell!

I asked Josh, a guy I rode with on that first AZG ride I did, and he was interested, too.  So we had two weeks to sort it out.  I mapped it out (it has NO turns so it wasn't hard) and planned for water stops.  By Sunday afternoon, all the pieces were in place.

Monday morning, I get up and look at the weather - the rain wasn't coming in til 5pm.  We had plenty of time!  I leave @ 7:30, get to Tortilla Flats and get a parking spot in the upper lot.  Tortilla Flats was where I'd planned on parking all along....but apparently it had changed.

During the week, Josh brought up the ride to Craig, head dude of AZG.  He asked Josh to post the ride to the group....but change the start to Canyon Lake.  I never looked at that part.  Folks floundered about all weekend, whether to ride....would it rain....whatever.  So when 9am ticked off Monday morning, I wondered where Josh was and texted him.  He was at Canyon Lake.

By this time, I'd already ridden up the westbound hill outta Tortilla Flats once....turned around, came back down and sent a text.  Now I was going up and over again to Canyon Lake.  Feeling pretty good, I didn't mind - just a few more miles and bit more climbing.  Roll up, meet Josh and we hit the road.

The road climb isn't horrible.  We steady chugged up to the dirt....and I made mental notes to come back on the road bike, just to ride to EOP.  It's just a fun road....shitty surface but the rolling hills are awesome.

Hit the dirt and immediately the tone is set - washboards for DAYS!  I'm excited and pushing harder gears than I should.  Reach the vista, take time to empty bladders and push off!

Going DOWN Fish Creek Hill wasn't as scary as I anticipated...wasn't much to it all.  The surface has very little washboard and hardly any ruts - easy.  But then began the climb outta there.  The washboards were HEAVY....with no escape to a shoulder.  Ya just had to suck it up and ride.  Stop for pics of Apache Lake and keep motoring.

Then the climbs began - there are basically 6 of em'...all varying in size and length but it is downhill by average.  I settled in, churned a good steady gear...never pushing too hard but not waiting around much.  The descents bordered on SUPER fun and kinda scary.  Coming into washboarded corners at speed was a bit unnerving....but I survived.  On the third time, the brakes did start howling(!!) as I had to ride em' more following a Hyundai down the mountain.

Close to 2 1/2 hours in, we round the corner and THERE is the dam!  It was one of those "oh, shit" moments when ya roll up on something SO large.  We churn up the pavement, head for the marina.  Roll in after asking directions and luckily the chain-smoking attendant took a break from solitaire to let me pay for the Gatorade, water and Coke.

Josh and I eat, drink and prepare to head back....but it's getting a bit ugly out there.  It's 1:30 and it looks like the 5:00 pm storms are heading in early.  Saddle back up and head out, I began thinking of bailout plans as I watch the rain DUMP not more than 10 miles away.  It's coming, I know it....and I finally relent, say "fuck it" and pedal on.  We're gonna finish this today.

It's not long before both of us are commenting on how the climbs are LONGER now. Looking back at Strava data, they weren't....we were just tired.  Even still, I feel pretty good.  I can tell I'm not gonna sprint up any of these but I'm still able to grind away.  All the while rain is spitting on us.  Nothing heavy, nothing "wet"....just drizzle.  That is until we hit the last one.

It was short but it was enough to know that we might finish drenched.  There was still 1 1/2 hours to go before we made it to my car, at least.  I found a little extra kick and popped over.  That led to the washboard section, all descending now.  I loosened up as much as I could and motored.  The sand wasn't deep but it was bumpy.  All the while, cars are coming through.  I pass one on the single-lane bridge causing them to get pretty wide-eyed....but I was ready to get to Fish Creek.

We get to the bridge and stop to take in the last views.  No doubt the edge of this canyon is one of most awe-inspiring places I'll ever be in my life.  You are tucked DEEP in the world and you quickly realize how small you are.

After a few pictures for Josh's Facebook recount, we start climbing.  Josh is using up his last bit of energy....and I am nursing my back up the mountain.  I stand a few times to ease the pressure but it's aching.  I'm not climbing fast but pushing the 32-32 gear was enough.  Every switchback makes you think you're closer....but you're not.  Until I see Josh snapping shots at the vista, I just trudge along.

Take a break, recover and now it's time to finish.  More washboard until we hit the tarmac....and this rough-ass road now feels like butter.  So smooth, my confidence grows and I'm pushing the Diverge a bit harder in corners than I would otherwise.  The bike just feels THAT good....after 7 hours, I'm pretty used to it, I guess. 

Back in Tortilla Flats, Josh and I bid each other adieu and I head for the truck.  It takes a few moments to collect myself but now I realize I'm STARVING!  Load up, head for Del Taco in Mesa....and I'm done.

Apache Trail is DONE....at least my first trip is.

Analysis of all the rights and wrongs will come later...so later.

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