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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Gateway Trailhead...

...is only 20 minutes away from here yet in the past 16 (+?) months I've lived in PHX, I've been there twice.  Once to trail run/hike/whine...another time to ride with Melissa the Coach.  She was the one that turned me onto the idea that maybe hikers will share the trail (...they do) so long as you're 1) nice, 2) not a douchebag flying down the trail outta control.  So...in other words, don't act like 90% of the mountain bikers in this town.  (And that's a rant for another day.)

That doesn't mean ALL the hikers are nice & receptive.  Many of em' never responded when I said, "hi".  Many seemed put-off when I asked for some room to squeeze by, breaking up their party that covered the ENTIRE trail.  Most of em' were older.  Most of em' were snowbirds....who have this sense of entitlement regardless of age.  They're on vacation - they have exclusive rights to EVERYTHING, right??

I rolled in @ 8:30 or so, was on the trail by 8:42 (according to the Strava) with the FrankenEpic.  Everything was set - 22/28 psi in the tires, 135 psi in the fork and autosaggin' in the rear.  I was loaded, too - Camelbak with 1.5 liters of water, 2x bottles of CarboRocket, 3 scoops.  Plenty of dates.  I was pretty light on the clothes really - Endura knickers, base layer & short sleeve jersey, no headsock, open gloves, regular ole' socks and the Giro shoes.

Heading out on Desert Park trail was fun - chunky enough to be attention-holding, never so big that it gets scary.  I did walk a few places I didn't before when it was me and Melissa.  Riding solo usually means I am way more cautious....and I don't have an experienced guide showing me the line.

It was somewhere through here I began thinking about how to ride a bike "smart".  I was observing the difference in riding the bike and riding "with" the bike.  If I ride a bike regularly, I sometimes feel like I know what the bike is going to do right away.  The FrankenEpic, after close to 2 years of steady use, is one of those bikes I feel like I "know".  I can usually tell what the front end will do, where the rear end will go.  I caught myself more than once, "bunny-lifting" the rear through obstacles that were only gonna catch that wheel in particular.  It was not planned - it just happened, like a reaction.

I get that same "feel" with the Diverge sometimes, too.  That bike just has that nimbleness and feedback that feeds those.... extra-sensory perceptions?  I sometimes get that feel with the Juice...but I've ridden that bike for close to 4 years now.  The CxChunk, which I've since 2009, is familiar as well...but as the bike gets older and the steel fatigues, it becomes less and less responsive.

The R3 is a fun bike, a great climbing bike...but it's kinda numb in areas.  The steering doesn't feel as predictable.  The acceleration is there but not "all" there.  As companies try to "tune" the feel of these bikes with their own theories in carbon lay-up, I think they overdo it a bit....especially on bikes for, ahem....larger riders.

So....by now I'm at Wingate.  Last time Melissa the Coach led me right but this time I turn left.  I know it's gonna be hike-a-bike....and that's okay.  I had went into this day with the attitude that I'm not training, I'm not practicing skills so much.  I am riding to explore.  Sure, there are bonuses to training by putting in the long hours but I wasn't gonna worry about heart rate (that much) or speed (at all).  I was riding to explore.

Melissa the Coach has told me that it's mostly hike-a-bike to the pass...and it was.  I barely did much riding at all.  When I did, it was great!  Tight, narrow, chunky but not unrideable.  I reach the Pass....and I was a bit overwhelmed.  I was well above Phoenix to my west, looking down on McDowell Park to my east.

I eat a few dates, take a lot of pictures and wait on a trail-runner to pass.  We chat a bit about the awesome weather and beautiful colors.  Everything is SO green right now...and there are TONS of poppies blooming on the mountain.

Yea, the desert sucks.  Tourists, go somewhere else!

Down the backside, somehow weave onto Bell Pass to Prospector.  Most of it was rideable....but if I was unsure, I walked.   Twice (that I remember) I would step off the bike...and see the line.  It was then I started thinking about "hike-a-biking".

For years....ever since I've been riding...there's been this ingrained ethos that if you can't ride over/through something, you're less of a rider.  Phoenix's bro/brah culture is much more aggressive about it.  Walk something around here and you're deemed a roadie.  Anymore, that moniker is no longer an insult.  It just means I know my limits and have no need to prove I can or cannot ride something.

Honestly, I value the ability to ride again tomorrow more than the memory of riding over an obstacle.

So....by now I'm hammering it down Prospector and LOVING this trail.  Don't get me wrong - it's not super-easy.  The past 15 years have supplied enough confidence in myself to handle some shitty surfaces....and 2 years of FrankenEpic'ing has given me plenty of confidence in what this bike will handle gracefully and what will be a bumble-fucked-up mess!

Reach the road, miss Dixie Mine, turn around and hike back up.  Dixie Mine, this section being much more butter smooth than the rest of the trail I've ridden in MMP proper, leads to Sonoran Trail.  Make the turn and trudge up.  Steady grind...for awhile.  I pass plenty of SUPER NICE hikers, one local(ish?) pro from Specialized I assume was preriding the area before this weekend's race....before the trail turns UP. 

Anytime I'd climb, I'd hit Zone 4 quick.  The grade wasn't killing me but navigating the super loose surface would.  ALOT of this trail was just good ole' hike-a-bike.  Even the descents didn't allow much riding (for me).  The switchbacks were TIGHT...so tight I was using the front brake to swing the rear around....while hiking with the bike.  I remember one descent that I could have ridden....but knew it was gonna be bad if I went off the ONE line - left and you're down a raving into more rocks and cacti, right and you're into a HUGE cactus.  Even walking it was a close rub.

When Sonoran peaked out on Promenade, I was relieved for a bit.  I was tired, no doubt, but it was getting warm.  Thinking I'd be done in 3 hours or so, I didn't put on sunscreen.  It was now close to noon and I wasn't even on Sunrise yet, the trail that would signify I was "over" the mountain.]

I miss Western Loop, my connector.  Hike up, catch the trail and HIKE.  This trail was definitely a hiking trail....with no really good markers or treadpath.  Reach the intersection, try out the bike loop before deciding it's NOT going where I wanna go.  But not before slipping, falling and almost impaling myself with a small cactus.

But from here....the trail turned into something AWESOME!  Western picked up Andrews-Kinsey which led to Sunrise.  It was great - narrow, rolling grades....mostly up to the ridge but pretty rideable.  This was that defining moment when I remembered what I LOVED about mountain biking when Mike B and used to explore Pisgah.

Back then, we didn't care about heart rates or speeds.  Pisgah rides weren't measured in miles.  They were measured in hours.  You just knew you were committing to a long day in the woods.  There would be some great riding, from smooth fire roads that climbed for days....to technical root-carpeted, rock-strewn paths.  You didn't care if you were meeting metrics - all that mattered was that you were exploring.

So....I top the saddle and start down.  Right away, I'm hiking.  Switchbacks were steep and loose enough, I wasn't taking the chance.  However it didn't take long to get on the fire road-esque portion where it was just a matter of balancing a sliding rear wheel with how much speed can you carry and not scare the bejeezus outta some tourist.

Left on Lost Dog....and I begin the final leg.  Lost Dog is basically just an old fire road, wide and loose.  There are narrow sections...the ones that tourists like to huddle over.  Not sure what was in that woman's head but when she shrieked as I passed, "THAT WAS CLOSE"...and I was at the far edge of the trail.

Ah.  Snowbirds.

Up and over, the descent down to Quartz was what I thought it would be - NASTY.  Almost as heinous as Farlow Gap, the notorious rocky descent in Pisgah....but much shorter.  The FrankenEpic has no issues....and soon I was on Quartz.

If there's one trail I will def'ly hit more often, it's Quartz.  The trail is semi-technical but well-worn....and FUN!  Even with tired legs and sunburnt arms, I was pushing it harder and harder....til I realized I needed to turn on Paradise.

Paradise....what a crap trail!  I'm sure it's fun for some.  It wasn't AT this moment in my ride.  Lotsa chunky, SLOW rock moves....and for someone close to 5 hours in and ready to be done, it SUCKED.  I turned tail, plotted out a return and bailed down Quartz.

Cut through a neighborhood over to Bell, catch 104th Street Trail....get to Gateway and head for the truck.  Stop to get water with the annoyed tourists.  Settle down to change clothes and it hits - that was some of the most fun I've had riding in a LONG TIME!

It was the exploring.  The reduced pressure of "just ride...but be smart enough to walk" helped.  The isolated feeling of being so far away from everyone....but knowing home was just a few miles away.  The bike did well.  I felt good.  I had good energy....and I didn't feel just completely wasted.



And I'm glad I got it in when I did.  The high that day was around 78.  Next week, we're gonna be in the 90's!  Yea, I need to acclimate to the spring/summer temps....but not on a 5 hour day.  yet.

Later.  (Pics to come later, too....once I figure out the new phone!)


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