A year is a long time to be working towards a goal - espcially when there’s so many individual milestones to be met along the way. In 2018, ...

Feb 27, 2020

Chunk by any other name

Also known as Arizona riding! Outside of trails like Bunny Loop, most every trail in Arizona is full of chunk. Rocks of all sizes, just waiting to slice tires or shred skin. Just the kind of riding I needed after over three months off the bike...

This was the only plan that we had - camping at Gilbert Ray in Tuscon Mountain Park for a few nights. Sure, it was a ways from the last camping location and on the other side of town as our eventual destination. But it's a nice place with good trail access and we thought it would be quiet based on prior stays. Still has the good trail access, but not so quiet anymore! That place was hopping! I think the entire campground was filled both night we stayed.

One of the reasons Nick really wanted to stay at Gilbert Ray was Brown Mountain. It's a short loop trail that starts and finishes right by the campground. The bottom of the loop parallels the road and is pretty fun. There's some punchy climbs, a few little rock gardens and plenty of cactus. On the west end on the loop however, the trail tips up. And up for the climb up to the traverse across Brown Mountain. That is where the real fun begins. I figured I'd be walking most of the traverse because I still wasn't feeling solid on the bike. And while I did walk some, there were plenty of things I was able to ride without too many issues! Some of the tight switchbacks were definitely a challenge and the body language for the rocky climbs was also slightly in need of translation. There were also a few oh crap, what the heck am I doing moments on the final descent back down into camp! I was a little sore in the ribs and tired in the core when we finished, but not as bad as I'd thought I would be.
Sunrise over Gates Pass during my run

The following day I got up early and ran. The blacktop road south of Brown Mountain was quiet at that hour, so I was able to get a solid workout in before the sunrise. Then I got to explore a little on the flat trails south of the campground - there was a little bush whacking as the southern trails weren't the clearest marked trails I've seen. You'd think bush whacking would be easier with with wide open desert and nothing but cacti. It's the whole cacti thing that makes desert tramping challenging. Everything out there wants to stab you! Needless to say, my planned 8 miles got a little longer as I meandered around trying to avoid the really nasty cacti.

Riding in the Robles Pass area on the way back east

After the ride that day, I knew I wasn't up for tackling Milagrosa.  I wasn't that settled on the bike and there's no way to ride Milagroas safely if you aren't comfortable on the bike. Luckily, one of our friends had recently moved down to Tuscon and while he'd ridden Bug Springs higher up on Mount Lemmon, he hadn't done the miracle ride. Didn't take much convincing during our ride for him to jump on the chance! It actually worked out great - Iwould beable to get a nice long run in on a trail I wouldn't be able to ride my bike on and the boys didn't have to ride all the way up Mount Lemmon.

Into the wilderness! The Pusch Ridge Wilderness and the AZT

I spent the entire next day studying my maps and figuring out distances. I wasn't looking for more then about 15-20 miles, so that did limit me a bit. So many trails heading off into the wilderness! Finally, I decided that the best for me running and the guys riding would be to just start at the Molino Basin parking area and do an out and back on the AZT. The guys would ride up the road from there to Bug Springs, drop Bug then refill as needed at the van before heading off to Milagrosa. I would do my run and then drive back down the mountain to pick them up. Perfect!

Looking back up at the Catalina Highway from below the wilderness boundary
Looking into the wilderness, at the ridge before the drop into Sabino Canyon
Now if only the map makers were a little more accurate with the distances between points... I set a firm turnaround distance of 7.5 miles. From all my map studying, I figured I would get to the Sabino Canyon trail - maybe a little further. I really wanted to get into Sabino, since I've never seen that canyon and heard really good things about it. I also figured that I would have a gradual climb up from Molino Basin and then a gradual descent back to the van. Nope! Rolling climbs to start, then as I reached the ridge that marked the boundary of the the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. The trail nature changed and it plummeted down into Bear Canyon. A few flatter miles, then another steep climb. I pondered dropping down Bear Canyon to see what it was like, but I'd told Nick I was doing an out and back on the AZT. So I kept moving forward, climbing up to another ridge. From there, there was an amazing view of the entire wilderness - of the jagged mountains rising up from the canyons. And the trail, dropping nearly straight down into the next valley. Uff - that would be quite the climb back up!

Looking back up the AZT. Such a narrow trail here!
I didn't reach Sabino Canyon. At my turn around, I was still at least a half mile away. I was tempted to keep going, but facing the climb back up, I knew it would take me longer to get back because of the steepness of the climbs. I had two decenly long climbs to face and it had taken me longer to get out there then I'd anticipated. Time to start heading back so I had a decent chance of beating the boys down the mountain!

A surprising number of creek crossing in the desert! I didn't need to be worried about water on this run!

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