After 11 months on the road, we were finally in punting distance of Boulder which meant two of our good friends could intercept us. With a couple of months of planning, we met up with Kevin and Charlotte in Tucson, Arizona for some riding, hiking, camping and hanging out. We all knew there was good mountain biking in the area, but we were in search of groads, fewer cars and more smiles. With a little plotting and scheming on Ride With GPS, I had mapped out a ride that would tick off all the boxes:
- Dirt roads
- Good views
- No backtracking
Kevin and Charlotte arrived at Catalina State Park a bit later than intended due to a 100 mile detour around a major accident on highway 40, but it didn’t bother us. When you’re on #VanLife time, you’re not really in a rush and neither were Kevin and Charlotte as it was their vacation. After hugs, catching up and feeding our bellies, we all turned in for the night knowing that tomorrow’s adventure on two wheels was fast approaching.
After a so-so nights sleep, thanks to heavy winds and occasional rain showers, the sun slowly rose over the top of Mt. Lemon, warming us. With coffee coursing through our veins warming us on the inside, we stood around the camp stove prepping a hearty breakfast for the ride ahead.
With full bellies, caffeine flowing, our whips ready to ride, we set out to explore Tucson on two wheels!
If you think we won’t ride road or gravel bikes on mountain bike trails, you’re sadly mistaken. Pamela and I had a slight mechanical advantage with our 1x set up and a 10-42 cassette, but the the unknown of what lay ahead is always the equalizer. The unknown quickly became apparent as we traveled down Beehive Canyon, which was littered with sand traps, cactus bushes and trees lining the trails edge, waiting to bite. How does one ride through 100+ yards of loose beach sand? Momentum. Kevin and I were spinning our legs quickly and going nowhere fast. Our heart rates and power were through the roof as we feathered our front wheels through and over the sand. Pamela and Charlotte were equally as successful in traversing the sand and they emerged with big smiles.
Round two of the sand pits was just as heart pounding, leg busting and even a bit prickly. I was doing my best to follow Kevin’s line, lightly steering the front wheel, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a 3’ snake quietly making its way back into the brush. The snake sighting caused me to loose concentration on the task at hand and my front wheel catapulted over the edge of the sand trap and I was stuck doing a pop-a-wheelie, hoping not to teeter into a cholla. I narrowly escaped the painful encounter as my bikes handlebars and front wheel acted as my barrier. After a few moments of recalling how close a call it was and pulling out the spines from my front hoods and a few from my tire, we carried on. I didn’t make a comment about the snake due to Pamela’s extreme phobia of them and I knew it didn’t pose a threat to us or the ride. As I write this and Pamela reads it, this the first she will know of this snake.
We continued on Powerline, zigging and zagging our way over rocks, up and over flash flood washouts to East End Road where, we rode west, on a hard packed and rocklike groad letting us find a rhythm. During our regroup and refuel stop at the end of East End, I did my best to mange the groups expectations of what’s to come on the way back to camp. I said the road should continue to be semi-hard packed and as we get into the park’s north side and trail system we will find some good passable terrain.
So, we headed east to camp. On our way we passed a few mountain bikers and people on ATV’s, all of them gave us a double take as we were on bikes with drop bars. The four of us kept pedaling away and taking in our surroundings. Our backsides received a 6 mile respite as we navigated the paved backboards to Catalina State Park. Once at the park’s boundary, we were greeted by a group of mountain bikers who were enjoying a post ride beer (they kindly offered us one, but we politely declined) and another sandpit gauntlet. The sandpit descended just over two miles to the parks trail system. We made it to the end with a cactus spine count of zero! As we crossed the cattle guard and through the gate leading to the trail head a sign greeted us stating, “OHV and high clearance vehicles only”. The sign didn’t register with us as we’d been riding dirt all day and Google showed the trails in the park as bike paths/trails. Onward and upward we went nimbly finding the best line and thinking of post ride refreshments.
Not to far into our journey up Sutherland Trail, we were doing our best to ride our bikes more than walking/hiking them. The trail took a drastic turn and it was littered with large rocks and boulders, not suitable for even the most skilled amateur mountain biker. My mind drifted to the D2R2 Mystery ride and the miles of impassible/unridable New England jeep trails. As I gauged our distance to the finish (used the offline feather of the Ride with GPS app), I thought the trail would level out and we’d be able to soon mount our whips and glide down the trail to camp….sadly I was grossly mistaken. The remaining 5 miles of our ride was more hike-a-bike than ride. We’d ride for maybe 30 yards, then we’d get off and walk over a few rocks or down a few steps and repeat the process another 10+ times before we were just carrying our bikes down a flight of stairs and day dreaming of riding. The one great reality of the whole journey was that we were all smiles, knowing that we were in it together. Several times we acknowledged that, while the riding was lacking, we knew where we were and there was no one else we would rather endure this with than each other. No complaints, no frustration, no blame, just adventuring together. No amount of hiking our bikes could have ruined the amount of happiness we were felling doing what we love as a group.