One of the biggest benefits of living in Tucson for the winter, aside from the weather, endless supply of tacos, and infinite mountain biking, is that your friends come to visit you to partake in all of the above when they get tired of the weather wherever they’re living.
Months ago, Cat texted that she had a week of vacation and wanted to come down to Tucson. Of course, we offered her the luxurious accommodations of floor space and a sleeping pad.
I’ve spent endless nights at Cat’s place in Durango, either passing through, escaping wintery climates, or as a place to layover between living situations last summer. Waking up in her loft my first morning after finished the Tour Divide to realize I didn’t have to put a dirty, damp chamois on was maybe the best morning of my life. I was excited to start being able to return the favor and show her my new backyard.
She showed up just a few hours after we returned from our bikepacking trip. As tends to happen at the end of any bikepacking, regardless of the length, we had junk everywhere. Par for the course. Luckily, Cat gets stuff like that. We laid out a tentative plan for the week: Ride bikes. Eat good food. Smile at the sun. The rest was just details.
Ride #1 was true backyard: Starr Pass. It’s where Scott first took me last December, it’s where I first take people when they get to Tucson. Robles. Cat Mountain (because it’s Cat, after all), and around the backside of the pass.
A perfect warm up ride for Cat. A perfect try-to-recover-from-bikepacking ride for Scott and I.
We had prior commitments for Saturday in the form of LW and DH showing up sometime mid-afternoon to stay with us for a night and Lee’s birthday party, so we made attempts at getting out for a morning-ish ride. Sweetwater it was for Ride #2, also from the house. We checked out the saguaro that had died from bacterial necrosis on the side of the trail a few weeks back. It was still dead. And still smelly.
We wished farewell to the 2-epic duo the next morning as LW went to embark on a cross AZ ride on her put-put bike, i.e. moto. When I grow up, I want to be like LW.
Ride #3 brought us out to the Torts. No Tour de Tucson mountain biking would be complete without a visit to the Torts.
Como. Ridgeline. Primo.
We tried to time it to be a sunset ride but were 10 minutes too early, watching the sun hit the horizon as we were packing up the car. The days are getting long. Equinox is almost here.
We set out for a girls-only ride for Ride #4. Sahaurita road north on the AZT with a planned ice cream stop at Colossal Caves Ranch. With the AZT on her mind, Cat got to quiz me on all the water sources and I got to tell her about Pete waiting for me at the La Sevilla campground during the race, hoping that I knew where the water faucet was. After a good amount of stumbling around in the dark, we’d finally found it.
We opted for skipping ice cream in exchange for checking out what I refer to as ‘Scott’s section of trail.’ While the trail before and after is smooth and fast, it suddenly changes character and starts going over all sorts of big rocks. No one is ever surprised to hear that Scott laid it out.
We headed back, only the second time ever that I’d ridden that section of trail without stopping for ice cream.
Ride #5 returned to what we all love best: bikepacking. We returned to the area that I love best: The Gila.
We opted for a start at Kelvin with the initial plan being a ride up the fabled artesian spring, then over to the seep, up the Canyons, down the other side, over Orphan Boy, through the 4-wheel drive extravaganza, and then back to Kelvin.
With a less-than-early start, we quickly realized that doing the whole loop would lead to an excess of night riding, which would be fine, except that we were leisure touring. Luckily, I’d had the foresight to toss my wallet into my bag under the idea that we might have to bail to Superior on Day 2 to get water, and if we were in town, we might as well get something yummy with money. With Day 1 rapidly coming to a close, we decided to forego the plan for the second half of our loop, ride all the way to Picket Post, and take the LOST trail into Superior for goodies. I was pretty much a hero for being the only one with money. Superior without money would have been heartbreaking.
The route to the spring was…well, a Scott-special. Hike-a-bike was required. Water was still flowing in the wash from the last storm leading to having to pay attention to keeping feet dry, a rare occurrence in the desert.
As promised, the spring was warm and flowing strong. The Elixir of Life.
We continued on, racing, but not really racing, the impending twilight to get to the seep, a luxurious wet camp for the night.
We made it.
In the morning, we climbed. But climbing in the Gila doesn’t really feel like climbing, even if you’re doing it for the second time in a week.
Lunch at the top was no less special. The view never gets old.
Turns out, the descent never gets old either.
We were in the middle of the final 8 mile stretch of trail when Scott jumps off his bike ahead of us, yelling back, ‘Stop! Stop!’
My initial reaction was, ‘Strange. It’s pretty here, but Scott’s not one to cause a stop in the middle of a flowing downhill section of trail for a photo op.’ (His preferred method is just to descend really fast and get a good gap on me so he can stop and take a picture)
‘Rattler!’ He pointed down to the ground. Sure enough, a beauty of a snake lay basking in the sun.
‘What do we do?’ Cat asked.
‘Take a picture?’ I suggested.
We watched as it hung out in the trail, sticking its tongue out, very aware of our presence. Eventually, it must have gotten bored of being bothered by us and it slithered into its snake-hole just off the trail. Guess it’s officially snake season. Bummer.
We continued on to Picket Post, Snake-dar going off at every root and twig.
Following the LOST (Legends of Superior Trail) towards town, we ran into an archeological crew surveying the ground with metal detectors. We learned that the old wagon trail was scheduled for demolition to put in a 4-lane highway. Guess that’s the end of LOST as well. They had hundreds of flags set up, some of them dug up with pieces of horseshoes and other metal knickknacks laying on the ground. Who knew.
We followed directions in town to a new ice cream shop that we’d heard about. We were joyous about finding it, right up until we saw the sign on the door: Cash only.
‘I have no cash,’ I admitted. And more importantly, no way to get cash. Our hearts sank and we sat pathetically in front of the shop, watching jealously as dozens of people walked in and out of the shop.
‘Well, I guess we just have to go get ice cream sandwiches at the market,’ I declared. So that’s exactly what we did. And you know what? They were pretty much the most delicious ice cream sandwiches we’d ever eaten.
Eventually the meth-heads in town creeped us out enough to send us on our way. On to the highway for 16 miles back to the car. On the way back, I got to officially claim a million point bonus on our Cactus Arm game (every arm growing off an arm is a point) by riding by a cactus with an arm off an arm off an arm. I’d spied it on the drive into Kelvin, but rules of the game state that the cactus must be seen from the bike. Win.
La Casita finished off the day in Mammoth.
Another bikepack. New terrain. New knowledge (bring cash to Superior). New critters (my very first wild rattlesnake sighting). A good day in the 24-hour bikepacking office.
Cat had to leave the following morning. Sadly, we had to stop our Camp Cat, though I think we did a good job of convincing her to come back down for the AZTR in a few weeks. Turns out, the desert is a good place for the soul. Riding. Eating. Smiling at the sun. And drinking wine while eating chocolate wasn’t too bad either.