Zen On Dirt

Big runs, big rides


I had planned on doing a long run from our Scamp site in the Rincon Valley to see how the legs would hold up to some level of milage. But when I woke up with a sore shin (I hate the fact that I can’t run forever. I can ride forever, why can’t I run forever without injury? These are the great injustices of life.) I put the long run plans on the back burner.

Instead, we packed up the Scamp to move it closer to Tucson for a handful of days so that we could partake in some Tucson-based activities. It was also going to cool down for a few days, and there’s no better place to be than Tucson when it’s cool out. We ended up at our favorite site at the Gilbert Ray campground which gives sweeping views from one end of the Tucson Mountains to the other. It’s also easy to back into so that I don’t make a complete ass of myself backing a trailer.

‘Hey Scott,’ I said after we’d set the Scampy up. ‘What would the milage estimate be if I started running at Ajo Highway, went up Cat Mountain Trail, over Krein, over Golden Gate Pass, over Brown Mountain, up to the top of Wasson, and then down to the parking lot in the National Park?’ Basically, a south to north traverse of the Tucson Mountains.

I looked far down south to where I could see Cat Mountain poking up to the north where Wasson towered as the high-point of the range.

’21 miles,’ Scott said after some Topofusioning.

‘Could you run my shuttle tomorrow? I would love you forever and ever.’

‘Sure.’ Scott was skeptical. It was a big run, but the temperatures were supposed to cool down, and I’d end up running right by the Scamp halfway through the route, which would provide an easy bail-out option if needed.

But the first order of business was an afternoon ride on the Trail of Tears, aptly named (by me and Shannon) because we know multiple people who’ve ended up in tears on it (as in, both of us). With some skills, it’s really not so bad. It’s just Tucson.


The following morning, Scott drove me to the trailhead off of Ajo.

‘Just don’t go for any Strava times,’ he advised. ‘You’ll be fine.’

Based on the amount of puttering I’d done before I’d gotten into the car, I was more than a little nervous.

I started nice and steady up Cat Mountain Trail. Easy-peasy.


When I’d asked Scott how to find Krein Trail, he’d hold me to look for the offshoot that was more rubble than trail. He wasn’t lying.


Top of Krein panorama! To the left, Cat Mountain. To the right, Golden Gate and Bushmill Mountain with Golden Gate Pass going through the middle.


Golden Gate was much easier on foot than on a bike and I started down the easy powerline road on the far side of Gates Pass Road thinking that thus far, I was definitely faster on foot than I would have been on a bike.

These were the types of routes I was looking for…where foot travel really was more efficient than bike. Give me a smooth trail, I’d much rather roll over on wheels.

I cruised into the Scamp, 9 miles into the route in two hours. Scott, genius that he is, had bought me a sodie-pop. Carbonated sugar tastes sooooo good on hot days, it’s outrageous. I made a point of filling up water, drinking the soda, and getting out of there as quickly as possible. I had momentum on my side, and I didn’t want to kill it.


Up and over Brown Mountain, the Gilbert Ray backyard trail.


A miserable quarter mile of pavement connected the picnic area with the Kings Canyon Trailhead. It was, by far, the hardest part of the run.

Then up Wasson, just like every time before, except a little bit slower, with a little more hiking. But I was going to make it! I just had to get down the other side.


I spent a few minutes at the top, texted Scott that I was headed down with six miles to go, and looked back south to Cat Mountain. Dang, that was a long way.

I took a new trail down to the road. It was filled with giant steps, that after 1,500 feet of down started to wear on me. I passed the sign that said 2.7 miles. I started passing people who looked like they wouldn’t stray far from a car. I nearly ran right into Scott who’d hiked partway up the trail and was taking pictures.


‘You made it!’ He exclaimed.

‘I did!’

After 21 miles and no Strava QOMs, I was a little bit wobbly on my feet and ready to drink as much soda as I could, but I’d finally done a watered-down version of a traverse that I’ve been thinking of for a long time.

Next time, there’ll be summits of Cat Mountain, Golden Gate, Bushmill, and Brown, but that’ll add several hours to an already long run. Next year.

I ate well and slept well that night.

Good thing, because we had a ride date planned in the Tortolitas the next day.

But first, we stopped at Sweetwater to look at birds.

The Black and White Warbler is always a rare treat.


And we even got to watch a bobcat search for birds for lunch.


Then on to the ride…which we were only 15 minutes late to.

There were rocks to play on.


Spokes to break.


Snakes to scream at.


Lunch to eat on rocks.


In the end, we all bailed on the full planned ride, claiming fatigue, tapering, and an intense need for In and Out Burgers and shakes.

With the temperatures forecasted to rise the next day, we said our goodbyes. There were migrating birds to see and cool temperatures in the mountains to embrace. The Scamp was on the move again!



3 thoughts on “Big runs, big rides

  1. “Snakes to scream at” made me laugh aloud.

    Way to go on your Tucson Mountains traverse!

  2. This was so much fun to read! Thanks!

  3. I’m really enjoying the introduction to all your furry, feathered and scaly neighbors. So many new friends to make, and great shots of them, too!

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