[edit - clicky on the pics for full view. They're hosted by photobucket and are cropped funky]
Since I don't really know where to start, I guess I will start at the beginning. My wife's 2 brothers live in Phoenix and one of them recently bought a house. It went something like this. "Dave, want to go to Phoenix for Chrismas this year?" "No." "hmmm, hey Dave, want to go to Phoenix for Christmas?" "No." "We'll drive - you should bring your bike." "Ok. We should go to Phoenix for Christmas after all. Great idea." I was in!
We packed up the kids and the car to make the long, long, long trek to the AZ desert. We were left the day after our very successful 1st Ever Redstone Cyclery White Elephant 6 Pack Exchange (in which, I thought it was implicit that it would be a 6 pack of alcoholic beer but I guess I'll have to be more explicit next time). Clay! **cough, cough** Anyway...
The drive was shaping up to be exciting, especially given that the worst storm so far this winter was pounding everything from the southwest to the midwest. The drive ended up being not so bad once we got past Glenwood Canyon. A few sketchy bits in southern UT and we were good to go. Funny thing driving across the desert - there was snow on the ground the ENTIRE way until we dropped into the desert after leaving Flagstaff. But enough of that, on to the good stuff. Day one and the family took off for something leaving me alone at Uncle James' house with the girls. I peered over his concrete block "fence" and saw and empty lot and a Walmart in one direction. In the other direction, I see South Mountain!
S. Mountain is the largest municipal park in the country. City of Phoenix owns and maintains this 18,000 acre monster. Just how big is it, you ask? Well, it's damn big and what you see here is just barely a little bit of it. South Mountain is more like a complex of desert mountains rising up from the Valley of the Sun. I would later find that Uncle James' house is much like having a ski in/ski out condo at the base of a mountain. :)
After the family returned from errand running, it would be time to check out the trails. But first, some bike cleaning was in order. 15+ hours driving on gunky roads does not equal a beautiful ready to ride bike.
You could imagine what the rest of it looked like.
Finally, ride time! The Mormon Trail, or 24th St as it's locally known was the closest trailhead. It was recommended to me by locals to not try to climb Mormon. As my wife would say, though, I am not a good listener. It was hard as hell, but a great climb nonetheless. I walked quite a bit climbing up this technical beast of a trail.
My plan was to hit National Trail - a trail at S Mt that is ironically nationally known to be quite good.
It was. I rode it as an out and back as I didn't really know what to expect for time and effort and all that good stuff. Last thing I wanted to be was late getting back to the inlaws on Christmas Eve. That could have a suboptimal impact on my riding other days in Phoenix. The return trip included riding (and cleaning) the infamous "Waterfall on National Trail."
Definitely mind over matter, even though I took one of the easier lines. Later down the trail, not knowing the line, I left a little Stan's on the trail in a super chunky section that left me gasping for air as well as needing to reinflate my majorly burped (but still sealed) tire. Back down Mormon trail did not dissapoint. It was techy going down. I think I walked 5 times in the superchunk.
Day 2, Christmas Day. Up Mormon again, but this time my plan was to climb National a ways and drop down the "backside" of the mountain, loop back around a swoopy trail called Desert Classic, then up the frontside and back down Mormon. That was a good day. I was able to climb a little more of Mormon than the day before.
National is a good climb, too. I ran in to a Flagstaff guy escaping the snow as well. Here's a shot of him hitting the waterfall, just to give it different perspective. It was a super sweet section of tricky trail.
Thankfully, some locals provided me with a user GPSed map of South Mountain that included some trails that weren't exactly authorized by City o Phoenix. I can see why. Old Man was steeper than shite and full of loose shale and Cactus. Old Man was the type of trail that you could tell where it started, but there were no bike tracks. I picked up my bike and hiked in to preserve its authenticity ;)
It turned out to be one of my favorite trails there, until I sliced my front tire on a rock and sent Stan's spewing in every direction. I can definitely see the need for riding something beefier than a single ply tire in this terrain.
I booted the tire and used one of my 2 tubes. I walked a lot down the rest of the descent because I didn't want to burn thru all of my tubes in one ride. It would make a super long walk home, too. It turned out to be a long ride home anyway. Desert Classic was ok. Lots of pedaling in and out of desert washes with moderate up and down. Lots of pedaling. Good connector, but nothing I'd go out of my way for. The rest of the ride was good. This time, I only had to walk 3 times coming down Mormon :)
Day 3 of riding was the best, the day after Christmas. Steve-O from Smoken Spokes and part of the AZ Freeride collective was running the shuttle on South Mountain. I hooked up with Durtgurl, a local friend of a friend, to run some shuttles and see some of South Mountains finer descents.
They looked at me kinda funny since they all had big dh bikes, full faced helmets, and body armor. I had on my normal get up - baggies, jersey, XC helmet. They especially looked at me funny when I declined the offer of extra armor. I told them that if I wasn't confident, I'd walk, no worries. More funny looks. There's a write up of the day on mtbr here. We made 4 runs that day. To be completely honest, I was glad to be on my Snyper. One of the trails would've been more fun on a dh bike, but the rest involved lots of pedaling. We started on Geronimo. That was a full speed, moderately technical hoot all the way to the bottom. Next up, we rode down National to an unmarked trail, 32nd street. I loved 32nd. It was a lot like North Sheep Mountain but without the trees or the fun swoopy stuff. Steep, channeled out and lots of shale rock. fun. Holbert Trail was probaby the toughest and would've been more enjoyable on a bigger bike. The upper section was smoove and swoopy, but the middle section:
and the lower section were uber gnarly. Really fun stuff. I would've walked quite a bit riding solo but I was fortunate to be following some skilled riders that knew the line. I was able to clean everything, dabbing only twice when riders in front of me got hung up. On the last run, we rode down National and out on Mormon/24th Street. This time down Mormon, I only walked once and dabbed 2 other times - sweet! Next time I'm out, I'll clean that mofo. Shuttling was good. I'm a downhiller now brah. Special thanks to Kathleen for the good hookup and personal tour guiding!
Day 4 - 2 days after the mega day of shuttling, I snuck out for a little ride. I had to say goodbye to South Mountain. I rode out the bike path to the main trailhead complex of the area. I climbed Javelina
(great climb, by the way) and made my way to another unmapped or unmarked trail that I had heard about on shuttle day. It was pretty easy to find. Steep, too. A lot like the 32nd street run but a little shorter and not quite as enjoyable.
There were some fun chunky sections, though...
I stopped close to the bottom to reflect. Life was good. Christmas trip was good. South Mountain was good. And the location of James' house was especially good!
One last reflection from this road tripper. Even though a bigger bike would've been fun on a couple of descents, I was incredibly, thoroughly impressed with my Tomac Snyper 140. It doesn't have the most sophisticated suspension in the world, but it rides so damn good in about every arena.
To say I'm please would be a complete understatement. This bike was the bees knees. Johnny Tomac knows how to make a bike handle like nobodies business. I beat the shit out of this bike and came thru with nary a scratch. Well, there was that sliced tire. Oh, and a bent der hanger. Oh yeah, broken spoke, too. The desert riding is harsh on equipment down here but the Tomac was super solid. Super duper solid.
The riding at South Mountain in Phoenix was also super duper solid. I'll be back. Next time, though, I think I'll have to nab the car for a day to check out some other riding areas around Phoenix. The escape to the Valley of the Sun was just what the doctor ordered. Now, if we can get the doctor to order away all of this snow around Lyons, we'll be set!