Thursday, December 31, 2009

AZ Trail: Three Bridges to Colossal Cave

I've heard a lot of praise for the Pistol Hill segment of the Arizona Trail, and it looks like a good ride to combine with errands in Tucson. Amy could drop me at the trailhead and go shopping, then we'd rendezvous later somewhere on Houghton or Old Spanish Trail.

I combined today's recon of the trail with a test run of my new Vivitar wireless shutter release. This gizmo can fire my Olympus SP-550UZ camera from as far as 100 meters away, making it an excellent alternative to the self-timer for putting myself in pictures. Example from today's ride:

Remote-controlled autophotography turns out to be a little more difficult than I imagined. For one thing, a full-sized tripod is a necessity. Using the tiny tabletop 'pod, I had trouble getting the compositions I wanted. Another wrinkle is that it's very difficult to do the kind of dramatic mountain biking that makes a good picture and press the release button at just the right moment. The camera has a rapid multishot mode for this purpose, but it applies an awful lot of unlovely compression in order to buffer all those shots.

I'll get the hang, eventually. And I'll continue to take the occasional picture without me in it.

Ride stats: 14 miles roundtrip with a total of about 2000' climbing. Trail is fun, as advertised, with plenty of swoopy, flowy sections; some rocky climbs; a few wash crossings; and a working water faucet at the La Sevilla picnic area.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Morning Ride: Brown Ice

Anticipating pavement to Fairbank and a smooth-trail ride along the San Pedro River, I removed the big Panaracer knobbies and installed WTB Vulpines on the mountain bike last week. I scrapped the river ride when the weather turned cold, but left the tires on. The Vulpines came with the D440 and I had replaced them with Michelin City tires for commuter duty. They'd been in storage since.

When I set out this morning, I had my doubts as to whether the semi-slick tread would have enough traction for Brown Canyon, but didn't have time to swap them out. As it turned out, the Vulpines were fine on the initial steep climb (7:45 today; a 5-second improvement), and even gripped well on the scabby patches of snow and ice.

I was leery of the ice and kept my speed down and my hands soft on the grips as I crossed it, but the only spot that posed a problem was the steep downhill about midway between the top-of-climb gate and the water trough. The bike slithered badly, so I dismounted and walked it gingerly over the last few feet.

Didn't feel the cold until the descent, and then only in my (gloved) hands. When I got to the ranch, I stopped to rub the chill out of my fingers before the ride home.

Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas Hike

Heard that Carr Road was closed due to snow and ice, so I had to take a look. Parked at the bottom and hiked up.

Less than a mile from parking, the gate was closed at the one-lane bridge. I skated across.

Sunny, southerly exposed sections of the road were completely clear, while some of the shaded parts were covered in several inches of snow and ice.

I had considered biking up the road, but figured I wouldn't make it very far. Somebody else figured otherwise.

The higher I got, the fewer were the tracks in the snow. I stopped at the pullout above Carr Falls to thaw my toes and consider my chances of making The Reef.

Turned out that the next switchback was covered in ankle-deep, powdery snow. No way to keep my feet warm, so I turned back.

If we get more snow, I may return with the bike and try my luck.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Morning Ride: Nicksville

Rode the D440 south on Highway 92 intending to go as far south as I could in a hour, but the road construction at Nicksville has narrowed the pavement to less-than-a-lane. I know when I'm beat, so I U-turned and headed back to the barn. Got 16.9 miles in 1:03.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tuney Glamour Shot

Really loving the little Fuji F200EXR and its unusual sensor modes that let you trade pixels for dynamic range or reduced high-ISO noise. Here's one of the latter (ISO 1600 by window light):

Cobweb Blowout Ride

Rode the Brown Canyon loop this morning while Amy took her new lens-implant eye out for a drive. Two days post-op, her vision is already better, and the surgeon says it will improve further over time. Almost makes cataracts something to look forward to.

On the ride, I reduced my time on the initial climb to 7:50. Recorded the start- and end-point coordinates, allowing the following measurements and calculations:
  • From the Brown Canyon Road entrance to the gate is 0.9mi.
  • In that distance, the road climbs from 5225' to 5565' (net gain of 340').
  • Average grade is 7%; steepest is 13%.
  • Average speed today was 6.9mph, climb rate of 2600'/hour.
I would guess that I'm close to maxed out on climbing speed in the steepest parts, but there's huge room for improvement in the milder grades. A little momentum heading into the final climb wouldn't hurt, either.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Morning Ride: Sierra Vista Loop

Got in a ride just before the wind came up--a lap of town on the D440 road bike. Felt good to work out the last of the niggles and kinks from Friday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Elephant Head MTB Trail Recon

Another piece of the Santa Rita Showdown puzzle falls into place. Parked at the end of the Greaterville Road and biked through Box Canyon to Madera Canyon and around the Elephant Head bike trail to Chino Basin. Roundtrip total of 45 miles with 5500 feet of climbing. The EH trail is slow going; very rocky, particularly near the trailhead and the Chino end. Everytrail track.

Trip Log. I parked at the end of pavement on the Greaterville Road and pedaled along unpaved Box Canyon Road to Madera Canyon. If there's a Hall of Fame for washboard, Box Canyon is in it. Normally I avoid the worst of it by riding the extreme shoulder of the road, but the corrugations somehow extend edge-to-edge on this one. I resorted to scanning for strips of very loose sand or very hard-packed clay and riding those. Fortunately, light traffic on the road allowed me to weave with impunity.

It's mostly downhill from Box Canyon to the paved Madera turnoff, so I made decent time to the trailhead. Easy travel ended soon after the Elephant Head trail began, however. The singletrack portion of the trail is loose and rocky, looser and rockier where it crosses a series of washes. It's also somewhat overgrown, with catclaw branches hanging across the trail to snag sleeves and handlebars.

Shortly after the trail turns south, it widens as it joins a 4WD road. This short passage is sandy, flat and relatively fast. Then the rocks return with a vengeance as the trail enters Chino Basin. At noon, I stopped for lunch at the site of the Elephant Head Mill and then headed back. I would have liked to tag the Mount Hopkins road, but as things turned out, I'm glad I didn't take the additional time.

About a mile from the trailhead, I got a rear-tire flat. Tried pumping it up, hoping to make the fix at a trailhead picnic table, but it wouldn't hold air, so I sat on a trailside rock and swapped in a spare tube. When I got going again and reached the paved Madera Road, I turned south into the canyon in search of water. I had forgotten to pack my bike bottles, and the two-liter Camelbak was almost dry. Fortunately, after a half-mile or so of uphill pedaling, I spotted a water fountain in a picnic area. Unfortunately, the water was turned off. I continued on to the Santa Rita Lodge, where I bought three bottles of water and a can of Coke.

Between the Coke surging through my system and and the windchill of coasting down Madera Canyon, I was shivering by the time I reached bumpy Box Canyon Road. The effort of grinding uphill to regain the 1500 feet I'd lost in the morning warmed me up again, though.

As I get a feel for the various passages of the Showdown route, I'm pretty sure that counterclockwise is the way to go. I'd be going downhill through the worst of the rocky stuff and climbing the relatively smooth passages. Either direction the elevation gain/loss is the same, but it's easier to climb where there's traction.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Better Technique on the Monkey Bars

Monkey bars aren't taken seriously as an exercise apparatus--they're a play structure or a station on a obstacle course; e.g.:

West Pointer navigating the bars.

The cadet is racing the clock, but he's using the inefficient straight-arm technique learned on the playground. He could go a lot faster by recognizing that physics, not fitness, is holding him back.

With his arm extended like that, the cadet's body swings like a pendulum. Like a pendulum, his swing has a natural period that is dependent on body length and mostly independent of effort. So a would-be monkey who uses the straight-arm technique faces a natural limit on maximum speed; about all he can do to improve his speed is to transfer from one rung to the next as smoothly as possible, or skip rungs, which is impermissible in timed obstacle course runs.

What's the alternative? I use a bent-arm technique that eliminates the swing, substituting a rapid grip-and-pull motion for propulsion:

That's my backyard monkey-bar installation and the video is from a portion of my regular routine. Monkey bars are a nice alternative to ordinary pullups, providing a workout with more variety, less repetitive-motion injury, and more fun.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Steep, Loose and Chunky II

Revisited the SL&C area for more practice climbing the slippery slope. Made seven ascents from the Y at the bottom of the loop. Kept losing traction in a particular spot where I'd veer right in a vain attempt to put my tires on a couple of large rocks; islands of grip in a gravel sea. What I discovered on the seventh run was that there's a tiny strip of decent traction on the righthand edge. D'oh!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sweetwater Trail Drama

As the trail approached the crest of a low, rocky hill, I caught sight of a biker sprawled trailside, talking on his cell phone. It wasn't until I pulled alongside that I had the what's-wrong-with-this-picture moment; he was pale and grimacing, and his right leg was turned at an unnatural angle. He (Ron) was talking with the 911 operator.

I went back to the trailhead to meet the paramedics. In a few minutes--less than the ten predicted by 911--a Northwest fire truck, ambulance and rescue truck rolled up. I gave the medics directions, and they hiked out. They didn't need much more than "south, sharp left, up the hill, near the top" since several of them ride the trail.

Just then Ron's wife Sharon arrived. She's also a mountain biker, and knew exactly where Ron had fallen. "Fallen" rather than "crashed," because it appeared that Ron went down in a turn as opposed to careening off the trail. I felt an additional pang of sympathy for the guy--he got a broken leg and no wild tale to go with it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Ride: Stationary Bike (and Monkey Bars)

Cold, drizzly weather nixed my Sunday-morning bike ride, so I burned off breakfast on the stationary bike followed by a few sets on the monkey bars and dip station. Planning to post video of my monkey skills soon; in the meantime, a snap of my jungle gym:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bull Springs Trail (FR143) Recon

Just posted the tracklog of my bike recon of FR143 over at Everytrail. Parts of this trail are spectacularly fast, like the passage through Salero Ranch (pic), and parts are dismally slow, like the rocky stuff north of Alto. For purposes of the Santa Rita Showdown, north-to-south is probably the way to go.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Interesting Tracklog Site: Geoladders

Stumbled across this site: It combines the route/tour aspects of everytrail with an interesting virtual-race concept. Most of the content is in California, but there's a nice entry for Charouleau Gap.

Cool Tools for GPX files

I use GPSBabel for most GPS file conversion/downloading jobs, but I've recently started experimenting with a couple of web-hosted converters:
  • GPSVisualizer graphs data extracted from tracklogs; converts GPX, KML and text-format files; generates user-defined maps; generates coordinates from street addresses (and vice versa); and allows sketching directly on a map to generate GPX files of waypoints and routes. That last capability is way cool because it permits instant switching between USGS topos, Google terrain vectors, street maps, and aerial/satellite imagery. 
  • GPSies convert page accepts tracklogs (or lists of coordinates) and converts them to routes in a variety of formats. Its outstanding feature is the refined way it handles route simplification: Instead of just dropping waypoints, it apparently recalculates the shape of the path and sequentially numbers the newly generated points. GPSBabel's simplified routes have gaps in waypoint numbering (e.g., RPT046, RPT051, RPT053, RPT054, RPT060) that can be confusing on the trail.
Just this morning I dumped a tracklog from everytrail into the GPSies converter and created a much-simplified route, cutting a couple hundred trackpoints to just 30 route points. Superimposed 'em on the map and got a very satisfactory match. Nice. Just in time for my Bull Springs exploration.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Skill Session: Steep, Loose and Chunky

Took the mountain bike out to Brown Canyon to work on a section of the trail I usually avoid: the portion overlooking (SSW of) the old Barchas Ranch. Approaching from the trailhead, the trail divides into two paths that converge at the top, forming a squashed teardrop shape. Both are only medium-steep; it's the loose, rocky trail surface that makes them tough to climb. The usual full-suspension MTB technique would be to shift into a granny gear, stay on the seat and pedal smoothly. My D460 has neither suspension nor a granny ring, so that's out.

When I've previously attempted this kind of climb, I've usually stuck with my tried-and-true climbing method: middle gear, standing on the pedals. The problem is that even a momentary loss of traction kills my momentum and causes a stall. Once that happens, it's very difficult to get the bike moving again. I often just shrug and push it to the top.

Today, I experimented with lower gears and semi-seated pedaling. With the shifter at "1" (32T front, 33 rear) and a steady cadence I found I could clear the hill without much trouble. I experimented with various body positions and found a slightly out-of-the-seat crouch that suited me. Made about a dozen runs up the hill, tweaking my technique each time. After less than an hour, I felt I had gotten what I came for, so I quit while I was ahead--not tired, still improving. I'll return, maybe Sunday, for another round. If I can get really proficient at this, it'll cut considerable hike-a-bike off my longer explorations.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Morning Ride: Brown Canyon

Highlights: Despite a couple of minor bobbles, cut climbing time to 8:05, a 10-second improvement over last trip. Brought along the little Fuji F200EXR camera and shot a few pictures to add to the everytrail posting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Carr Road to Reef Campground

Virus Watch. Maybe it's not as bad as the seasonal flu, but the H1N1 "swine" variety is nasty. Amy started showing symptoms on Tuesday and began taking Tamiflu on Wednesday morning. Despite the medication, which is supposed to ease/shorten the illness, she's had intermittent fever, joint aches, chills, shivers, painful swollen glands and wicked hangover-style headaches. Don't catch this bug.

With a wobbly patient at home, I put my original plan--a recon of the Bull Springs passage of the Santa Rita Showdown--on hold. Instead, I took a quick exercise ride on the D460 up the Carr Canyon road to the Reef campground. This ride is an almost-continuous climb of about 1900' in the space of less than 5 miles.

Early in the ride, I noticed that the Forest Service has already put up the 'icy road' signs, a reminder that the upper reaches of the road will soon be unfit to ride until spring.

The grade is fairly consistent, and most of the way I was standing on the pedals in 32x21 (fourth gear on the nine-speed drivetrain). If I'm careful not to get too frisky, I can maintain this pace all day long. My usual pattern is to take a quick breather and a drink of water at the John Cooper trailhead, which marks the halfway point in elevation gain. I felt strong enough this time to skip it, but I did hop off for a gulp of water after the final switchback, about the 4-mile mark. This shows on the everytrail graph as a dip in speed to 3mph, since I continued to push the bike while I drank.

I arrived at the Reef in 51 minutes and change--a 2-minute improvement over my previous best time. Not huge, but I'll take what I can get.

Got a kick out of this carving in a picnic table at the top:

Now, the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is: Am I doomed to get the swine flu, too? If so, I suppose the picnic-table advice will come in handy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Morning Ride: Ramsey Intervals

Highlights: Cold morning, about 48° when I left the house around 9a.m. Took the road bike (D440, "City" tires) up to Ramsey Canyon to ride the rise from the Brown Canyon trailhead to the turnaround. Practiced standing climbs. Used middle gear (4) on steeper portions and went for a smooth, steady climb staying below aerobic threshold. Coasting back to the starting point is fun on the slick tires--hit 35+ mph without pedaling.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Picacho Geocache Maintenance

My previous best time up the Hunter Trail to the summit of Picacho Peak was 45 minutes, so I was pleased to see that I made it in 42 on today's hike. I had to haul a new ammo box up to replace Geocache GCC5D6, which had gone missing. Thought I might have really creamed the old record, because the GPS showed an elapsed time of 37 minutes, but I discovered I'd set the field to moving time rather than total. I squandered the extra five minutes in a futile effort to get a decent trail picture on a dreary day. E.g.:

While I was in the neighborhood, I dropped by my other Picacho cache, GCC5E1, which was intact but in need of a new logbook. I decided to repackage it in an ammo can, too. It's only a mile from the Sunset trailhead to the cache, but in contrast to the peak, it's slow going. Lots of slippery scree. There's a half-fast trail out that way, but it's not that much better than bushwhacking. At least I made the trip without pitching face-first into any of these guys:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sunday Morning Ride: Brown Canyon Trail

Sunday morning mountain bike ride:

Highlights: Ideal weather; decent climb (8:15) from the mailboxes to the gate at 5600'/0.8mi; rolled the rocky sections without once chocking the front wheel; and saw a man-woman pair of hunters carrying a small buck out of the woods.

Route Planning: "Santa Rita Showdown"

The Santa Rita Showdown mountain-bike challenge is intriguing: an 80-mile road/trail circumnavigation of the Santa Rita mountain range. The page displays a large-scale, low-detail map. I was able to fill in a small part of the course using the GPS tracklog from last week's ride on the AZ trail. Studying topos and scavenging tracklogs from, I've nailed down the rest. Starting in Patagonia and working counter-clockwise, the route looks like this:
  • Highway 82 northeast, leaving pavement at Hog Canyon
  • Hog Canyon northwest to Gardner Canyon
  • AZ Trail north to Box Canyon Road
  • West, then south to Madera Canyon
  • Elephant Head trail to Agua Caliente Canyon
  • Bull Springs trail to Patagonia
The original trio of riders completed the route in 13:18 total time, riding dark-to-dark on a cold January day. There don't appear to be any other takers. Hmm.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gardner Canyon AZ Trail Loop

Best-laid plans. Enroute to Patagonia to ride the Harshaw loop, an oncoming gravel truck launched a rock into my windshield, spraying tiny shards of glass and startling the hell out of me. Rattled, I continued on to Sonoita, only to find that chip-sealing operations had narrowed highway 82 to alternating single-lane traffic (with a 20-minute delay), so I turned north to Gardner Canyon. Always wanted to ride the Arizona Trail north from Kentucky Camp anyhow.

Map your trip with EveryTrail

Route-finding was easy, thanks to the AZT stickers on the signs at every intersection. Still managed to miss the transition from Jeep trail to singletrack; the flub is visible as a little out-and-back excursion at the western end of my GPS track. 

Singletrack is not my specialty; I'm more of a dirt-roadie, but I did my best on the loose, rocky terrain. Dabbed a foot pretty often to avoid dabbing my head, and discovered a curious mechanism: the ass-kicking machine. On a steep descent I ended up stopped, straddling the bike. Front wheel was locked, but I was still slipping downhill. Every time I did so, the rear wheel would come off the ground, jabbing the nose of the seat into the small of my back. Happened about a dozen times in quick succession, forcing me to release the brakes, hop on and hope for the best. 

The last mile before Box Canyon Road was mostly smooth, punctuated with recently installed, nicely hoppable water bars. The short section of dirt road was badly corrugated, causing a dropped chain. Soon after, I was on pavement for a quick spin back to the Jeep. 

What I'm doing here. Geocaching has gotten me accustomed to keeping a diary of my weekly hikes and bike trips in the form of cache logs. As I've reduced my caching activity, I've started to miss the diarizing, so I've decided to mash together a blog with an everytrail account to take up the slack. Future entries will have more pictures!