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.