Big dumb rides represent an antithesis to the norm and they are addictive as hell. We had a mild shitfest© on our hands through competent planning… a voluntary embrace of discomfort and exploration beyond any tether. We welcomed it. We were headed for the Verde River again. The tally shown two days of (pre winter) 90 degree temps followed by an exceptional and seemingly elusive pre-dawn rain shower in the highlands of Northern Sonora. The mileage ranged from 118 on the short stick, to somewhere around 200 of roundabouting on the other. We never made our destination of the Verde Hot Springs, but in light of the educational value of intuitive navigation in the Vast©, the next run will not be lacking in this regard. Nonetheless, all of this experience added up to living life to its fullest. There was trepidation, elation, unwarranted choices, good choices, discomfort, some regret and ultimately, time well spent with good people in a good place. It was all very fabulous Arizona riding, as it usually is. Things were learn, as usually the are. And when will the next one be, as it usually goes…
Our departure on Thursday evening for this three day tour was not unlike a typical Thursday night ride (ThNR©®). We pedaled out of the city at dusk. This is a fortunate situation in the Nation’s fifth largest city where the fact remains it can be escaped by bike in little time. The only difference being that this was no single-evening tour. We would all be skipping Friday workpay for the needed riches of uncivilized wanderings in the Vast®. Kits were packed. Inaugural beers cracked, and the Grand Departe was officially underway by 7pm. Hunter was a last minute arrival. Having established himself as a young gun in the local pro realm, I had no concern of his ability, and neither did he. Hunter arrived with pink plastic platform pedals, Vans, and a set of cut-off girl pants as his kit. He was atop a Vassago ti gravel grinder. Upon this, I had a vague suspicion he would have no trouble leading us into the pain cave. He was tanned and rested.
After a brief stop for donuts, in little time we had arrived at the boundary of the Vast® where the wandering would be legitimized. We descended into the darkness on the remaining pavement leading out of the city, to have the soft crush of granite and the rattle of washboard welcome us completely into our idea. This was the threshold we’d been wanting for. everything was official now. The sky grew dark as the city glow faded behind us. The apparition of the Milky Way came into distinct form overhead. Our first wrong turn would happen miles later. That wrong turn landed us at a random and somewhat extinct campground around 1am. Things were going well, and in the morning, the view we had no knowledge of the night prior would indicate to us bountiful fields of pleasurable riding were at hand. Right?
The fundamental emotional key of bike riding is stoke. There can’t be any question to this. The fact of the effort is that there is enough pain to go around. Therefore, Stoke is a requisite. It is needed for the wandering, the roll, and for the friends. In fact it is a life essence: Stoke is needed to be alive. Thus, it is a luxury to the burden of life to be able to set up a bike with select gear, and with a little haste get out and cover great distances otherwise neglected by common travel. To do so is to ride with Stoke. The elation of such ability is substantial. It keeps one coming back for more.
The learning begins with this lust for escape and the devil being in the details, every choice comes into play as a factor of satiety (metaphorically and figuratively). As a rider on a multi day self supported tour, Want not Waste Not is an absolute truth. In essence that means all the beers that one can carry, one gets to drink. To that, there is no value that can be applied.
The night kicked ass but for the bugs. There is no proof but a memory now. The recent deluge across the Sonoran territories was a boon to the insect population. They were getting it on in droves apparently. 50 miles deep, and there was no escaping the whizzing wings until the early morning temps of high 60˚f warded them off. We awoke to delicious coffee and grand views. As the Sun rose, our stoke to pedal would come online. Our journey was our destination and we had arrived to it’s finest moments. We savored it. The last significant man made thing was horseshoe dam. It is an ominous structure in such a remote pocket of the world.
Subsequent to the base of the first climb, we would traverse 12 miles of valley floor with heavily greened desert flora from the recent rains. The undulations across the lowlands of the Horseshoe delta would require surprising effort. This is always the case. Desert floors hide their secret jagged & abrubt nature well. It all looks so flat until you are in the minutia of it. Up and down through large arroyos and buttes weathered over millennia, we would arrive at Sheep Bridge to filter water for the day while taking a moment to prepare for the onslaught of the ascent into Bloody Basin.
The affliction of the Verde river is the common attraction of a rather non-disparate folk to its banks. They are white trash and their prevalence has been striking nearly every time I have visited. This causes me a moment of introspection to the degree of my bigotry, but it is without hesitation that I snap out of my self condemnation to say, indeed, they suck whether it be of their own agenda or unknown. That, and I must maintain a baseline of my own reason. I want the unadulterated fidelity of nature to be the only thing I see and hear, but that is never case. These whiskey tango exceptions, during times of odd heat such as that which we were in for these days, are nonsensical. They set ablaze bon fires in the mid day while heaving mega-speakered stereophonics of METAL and HOUSE from their trucks. For the music, I have an affinity. For the conduct of the people, I am typically dismayed. They attempt to drag any wayward traveler into their personal hell as all the distraction they bring into the wilderness does nothing to curb the boredom that persists in them. Here’s to knowing thyself. The unfortunate are so deeply confused and ignorant, however, that they cannot see what traps them. I digress. This kind of humanity can and often does ruin the solitude, yet given our mid morning arrival at Sheep Bridge, the tempo of the one Tango clan member there, was that of love… love for his dog Eddy, to which, every moment of silent nature was broken by the call of “Eddy!” Eddy!, come on boy, get over here.. The poor dog couldn’t swim, he was a fresh one, and his owner wanted nothing but for Eddy to swim to him, and remove the anxiety of being with only himself. This deeply lessened the value of where we were, there on the Verde, an otherwise beautiful and serene place. But a place never too far removed from strange times.
It’s an odd feeling to stumble on a machete where a machete has no viable reason to be. Perhaps it did though. Perhaps there was a team of reed clearing do-gooders out here at Sheep Bridge clearing the way to the more illusive hot springs of the area. I can’t know, but the uncertainty of seeing a rusted machete with a rough hewn bolted handled, and it causes one to scan the area no matter how rusted. The area clear but for Eddy’s master upriver, the bad mojo vibe had me entranced and I did reach out and pick it up like a rotten apple. The handle was scalding from the midday sun. It was damp with the moisture of the sandy beach it lay upon. There was nothing viable to it. Nothing about it was interesting. Its existence was superficial and for me, a conjure of pure horror. Putting it back down, I had enveloped all the bad mojo that I could sense, and I have yet to know why I taunt such superstition. I let it pass, and we headed on toward our climb.
Over 3 hours we ascended the souther rim of Bloody basin for 11 miles. That is a long trudge. Something that needs to be tempered with AZPS type pacing, however given the haste of a 3 day goal, hunter and myself arrived to the grand tree of shade an hour prior to Gordon who was having cell phone issues. All of us had taken a bow to the supremacy of the previous 11 miles of 20+% grade dirt road. Maximum wattage and gear range had extended as best it could the power of our frailty. Hunter and I rested heartily. An hour later Gordon arrived. The split was imminent.
This is where the idea of associative rides becomes tricky. Who are you with? What do you know of them? how much do they matter? Rested and eager, when Gordon arrived, Hunter and self saddled up expecting that we we’re all ready. but Gordon was down for the count, as we had been earlier. The onslaught from the river to this tree had been a minor hell. Still, the impatience was palpable and the choice was made that Hunter and self would carry on toward the hot springs while Gordon would go solo for the rest of the experience. This was an unfortunate thing in my mind yet I was the one who had instigated it. The fact is, that even though the terrain alone is good company, it is the quality of the people with whom one share’s in it, that truly matters. So while this choice didn’t amount to anything devastating, it meant a man was left behind and in the parlance of these extremes, the lesson has been learned that to leave a man is to disregard an implied oath. We wouldn’t see Gordon again, and in front of us, more miles of Bloody Basin.
In the entanglement of guilt for leaving, and the desire to see our destination, we made way west up Bloody Basin passing our northern turn off by 4+ miles of ascending in mistake. Omen. That much deeper into the day, we returned to head north on the proper route. Time and calories became paramount. Hunter was up the road, as he’d been all day. The contemplations were sincere. What lay ahead was full commitment with severe probability of heavy risk. Fear welled atop the bad omen of leaving Gordon under the tree. Six hundred calories for the next 24 hours and 100 miles. I’d surveyed the land and it was ripe with foreboding. Some switchbacks up, I yelled toward the slight & bound figure of Hunter cresting another butte. From this, I knew there were hours left and uncertain about exactly what that might mean, and on those thoughts, I decided to bow out. This is a first. It might have been 3 hours more to the springs, and a long day back, but it didn’t matter. I’d left Gordon at the tree, and we were in the middle of Bloody Basin without absolutely proper resources. Everything began to matter. We turned, somewhat dismayed, and pedaled south.
The rest of the ride became a formality on a failed mission. Stoke was suppressed for a day, as if all we came to see, we misseed. But that wasn’t the fact. we were seeing everything, and the adventure was high quality. Still, having no pressure, it was good to head towards home with the assurance of decent, respectable suffering. This is always the flux in play on these long rides; a lust for the adventure, and a love for the return. We would bench out and camp in the low clouds that night, with 50 miles remaining. Our return to town was a lazy one, with our last filter session at Seven Springs Campground – a now defunct yet completely awesome oasis in the hills north of Phoenix. This is also slated to be the host location of Single Speed Arizona this year as well. If the trails are primed, it will be primed.
As we fell into Phoenix from the north, it only made sense that a proper meal should be had in Cave Creek before returning to the regularity of city life. We stopped by Kaolin’s Flat Tire Bike shop for pizza and beer. Trek was having their demo. People were stoked. It was like we hadn’t been gone.
Kaolin served up a few beers and some pizza to top us off. A squall rolled in from the west. We pedaled the remaining 12 miles through a deluge that was nearly incomprehensible. I called Gordon the following day. His solo ride was splendid, as was ours. That was the end of that. And so it goes. Until the next one…