I remember this ride well. It is a cornerstone of sorts for what I seek in cycling adventure. It was originally published on December 15th, 2008 for drunkcyclist.com. It was close to 200 miles in all. About half dirt and about half uphill as it went. I’m not sure what the kids are copyrighting this type of ride these days, but it was a mix of dirt and pavement laid across long and lonely roads.
After a lazy mid-day start in Flagstaff, I pedaled down Lake Mary road to arrive in Strawberry two hours past due, six hours into the remains of the day. The sun was on the wane, yet my ambition was not. I grabbed coffee and a plate of french fries to-go from a local diner, and got back on the road. Indeed, I was tired, but the allure of the unknown kept me going. The point of these experiences is to see what limits are out there anyway, right? I descended a very surreal “Burtonian” dirt road off of the massive canyon that separates Fossil Creek and the Verde river from the rest of the world. The destination I had in mind for the night was the extinct power plant establishment of Childs on northern side of the Verde river.
The road is cut out from the canyon cliffside and is a common route for tango-trash and wilderness buffs to descend on the Verde. The terrain is incredibly rugged. Without lights, I was riding into an abyss along the faint glow of a dirt road illuminated by moonlight. The glowing haze of the Irving power plant, upriver from Childs on Fossil Creek loomed off my right shoulder, far below. With the vague outline of a dirt road, and a goal of reaching Childs, as probability would have it, I missed the turn through the darkness. Instead, long, dark and silent climbs flowed into long black descents until miles later the lights of Camp Verde, Cottonwood and Jerome came into view, far off in the distance. I was far from where I wanted to be, but at last, it was the end of my effort for the day. I spent that night hidden under a Juniper off the side of the road staring off towards the lights to the west until I fell asleep.
120 miles down by morning, I back-tracked to Childs as originally planned. Arriving there half way into the second day, I had lost precious time. The grand idea was to cross the verde river at Childs and continue south on various jeep roads through Bloody Basin, eventually making it to Phoenix. I gave myself a narrow window of 3.5 days to make this happen. Due to the errant routing of the night before, I was too far down on time and my want of uncharted wandering was up against the truth of exhaustion and time. Still, I walked a yard into the freezing Verde not sure what the choice should be. There, freezing, I looked at the 60 yards left yet to cross, and the massive unknown terrain that lay ahead, and I knew then that I was to quietly bow out. I spent the rest of the day lounging in the warmth of the hot springs. The next day would be as hard as the first.
That evening, the weather turned, bringing on more questioning. Soon after lying down with the sun, I felt the beginnings of the storm with subtle drops of rain. The gusts soon followed. Earlier in the day, I noted an option for circumstances such as these. My reluctance to use it vanished as the rain & wind evolved into storm and deluge. Through a cut gap in the fence of the now defunct Childs hydro-electric Power plant, enough of an overhanging roof remained and concrete walkway remained. I would hunker down for the night, atop the foundation of Arizona’s eerie history.
The plant sits on top of three canals that are now dry. Their dead travertine leading out to the Verde. They are one of few things remaining after the decommissioning of Childs in the late 90’s. What remains is tagged, smashed, bent or burned proper white trash style. Nothing left to decay honorably. I peered through a welded strap steel door barrier, through a broken portal window to see a podium illuminated by ambient light in the center of a large room. A dull green wall, full of gauges top to bottom, stood just beyond the podium. I imagined whomever, standing there every day, jotting down the numbers, drinking coffee, contemplating nothing. Monitoring, then clocking out for the day. I half expected some horrifying face to come screaming at me from the other side of that jagged glass portal. With the storm, the setting was ripe for creepy thoughts, and there wasn’t a soul around. nobody knew I was there. Outside, on the front walkway of the power station, where I would sleep, I found aged spiral bound annual charts and log sheets from the days of Childs’ existence. 1973, 1952… Endless records of wattages and flow rates. That night, I managed to stay dry along side broke glass, and long abandoned paperwork. Somewhere in the middle of my fearful thoughts, the creaking doors, the howling chain link fence, the rain and the gusting wind, I slept well. I was having a grand adventure after all.
The morning arrived with a tinge of a common sulking sensation in my chest. My time for adventure was winding down and my path now, was focused on the return ride home to Flagstaff. As I climbed away from the river and my original plan, I was able to spy a limited view of the road that continued on the other side of the river. It disappeared up into the massive terrain the belies Bloody Basin and Phoenix beyond. The ridgelines were massive and far. I trudged on in the opposite direction in satisfying defeat. I was happy to let it go.
I climbed back out on the roads I came in on. I knew what to expect. An hour to summit just the first ridge out of Childs. Less than 2 miles of unbelievable up. The next climb, out towards Camp Verde again was another two hours easy. The journey out would take the majority of the day. Supplies on low, I pedaled towards home. Civilization slowly gained traction into the wilderness I pedaled from. I dined on a burger at a Camp Verde cafe. I made it to Montezuma’s Well by mid day, and then, the final, long, monotonous drag toward the cold of my high altitude home. I would arrive to the door I left three days prior, by day’s end, satisfied , sore, and exhausted. Full of the usual options, compromises and focus on survival, this time, my execution of ability and judgement was a little better than the last. There’s always tweaks to gear, food, supplies, timing. The devil is in the details, and from this effort, I look forward to next, as usual.