Tuesday, October 31, 2006

September Bike Vacation

Sure, I know it's almost November, but I've been busy!

Have you ever heard of the White Mountains of Arizona? How about monsoon season?

I personally had never believed the words Arizona and monsoon would be joined, but apparently, monsoon season hits Arizona every summer and this year's was the wettest anyone could remember.

So, my girlfriend 'Punkin' and I headed to Arizona for what we thought would be riding much like our riding at home. That didn't turn out to be the case. On the bright side, we got there at the tail end of monsoon season, so we only got rained on once and that was for only a short time, but the skies were threatening the whole trip. Punkin is also a beginning mountain biker, so I figured I'd take an easy ride with her during the mornings and then hit some challenging trails alone in the aftenoon, but that didn't turn out to be the case either.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. First of all, we stayed in Pinetop Arizona, which is a bunch of hours east of Flagstaff and then another hour or so south. The White Mountains are known as the rainforest of Arizona. Well it wasn't quite jungle like, but the area was heavily forested and covered with spring flowers. The folks out there have also created the White Mountain Trail System, which consists of roughly 180 miles of trails; more than enough to keep us busy for a week.

On our first day of riding, we decided to take it easy and give Punkin a chance to get used to riding in the dirt. We rode our bikes to the only easy trailhead we could find, rode the trail, and headed home. We covered about 14 miles total with no ill effects. The trails were damp, but it wasn't a big deal.

On the second day, we rode our bikes to another trailhead fairly near our condo, but for this one, we jumped right over intermediate and headed for a difficult trail. For most of the ride, this one wasn't too bad either. I would ride ahead a bit, wait for Punkin, and then repeat the process. I stopped just after one particularly narrow, damp, and rocky downhill section and looked back just in time to see Punkin's rear wheel lifting off the downhill and her tumbling over the bars and into the rocks. I called back to find out if she was OK, but it took a while for her to respond, mainly because she hadn't fallen off of a bike in 30 years and she didn't remember what it felt like. As it turned out, she had a few scrapes and bruises to show off to the girls at the office, but nothing serious. We kept riding (what choice did we have?) and didn't have any other problems that day other than the swarms of mosquitos that kept us moving at a good pace.

Did I mention that Punkin is new to mountain biking? Since she is new, she doesn't have much in the way of riding gear. By day three, she kindly asked (or demanded with threats of bodily harm) for a pair of my biking shorts. I happily obliged. We decided to take the premier trail in the system on this day, so I wanted to keep her as happy as possible. We drove to the trailhead, which was kind of a drag because it was over either 7 or a million miles of washboarded dirt road and then it started to rain as we pulled up to the trailhead. We weren't about to let a little rain stop us after that nasty drive, so we hopped on our bikes and proceeded to get wet. The rain didn't last long, and soon we were riding along a pleasant trail that was somewhat wetter than the other trails we had been riding. That didn't last either. The farther we went, the wetter the trail became. The pleasant trail turned into a pleasant trail interrupted by small lakes. We thought the worst was behind us and then we dropped into a meadow. Here it was really wet. Where the trail used to be was standing water deep enough so our pedals almost hit it with pedal stroke. And there was tire sucking mud too! We sunk into the mud over our rims at many times and pedaling through it was much like pedaling uphill on a single speed. This trail was in a figure 8 configuration and we bailed out after the first loop. By the time we got back to the trailhead, we were wearing most of the trail and the parts that weren't on us were clinging to every metal and rubber part on our bikes. The car sagged heavy on its springs during our ride back to the condo.

We were trying to avoid another mud bog ride on day four, so we headed as high into the mountains as we could. We didn't care that the trail was rated as very difficult and was notorious for eating low hanging parts like derailleurs. It was a mountainside trail with great views once the clouds cleared, if you ever trusted the trail enough to take your eyes off of it. I crashed at least once and then ran my tire into a rock on the trail and vaulted over a cliff. My catlike reflexes allowed me to land on my feet and run down the slope until I could stop. I started climbing back up the cliff and got back to my bike just after Punkin got there and started wondering why my bike was lying in the trail while I was nowhere to be found. A little later it was Punkin's turn. I had ridden ahead and stopped to wait like normal. Then I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. Finally, just as I was about to head back, I saw her come around the corner, and she was saying something about owing me $20. When she finally got to me and I asked her about the $20 she turned around and showed me her butt; literally. There was a big flap of spandex hanging down from the shorts I loaned her and the sun was now shining on places she was not accustomed to. Punkin had a run in with a Manzanita bush as part of a crash and then she couldn't get out. Trooper that she is, her response was "You should have seen the bush!"

For the last two days of our trip, we found what turned out to be the best trail for the conditions. We found a mountain trail that was rain shadowed out and was pretty dry. It was intermediate difficulty and full of rolling hills. The only problem was the killer cows. You see, this trail was on open rangeland. Punkin told me cows are just like big, slow, happy dogs. If you get near them, they'll run away. I'm not sure what she was smokin' or what domesticated cows she had met. These cows had revenge in their eyes for every burger I had ever eaten and they weren't about to be moved. Naturally, I did what every strong, macho, and self confident man would do. I rode around them and then pedaled like hell until I was sure the wouldn't be able to catch me.

This was my first trip fully devoted to biking, and of course it was a blast. My dance card is already set for next year. I'm heading to Durango Colorado for another bike trip.


Kristy said...

I loved this post! I cracked up! Just when I thought it couldn't get funnier it did! You are some lucky guy to still have Punkin as your girlfriend. You put her through quite a vacation and she still came out of it with a sense of humor. If she can handle that trip, I am sure she would have a blast on our lunch time rides.

Sandie said...

Great story Todd, any pictures?