Sunday, May 22, 2011

San Tan Racing EOP ++

 About a week ago, Chuck Royalty sent out a post to the San Tan Racing Team. He and Josh Brown (Tandem teammates that recently finished second overall at the South Mountain Time Trial) were planning an epic journey. Ride to the End of Pavement (EOP) then continue 22 miles on the unpaved Apache Trail down Fish Creek Hill, past Apache Lake to Roosevelt Lake. Then rejoin the pavement, head north to Punkin Center, returning on AZ 87 - 175 miles. The plan was to start at 4 am and return between 1-2 pm. Seemed like a fast pace to me, but I needed an endurance ride so I sent a note to Chuck saying I was in.

I met Chuck at 4 am and we picked up Josh and continued to Lindsay road where Marty was going to meet us to ride to the EOP. Unfortunately Marty had a double pinch flats on the way and told us to go on ahead.  We reached the Apache Trail before 6 am and stopped at the Canyon Lake Marina, encountering very little boat traffic. The gate to the water fountain was closed, so we refilled our water bottles at a hose bib and we were off.

On the climb to Tortilla Flats and the EOP, it was clear to me that Chuck and Josh could easily complete this ride by 1-2 pm. I was well into my red zone just trying to keep up! I told Chuck that he and Josh didn't need to wait for me at the top of the hills. Chuck said nonsense, "all for one, one for all!"
Josh Brown

Chuck Royalty
Chuck and Josh about to descend Fish Creek Hill

Luckily, there was no traffic on Fish Creek Hill, a very steep mostly single lane dirt road. The steep canyon was still very green and very cool. When we reached the bottom, Fish Creek was still flowing and the canyon was very lush. I thought it was a cool descent, a little tricky on a road bike without suspension but not too bad. Once we reached the bottom however, the washboards started and with our road tires, it was sometimes quite a challenge to keep from sinking into the soft portions of the road.

About half-way down Fish Creek Hill
The Apache Trail is a twisting, bumpy, up and down affair all the way to Roosevelt Lake, with a few long climbs and descents. Generally, I would watch Chuck and Josh ride away on the uphills, and I could make up some time on the descents. After we reached the Apache Lake Marina turnoff there was a steep climb and sharp descent. I picked up a little too much speed and blew out my rear tire on a particularly rocky section of the road. I replaced the tube and was back on the bike in about 10 minutes. Josh had backtracked to check on me.

We rode to Chuck and set off together again. I dropped a water bottle (vibrated out of the cage on an especially rough section of washboards!) and stopped to get it. When I caught Chuck, he was dusting himself off from a spill he took on a soft set of washboards hidden an a shadow on a steep descent. Luckily no real damage (to Chuck or his bike) was done and we were on our way.

A couple of miles from Roosevelt Lake, the boat traffic (and dust) really picked up. Finally, we turned a corner and Roosevelt Dam came into full view, and even better, the dirt gave way to pavement. It is quite a climb around the dam, but when you reach the top, there is a great view of the Lake and highway bridge.
The Bridge at Roosevelt Dam
We checked our water and figured we had enough so we headed north toward Tonto Basin. We had a little tail wind and made good time to the Tonto Basin Market where we reloaded our bottles and headed toward the 87. It is a gentle climb out of the basin to the 87. Along the way, a motorist stopped and offered me water and Gatorade. I had just refilled so I declined, but it was a very nice offer.

When I reached the 87, Josh and Chuck were waiting in the shade. We set off for the hilly, hot, and dry section of the ride. The Arizona Department of Transportation has made a great improvement on the shoulder of 87 between Sunflower and the Four Peaks Road turnoff. There was still construction cones in place, but the shoulder was wide and smooth. A great improvement over the old narrow tarmac that it replaced. About halfway up the final climb I came upon two bike tourists fixing a flat. Not needing any help, I decided to continue on. Josh and Chuck had backtracked to check on the tourists and said the top was in sight.

We reached the top together and I tucked in as Josh and Chuck traded pulls along the Beeline Highway with me hanging on for dear life! Between the Saguaro Lake cutoff and Ft. McDowell, another San Tan Teammate, Durrant Williams saw us as he was returning from a camping trip. He pulled over ahead and gave us several ice cold water bottles from his cooler, a very timely stop, as we were all low or out of water!

Reloaded, we didn't need to stop in Fountain Hills and continued down the Beeline. About a mile before Gilbert road (only 15 miles from home) Josh flatted. He repaired the tire, but blewout again just as he remounted his bike.

This time the flat was caused by a rim failure! About 4-5 inches of his rear rim split right along the lip that holds the bead of the tire. No way to repair, so Chuck called his wife to rescue Josh and Chuck and I continued on to complete the ride. As bad as that mechanical was, we were lucky that it happened so close to home, and just as we were starting out (not on the 40 mph descents we had just completed 30 minutes before!).

We rolled in 13.5 hours after we started, covering 175 miles, and climbing about 8000 feet. It was quite a ride and adventure. I am glad I took Chuck up on his invitation for this adventure and appreciate especially he and Josh waiting and regrouping so we could finish (almost) together. I am quite sure that had they not waited for yours truly along the way, they would have finished this ride in 9-10 hours!

Steve Atkins