A Samaniego Epic – words

Bobo’s opens at 0530, so we were there at 0530. A proper anti-bonk breakfast was sure to increase our chances on the day. 60 degree temps (?!) also increased our chances — almost no warm clothing required.

We rolled out at 0600, to ride… Grant Road. At Chad’s last minute suggestion, we took the most direct route across town. Traffic was not so bad early, and it was very strange to ride sections of Grant I have only ever driven in a car.

Who in their right mind would ride a bike continuously on Grant? But then who in their right mind would attempt Samaniego from home?

The strategy paid off; in an hour we were climbing the Catalina Highway. The wind alternated between completely calm and vicious headwind, an odd combination. The vortexes slowed us down temporarily, but our minds were focused on higher ground.

photo by Chad Brown

And also on singletrack. We both agreed by the time we approached Molino Basin that we were ready for singletrack. And the singletrack (AZT) was good.

We both started to drag a little through Windy Point and on up to Palisades. For me it was literal — I kept having to stop to add air to my rear tire. No escaping air that I could detect, but it kept slowly leaking.

Dumb jokes and juvenile humor kept our minds distracted as we finished the 6000′ climb. Descending Cafe/1918/Secret/Sunset was a just reward for the long climb.

As were the fall colors. I’ve never seen such color, anywhere in AZ. Really? We rode to this place from our desert homes? It didn’t even take that long…

photo by Chad Brown

Great photo, Chad. Taken in ‘pixel paceline’ mode, with mere seconds to choose an angle, zoom and everything else — no time to waste on this ride. I love how my red shirt matches right up with the rest of the rainbow. I guess I should take partial credit, for wearing red and for lining myself up with the other reds. 🙂

We floated down Sunset with Chad in the lead. It was immediately obvious to me how much his tech skills have increased over the summer. Both confidence and speed were up. The off camber rocks and general thrashing around was exactly what my rear tire needed to finally seal. Lesson learned: road riding = bad, for tires and psyches.

We microwaved up a couple of “Big Tex” sugary muffins, and topped off our feedbags at the store in Summerhaven. Bobo’s anti-bonk was still in effect, so we did not need to linger long. That was good, because I was trying to run numbers and I didn’t like our chances for getting off the mountain before dark. It seemed like we were making good time, but it was already past noon, and we still had more climbing ahead. I briefly considered reverting to Red Ridge rather than Samaniego. The last two shuttle runs had seen us starting down Samaniego well before 9am, and they still ended near or after dark.

Once we started up Turkey Run, I was infinitely happy to be sticking to the plan. When you ride Red Ridge you take then pavement out of Summerhaven, but not for Samaniego!

photo by Chad Brown

Steeper, dirty, colorful = so much more satisfying.

I suggested climbing Aspen Draw, knowing more colors awaited there, but level heads prevailed. We climbed the newly resurfaced pavement to the tippy top of Mt. Lemmon, at 9100′.

At the top, coasting through Meadow Trail, it was remarkable how much better I felt compared to shuttling. I was warmed up and in tune with the bike. Having suffered to get here, the descending and use of gravity was so much more organic and understood — by both the conscious and sub-conscious mind.

Earn your turns, yo.

Samaniego Ridge sprawls out in front of us

Did I say in tune with the bike? Scratch that. 4 switchbacks down Sutherland Trail I crunched my chain and flipped my rear mech. into my cogset. When I first got a look at it I yelled ahead to Chad, “I’ve got a problem, BAD problem.”

But it was not so bad. All it took was a couple minutes with the chain tool and a new powerlink, then I was ready for more Sammie Schralp.

Tucson and civilization are visible, but feel like they are worlds away.

Time to benefit from our trail work (though the above chainsaw work was not ours…).

photo by Chad Brown

All of the newly reopened sections were surprisingly flowy, and pretty easy to follow. The steep climbs along the ridge felt easier, and I rode more, somewhat paradoxically, compared to the shuttle runs.

I was stoked to reach Walnut Spring and the catwalk so quickly, and with so little bloodshed. Neither of us had any protection on our legs, but it seemed that the amount of briar/hackberry exposure was just under threshold for burning pain. Perfect.

photo by Chad Brown

Snack time at the top of the corkscrew, which commands an epic view of the Catalinas, and of the challenge ahead. It was Chad’s first time for this section, and I think it barely made him bat an eye. All the pruning to open up the Louis/Steve route certainly helped, but I think he was expecting far worse after all the talk of the “corkscrew of death.”

We were quickly back on flat ground, back on our bikes and happily weaving between boulders and bramble.

Most of the time, anyway.

“It seems like we should be getting close to the Gap now, right?”

“No, not even close, we still have a HUGE drop to go.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Chad really lit this section up. Sight unseen he was riding more than I was, and really pushing me. He even rode the narrow staircase that I’ve never even thought seriously about attempting (though his exit from the staircase was less than graceful… can’t believe I didn’t get video!). Awesome.

Daylight was fading, and had the negative/non-believing part of my mind had any chance to engage (and how could it, while railing the Gap road, trying to hold Chad’s lines and keep up, grinning wildly) I would have talked us out of taking more singletrack, and Cherry Tank / Dynamite Canyon.

We turned off the road, as if by instinct, to follow free ride lines and non-trail over to Cherry Tank. Nothing was ever said, like an invisible nod between us.

I had no GPS track for the freeride connections, but I had followed Louis through them just a week before, so it was no problem to puzzle them out.

The trail’s in rough shape, but it was still a good call. Once we hid Mid Gate / Deer Camp the speed went up and BS factor plummeted.

We floated through turns, stealing glances at Samaniego Ridge and the cliffs that had challenged us earlier in the day, all highlighted by golden hour light.

photo by Chad Brown

After so many hours of fighting for forward progress (even descending is never easy on this route) the smooth trails of the 50 Year complex felt truly effortless.

I followed behind Chad as we blitzed our way into Catalina State Park. As the wind whipped my shirt it dug and twisted a big cactus needle into my shoulder. I’d occasionally punch my shoulder or try to adjust my shirt, but nothing helped, and when the wind was just right it REALLY hurt. Had I been alone I definitely would have stopped to pull it out, but the flow of 13 hours riding was too powerful to stop. So I rolled with it, and finally pulled it out when the Chad shaped blur came into focus at the trailhead’s drinking fountain.

We had just enough light to finish the singletrack. Then it was blinkies and headlamps for Oracle Road back into town.

Burritos on the way! Sitting out on the patio, it was so warm that it was hard to believe we were well into November. We closed the loop on the river path and neighborhood roads.

What a perfect day for a Tucson backyard epic.

Be sure to check Chad’s perspective on the day, where he calls me out on a 24 hour / impossible version of this ride:


And for reference, the video version:


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