Diversity of the Ramble

What form of transportation gives you all this?

1) Human powered – no isolation from environment
2) Ability to be carried, over fences, through rivers and other barriers or difficult conditions
3) Fun / skills / challenge factor
4) Primitive trail travel, slowly on singletrack
5) Ability to cruise through dirt and paved roads efficiently/quickly
6) Quiet
7) (Relatively) inexpensive

You know the answer. Add camping gear and there really are no limits.

I’ve said all of the above before, and I am sure I will say it again. I guess I could have saved words and just said “I love mountain biking.” But on this loop we really hit all the diverse highlights of traveling by mountain bike. Quiet singletrack, scenic & smooth connecting dirt roads, challenging rock mesas, river crossings, 4×4 chunk roads, switchback attack descents, climb-a-bike, and an overnight trailside stay.

We also hit some of the highlights of southern Arizona — Box / Martinez canyon, new Arizona Trail, Ripsey Hill, Area 52. It’s the “Gila River Ramble” loop. www.bikepacking.net/routes/gila-river-ramble/

Enthusiasm for the Ramble loop has been a tad dormant ever since we lost the diversion dam crossing. It’s a key connection that as of right now has no plans to reopen to the public. While the Gila is usually low in Nov/Dec, March is the prime month to ramble, and fording has never looked too attractive.

At only 125-130 CFS, though, we thought it worth a try. Chad tested the waters and turned back, then finally Max grabbed his bike and went for it. It was only ~waist deep in the channel. Enough to exercise some care, but no big deal.

Sweet. With the crossing out of the way, it meant we could rock both sides of the river, and we started with lots of rock, on Area 52.

Need I further romanticize this place and all that it offers?

Methinks so.

For few places capture the imagination so strongly, or give that foreign-yet-familiar otherworldly feeling, or offer such free form expression of MTB creativity.

photo by Chad Brown

Sherbet rock with saguaro sprinkles, hard pedaling sprinkled with rock moves.

photo by Chad Brown

For some reason the ‘up’ on the keyhole looked good to me, so I went for partial credit on the move. Make that partial partial credit since I only had some of my bikepacking gear.

Chad gets full credit for cracking us up, after showing us what happens when your front tire doesn’t make it all the way up.

There we go, partial credit though, sans pack.

I carried the ‘big camera’ and tried to keep learning, and experimenting.

With more power comes more possibility to blow shots — and I’m becoming good at that.

I could have stayed and played so much longer, but we exited 52’s main labyrinth above the waterfall, and debated yet again about the east mesa. We followed the same hike-a-climb-a-bike line we have in rambles past, and while it leads to a nearly all rideable descent to Donnelly Wash, I still feel it can be improved upon.

We resumed continuous pedal flow on two track, climbing away from the river. Aaron resumed stuffing the mess of a tire plug he had been pushing into his Crow tire. How that tire survived this trip, I’ll never know, and how he was able to ride loaded with such speed and skill is a whole ‘nother issue entirely.

As Chad put it, “it’s the one dirt road you’ll never get sick of riding.”

photo by Chad Brown
it doesn’t look like it, but I made that one. Wait, no, I made it ’round, then hand dabbed!

I inadvertently followed a GPS track from yesteryear, which took us to a solar powered well, and (we think) the source of many of the functional troughs in the area, but it also forced us to skip a piece of the Arizona Trail. It just got us to the action that much quicker.

The action of climbing Ripsey’s many switchbacks.

And chasing the guys up the mountain.

Lunch break at the top. The effort of the climb was just enough to want the shade of the cairn!

Then down rugged hills,

endless ridgelines,

and towards a delightful barrage of switchbacks.

photo by Aaron McCombs

The big bike was slow on the way up. It was anything but on the other side. We crossed Florence Kelvin Highway and onto AZT that none of us had ridden before.

aaron + angry midget on his back

There was much to like — drop, drop, drop, flower, flower, flower, fading light and cool temps.

We rolled into Kelvin with just enough daylight to not feel shy about inquiring about water at Wilson’s trailer court. No problem, fill on up! We rolled through the inactive mining operation, and found that they have turned about half of it from road to singletrack, and had done a great job. I had envisioned something far less fancy, but in some places you’d never know it used to be a road for big trucks.

We dropped down to the railroad bridge and set up camp. The evening’s entertainment was provided by the fire and Aaron’s attempt to re-seat his Crow tire after patching the hole he had be re-stuffing a plug into throughout the day. He asked us for any tips to get a tire to re-seat with only a hand pump, and my only semi-serious response was “perseverance.”

That proved to be true. I would have given up and tubed it a half hour before Chad and Aaron started yelling for someone to relieve them on the hand pump. I didn’t think they were serious, but sure enough, they got it!

I found these tiny guys scurrying around on the rock I was using as a tripod.

It was a good night. My mind was somewhere else for a lot of day one, or I was somewhat frustrated with pace, big bike and trying to get cool photos. But I woke up with the kind of excitement I am used to. I couldn’t wait for the sun to come up so I could get on the bike and head out. The computer is at home. No one can email me here, there’s nothing to do but ride. That was true even at the beginning of the ride, but it took a day for my mind to catch up with that reality, and actually “log out.”

I jumped out early, thinking at first I’d wait for the crew in the sun. But the trail kept calling me forward, so I rolled the first few miles in the cool morning air. I tricked myself into thinking I had ridden from Mexico, or Parker Lake. It was a good trick, a good thought.

And it’s such a good trail. The morning’s tail wind made it even better.

The recurring thought of the morning was “Life is good on the AZT.”

I was pleased to see that the entire piece by the river has been reworked and brought up to the same standard as the rest of Gila Canyons. Ignore what I may have said in previous reports about bumpy cow singletrack, narrow sloughed trail or other misgivings. It’s all good to go.

We branched off the AZT just before the chute hike-a-bike, testing out a possible route for the 300 that might yield us some water.

Sure enough, below the Martinez / Battle Axe road, near the same grove of vegetation Lee and I had spied back in December, we found running water and several small pools. A little gravel damming by Chad and we had a nice pool to pump from. The water was cold and tasted good. My thought is that if it is running now it is a reliable source, given the lack of rain this winter. Will it be running come April 13th? Good question, but my guess is yes.

I don’t think I will change the route to accommodate it though. It’s off route either way, and a little bit of a sketchy drop on foot down to it.

Aaron enjoys last night’s left-overs for second breakfast. Why is he wearing Chad’s pink recovery socks? Because he burned giant holes in his socks by the fire last night! D’oh.

Max and Chad debate the finer points of headset adjustment. Great group of (hilarious) guys to tour with.

The case was Gila Canyons v. Martinez. Both sides of the case had strong arguments, but in the end the coming heat of the day caused all in the jury to favor the shorter, if more brutal, option.

Oh yes, the fall-line 4WD extravaganza known as Martinez Canyon. Yep, we had just blasted down the road behind Aaron’s shoulder.

I apologized to Max for inflicting this route on him in last year’s AZT (he was the sole finisher of the full meal deal, which featured all of this).

No need to apologize to myself for being there now, I was eating it up. The road turns to solid rock, and the scenery turns incredible. Probably my favorite 4WD road anywhere, though you better have energy for it.

The first (and only) group of jeepers we saw stopped and before saying anything started shoving ice cold water bottles in our direction. Some people are just awesome.

Chad even scored a Bud Light from them, which went down quickly. He was doing his best to fit in with the crowd.

We did our best to fit in on our bikes, evoking a fairly convincing impression of motorized transport with our “big bikes” loaded with the extra momentum of bikepacking gear, and the focus and flow of 2 days on the bike.

Following Chad down Box at mach 9 will not soon be forgotten. He hit a couple drops and lines that I would have balked at had I not seen him ride it right in front of me. The dust flew, we pedaled hard, we felt the G-forces of big berms, and spun our heads to view the depths of Box Canyon. And then we popped out at the car, completing the loop.

Awesome ride, all.

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