Review: Frenzy Hills Mountain Bike Race

The inaugural Frenzy Hills mountain bike race put on by Aravaipa Rides was one very cool event. Some of this was by design, and some was luck of the draw from Mother Nature.

In a weekend extravaganza of off-road activity, I raced my singlespeed in the 50-mile category. I think I may have been the only 50-mile SS rider to finish, albeit at the back of the entire pack for that distance. My wife did the 25k run the day before.

We both think Aravaipa did a great job with the events. I can’t speak to the running side of it, but I’m going to fill you in what I liked so much about the Frenzy Hills race. After that, I’ll share some thoughts about my day out that on some slippery, sloggy (is that a word?) trails.

frenzy hills
The clouds made my familiar mountains look even more epic.

Frenzy Hills, Not a Frenzied Vibe

This wasn’t a busy race. I drove up an hour before start and found a parking spot close to the start/finish. Everything was a laid-back affair.

I’d estimate there were only 20 people in the 50-mile ride. That spread us all out pretty well. I’m sure this made everyone more willing to banter when passing or getting passed.

Awesome Aid Stations

Most aid stations in most races are kind of crappy. I never count on them. I bring my own stuff.

But if Aravaipa keeps this up, I won’t have to do so for their races. The Frenzy Hills aid stations rocked. I only stopped at two of the three. But check this out: The best one, at Jackass Junction, had a spread that boggled my mind. My favorite items were the watermelon (for magnesium), the dates (for potassium), the energy gel package recycling box, and the delicious Gnarly pineapple electrolyte drink.

frenzy hills jackass junction
Taking a break at Jackass Junction

The station also had pickles, peanut M & Ms, cookies, bananas, and many other things that actually help in events like this. As I told the emcee at the finish line, it was almost like someone knew what they were doing. Love it!

Race Necessities Were Perfect

After a long race, pizza doesn’t just nourish the body. It nourishes the soul. Freak Brothers rejuvenated me with a sausage and pepperoni pie for the ages.

The venue also has bathrooms with showers, and Aravaipa provided a row of portable toilets.

Relive ‘Frenzy Hills 2019’

Another nice touch: There was also a bike stand with a floor pump. I may have seen a few tools, too. This is just nice. It reflects a staff that knows what riders need during a tough event, and the mental lapses that sometimes occur when packing up the gear.

My Day on the Bike

So, we’ve probably established that I’m not super-fast. This was only my third race on a singlespeed. It was also my longest SS ride.

Frenzy Hills was on trails I know well: Escondido, Pemberton, and Long Loop, primarily. I do pretty well on Escondido, generally. My bike rips up the back side of Pemberton because I can settle into a nice climbing groove. The Long Loop is pretty rocky, so my hardtail gives up some speed to the squishy bikes. But I like riding it, anyway. And it’s the perfect bike for sloppy conditions thanks to its belt drive.

Most of the trails were wet thanks to off-and-on rain. The clouds made the McDowell Mountains look a bit like The Remarkables in New Zealand (which you may have seen in Lord of the Rings). The rain would soak me, then stop and let me dry off. By the time I got comfortable, I’d get hosed again.

My times up Pemberton Climb were far slower than usual thanks to soggy ground sucking at my tires. Some of the downhill portions were perfect hero dirt. Portions of the Long Loop were a bit scary for me. There was enough mud in places to make my rear tire sink in a few times.

An Interesting Lesson

I definitely drink a lot less in cool weather. I was down to a single bottle about every hour and 45 minutes. And I still peed three times during the Frenzy Hills race!

So I wasn’t dehydrated. Still, a cramp tried to take hold of me about 45 miles in. The watermelon I ate must’ve kicked in: I rode through it, and it was completely gone not 5 minutes later. My lesson is that I needed a higher concentration of electrolytes to ride my best. The cooler weather means I need to drink less, maybe, but I still need my magnesium!

frenzy hills
Is a medal that isn’t made out of metal still a medal? Or am I just meddling with this wood medal?

Frenzy Hills Finale

This was a fun day to be racing, even if the rain made things a bit more difficult. It also added to the fun in a weird way.

First Ride on “New” Mountain Bike Trail – with video

McDowell mountain bike
The newly rerouted bit of the Pemberton Trail has some nice new rock scenery.

Nothing gets me as excited quite like a new mountain bike trail. Or even a re-routing of an old favorite trail.

Ever since McDowell Mountain Regional Park announced that crews had re-routed a bit of its 15+-mile Pemberton (aka Trail B) loop, I’ve been eager to see what it’s all about. I purposely avoided reading up on exactly what would change – I also love surprises.

Here’s what you need to know:

    • The McDowell Mountain Regional Park managers made the best change possible: They took the trail away from a sandy service road on the north side of the park and cut some new doubletrack (it ain’t singletrack, but it’s no Jeep road, either) See the end of the post for video.
    • Racers who will participate in the Fat Tire 40 should be stoked. This makes the worst portion of the course quite a bit more fun. I expect racers will be a touch faster without the sandy slog.
    • The new bit of trail is about 15 minutes long at my leisurely but experienced speed. At some point, it reconnects to the original trail. I’m not sure where because it was a sneaky transition.
    • The extra twists and turns should add a bit to the trail’s original mileage.
wandering justin mtb
Hey, it’s me!

The new bit of trail is not some sort of mind-blowing singletrack experience that will inspire epic heavy metal songs. So why am I excited? Because it makes a favorite local trail about 20 percent better. And that’s nothing any rider should take for granted.

It’s also a nice signal of intent from the McDowell Mountain Regional Park staff. They continue to seek ways to make the park’s experience even better for mountain bikers. Consider some other first for the park: the first competitive race loops, the first official night rides and the first pump track on Arizona government lands. In the future, I suspect you’ll see a flow trail open.

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Night Mountain Biking – McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Darkness settles on the land …

Mountain biking in the moonlight is back: McDowell Mountain Regional Park once again has its night mountain bike rides going for the summer. The May 25 ride was the second of the season, and the first of the year for me. As always, it was a treat to be out there at this excellent park with other mountain bikers after sunset.

I had a few things occur to me as I rode. I pass these along as some food for thought. Make of them what you will.

1. I saw plenty of riders with their lights fired up even before the sun dropped below the horizon. Don’t do that – save your batteries for when you need them.

2. My budget light system is adequate for night mountain biking. But I basked in the glow of people laying out 1,500 lumens. I stayed behind slower riders a few times just to light-swipe them.

3. Speaking of that budget system – two of my three batteries conked out prematurely. Fortunately, I got an early start and finished before the last light flamed out. I considered tagging along with other mountain bikers in case I lost it.

Getting some lean into a corner.

4. You’ll run into all sorts of cool people at the trail. And I don’t mean me! I bumped into Bill from Adventure Bicycle Company, the very same awesome shop where I once sold bikes and spun wrenches. He solved my lighting woes with a shiny new NiteRider system.

5. I didn’t spot many creatures -- just a few bunnies and mice. No tarantulas this time! At McDowell Mountain Regional Park, you can sometimes even spot desert tortoises or snakes. Fun!

6. There was a stiff wind coming out of the west, which made for a slow slog on the climbs On the back side, though, a body my size is like having a sail!

7. The mountain biking community has one awesome advocate in Rand Hubbell, the supervisor of McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Mountain bikers talked him into being the first government park to offer an organized night ride – and he’s never looked back. He always looks for new features to add, and he drops good words for mountain bikers to other government officials so they’ll recognize s for the awesome economic boon that we are.

Saguaros in the sunset.

8. The Pemberton Trail at McDowell Mountain Regional Park is perfect for night mountain biking – rippin’ fast fun, not too technical, a good length for some exercise. Mountain bikers of any caliber will have fun … especially at night.

9. A big thank-you to Fountain Hills Bikes for the brats and hot dogs.

10. I don’t know who was responsible for the huge TV screen that played Adam Sandler’s Oscar-winner "The Waterboy," but thanks! That added some post-ride fun.

11. I lost one of my new gloves. But sometimes, you have to look on the bright side … it gave me a chance to tweet this funny:

Justin Schmid ‏@wandering_j

@MCParks That ride was a Thriller, and I got Bad about keeping track of the gloves and Beat It before I knew what happened.

Local Media Finally Covers Death of Mountain Biker

The Arizona Republic followed the story I wrote about the second death this year at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

I love this quote:

“We are not suspecting foul play,” sheriff’s spokesman Brandon Jones said. “We are not sure what caused it, but we are not done investigating.”

(Facepalm) Yes. Offing someone by staged bike accident is definitely a high-percentage tactic.

I hope the Republic at least has enough sense to be embarrassed that, if not for a guy freelancing in his spare time, its reporters wouldn’t know about two deaths in its market.

If you feel like reading it, here’s a link.

Make sure you note the publication dates.

Mountain Biker’s Death Sad and Sobering

Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
This is what mountain biking should look like ...

There’s been a second fatality at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Read more in this Wandering Justin post. March 26, 2012

UPDATED

Sometimes, I really hate mountain biking. Like when I learned earlier this week that a fellow mountain biker died on one of my favorite trails.

The local media has not seen fit to cover the death of Ron Cadiente, 61: I heard about it on Facebook and MTBR.com. Details are sketchy. All I know is that he was a properly equipped veteran rider. It’s unclear if his death was caused by a crash, or if his crash was caused by cardiac arrest while on the Long Loop of the Competitive Track at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

These are the moments that suck the energy out of mountain biking. I can’t count the number of times I’ve ridden this trail. And now someone lost a life on it.

This is a shadow that follows me every time I ride. I hate admitting this, but it’s as honest as I can be. My number-one task on every ride is -- come home in one piece. I often roll into a stretch of trail, give my brakes a quick tap – knowing full well I could go faster and do it better. But I know that quick feathering of my brake levers makes it more likely that I’ll walk back in my door.

The same unease hits me when my wife rides. I just want her to come back happy and safe.

How and why do we ride like this? Hell, how do we live like this, while the potential of changing our lives for the worse chases us every mile of the way?

I can’t explain it fully. It’s part of mountain biking, and it’s part of living. Risk is everywhere. Eliminate that risk, and I guess you eliminate everything that’s interesting in life.

Of course, that doesn’t mean much to Ron’s family. To them, I can only say this: I wish it hadn’t happened, and it’s not supposed to be like this.

To those of us who still ride: Come home safe. For yourself, and for all those who care for you.

UPDATE (Feb. 14)

A member of the MTBR forum posted information about services for Ron, which he found on the Bunker Mortuary website. And condolences to his daughter Brooke and son Brett, who posted very kind messages thanking the mountain bike community for its support. It’s impossible to not think really well of Ron and those who survive him when you see the goodness and dignity in their words.

Name: Ronald Roy Cadiente

Date: April 15th, 1950 – February 11th, 2012

Obituary:
Cadiente, Ronald, 61, died in a mountain bike accident February 11, 2012. He is survived by his wife Pamela, children Garron (Sharon) Cadiente, Brett Cadiente, Maren (Jimmy) Bloomer, Brooke Cadiente, Paige (Sterling) Stahle, 13 grandchildren and brothers Herb Davis, Carlos Cadiente and Rick Cadiente. A kind and loving husband, father and grandfather he was devoted to his family whom he loved unconditionally and enjoyed being involved their lives. He was passionate about the work he did as a software salesman and valued the relationships he made. He was honest, hardworking, sincere, and compassionate. Ron was a baseball coach, avid hiker, mountain biker, University of Arizona graduate and family man who was as generous in his relationships as he was genuine. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he served a mission in southern California and served in a variety of church leadership positions, including Bishop, all of which he loved. He was an influence for good in every aspect of his life. He is missed and loved by many, especially his family. Viewing is February 16th from 6-8 PM at Bunker’s Garden Chapel, 33 North Centennial Way, Mesa AZ 85201. Funeral is February 17th, 11 AM with viewing one hour prior at the LDS Church, 1430 N Grand Street, Mesa AZ 85201.

Visitations:
6:00PM to 8:00PM on Thursday, February 16th, 2012 at Bunker’s Garden Chapel
10:00AM to 10:45AM on Friday, February 17th, 2012 at LDS Lehi Stake Center

Services:
11:00AM at LDS Lehi Stake Center on Friday, February 17th, 2012

Mountain Bike Race Recap – McDowell Meltdown 2012

An unidentified Cat 3 woman (#514) on the course at the McDowell Meltdown.

I hadn’t lined up for a mountain bike race since May; the summer heat, a trip to Asia, moving to a new house -- all conspired to keep me off the course, and off the mountain bike altogether at times.

But I can’t resist McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, Ariz. There is absolutely nothing that mountain bikers can’t love about its 60-plus miles of trails. Of course, the McDowell Meltdown (the first race in the 2012 Mountain Bike Association of Arizona series) only consists of the loops in the Competitive Track. Still great!

Here’s what’s on my mind about the McDowell Meltdown.

Racer Krista Gibson responds to cheers from her friends.

1. The organizers are exceptionally dedicated and nice. Running these races is a labor of love. Need proof? Brandee from Global Bikes posted on Facebook at 3:30 a.m. about how eager she was to get out there and put on a race (she’s also an MBAA board member). Another example: I signed up the day of the race, which didn’t entitle me to an event t-shirt. But one of the MBAA guys scrounged up some leftover t-shirts from the previous year for us johnny-come-lately schlubs. He didn’t have to. We didn’t expect him to. A really nice "late or not, thanks for being here" gesture.

How Did You Do?
If you want to find your race results, check these links:
Cross Country
Marathon

2. Sign up online. You’ll save stress on yourself, plus a few bucks. And you’ll save some stress for the folks from La Roue d’Or – they have a lot on their hands with managing the registrations.

3. The Arizona mountain bike race scene has changed. My Adventure Bicycle Company boys had no presence. Back in the day, it would’ve been them, Rage Cycles and Landis as the standard bearers. These days, it’s Global, DNA Cycles (the McDowell Meltdown title sponsor), Sunday Cycles and a few others -- and Landis is still around. I didn’t see any familiar faces out there. But I met new people, and hope to run into them again at the next mountain bike race.

Racer Aimee Nay and friend relive the mountain bike race action.

4. The first-timer class is a really nice idea. Unfortunately, the women’s field continues to be small. In the late 90s, there were definitely more new mountain bike racers of both genders. I remember Beginner Class (now Cat 3) men’s 19-24 groups with more than 70 riders.

5. Speaking of the people in each field and the various categories -- I still see sandbagging (the fine art of riding a category – or two! – below your ability to get better race results) as a problem. The front of the Cat 3 pack is where it’s at its worst. Three quick thoughts: A. Abolish a championship title for Cat 3 racers – it’s a dis-incentive to move up to the proper category. B. No racers attached to teams should be in Cat 3. If you’re so plugged into the mountain bike scene that you roll with a team, you are too experienced for Cat 3. C. If you finish in the top 10 percent, you go up. I’d apply this to Cat 2, also. Getting people in the right categories will get more new riders to mountain bike races. Your race results should never take a backseat to integrity.

Overall? The McDowell Meltdown is one of my favorites, and I’m glad I went. MBAA puts on a fine mountain bike race, and you should give one of its events a try.

An Average Racer’s View of the Fat Tire 40

McDowell Sonoran Challenge, examiner.com, phoenix mountain bike examiner
I’m just your Average Joe rider … among GloboGym racers!

It’s better to challenge yourself and come in last than it is to sandbag your way to victory. That said, I didn’t come in last in the Fat Tire 40 at McDowell Mountain.

But I was definitely bringing up the rear.

This event, put on by Swiss American Racing, brought a fast crowd of folks. Lots of people with lots of leg and lung power, for sure. Some had sketchy handling skills, especially at the Tech Loop drop-off and the T-Bone Hill climb. But most made up for it by motoring in the flatter sections. Me? Decent in the tricky climbs, good in the downhills, a lazy sod in the false flats.

As I mentioned in my earlier recap of the race, though, I had a tremendous time. And I hit a bit of a turning point.

Here’s the deal: So far in 2011, I’ve done four mountain races. Among them was a solo 12-hour effort and 24-hour race as part of a duo. My results have been unspectacular.

But I’m getting out there, and it’s paying off.

I finally achieved something that sent me home from a race feeling good: At about 25 miles into the race, I caught up with a guy. He was riding a shiny Santa Cruz Tallboy that made my 6-year-old Gary Fisher look like Fred Sanford’s jalopy. Which it pretty much is with its chainsuck-battered chainstays and leaky rear shock.

I passed him and thought I’d seen the last of him.

But he caught me about five miles later at a feed zone. I stopped to refill my bottles. He jettisoned his empty and grabbed a new one. I didn’t have time to drop an electrolyte tablet into my bottles without letting him get too far away. Instead, I wolfed down a banana one of the volunteers offered me.

So I chased his fancy-bike-riding butt. I caught him at The Ledge as he was pushing his bike over the obstacle. I went around him and got slightly tangled in a palo verde tree, but I kept going. I was feeling good, good enough to laugh and yell "no, don’t crash into the palo verde!" He panted a reply I couldn’t understand.

I thought for sure I’d left him behind. I was soon up on the South Ridge and putting on some distance. This was about three miles past the feed zone.

That’s when I hit The Wall – that horrible place where the easy becomes epic and your body no longer obeys your commands.

I had trouble steering in a straight line, much less breezing over obstacles like I had for the past 35 miles. I could feel heat building in my quadriceps. Oh, salt and potassium, how I needed thee! But there was just no time to fish a Nuun tablet out of my pack, unscrew a water bottle lid, screw it back on, wait for the tablet to dissolve and start guzzling.

It was just five miles to the finish.

I just had to hold this persistent, rising-from-the-grave jerk at bay for five miles (why won’t he give up and let me enjoy the rest of the race, already?!). I had the advantage. I’d already passed him twice. He was panting like a dog both times. He was in worse shape, right?

So I kept pedaling, kept descending.

Then my bike made a horrible noise. It reverberated through the frame. It sounded like the stable platform valve in the rear shock finally giving way. I still haven’t figured it out. But it made me more tentative in every descent.

But I kept riding. Sometimes, I heard my nemesis scratching along the ground behind me.

Finally, I got to the start/finish area. That meant I just had three miles left to go. Riding the Sport Loop backward was all that stood in my way.

Just a few hundred feet from the start of the Sport Loop, I looked behind me. He couldn’t have been 10 feet back.

I kept pedaling. Straight into the twisty singletrack. Climb a little, descend a little. Just focus on every little stretch of trail. The heat was building in my legs again. Keep in the low gears, just keep spinning the pedals. High RPMs. Ride smart.

But damn, my legs hurt. I just wanted to take a few seconds to stretch. But I kept hearing him. No. Just keep going as long as I can. If I blow up, I blow up.

Finally. Finally. Finally. I reached the bit where I could count on some easy descending. Keep spinning the pedals.

But wait. There were two hills on-tap. On every Sport Loop, they come moments from the start as two steep drops. Riding backward, that means my hammered legs had to go UP them! I reached the first and scaled my way up.

I got to the second. I got halfway up, hop off the bike and push us both up. I crest the hill as the other rider gets to the bottom.

I’m back on my bike in a flash. I spun the pedals like a madman. I tried to be smooth, controlled, confident. It’s all downhill from here.

I crossed the line. It takes more than a minute for my former antagonist to cross the line. That’s a gap I opened in less than a mile. I can live with that.

That guy made me suffer. He worked me like a dog.

And I’m glad he was there. He made me ride better than I could without him. He gave me some motivation. I’d like to think I did the same for him. I believe we made each other better, that we wrung the absolute best out of each other.

We weren’t the fast guys in this race. Both of us probably eat way too much cheese and chocolate to be as fast as the others.

But we rolled up to the line with the fast people anyway. And we both gave it everything we had to give on that Sunday.

Fat Tire 40 MTB Race: Great Fun, Lots of Challenge

fat tire 40
The pack is getting antsy to start.

The course for the Fat Tire 40 at McDowell Mountain is clearly the work of a leather-clad masochistic dungeon master who moonlights as a dentist. The last three mile are the proof.

That doesn’t mean the event, put on by Swiss American Bicycles in Glendale, Ariz., isn’t a ton of well-run fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a novel spin on the typical mountain bike races run at McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills, Ariz. It took riders along trails seldom ridden.

For instance, there’s that last three miles I mentioned. Riders actually got to ride the Sport Loop section of the Competitive Track backward. That was an unprecedented opportunity, and a surprise organizers sprang on riders during the pre-race meeting. It was also a hard finish to a hard race.

Promoters Offer Classy Swag

fat tire 40
It’s rare that the Scenic Trail gets used for racing. But it’s rocky, challenging fun.

Each rider got a quality, very cool-looking t-shirt and a water bottle. And the bag wasn’t crammed full of useless coupons. Finishers also got a slick pint glass etched with the event logo. Excellent, useful, memorable swag for a $75 entry fee.

Course Offers Plenty of Fun and Challenge

The race started off with riders doing a Lemans-style running start. Then it was on to most of a Sport Loop before branching onto the Tech Loop. From there, it was onto a portion of the Long Loop that connected to a service road. Riders took the service road to the Pemberton Trail, where they made a counter-clockwise turn before riding to the turn-off to the Scenic Trail. This not-often-ridden-by-cyclists bit was in prime shape. It was not nearly as sandy as some riders might recall, and the contour leading to climb resulted in some high speed.

fat tire 40
People often bring their dogs to races. But this baby goat ran away with the cutest pet award.

The climb was still rocky, as was the descent leading back to the Pemberton. From there, riders continued counterclockwise with a quick stop at a feed zone mostly populated by geuinely enthusiastic and helpful kids in their early teens. Riders then continued up the Pemberton to the Coachwhip Trail, where they turned right. From there, they climbed a ridge, met the Dixie Mine Trail and rode it until connecting again with the Pemberton. Riders then hooked up with service road, descended to a feed zone, reconnected with and finished the Long Loop and then road the Sport Loop in reverse.

That last bit was extra-challenging. Braking bumps, washouts and a few steep climbs made those last three miles extra-tough.

fat tire 40
A juicy bit of downhill fun.

All the turns are very well-marked, so your odds of getting lost are super-slim. Most turns were also staffed by people ready to set you right. I also noticed a lot of red "Wrong Way Fat Tire 40" signs on trails that weren’t part of the course. Nice work!

An Idea for Next Year

I have only one suggestion for the organizers: Have some electrolyte drinks at the rest stops. You can bring your own mix, of course, but you’ll lose time. Water is great, but a course like this demands salt, potassium and carbohydrates to stave off cramps.

Despite that caveat, I have to rate this race highly. I’ll do it again next year. It’s a fast bunch of riders, so they’ll challenge you just as much the terrain. I was pretty pleased to win a 15-mile battle with another rider,

fat tire 40
One of many funky beetles spotted on the Scenic Trail

putting more than a minute on him over the last few miles. The rest of the pack pretty much handed our shorts to us, but you sometimes have to revel in the small victories.

Scenes from Fountain Hills, Ariz. – The McDowell Meltdown

EDIT: If you’ve come here looking for photos of yourself, I probably have about 100 other shots. Let me know your race number and I’ll see what I can find!

On Jan. 22-23, the MBAA Arizona state championship mountain bike race series got started at McDowell Mountain Regional Park just north of Fountain Hills, Ariz. The park is one of the best outdoor recreation assets in the state, and the weather cooperated to make it a great time for racers and spectators. You can read my recap at Examiner.com or just check out these photos. Find out what you missed – even if you were there!

Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Too fast not to blur a bit
Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Racing with a smile.

Miguel from Adventure Bicycle Company hangs out at the team tent.
Continue reading

Returning to the Daylight at McDowell

McDowell Mountains, Coachwhip, Pemberton, Bluff, Dixie Min
Nice trails, awesome views

It’s been awhile since I’ve started and finished a mountain bike ride in daylight. With the brutal summer weather, I’ve spent the past few months starting in twilight and ending well after dark.

I came back to the day side Sunday – but only after watching a rather head-scratching car accident on my way to the trail (I suspect driving while texting was at fault).

Like a big dummy, I also left my two frosty, frozen bottles of live-giving Cytomax (perfect for our still-toasty temperatures, a late morning start and a long haul) home in the freezer. I didn’t want to ride without electrolytes, so I stopped at Slippery Pig Bike Shop Too. Doug hooked me up with some bottles, some of those new-fangled Alka-Seltzerish electrolyte tabs and cool water.

I put it in about 30 miles on the Pemberton, Dixie Mine, Bluff and Coachwhip (which is a trail named for a snake named after a coach whip) trails. I took down a pair of Clif shots and a Primal Strips vegan jerky bar (saltiness) in addition to my fluids. I think that wasn’t quite enough – I felt pretty worked for the rest of the day.

Pemberton GPS track
GPS track from an earlier Pemberton/Dixie Mine/Windmill ride. This does't show the most recent route that included bits of the Bluff and Granite trails.

The cool thing about riding in the day again is being able to see everything. I can carry my speed more confidently since every potential obstacle is in plain view. Things can hide on you at night … the circle of light from my handlebar and helmet lamps can’t show me everything. That makes things a bit more fun. I don’t think the county parks hold their organized nightrides until summer returns, so I won’t get my favorite fix of night riding for several months.

I noticed that most people out Sunday on the Pemberton were riding counterclockwise. Not my favorite way to handle it – the far north side is a long bit of false flat through some fairly sandy conditions. No thanks! I might go up the Bluff Trail and then take the rest of it counterclockwise. That could be fun. I also need to take the Windmill Trail further. Last time I rode it, it was pretty rocky and raw without much flow to it. But it might be worth another look.

4 Reasons I Turned to the Dark Side – Night Mountain Biking

A 10-second exposure of the moonlit desert at night. Check out the flash of lightning!

I used to have a lot of problems with night mountain biking. But over the past year, I’ve definitely turned to the Dark Side. It was around this time last year that a guy named Harry who found me on Facebook and some of his friends dragged me into signing up for the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. I gave in because I have a hard time saying “no.” Here’s why I changed:

1. I found good, cheap lights. Most of Harry’s crew was hooked on the MagicShine GMG-900 light system. The guys all promised that I could get a good night riding system with a helmet light and a handlebar light for about $200. It’s easy to spend double that on similar lights. They were right. I love riding with these things. They’re simple to use, and the company has  updates on the way (I’ll post more about that in the future). So there goes the cost obstacle. I was also seeing a lot more of the distinctive green glow of the MagicShine power buttons. At least 10 other riders were sporting them. The secret is out! Check ’em out at Geomangear.com.

Snakes on a trail!

2. Since I had lights, I started riding at night more. And I sought out group rides like the McDowell Mountain Regional Park “Mountain Bike in the Moonlight” series. It’s very social, with more than 100 riders hitting the trails before enjoying some free cylindrical meat objects compliments of Slippery Pig Bikes. I’ve run into some old buddies like Bill from Adventure Bicycle Company and some of his long-time customers. Since I used to work there, it’s always very cool to see them – and I will tell anyone looking for a bike that you want to buy a bike from a guy that you’ll run into on the trails.

The park has done these night rides for years now, and it was the first government entity to sanction and host night riding. They have people sign on and off the trails to keep them safe, and it’s a good time for everyone. There is no better way to get into night riding than a Mountain Bike in the Moonlight session. Fact.

3. I love creatures. I’ve been seeing roadrunners in the twilight out at Papago Park – always one of my favorites! At McDowell, I’ve seen all sorts of kangaroo rats. And they are very cool little creatures with their big ol’ tails and hopping gait. It’s definitely a treat to see them – which you won’t in the day time. I may have seen some other rodent – it had an even longer tail with a big bottlebrush of fur on the end. I don’t know what it was. And after the Aug. 27 night ride, park supervisor Rand Hubbell spotted a young California king snake cruising through the dirt parking lot at the Competitive Track. He scooped him up to give us all a close-up view of this beneficial little creature – it eats rattlesnakes and is immune to their venom. Rand then dropped him off in a good spot in the desert so he could resume his king snake activities.

This is why a lot of bike people shave their legs - this would be a lot easier to clean without all that fur!

4. It makes old trails new. Seriously, you have less visibility. Everything happens in a relatively narrow cone of light. You can’t really goof off on the harder trails. I got a reminder of that last night – I know the Long Loop at the Comp Track pretty well … and I was about to descend into a chute I knew ended with a short, steep climb. And I couldn’t remember whether I was still in my big ring. I knew I’d need the middle, so I risked a glance at my gear indicators, which said “middle all the way.” When I looked up, I was about to start the descent – but the right side of the trail where I was had a nasty little erosion gully – just enough to catch front wheels and throw you to the floor. So I tried to ride through it – brakes off, letting the bike buck and kick through it. But that front wheels got caught, and I got pitched into a creosote bush. I was scraped up a bit, but I was back on the bike moments later. No harm – just a reminder to always mind your situation and don’t sweat the small stuff like what gear you’re in!

If you’re thinking about trying your hand at night riding -especially if you live in a place with broiling-hot summers- take my advice: Give yourself to the Dark Side.

Check Out McDowell Mountain Night Ride

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Night mountain biking – bring the fun!

The McDowell Mountain night ride is one of the great things about summer for the local Phoenix mountain biker. It’s tough to be a mountain biker during the hot months here – especially if you’re also a stay-up-late sort of character. Just try scraping yourself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to avoid the brutal sun. From the second it makes its way fully over the mountains, its intensity seems to suck your soul dry.

Really, there’s only one refuge for the desert mountain biker: the night-time.

Yes, you have to become a velo vampire. Myself? Night riding isn’t my favorite, and I always made excuses like “Aww, I don’t have a light.” But since I ponied up for some lights to get me through the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, I’ve lost that excuse. And I want to keep my fitness, so I’m extra-motivated to stay on the bike this summer.

I’m a bit of a chicken, I’ll admit. I am kind of a lone wolf when I ride, but the nighttime will force me to be more of a pack animal. That’s what makes this weekend’s moonlight ride at McDowell Mountain Regional Park such an attractive idea: riding at night in the safety of a full moon and a large group of people – on a trail with barely any technical nastiness.

On May 22, you can head out there, pay $6 per car and hook up with other riders for a 16-mile loop around the uber-fun Trail B/Pemberton Loop (I’m pretty sure everyone knows how much I love the Pemberton Loop). It starts at 7:30. Bring enough light power for three hours, and don’t even think of showing up without a helmet. Volunteers sweepers will scoop up all of you stragglers.

Keep an eye on the park’s Web site. These rides usually happen whenever we get a nice, bright moon.

 

Take a Ride McDowell Mountain Park’s Trails

A partial Google Earth View of an awesome ride at McDowell Mountain Park.
A Google Earth View of an awesome ride at McDowell Mountain Park.

I know I’ve mentioned the McDowell Mountain Regional Park before here on WanderingJustin.com. And let me tell you, my love for this park continues unabated. In fact, it’s stronger than ever thanks to some new signage springing up on the Pemberton Trail, aka Trail B.

Here’s the thing: The county officials thought most riders would abandon the Trail B once the Race Loops opened some years back. But though they’re far less technical, Trail B and its offshoots are big fun, and a perfect stomping ground for 29ers and singlespeed bikes. It’s seriously like Formula 1 racing, man! The Coachwhip Trail (see video) is primo stuff! Let’s not forget the elevation change adds to some super-sweet vistas looking east from the Valley.

Enough of my blather: Check out the video!

5 of the Best Places to Mountain Bike in Phoenix, Ariz.

EDITOR’S NOTE (May 1, 2012): This post is really old. I will publish an update soon. Subscribe (it’s free) in the box to the right so you don’t miss it!

EDITOR’S NOTE PART II (May 11, 2012): UPDATED and cooler than ever.

I just recently ran into an old classmate at an ad hoc high school reunion. He’d moved from the area, and mentioned that he was getting more into mountain biking, but isn’t sure where to ride here. Naturally, I promised him some tips … and then I thought, “hey, maybe some other people besides Mitch would dig some advice!”

So here are 5 places in the metro Phoenix area where you can ride. Each will offer something different. These are in no particular order. I’ve linked each to my buddy at MTBikeAZ.com, who has produced some fine maps and profiles!
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McDowell Mountain Regional Park: There is something for everyone here. The Competitive Loops host all sorts of races. You can choose from the Long Loop (about 9 miles), the Sport Loop and the Technical Loop (both about 3 miles). You can string them together for some uberloops. All require some skill to handle steep drops, breaking bumps, rocks and lots of loose nastiness. Speeds can run high. Leave your iPod at home … rattlesnakes love hanging out trailside, and your earbuds will mask their warning signal. And watch the trail closely – that big rock you’re zooming around just might be a desert tortoise! Also, the park offers a 15-mile loop called The Pemberton, aka Trail B. This is technically easier, a varitable mountain bike super highway. By the way, the MTBikeAZ site’s map of this is outdated. Pick up a fresh one when you come into the park. Some snobby riders will label it boring: Not true. It has all sorts of offshoots to explore – and if you’re not up for a 15-mile loop, it has lots of connections back to the trailhead to cut it short, some of which are so fast that you’ll arrive at the bottom before the sound of your tires on the ground does. The park entry fee is $6, and it’s a screaming deal: The race loops feature a beaut of a new bathroom. Trail B’s launching pad has a groovy restroom AND a vending machine!

Pima and Dynamite: This is great for winter epic rides. You can just go forever and really get away from the red tile roofs. As you head away from the intersection, you’re on a false flat as you roll your way up. The terrain undulates and wiggles beautifully. Lots of hardpacked stuff, but it gets more wild and wooly the further north you go. Bring lots of food, water, sunscreen and tubes! Epic high desert scenery makes it even better. The terrain can be tricky and the speeds can be high. I rode here once with a friend, and we went home bloody, thirsty and late: His wife banned me from their house for one year, saying I brought him home sun-baked, penniless and smelling of cheap perfume. I only participated in two of the three! No bathrooms or facilities of any sort here. A bummer … this is State Trust Land, which means you need a permit. Yes, you really do. It’s pretty cheap, though it requires prior planning.
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Phoenix Mountain Preserve: Trail 100 is the mainstay of this ludicrously awesome urban park. The visionaries who set land aside for this gem deserve medals. There’s a trail at Tatum just south of Doubletree Ranch Road. You can ride this monster clear to 7th Avenue … and don’t forget all the side trails! Bring a GPS for sure so you can log everything you ride. Some terrain can be tricky: Crossing the Dreamy Draw freeway and heading west takes you up a few nasty climbs, and into a hideous, rocky wasteland. That eventually turns into some wild, good-time singletrack. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a snake, a bunny or three or even a ringtail. There are actually water and toilet facilities scattered around, which is nice.
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Papago Park: You experienced riders out there better stop snickering. You were once a newbie, a squid, a beginner. And I’ll bet this is where you cut your teeth. Mountain biking isn’t just about YOUR ride – it’s about what you pass on to create a new generation of riders. And Papago is the place to train your apprentices. And let’s face it: this place is fun. That four-mile loop around the old golf course is fast as hell, with beautiful sweeping turns that’ll help even the stoniest veteran keep them skills up. Parking, bathrooms, vending machines and water fountains are scattered all around. As your skills (or those of your apprentice) improve, head south to some short but steep climbs and a few super-secret drop-offs way south toward the freeway.
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Fantasy Island North Singletrack (FINS): This is a new trail, and I pumped out 900 words or so about it for the awesome Mountain Flyer magazine. It’s a bit controversial, though, as you’ll see from the article. But we won’t worry about that, for now. Let’s focus on this: People who know and love mountain biking built this beast, and did a right bang-up job. They smashed a lot of miles (15 and counting at last check) into a really small footprint. It’s all hardpacked and groomed. These trails are fast, like bowling balls on a greased bobsled track. There are some switchbacked climbs that’ll burn your legs and scald your lungs. Lots of turning, barely any straightaway flying; that’s to keep the speeds reasonable and hone your turning and braking skills. No facilities here, either, so stock up on the water and be willing to pee outside.
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Okay, I know some people’s rides got the shaft. I know there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ll give some explanations below about why some got left off the list, but here’s the bottom line: If you don’t like my choices, go write in your own blog about your favorite rides!

Onto those that didn’t make it:

South Mountain: The Mormon Loop, the National and the Desert Classic are legendary around here. But you know, they’re just too crowded and eroded to be my favorites.

Hawes Loop: Too much road pedaling to fully access everything.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park: Because it’s the most suck-a-licious, pointless, loose-rocked POS trail I’ve ever turned tires over.

A few quick mountain bike notes about Wandering Justin: Riding since 1992. Ex shop mechanic. Raced in several 12-hour races (including one win in co-ed sport category), several epic singletrack races, one state series. Rides a 2006 Gary Fisher Cake 2 DLX, but likes Santa Cruz and Specialized way better. Has been (falsely) accused many times for gross malfeasance, negligence and nincompoopery leading to riding parties getting lost.