Scenes from Arizona: 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

My friend Danielle (L) and her quad team The Go-Go Girls - happy before the wind and rain.

There are lots of lessons on my mind now that it’s the day after the 2011 Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

For example, desert plants can rip the ratcheting buckles clean off your right shoe. And that a fire can and will melt your left shoe while you’re drying it out. (I have to thank the guys at Tucson-based Fairwheel Bikes for extricating me from the clutches of my shoe – even though they’re a Trek dealer, the crew put in some after-hours time removing the offending shoe: Well, some of them did. The others laughed and took photos.)

The indignities heaped on my poor Specialized shoes were just the beginning. It was an event complete with tent-destroying winds, person-soaking rains, teeth-chattering temperatures – all a perfect concoction to make people flee the event.

Our camp started with eight people on four duo teams. We ended with two teams and four people.

My bike is ready to go. And Ryan Zilka (R) is ready for a lap, too.

It was really the wind that started breaking us all. It made everything harder – steering, picking a line, even the simple act of breathing. And slap on at least 5-10 minutes of extra time per 16-mile lap to deal with it. And extra depletion of the energy in your legs, lungs and mind.

The rain started just as I was returning to hand the baton to my teammate, Harry. He got soaked and frozen during his lap. He expected to be back before he’d need lights. The clouds made night show up early, and he had to walk the final downhill into the infamous 24-Hour Town.

Harry’s misfortunes were pretty epic. The storm destroyed his EZ-Up tent, plus bent and broke several poles of his REI tent. He wound up sleeping in his CRV, while I was holed up in my Subaru Forester – and yes, a 6’2

Arizona sunset over 24-Hour Town.

guy can stretch out fully and comfortably in a Forester (as if that car doesn’t already have enough superpowers). Many cars and even RVs left before sunrise.

Yes, this post reeks of woe, sorrow, misfortune. But in some twisted way, it was still fun: eating freeze-dried Chili Mac, shivering my way through Sunday’s first lap, dogfighting through the starting pack, shotgunning 16-ounce cans of coconut water. Speaking of that dogfighting, one woman was unfortunate enough to get pitched into the cholla cactuses within 30 minutes. I felt so bad for her – nothing like that needs to happen. All I can wonder is if someone with too much aggression made a dangerous pass and caused that accident. Who in the world can think endangering another rider is worth a few extra seconds?

24-Hour Town ... you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

That first Sunday lap was actually a thing of beauty, despite the cold. The wind abated, and the previous rain made the trail beautiful and grippy. My wheels stuck to it like glue. By my final lap, though, the wind was back. It wasn’t quite as Book-of-Revelation-awful as the previous night’s wind, but is was no picnic.

Harry and fellow duo rider Ryan Zilka (possibly one of the most relentlessly upbeat people I’ve ever met) met me at the finish with a can of Guinness to celebrate our second year camping and racing together. It was just a nice gesture that really underscored what 24-hour racing is all about to the pack fodder – solidarity, spending time with good people and going home safe.

You can also read my 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo recap at Examiner.com.

Awesome helmet decoration
The dudes from Mountain Flyer make a visit.
Humor goes a long way.
Ruined camp sites - a sign that the weather hit hard.
The expo area before it got storm-squashed.
Our happy 24 Hours of Bromance camp before the storm hit.

Images from Avondale, Ariz. – 2011 Hedgehog Hustle

mbaa2-9, Hedgehog Hustle 2011, Mountain Bike, Arizona
Getting aero on the downhill at the 2011 Hedgehog Hustle.

UPDATE: See my report on Examiner.com for a race recap.

Today, I made a trip out to Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Avondale, Ariz., to check out the 2011 Hedgehog Hustle. My erstwhile Adventure Bicycle Company stooge-turned-real estate mogul Matt Long was out there lining up for the Cat 2 race with the infamous Phoenix International Raceway in the background. There was definitely a chill in the air, but it warmed into a nice day for some racing.

I’ll have a full report later one. For now, you can enjoy this here slideshow I’m about to unfold. But I done introduced it enough. (NOTE: I have many other photos. If you don’t see yourself, send a note including your race number to wanderingjustin@hotmail.com)

Surviving My First 12-Hour Solo Bike Race

Me headed out for another lap as the day wears on.

Saturday, I raced in the solo class of the Four Peaks "12 Hours in the Papago" mountain bike race.

Hang on – make the "Slowlow Class" -- as in slow speeds, and a low number of laps!

I was pretty excited about this race since it’s so close to Phoenix – and I think Papago Park is one of the best attractions around. The red sandstone buttes are close to Mill Avenue and a lot of other fun stuff. And having a 12-hour race so close to home took some of the logistical problems away.

There were many interesting things at play here: I hadn’t ridden my bike in three weeks, mostly because of fighting off some sort of plague that’s making the rounds here. This was the first weekend I’ve felt pretty much back to normal.

I pretty much treated this as training for the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race next month. I experimented with intensity, food and drinks to see what would work to keep my legs from cramping and stave off dehydration.

Mission accomplished: A combo of V-8, coconut water, Cytomax, Pro Bars and the occasional "toaster pastry" helped me put in 8 laps and avoid Dead Freakin’ Last place by a large margin. I also dealt with the cold pre-dawn temperatures pretty well.

Something else: I avoided caffeine the entire week before the race. I hate waking up early, so I decided skipping caffeine would help me fall asleep faster each night. Worked perfectly.

These are lessons I’ll apply next month when my bud Harry and I hit Old Pueblo as the duo team Bone Resistance.

OK, so how did Red Rock do in running and organizing 12 Hours in the Papago? Pretty well. Here are some points that stuck with me: Continue reading

New Phoenix Trails Bring Recreation – and Dose of Controversy

Rusty Angel Deem Hills Wandering Justin
A look up the Rusty Angel Trail at Deem Hills.

There’s not much in the way of hiking and biking trails west of I-17 in Phoenix. That’s bad news for hikers and mountain bikers living in that area.

That makes the opening of Deem Hills Recreation Area, a great piece of news for people wandering around Phoenix, right? Right?

Um, maybe.

First, a small group of litigious homeowners halted trail construction for a few months, as reported in The Arizona Republic. Fortunately, a Superior Court judge didn’t buy their argument (“The suit claimed the building of trails violates Environmentally Sensitive Development Areas Policies Design Guidelines and the city’s own Trail Management practices and procedures,” wrote Republic reporter Betty Reid.).

Conversations with some hikers on the trail convinced me those arguments are a smokescreen: What really had the plaintiffs POd was:

1. They could see the trails from their backyard, a sad reminder that they’re not in an exclusive enclave but rather in a sea of tile roofs.

Deem Hills Google Earth
A Google Earth Views of Deem Hills and my routes.

2. They’re worried that trail users might be able to see into their yards.

Hmm. I drove about 30 minutes from central Phoenix to ride the Deem Hills trails for the first time. At no point did I peer into the yards of homes flanking the south side of the park.

You see, I was a little busy TRYING TO STAY ON THE TRAIL AND NOT WRAP MYSELF AROUND A CACTUS OR THREE!

Seriously, I’d love to know what these lawsuit-happy nabobs are doing in their backyard that has them so worried? Perhaps they’ve mistaken themselves for celebrities – they’ve forgotten that they are Joe and Ethel Suburb, and thus of little interest to the outdoor lovers enjoying the park.

Everyone I encountered on the trails was friendly, hikers and bikers alike. Many said it was their first time on the trails. But one of my talks with the hikers disturbed me: I mentioned that I saw some room for improvement on the trails.

Deem Hills Wandering Justin
A look at the trails in the hillside at Deem Hills.

“We don’t want it too nice,” she said. “We just live over in the neighborhood.”

In other words, “let’s prevent this amenity from rising above mediocrity so that I won’t experience any inconvenience.” And make no mistake about it: the trails at Deem Hills are merely OK. You can find out more in my review at Examiner.com. They’re not the best nor the worst – and they’re a huge score for West Valley mountain bikers, who will get some great training on the many climbs in the park.

The area is a bit unusual because it seems to be one of the few spots in the Valley of obvious volcanic origin. The park is littered with large black volcanic bombs. I’d definitely be curious to know more about its geology from those in the know. I’d have to guess the hills are heavily eroded cinder cones. I also spotted some agate-like minerals strewn here and there.

As for the controversy, let’s hope this is also the end of the legal drama and that the “don’t look in my backyard” NIMBY crowd gets over itself in all due haste.

24-Hour Race Advice – Mountain Bike Tips

24-hour race advice. Photo by Tyrone Minton.
Wandering Justin takes a lap at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. Photo by Tyrone Minton.

I have some 24-hour race advice for you: A few weeks ago, I raced in the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo as part of the duo team Lost Nuts. We finished in the middle of the pack, with having few mechanical problems being our only distinguishing feature. It was my first 24-hour event, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. My partner, Harry, had a great question for me after the event. “So, what did you learn?” Here are the answers.

1. Pack meticulously, and don’t overlook food. I failed to bring some essentials that I used throughout my training: V-8 and coconut water, both of which are great for re-hydrating. I also, if you can believe this, forgot my freakin’ helmet. Fortunately, several local bike shops had set up camp there and I was able to score one on the cheap. A second helmet is going to be useful for riding at night more often. Which leads us to #2.

2. Ride at night lots before the race. That way, you won’t be a chicken like me. Night riding freaks me out, and I need to get used to it if I’m going to do this more often. Which I intend to.

Continue reading

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 Facts About Bike Shorts

bike shorts
Now that’s a pair of bike shorts!

Bike shorts are a bone of contention with just about every new bicyclist. “Do I have to wear Spandex?” they’ll whine. “Why are they so expensive?” usually comes next. The answer to the first question is “yes, you do.” The answer to the second is “‘Cause they’re doing a hard job – supporting your miserable, stinky undercarriage!” Here are a few things that might add some detail to these short answers for the new bicyclist.

1. Yes, you really need to wear bike shorts.

They have a pad in the butt to make sitting on a bike seat more comfortable. They’re also made from materials that wick sweat away so it can evaporate. That means less heat and less chafing. You’ll be far happier than a bicyclist wearing jeans!

2. Dude, please don’t wear underwear with your bike shorts.

My brother tried taking up biking. I think he stopped after the relentless mocking I gave him when I caught him wearing tighty-whiteys under his bike shorts. If you wear undies (boxers, TWs, thongs, whatever), you defeat the wicking capability of your shorts. You will stay wet, making you feel like you’re wearing a diaper. If you’re into that sort of thing, fine!

3. I consider $80 for a pair of Castelli shorts money well spent.

But to me, throwing $35 down for some Bellwethers is like spraying my money with WD-40 and lighting it on fire. The difference in quality and fit is huge. A new bicyclist riding short distances might not notice the difference. But some experience and increased time on the saddle will reveal all.

That said, budget shorts are getting slightly better as you may notice in this review of The Black Shorts, which seem a cut above other cheap bike shorts.

4. When you’re looking for shorts, look for a few things:

The butt pad (aka chamois) should not be a big blob of foam. It should be designed to conform to your mysterious man/lady parts. Also, the shell of the shorts should be constructed from more than one big piece of material. The more panels, the better the fit. Just try on a pair of Bellwether or Canari shorts, and follow with something from Castelli, Assos or even a higher-end Pearl Izumi. You’ll know where your money is going.

5. After you’re done riding, don’t go to the coffee shop and lounge around in your bike shorts.

There’s still some moisture in there, as well as some heat. That’s a breeding ground for bacteria. Change into some regular ol’ shorts for your post-ride coffee. Sure, you won’t look like the cool bicyclist that you are, but you’ll smell and feel better.


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Scottsdale, Ariz.: 5 Scenes from a Mountain Bike Ride

NOTE: A lot has changed since I published this. The area has a new name, which is Brown’s Ranch. I’ve also posted an update with all sorts of valuable info for planning a great ride at these trails – and they’re better than ever now!

This post is a preview of a more in-depth description of the off-road trails near Pima & Dynamite. Count on maps, directions and more. In the meantime, check out the scenery!

Saguaros, clouds, a mountain of boulders.
Saguaros, clouds, a mountain of boulders.

My Top 4 Female Mountain Bike Icons

Paola Pezzo was a good bet to win everytime she lined up at the start.
Paola Pezzo was a good bet to win everytime she lined up at the start. (photog unknown)

So my new pal and fellow Specialized Trail Crew* reject Mountain Biking Girl [UPDATE Oct. 2011: She is now a member of the Canadian Trail Crew … congrats!] was recently lamenting the lack of women in mountain biking. And she’s right. Show up to a group ride, and it will overwhelmingly be a bananarama. My theory is that the combination of few prominent female riders and too many tech-talking geeks in the shops leads to fewer women.

Let’s address the prominent female riders thing. I read the mountain bike mags, pretty much all of them. What I don’t see is quite the focus on the sport’s personalities. Consequently, it seems that there is no personality.

Contrast that with that wonderful Golden Age of mountain biking – those grand times when you replaced every stock bolt on your bike with titanium. Downhill forks had three inches of travel. Anodized purple was the order of the day. You could get a high-quality steel-framed bike at any shop. Back in those days, the sport had personalities. And some of the greatest of them sported two X chromosomes. Here are my four favorites, in no particular order cause they all freakin’ rule (there are lots of honorable mentions like Ruthy Mathis, but these are the ones that, for me, stand above the rest).

Continue reading

48 Hours in Flagstaff

Downtown Flagstaff with San Francisco Peaks in Background - Photographer unknown
Downtown Flagstaff with San Francisco Peaks in Background - Photographer unknown

Flagstaff has saved the sanity of many people from central Arizona. We know that, even on the hottest, most brain-baking weekends, respite is just two hours away up the I-17. That means you can squeeze relief from triple-digit temperatures into just one weekend.

Here are some tips for desert dwellers looking to get the most out of 48 hours. Out-of-state visitors can also use this to get their plans started.

Where to Stay:

Flagstaff has a little something for everyone when it comes to accommodations. Even the cheap hotels are pricier than they should be, but we’ll just have to grin and bear that. There are enough decent hotels that you shouldn’t have trouble finding a place. In fact, I’m not even going to name any specific hotels.

Here’s what I’ll do instead: I’ll tell you to mind the railroad tracks. The closer you are to them, the more you will hear train whistles and the roar of enormous diesel locomotives. Let the tracks be your guide. Unfortunately, some of the more fun places are walking distance from the tracks, too.

Continue reading