Trip Report - Gila 100 Bikepack (AZ x-post)
There are some sections of AZ Trail I have been wanting to check out for a long time. The Ripsey segment is considered by many to be the best ridge top ride in Arizona. The Boulders segment is said to be a fun flowy section through the Sonoran desert. The Antelope peak section isn't ridden much, but has its own Arizona endurance series ride called the Antelope Peak Challenge. I started out with the idea of doing a trip to Tucson built around the APC ride which is a 65 mile loop. But, thinking about it more decided on doing the AES Gila 100 route, which is run the same day as a 92 mile point to point. It starts with the Picketpost to Kelvin segment which is one of the most scenic rides I've ever done, and continues on to Ripsey, Boulders and Antelope Peak. Rather than doing it in a super-human single day which most racers attempt, we would split it into two days and bike pack it. Another SD rider Ilya was interested in the bikepack option so the plan was set.
We were picked up at 330am in Oracle AZ by a shuttle bus hired for the race.
The other riders were all accomplished endurance racers including some top finishers in the AZT 300/750, Colorado Trail Race and Great divide races. So when I said to them "we'll see you next year" it was kind of a joke, and kind of not. Once the pack took off, we would see none of them again.
Ilya and I roll out last
It was very cool starting off in dead silence in the dark. Occasionally we could see a headlamp way off above us in the distance but mostly it was just quiet out and dark
Eventually things began to get lighter. Surprisingly we passed one hiker who started before us, and three more heading the other way
I was wanting to get up to the high point of the ride by sunrise, but with a fair amount of cloud there was no sunrise to speak of
Eventually the sun appears
Finally we get to Martinez Canyon
This is where the scenery gets good
Where the trail goes out of sight in the middle is the high point of the ride
But there is a bit more pain to get there
The mountains through here are incredibly rugged
Ilya suffers a decent sized sidewall tear near the top
Which gives me a bit of time to check out the views
And set up for some photos
Beyond the high point the trail drops down the next canyon all the way to the Gila River
Looking back up from our lunch spot
It is still a decent run down to the river
It is 18 miles from the start to the river, and once there it is another 16 miles to get to Kelvin. The landscape changes dramatically as you are no low near the river, with 3 main climbs up and over ridges
Watch out for the cactus clothesline
Poppies are out a little early this year
We were a little slower than expected, getting to Kelvin around 330. I wanted to get up and over the Ripsey climb, which is a beast going N to S, but Ilya didn't have a good headlamp and wanted to find camp before dark, so we settled on camping just past the Florence-Kelvin Hwy at the base of the climb. We got there and found a great spot just before sundown. We had gotten just an hour or so sleep the prior night so I was happy to eat some dinner and crash out. Slept for a good 12 hours. It got real chilly over night so we werent in a big hurry to get up before sunrise at 730.
Moving by 830 we were soon onto the switchbacks, which is a tough climb onto the Ripsey ridgeline. Most of it isn't that bad except for some sharp switchbacks. I made some of them but they were pretty tough on a loaded bike. Once on the ridgeline it is still mostly climbing. Ripsey is best ridden the other direction, though even the wrong way it is still a nice ride
Descending off the mountain toward Ripsey Wash
There were some switchbacks and steeps before dropping in to the wash proper, which you follow for a short distance before turning off.
There is a somewhat painful climb out before you get into a pretty fast segment of doubletrack and singletrack. Looking back north Ripsey peak is in the middle
Ilya was taking it easy today, not sure if he wanted to do the full ride, so I went on ahead with the plan to meet up at the Freeman Rd crossing.
On to the Boudlers segment, I had been wondering why it was called that for a good 10 miles. Eventually the namesake boulders came into view
After a 20min break at Freeman, Ilya caught up and confirmed he was going to chill out there rather than continue on. It was 26 miles to the end, on unknown and possibly nasty terrain. I was feeling good and determined to finish regardless, and had no choice anyways. So refilled water at the AZT cache and continued on.
The elevation profile showed a 10 mile descent, then 5 mile climb, then 5 mile descent, and finally 5 miles rolling terrain. Looks easy enough, but of course on backcountry trails like this the descents always have plenty of climbs thrown in that don't really show on the profile. This day would be no different...no matter what, it seemed like I was always climbing on the last segment here...
Just beyond Antelope Peak the views really open up. My route will take me right up and over the biggest hill middle right in the pic below
Lots of up/down eventually drop me into a jeep road which runs past this old ranch
From there it is a bit of climb before a longer jeep road descent into Bloodsucker Wash. Was it just me or is the cactus in front getting spanked?
Closer view of what I'll be climbing over
I made it to the highest point of the day's ride right at sunset.
Beyond that was the 5 mile descent and the 5 miles "rolling" terrain. The whole climb out of Bloodsucker Wash was pretty tough. Definitely not trail designed with MTB in mind. The trail beyond this high point was no different. The "descent" I would call rolling. The "rolling" terrain was steep rough downhill followed by steep rough uphill. Lots of hike a bike. Would have been easier during daylight, and with an unloaded bike. The worst part is it seemed never-ending. It was hard to relate each climb to the topo map, and instead of trying to figure out where I was, which probably would have proven discouraging, I just pushed on. I eventually finished just before 9pm. The Mexican place nearby closed at 9 so I was out of luck and had to settle on "The Bomb" burrito from Circle K.
Drove back to Freeman Rd to pick up Ilya and camped nearby.
Slept pretty good for a second night in a row! Aside from a coyote who decided to come and bark at us at 330am
YAY, another bikepacking Ibis!
"...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."
Great write up, love the pics, way to document a fun ride. I live in the Mesa area and would love to get into some multi day rides.
Flyin the TallBoy...Clyde style.
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Great trip report. I would like to do the ride this coming winter, looks like like a great adventure. So, ive read that many bike packers go tubeless. Can you advise, is this really a good idea if/when a rock slices up the tire? It seems like changing and remounting a tubeless tire might be a big deal on the trail.
Thanks for any insight you can offer.
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