TR - Bikepacking the Gila 100 Feb 2018 (AZ x-post)-
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  1. #1
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    Mar 2007

    TR - Bikepacking the Gila 100 Feb 2018 (AZ x-post)

    The Gila 100 is an Arizona Endurance Series ride I did as a two-day bikepack a few years ago. Joined by a rider who wasn't that into it after all, I always thought I could do much better time-wise if I were to try it again. This year I was even considering riding it in one day like the hardcore racers. Well, in my dreams anyways.

    This year's running was scheduled for President's day weekend which I normally do not get off work, but work decided to be nice this year and added it to our company holidays list. So, I was looking for a road trip. This time of year is perfect for AZ and I've never gotten anyone from SoCal to come out and ride the Arizona Trail from Picketpost to Kelvin. Despite it being one of my top 5 favorite rides.

    I had one taker - Christian, and suggested we look at doing Oracle to Superior as a bike pack rather than do separate day rides. The weather threatened to derail our plans, but in the end we went with the bikepack plan. No locals seemed to be doing it this weekend despite whispered plans to do the same two-day bikepack I'd heard earlier.

    We made the drive out Friday after work getting into Picketpost around 130am. Ouch. Plan was to drop by motorcycle at the trailhead first thing then drive to Oracle and start pedaling. Of course a stop for gas and breakfast plus the travel time and getting ready didn't see us start riding until 10am. Also ouch...

    Why we're here

    Rain the day before meant for cool and wet conditions, both overnight, and getting ready. A bit of drying out time was needed.

    The sun came out just as we started riding

    A few short steep climbs seemed to take us up every possible hill, but soon we were through those and into more rolling terrain

    Riding through the cholla forest

    Christian discovering the joy of AZT gates

    Climbing away toward the high point before the descent into Bloodsucker wash

    See that lonely hill? That's where we're headed.


    We came across a sweet jean jacket on the road out of Bloodsucker wash

    Hitting singletrack we were soon stopped by the sound of air leaking from tire. This would become a familiar sight over the weekend.


    Getting close

    It was around 5pm when we got to Freeman Rd. I was hoping to camp at the top of Ripsey Ridge for a great sunrise view, but that was in doubt. My knee had been acting up again and required some rest to keep going. And Christian had suffered several side wall tears that weren't sealing properly, forcing him to stop and add air and/or Stans every so often.

    Sunset at the Freeman Rd shade structure

    We decided to just keep going for a while and see how things went.

    Night mode

    For a while the trail was hard to follow due to the many cow paths around. I've had trouble during the daytime too. We always found it after a few mins. The final time, we found this knife sunk into a post. Same guy who lost his jean jacket?

    In the end we made it to the spot where the trail drops into Ripsey Wash. I didn't want to camp in the wash, and it was another hour or more to the Ripsey Ridgeline. So this was a good spot for us to camp. The total was around 42mi in just over 12 hours. We had a beer and then slept well.

  2. #2
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    We were up just before sunrise and despite not having the view from Ripsey Ridge what we did have was nothing to complain about.

    Given the dirt was still damp from prior days rains there was plenty of condensation to dry out if possible.

    After some breakfast we packed up and got going. Not a 1/4 mi later we came across a couple lady backpackers who must have camped just 100 yards below us where the trail drops down.

    Continuing on. Trail was in pretty good shape and we were soon ready for the final drop into Ripsey Wash

    Ripsey Ridge still distant but getting closer

    Climbing the 5 upper switchbacks

    Rest stop at the top

    Cruising the ridgeline

    Such a sweet piece of trail!

    Ready to descend the switchbacks down the far side

    Even on a loaded bike the descent is fun

    We made it to Kelvin around 1230 or 1pm? Laid out sleeping bags to dry, and had some rest at the ADOT spigot. It was close to 230 when we got rolling.

    New gate? Seems there were a few I don't recall from last ride

    Do not hug...

    Some ocotillo were starting to bloom, which was cool to see

    Otherwise it seemed rather desolate. Even sections like this near the river were barren. I don't recall anything like this, flat and straight?

    Christian checking out the saguaro forest

    Still cruising along. Lots of nice new trailwork along the river. Unfortunately both horses and cows got on it while it was loose and/or wet.

    Dramatic lighting from sun and dark clouds

    Nice rainbow at the Gila after we got rained on for about 10mins

    We left the river right at sunset and headed up the canyon 2-3 miles to where there is a nice campsite. Got there just around 7, and on queue a rain squall passed through just as the (updated) forecast had suggested might happen. It cleared off after that and we had clear skies much of the night.

    Ride time wasn't that long this day, but I wanted Christian to see the upper canyon in daylight. We had food for an extra half day so there was no problem extending to Monday. The only risk was the forecast was now saying 30-70% chance of rain by hour, through Monday mid-day.

  3. #3
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    Prior to setting off from Kelvin the previous day a check of the forecast showed 30-70% chance of rain from 7pm Sunday through 1pm Monday, then windy. This of course meant we might get wet overnight or on the ride into PP in the morning. I had only brought an emergency bivy, so at camp I tucked right in under a palo verde and tied up a ground sheet borrowed from Christian.

    Rain started just as we were setting up camp and lasted for 10-15 mins. After that it was clear skies until sometime during the night. Dry but windy.

    My hidey-hole at camp. Dark skies above

    We had completed close to 3 of the 7 mile climb out of the Gila the night before and the rest promised to be the most scenic. But what is that abomination off the trail? Time for a little hike for balloon retrieval!

    Christian gives the trail two thumbs up!

    Climbing. Maybe it was fresh(er) legs but the entire climb seemed more rideable than last time. Neither of us had been feeling strong so far on the ride...

    The light was unbelievable with the sun just poking through clouds at times.

    No way to capture it in pics really, but it was spectacular.

    Once onto the switchbacks the riding got tougher but aside from a few short pitches we rode everything.

    Great view looking SW from near the overlook

    First view into the canyon is a good one

    Christian trying not to get too distracted by the views

    I climbed up on a big rock outcrop next to the trail for a great view up Martinez Canyon

    Bike shots above the canyon

    On the final push out of the canyon we were surprised to see some 4x4s coming down the jeep road. We watched them slip n slide down steep part of the road

    Great view looking east

    And north. Skies were still looking threatening in that direction

    The dark clouds and partial sun made for very dramatic scenes

    The last short climbs went quickly

    Picketpost gets near

    A couple miles from the trailhead we saw 3 horses up ahead. A bit of a stop, conveniently timed to address another slow leak in Christian's tire, and they got far enough ahead we didn't see them again

    All done!

    We still had the matter of shuttle retrieval to deal with. My moto was locked up to the pipe fence, and there was a chair and cooler with some beers in it so Christian would have something to do. I took the back highway through Superior and Kearny figuring there would be less traffic. My bike isn't great on highways, and with a strong headwind and/or sidewind, it wasn't a fun ride. Had to stop a couple times to rest. Got rained on for 10mins near Mammoth, but made it back to the truck in around 1:20. Loaded up and back through Florence where it rained most of the way. Turned out a storm had moved in shortly after I left PP and it rained there for a good 2 hours while I was gone. It was frigid by the time I got back, good thing this hadn't rolled in a few hours sooner. Fortunately Christian had rain pants and coat, so it wasn't a huge deal. I had told him if it got ugly to hang out in the bathroom like a true hardcore bikepacker.

    The scene as we left for home

    Another great AZ trip! Could not have asked for better temps and weather for riding. The 2.5 day pace is a really good one for this ride. Had we been able to get earlier starts there wouldn't have been any night riding needed. I do enjoy that though, so it was no big deal. I have to say I do like the whole thing better S to N, especially Kelvin to PP:

    -you get the less scenic part along the river over first
    -climbs along the river are easier this way
    -you get to enjoy the views and climb out of the Gila and Martinez more slowly - given the views this is a good thing
    -the climb is shorter than that from PP to the top of Martinez
    -it isn't as rideable as going south but what isn't hike a bike is probably easier, and I like some HAB to give leg muscles a break - I think this makes the climb easier headed north
    -you get a longer "descent" back down to PP - yeah it's not all downhill but the climbs aren't a big deal and it rides well

    Need to try it some time on fresh legs!

    Since people always ask - other traffic on the trail we encountered:

    Day 1 - 4 backpackers on day 1 coming south out of Bloodsucker wash.
    Day 2 - 2 backpackers dropping into Ripsey wash; one couple camping in the wash; one hiker climbing up Ripsey; 2 hikers hiking south out of Kelvin the wrong way looking for the river; 4 backpackers camped near the climb out of the Gila.
    Day 3 - the two 4x4s and three horses, but we never met either.
    Saw no other bikes, though we were told there were 3 bikepackers ahead of us who camped up top Ripsey and then rode to PP. Oh, and lots of cattle. Everywhere.

    And trail conditions - everything was in pretty good shape. With rain the day before, parts in the Black Hills were riding slow. No mud, but you could tell instantly if you hit a soft patch where there was more resistance. This was most noticeable on the roads. Day 2 was great and things were pretty dry on Ripsey and from Kelvin. Trail from Kelvin was good, just loose where it has recently been worked on, and some horses and cattle got on it right away and tore it up in places. Some cat claw on Boulders-Ripsey and PP segments. Just enough to let you know who's boss!

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