Despite the mondo breakfast gorge-a-thon that Skippy goaded me into, I knew before suiting up that I had burned way too many matches on the previous two days. My legs were torched and any progress made today was going to be s-l-o-w. Feeling the way I did, and given present company, I adjusted my pre-ride worry-meter to just shy of 'panic'.
Scott and I bandied ideas back and forth, ultimately choosing the paved ascent of the Mt. Lemmon highway, followed by (mostly) descending Bugs Springs, Prison Camp, Molino, and Milagrosa. Scott refers to this loop as 'One of our best rides'. I was just hoping the road climb would buy me some time to get moving.
The ascent is paved but it's still uphill. Something like 3k of climbing unwound itself beneath our wheels in less than 2 hours.
Scott and Skippy set tempo up front while Greg flitted about composing and snapping pics. I plodded along, occasionally stopping to attend to minor mechanical issues like loose cranks, too-low saddle, and a random squeak that resolved itself to be...
...a random squeak. And I gawked a lot, trying to figure out why the gubmint would put Saguaro National Park here.
A brief regroup at the Bugs trailhead and then Scott led us onto dirt.
I vaguely recollected this climb being steep but I misunderestimated how steep, and how soon, and found out the hard way that middle ring was simply not gonna cut it. After pegging the HR at roughly oh-my-god in 15 seconds flat, I dabbed, waited for the others to pass, then went back to the bottom to start again--in granny.
Which made precisely zero difference in the ultimate outcome. Didn't even come close to cleaning 'The Scar', and was honestly too exhausted to care. Note to self: Save some legs for this ride next time!
Near what felt like the top of the climb was a somewhat conspicuous looking boulder on the side of the trail. As I pulled alongside it I looked for tracks indicating that people bursted onto it and then manualed off the low end, but there were none. I stopped and looked closer, wondering if maybe it was just a hair too big to 'go'. But it looked fine. Scott pulled up and confirmed that, at least as far as he knew, no one rode it.
And that just seemed silly because it looked doable, fun, *and* it was right there.
So I backed up, clipped in, and rode it. And it was fun. Then I browbeat Skippy into doing it.
He popped right up first try, and smoothed his way off the low side. I said nothing at the time but made a note of how easily he cleaned it--a year ago he might have had a lot more trouble with it. Progress, and lots of it, in the interim.
Then it was Scott's turn. Here he's checking out the approach--where the boulder sits at the crest of a rise makes it a bit heady because you can't see where your wheel is going to end up, nor where you're going afterward. Not until you're on top anyway.
Scott backed up, clipped in, then rolled forward, erupting into nervous laughter and stopping just short of committing.
For all of Scott's climbing prowess, we were shocked that he was balking at this--it amounted to a cupcake move relative to what Scott cleans one-handed. We offered encouragement but it just seemed like his head wasn't there. He backed up, rolled forward, looked hard, then backed up again. Then he commented that 'maybe I've looked too long already' which Skippy and I brushed off as poppycock. Finally Skippy insisted that if Scott were to just give it a shot he'd be amazed at how easy it 'went'.
And that's exactly what happened.
Badabing! Just like that he nailed it, grinning and laughing and being generally stoked that a new move had been added to the other zillion on this loop.
And we were just getting started...
A leetle more climbing brought us to this slickrock slab where scoobies were inhaled while Scott gave us a verbal tour of the visible horizon.
If I can only use *one* word to describe the ensuing descent of Bugs it has to be...
But there's so much more going on than speed! Dips, swoops, mini-chunk, ledges, minor exposure, switchbacks, even several B lines if you've got that set of eyes open. It is a brilliant few miles of trail.
We regrouped and shared laughs as we crossed the highway to begin descending Prison Camp. Greg rallied on ahead to set up in the sweetious light that was flooding the whole Molino Basin. As he sped off Skippy ground to a halt with chainsuck. It only took ~2 minutes or so to get it sorted, but in that time Greg cursed as the sweet light vaporized--sucked away by a film of high clouds. Gah.
Climbing to the Molino Saddle I started to feel a little more awake. No juice to really burst on any of the techy climbing moves, but there weren't really any big burst moves around--just slow speed granny gear rock crawling, and although neither Scott nor I made significant progress on any of the harder sections, we had good fun trying.
Descending from Molino Saddle was a HOOT! Chunky, ledgy, a few places with no obvious line where a manual and a prayer somehow saw us through, then a switchback, more chunk, more ledges, and on and on and on. I lost track of time on this descent (5 minutes? 15?) but I vividly remember laughing out loud most of the way down. I was clearly not the only one feeling this way.
A short stinger of a climb, then some more descending on eroded doubletrack that just begged you to open it up.
Scott flashes the high hard line on the staircase.
Skippy needed a second look before committing, but then he rolled right down it.
Leaving the staircase we crossed a wash and rolled right into a punchy, rubbly stairstep of a climb. It looked hard, but not undoable, it just wasn't obvious where the rideable line was. A halfhearted effort at it put me past where I thought I'd get shut down. Scott commented as I walked back down that this section had never been climbed clean. Huh? It looked hard, but possible. So I looked a bit longer and whaddya know--two tries later it went. Two tries later and Scott was up it as well. Sweet.
Lots of quasi-ridgeline cruising ensued, headed downward and townward.
Warm light, more stunning views, loooong shadows, and really fun tech-chunk-flowy trail characterized the last hour of the ride.
More fun was had trying and retrying tech sections, with Scott pulling off another hard-to-believe-he-just-made-that climb.
All in all, a pretty OK way to spend a day of our lives.
That is--if you're into that sort of thing.