Zane Grey Country

Sunday is epic day in my little world.  Usually the rides are planned out in advance; this past Sunday I woke up at 5am still not sure where I was headed...it had to be something new, something fresh.  There is a lot to choose from around here if you're willing to drive.  Anything goes on Sunday. 

There's a blank, mostly roadless area on the map that's been attracting my eye for quite some time - the area NE of Roosevelt reservior.  A couple of wilderness areas and the Sierra Ancha mountains domintate the scenery, and comprise the scenery looking NE from the top of 4 peaks.  This is Zane Grey's country - the Tonto basin and region south of the Mogollon Rim.  His old cabin lies about 20 miles north as the crow flies...or did 20 years ago.  Haven't been in these parts for awhile ;)

A look at a national forest map revealed a route through the area - and google earth (you need this if you don't have it - it's free!) helped with the details.  Google earth even shows forest service road numbers if you zoom in enough.  It's like having a $10k GIS app for free. 

The first 30 miles was a series of short climbs and descents in the foothills of the Sierra Ancha, all of it low in the Sonoran desert with Saguaros for company.  One of the more scenic spots was a trailhead into the Salome wilderness area.

In the other direction was the res:

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A Cross road eventually runs into hwy 288, a mostly dirt road that heads north into the Sierra Anchas towards Young.  It climbs 3,000' in the first few miles with some outstanding views along the way.  It was considerably cooler today and I've never experienced as much trouble with temp regulation as this climb.  Heading one direction, a headwind meant you needed coverage - the next switchback put you with a tailwind and the sensation of melting was quick in coming.  Can guys get menopause? 

The Sierra Ancha have many deep chasms that fall off of the east and west sides; this ones on the west side.

Long rides often warp time - it seemed just a few minutes between leaving the saguaros and hitting the first saddle in a ponderosa forest.

Of course in reality that climb took a long time...I must admit to riding like a tourist today.  Yes, it was training...but I was more interested in pictures and eating than riding today.  CTL is over 140 right now, and this week's expenditure is something north of 15,000 kJ - I was feeling it!  But the views kept me energized - that and the realization that at 3pm I still hadn't reached the jeep road turnoff.  Who knows what condition that road was in?  Better get crackin! 

There are some very deep chasms that fall off the east side of Aztec peak (below).  In another lifetime, I made half a dozen trips into the wilderness area with ropes and a mad chemist partner (no, not shane) to see how far down we could get.  We found one chasm to be over 1000' deep - and narrow enough to jump over - with a huge amphitheater at it's floor, & wet walls with black and white bugs with great big eyes.  Those were awesome trips...I was in my teens, new to the west and full of wonder for it all.  Oh to have had a camera then!

In yet another life, I was really into trees.  Alligator junipers are among my favorite trees.

Finally got to the last leg of the route, FR 609.  How far left?  A bit over 30 miles on jeep trails of unkown quality.  It was just after 4pm...damn, to much picture taking & eating!  It's always more fun to get cracking at the end anyway, and given that  I was at about 6500' and the truck was parked at about 2100', there were some big downhills coming up.  Somewhere, anyway.  Not for a loooong  time.  About 12 miles in is a long climb appropriately named Malicious Gap.  The trail gets very rocky, loose pumpkins of rock.  The scenery never stopped though, with big sweeping views to the north of the Mogollon rim. 

There was plenty of time for reflection today.  Thoughts like "why did I choose not to bring the headlamp" were at the forefront...but others such as why riding through the Sierra Anchas was much like a homecoming, a ride through one of the places where it all began ("it" being my fascination with the West and wild places), how being a slave to one's competitive self can often limit such opportunities as today's ride, and how these traits all blend together into one big mosh to create an endurance racer...towards the end of this ride, I pretty much had myself convinced I was headed for the super tough guy hardman point to point self-supported thing.  Then again, that still presents the conflict between love of place and competive drive...

Onward.  About 10 miles from the end the sunset was over the top.

That last 10 miles flew by in the waning seeing light.  By rides end, CTL bumped to 142 and 30 day rolling TSS is at ~4800.  Doing this much volume (and intensity: the biggest week time-wise was 18 hours) really put my mind in a different place.  I rarely get introspective on long rides, but when you're deep in the paincave anything goes.