A Trip-to-Phan-Tastic Cave Creek

Arizona has revealed so much variety of its beautiful lands over these last few weeks. Since last post I travelled from Sedona to Prescott to Crown King to Cave Creek, just North of Phoenix…

 

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During my final 2 nights in Sedona, I ended up finding rogue campsites near some of the trails just North of West Sedona. Officially you are not supposed to camp within 5 miles of city limits as I was told, but that felt a little extreme. Being on a bike makes discrete camping much easier. In order to avoid suspicion I rode out of town after dark both evenings, having already scouted out my camp spot while riding the trails the previous day. Doing my best to avoid laying the tent on or near the variety of cacti that surrounded me was a bit of a chore a times, but worth it for the sunrise views. Looming red rock features in many directions, silent crisp air, and watching the sun carry in the light of day as it climbed above the cliffs each morning.

Arizona is home to many long distance, multi-day mountain bike routes and races. I was fortunately turned on to Scott Morris’ site, Bikepacker.net, which has GPX files for most of these routes. I found one, the Coconino 250, which included a section from Sedona to the outskirts of Prescott, my next destination. Knowing very little about the terrain I’d be riding, I loaded the route onto my Garmin and set out from Sedona. The section I started on was locally called the Lime Kiln Trail, and stretched from central Sedona to the adjacent town of Cottonwood. It covered some beautiful open meadows, primarily on narrow single track. Starting out technical and loose rocky, it slowly transitioned into a long section of sandy trail. Very slow going.

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The Lime Kiln Trail. I headed toward those mountains in the distance tonight, with plans to camp atop Mingus Mountain.

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Lots of beautiful prickly things along the sides of the trail made for cautious turning, especially in the loose sand.

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After passing through the sweet little town of Cottonwood, I remained on the Coconino 250 route to climb Mingus Mountain. While the route was on a wide road, the terrain got steeper and rougher as it climbed from 3500’ in town to my campsite at 6000’. The grade reached 18% for extended sections with baby head rocks just waiting to throw me off balance as I tried to maneuver them. I didn’t make it to the campground on top of the mountain as it got dark, and extremely cold. I found a tiny turnout on the side of the road, collected firewood, and hunkered down for the night.

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 Looking back behind me to the town of Cottonwood in the foreground, Sedona behind that, and the San Francisco Peaks just North of Flagstaff in the far distance. I finally got to my high point at about 7200’ a few miles later, excited to enjoy a long fast descent down towards Prescott. Moments after that I heard a strange sound coming from the bike, as if the rear tire was rubbing against the frame. I thought that the axle bolt had perhaps come loose or maybe a stick got stuck in there somewhere. I was wrong.

Despite the assumption that the Ogre was a fully bomb-proof bike, I still managed to break the frame. The sound was the wheel going out of alignment as the cracked chainstay was splitting apart. I was still 30 miles from Prescott and the nearest bike shop, 12 miles from the nearest road where I might find a ride to town. Out came the gorilla duct tape. I wrapped the broken tube as tightly as I could, and created a sling of sorts to support the break from the seat tube, hoping it would hold through the rough 2000’ descent that lay between me and pavement. I got lucky and made it down. The break was actually supported sufficiently that I decided to just ride all the way into Prescott rather than attempting to hitch. 

 

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In town, I was referred Ray at Bikesmith who supposedly had a MIG welder and might be able to help bring the Ogre back to life. After looking at the quality of the break, he felt more comfortable just calling Surly to warranty the frame. Ray was amazing. He got the replacement ordered in no time, and treated me to some pizza and coffee!

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 Ray was also kind enough to lend me one a fancy full-suspension rig to ride around town while I waited for the warranty frame. This little number was made sometime in the 90’s! It felt like riding a little BMX bike in comparison to the oversized Ogre, but even the archaic suspension technology it had felt revolutionary to me. It was the only other bike I’d ridden in the last 3 months.

 

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 Amazingly quick turnaround. The new frame arrived in less than 2 days! Thanks Surly! Ray let me use a spare stand and tools to rebuild the new Ogre. So generous. 

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The fantastic Bikesmith crew: Ray the owner on the right, and Andrew the highly skilled wrench on left. I found the right shop here.

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After camping in the outskirts of town my first night, Andrew was kind enough to offer me a warm place to crash at his house with is wife Leah. I followed him home through the streets of Prescott, giggling at his little pup Ruby peeking at me from his backpack.

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My last night in Prescott. Leah, Andrew and I went to see Birdman at the local theatre which advertised reclining leather seats. I’d not been to a movie theatre in almost a year.

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Every seat was a leather recliner with electric adjustments. LUXURIOUS.

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Coolest bike rack ever, outside the town library.  Hard to make it out, but it’s a huge rattlesnake.

 

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From Prescott I followed the advice of a biker I’d met in the post office, riding the Senator Highway South toward a town called Crown King. The word “highway” was only accurate here in the sense that it climbed to some very high elevations in the Bradshaw Mountains. The road itself was dirt, and eventually a rough jeep trail. But I knew I wanted to connect over to the Black Canyon Trail slightly Southeast of Prescott, and this was the way to get there away from crowded busy streets.

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As I turned this corner, the late afternoon sun glaring in my eyes,  I saw a small group of black 4-legged animals wandering across the road. I stopped and realized I’d finally gotten a sighting of the fabled Javelina, a medium sized wild pig local to this area.

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I tried to get a photo of them, but they all ran off too fast. Just their hoof prints remained.

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After descending from the top of the Bradshaws, I pulled into the tiny town of Crown King. With less than 100 full time residents, it was quite an experience. I wandered into the local saloon just as the sun was setting, only to be barraged with questions from all the locals about how in God’s name I ended up in this tiny town all the way from Alaska. One of the locals introduced himself as “Chef Mark.” After some conversation he kindly offered me a couch and a shower. I graciously agreed, and he went back to work cooking at the saloon. A moment later, he peeked around the corner, asking, “You’re not an Obama supporter, are you?”

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I told him I’d respectfully remain anonymous about my political status.

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Chef Mark drove me back up to his house up in the hills outside of town while on a break from work. He asked if I would mind hanging out with his dog until he got off of work, and I happily accepted, missing my own pup so deeply. She was a super sweet doberman pincher who cuddled up right next to me… until Mark drove away. Moments later, she turned to me and it all changed. She snarled, barked, and bared all her teeth. She was clearly uncomfortable with me being there without her papa. Letting her defend her couch kingdom, I set up my sleeping pad on the living room floor and crashed out.

 

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After getting a bite of breakfast in Crown King, I descended the long road out of the Bradshaws toward the Black Canyon Trail.

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 First saguaro cactus sighting!

 

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As I came around a corner through big open uninhabited country, I saw a couple small buildings in the distance. One of them had lots of signage and lights, called The Cleator Bar and Yacht Club. Intriguing. The two ladies working the bar were amazing. They loaded me up on water and beef jerky, explaining to me the yacht club part…

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Just behind the bar, they’d created a whole little sand marina, complete with half-buried skidoos and beach balls!

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Saguaros became more common as I continued down the road…

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Finally reaching the trailhead for the Black Canyon Trail.

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 Saguaro insides look like ribs. Pretty neat.

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Yeah, those cacti get quite large around here!

 

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Saw this big galoot crossing the trail just before sunset. A good 4” across.

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Everything that grows down here is prickly, and likes to grow over and into the trail. Half the challenge of riding is learning how to avoid getting scraped, poked and pricked.

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The Maricopa Trail, which perfectly intersects with the BCT, wraps around all of greater Phoenix, and happened to lead all the way to my next destination. The town of Cave Creek.

 

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Many strange sites at the sides of the Maricopa Trail, like huge water drainages, countless fire stations, enormous homes, and of course a vacuum cleaner in a fire pit out in the middle of nowhere. You know, for good measure.

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The following day my good friend Josh from college met me in Cave Creek with his Wife Giulia while on route across country in their newly completed home.

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We spent 2 lovely nights together, eating well and exploring the lush desert hills outside of Cave Creek.

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Hours after Josh and Giulia drove off into the distance, my friend Max Cooper arrived with his family. You remember Max right? The guy in Telluride who so kindly took me into his home, fed me, and dragged me (albeit willingly!) on an epic adventure into the mountains above Telluride.  He knew I was in Arizona and offered me to join him, Hilary and their kids for Turkey Day at Hilary’s parents’ place outside of Cave Creek. Quite a different world than the empty hills I’d explored with Josh and Giulia!

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The second set of gates into their housing area. This place was without a doubt fully secure.

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Tom and Lynn’s house was beautiful and to me enormous! We stayed in yet another enormous rental down the road a bit. I was given my own bedroom suite for the next 3 days. Feeling incredibly lucky to have been taken in rather than spend the holiday on my own, eating oscar meyer turkey in a tent!

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5am Friday morning. Belly still full of turkey, stuffing, pie and wine.  Max and I hop in the car with our bikes to pick up Kaolin, the local bike shop owner, and another friend Dax. We arrived at a home near Tempe just in time to get weighed in for the Flight of the Pigs, an organized epic mountain bike ride through 3 trail systems around the Phoenix area over 70 miles alongside 80 other riders. I was sure I’d get the prize for “Big Pig” as I weighed over 250lbs with my bike in tote. Unfortunately I was beaten out by a potbellied compatriot who was measured at 280.

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 Setting out on the streets of Phoenix at 6:30am with a crowd of mountain bikers around me.

 

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 Given the varied skill and fitness of the group, we spend about as much time waiting at meet up points as we did riding.

 

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The beer certainly helped make the wait more fun! Maximus the Animal on left, and Kaolin in the middle.

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Max packing up the car to return to Telluride.  I love a 4 person family that travels with more bikes than passengers. I wasn’t far from strapping the Ogre onto their roof and piling in!

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 Even more, I love a rear bike rack that has a mountain bike, a moonlander fat bike, and a tiny kids bike!

It was hard to see Max and the family leave. I felt so welcome and connected with them in contrast with all my time alone in the mountains these last few months. Luckily I knew I was headed into Phoenix to stay with one of my best friend from college, Jeff Schnuck. Very excited about this. In the mean time, I am going to spend some time around Kaolin’s bike shop doing a few repairs and modifications to prepare the Ogre for what challenges Mexico may bring… Kaolin has been enormously kind in helping me order some much needed parts. Again, it is just amazing to appreciate how many people so freely offer themselves to a total stranger, without even the slightest request.

5 Responses

  1. Anne Kreitzberg
    | Reply

    Glad you had a happy Thanksgiving – and great fun with friends old and new. Love the photos & most especially the yacht club. 🙂 I remember Sedona fondly. I watched Charlie connect with the vortex from the air conditioned confort of the rental car! Safe travels.

  2. Zak Tourville
    | Reply

    Hi Scott – great to check in and see your progress! Keep on truckin, brotha. The world is a big place.

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Zak!! I was trying to email you for a while, but somehow couldn’t find you on slowtwichadventure.com, which I thought was your site. Alas. Great to hear from you. How was the rest of your journey to Mammoth?

  3. Dana VanVoo
    | Reply

    Wow!! So much adventure packed in this post. I love the bike smith dudes & so glad Surly sent you a new frame! And wow – love the loaner Specialized FSR. Black Canyon Trail, Maricopa Trail & then Flight of the Pigs, all after riding the Coconino 250 & Sedona single track!! That’s awesome. Im going to have to ride some of those trails! It was wonderful reading about all the kind people too.

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