A good riding day in the desert


After last weekend’s mountain bike ride on Pemberton trail at McDowell Mountain Park, it was all I thought of all week. I was itching to explore the new trails, and also to ride hard and long. I made up my mind that I would not sleep in too late this morning so I could get out there before it got too hot.

When I arrived at the park, I had to wait at the gate. There were five cars in front of me. In years past, I would be almost the only person in the staging area. It’s getting too crowded everywhere now; no wonder people go crazy all the time, there is no escape, no peace and quiet anywhere. As I was getting ready, the parking lot was full of cars, and in one of the picnic ramadas there were people talking loudly while their screaming kids ran around. I looked forward to getting out on the trail, and away from all the noise.

Once I left the staging area, peace and nature prevailed, and I enjoyed the trail. A young guy passed me, and I was going to go after him, but I told myself to go slow, get warmed up first. If I go out too fast, my legs feel like lead. I took it easy at first, and I didn’t feel too bad as I started up the climb. I was solo today, and wanted to explore one or two of the new trails.

When I got to the newest part of the trail, I could feel how bumpy it was. I don’t mind rough trails, obviously, when they are naturally that way, but this was thanks to a group of horse riders. They were asked to stay off the trail one of the days it was raining, but they insisted on riding it anyway. Of course, the horses’ feet made deep holes in the mud, and now that trail will stay that way for a long time. They just couldn’t stay off it for one of the two or three days all year that it rained. It’s all about them, you know.

Today, unlike last week,  I turned onto Lariat trail, which I found to be very fun. It wound in and out of the desert vegetation, but turned and went east again, the way I had just come up. I didn’t care. I was loving every moment of being on my mountain bike in the desert. When I got to Granite trail, I stopped and pulled out the map. I wanted to hook up with an unnamed trail that was supposed to be fun, and lead back to Pemberton main. It was supposed to be right there, to the west of Lariat, so I got back on the bike, and within a quarter of a mile, I found it. That trail was even more fun, and I could see how riders would enjoy riding it down, east, because it rolled and turned as it went back down the hill.

While out on the trail, I saw the remains of this saguaro, which had fallen over on the trail at some point.

Plant material breaking down:

I find things like that so interesting, and even though I normally don’t stop too much, I was fascinated by the pieces of saguaro scattered over a wide area.

I wanted to get back to Pemberton, and after a couple of miles, I came out at the tank, which is the top. I paused up there for a moment and took a long pull of water from the Camelbak. After the short rocky climb in front of me, it was going to be all big chainring flying from then on. I looked at my watch, set a goal of being “down,” as in being in the parking lot, in 45 minutes. I was at mile 8.88 at that point, and from my estimation, had about 10 miles to go. I thought I could do it.

I flew down the trail, being careful, of course, to not come flying around blind corners or over the top of short steep climbs. I didn’t want to run headlong into other riders. I felt really good. At one point, I went hard up one of the short climbs, standing on my pedals  and powering up and over. I felt like I wasn’t even breathing hard.

The only glitch was when I had to pull over and let another rider come by, and moved over too far. I got a bunch of cactus needles in my arm, hand, and side for my trouble (my own fault), and then I had to stop to pull out the ones jabbed into the back of my hand. One wouldn’t come out easily, it was in laterally, right under the skin. Later, I saw it had made a huge bruise. The thing with the needles is they aren’t just needles, they have little hooks on the ends that stop them from being pulled out easily. After I got out the ones that hurt the most, I kept going. Then I really stood on it.

I was in my biggest gear, and I stayed there all the way down the rocky descent. When I got to the last wash, I powered through the deep sand, and up the other side. The longer I ride and the harder I go, the better I seem to feel. I can’t wait until next fall when they have the 12 hour race out here. I missed it last December, but I won’t miss it again.

When I got back to the parking lot, I had made it inside my 45 minute window, and then my husband, who was waiting (and reading)  in the car, took a photo of the cactus needles stuck in my arm:

I had on some of those “arm cooler” things, which are ideal for wearing in the hot desert sun. As I rode, I knew the needles were in there, but I didn’t feel like stopping to get them out. They were mostly stuck in the arm cooler anyway, but as I pulled them out, I could feel them then.

I packed up the bike, changed out of my sweaty gear, and we drove home. I felt great after 18 miles of riding, and I was so glad I got to come back.

I hope I can make it back out to MMP one more time before it gets too hot, but even then, I will probably come back to ride during the summer. I’ve done it before. I just have to keep an eye on the vultures circling overhead as the temperature climbs to 110° F. or more, and the sun blasts down mercilessly.

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One thought on “A good riding day in the desert

  1. A few years ago, we were out near Florence to hide a geocache. There was a saguaro skeleton decaying near the trail and we chose to use that as our hiding place. We set it inside and placed a bit of the fallen “bones” on top to hide it. I cannot remember what hint we entered if people needed it. No, I don’t know if it is still there. This could have been 20 years ago or so.

    Ouch, those cactus needles look uncomfortable. I’m glad they did not interfere with your enjoyment, though. Heat would interfere with mine, though, so riding in 110+ sounds no fun.

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