Riding Willow Springs loop trail

July 14, 2013

We were supposed to be halfway to Oregon today, riding the motorbikes. If we’d been able to go with our original summer vacation plans, that’s where we’d be. However, fate seems determined to keep us off the road so we had to find other ways to be on two wheels. With ALL the motorcycles now in the shop, except for the hero of last week’s riding story, Little Beast, my riding partner and long-suffering friend, Hal, and I had nothing left but to go mountain biking. It proved to be an adventuresome day! We drove to Payson, Arizona, as usual, to get the day started with breakfast. Payson is the gateway to Rim country, where it is cool. “Rim country” is what we call the area up on the Mogollon Rim, and where all the Phoenicians go to escape the relentless heat of the Phoenix area.

I ate a big breakfast in Payson because I figured I’d need as much energy as I could get.  While at the restaurant, Hal dragged out his laptop so we could try to find a mountain bike trail that included singletrack, and was a trail we hadn’t ridden yet. I had sort of planned on doing Houston Mesa loop again, but only because it was convenient, and I was not up for a huge workout. All week I’ve been doing difficult workouts, and Sunday is supposed to be for riding motorbikes, in other words, taking a break from doing a workout! So, that (the laptop) is how we found our choice of trail for the day, the Willow Springs Lake loop.

At first I wasn’t too enthused. It seemed like the usual thing: forest road or jeep trail, not singletrack. Hal drove to FR237, where, just off Hwy. 260, there is a trailhead. In the pullout where we parked, we could hear electricity zinging through the wires that were nearby, high above us. It almost sounded like rain falling, but it was electricity traveling.

Noisy power lines:

As Hal finished getting ready, I saw another mountain biker, and asked him where the trail was. He pointed to a sign and said he was going to ride that loop, too.  “It’s easy to follow, just follow the little brown signs with the bicycle on them, and also the blue diamonds. But at the lake, it gets confusing. At the dam, go left, and then you have to be careful to follow the blue diamonds.”

He took off, he looked like he would be super-fast. I went over and relayed this information to Hal as he finished getting his gear on. Then we got on the trail. It started out as rocky double track, and I thought it was going to be a boring ride. But the scenery was pleasant, the sky was beautiful with the building clouds, and then the track started to go downhill toward the lake. When we got there, after about three miles, we turned left at the dam as we’d been told. I knew where we were from our many visits to Willow Springs Lake. We’d walked to the dam from the other side a couple of times, but the trail we were mountain biking on took us along the north side of the lake.

Follow the blue diamonds!:

The guy we’d talked to was right. We did have to be careful that we followed the trail. I was in front for the beginning of the ride, and I lost the trail soon after we’d made the turn. A short distance into the woods, and I knew I’d missed something. So, we backtracked to where I’d seen the last blue diamond, went slowly, and looked again, carefully. It was easy to miss, but once we found the trail again, we climbed a short rocky climb. The rest of the way around the lake, we were on glorious singletrack!

Hal, at a fallen log:

I picked up my bike and lifted it over the log. Then I noticed how other people were getting over it. They lift the front end of their mountain bike, stick the chainring into the log, and use it to propel the bike up and over. See the little holes?:

It was mostly flat with a couple of rocky areas, either climbing or descending. One little climb was fun, and as I stood on the pedals to get up it, I chanted, “Bacon! Bacon!” as I climbed. I’d eaten four pieces for breakfast, along with two eggs and some heavenly rye toast, and I was feeling pretty good. I waited for Hal a couple of times, but he did pretty well today keeping up with me. Speaking of toast, my legs were tired from all the workouts I’d done during the week, and they were closer to “toast” than I wanted to admit. Every time I felt tired, I stood on the pedals and made myself work harder. I guess it’s that racer work ethic that still kicks in, even though I haven’t raced mountain bikes since 2002!

Rocky terrain:

Soon we came out near Hwy. 260, but farther west on the road than where the car was parked. We followed the signs and more blue diamonds to get on the part of the loop that would return us to the car. The sign said it was going to be 2.5 miles, so we got going. The sky was getting ominously dark by this time. We’d been watching it since we left, but the storms seemed to be going northeast. The problem was, so were we, and soon after turning onto the last section of the loop, the rain started.

At first it was just big drops, and I thought it was going to stop. But, then it started to rain more and more, and soon it was very heavy. I was getting soaked, and I know from experience that if I don’t put on the little rain jacket I bring with me when I ride on the Rim, I would soon be cold and on the way to hypothermic. With these storms, the temperature drops drastically as well, to about 60° F. At the beginning of the ride, it had been almost hot, with the temperatures in the mid 80° F. and the sun was beating down.

Unfortunately, I’d waited too long, and my jersey was already quite wet. Hal wasn’t paying any attention to me, and he kept going, but it was worth it to me to stop. At this point, though, the rain was blinding, and the clouds seemed to lower and close in. When the rain began, I’d also thought I saw blue sky up ahead. It seemed like the storm wouldn’t last long, but now there was no question we were in this for the long haul. Lightning was flashing, and thunder was rolling and booming. A couple of times the lightning flashed and the crack of thunder was literally immediate and right above my head. I put my head down and kept going!

The rain was running in streams now under my tires. We were back on doubletrack at this point, but it was difficult to go fast. In the meantime, I had caught up to Hal, and now he was behind me. I felt the water squishing in my shoes with each pedal stroke; my socks were sodden.  The whole landscape turned the same shade of dull gray. Finally, we reached the “Y” in the trail where we’d turned near the beginning. I was watching my computer on the bike count the miles, too, and knew we should be close to the car. Then, I saw the line of power lines near where we’d parked, but the only problem was we were going to have to cross a big open area underneath them to get to the car, leaving us vulnerable to be struck by lightning. The lightning seemed to be getting more and more frequent and intense, but at that point, I was willing to take the chance. I put my head down and kept going, but pedaled faster.

Soon, I could see the car. Water was running down my face and every exposed bit of skin. I pedaled harder, wishing I would get across that open area. It seemed to last about 10 miles. Finally, I reached the other side and the gate we had to pass through to get to the car. It was still pouring when I pulled up, and Hal was right behind me.

The rain was so loud that we had to shout. “Let’s get over to the bathrooms!” I shouted. “There is a small overhang we can get under!”

“Okay!” Hal agreed, and we fled to the relative safety of the concrete block building where the toilets were. When we got there, it was stinky, but at least we were somewhat out of the rain.

“Whew!” I said.

“That was fun,” replied Hal sarcastically. We were both dripping, soaking wet, and the longer we stood there waiting for the rain to let up a little bit, the colder I got. It made no sense, though, to stand out there, load the bikes, then get the whole interior of the car wet by getting into it with our drenched clothing. We watched as a patch of blue sky moved toward us from the west. The rain never stopped, but finally, it slowed down enough for Hal to load the bikes. We also quickly grabbed dry clothes, changed, and got into the car before the next wave of heavy rain. As Hal drove the short stretch of unpaved road to Hwy. 260, he actually put the heat on in the car for a couple of minutes so we could get warm!

This was the rain after it had started to slow down a little so we could get out of there!:

On the drive back toward Payson on the 260, we went through patches of heavy rain. The view in the distance was beautiful with the sheets of rain turning the mountains blue. Once we came down off the Rim, it warmed up and became partly cloudy. The rainstorms of the Rim are so localized that you can be in cold rain one minute, and hot sun the next.

On the way home, the scenery looked so beautiful:

Soon we were back in Payson at our favorite Circle K, buying a cup of coffee, a bottle of lemonade, and energy bars for the trip home. We agreed that the trail we’d ridden was a really fun, fast, and mostly flat one, and that we’d come back soon. Next time, though, we’d get started a little earlier in the day and maybe be early enough to avoid another afternoon rainstorm!

Who needs Oregon, right?


2 thoughts on “Riding Willow Springs loop trail

  1. As I comment on this post, a big monsoon storm is passing through the area. So, it brought immediate images to mind as I read your travelogue. Luckily, I am not hearing the sound of electricity like you did. If we go to dinner, though, we may want to carry dry clothes so that we won’t “get the whole interior of the car wet by getting into it with our drenched clothing”. Still, thanks for your detailed story. It was fun to think of y’all getting tired and wet while I sit home on my couch.

    • When I was out this afternoon, a big monsoon storm came through where I was in Mesa. There were torrential rains, and strong winds. Yet, when I got home (5 miles away) it was completely dry! Crazy weather. The clouds were spectacular this evening, though! I love the storms.

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