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End of Pavement 200k

My visit to Arizona has involved a mixture of quiet and busy days. I’d put yesterday in the “busy” category. S and I roused ourselves shortly after 5 am, had coffee and breakfast sandwiches, and then set out for the starting point of the End of Pavement 200k permanent (permanent = brevet route that can be ridden at any point, after pre-arranging with the route “owner”).

The route promised to be scenic, and it was, covering multiple scenic regions just to the north of the Greater Phoenix Suburb-o-Politan area:


We first shot north along Arizona Avenue, which morphed into the Beeline Highway. This section reminded me of all the bike camping trips we’ve ever taken out to the McDowell Mountains, including that one trip where I packed along the Coleman stove AND a cast-iron frying pan on the Jolly Roger. The extra weight on that camping trip meant I really couldn’t complain on any of the hill climbs, and I was pleased with being able to surprise everyone with scrambled eggs in the morning.

This time, we continued on past Fountain Hills, out to where the Beeline connects to Bush Highway - the back entrance into the Salt River Recreation area. My memories along this segment turned towards ants. I have spent so many hours out along sections of the Salt River, looking for ants. Mostly leafcutter ants, but there are also a couple of reasonably good spots for seed-harvester ants, too. The leafcutter ant populations along the Salt River seem to have suffered from the drought conditions of the last decade or two.

We didn’t make it quite all the way to my old field site before it was time to turn off onto Usery Road, and head through the Usery Pass area - another bike camping site where, one morning, we woke up and discovered that some native fire ants had helped themselves to some cinnamon-sugar bread and half an avocado that I’d left in the Jolly Roger’s picnic basket. I still ate the ant-bread, although most of my friends were weirded out by it.

From Usery pass, we nosed along Brown Road and out through Apache Junction, heading towards the Flatiron and Superstition Mountains. I never did make it up to the top of the Flatiron - the one time I went out to hike it, I had completed an intense rowing leg workout the day before, so I decided it was unnecessary to go all the way up. Instead, I got to hang out with my friend DM and enjoy the serenity of the Arizona outdoors, sitting on a rock about halfway up.

I was nervous about the stretch of road towards Lost Dutchman State Park, and my fears turned out to be justified. For whatever stupid reasons, Arizona motorists and tourists all want to go extremely fast along that section of road, and there’s no shoulder. Argh. Some of the road users include people hauling motorboats up to the lakes, and we had an egregious number of drivers buzz us. That area could use some "bikes on road" signs, in the very least - we weren't the only cyclists out enjoying the scenery.

That section also involved the steepest hills, the most twists and turns, and the worst pavement: chipseal that was wearing out, buckling, and cracking. Jarring. I’d borrowed my friend RG’s bike for the ride, and the top tube was just slightly too long for me, making it challenging to handle on the rough terrain. Nerve-wracking, altogether, which detracted from our enjoyment of the scenery (and truly, this ride covered some of the best scenery in the area).

At long last, we reached the turnaround point, where the pavement ended.

After some celebratory photos, we turned back around to head back towards town. We had to get ourselves back up and over one last big lump of a hill, but once we crossed over it, I knew we were just about home free. There's something comforting about riding in a familiar region. Everything back from the Superstitions is a long, gradual downhill towards the Salt River drainage.

Our return route took us along some new-to-us roads that skirt along the eastern edge of the metro area. In general, we have zero reason to ride out to that part of town; we had a nice, wide bike lane all to ourselves on a road that passed by empty, flat tracts of land just waiting to be developed into cheap suburban housing. There's not much going on out there, and it's pretty depressing suburbiaville.

Just before we reached our final turn onto Pecos Road, we started to encounter large volumes of backed-up traffic: motorists exiting off the loop highway and heading out to the suburbs of Queen Creek for the night.

It always feels gratifying to quietly whir past piles and piles of automobiles. We only wish we’d been on tallbikes, which provide that extra sweet element of joy and transport people out of their everyday experience.

Pecos Road was also largely empty and flat, which was fine with us, as we were ready to be finished and starting to get hungry for dinner. After completing our last transactions and paperwork at the finish, we headed for one of our traditional Extreme Picnicking rewards: a stop at the Cornish Pasty Co. for some beer and vegetarian deliciousness wrapped in buttery dough.

This 200km permanent went much faster than the previous one in California - 11 hours, 20 minutes compared to 13 hours, 45 minutes. I think it helped that there was only 6000 feet of climbing, instead of 8000 feet, plus I am pretty sure the rice-and-bean burritos we packed along helped to prevent me from developing El Crampo (debilitating stomach cramp that forced us to stop and rest in CA). We also appreciated the fact that many segments of this route had bike lanes or wide shoulders, although again I wish things were better along the stretch out towards Tortilla Flat, and there were a couple other spots that weren't great. And really, I’ll continue to miss the quiet Nebraska roads.

Yep, just a couple of small climbs...The end-of-pavement turnaround happened at mile 77, the top of that big peak.

End of Pavement 200k preparations
My borrowed steed (Surly Traveler's Check, note the S&S couplers), and S’s beloved GT mountain bike, which has seen many, many an adventure.

S got so thirsty, he ripped the top right off his water bottle! [joke] Methinks the plastic from his 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris water bottle just got too old and brittle. Fortunately, both of us tend to pack along some extra water, so we managed fine without this bottle.

Where the Pavement Ends

We made it! The scenery out here is phenomenal, but doesn’t photograph well, so you’ll just have to figure out how to experience it yourself, or imagine it. Picture lots of big, colorful rocks, many cacti, agave, and creosote bushes, and some lakes and streams.

End of the pavement
End of Pavement. The road continues on, and in fact we’ve driven out there to go backpacking, which I also highly recommend, although bring good navigational aids because people still get lost out in the Superstitions.

Post-brevet cheer
Blurry post-brevet selfie beers. My smart-o-phone’s camera sucks, especially when used for selfies in the dark.

Wildlife spottings: Raven, dead owl, dead rabbit, dead squirrel, dead coyote.


( 7 remarks — Remark )
Dec. 30th, 2015 02:05 am (UTC)
Man, that sounds really great. Well, except for the narrow crowded road part. (Times I feel like being the jerk who has the high visibility orange metal sign that says "three feet of clearance!" on the end of a three foot long stick out of the side of the bike.)

It'd be interesting to know the background of the name, Usery Road.
Dec. 30th, 2015 06:19 pm (UTC)

Yeah, dunno about Usery's history! I think it would be possible to create a perfectly reasonable ride out of the lot if one skipped the leg out past Tortilla Flat. We did see other cyclists out there, and it would be a pretty great ride if they would only make some accommodations for cyclists. There weren't even any of those big yellow bike diamond signs.

Jan. 3rd, 2016 06:52 am (UTC)
I was also interested in that... part nursery, part usury, all useful? If one is going to be useful, should they get thee to a usery?
Jan. 3rd, 2016 01:49 pm (UTC)
And, now that I am searching on my laptop and not the smart-o-phone, I've found the beginnings of the history. Apparently the Usery Mountains are named after King Usery. So the mystery has more to do with what it's like to wind up with a name like King Usery. :^)
Jan. 3rd, 2016 06:15 pm (UTC)
That should totally be the name for a chain of local pawnshops.
Apr. 6th, 2016 08:07 pm (UTC)
That's crazy! I might have to go visit his grave at some point, just to verify that part.
( 7 remarks — Remark )

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