Conquest of Mt. Lemmon

I needed to get out and ride something big. Mt. Lemmon seemed feasible after a couple training rides up to the first gate on Mt. Hopkins had gone well. Also, I didn’t care to find out if the forecasted temperature for Tucson of 40 C would really happen. So, with a bit of a late start (what else is new), I was riding out of Oracle, AZ at 9:10 am. The sun was already showing how powerful it is, and upon reaching Peppersauce campground, I drowned myself in water available at the faucet there. Must be some deep pump, as it did’t look like yesterday’s big thunderstorm had reached this side of the mountain. Riding the Mt. Lemmon Highway, as it is signed – actually a well maintained dirt road – one can really enjoy the expansive landscape.

Far-away view of Mt. Lemmon.

At a particularly fast and rocky part of the road, a pickup truck was coming from behind and just as I am pulling over, another Jeep is heading up the road. I still had enough room to stop and after both motorized parties got going again, so did I. It turned out that this abrupt stop was for my benefit, as just a few yard down the road I came across these horses. Would have never noticed them if I’d been flying down the road.

Are these horses wild? They sure were tame and friendly looking. I didn’t see any brandings.

Continuing on, I was passed by the occasional jeep, motorcycle, and pick-up truck. Probably a dozen motorists in all over the 4:15 hours it took to get up to Summerheaven. Most people were very nice and I chatted with touring motorcycle guy for a few minutes. He mentioned that there is a lot of mining in the mountains, which I hadn’t really appreciated. The mountain really did look scarred from mining and steep 4-wheel drive roads when I rode back, later. Why is all this devastation allowed?

These yellow flowers (or were they fruit?) were sparkling against the blue sky.

Summerheaven used to be nice, really old-timy and laid back. After the fire of 2001, the new development did not impress me much. So, I got water, Gatorade and 3 burritos at the grocery store and said farewell to the ruckus and tourist stuff, and continued up to the Mt. Lemmon ski area.

Some friendly guy took my picture at the Mt. Lemmon ski valley. In the background is Oracle Ridge trail.  I swear the size of my legs and head aren’t really that much out of proportion!

After some 45 minute of napping & drying my socks, I figured that I should get going as the next 20 miles down would probably go not as fast as one might think. A little before 4 pm, I started the well-known Oracle ridge trail;  well known for its extensive hike-a-bike sections.

I can still turn around here, I was thinking as I was overheating and hiking along.

Fantastic views and the occasionally rideable section kept me going.

I had never been to this part of Mt. Lemmon and the views were fantastic. The geography is interesting, in that Mt. Lemmon is surrounded by ridges and valleys between. As tough and overgrown as the trail was, it must have been some feat to keep maintaining the trail this far. Though, I think 10 people with shovels, lopper and a weekend would do wonders, here.

This must have been some demoralizing section to get through for the riders of the last AZT300/750. I think the tire tracks I found in the picture below where from some that made it over the peak after the snowstorm.

Some tough creatures must have made these tracks with their bikes in now rock-hard mud.

Did I mention that it was slow-going on the overgrown and rocky trail? In my mind the words “Push Ridge, not Oracle Ridge” kept repeating.

View along Oracle ridge after 5 miles and 2:30 hours. Mt. Lemmon is the big one.

After some 4-wheel section, more AZT trail and a very exposed section of trail around Apache Peak, the rocks and heat finally let up. It was Sunset time on the AZT. Ahh!

Sunset on the Arizona trail. Look carefully to the left and you may spot Biosphere 2.

This section of the AZT is fun. I cleared quite a few switchbacks and felt good despite not having eaten a lot. I think I am getting better at keeping my electrolyte and carbs/protein ratio under control. The last hour was night riding, and I just don’t do well with bike lights. Everything looks flat or something, I never know if it’s going up or down or how big the rocks are — eventually leading to a silly crash around a switchback, resulting in a few scraps on my frame. After 12 hours of riding – and plenty of breaks – I had ridden in a great big circle.

Stats: 49 miles, 7900 ft., GPX track

Oracle – Mt. Lemmon – Oracle ridge.


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