Summer is upon us once again here in the desert, and that means the door is quickly closing on those all-day backcountry rides for a few months. Which I might actually be OK with this year, I need a little break. You see, I’m recovering from an obsession. She is a wonderful yet cruel and all-consuming mistress. Her name is #4. She has left me with dozens of tiny scars on my arms and legs. The shocks on my car are blown out from countless miles of dirt road driving to her. And my two favorite bikes are completely beat to shit.
Built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Core, Trail #4 in Cave Creek, Arizona is really something special. Originally used as a route to drive cattle, it has been repurposed 80 years later, as an amazing backcountry mountain bike experience. Winding it’s way through a creek bed shaded by Sycamore and Cottonwood and towering Saguaro Cacti covering the canyon walls above. It is ten miles of some of the best technical terrain the Arizona desert has to offer. The trail has always been ridden by a few hearty souls over the years. But due to the lack of maintenance and the overgrowth of pointy desert vegetation, it was just a brutal beat down.
When I heard SingleSpeed AZ was going to be in Cave Creek, the only logical trail to use for the course was #4. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I jumped at the opportunity to help out. What followed was months of obsessive digging, trimming and rock moving. I recruited all kinds of friends and each and every one of them was blown away by the beauty of the area. We had some backbreaking days of multiple people swinging McLeods and other days I just hiked in with hand pruners and drank beers by the creek.
Every time I cleared a new section of rubble or vegetation, I would be amazed that the original trail still existed underneath it all. I would constantly shake my head in awe and think to myself that those CCC trail builders were some serious bad-asses. As I made my way down the canyon, the trail needed considerably more work. With my head down and tunes turned up, I would chop and scrape at the ground for hours. Occasionally stumbling upon some Javelina tracks or a big cat print pressed into the dried mud, reminding me that I was not alone in this desert. At the furthest point from either trailhead there are some ruins of an old miner’s shack. Which by all accounts, was abandoned in 1914. My imagination wanders thinking about what it was like trying to survive in this harsh landscape 100 years ago. Further down the trail, petroglyphs are scratched into giant boulders. Remnants of the Hohokam Indians who roamed the valley as far back as the 11th century. Humans have know this area was awesome for quite a while and I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon it.
When it came time for SSAZ, the trail was almost ready. The climbs were more manageable, the two big downhills were rowdy, and most of the cactus and catclaw had been trimmed back. But there was still a nasty, 3/4 of a mile long hike-a-bike I didn’t have time to work on. Oh well, mountain biking is supposed to be hard and singlespeeders don’t mind a little walking. Luckily I was right because everyone that came in to the aid station on race day, was grinning ear to ear. Even if they were bleeding a little. I have never been more proud of any trail project, ever.
The event came and went and all of our friends went back to where they came from. All the trail tools were recovered from their stash spots (Thanks Ernie!) and I could say that the Trail #4 project was officially done for this year. A few weeks went by and I realized that I had never actually ridden the entire trail without carrying tools or stopping to do work. I never just enjoyed the ride. So I picked a Sunday morning and got a few friends together to have a little rolling picnic.
We rode and we picnic-ed
We enjoyed the novelty of splashing through a creek in the desert.
We checked out the old miner’s house.
Then we went swimming. Did I mention there was a badass swimming hole?
…and we rode more singletrack.
I was finally able to reap what I had sown and it was pretty great. Seeing all the smiling faces at SSAZ was awesome. But riding with no trail tools in my pack and only stopping to swim or chill in the shade was even better. Some good beers and a great group of guys (and some awkward nudity) made for an excellent day on the bike.
This trail obsession has left quite am impression on me. Being able to breathe some life into a long neglected trail has been incredibly rewarding. It has me scouring maps and wondering just how many other trails in the area could be rejuvenated. The current trend of trail associations to grab as much land as possible and scribble a brand new trail into it, is great and all. We always can use more trails. But what about the thousands of miles of long forgotten trails that have the potential to be amazing? It doesn’t take much to get it done. Some strong backs, a few six packs and you could uncover a masterpiece that has been sitting right under your nose this whole time. Grab some old riding and hiking guide books and scour Google Earth. I bet there is a Trail #4 in your area just waiting for some love.
Keep it dirty…
If you want the low-down on Trail #4, hit up our homies at Flat Tire Bike Shop.
Some additional reading about SSAZ from around the intertubes:by