Over the holidays and in a peculiar position, I found myself the meat of the sandwich, the fifth wheel. You see, meine neuen Freunde aus Deutschland had just gotten married and flew across the pond to enjoy some alone time on Arizona singletrack. Here they are.
That’s Tom and Betty, humble badasses and proprietors of Sportograf. Traveling Arizona by way of RV America to celebrate their honeymoon, they spent three weeks riding a diverse offering of trails while ensuring their marriage bonds were strong. I had the pleasure of joining them on a couple rides, and one in particular that caused reflection, a refreshed perspective, and a reminder that you shouldn’t turn down an invitation for adventure. Even if you think you know your home turf, you really don’t until you follow a couple crazy Germans around for a day.
The plan: Drive (or “shuttle” for all you astronauts) to the top of Mt. Lemmon and ride the Canada del Oro (CDO) trail down to Catalina State Park (home of RV America, aka shuttle #2). It’s been said to be a nice ride and rated #2 for Tucson, and with 1,105 feet of up and 6,939 feet of down, whythefucknot? Starting at noon, we anticipated being back by just after sundown.
This weird phenomenon occurred while flying up the mountain in our space shuttle, the temperature dropped significantly, eventually reaching a low of seven degrees Fahrenheit. I, being the token dumbass American, came fully prepared with my normal riding gloves, three layers of enduro tops, and a pair of shorts. Needless to say, the first stop at the top was to plop into the general shop to buy a soda pop and some shitty poofy sledding mitts, full stop.
As you’d expect from a dashing German couple, Tom and Betty were fully prepared with warm clothes, food, GPS, lights, you get it… but for one reason or another, I wasn’t too concerned about anything really. Probably had to do with the 1/2 bottle of Cielo Rojo consumed the night before. Pro tip: if Red Bull gives you wings, bacanora gives you a goddamn jetsuit.
After a few conversations with people asking wtf we were doing and the short pedal to the towers amongst crowds acting as if they’d never seen snow before, we reached the summit and began the “ride”.
The exposure and remoteness of the area caused doubt right out of the gates. When you’re under-dressed trying to ride a stupid bike on icy snow up in the clouds, the wind can be intimidating enough to make ya flip a bitch, but thanks to the powers of Mexican moonshine, gleeful spirit and a plentiful stock of Knoppers, we trudged onward. Progress. Always. Pro tip: buy a case of Knoppers and throw the energy gels in the trash where they belong.
Dropped in to this ridge, Tom was stoked. We were all stoked.
Downward is onward, and onward is upward. The more feet lost, the more snow disappeared, because science. Some steeper rocky switchbacks kept things spicy, and the snow began to add tackiness, no husky bike was even required. You’ve heard of “hero dirt” and “brown pow” – but have you ever ridden white pow? Powder. Get you some.
The flowy stream alongside loamy singletrack (see what I did there?) was remarkable, but short lived and sporadic. Between downed trees and what felt like fifty water crossings, this was one of the most testing sections of the ride.
Conveniently, each crossing had rocks which helped keep the toes dry for a while.
The constant getting on and off the bike got frustrating, but frustration tests character, and sometimes you need that shit. Tom and Betty proved they are a pretty awesome duo. Somewhere in those crossings, around f-bomb numero 1,000, Tom reached out to grab Betty’s bike and said with hesitation, “This is our honeymoon, I love you sweetie!” A brief pause, we all looked at each other and laughed. That was a cute moment.
Then we were at around mile 9, Red Ridge Trail if I’d have to guess. Progress. Always.
Realizing we were a couple hours behind schedule and would likely finish in the dark, any anxiety was nixed by the beauty of the setting sun and comfort in knowing we had had enough Knoppers to last us a week. So, not a worry. Attempting to rationalize the situation, Tom says, “We won’t soon forget this adventure, we will look back on this and find meaning to it. Or we’ll just laugh.” Crazy Germans.
Running out of daylight and no more water, we had a friendly run-in with an Alaskan out for a hike. He was full of conversation and had a big pack on his back, he looked like he belonged. You know the type, almost a mix between grizzly bear and human. Content in his element and the kind of guy you don’t want to fuck with. He asked if we’d seen his wife camping up the trail. We hadn’t, but it was likely she was on the left of the fork when we came from the right. Or he’s just crazy, could go either way honestly. But we were running low on lumens and had to make way toward Charlou Gap.
I’d been advised to ride the geared bike for this trip, but the TransAm mountain biking bike was still out of commission. Living by the wisdom of Big Jonny, I went ahead and run what I brung. One by one isn’t the best after six hours of holy shit balls, but hell, we had a climb to do and there wasn’t another choice. Buck up buttercup(cake). There’s no reward like reward after pain.
Then this happened.
Vroom, 15 minutes of wildin’ out with nothing but a desert sunset to watch. Better than any TV show, hell, it was one of the better moments of my life. A good day on the bike followed by a descent like this doesn’t happen often, for me at least. It’s the goods.
Then it was dark, we were dropping into the Upper 50 and I didn’t have a light. They did though, so it was fine. The meat in between German buns. Awkward.
We lost the trail a few times but the GPS got us back. I crashed a few times but I was still hopped up on bacanora so it was fine. Then we saw eyes up on a pile of rocks. Tom shined his 5,000 lumens at it and there was a really big friendly cat. “Hey kitty!” we said. The kitty said hello too and then we kept going.
I felt like we were going pretty fast and when I requested a slower pace, Tom looked at me like the cop looked at Farley when he said he was going 65.
So we kept the pace high because the kitty wasn’t the kind that chills in your house and fucks around. This was one of those cats that could eat your face. Navigating around spikey things, up and over rocks, through more washes and eventually dropping into the Lower 50. Easy shit. Blazed it back to the RV because Uncle Ben had been slaving in the kitchen all day cooking up a spread of microwave Spanish rice. Boom. CDO, complete.
We drank Dr. Pepper and ate rice to our heart’s content. Then got some beers on the way home and celebrated a fine day with the Germans.
So, moral of the story: You might have adventures waiting for you right in your backyard that you don’t even know about. Go do those rides. Also, if you’re going to do something crazy, go with people that are smarter than yourself or you’ll probably die, I know I would have. Ok, shred.by