30.71 Miles; 2,249 Feet of Gain; Patagonia, AZ to the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch of the National Audubon Society
Morning arrived at TerraSol slowly and super cold. We took our time knowing that it was only some 30-odd miles to the Audubon Center for today. The sun crept in and set to crinkling warmth all the frost that covered everything. We walked downtown to grab some breakfast at the Gathering Grounds before walking back, packing up our bikes, and pushing off towards Harshaw Road.
The roads continued to be gloriously smooth and freshly graded - we just sailed along. All the cottonwoods we swept under were barren with nary a bud in early February. This was in constant contrast to our autumnal rides which featured tree limbs heavy with gold and crimson. We rode up and spilled out onto the grasslands blanketing the landscape from here to the Canelo Hills and Huachuca Mountains. The sky was a blast of blue deeply in relief to the yellow-faded colors of the crisp grass. The temperatures felt just right; there was a small nip that kept sweat at bay. We biked up now-smooth Canelo Pass and dropped down the backside.
One of my favorite sections of the Sky Islands Odyssey is the dirt road that carries bikepackers off from paved Parker Lake Road out to the Audubon Center. It careens with stellar views over the far Whetstone Mountains through grassland sea. The rolls of the doubletrack stand out harmoniously with the studded yucca hills where bird calls and deer stares catch call at your senses. As before, we took a long, meandering time to pedal slowly and absolutely soak in the scenes before us.
A few pedal strokes later and we were descending down to the ranch housing. We walked down to the main science building and met up with the husband of the then-current direction of the center. The ranch seemed ghostly empty and he relayed its near-constant closures from COVID. He showed us the new patches and shirts for the route, which we purchased before he relayed the importance of not bathing or sleeping in the casita for the COVID restrictions. He also walked us over to the casita and pointed out the best wind-protected spot for setting up camp for the night. Little did we know that this would be our final time crossing the Research Ranch. By fall, the Audubon Center would cut off ties with the Sky Islands Odyssey and at the time of this writing, bar bikepackers from crossing the Ranch.
We sat outside for a while soaking in the sun and enjoying the last warmth. The weather forecast predicted a cold front to come in the night with tomorrow's highs being in the lower 50s/upper 40s. As evening came on, we sat in the casita making dinner and prolonging the now below-freezing temps that had settled outside. Janna and I then turned in to bed. We had perfect wind protection but man was that one of the coldest nights we slept outside during in a long time.