Sky Islands Odyssey (East Loop) - Day 2 - The Best Part: Up Harshaw Canyon to the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch of the National Audubon Society
Feeling that morning stretch after realizing the hardest part was behind us, Janna and I slept in knowing we only had ~30 miles ahead of us today. By the time we climbed out of the Triplex, the start of the Spirit World 100 was rolling down Harshaw Road passing us in the RV park. We ran out to the road and cheered the slow start front and got to see Lael Wilcox. With that, we packed up and rode into town to get the best veggie breakfast burritos ever from The Gathering Place cafe. Breakfast done, we headed to the local organic market and general store to grab some food for the next two days.
Exiting the general store, we ran into two guys who just rolled into town bikepacking the same route as us. They sported full squish mountain bikes and they told us how they had raced the AZT 750. When they went in to grab supplies, we went ahead and pushed off and up Harshaw Road ourselves, following the dusty tracks of the racer-riders.
The late morning was beautiful and glorious with all the colors and touches of fall in southern Arizona. Oaks and sycamores lining the riparian zones sported flashes of orange, red, yellow, and brown autumnal hues. The sky was that gorgeous blue deeply crisp of November. Janna and I both felt great and my spirits were high with how well I felt. We spun through the canyons and tumbled out onto the high grasslands where, unbeknownst to us, a fully-serviced bar stand called “Boomshakalaka Bar” was stationed with an elderly gentleman dressed like a bartender from the good old days of the west. We stopped immediately and he gave us each a shot of locally-made tequila. His name was Thomas. This bar was actually a SAG stop on the Spirit World 100, so-named because it was the first thing one of the co-founders of the event said when they crested this rise and saw the spread of grasslands before them. Thomas was awesome and we took the time to converse about the race, the area, and local history. He also was taking high-end photos of the racers and added photos of us (the three immediately below) to the mix. We would later run into Thomas months later at the grand opening of Campfire Cycling in Tucson with the movie premier of “I Just Want to Ride.” We immediately recognized each other and got his contact information which resulted in us acquiring these photos. Thomas, you freaking rock.
After a few lead riders began returning, stopping the bar along the way, Janna and I decided to push on. The beautiful bunch-grass prairie spilled for miles over plains and smooth hills around us. We rode up into the Canelo Hills at Canelo Pass and swooped down past a crossing of the Arizona Trail (which I immediately recognized the location of!). We eventually hit pavement and turned right, climbing up past Lochiel. With a turn left, the Santa Rita Experimental Range spread out before us where we jumped on the rugged dirt doubletrack leading to the Audubon property. Both Janna and I were amazed how much more comfortable and fast we were moving. In fact, we got through the gate and were at the casita we rented for the night (at the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch of the National Audubon Society) by around 3 pm. The last time we did this section, it took us nearly all-day. I felt strong, comfortable, and eager for more riding.
No one was around as they were up at the main station setting up for the monthly local dinner and presentation. Janna and I sat back, ate a bunch of snacks, and kicked it on the front porch chairs. As it got closer to 5, we made our way to the potluck dinner where good conversations and an interesting presentation followed. My belly was full, the darkness complete, but the temperature was so nice that we decided to enjoy a walk in the dark before turning in for the night.