75 Miles; 4,600 Feet of Gain; Home to Horseshow Campground by Horseshoe Dam
Business defines the norm throughout this fall season. Most of my riding and hiking has been confined to smaller allotments. With no fall break, Thanksgiving has presented the first real week-long opportunity to get away on a backcountry trip. I originally aimed to do the Stagecoach 400 in southern California, but the rising cases of COVID-19 made it increasingly untenable and unlikely. I cancelled those plans and decided to stick locally by doing The Fool's Loop
The Fool's Loop - Bikepacking.com
The route starts from the heart of Phoenix before entering the Tonto National Forest, ascending to Cordes Lakes, take a southward bend down the Black Canyon Trail, and then reentering the Valley of the Sun. I really had never thought of doing it because (a) riding singletrack isn't what I love to do when I bikepack, and (2) it's so close to home I over overlooked it. This changes when local is the song to play.
After driving to Phoenix on Friday from the Grand Canyon, I spent the evening packing. Betsy joined Janna and I for the morning start. I wanted to ride from our place down to the official start at The Velo Cafe. We took Washington east to the heart of downtown where little traffic and great weather started the day. Turning north on Central we did find the café, but it was closed permanently. We headed on up Central by avoiding the 3rd Street official route as it had no designated bike lane. Betsy peeled off near Brophy leaving Janna and I to press on.
My mind was smashed nostalgic by everything in this morning ride. First, I hadn't spent a proper amount of time in downtown in several years, and even then, it had to have been for only a few visits here and there. This was contrasted to my first ~6 years living here. Everyone in TFA moved downtown for that "central urban life." Janna and I would consequently travel downtown to visit people for our social scene. Lux, Slippery Pig, The George and Dragon, plus others made up our weekly circuit. In addition, I had worked at Teleos Preparatory Academy located at 15th and Jefferson, which I accessed daily by a bike commute from our apartment. Lastly, I spent two years taking my Master's courses downtown at ASU. After those first three years, most TFAers left Arizona to other states and other jobs. Yet, we still had friends who lived downtown. Then, all those friends either moved to the suburbs or the friendships faded, leaving us only First Fridays to have a reason to hit up Roosevelt Row; and we hadn't been to that in maybe 3 years.
The ride to downtown along Washington awakened me to the fast-paced building and construction happening around the city. I recently read that Phoenix was experiencing the greatest residential construction growth in the nation and this was pretty much confirmed by what I saw. What were once industrial parks, old buildings, and concrete abandoned pads were now being turned into spruced up lofts, new apartment complexes, and chic restaurants. I just couldn't believe how much had changed and how much would probably continue to change. The urban environment born of building.
Heading up Central, the route jumps onto a bridle dirt path that flanks the main road through high-income homes. A right on Glendale brought us to Sprouts where Trailhead Bike Cafe used to be before going out of business. From here, we headed up to Dreamy Draw and passed through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. On the other side, Janna decided she would turn back to complete her loop. I sped northward before jumping on Reach 11 and crossing easterly into northern Scottsdale.
Along with the boom in building has come the ever-rising presence of private property. Three times the route GPX took me through areas that were either newly gated, had large "no trespassing" signs, or (in the case of one cul-de-sac) an entire trail and desert wash had been replaced by straight-up homes. I had to backtrack and reroute around them all, but I found a way. I eventually made it to Brown's Ranch where I entered the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. I rode gorgeous and smooth singletrack across the Preserve along Brown's Ranch Trail and the Stagecoach Trail before being deposited in Cave Creek on the Maricopa Trail. I then rode the Maricopa Trail singletrack across the desert before ending up at the Bartlett Reservoir road. From there, I headed down the steep incline, swung a left onto Horseshoe Dam Road, and did what I consider to be the steepest downhill gravel road for length in Central AZ. Janna and I had ridden up this dusty, washboarded, rutted, insanely graded ride back in April. I would say going downhill definitely made me have to stop to cool my brakes several times.
I reached the bottom right after the sun set with evening curling cool toes around every bend. The vast riparian spread of the Verde River cast parallel to me, filled to the brim with water, golden-yellow autumn cottonwood trees, and reeds to fence it all in. I made my way exhaustedly to Horseshoe Campground where I was able to locate a campsite next to two other bikepackers. Turns out they were a father and daughter team out on their first bikepacking trip. They hailed from Chicago, had rented their bikepacking Surly ECRs from The Bike Cellar in Tempe, and were doing the same route as me. They both seemed exhausted by getting here; they noted it took them two days to do what I did in one. We talked for a while before they went to bed. The next morning I would only briefly talk to them as they were awake and gone before first light, telling me they were quitting and heading back to Phoenix. As sure darkness enmeshed me, I bushwhacked through tamarisk, reeds, and river stone to try to access the Verde River with no luck. I asked around the campground for better river accessibility. An awesome group of campers pointed me in the right way but just told me to take their water instead as they were driving out the next day. I drank tons of water because the heat had been killing me all day. The evening was body-temperature perfect with a quarter moon. I sat and just walked around, staring at the sky, and taking a moment to enjoy it all.