• Alain

Sun, Clouds, Hail and Gravel



May 8th, 2019, this trip is coming to an end soon. We've figured out what we like to ride and what we don't like to ride. The Williamson hwy (the Prescott PCH...that's what I call it, referring to the Pacific Coast Hwy...see previous blogs) we don't like to ride on. Cars go fast, shoulder is narrow, somebody even rolled coal on us yesterday, you know, the guy with the big white truck and the small d......feet. The weather is also going to be variable and we don't feel like getting caught in the rain 'cause that generally sucks. So, we're planning a shortish ride. We head to ridewithgps to see if anybody has any cool short route ideas...and we find one from dirtyfreehub.com. It's a 52 km loop with ~1100 meters of climbing. Perfect, exactly what we're looking for. The route starts at the Prescott courthouse so we load the bikes in the truck and head to town. Since it's Wednesday, there's minimal parking in town so we head up Thumb Butte road where we saw the Thumb Butte Recreational area...bascially, a trailhead with parking.


As we pull in, we realize that it's free parking on Wednesday...score. I love free parking...collect $500 (that's a made up monopoly rule BTW). The original route went by here anyways so it's all good. We head up Thumb Butte road. The first part is paved but it quickly turns to gravel....beautiful gravel of course. All gravel roads in the area are beautiful. So we begin our ascent. It will be our longest for the day day. So much for the warmup, the road kicks up immediately.



As we climb, we see that there are many camp sites along the route. On the left side, a green tent flaps in the wind. A few hundred meters further, a camping trailer is jacked up on blocks, wheels removed. Looks like these guys are here for a while. I don't really know what truck is heavy and strong enough to haul one of these up here but regardless, it's here so it's doable. As we keep climbing, the forest thins out a tad, gone are many little shrubs but the large pines remain.


As we keep ascending, we can start feeling the cool breeze coming from the valley on the other side of the mountain. We're getting close to the peak. As we crest the hill, there it is, again...Skull Valley in the far distance.

We were just there a few days ago, the most memorable gravel climb of my life. Are we going back there today...I didn't think so but it sure looks like it. We'll see where the route takes us. We stop at the top and admire the view. We can see the green house we rode by a few days back. it's hard to see in the picture but if you look right in the middle, you'll see the reflection of it's metal roof.

The route takes us down copper basin road, that is the same climb up Skull Valley. I remember it vividly, with some of the steepest grades we've seen during this trip....but this time, it'll be different. We'll be going down them. Thank you disc brakes. We start our descent, it's awesome, no pedaling, lots of speed. It looks so different coming down this way. The driveways to hidden houses go by so quickly. I don't even recognize the forest. Regardless, we keep bombing down cautiously. About half way down the descent, we get to an intersection. To the right, Copper Basin road keeps plunging down to the valley, across from us, the steepest driveway I've ever seen. It crossed our minds to smash our pedals up that driveway and create a Strava segment that would probably never get taken but that thought quickly dissipated once we saw where we had to go, the 3rd option at the intersection.....a "road" aptly named Copper Creek. If you look at the map, the dashed line makes you believe that it's a trail following a creek called Copper Creek. It lies, all maps lie...it turns out, it is the creek....or more of a road/creek bed that evacuates the rain water down the mountain. From here, it looks like a road but really rides like a creek.

At this point, we're going, regardless. Within 100 feet, there's a massive washout. It's somewhat rideable, with proper MTB technique. We keep calm and carry one. 10 minutes later, we're still going down this road at a snail's pace. It still looks like a road but rides like a creek. It's definitely a different class of gravel, like, the 6 inch across type you find in a creek. It's actually quite fun. My MTB background really helps maneuver around the ruts, washouts and stones. For Siavash (#TekneCC), it's a change to develop new skills. 10 minutes later, we're still coming down. It's quite slow. A MTB would make child's play out of this but our 38mm tires and drop bar bikes aren't perfect for this, but they'll do. Another 10 more minutes and we seem to be done descending. We hit a new fork in the road, climb a very steep off-chute or continue down this tunnel....wait, it's not a tunnel, it's a giant culvert for a creek, one that runs under a highway...I knew it, but now the creek comes from the side...I'm still confused. I really think that this is a new road/creek combo, a 2-in-1.

So, the only option is to climb the steep chute up to Hwy 89. I head off first. It's steep but easily doable. I love this type of riding, especially on a drop bar bike (#No22Cycles). Siavash is quick to follow. I'm impressed with his handling ability, plus he never whines when facing a new challenge. Note that by now, we've put on our rain jackets, the cool breeze and minimal pedaling has made it quite nippy.

Once we reach the top, we ride up highway 89 for approximately 7 km. This climb is amazing. There's a decent shoulder here, and the views are mesmerizing. These mountains are so young and jagged, nothing like the eroded and rounded hills of the Canadian Shield. We have to stop to admire the sheer cliffs and pine covered ribs of the earth. We finally crest and start heading down...is this it, ride is over? We can almost see Prescott. Wait, there's a right turn down another gravel road...sweet....I love it. This route is fantastic. We turn down South Indian Creek Road. Another sweet gravel descent. The road is wide fast and twisty....and no creek to ride in. At the bottom, we actually ride through this cool little neighborhood after which we then turn left on Upper Wolf Creek Road, as per the RideWithGPS route name. This will be our last climb for the day.

By now, the sun is out again, we're climbing and it's warm. Rain jackets come off. The climb is very nice. The pace is steady, the grade varying from 3% to 10% but with a final average of 4.5%, nothing even novice climbers couldn't handle. Halfway up, we ran into a family of deer, 6 to be exact. They bounded across the road and disappeared in the thick brush. Now, the cool breeze picked up and it started getting cool again so the jackets came back on

As we got closer to the top of the climb, there seemed to be more and more vehicles until we hit the mother load, 3 giant tourist buses followed by what seemed like 15 black SUV's. Not sure who was visiting but lots of vehicles were heading to the Upper Wolf Creek Campground. We rode by and they looked at us seemingly baffled. 2 guys on bikes in the forest wearing spandex and short sleeve shirts....weird. We kept going and the road eventually turned to pavement. We were now on Senator highway...makes sense now. All the cars are coming up from there. This could only mean 1 thing...this was our last descent back towards Prescott. And of course, the rain started. We put our head down, smashed the pedals and accelerated way above the posted speed limit. The rain drops felt like rocks, disintegrating upon impact on our face. Was it rain or ice...I don't know but it stung. The cool thing about going faster than cars is that none of them are passing you...especially cool when the roads are wet. This descent was actually really nice and twisty. 20 minutes later, we're in Prescott, cold and wet. Before heading back up Thumb Butte road to the parking lot, we made a nice pit stop at our favorite café in Prescott, the #WildIris. There, I crushed a fritata, a cheese cake and a coffee. A weird but delicious combo.

An hour passed before the rain subsided. I'm glad we timed this ride perfectly. Once the rain stopped, we jumped back on our steeds, headed up Thumb Butte road for a few minutes of leg burning effort. We packed our bikes and headed back. As we're driving through Prescott, we notice cars covered in snow....WTF man, snow? As we keep driving north, we run into snow covered roads and fields....looks like we got lucky and avoided all this frozen precipitation. Some areas got 3-4 inches worth.

It turns out, a giant hailstorm blew across. We were just lucky to get our precipitation as rain and not hail. Thank you mountains.


This was a great Riding Gravel Ride, and our last one in Prescott.

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