BAE Systems Silver and Gold Awards Trips
Tuesday, Oct 26, 2004 through Sunday, Oct 31, 2004
Wednesday, Nov 3, 2004 through Sunday, November 7, 2004
- 6 MTB rides in Arizona and New
Mexico, totaling 154.9 miles
- 15.8 hours total
- 21,500 feet climbing
- Min elevation ~1500
feet, max over 10,000 feet
- Single biggest climb
ever, 7,105 feet net gain
- Zero crashes,
mechanicals, and flats
- 2 MTB rides in Scotland,
- 5.5 hours total riding
- Upwards of 2000 meters
- Elevations ranged from
150m to 600m
- Zero crashes,
mechanicals, and flats
- Dodged rain in Arizona, less lucky in Scotland
- Number of images
captured: over 300 total, with 74 included here
Wednesday, 10/27/04 South Mountain
Park, Phoenix, AZ
feet total climbing
arrived at the Arizona Biltmore resort Tuesday night. Bike was pre-shipped to the Bike Barn about
10 minutes away. There was a threat of rain
later on Wednesday, so I got an early start to get a ride in before rain moved
in and the awards banquet that evening.
Picked bike up, continued on to South Mountain
Park near the
airport. This park is completely open to
mountain biking and has some of the area’s best trail riding in it. After putting the bike together, I began the
National Trail assent. Cosmic Ray’s
guide book describes the National Trail this way: “The teacher of terror! Wicked tough climb. Narrow singletrack along a skinny ridge. Ultra-hairball, cactus infested
descent…” It is rated a “10” on the
Puck-O-Meter. Needless to say, I got off
my bike several times on this trail. I
saw several other riders on the trail.
All were on full-suspension rigs, and only one other was not wearing
full body armor. The trail was nearly
one trials section after another with some really sweet carvy stuff in
between. Views over Phoenix were spectacular from a couple of the
lookouts. I rode just past the antenna
farm and went back almost the way I came.
Once back to the car, I rode the Desert Classic Trail. This followed the southern base of the
mountain range for about 8 miles, slightly gaining elevation. The ride back was an 8 mile rollercoaster
blast. The washes on the return trip
were particularly hairy. You’d fly into
them at big chain ring speeds, launch, spend 1 or 2 seconds in the flat bottom,
then hit the opposite bank like a brick wall.
There was one instance where I was certain I was going to make a full
body imprint into the opposite bank. So
steep and way too much speed. Managed to
finish this ride unscathed and dry. Got
a bit sunburned though. Later that night
heavy rain moved in. In fact, it rained
or snowed most of the day just north of Phoenix,
where I had planned to bike in Sedona the next day.
climb looking back towards parking lot.
National Trail near
ridgeline. Very rocky.
section I cleaned on my way back.
Real quick: you
come around a bend, see this, and know you’re going to hit it. What do you do? You let out your best girlie scream like I
did and pray it doesn’t bite you. But
then you stop well past it, look back, and it hasn’t moved. Closer inspection reveals some prankster
painted a root to look like a diamond back rattler. Very, very clever.
Typical view of
Desert Classic Trail showing one of perhaps hundreds of dips in it. Mostly nice smooth stuff.
Courtyard in the
One of many
“swimming holes” at the Biltmore.
Typical home style
and yard landscaping in Arizona. These are backyards.
Thursday, 10/28/04 Mt Graham, Safford, AZ
feet total climbing, 7,105 foot net gain
Upon awaking, it was pouring outside. This was the day I was to drive up to Sedona,
a couple hours north, to ride some of the most scenic trails in Arizona. But the red sandstone there becomes a mess in
rain, and it rained the whole day before too.
So I had to bag riding there, choosing instead to bike up Mt Graham a
few hours to the southeast. I figured
that was mostly paved, and I could suffer through a 3 hour climb in the
rain. I packed up, checked out, and hit
the road. Well to my surprise, about 2/3
of the way there, I popped out from under the clouds to a beautiful sunny sky
and 70’s temps. I first stopped at the
ranger station to check on summit conditions.
The assistant there said “Oh, the summit is usually about 15 degrees
colder than down here.” I said that’s
funny, the website usually shows closer to a 40 degree difference. Safford is at 3000 feet, the summit is at
10,000 feet. So she brought up the
website I was referring to, and it puzzled her.
So she calls somebody she knows up top to see what it was really like up
there. The change in expression on her
face said it all. It was near freezing
and rime ice was starting to build up!
So I learned what I needed to know, parked the car nearby in town,
packed my warmest winter clothes in my Camelbak, and commenced on my biggest
climb ever. I had about 7 miles at very
easy grade before hitting the summit road.
The head wind was incredible, maybe a steady 35 mph? Just before turning into the summit rode, I
met up with another guy on a road bike, also heading up. Mark asked if I wanted company, but I
hesitated, as I was on a MTB and I would slow him down. He had no problem with that. Mark was big, forget how big/tall he said he
was. But lean, and he sure could climb
for a big guy. Kicked my butt. We talked most of the way up, but I was
gasping for air between words. I climbed
the bulk of the vertical at a harder pace than I had planned, especially after
the very hard, long ride the day before.
I didn’t eat enough either. I was
cramping up in a big way near the top.
At the top, I split off to the right to climb a couple miles on steep
jeep road to reach Heliograph
Peak, the only peak I
could legally ride my bike to above 10,000 feet. The rest of the area above 10,000 feet is the
Mt Graham Squirrel protected species area, in which people are not allowed. Mark continued on to the end of the pavement
a few miles further on, which did not gain any additional vertical. Interestingly, Mark rode up in a sleeveless
jersey, and the temp was in the 30’s up top.
I could understand climbing in that, but I would have immediately froze
during the descent. In a follow-up
email, Mark did confess it was cold up there.
After reaching Heliograph
Peak, I dress up. Only problem was, every time I bent a leg to
zip the bootie zipper, my groin muscles would start to seize up. It would not stop, and I could not get the
zippers zipped. Boy I was cussing. I had no idea how I was going to make it all
the way back, 31 miles to the car. There
were some ups along the way, it wasn’t all down hill. I eventually got around that problem and started
the descent. That was my all-time best
descent. I didn’t realize how many turns
and switchbacks were in that road while climbing it at 7mph. For at least 20 miles, the road descends near
monotonically at a 6-7% grade, and not a straight piece in it. Pavement was perfectly smooth too, none of
that northeast frost heaved stuff. As I
packed up the bike in town, I noticed the summit was completely socked in by a
dark cloud, and there were a few rain drops on the windshield too. The $4.95 Chinese all-you-can-eat place a
couple blocks up the road really hit the spot after this personal record climb.
After first turning
on Rt 366. Doesn’t look steep, but this
few miles hurt bad. Heliograph Peak
just touches the clouds on the right side of photo.
Near the end of the
first few miles of the climb that were straight as an arrow and very
demoralizing. It looked flat, but your
7mph speed said otherwise.
Mark a little
View to the south
most of the way up. Neat how the rays
illuminate patches on the ground 7000 feet below.
access road. Very steep and rough.
From Heliograph Peak.
The city of Safford
is 7000 feet below in between mountain shadow and cloud shadow.
Very tired and in
pain here at Heliograph Peak. Temp felt
near freezing. Used AmFib tights,
gloves, and warmest balaclava for descent.
Another angle from
Heliograph summit. Clouds are rolling in
Descent. 20 miles of this stuff to just
Friday, 10/29/04 Continental
Divide Trail, Silver City, NM
feet total climbing, with initial 2500 foot climb
After completing the Mt Graham climb on Thursday, I drove
in the dark to Silver City,
NM, a couple hours away. It must have rained there overnight, as the
roads were wet in the morning. But after
sunrise, every last bit of clouds dissipated to leave that pristine blue sky I
only see in the desert southwest. After
carbo loading on a “deluxe” continental breakfast, I head to the Continental
Divide trailhead. I parked on Rt 15,
where the CDT crosses. Then I biked up
Rt 15 to the Signal
Peak fire road turn
off. Many miles of moderately steep
gravel road climbing ensued. Signal Peak
sits at about 9,000 feet. The trees up
top were a spectacular site in the bright sun:
they were covered in ice! It was
even colder up here than Mt Graham the day before now that the cold front had
moved through. Climbing has a way of
keeping you warm though. From Signal Peak,
the CDT singletrack is picked up, which follows ridgeline and passes another
adjacent peak called Black
Peak before beginning the
many miles long descent. Some of the
descent was brutal, consisting of large, loose lava rocks. I couldn’t even walk on the stuff. But the majority of the descent was mountain
Yeah, the sky
really was that blue. Note the balanced
rock, the size of a small building. See
these all over out here.
summit at 8920 feet.
Icy trees below
from Signal Peak.
Nice shot of icy
tree. I was getting pelted by the stuff
as wind was ripping it off.
on Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
There were a few
fine specimens of old growth along the CDT.
One of many open
views encountered during the descent.
view. Note the loose lava rock on
trail. Practically impossible to ride or
walk on. A couple sections of this were
quite frustrating. Fortunately, they
didn’t last long.
Saturday, 10/30/04 50 Year and
Arizona Trails, Tucson, AZ
feet total climbing
After finishing the CDT shortly after lunch time, I headed
over to Tucson
to meet Chris and Dana. I stayed with
them the final two nights. Chris had a
big ride planned for Sunday, so he couldn’t do much riding on Saturday. He was riding the annual Soul Ride, a timed
30, 60 or 100 mile epic. Tinker Juarez won the 100 miler last year I believe. It starts with Jack-O-Lantern lighting at 4am
on Halloween. I really wanted to do the
30 mile ride with Chris, but I had to fly out on Sunday, and there was no way
to make it work. Instead, on Saturday I
settled for a ride with Chris on my favorite Tucson trail, the 50 Year Trail. The scenery and trail vibe just can’t be
beat. When Chris and Dana headed off on
errands later in the day, I hit a portion of the Soul Ride course. I wanted to ride a particular singletrack
section in reverse so I could descend the switchbacks. This ride was in Oracle, just north of Tucson on the back side of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Views were spectacular, as was the
riding. This was my fourth visit to Tucson, so getting to
know the area and trails quite well.
One of many such views on the 50-Year Trail.
Fun scenery and fun
trail. Just don’t get too distracted by
the neat stuff all around you, or you’re apt to get snagged by any number of
nasty prickly things.
Chris bombing down
I wish the cactus
behind me was a little misaligned. I
wonder if the hiker I got to take this photo intentionally lined me up to look
as if I have a cactus growing out of my head.
The Arizona Trail,
looking west. The Biosphere II is just
visible left of center.
The Arizona Trail
The Arizona Trail looking
south towards the Santa Catalina’s. This area was burned last year in a big fire.
Lots of stuff to
slice up legs here. Don’t even feel it.
On the singletrack
Further down the
At trailhead where
I parked. Note soul ride poster.
Saturday, 10/31/04 McDowell Mountain
Park, Scottsdale, AZ
feet total climbing
This afternoon I had to jump on a plane back to NH. I wanted to squeeze one quick ride in in the Phoenix area before doing
so. After spending the night at Chris’s
in Tucson, I had to drive to Phoenix, ride, pack bike, drop bike off at
bike shop, and drop rental car off all before 1pm. This would have been fine, except a major
road was closed for a triathlon on the way to McDowell Park Then I get to the park to find not only the
MTB race loops are closed for the 24 Hours of Adrenaline race going on, but the
remaining singletrack was closed for a 100 mile foot race also going on. I was steamed. There was one little bit of trail open I
could ride. I was there, had no time to
go elsewhere, so I got bike out. I very
quickly hit the outer loop where the runners were and ran into a course marshal. After talking a bit, he said there were very
few runners left, and it would be ok for my to ride the trails they were on if
I was careful. He said they were
delirious, presumably because they had been running since Saturday. So I got a nice quick loop ride in on
Pemberton and Bluff trails. Bluff was a
blast to bomb back down the slight grade several miles back to the car. Big chain ring, 25mph fast! The terrain here was cleared by a fire
several years ago, so it’s very open with nice views. Most of the singletrack here is beginner
level stuff, except for the expert loop on the race specific trails where 24
Hours of Adrenaline was going on. I
finished the ride behind schedule and broke down bike for shipment in record
time. Nice feature of this place is the
campground right there had showers, so at least I got to travel home feeling
fresh. On the way to the bike shop, an
Interstate was closed for bridge repairs.
I got dumped into town with bumper to bumper traffic thinking I was
either going to miss my flight or have to try to fly my bike with me. I did reach the bike shop in time to leave it
for Monday shipment (no FedEx sites were open).
Got to airport with very little margin.
The ride at McDowell probably wasn’t worth it. I could have ridden in South Mountain
Park again and got a good
two hour ride in for all the hassle I went through to ride out east of town.
scenery. This is Pemberton Trail
climbing a modest grade. Trails here are
smooth, non-technical, and very fast.
returning to car in far distance.
Thursday, 11/4/04 Edinburgh, Scotland
miles of touristy hiking around historic Edinburgh
Getting to Edinburgh
for the Gold Awards ceremony was tough.
We left 1.5 hours late from Manchester,
NH. Thought for sure we’d miss our connection in Newark. The red-eye flight over the puddle was
long. I did not sleep. Fortunately we reserved our rooms for the
night before so we could check-in in the morning and get a few hours
sleep. Upon arrival to the Dalmahoy, we
were horrified to learn that because we didn’t show the night before, they let
our rooms go. No place to crash. We went through the long, quite boring awards
ceremony that evening with little or no sleep for 36 hours straight. Never want to do that again. During the afternoon we visited Mary King’s
Close in the old part of the city. A
close is a medieval alley that is very narrow.
Mary King’s Close has been built over, so it is essentially underground. Very dark, musty, and spooky. Many, many people lived in small one-room
houses off this close 500 years ago.
Many stories of the people that lived there have been recorded and
survive to this day.
Dalmahoy hotel and country club. Our
fancy place to stay for three nights.
Not sure what the story behind or age is of this place. Note Scottish flag on right edge of image.
A shot from
Another view of Edinburgh from the castle
This shot in Edinburgh was just off
the Royal Mile I believe.
A night shot in Edinburgh. There was a pedestrian walkway and shops
about two stories above street grade.
The back side of the buildings at walkway level came out even with next street over.
Saw lots of guys in
Kilts, from young to old.
One of many closes
in Edinburgh. They would generally slope downward steeply
towards Lock Nor. Each morning, the
occupants that lived on the close would empty their toilet buckets into the
close. Thus the saying “$#it flows down
The famous Edinburgh Castle.
I did not tour inside, choosing to MTB that day instead.
The Gold Awards
banquet. The meal was brought out one
course at a time between sets of awards.
We had “Terrine of Highland Game, Kumquat Marmalade & Petit Salad,
Guinea Fowl with Broad Beans & Oyster Mushrooms with a Butter Sauce, and a
Trio of Chocolate.”
Friday, 11/5/04 Glentress Forest,
hours riding time
With formalities out of the way, I finally had a couple
days to explore some of the best mountain biking terrain the UK has to
offer. I must say I was a bit skeptical
at first. I fretted about driving part
way around the city, then way out into the countryside on my own. With 25 years driving experience in the US,
driving in a backwards country just freaked me out. You drive on the left side, the steering
wheel is on the right side, the shift is on the left side, the rotaries go the
wrong way around, you always look the wrong way for traffic before pulling out,
you pull out into the wrong lane, etc.
Actually, all of this came quite quickly. It was just plain navigation that was
hardest. The narrow roads, no shoulders,
and fast impatient drivers allowed no mercy for an American struggling to find
his way. I did get to The Hub bike shop
and café no problem. Hired (not rented
in the UK)
a Giant XTC hardtail with disk brakes, an entry level bike. I hit Helly Hansen V trail, an expert rated
trail first. No rain was in the forecast
for today, but recent rain left the trails wet and slippery, but not
muddy. You spend most of the first hour
on Helly Hansen climbing to the highest point of the ride on combination of
fireroads and singletrack. The
singletrack was crushed granite surface, smooth in places, and very bony in
others. Several long descents on this
trail were pure bliss. Views were
spectacular everywhere. The Britney
Spears (“Hit me baby one more time”) section was perhaps the most fun. The free-ride terrain park near the end was
too scary for me to try. All North Shore
stuff, from ladder bridges, logs, big drops, seesaws, etc. After completing the Black rated Helly Hansen
loop, I did the intermediate Red loop.
This trail had a newly constructed 1.7 km terrain park descent called
Spooky Wood in it. Unbelievable. Just one mammoth bermed turn after another
interspersed with doubles, table-tops, rollers, you name it. All very smooth and scary fast.
High point of Helly Hansen V trail, near 600m above sea
The valley. White speckles are sheep, which are about the
only farm animals you see around here, and by the thousands.
One of many bony
sections. I walked the first part of
this hairball descent.
The Britney Spears
section. I did want to hit it one more
time. More fun than a human being should
be allowed to have.
One of many bermed
swithbacks on the Britney Spears section.
hills on the horizon here.
ridgeline had a wind farm on it.
sure what village this is in the valley.
wound its way down this valley out of sight for many miles. I thought the ride would end this way, but
no, another big ridgeline had to be climbed with yet another long descent.
One of only a few
riders I saw on the trail.
Beginning of North Shore
stuff. This was tame. It degenerated to insane from here.
Swoopy berms on the
Red loop. This descended steeply, and I
could almost go no brakes through this.
I’m sure others can.
The Hub bike hire
shop. Café next door where you are
welcome in full muddy bike garb.
Saturday, 11/6/04 Traquair Forest,
hours riding time
Rain was in the forecast for today. I had the bike in the car, so I could get an
earlier start. After talking with the
guys at The Hub and other riders on the trail on Friday, I concluded that
Innerleithen would have to be the next place to hit, just 6 miles further down
the road. The cross-country loop was
supposed to be much more technical, plus the forest had a full-up downhill
park. When I arrived, there were zero
cars in the lot. Cloud ceilings were
well below the summit. It was drizzling
out. The good thing was the temperature
was quite mild at about 13C. I began the
long climb to the summit of Minch Moor.
Views starting out, but none from the top. This place was considerably muddier than
Glentress. Some sections of trail where
natural, not crushed stone. The first
“black graded” section was intimidating, but I think a few times there I could
clear most of it. The second black
graded section was insane, with huge jumps, 5 foot drops, hairy switchbacks,
etc. On top of this, my front disk brake
pads were completely gone and I had zero front breaking power left. The signs on the steep parts were cute,
stating “Skids are for kids.” With only
rear break left, I couldn’t help but skid in spots on the wet, greasy
surface. This loop was thoroughly
entertaining and would be a lot of fun to ride with a group to see who would
dare do what. When I got back to the car
park (parking lot), many cars were there as now the lift service was running (a
Land Rover carrying packs of downhillers with bikes up on big wagon).
Innerleithen and the Tweed River
valley. Half way up near cloud line.
A gravity cavity 4-times the one at FOMBA. Got my heart pounding.
On way to summit of Minch Moor.
Summit of Minch Moor in clouds on this day.
Rocky ledge with no front brake left.
Sign warning of
impending doom for a mere mortal such as myself. Town of Innerleithen
and the Tweed River in background. Note the “Skids Are For Kids!” on the sign.
One of several
large drops on this final black grade section.
Note singletrack just visible below with huge rollers in it.
This hill was so
steep that I was practically straight above the car park.
The rollers on the
lower trail were huge, each one being a gravity cavity 10 feet deep. I didn’t dare get air on these.
My tiny Fiat. Bike would just nicely fit in back with only
wheel removal. Note steering wheel in
“passenger” seat. Thing really zipped along
with 1.2 liter engine.
Two Trips Summary
I can now color another state in on my states mountain
biked – New Mexico. By using one day of vacation combined with an
off-Friday weekend, I got almost four full days of riding in. Visiting and biking in Scotland was a
real treat too, even unexpected. Was
pretty much a no strings attached three-day vacation fully funded by the
company. I just had to stand when our
silver award team was recognized at the awards ceremony. I was reluctant to go to Scotland at first, but now I’m glad
I went. The program manager thinks that
if we do our job right, we’ll be a shoe-in for a gold award next year on a
different program. No idea where that
will take us.
Being gone almost two weeks straight does take a toll
however, especially since the two destinations are 8 time zones apart (about a
third of the way around the world). Barely
had time to adjust back to EST before heading 5 time zones in the other
direction to Scotland. In my short stay in Scotland, I
don’t think I had a chance to adjust.
Upon coming back to New England, I had
no jet lag.
No trips are planned in the near future, except for a week
over the holidays. Next potential
business trip will be in April to Las
Vegas. Nevada is the only
western state I haven’t biked in yet.