As the temps rise in the valley, my thoughts elevate to the cooler temps up north…Flagstaff, the White Mountains…the Mogollon Rim.
I’ve been riding the Rim for about seven years now… I’ve ridden the Rim classics enough times to dream about my favorite lines up and down the Highline (from See Canyon to the 260 trailhead) Military Sinkhole, Drew, and Willow Springs, trails. This year I am determined to find and ride new singletrack.
The Cabin Loop is just one of those “new to me” rides…affectionately named after the historic Cabins that are connected by a system of trails. I haven’t heard of many people who have ridden this area, it hasn’t been on the mountain biking radar. I only heard about it last year from Mick, the owner at Hike, Bike & Run in Payson. Since then the wheels have been turning…and last Saturday I set out on my first epic exploration of the Cabin Loop.
I chose the Washington Park Trailhead because I could not resist the chance to ride a portion of the Arizona Trail, the legendary route that traverses Arizona from Mexico to Utah.
The tail end of the Highline passage of the Arizona Trail ascends to the top of the rim. It starts out as scenic doubletrack, steadily climbing, and climbing, and climbing…
Until it turns into a monumental hike-a-bike, with magnificent views.
The solitude makes it all worth while…
The Blue Ridge passage of the AZ trail continues on to General Springs cabin and shares the Fred Haught trail for several gorgeous miles of flowing green, pine scented singeltrack.
Spinning down this piece of heaven (at 7200 ft it might as well be heaven) I am caught up in the moment…new trail, new trail, what beautiful new trail. I am already planning my next trip here with friends. The trail gets sketchy to follow for a while, I miss a cairn and have to double back, but I stay glued to the Cabin Loop tree markers. I lose my way a few times and the GPS is bouncing all over the place.
But at last I find my way to the Pinchot cabin, I rest and eat lunch. Not a soul around.
Then I begin the gradual ascent up Houston Brothers trail. It’s gorgeous. A gentle grade that lets me spin as I soak up the views. The singletrack is so narrow in places and altogether invisible in others. But it’s there.
About fifteen miles in I start to feel a little weak. At mile 16 the feeling worsens…energy is failing faster than it should and I get a feeling that something’s not right. I eat more. The first half of Houston Brothers trail is the gradual singletrack climb. The second half is steep ups and steep downs. Normally I wouldn’t be so thrown by a short series of climbs, but these hills are killing me. At one point I am aching, dragging my bike up the mountain, no longer pushing, thinking to myself, “How am I going to get out of here? Seriously.”
Amidst all my inner turmoil I can’t help but notice the magnificent terrain, sights and scents that take me back the Wasatch. For a moment I feel like I am up the Alpine Loop in Utah riding the Ridge trail 157… the resemblance is remarkable. Then reality hits me and I am back to baby steps…baby steps up to that log…baby steps just to that rock…baby steps. I laugh, continue onward just wishing the trail would end.
I know my state of mind is not quite right when I start thinking…I’m too old for this kind of riding…I’m not coming back here again… maybe I should take a break from riding for a few months…These thoughts fester with each aching step. At mile 20 I’m resolute in the knowledge that something is going terribly wrong with my body. I’m not processing any food, I have no energy. I’ve sprawled out on the trail using my CamelBak as a pillow and attempted a nap until a strange sound from the woods startled me to my feet. I drudge onward.
I finally reach the 300 and the awesome views of the Mogollon Rim.
By now even the remotest thoughts of route finding on the General Crook trail had left my consciousness. The wide cut gentle grade of the 300 will whisk me back to the AZ trail where a steep descent awaits me. But wait, even the bunny slope of the forest service road is too much me. The slightest incline has me pushing my bike. How can this be? I push until I realize that I’m pushing downhill. Back on the bike I coast the hills, head down low, too sapped to even crane my neck up to see in front of me. Then I stop, get off the bike and with my tail between my legs whimper along the roadside just hoping no cars drive by to see this poor mountain biker walking his bike up a hill a second grader could ride.
While part of me is hoping someone would drive by and stop, a bigger part of me does not want to face the humiliation of accepting a motor assist on an epic like this. Fortunately only one car passed. I made no eye contact. They didn’t even slow, I was left dusted, desperate and delirious. Lucky for me the final half mile on the road is a high speed descent, no pedaling required, just balance and I have just enough of that.
I make it to the ledge, the dropoff Trailhead and it hits me. My stomach is in knots, my whole body aches, my mouth is watering. I’ve got to hurl. Never a fan of honking I wait it out. Five minutes, ten minutes, fighting nature. She was knocking but I wasn’t opening the door. I wanted to, but I couldn’t get down to business. I start walking. The trail is steep. It is a downhillers dream. But right now it’s my nightmare.
As I hiked up it seven hours earlier I spotted all my future lines and envisioned a gnarly finale to an epic day. At the top I made a solid decision that no matter how fun it looks, I’m off the bike until the switchback. One slip and more than just my ego will be bruised.
As I close in on the switchback, I see a hiker resting on his pack. I am immediately embarrassed because I am not riding my bike. As I get within range he says, “pretty rocky stuff,” and I retort, “yes it is, but I would be riding it if I wasn’t feeling so sick.” I had to have an excuse. Am I that egocentric that I can’t let it go? Do I have to explain myself to a stranger? Yes, I am. Yes, I do.
I tell him that normally I would be riding but I’m fighting off some sickness that has me on the verge of losing it and it’s all I can do to just keep walking. There, I am now exonerated from the hall of shame. I have a good excuse for walking down a perfectly insane ride.
We chatted just for a few minutes, mostly about my condition, but I did manage to find out that he is an AZ Trail through hiker, he’s been on the trail since April and started in Mexico. He was really excited to get up on the rim. He said his name was Curt. I asked if he was writing about his adventure and he no, just pictures. He is a photographer and told me some of his work in the Appalachian mountains has been published. (Here is some of his work on PBase)
I wished him luck and hurried off down the trail, the knocking was getting louder. Only a hundred yards away I freed the beast that was tearing me apart. Of all places to hurl, it had to be within earshot of one of two people I’d seen on the trail. (Not counting the group of 25 Boy Scouts and their leaders at the beginning of the ride). Sorry that you had to hear that Curt. I tried to get further away…
As bad as it felt to puke off the side of the trail, I immediately felt a little better afterwords. Round two hit even before round one was over, then I was back on the bike descending the steep and wide Arizona Trail.
Back at the car my post ride chocolate milk was calling me, but I just couldn’t risk drinking anything but water…The two hour drive home spent sipping water, I made it home by seven, hopped in bed at eight and instantly slept for 10 hours. Cabin Fever.
I’ll be back to do this ride again. Despite the suffering through sickness, it was incredible.
View The Cabin Loop: AZT | Fred Haught | Houston Brothers in a larger map
|The Cabin Loop-Mogollon Rim|