Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Aurora & Vicinity Mountain Bike

Seeking adventure and some good times with my buddy Jim T, I decided to explore the area around the ghost town of Aurora which is east of Bodie and northeast of Mono Lake. We drove out Highway 167/Pole Line Road just over the California/Nevada border then drove four miles or so along the high voltage power lines. We parked at the junction of the road returning from Alkali Lake.

We were greeted to crisp, blue skies and moderate northwest winds as we headed up the power line road. As we rose out of Alkali Valley we enjoyed these views back to the Sierra (apologies for the poor pic quality, I only had my cell phone along). 

The road was in good shape.  A bit sandy and a little rocky with a few short, steep pitches. Near the top of the climb we entered the burn area from last year's fire which made for a stark landscape. The winds were strong enough there to initiate small dust and ash clouds. Without vegetation, sand transport had created small dunes in the road and some the smaller, ancillary roads were completely buried in sand!

The historical town site of Aurora sits almost adjacent to the modern Esmeralda Mine. This is the view from near Aurora Peak towards the mine with the snow capped Sweetwater Mountains in the distant right.

From the same location this is the view north. The road here alternated between loose basalt rock and deep sand.

The fire had burned into part of the mining operation where we found melted plastic pipe, burnt timbers, and grim piles of scorched mining junk.

A short climb over tailings piles and through a maze of old mining roads finally brought us to the town site of Aurora. Click to enlarge.

Not much remains of the town except some foundations and walls.

The stamp mill still stands proud.

The nearby cemetery was perhaps the highlight of our visit to Aurora.

A Nevada State Senator.

Elaborate brick work.

A husband and wife who came all the way from Ireland.

The graveyard and it's setting put us in a reflective and grateful mood.

We backtracked to the power line road, took a wrong turn, but pretty quickly straightened ourselves out and found the correct road. Initially the road quality was decent, but after a mile or two it deteriorated to a barely discernible track that alternated between loose rock and deep sand.

This was one of the better sections!

The only recent track was from an ATV and it appeared the rider had set pink flags along the route. The road was so faint and rough we had serious concerns we were on the right one, but we found the pink flagging mentally reassuring.

We came across a strange camp along this road with a poorly constructed, but fairly large building, tools, rotting building supplies, and plenty of trash. I didn't stop for pictures as we both were a little concerned about possible occupants! According to the maps there are private parcels in this area, so the camp was not likely on Federal land.

To our relief, this road joined a larger, better maintained road and headed up and over a shallow pass.

The sky grew darker as we entered serene Aurora Valley with Alkali Lake in the distance.

We were thankful the increasing winds were at our backs as we headed through the valley and then out towards the truck. A light snow began to fall as we negotiated the last stretch of sandy road.

By the time we were done the storm was really rolling in! I took this pic from inside the truck just a few minutes after we finished.

Despite some seriously miserable riding this was one great adventure ride with a really good dude! Thanks Jim.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Whiskey 50

I am finally getting around to reporting on my Whiskey 50 race. The race is held in Prescott Arizona and travels some of the beautiful trails and dirt roads west and south of town. It's a true mountain bike race with plenty of single track trails, rideable (by some, sometimes!) obstacles, and lots of climbing (7,000'+).

The weather forecast grew worse and worse during the previous week and by race day eve there was good certainty that a vigorous, but fast moving cold front would move through the area during the morning hours. Rain, moderate mostly, and strong winds greeted us at the race start.

One aspect of the Whiskey 50 is that the field is large and the racer's starting position is important because when the pack hits the first trails and technical obstacles, everything backs up. The further up you are the more you avoid what's known as "the conga line." However, I had little desire to line up early and stand around in the cold for an hour, so I stayed warm and dry until about 15 minutes prior to the start and tucked in at the back of the line. Turns out most folks got there earlier, parked their bikes as a placeholder, and kept warm elsewhere!

I figured I would start slowly, ride the more technical single track at a mellow, safer pace, then make up time on the big fire road climb out of Skull Valley. It turned out "mellow, safer" was really, really slow, and technical sections weren't nearly as bad as I feared. 

Here I am rolling to the start at 7:15am.

Queued up at the back.

After a few miles on pavement passing as many people as I could without going too crazy hard or pissing anybody off with aggressive riding, we arrived at the singletrack and the first of several stops in the action.

Check out this video for an idea how the long lines formed in the woods as the rain turned to snow. Pretty well captures the intensity of the storm up on the ridges too.

Here's a pic I purchased. When we weren't stopped, it was fun riding. Cold, but fun!

From the ridge a long, steep trail falls down to a fire road. The descent was the toughest part of the day for me as there was too much traffic to bomb down, there was no pedaling to generate body heat, and my hands were numb and cold from nearly constant braking.

Once I got some food in me and started climbing the fire road things got better. A little stinging sleet in the face heading down to Skull Valley was the last of the truly bad weather and by the time I got to the turnaround the sun was shining and I felt good.

I took some time to oil the chain with much help from Erica Tingey (Jamis) who was waiting on her man and I was on my way up the climb. As planned I passed a ton of people up the big grade hitting the top with good legs and ready for the fun single track. After another hour of great riding, a bacon station (hell yeah I took some bacon!), a short, but painful grunt up Cramp Hill (lived up to its name, but just minor quivers), I spilled out onto the pavement and motored back into town


Epic indeed and oh so much fun. In the end I'm glad the weather came through!