It’s my favorite time of year to be riding a bike. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, the wind is reasonably tame most days, and, best of all, the leaves are changing color.
A ride I do every year, is a ride up Waterline Road, to the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks. It’s a ride that I think some people have come to expect me to do every year. It’s a long ride, with almost a vertical mile of total climbing, but I look forward to it, even after the Schultz Fire burned that side of the mountain. It’s been interesting to see the ongoing recovery. It’s also a ride that I typically do in it’s entirety only once a year. It’s just not the same without the yellows and reds and oranges.
We start off riding from the house to Schultz Pass, where the bottom of Waterline Road is. We then go up, under the Dragonspine, and wind along the ridges of the east side of the mountain, through the Schultz fire scar, and through pockets of green trees that didn’t burn. We wind up at the maintenance cabins for the city wells in the Inner Basin, where we have a few choices. Either up the steep trail to the Inner Basin, continue up Waterline to the north side of the Peaks, or down to Lockett Meadow.
I always head up to the Inner Basin first, as that is my main goal for the ride. I’ll come back down one of the lesser known maintenance roads to the cabins, then head up Upper Waterline. The grade starts off fairly light, but the last mile before the end of the road gets steeper. That combined with the thin air at 10,000 feet has me start thinking about the long downhill to come. Waterline Road dead ends at 10,200 feet, in Abineau Canyon, surrounded by avalanche scars, and in the shadow of the highest point in Arizona.
After butting on thicker gloves and a jacket, it’s fifteen miles of downhill back to Schultz Pass, then my choice of routes back home. Today I hooked up with the Arizona Trail, then retraced my steps back over Observatory Mesa and home.
I love storms. I’m aware that they cause a lot of problems for a lot of people, but out here in Arizona, we don’t get a heck of a lot of moisture from the sky, so I celebrate the storms. I’ll go out in them, hike, ride, work in them, and I’ll get depressed when they go away and the Sun comes back out.
Maybe I should live in Seattle.
I love it when the monsoon season starts up in Flagstaff. It’s been a long stretch since the last rain, usually, and the forest is dry and thirsty. It’s hot, It’s dry. Dusty. Most years, there’s been at least one big forest fire, and countless smaller fires, usually human caused. They closed parts of the forest this year because of how dry it’s been. Usually, around the beginning of July, big thunderheads start rolling across the sky, rains, lightning and thunder, hail storms, the occasional tornado. This year? About right on time! They opened the forest this past Wednesday.
I like to ride up to a thunderstorm, then race it home to see if I can beat the rain. I call it storm poking. Sometimes, the storm wins. Sometimes I’m faster. I like finding a place to sit and watch and listen to the storm, too. That’s my favorite.
Today, I got wet. Very wet.
I was up on top of Mt. Elden, planning to ride down Sunset, ride some of the trail work that we did before the closure, then hook up with Little Bear, and decide where to go from there.
When I saw the rain marching down the slopes of the Peaks towards Schultz Pass, I knew I was going to get wet. Fortunately I brought my rain cape! Unfortunately, rain capes are really only effective if your bike has fenders… Tri lacks the fenders.
The rain caught me on the Catwalk, and I put on the rain cape. It’s all so fun, though, I ended up spraying everything under the cape (So, me, my bike, and everything attached to it) with wet sandy mud. There were points, where the trail drainage needs work, where the water was running down the trail five or six inches deep. Lightning was striking around me, the rain was getting heavy, and I was having a blast. Not even in that retrospective “It sucked in the moment, but looking back, it was kind of fun.” way, I was genuinely enjoying it.
I opted not to go down Little Bear, because of the Schultz Fire, a lot of that trail is totally exposed, which is bad with lightning. I got down to Schultz Pass, and took the road down. As I got to the Y, the rain let up and the Sun came out. I rolled up my (now very muddy) rain cape, dumped about three cubic feet of sand out of each shoe, and headed home, the long way, enticing more storms to come and get me.
It was a great ride. But next time, I’ll bring a rain jacket, not a cape.
I’m planning on riding tomorrow. Will I get wet? We’ll see!
Most of my bikes have been through some sort of evolution throughout their lives. That is the nature of having a thing… you start off with it, then, over the course of time, you change things, add or remove bits, modifying it to make it suit your needs. My bikes… some start off serving a specific role, but maybe that role changes. Or they start off with one set of components, then get a completely different set. Sometimes, even whole new frames.
The question could be asked “Is it still the same bike if none of the parts are the same? I say… it depends. When I name a bike, I’m naming an idea, the personality, the soul that develops around the bike. Sometimes, the name is tied to the hardware that the bike is made out of. Sometimes… it is tied to something deeper, more personal.
Out of all my bikes, no bike has changed over time as much as Henry the Packmule.
Henry has existed across three bike frames and countless changes in parts. I think the only original part is the kickstand. Henry even has a history that starts before there was a bicycle named Henry, but you’ll have to ask my sister about that, she knows the story better than I. Suffice to say, she named him.
Henry the Packmule started out as a Trek 820 frame, built up with road components from another bike, and a Surly 1×1 fork. I built my own front and rear racks, because why not? I was on a budget, and it was cheaper to build them from scratch myself.
Eventually, Henry got moved to an aluminium Giant Boulder SE frame when I noticed that the steel Trek frame had a slight bend.
Then, one day, my dream frame went on sale.
I had long drooled over the Surly Big Dummy, but man they were pricey. Worth every penny, but it took a lot of pennies to buy one. So, when Surly updated the design of the Big Dummy frame, they put the previous model on firesale. I still really didn’t have the money, but I crossed my fingers and bought it anyways.
I think it was one of my better choices.
I built the Big Dummy frame up with mountain bike parts, used the old wheels and brakes, and built my own rack for the back. Xtracycle was having a sale on their bags, so I picked up a set of those for cheap. Many adventures were had.
Eventually, I built my own wheels, installed disc brakes, put a 29 inch wheel on the front, set Henry up with the Surly Dummy Cargo Kit, and have gone back and forth endlessly with front racks and baskets.
I’ve hauled a few hundred pounds of wood home with Henry, carried other bikes, some light bike touring and camping, gone mountain biking, ridden in parades, towed (pushed) a car, and had it in the air. I’ve even brought home groceries.
Will it all fit?
If it fits, I rides!
Even more impressive are the bike moves with the trailer I built.
King size mattress, boxspring, and frame.
My 4’x8′ workbench
My wood lathe
Yo, dawg, heard you like bikes…
Currently, Henry is the bike that gets the most miles, partly because the platform pedals let me ride in sandals, but mostly because, for the most part, Henry is set up just about perfect for me. With a 29 inch front wheel (helps smooth out bumps, and stabilizes the bike) a 26 inch rear wheel built around a Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 internally geared hub, (the Big Dummy frame was designed with this hub in mind.) Hydraulic disc brakes keep the speed in check. (Haha!) The Dummy Cargo Kit with a few mods is the ideal setup for my needs, the bags swallow whatever I throw at them, and a homemade wide loader bar helps me cary anything big or heavy. All this rolls around on Schwalbe Big Apple tires.
And I almost forgot… Henry has the coolest horn.
Henry looks big and unwieldy, but for a packmule, he’s surprisingly quick and nimble. Sure he’s heavy, but he rolls fast and smooth, even with a load. Once you’re moving, you don’t feel the weight. And once you get used to the long wheelbase, he’s a surprisingly capable mountain bike, too.
I feel like this is turning into a long term review…
So, what’s left to change on Henry? Well… not a whole lot. I like Henry, even after all these years, as he rolls now, Henry is still my dream bike. Getting on Henry is like putting on your favorite old jacket.
I guess that’s another part of having a thing. You make changes to it over time, and if you stick with it, eventually, you make it perfect for you.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Henry the Packmule. This took a while to write, as Henry has the most history behind him, even though he’s not the oldest bike in the garage. I know I had fun remembering, going back and reading and looking for old pictures, and re-living some of the old memories with Henry.
Take it easy.
That thing electric? ~ The majority of people who come up to me as I’m strapping down an impressive load to Henry
conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
When normal people go camping off their bike, they take all their lightweight gear, compress it into an impossibly small space, strap it to a lightweight bike, and ride, all the while trying not to complain about how the weight changes the handling of the bike. It’s called “bikepacking.”
I go a different route. I throw all my camping stuff at a Big Dummy, and ride. It doesn’t change the handling, nothing’s super compressed, and it’s got plenty of room for extra stuff like trail building gear, extra water, marmots, and tree stumps. Sure, the bike is heavy to begin with, but you don’t really notice the extra weight. (at first…)
This past Saturday, the 19th, there was a trail day up on Sunset, up on Mt. Elden. I try to ride a bicycle to as many trail days as I can, but I also enjoy sleeping in on the weekends. So, as a compromise, I end up trying to camp out the night before nearby the work site. It’s a great arrangement. I get to sleep outside in the hammock, sleep in, take my time waking up and having breakfast, and then go build trail. Everyone wins!
So, I loaded up Stitch with all the fixings of a trail day campout: My usual complement of camping gear, an LPG stove because I can’t use my wood stove due to fire restrictions, boots, a hardhat, a soft hat, my trail day backpack with rock hammers and chisels and a saw, and extra water. We rode up the Arizona Trail to Schultz Pass, and from there we went up the backside of Sunset trail to Sunset Peak, where I found a great pair of trees well off the main trail. I hung the hammock, cooked dinner, and watched the stars come out in the hammock, as the coyotes and elk and wind made the music of the night.
Click to embiggen.
The highest point of my ride, around 8,800 feet.
Camp all set up, with Stitch in guard mode.
No good view of the sunset, but I can watch the light fade on the ridge opposite.
How is this safer than my alcohol stove?!
The Moon showing off a little Earthshine, with Venus low and to the right.
The next morning…
I woke up to the Sun in my eyes. This was as planned, as I purposefully hung my hammock so that the Sun would hit me in the face as it rose. It’s a big bright warm gentle alarm clock.
An hour later, I was packed up and bombing down Sunset. The meeting point was at the bottom of Red Onion, a tight, techy social trail with logjams, narrow gaps, and tight turns, and I was a little curious if Stitch would fit. He did, but only just. That silver bar on the left side of the bike? That’s my wide loader, and it’s bent now. Aside from that, we made it down Red Onion without incident.
People arrived, breezes were shot, and trail was worked. The section of Sunset trail we were working on was heavily eroded, due to poor layout. We couldn’t really re-align the trail here, so we put in some huge drains in the worst erosion spots, and improved drainage further up the hill. The Flagstaff Hotshots crew was there working, which helped immensely, many thanks to them.
After the trail work, and the consumption of much post-work pizza, (Mmmm Fratelli’s…) I had a choice to make. I could take the easy way and ride down Lookout Road to get home, or I could essentially retrace my steps and ride back up Red Onion, up Sunset over all our freshly done work, and down the steep other side, adding a few miles and a lot of steep climbing to my ride.
I can’t do anything easy, so up I went. My phone was on point with motivation, as it played My Silver Lining, by First Aid Kit, one of the lyrics being “I won’t take the easy road.” For how heavy Stitch is, between bike and cargo, he climbs pretty well. I did my part to pack in the fresh dirt. Then, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I made the climb up the side of Observatory Mesa to take the Loop Trail home, rather than ride through town.
I loved every minute of it.
Ultimately, this was another good shakedown ride for Stitch and I. I have a better idea of how the bike handles technical singletrack with a load, I should leave the wideloader at home, and I think I’ll trim the front fender some, as I popped some zip ties as it hung up on a drop. I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed the ride as much on a shorter, lighter, more normal bike with the same load.
The experiment continues.
I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road
Work has been rather slow of late, so I’ve been taking the opportunity to get off work early and do some riding. Yesterday, Henry and I tested out the newly embiggened 89A from the Airport to the top of the Switchbacks at Oak Creek Canyon, now with 100% more shoulder! That was fun, save for a few close calls with cars. (Why were you driving on the shoulder at speed?!?!) But, to be honest, if I had known that I was going to get off as early as I did yesterday, I would not have ridden Henry.
Between a severe lack of moisture, and the usual high spring winds, fire season is starting early this year. I’m expecting restrictions, forest closures, things that limit my access to those trails I love. And, I’ve not done as much mountain biking the past two years as I would have liked. So, I’m taking the chance to get out and hit the trails as often as I can, when I can, while I can. That, and it’s harder to get hit by a car on singletrack.
So today, I suited up the Pretty bike, and hit up Secret, which is a trail I (Shamefully) haven’t ridden for well over a year.
It was everything I love, I remember, and I’ve missed.
After the descent (Rush’s 2112 works flawlessly for the trail from tip top to bottom, and keeps meshing with the character of the trail if you turn left onto Pipeline and take Lower Moto.) I hooked up with the Arizona Trail up to Schultz Pass, and took Schultz Creek down to the Y. From there, it was a leisurely, low energy ride through town to home.
Don’t burn the forest down, everyone. Be careful out there.
Take it easy.
Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will cure most ills this flesh is heir to ~ Dr K.K. Doty