Camp Tucson is becoming a bit of a spring tradition down in the desert. Originally conceived by Scott Morris as a way to encourage people to come visit our little corner of the world, the Sonoran Desert, during peak desert season (March), "camp" consists of three self-supported rides of various lengths designed to showcase the best of the Tucson area while offering valuable recon and training for those aiming to race the Arizona Trail Race in April. Day 1 of camp is the much loved Reddington-Miligrosa loop, the shortest ride, yet possibly the most technical, of the long weekend of riding. Long dirt road climbs, gnarly jeep roads, a long section of the Arizona Trail, and a finish on one of the best downhill runs off of Mt Lemmon, the massive Sky Island that towers over the city.
Participants congregate at the Circle K parking lot on the north east end of town mid afternoon on Friday of camp. It's always a chance to see friends from all over and to watch those who live in colder climes enjoy the ability to wear short sleeves and shorts. Final instructions are given, “Be careful on the Miligrosa descent. You're in charge of getting yourself back. We're not going to come looking for you.” A neutral roll-out to Reddington Road is great for swapping stories. When the road tilts up, it's time to go. Once a well-loved shooting range, the area still maintains its red-neck flavor, now with fewer guns and big trucks. Attacks start to fly from the bottom, mostly from those who have never ridden the route before. This section acts as a Wilderness detour for the bike version of the Arizona Trail and has been known to break spirits.
The group dives off Reddington Road at the top, negotiating a series of jeep roads that climb in and out of the massive desert drainages. Yellow grasslands dominate the area, very unlike what most people imagine when they think of Southern Arizona. Loose and rocky, with enough motivation, a bit of skill, and a fair bit of luck, everything on the jeep road can be negotiated from on the bike. Local knowledge of the lines also helps. It may not be trail, but it's just as good. A series of three gates (gates in AZ are about as common as guns and trucks, that is to say, very) deposits riders on the Arizona Trail where it drops down from the Rincons, a large Sky Island Wilderness area. A large map of the state showing the 800-mile route welcomes people onto the singletrack.
Climb, climb, climb, descend, climb, negotiate some switchbacks, climb, descend, carry your bike up some steps, try to avoid the cactus - this section of trail has it all. It's classic Arizona– rugged, rough, and unforgiving. Much of the trail is south-west facing, a bonus as by this time in the afternoon, the sun starts to lower in the sky, casting a golden light over the landscape. On to Miligrosa Ridge, meaning Miracle in Spanish. Most people are pretty whooped by this point– many miles of Arizona riding will do that to you– and most people who've never been down the trail expect it to be all downhill. It is. Except for the uphill parts, of which there are plenty.
The trail starts with the daunting "Waterfall", followed by several climbs and descents on the ridge of relatively ridable train before the real seriousness starts. While the leaders of Camp Tucson like to race down this trail, nearly everyone else stops to enjoy the sunset which is invariably approaching. With the Tucson Valley spread out in front of you with mountains surrounding it on most sides, it's hard not to stop and gape. I have my checkpoints down the trail: the awkwardly placed gate, the scary-but-rollable rock drop, the Whiskey Tree (fully stocked), and the rubbly steep hill where I crashed and ended up bloodied on all four limbs, even with protection from elbow and knee pads.
A few tricky rock moves followed by a steep drop into a wash signify the end. It's relative safety after a rowdy descent which leaves many participants of Camp Tucson wide-eyed and wondering what they signed up for. Classic Tucson riding, that's what.
Eszter Horanyi is a Salsa sponsored rider. You can learn more about her here: http://salsacycles.com/people/eszter_horanyi