Cyclists who visit the area always hit the slopes of Catalina Highway for the 26 mile ride to Summerhaven. Most are unaware that a right turn just before the drop to the village, a steep side road takes you 2 miles up to "Ski Valley" and then if the gate is open, another 1.5 miles up is the observatory. Just before that side road though is another road that drops steeply to a fire station. Beyond that is 24 miles of dirt/rock surface of unknown, to me, quality. I've asked around about the road, known as the back side to Mt. Lemmon, but few have ridden it and those that have always on a mtn. bike. A few days ago I was searching around the internet and came across a blog post from Chloe Woodruff, in which she described doing the ride a couple of months ago on a road bike. That was an "aha" moment for me and so I decided to check it out. Above, a nice couple prepare to ride the route on mtn. bikes.
I reached the end of the pavement, now 24 miles of dirt and rocks. The first 2 miles is smooth dirt but with plenty of washboarding so the going is very slow.
I reach this sign, indicating a turn for "Peppersauce" campground at about mile 3. Going straight to stay on the route for Lemmon, the road became packed dirt with embedded rock. Riding on this surface with a road bike is kind of stupid. My Trek took a terrific pounding but kept going because while rough, I could still pedal and keep the bike moving.
The couple with the mtn. bikes caught me. I pedaled easily on the up hills and stayed with them but on the down hills, forget about it. I had to brake all the way and they whooshed away, never to be seen again. It was kind of troubling that the route descended as much as it ascended and soon the road went away from Lemmon and toward a distant mountain range.....
.......instead of that distant range, Lemmon. So, at mile 8, satisfied that I had a feel for the road, I turned around. If I kept going and made it to the top, there would be no way of coasting back down this rough road. I'd be committed to a 100+ mile loop around the mountain, first reaching Summerhaven, down Catalina Highway, west through the foothills, north through Oro Valley, Catalina and Oracle to my car. That would be epic for another day.
The way back was very bumpy but with great views, the few times I could lift my eyes from the road to see. I could do the loop but with the beating the bike takes, not certain it would make it. I heard you can rent a new mtn. bike as a demo for $50 and use it for a day. That probably makes more sense. Anyway, finished with 28 miles and 2700' of climbing.