Saturday, December 09, 2006

Suffering Gulch

Tucson, Arizona
"There's doubletrack. There's singletrack. And this is quarter track," said SAMBA's John Pollock as we started our ride through Suffering Gulch just north of the 24 hours of Old Pueblo trail. It was a trail insofar as a couple of rock piles and flattened grass maketh a trail. It's nearly impossible to find on your own, and once you find it, it's very easy to lose.

All this will change, John hopes, when riders discover its rewards. And in truth, it's rewards are many. So are it's perils. At first, I cringed when I saw the SAMBA old-timers had gaiters on over their tattered biking shoes, looking like a bunch of hobos on two wheels. But after nicking my legs with umpteen thousand thorns, I realized I was the fool, and I should never underestimate the wisdom of my elders.

As far as the terrain goes, I've always lamented the fact that the 24 hour trail hardly penetrates these boulder-strewn mountains streaked with otherworldly veins of snow white quartz. One leg of the race course wraps around a tiny peak, but the rest of the land has been a big question mark for me. That's the same reason why John and his buddy Stan decided to start blazing some new trails, turning hoof prints into tire tread.

The first five miles are rather faint, but with a little luck the frequent rock piles will keep you on the right track. Once you climb over the back side, and enter the gulch the fun really starts. The downhill -- though no highway -- is easier to follow than the rest of the trail, and is at least as fun as the best parts of the race course.

How to get there: Take Oracle north past Catalina. Turn left at Willow Springs Road. Drive down Willow Springs Road about 10 miles (past the Willow Springs Ranch arch). Keep a lookout for a road coming in from the left side -- it's kind of hard to see and you have to turn almost 180 degrees to get on it. Follow this road for about 1/4 mile until you come to the 24 hour race start/finish line. You'll see a wide dirt parking lot and a trail blazing through it.

Length: 10.5 miles. 1-2 hours. ~1000 feet of elevation.

Trail Conditions: I would say its overgrown, but that would imply that there was once a real trail there in the first place. Get ready to deal with serious thorns and a few wrong turns.

The Map: Good luck!
Map of Suffering Gulch

The Ride: Head uphill on the race course (you'll be going UP the DOWNHILL). After you go through the pass, the trail begins to descend and loop around to the right, keep on the lookout for a small cattle track to your left. It should be marked with a couple of stones (see Photo). You'll wind your way around the back of the property where the trail is pretty faint, windy and hard to follow at first. It's also mostly uphill. Keep with it. You'll go under the first of four barbed wire fences. By the third fence, you'll begin your descent into Suffering Gulch, where the trail becomes much easier to follow and much more fun. It will eventually spit you out back at the race course, a couple of hundred feet from where the faint trail first took off from the main track.

On the left of this photo you can see the wide singletrack of the race course. The rider stands on the faint cow path that leads to Suffering Gulch. Notice the small pile of rocks in the foreground, topped with a white chunk of quartz.

Other Options: Start at the Willow Springs Arch parking lot to add 4-5 miles to your route.

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