Gravel Grinding to the Cleator Bar and Yacht Club
It had been ages since my last trip to Cleator, probably at least 7-8 years, back in the day when I was less into bikes and more into off-road vehicles. In an FJ Cruiser, the trip is fairly uneventful - just a dirt road with some elevation. On the bike, it's a completely different story. Still, a 20ish mile round trip with a bar stop in the middle seems like the perfect explore/shred/discover day trip.
Jeff came over to my house early, well, early for me anyway. I'm not huge on getting up early, especially on days off from work. This whole get up at the crack of dawn bullshit just isn't fun. In fact, I missed the earlier gravel grind road trip because the guys left too early and I had things I wanted to do later in the day - like ride my bike after the sun came up.
Anyway, we loaded the bikes and headed north. It's about a 45min drive up to the Bumble Bee exit from downtown Phoenix. I'm sure there are closer dirt roads but the drive is a straight shot and goes by fast enough. Once off the highway, there's a good mile or two of paved, hilly switchbacks. We skipped these and drove on to the gravel, found a nice little turnoff and parked the car.
After getting the bikes ready and a little mental preparation, we were off on our first climb of the day, only without much success. I think we made it about a mile and a half up the first few steep hills. The road was completely washboarded with large loose rocks and tons of sand. My 32mm tires weren't cutting it and I was quickly wondering if bringing the hardtail would have been the better choice. We continued on until the next hill turned out to be worst than those we had already climbed.
This probably would have been a good time to tell ourselves to HTFU, but it was also supposed to be an easier fun day. Jeff is still healing from a broken collarbone (nasty little mountain bike accident) and I was feeling lazy so back to the car we went. We threw the bikes on the back and drove farther up the road to the small town (can 6 houses be called a town?) of Bumble Bee where the road conditions were a bit kinder to our gravel bikes. Once again, we unloaded the bikes and set off up the road.
For the most part, the trip to Cleator is a slow grind uphill, luckily, most of the steeper stuff settles down the closer you get and there are just a few larger hills to climb. No complaints from me this time as you could actually get a little traction as opposed to what we experienced back near the highway. There's a fair amount of traffic on the road as it's the main way up to Crown King, but most everyone is polite (people love to wave) and give you plenty of room - expect a bit of dust though. You're on a dirt road in the middle of the desert, what did you expect?!
The trip is fairly scenic and there's one last little kicker before a short descent to Cleator. Cleator is another small town (still not sure if you can call a few shacks in the desert a town?) on the way to Crown King. People stop in for a beer as they head up or down the mountain and are all generally nice, most with interesting stories of their own to tell. Of course, two guys rolling in on bikes gets a lot of questions...and a lot of "hey, I also have a bike" stories.
After a few beers and a chili dog, it was time to jump on the bikes and head down the mountain to the car. The midday sun was on our backs (literally, Jeff sunburned his back) and we had a few hills to climb, but luckily most of the trip was descending and fairly quick, minus the stops for nature breaks - too much beer.
All in all, not a bad day in the saddle and I look forward to hitting gravel again.