In early December, I excitedly tore into a box containing a shiny, new, orange Horsethief XX1 with Split Pivot rear suspension. I had ridden the heck out of my old Horsethief, mostly in the fall and winter months when my head was more excited about steep, chunky, techy riding than any other kind of riding. My old fork was going, the drivetrain was not what it once was, and the frame had become well accustomed to abrupt encounters with rocks. Enter the new Horsethief, redesigned, re-inspired, and ready for anything. Little did I realize how quickly I was going to fall in love with it.
Since that frenzied bike-building evening, I have ridden a ton on the new Horsethief. I decided to give it a nice tour of some of my favorite parts of the Southwest so it knew what it was in for over the next few years. And I also wanted to see what the bike was capable of. So after a few weeks in Prescott, we went adventuring.
Horsethief, Kaitlyn, Koko (the also-orange El Mariachi) and I went south to Tucson for a little training camp - Tucson Mountains, Empire-Santa Ritas, Mt. Lemmon, the Tortolitas, Antelope Peak on the Arizona Trail, and more in one week of big rides. We all relished the chunky descending on Lemmon and full days of singletrack and dirt roads! Tired legs, happy heads, and worn tires closed out the week.
How about a little taste of Colorado, Horsethief? We scooted up to the Front Range and hung out for a couple weeks, riding a bit and waiting for snow to melt. The training bug was also still firmly attached, so there were some hard paved rides too. Tempo work on Hwy 36? Hill climb efforts up Flagstaff? Jumping off features at Valmont Bike Park? Ripping the gnarled sandstone ledges atop Dakota Ridge? Sure, we both said emphatically!
But Horsethief and I both were missing Tucson, and Horsethief was becoming skeptical and envious of the skis and how much use they were suddenly seeing. So we headed back south, speeding off ahead of a big winter storm with Mt. Lemmon back in our sites. But this time, the Lemmon adventure was a bit unconventional.
Singlespeed Arizona was really what brought us all back down to Tucson. Kaitlyn was excited for the underground and slightly cryptic event, so I agreed to partake so long as I could race Horsethief. At 10 p.m. the night before the race, I was frantically adapting a 19-tooth cog to the rear wheel, wondering how in the world I was going to deal with the effects of five inches of travel on chain tension.
At 9 a.m. the following morning, Horsethief was in the back of a moving truck with 70 other singlespeeds, and Kaitlyn and I were sitting on the floor of a giant white van getting shuttled somewhere up the side of Lemmon. None of us knew what the racecourse would entail, aside from 40-ish miles and a final descent down the infamous La Milagrosa trail. Halfway up the mountain, we unloaded bikes, were informed of the route, and sent even higher up under our own power. With 4000’ of steep, chundery elevation loss, I had a feeling that Horsethief and I had a leg up on the 70-ish riders on hardtails. Half an hour in, when the trail tilted down, we found ourselves alone in the lead, grinning as we launched off everything we could and charged through loose switchbacks. It was more of a singlespeed enduro race with an XC loop added in the middle. We ended the day victorious and envied by many-a-sore hardtail racer. And not one person gave Horsethief any grief for being so squishy.
Not quite ready to return home to Prescott, we had one more mini-adventure to tackle. Kaitlyn and I debated where to spend a few days bikepacking. With a bit of questionable advice from our friend Scott, we settled on a “two-day loop” around the Superstition Mountains. It would be a mix of amazingly scenic dirt road, jeep road, singletrack, questionable trails, and trail-less terrain. We were all rather excited to circumnavigate a range we’ve spent a fair bit of time in and around.
Day one cruised by as we navigated the west and north sides of the range on dirt roads and a bit of pavement. Horsethief was itching for some singletrack but did just fine with non-trail miles. We camped amongst frenzied coyotes in chilly, damp air. My legs were still rather fatigued in the morning from Singlespeed Arizona, so our pace was slow, and breaks to eat spoonfuls of almond butter were frequent. By mid-day, we found ourselves bushwhacking over a couple low passes sans trail. Wonderous granite slickrock atop was a great reward, but there was no way we were going to make it around the mountains by the end of the day…or even by mid-day on the third day!
After a warm fire and a tasty coconut soup dinner, we slept amongst sycamore giants in a lush canyon. In the morning, we found ourselves at the mercy of an entirely unrideable trail. Horsethief was stymied – rocks, roots, and bouldery streambeds. Plus, everything was thickly overgrown. Ten miles of hike-a-bike ensued, food ran out, and legs became raw from bushwhacking. But by mid-afternoon, we finally popped out of the canyon and descended several thousand feet back to our starting point happy to be done and glad that we had left a bit of extra food in the car.
Then, it was finally time to go home. I think I made the most of my time away from work, and Horsethief had been initiated and proved himself as the most versatile, trusty steed I’ve yet had.
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After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. www.krefs.blogspot.com