Morning ride to Bartlett Lake

Bartlett Lake from Shell Station

Bartlett Lake from Shell Station Histogram

Bartlett Lake route, starting from the corner of Tom Darlington (Scottsdale Rd) and Cave Creek Rd. 3,900 ft of climbing.

Got in some more training* today, on probably the best training route in the Phoenix area: the road to Bartlett Lake. It’s got everything: open roads with not too much traffic (especially if you go early enough), lots of climbing, and fast descents. As as an added bonus, the lake sits in a hole that you must climb out of, so you can get good practice at being forced to climb whether you want to or not. The full route, starting from the Shell Station at the corner of Tom Darlington and Cave Creek Rd, is just under 40 miles – a good training distance.

The only problem with the Bartlett Lake route is its remoteness from the center of the valley. From my house it’s a 25 mile drive to the Shell Station. Sometimes instead of driving, I ride my bike up there instead, which makes for a 90 mile day: 25 miles to the start, 40 mile loop to Bartlett and back, and then 25 miles home. In February, I concocted a 150 mile route based on the Bartlett Lake destination.

From Carefree, the route to Bartlett Lake is easy to navigate. From the Shell Station, go up Cave Creek Rd six miles, (grades 2-12%, mostly 3-4%), where you pass “The Towers” and come to a junction at the top of the route, at 3,200 ft. Turn right and head down to the lake, which is a 14 mile jaunt along a paved road. You’ll notice mile markers which start from 0 at the junction.

The route is a rolling one. While the net altitude loss is 1,400 ft to the lake, (which sits at 1,800 ft), don’t be fooled. As the profile above shows, there’s almost as much climbing going out and “down” to the lake as there is coming back — at least it feels that way.

From the towers, it’s a steep 3 mile descent to a creek bed, with grades in the 6-8% range, sometimes venturing into 14% territory. You’ll drop in altitude 600 ft. After crossing the creek bed, you’ll start a 2-1/2 mile climb and gain back those 600 ft. This climb is anywhere from 6-10% in grade. Near mile marker 7 is the turnoff to another lake – Horseshoe Lake, but the road is not paved. Staying on the main paved road, you’ll start a more gentle (3-4%) drop of 400 ft, for 3-1/2 miles, followed by a short uphill, and then you begin a 4 mile, steady 1,000 ft descent to the lake. This descent has grades in the 5-7% territory, so it’s easy to pick up speeds to 35 mph or higher if you so desire. The last mile is in 8% terrority. I always have a moment of doubt and uncertainty when I come to the end of the road and enter the parking area for the lake’s main boat ramp. Will my brakes hold? Or will I roll right into the lake?

Bartlett Lake Hole

Looking down to Bartlett Lake on the last few miles of descent.

The lake sits at an altitude of roughly 1,800 ft. There you can stop for a snack and contemplate just how the heck you’re going to get out of there. All you can think of is that it you did an awful lot of descending to get here. And this is no impossible Escher drawing where you can just turn around and “descend” back to Carefree. (Don’t we wish?)

Today, I rode with my friends Tom and Bill, who can often be seen lurking in the pack on the PMBC group rides on Saturday mornings – except for this Saturday, of course.

Me Bill and Tom

Us guys at the Bartlett Lake boat ramp. We’re smiling cause we’re so glad we have 14 miles of climbs ahead of us. From left to right: Yours truly, Bill, and Tom.

Tom and Bill ready to head back

Tom and Bill, ready to head out.

Me at Bartlett Hz

Yours truly, wondering if he’ll live up to his Triple Bypass reputation.

As we started back, I was dropped immediately. I couldn’t cart my fat belly up the opening 8% grades fast enough to stay with my companions. Plus, I stopped for a picture or two on the way up – for what photographers call “a Kodak moment” – pretending to stop because we want to take pictures, when in reality, our legs are burning and we need a breather.

I’m too heavy these days to have any reasonable speed up climbs. And by the last 3 miles of  hills, which consisted of a lot of 8% grade, I was suffering – probably my worst day ever on this route. I had no energy, my back was sore, and I was experiencing a touch of asthma. Plus, the saddle wasn’t feeling all that comfortable – a lingering effect from earlier spring rides.

By the time the ranger station and junction with Cave Creek Rd came into view at the top of the route, I began having serious doubts about my fitness for an upcoming venture in Durango, Colorado – the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, a 50 mile jaunt with 5,800 ft of climbing over two mountain passes, reaching heights above 10,000 ft. (Today’s ride was 40 miles and 3,900 ft of climbing.)

When I signed up for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, I was thinking it would be no problemo – it’s about 1/2 of the Triple Bypass ride, in distance and in altitude gain. Should be a piece of cake, right? Well, I’m beginning to wonder. If I feel like I did today, I’m in big trouble.

Still, we all had a great time today. Nice being out with friends in gorgeous weather: 68 degs at the start, and maybe 85 at the end. Perfect.

With the heat of summer coming, this will probably be the last chance to do the Bartlett Lake ride till next fall.

* I just remembered. Tom doesn’t like rides being described as “training rides.” Training? He doesn’t need any stinkin’ training!


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