I want to tell you about an incredibly fantastic ride I recently went on. I want to tell you that the trails were perfect, that all went as planned, and that I found the whole experience to be very gratifying. As much as I want to be writing that story, I can’t. Things just didn’t go down that way. Instead I’m going tell you about a ride cut short, and a crappy cup of coffee.
Memorial Day weekend I found myself driving out to Phoenix, AZ to spend time with family. Their home happens to be located in a pretty centralized area as far as mountain bike trails go and the weather is still fairly mild, so the bike came along as well. Mcdowell Mountain Regional Park, which has hosted many XC mountain bike races, the infamous AZT, and the new to me, Usery Mountain Regional Park, are all within a short drive of where I would be staying.
I hatched the plan to wake up early, get rolling before the Phoenix heat sets in, and enjoy a 12-mile loop in Usery Park. The map showed a Pass Mountain loop which promised to deliver a technical, rocky, and challenging type of experience that Arizona trails have a special way of dishing out. I also would bring along all the fixings to make a hot cup of coffee somewhere along the way. Like most cyclists, I enjoy my coffee, and when possible I like to have mine trail side.
Fast forward to the following day, I woke up late. It happens, and was mistake number one. Mistake number two was getting lost while driving to the trail head. Mistake number three, and the biggest one of all, was neglecting to pack sunscreen. I have had one too many battles with the Arizona sun and have no intentions of going through that again. I knew then that I would have to change my plans and do a much shorter route. No big deal, I thought I’d just get a feel for the area, have my morning joe, and get out of there before turning into a fried beet. Still a very respectable way to spend a Saturday morning.
Entering Usery Park, I jumped onto the Crimson Wash Trail which connects the parking area to the Mountain Pass loop. As the name suggests, it is basically a sandy wash bed. It’s incredibly slow, and hard work, but I actually don’t mind this type of riding. I settle in and take in the surroundings. Before long, I spot a section of trail that begs for me to stop and get my first caffeine dose of the day.
There are quite possibly a million different ways to brew coffee and I have used a couple different methods outdoors and trail side. The coffee kit of choice for this morning was of the quick and dirty variety. Lightweight and fast is what I was looking for this trip so I pull out my home-made alcohol burning stove, the trusty titanium cup, and a single serving of instant coffee. No fancy special blend, fresh roasted, shade grown, hipster stuff today. While I know what a good cup of coffee is, I am not above the convenience of having some of the instant variety every now and then.
Alcohol stoves are incredibly lightweight, burn a variety of fuel and are a good excuse to tinker around in the garage and light stuff on fire. Mine started it’s life as a can of Anderson Valley, Boont Amber Ale. A quick YouTube search will have you up to speed on how to make one of your own. There are also a couple commercially available versions of them on the market as well, if tinkering is not your forte.
My fuel of choice is Everclear. Yes, the grain alcohol Everclear. It is a 150 proof multi-purpose item that I also pack with me on longer overnight rides because it can come in handy for so many situations. It obviously will burn and makes an effective enough fuel. It can also be a disinfectant used on backcountry wounds, a swig or two will ward off stomach bugs if you think you may have eaten questionable food. It makes a great sleeping aid, and can be used socially for trade or as a friend maker if you find yourself needing to cozy up to someone else’s campfire on a cold evening.
I filled the stove with fuel, lit it up and prepared my cup of water. It takes a minute or two for the stove to warm up and an additional four to five minutes for the water to come to temperature. With this particular cooking configuration, I have not successfully boiled water. It will definitely bring it up to a good temperature in a reasonable amount of time to have and enjoy a morning coffee. Perfect for my needs this morning.
As I sit back, get comfy and wait for my water to heat up, I hear some loud crunchy footsteps. It’s the sound of boots on sand. A hiker is making his way down the trail towards me. We exchange hellos as he passes, and he continues on his way. As soon as his footsteps fade away and I feel that I have my peaceful spot back to myself, there are more crunchy footsteps. This time it’s an older couple out for a stroll. I soon realize that I have parked myself in some sort of a hiker’s highway and rush hour is soon approaching. This would not be the silent or serene location that I was hoping for. That, along with knowing my ride would be a short one anyways, I decided to cut my losses and bail. With my water barely to a lukewarm temperature, I toss in my instant coffee, give it a quick stir and chuck it down my throat as fast as possible.
I pack up my kitchen and return to the parking area the way I came. Through the deep sand, I ride. A little defeated due to unexpected changes, but still content to just be out and on my bike. I also make mental notes of the lessons learned. I learned that I should set an alarm, pack sunscreen, and that a lukewarm cup of instant coffee, when made and consumed in the outdoors is actually not half-bad.