Pass Mountain Trail: A Rematch

I am NOT coming back here again.

I’m starting to feel like I could retire if I had a dollar for every time I said that and turned out to be wrong. This time it was about Pass Mountain Trail out at Usery Park.

Once upon a time, I was a mountain biker. For a period of something like six or seven years (very roughly) starting in the mid-90s, I rode pretty regularly. It came and went in phases, sometimes more, sometimes less, but I had a lot of fun doing it and was okay at it. Eventually, though, the drag of working and going to school at the same time took its toll, and the weekend rides first waned and then eventually stopped. It probably didn’t help that I was working most weekends.

During the time that I was riding, I had two go-to destinations. My main one and first choice for a long time was McDowell Mountain Park, where you can find the glorious Pemberton Loop that I rode more times than I could even guess at, but Pemberton’s a long trail and a significant time investment (you’re going to hear more about that in an entirely different context soon). As I rode less and had less time available, I started mixing in rides out at Usery Park, which has a number of loops that can be strung together to create a ride that will fit just about anything you’re in the mood for, ranging from easy and short to hard and kind of hellish. The vast majority of my riding out at Usery was the easier and shorter kind, but one time I did the hard and hellish, and I decided I was never coming back to it. That’s Pass Mountain Trail.

There are two very different parts to the Pass Mountain trail. The west and north/northeast sides are a lot of rolling singletrack, kind of technical in some places (it runs awfully close to some pretty significant drops at times), with elevation gradually increasing as you go around to the east side. From the high point at the saddle on the east, the southeast/south sides are rocky, rocky, and rocky. It’s steeper and rougher and altogether more challenging than the opposite side of the mountain. When you bike it, you go clockwise, so you have the smoother stuff when you’re climbing, and you descend on the rough stuff. We ran it counter-clockwise.

This is what I remember about the ride; it was steep, it was hot, and I pinch-flatted my front tire on the descent. Without a spare tube. I had to walk the rest of the way back, somewhere between two and three miles, lugging the bike. Did I mention it was hot?

Once was enough for me, and I decided I was never going back.

So when our weekly notification about the group run was posted on Facebook, saying that we were going to take a “field trip” out to Pass Mountain trail at Usery instead of our usual run out at San Tan, it was with no small amount of dread that I decided to go out and see what it’s like to run it. I got up at the usual early o’clock on Saturday morning and met up with the group, and we were off.

It turned out to be significantly less awful than I expected. Getting up the rocky side was still a trudge and pretty rough, but that’s trail running in Arizona, and the rolling stuff on the north and west sides was a lot of fun. I actually ended up enjoying it, which was definitely not something I’d have predicted would be the outcome (there’s probably a lesson of some sort in there for me). And I got to see what I’d ridden my bike through all those years ago. It was actually kind of scary, because that trail gets real narrow in some kind of dicey spots that sit right on the edge of some big dropoffs. It made me feel like I was kind of a badass for getting through it.

On top of that, I met a new couple of ladies out on the run who would turn out to be great running buddies, and we would go on to have many adventures together. More on that later!

I’m glad I went back, and I’m totally up for doing it again in the future. But… probably still not on a bike.