Zen On Dirt


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AZT Taco Tour: Highline, wind, and first views of the Ditch!

I thought a lot about the experience I was having out on the trail touring rather than racing.

For me, when racing, a deep fatigue settles in sometime after about 48 hours. Riding technical stuff becomes (seemingly) dangerous. Powering up steep hills becomes a waste of effort. Efficiency is king. If it’s faster to walk a section rather than to walk-ride-walk it, walking it is. It, for me, is an unfortunately part of bikepack racing. Sleep deprivation makes everything worse, but you accept the fact that you’re going to be tired from then on out and keep on trudging.

Leaving Apache Junction, I felt the familiar deep ache. I told Scott, to quote Caroline so eloquently: My legs are no good today.

But the beauty of the situation was – it didn’t matter. We’d puttered along the pavement. Climbed the dirt gently. Enjoyed the views. Stopped at all the informational booths. And the fact that I was having a bad day didn’t even phase me. (Luckily, the legs decided that it was no fun being no good somewhere mid-afternoon and my usual energy returned. Whew.)

Leaving Pine, I knew we had the Highline trail on the horizon. Scott had advised the wearing chamois would probably be a good idea, but warned me to be prepared to hike pretty much all day. 18 miles, it’s been called an abusive girlfriend among other non-flattering names. Max had put his running shoes on for the section instead of trying to slide around on bike shoes during the race last year.

We got breakfast in Pine, filled up our food stocks, and headed out.

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Sometime around sunset, we finally crested the Mogollon Rim, 20 miles later. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad.

The key, as I see it, was that I was coming off of two ‘rest-ish’ days. I had fresh-ish legs. I could power up the steepies. I could ride the techy downhills. I still walked a ton, but Scott and I had a system worked out where at the top (or bottom) of every hike-a-bike, he’d get on and ride around the next corner and yell back whether it was worth it or not. He was right about 98% of the time (sometimes he thinks I ride a lot faster/can ride a lot more than I can, but this time he was spot on). While the first half was overgrown and involved some extended hiking sections, there were some BEAUTIFUL sections of trail in there. The second half seemed mostly rideable. The hike up to the rim…well, it was a hike up to the rim. I won’t sugar-coat that one.

I thought about how I’d have to stumble through the trail if I was racing, probably cursing it, hating every mile (and there’s a fair amount to hate about it), but with all day and no where to be, frustration was kept uber-low. We took breaks in the shade, and had a positive experience on Highline. Now, how many people can say that?

Anyways, it made me love touring even more and make me even more certain about my decision to go on a hiatus from racing.

Now, onto the photos and the rest of the trip:

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Scott doesn’t walk down much. I have a general policy that if Scott rides something smoothly, I have a shot, if he fumbles it, I only have a shot if he’s being clumsy, and if he walks, well, it’s time for me to walk too. There was some downhill walking, but I just viewed it as good Grand Canyon training.

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Stop right there!

Ok. I pretty much have to. It’s not rideable from here. 

The views were spectacular. The Mogollon rim, pronounced Mug-y-on, is where the Muggles live. We were hanging out in Hogwarts all day. I like living in a land of wizards, witches, and unicorns. (Were there unicorns in Harry Potter? I only made it halfway through the fourth book.)

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There was red sand and red rock reminiscent of Sedona. Even slickrock!

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Wild life.

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Wild trees. And apparently wildlife that scratches wild trees.

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Lots of beautiful things to look at during our meandering tour.

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Near the end of the trail we started coming across some…erm…interesting pruning techniques on the bushes that were threatening to grow in the trail. This explained it. As a former Brownie (I quit because I thought Boy Scouts were having more fun and I was sick of making lanyards), I love the idea of getting little girls out to do trail work. Good work Shadow Rim Ranch girl scouts!

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We filled up on water, getting ready for the night, and started hiking. It was maybe the most physically taxing thing I’d done on the trail so far. These feet weren’t made for walking.

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We made it a whopping 26 miles in a full day of riding/hiking/dragging bikes through bushes.

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Scott promised easier riding the next day. We meandered along some beautiful singletrack in the morning, crossed our water resupply and filled up a whole 1.5 liters as Scott said we could detour off route to the ranger station and get more water later in the day, and continued on our merry way.

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It would have been fantabulous had the wind not picked up to gale force. And had some ass-hat not driven on all the roads when they were muddy, tearing them to pieces. I sorta, kinda, really cracked. Legs are no good today. Head is even worse. The endless trees and endless roads wore on me as I struggled to keep up with Scott. The road surfaces were soft, or rocky, or jagged. Never smooth and hard.

We found an area where Scott had cell reception and we called ahead to Mormon Lake lodge to find out the store hours. 8-2. There was no way we were going to make it. The extra kicker – the reservation office for the cabins also closed at 2 but they could leave a key out for us. Only 10 am, we wanted to keep our options open so we declined the reservation.

10 minutes down the trail, I announced that we should probably make the reservation. I was crawling.

We had until 6 to get there because the newly opened pizza joint was going to be holding onto our key for us and we had to get there before they closed. Scott said No problem!

The day wore on. I ran out of water. I wondered where the fabled ranger station was, or if Scott had decided that he had enough water and was pushing on. I suffered for the first time on the trip and there was little I could do besides plod on, knowing that, again, we were light on food and it was going to be frigid out that night. A cabin and hot dinner would be very welcome.

We eventually hit the highway, 4:50. The ranger station would have been to our left. We’d left our morning water at 9-ish. Poor decision making on that one. We had 1:10 to get to Mormon Lake. Taking the trail stopped being an option and we happily hopped on the highway, riding the rollers all the way there.

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The pizza place had opened two days prior. They had root beer floats. It was divine.

I felt a little guilt about getting a cabin that night. Surely it wasn’t going to be cheap, we had camping gear, why weren’t we camping? Because it was freezing (literally) out, we were on vacation, and a night of sleep is well worth whatever price we’d have to pay in the morning. Am I getting soft? I like to think I’m getting smart.

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We skipped some trail on the way out of Mormon Lake because there was a traffic-less paved road that paralleled it (and Scott described it as bumpy), hopped on a section of trail that Scott said was worth riding, and then jumped back on the highway to skip a section of trail that I’d be riding on the Coconino loop not long after finishing the tour.

We hit Flagstaff in time for lunch, promptly spent far too much on food at Sprouts, and spent the next 30 minutes eating and trying to figure out how to fit all the food that we’d collectively bought into our bags. I never learn.

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It was a slow and heavy climb out of Flag on some beautiful trails. Riled up by a crazy person that we had to deal with in Flag, my stomach was a knotted up mess. Luckily the trails were so good that I soon forgot about the incident, the stomach started digesting, and we were soon climbing up towards the San Francisco Peaks to check out the snow level.

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Around 8k, we found snow. And aspens. And beautiful climbing temperatures and protection from the wind that had pounded us the day before and all morning.

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With snow on the south side of the peaks, we bailed down to Hart Prairie road for a lower elevation way around the peaks. We were racing sunlight to get to a low elevation for warmer temperatures and protection from the wind.

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The day had been forecasted for 30+ mph winds out of the south west. The following day was to be even worse, gusts of 50 mph. We raced the growing shadows, eventually descending to an elevation that stopped feeling like winter. Finding a small grove of healthy trees in a forest of partially burned trees (sketchy!)  was the best we could do and we settled down to try to cook dinner and survive the night. It was cold. My tootsies were not happy with me.

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Another hour of daylight would have taken us down to Kansas, but now we faced the final 1,000 feet of descending in the morning. It was cold. Again, my tootsies were not happy. And windy. We’d gotten up early in hopes of knocking out the westward sections of the trail before the wind was supposed to intensify in the afternoon. It was blowing a steady 30 when we got up. It never got better. It never got worse. At least we got an early start.

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The sections of trail that went north east were amazing. Pedaling was optional. Any other direction…hold on for dear life. Scott found us a sneak through a dirt road that saved us a a couple miles of westward motion and we flew high on the small victory for the rest of the afternoon, or at least until we hit the trees at Moqui Stagestop and finally found shelter from the incessant howl.

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Finally getting over halfway…

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I have a thing for endless dirt roads. I think I’m sick that way.

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Once in the trees, we filled up on water at Russel Tank, rode the Coconino Rim trail (delightful), and found ourselves at the Grandview trailhead. There’s a firewatch tower there that you can climb and Scott coaxed Miss. Team Vertigo about halfway up.

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We got some beautiful views of the Big Ditch in one direction and could see all the way back to the San Francisco Peaks in the other direction. How far we’d come…how far we had to go.

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The final 16 miles consisted of the Tusayn Bike Trail. Scott claimed that it descended 800 feet, so I took that to mean that it was all downhill. It wasn’t. But it was lovely nonetheless. We planned on staying the night in Tusayn, hoping that rooms there would be cheaper than at the South Rim, so when we got to town, we ate some overpriced Mexican food (the Horchata was the best I’d ever had though, so that almost made up for the prices) and found a off-the-beaten-path motel where the owner was stoked about the AZT.

We faced the canyon for the next two days. The question of the horsewomen from Day 1 still echoed in my brain: Can you do that? I mean, physically?

It was a fair question. While I’ll fess up to exactly 4 runs here in Tucson this winter (all of which made me deathly sore), the last ‘hike’ I’d done was down Oracle Ridge a year prior. Before that, I’d done some Sanita’s hikes in Boulder before the ITI. I’m not a hiker by choice. I was worried, but I was trying to be brave. Luckily, there was plenty of cable TV on to keep my mind off the inevitable while Scott played TrackLeaders on the iPad.

We slept early and well. I’d need every bit of energy I could get.

 


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AZT Taco Tour: Wilderness Detours

I wasn’t too stoked on the 100 miles of road following Apache Junction. Really? A hundred miles of dirt road? Do I gotta?

I know. Insert: Ez – you’re spoiled rotten, or Ez – your rode the Tour Divide, 100 miles of dirt roads and pavement should be nothing. 

But, the roads were required. Nix that – some of the roads are required. It’s also possible to ride/hike some heinous sections of trail, Gunsight Pass, Haunted Canyon, the Mazatals, etc and skirt the wilderness areas more closely, but this was a pleasure tour, not a Lee and Scott exploration – take your bike for a walk special. And so we faced the day of completely new terrain for me and some new daylight terrain for Scott.

Initial Yelp searches turned up no diners between our quality hotel and where we were to rejoin the route, so we opted for a grocery store breakfast. We immediately bypassed the burritos and donuts and headed to the fresh fruit and yogurt aisles. I don’t know if it’s traditional for Bashas to not have a produce section, but we were sorely disappointed  by what we found. Maybe it’s a Phoenix thing (I’m trying really hard to find a positive aspect to Phoenix…but I’m still searching). We sat out front watching people come and go, listening to a guy on his cell phone complain that there were more people from Minnesota in Mesa/Apache Junction than there were Arizonians.

We escaped the urban jungle soon after, glad to be free of the clutches of what I’m going to deem a rather strange place. Smooth pavement took us quickly into the hills as we passed by the Lost Dutchman museums, amusement parks, and information booths. Apparently the Lost Dutchman hid a huge treasure in the Superstition mountains that no one has found yet, and not for lack of trying.

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We dropped down to lake level and meandered through beautiful canyons, crossing over drainages on a regular basis. The large bodies of water, Canyon Lake, followed by Apache Lake and Roosevelt Lake, were a stark contrast to the heat we’d endured the day before leaving Kelvin. We’d clearly broached a climate zone in AZ, from the deserts of the south, to the lake and river-land of the mid-section of the state.

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Bridges are awesome.

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We planned on stopping at Tortilla Flats, a grill and store 20 miles down the road from Apache Junction. Clearly a destination for the retired in Phoenix, the place was hopping at 11 am in the middle of the week. Lots of corny decorations inside and out, but to be fair, the food was fairly priced and pretty delicious. It was a good early lunch after a relatively light breakfast. People watching: A+

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We finally left the pavement and the hoards of cars behind and started climbing the Apache Trail road. I wasn’t expecting much. It blew my mind.

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Scott rode a little bit of trail to an overlook. Team Vertigo offered to take his picture. From here, the road would drop, and drop, and drop. And then drop some more into Fish Creek Canyon: The Grand Canyon of roads.

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Back in the day before liability and whatnot, people would race their cars up the road. What could possibly go wrong? Now there’s a 15 mph speed limit on it and most of the cars that we passed were moving slower than that. It was beautiful cruising.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon climbing and descending huge ‘rollers’. Scott had described the section as hilly…Scott’s memory apparently isn’t very good. Stopping at a campground by Apache Lake was a welcome break from the incessant up and down of the road with no end in sight. It was beautiful and all, but climbing is never easy, especially when it follows a long descent.

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We snacked and watched vultures playing in the wind that was blowing up from the west. All of a sudden, a giant bald eagle came up and started soaring with them. Apparently they’re considered lower than rodents in AK, but I think they’re pretty stinkin’ cool birds. We watched it for several minutes hovering in the stiff breeze, clearly having no other agenda than to enjoy the day. We were on the same page, apparently.

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Neato mosquito.

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We rode happily along the road planning on hitting the marina about a mile off route just after the dam. The wind carried us along, blowing at our backs.

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The Roosevelt dam used to be the largest stone dam (before renovations) in the country. It’s an impressive feat of engineering and we took the time to stop and read all the informational kiosks on our way up the road, something I’d never consider doing while racing. This touring business was growing on me. After reaching the top of the dam, we turned off route in search of the marina. Turned out, there was no place to get food there and it gave us an all around creepy feeling, so we kicked ourselves for wasting two miles of our time and started heading north along the deserted highway, keeping our eyes peeled for a place to sleep that was sheltered from the wind, which was increasing in intensity with each passing minute.

We eventually found a little spot, tucked away. Only after we’d set up camp did we discover the goatheads. We tread carefully and escaped the next morning with sleeping pads and tires that still held air. Whew.

I knew that it was somewhere on the order of 100 miles from Apache Junction to Payson, our next major resupply point. It had amazed me that we hadn’t covered it all in one day, or even close to all of it, but then I thought about the relatively late start (8 am), the relatively early finish (6 pm) and the glorious hour we spent soaking our feet in the lake and made peace with the fact that touring was, in fact, significantly slower than race pace, or even fast-touring pace.

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We rode another 10 miles in the morning before finding Butcher Hook, a fishing/hunting diner, catering to those who liked to spend the day on boats on Roosevelt Lake. I have a soft spot in my heart for diners like these. French toast, bacon, eggs, a side of hash browns.  It goes down so easy. A little hot sauce, add some salt. Perfection. People watching: A+

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Well-fed, we embarked on the next 12 miles to Jake’s Corner, a quirky little convenience store/bar situated smack in the middle of nowhere. We shared an ice cream sandwich and marveled at the many strange items they stocked. Yeah, we probably didn’t need to stop for food, but we were touring, thus no opportunity to eat on the road is to be wasted.

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Up and over a deserted dirt road to the Beeline highway and the famous All Bikes. Part museum, part junk yard, part of the lot burned last year but apparently most of it survived. I bet you could find some real treasures in there if you spent a day poking around.

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We climbed (climbed might be an understatement, there was A LOT of uphill) into Payson and debated our options. Scott had to be internet connected the following night for event tracking, so we were limited to making it as far as Pine in the next 36 or so hours, a mere 30 miles up the road from Payson. We were definitely at a delay point, which was perfect because I was starting to verge on tired after several long days of riding. I didn’t exactly come into this trip well rested…

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We stopped at the Beeline Cafe, a joint scoped out by Scott and Lee on their thru ride ten years prior, still undecided about what to do. Our options were to resupply in Payson and then camp somewhere between Payson and Pine, then drop into Pine in the morning and get a room for the night with internet, stay in Payson for two nights, or push on to Pine that day and stay two nights. Scott’s bloodshot eyeballs from contacts gone bad and an inexpensive motel next to the cafe sealed the deal. It was going to be an afternoon of relaxing, wandering around Payson, buying me a warm hat (which I’d forgotten), and getting some dehydrated meals for the push to Flagstaff, and hopefully getting Scott’s eyes looking like he hadn’t been awake for 72 hours straight. We also booked ourselves a room in Strawberry for the following night, four miles up the road from Pine, after failing to find any mention of a motel or inn in Pine itself.

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Workin’. Eating fudge. Life ain’t so bad.

We carried an iPad mini along with us so that Scott could set up trackers while on the road. It was a test run to see if the iPad would be enough for a summer on the bike, or if we’d have to really figure out how to have access to an actual laptop, at least some of the time.

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Early is not a way I’d describe our departure the next day. With only 30 miles of mostly roads with some hike-a-bike into Pine, we didn’t exactly set any land speed records pedaling out of town. With bellies full of french toast, we headed up the road, meandering up and down some roads that became increasingly rougher. There were some sections that actually required mountain bike skills to climb, which was a welcome refreshment after the previous two days of mostly smooth roads.

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We dropped down into a small community that the route passes through before returning to the AZT via a hike-a-bikey, neighborhood trail. Passing through the idyllic houses surrounded by giant trees, we ran into Rick and Bev, two trail stewards who owned a house down there. They knew about the race and were asking about the legitimacy of offering racers water. We talked trail and mentioned our plan of going to Strawberry for the night.

“Go to THAT brewery in Pine,” they told us. “They cater to AZT thru hikers and have cabins available.”

I was sold. I hoped that they’d still have space for us, showing up late in the afternoon.

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Based on Scott’s description of the next four miles of trail and the relative rideability of it, I took my chamois off, ready to hike in my baggies. Swap-ass was a serious problem in the heat and I figured that any time I could spend not in my chamois was a win. Turns out, Scott’s memory isn’t all that great when it comes to remembering whether a trail is rideable or not, and after the initial hike-a-bike, we were back pedaling until we hit the AZT. Then we had some more hike-a-bike, but the long descent down to the highway and the flat pedal to it would have definitely warranted wearing chamois. Live and learn.

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The THAT brewery was less than half a mile off the trail and they were happy to set us up in one of their cabins for the night. With internet access, Scott was set. With a pretty amazing beer list, I was set.

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Yeah. Monsoon Mud stout, AZ Trail ail, Doppelstick, strawberry blond ale…it reminded me of Mountain Sun beer. The food was pretty divine too.

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The Arizona Trail Association has done an amazing job educating gateway communities about the trail and the recreational opportunities that it allows. It was really cool to see a place embrace the fact that they were so close. Apparently they’ve been building trails like mad in the Pine/Strawberry area and have gotten behind the mountain bike movement, even to the point of having their ATV repair shop also work on bikes.

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We were moving steadily along the trail, knowing that we had a hard day on Highline ahead of us. Instead of worrying about that, I left Scott to push buttons on a keyboard while I lazily flipped channels on the TV. Without a TV at home, I consider it a part of my liberal education to see what’s going on in the pop culture world whenever I have access to cable. Turns out, not much interesting can be found.

With two short riding days behind us (six and four hour rides, I’ll call them relatively short), I was feeling more prepared to head into the remote section of the route. With a chai stout in my belly with dinner, I was feeling more than prepared to sleep well that night.

Touring wins.

 

 


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AZ Trail Taco Tour: The first 300 miles

I got marching orders from Scott to tour the AZT 750 route four days before we left. About a week prior, he’d made the comment: I need to figure out what I’m going to do about the AZT race this year.

Now, I’m not very good at picking up at subtle, but I picked up on the fact that something was amiss. While all external arrows were pointing towards him starting a day or two after the actual race and racing the 750 route, insiders, such as myself knew how much he’d worked in February and how very much he wasn’t particularly in race mode. And that racing and running an event at the same time is a little more than stressful.

I probed (because that’s the correct response to open-ended statements): Well, what are your options?

Racing starting on race day. Racing starting one day after. Or touring. Before or after the race start.

Well, if you tour before the race, I’ll come with you. I’ve poo-pooed the AZT route after the first 300 miles, and I really had no desire to hike my bike across the Grand Canyon, especially after not having hiked at all since my Oracle Ridge traverse during the AZTR last year, but at touring pace and with Scott, it sounded like an adventure I could get behind. He told me he’d decide by the beginning of Camp Tucson on Friday. On Monday, after Camp Tucson, and after he’d gotten sick and had to sit out all the riding, the final decision was made: We were leaving Thursday or Friday. Yippee!

The goals for the trip were simple: Ride long days at a sustainable touring pace. Eat tacos and ice cream. Enjoy the trail. Take detours as needed. My personal goals were to see the state, smile at the sun, and to spend 2+ weeks living off the bike. We viewed it as a test run for this summer’s adventures.

What we ended with was 15 days of mostly blissful riding. Lots of discussions about racing vs touring. Some excellent detours around less stellar sections of trail. Full bellies. Tired legs. And almost more memories than the Memory Bank can hold. I view this as a deposit in my memory retirement account.

 

On Tuesday, we put a plea out on Facebook for a ride down to the border, a ~2 hour jaunt from Tucson. Tony from Sierra Vista answered our call and we met him at Mi Ranchito for breakfast. We talked bikes, bikepacking, and Arizona gun laws all the way to the top of Montezuma Pass, the traditional drop off point for AZT 750 racers. We couldn’t thank him enough, getting to the border could have posed a huge challenge. It made the minor details, like the fact that Scott was still getting over a cold, and that my fork had crapped out just days earlier but seemed to be working after Scott put some oil in it and cleaned the seals, seem inconsequential. Getting such a hassle-free ride was the first of many acts of kindness we experienced.  Thanks Tony!

With a wave, we were off.

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Instead of taking the race route, we opted to take a road that paralleled the border a while before turning north and rejoining with the traditional AZTR route. Did we do this because Scott wanted to see a new road, or to truly instill that we were out touring, and not racing, and thus forcing ourselves to stray off the route from the get go? I think it was a combination of the two.

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We chose our official start point at an obelisk at the border and settled into all-day touring mode. We had no where to be, nothing to do. With a late-ish start, we planned on stopping just short of Patagonia to camp.

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Before long, we were in the Canelos finding traces of trail work throughout the trail. Scott stopped to soak his feet in the first creek and I had to confront the fact that changing from racer-girl to touring-girl was going to take more work than I initially hoped. The urge to keep pedaling was strong and it took a conscious effort to not get frustrated with the delay caused by new orthotics in Scott’s shoes. No where to be. Nothing to do.

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We reached Canelo Pass late afternoon and found an emptied water cache for Serena, who was hiking the trail, and a bottle of water with our names on it. We also found a book in a plastic bag, seeming to go along with the bottle. Who could have possibly left these fun pieces of trail magic for us? They were timely as we were pretty much out of water and I’d just finished complaining that I’d decided that bringing a book or Kindle wasn’t a high enough priority to take the weight penalty. Still, we scratched our heads at the gifts.

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We continued onto Canelo West, knowing that the trail would open up eventually and lead to glorious riding. While I do enjoy Canelo East, West is way better. We ran into two horsewomen along the trail. Both trail stewards of different sections of the AZT, they were out for a day ride of the Canelos. We told them of our plan and our intention of hiking the Grand Ditch. “You can do that?” one of them asked me. “Yeah, it’s legal as long as the wheels don’t touch the ground.”

“No, I mean, can you physically do that?”

I honestly hadn’t really thought about it. “I hope so. But I have so many things to worry about in the next 600 miles, that that isn’t even on my radar.”

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We filled up on water at a tank, still planning on sleeping out and dropping into Patagonia for breakfast. The temperatures were warm, but not hot. Shadows grew long in the grass. Scott’s energy fell as the remnants of his cold took hold. We’ll just get close to Patagonia so that it’s mostly downhill in the morning. We won’t even cook breakfast, just boogie into town.

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And then I had a better idea, listening to Scott sniffle. We could ride into town, get a real dinner, save our two dehydrated meals for when we actually need them, and then get a room so you can get a good nights sleep and kick the cold. We agreed that getting a room on the first night of  a bikepack bordered on lame, but that if we wanted a healthy Scott, it might be prudent to sleep indoors.

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And really, the ulterior motive, the Velvet Elvis pizza joint in town was closed the last time we’d passed through and Scott remembered good food. And this was supposed to be a foodie tour as much as a bike tour. So we turned our lights on for the last couple miles of trails and rode the dark road into town, making it to the VE with 40 minutes to spare. Thus started what would become a common theme: Rootbeer floats.

It felt weird to be stopping so early. To have only made it to Patagonia. To be sitting down and waiting for a pizza and not being in a hurry. To take a shower and turn the TV on in the motel room and to watch some X-men movie until it was well past time to go to sleep. (It was a good movie! Magic powers!) It made me moderately uncomfortable. Were we going to be able to finish this thing in 18 days at this pace?

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We woke up at opening time for Gathering Grounds, our favorite little coffee shop in town. Breakfast. Trail snacks. We headed up a semi-legit way to hook back up with the AZT. Through some Facebook sleuthing, we figured out who’d left us the trail magic, and followed their tracks up the dirt road. It seemed that they had a similar idea to us, tour the AZT at a fun pace. Maybe we weren’t crazy after all.

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The cow leg that we’d found on our last visit to this road was still there, except that this time it was just a hoof. It still smelled like death.

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Flume trail. Kentucky Camp. We sat, talking to the caretaker at Kentucky camp for a while, hearing tales of a horseman who was trying to pack the entire AZT unsupported with two horses. His one issue, well, one of many: many of the gates were too narrow for him to get his loaded horses through, so for each gate, he’d have to unload his horses, get the horses through, carry the bags through, and then repack. Apparently this took upwards of an hour each gate. We’d hit nearly 30 gates from our start to our current location. Ooof.

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Luckily for the horseman, many of the new gates are pack animal friendly. Narrow at the bottom to keep ATVs out and wide at the top to allow loaded horses through.

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We rode all day, passing two thru-hikers, both resting on the side of the trail. We passed the horseman and his two horses and two dogs at a cattle tank. He had a lot of stuff at the camp he’d set up. We caught Yuri and Dave, our water trail angels at Canelo Pass camped at La Savilla campground. They were willing to endure piles of families coming into the campground for the night, we filled up on water and pedaled on, seeking the solitude and quiet out on the trail. Camping on the pass, we only had to uproot our camp area once upon the discovery of ants.

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The Rincon store was our first stop in the morning. We skipped breakfast knowing we could get some hot food there. It’d been closed when I passed through racing and I was curious to see what they stocked. Burritos barely won out over ice cream for breakfast selection and we watched hoards of roadies pass by on the popular road. As a former roadie, I feel like I’ve earned the right to make fun of them, especially when a group comes in and one goes sprinting up the stairs of the store to go to the bathroom, while I watched, laughing because I knew that Scott was in the bathroom. He came sprinting back out, tripped over himself coming down the stairs and made a beeline to the back of the store. Meanwhile, his buddy sat there futzing and cursing at his GPS-Strava-meter. And I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

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We opted to detour Mt Lemmon completely, because there was no way I was going to ride Oracle Ridge, and I didn’t see a whole lot of reason to climb pavement for twenty some-odd miles to descend the control road. Plus, if we just took Reddington over to the San Pedro, I’d get to see a whole lot of new terrain. We threw in a little bit of singletrack on our way over for giggles and found an overflowing stock tank. Shower time! In the heat of the day, the water coming out of the bullet holes of the tank were the perfect way to cool off.

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We got to follow a beautiful dirt road along the plateau and the drop for an eternity down to river level. Way cool, and way better than Oracle Ridge.

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We followed the San Pedro and then started the climb towards San Manuel. Fried by the heat, all we wanted was ice cream and cold liquid. Luckily, if you keep pedaling, you get to where you’re going and we were rewarded by Big Boppers, chips, and soda. Oh, touring life.

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Another short climb towards Oracle had us in the state park and headed onto more single track.

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We discovered that even if the park wasn’t being proactive in the enforcement of being closed during non-business weekend hours, they were at the least putting up the effort to deter AZT hikers from using trails that they wanted to collect fees for use for. Good to know if you’re the race director of the AZTR. We rolled into Oracle at sunset, getting a room at the famed A-frames and dinner at the Mexican joint down the street.

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Two days of travel, one fingers spread of distance. We filled up on breakfast in town, running into Yuri and Dave again who’d opted to skip Reddington entirely and pedal straight up Lemmon to come down the control road. They’d arrived at the A-frames not long after we did, snatching the last cabin. Luxury touring on the AZT, you really could almost credit card tour it.

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Scott signed us in at the trail register/water cache at the end of Tiger Mine road. I decided to leave my Prisoners of Zenda there for the next thru-hiker. We were riding late enough into each night that reading time wasn’t happening and I knew the next couple of sections of trail would require high water capacity and I wanted as empty of a pack as possible.

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We cruised through the first part of the Black Hills. I’d had three sub-stellar experiences on the trail, so I was looking to remedy it. Turns out, if you’re not in a hurry, it’s really beautiful trail. We ran into a crazy section hiker with next to no teeth going south who told us that he’d come across the Freeman water cache empty and had to call 911 because he was completely out of water. Having hauled only enough water to get to Freeman and knowing that our previous investigations of the Bathtub spring had found minimal trickling, this scared us. The hiker told us of a tank just up Bloodsucker where we could fill up.

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We ran into a water cache for someone dated more than a month prior a few miles down the trail, untouched. While I wouldn’t touch a cache with a date that hadn’t passed, I felt no guilt in filling up with jugs, guessing that whatever trip that had been planned fell through. Packs were heavy through the rest of the hills, but at least we weren’t stressed about the possibility of not finding water at Freeman. I placed by bets that it would be well stocked by the time we got there.

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It was.

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Jerry Q’s note from the Gila 100 had become the trail register. Obviously, the red toyota where he’s stashed the beer for the racers was no longer there, much to the disappointment of a thru-hiker. We kept riding, energy flagging after hauling water through a remote, hard, and hot section of trail.

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And then the sky exploded. Energy returned. We pedaled to the end of the Boulders where we found a sandy, dead-quiet, and wide-open, free-of-prickers place to sleep. We settled in for the night before all the light had disappeared, a luxury  of touring that I was starting to enjoy. Night riding was not required. We’d estimated that if we averaged 50 miles a day, we’d get to the finish in 15 days, well ahead of our 18 day deadline. We slept like rocks in the warm desert night.

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I woke up to this in the morning. As a master of deferred maintenance, I wasn’t really all that surprised. Since I’d mentioned that I should probably swap my cables before the trip, it seemed only fitting to be faced with this. Neither Scott nor I had a spare cable in our oh-shit-kits, so I was reduced to putting my bike into the granny gear before the climb to Ripsey and staying there. Aside from going really slow on the flatter parts of the climb, it really wasn’t all that annoying.

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We had lunch at our favorite saguaro high on the ridge, halfway bumming that we hadn’t made it there the night before, and halfway knowing that we’d really need to find a windless night to really enjoy sleeping up there. We knew that we’d be skipping the Gila section of the trail in exchange for a paved escape to Superior and then to Apache Junction to get my bike fixed, so we enjoyed the morning, not concerned about the heat that was about to bake the Gila.

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We were bummed to miss the Gila, but we were light on food, the temperatures were forecasted to rise, and we’d been in the Gila twice in the past month. Sad, but if we had to skip a section due to a mechanical, that was it. Instead, we were faced with the endless climb out of Kelvin and the fast drop down to Superior for pizza and root beer floats.

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The afternoon brought a new exploration of a route given to us by John Schilling that took us through Queen Valley instead of out on the highway. We booked it through suburban hell to make it to the bike shop with five minutes to spare to get a new cable and then met up with Billy Rice for burritos near the Topaz Inn, a high-quality roof over our head for the night. The food was…pretty to mostly terrible, but it was awesome to finally get to meet Billy.

Four days of riding had brought us just past the end of the 300 route. From there on out, it was all going to be new to me and I was excited to escape the cement jungle of Apache Junction and get back out on the trail. Well ahead of schedule, I officially designated Scott as time keeper and told him I wasn’t going to worry about where we needed to get to each night. I was officially on vacation.


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Camp Tucson

Not long after getting back from Mi Ranchito with Bama and Tanesha, Caroline and Mathieu arrived at our door. The reason: Camp Tucson.

We hurriedly swept out our guest bedroom, a fast turn around from Cat leaving that morning and tried to scrounge up enough chairs, camp loungers, and physioballs so that everyone could sit down. Life in the fast lane, or something like that.

Unbeknownst to most, the idea of Camp Tucson was just a way for Scott to try to lure me down to Tucson last winter, or at least to start up the email conversation that led me to coming down to Tucson. But the initial idea (stolen from LW) was a good one, so he went with with. The plan: Three big rides highlighting some of the best to Tucson and previewing nearby chunks of the AZT for people training for the AZTR. The timing is good for for people looking to go ZOOM in a month.

Last year I was out due to recovery from the ITI, this year I was hoping my perpetual motion legs would kick in so that I could ride with everyone. Unfortunately, a cold that I had been nursing throughout Camp Cat had migrated to Scott, and apparently Scott’s immune system doesn’t cope as well with colds as mine does. I personally think it might have something to do with his gut reaction (literally) of eating a pint of ice cream the moment he starts to feel sick, but that’s just my humble opinion.

Day one was Reddington, AZT, and down Milligrosa. Bama had another day to ride, so I convinced him that he’d totally make it through the ride and would love the descent. He charged up his bluetooth mini stereo on his handlebars, figured out a way to carry enough water between his bottle cage, two feed bags, and two homemade jersey pockets, and put a pump and a tube on his bike. At the start, he also added his drawn on mustache, a sure sign he’d make it through the longer, more XC-ish part of the ride. I had faith.

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Meeting at the Circle K, the group headed up Reddington, free of guns and trucks with gun racks. Hurray for Fridays! The climb wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered, the rolling climbs on the Chiva Falls section were just as bad as remembered and went on for at least twice as long as I thought they would. Then finally trail.

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“Are you planning on stopping and eating something ever?” Bama asked me climbing up the first piece of singletrack.

I hadn’t really thought about it. “I guess so.”

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We stopped at the top of the next ridge to have snacks and wait for the crew behind us who’d initially been in front of us but missed a turn. We started down the trail right after them and I soon started to get the feeling that I was the only one who knew where I was going…or at least the only one able to navigate using a GPS at high speeds. I knew bikepacking racing would net me some good skillz!

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Milli was as much fun as always until my fork started acting funny. It’d been acting funny for a while, but now any sort of drop left my front end nearly 130 mm lower than it was before the drop. It made for some confident riding. Made me feel okay about walking some sections that I’d normally ride.

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Whoops. 

Bama rallied Milli. Bama cramped on the road back to the Circle K. We got him back in one piece. It was the longest, fastest ride he’d done since the last time we rode together.

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He did good.

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Back to the car to be followed shortly by Scott who’d taken a shortcut and had watched us pass him on the trail while taking a nap. Darn cold.

Most riders showed up to 1702 for pizza a beer and then the party continued at our place as John came to sleep on our floor. Turns out, the bed that he and Kara put me up in at their place during my failed Phoenix bikepack and before Death Valley was probably a lot more comfortable than our floor.

But, by sleeping on our floor, it meant that we could all ride to the start of Day 2 at the Genser Trailhead at Starr Pass. Scott opted to sit the ride out, so four of us took the twisty route to the start. 20 people? 25? It was a big group and after a few minutes of sitting around and missing Scott’s motivational speech of ‘If you break your bike or your body, we’re not going to come looking for you’, we took off. Fast.

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Not paying much attention to the track, I was glad someone was at the top of the Eff-you hill to point down it, a route I generally don’t take during my rides out there. Following MY way to get to Robles instead of the track’s way, I managed to cut off a good little section of trail, with five or six people in tow. Sorry!

I rode with various people around the Robles group, wondering how long my motivation to ride would last. While the legs were in full on tour mode and not tired, the thought of drinking tea on our porch with Scott was sounding a little more appealing than doing a TMP Big Loop, a ride that I’ve done a handful of times this winter. The lack of a resupply option (with goodies) made the second half of the loop…less motivational.

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Up and over Cat Mountain, I cruised down the other side, leapfrogging with Krista, Jeff and Nancy, Caroline, and various other people.

At the base of Golden Gate Pass, I found myself alone, looking up at the pass. I’d had a fairly sub-par experience the last time I rode it and wasn’t particularly looking forward to climbing it again. I thought about shortcutting around it and getting back on the flatter singletrack. Instead, I did a full assessment of my motivations and shortcutted straight home over the Yetman Wash by-pass.

It was the best decision I’d made all day.

I was home by noon. Scott and I made salads and smiled at the sun. And we still got to go to Mi Ranchito for dinner.

I rallied the tired troops for Day 3. The official loop is a 85 mile beast that starts at Sahaurita road, take the AZT north to the powerlines, takes a set of powerlines and gas lines (i.e. rough dirt roads with impossibly steep climbs) east then south before dumping out on the highway to Sonoita. Then it’s back on the AZTR route to Sahaurita.

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Last year, Scott and Max had shortcutted it by taking dirt roads to Box Canyon before getting on the AZT for the Las Colinas section. It would save us 10 miles, and somewhere on the order of an hour. With fresh legs, compliments of sitting around all day instead of pedaling, I convinced Caroline and Mathieu to take on the medium sized loop with me. Jen and Anna opted for the ‘shorter’ 50 mile version of the loop, and Aaron didn’t seem to really know what he wanted to do, but ended up doing the full meal deal.

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We went to Bobo’s for breakfast for the anti-bonk meal. I convinced Mathieu to share an apple pancake with me. Paired with a normal meal of bacon, eggs, and potatoes, I only had to eat half a Lara bar and half a pack of Mentos during the four hour jaunt it took us to get to Sonoita. With a burrito re-up there, I ate another half Lara Bar during the next five hours back to the car. I carried a lot of food around that loop…

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With legs in various states of tired, we took a leisurely approach to the day. Keep moving. Regroup at the gates. Gossip. We had lights, we knew we had bailout options. We had all day with nothing to do but pedal bikes. Well, Caroline and Mathieu had to drive back to Prescott afterwards, but that was far in the future.

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We ‘followed the track even if it seemed like it didn’t go anywhere’ as Scott had instructed, waded through some marshes, listened to bees buzz heavily somewhere nearby, and decided that it really wouldn’t be a Scott-ride if it didn’t have some appreciable BS-factor. We dumped out on road eventually and even found a map that had our roads on it, things were looking up.

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Unlike last year where the boys were faced with a heinous headwind, we got blown all the way to Sonoita.

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We ate. We basked in the sun. We wondered how long we could hang out there and still finish in the light.

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The sun’s slow arc overhead reminded us that it was probably time to go. Up the highway into a cross wind and then up the climb towards Box Canyon with the wind at our backs. It’s not often the wind cooperates. We were endlessly appreciative.

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And then the trail. It was my third-to-last section of the 300 course that I hadn’t ridden on a fun day ride and it was neat to go back and try to discern where it had gotten dark on me. Where I’d caught Chad. Where I’d nearly ended up in a prickly pear trying to ride a switchback that I shouldn’t have.

Caroline kept mentioning the hike-a-bike section. She couldn’t pinpoint where it was exactly, just that there’d been an extended period of walking for those doing the long version of the AZT Jamboree back in January. We found it eventually. She wasn’t making it up.

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The trail eventually dropped down to where the shortened version of the Jamboree started and I knew we were in for smooth sailing the final 10 or so miles back to the car. The sun dropped lower and lower in the sky as we railed around the turns, loving the smooth, fast trail. Landscape turned golden, we couldn’t be bothered to stop and take pictures.

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And then the gate. The car. We were back. The lower lip of the sun was just touching the horizon. Not only had we made it back before dark, we’d made it back before the sun had even started going down. It was magic.

We made it back to Tucson to find Scott starting to feel better. We shared a beer that John had given me, one that had been aged in rum barrels and pretty much delicious. Ate some chips. The burrito from Sonoita was still doing me good.

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We watched Caroline and Mathieu roll out around 8. The house felt eerily silent. It was the first night it was just Scott and I for nearly a week and a half. It had been a good party. But now our eyes turned to the future…touring the full AZT? Yes, please.


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Unexpected visitors

After sending Cat off on Thursday morning, I sat down in front of the computer to put in a solid stretch of work, something that I hadn’t done in a while. It’d been a good stretch of riding from Scott and I’s ride around the Santa Ritas, to Death Valley, bikepacking in the Gila with Alexis, and then Camp Cat, and with three days of Camp Tucson starting on Friday, I thought it might be a good idea to take a day off the bike. Something about recovery.

I was $25.20 into my daily earnings when I get a text from Bama: ‘Are you in Tucson? We’re in town.’

I hadn’t heard from Bama and Tanesha since they showed up to Crested Butte with their Santa Cruz demo van two years ago and I watched Bama pedal off into a snowstorm to try to ride over Pearl Pass to Aspen.

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Hungry already after a big breakfast, I suggested lunch. As it turned out, they’d just eaten.

‘Can we come heckle?’

15 minutes later, the Sprinter and trailer pulled up in front of the house. Thus ended my productivity for the day.

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I half expected to drink a beer or two while sitting in the sun before sending them on their way, but Bama had other plans. ‘We’re going riding. I wouldn’t have shown up here if I wasn’t planning on getting killed on a ride.’

Apparently he still remembers the many years where we’d drag him up and down the mountains of Colorado riding a 40 lb Surly Instigator. He had a lighter bike, he was just too much of a stubborn ass to ride it. Not my fault.

We talked about things of the past as we got bikes ready to ride.

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It’s funny how things change. Bama now rides a light-ish bike with suspension on both ends. He no longer lives in a dingy apartment in Boulder, nor the basement of the Hamilton House. He no longer has to push his bike every time the trail turns up.

We headed out to Robles and started out on the loop. Out of nowhere, Bama comes screaming by me on the inside of a loose, downhill switchback. Some things don’t change: he still rides like an ass hat.

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We tooled around in the late afternoon sun talking about all the various life changes that had happened since we last rode. Some of them good, some of them yucky. It’s always good to give the yucky ones the benefit of time before revisiting them.

The ride brought back all sorts of memories. Of first learning how to ride. How to race. Of learning how to not take myself to seriously as  a bike rider, and even as a person. The stories that they had of driving the Santa Cruz demo van across the  country were endlessly entertaining and continued on over dinner at Mi Ranchito and over whiskey back at the house.

Sometimes, some friends will drive you absolutely bat-shit crazy with their antics. but in the end, it’s always good to see them. And I didn’t really feel like working anyhow. And a wise person once said: Recovery is for people who can’t think of anything fun to do.


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Camp Cat

One of the biggest benefits of living in Tucson for the winter, aside from the weather, endless supply of tacos, and infinite mountain biking, is that your friends come to visit you to partake in all of the above when they get tired of the weather wherever they’re living.

Months ago, Cat texted that she had a week of vacation and wanted to come down to Tucson. Of course, we offered her the luxurious accommodations of floor space and a sleeping pad.

I’ve spent endless nights at Cat’s place in Durango, either passing through, escaping wintery climates, or as a place to layover between living situations last summer. Waking up in her loft my first morning after finished the Tour Divide to realize I didn’t have to put a dirty, damp chamois on was maybe the best morning of my life. I was excited to start being able to return the favor and show her my new backyard.

She showed up just a few hours after we returned from our bikepacking trip. As tends to happen at the end of any bikepacking, regardless of the length, we had junk everywhere. Par for the course. Luckily, Cat gets stuff like that. We laid out a tentative plan for the week: Ride bikes. Eat good food. Smile at the sun. The rest was just details.

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Ride #1 was true backyard: Starr Pass. It’s where Scott first took me last December, it’s where I first take people when they get to Tucson. Robles. Cat Mountain (because it’s Cat, after all), and around the backside of the pass.

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A perfect warm up ride for Cat. A perfect try-to-recover-from-bikepacking ride for Scott and I.

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We had prior commitments for Saturday in the form of LW and DH showing up sometime mid-afternoon to stay with us for a night and Lee’s birthday party, so we made attempts at getting out for a morning-ish ride. Sweetwater it was for Ride #2, also from the house. We checked out the saguaro that had died from bacterial necrosis on the side of the trail a few weeks back. It was still dead. And still smelly.

We wished farewell to the 2-epic duo the next morning as LW went to embark on a cross AZ ride on her put-put bike, i.e. moto. When I grow up, I want to be like LW.

Ride #3 brought us out to the Torts. No Tour de Tucson mountain biking would be complete without a visit to the Torts.

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Como. Ridgeline. Primo.

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We tried to time it to be a sunset ride but were 10 minutes too early, watching the sun hit the horizon as we were packing up the car. The days are getting long. Equinox is almost here.

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We set out for a girls-only ride for Ride #4. Sahaurita road north on the AZT with a planned ice cream stop at Colossal Caves Ranch. With the AZT on her mind, Cat got to quiz me on all the water sources and I got to tell her about Pete waiting for me at the La Sevilla campground during the race, hoping that I knew where the water faucet was. After a good amount of stumbling around in the dark, we’d finally found it.

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We opted for skipping ice cream in exchange for checking out what I refer to as ‘Scott’s section of trail.’ While the trail before and after is smooth and fast, it suddenly changes character and starts going over all sorts of big rocks. No one is ever surprised to hear that Scott laid it out.

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We headed back, only the second time ever that I’d ridden that section of trail without stopping for ice cream.

Ride #5 returned to what we all love best: bikepacking. We returned to the area that I love best: The Gila.

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We opted for a start at Kelvin with the initial plan being a ride up the fabled artesian spring, then over to the seep, up the Canyons, down the other side, over Orphan Boy, through the 4-wheel drive extravaganza, and then back to Kelvin.

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With a less-than-early start, we quickly realized that doing the whole loop would lead to an excess of night riding, which would be fine, except that we were leisure touring. Luckily, I’d had the foresight to toss my wallet into my bag under the idea that we might have to bail to Superior on Day 2 to get water, and if we were in town, we might as well get something yummy with money. With Day 1 rapidly coming to a close, we decided to forego the plan for the second half of our loop, ride all the way to Picket Post, and take the LOST trail into Superior for goodies. I was pretty much a hero for being the only one with money. Superior without money would have been heartbreaking.

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The route to the spring was…well, a Scott-special. Hike-a-bike was required. Water was still flowing in the wash from the last storm leading to having to pay attention to keeping feet dry, a rare occurrence in the desert.

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Typical.

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As promised, the spring was warm and flowing strong. The Elixir of Life.

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We continued on, racing, but not really racing, the impending twilight to get to the seep, a luxurious wet camp for the night.

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We made it.

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In the morning, we climbed. But climbing in the Gila doesn’t really feel like climbing, even if you’re doing it for the second time in a week.

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Lunch at the top was no less special. The view never gets old.

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Turns out, the descent never gets old either.

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We were in the middle of the final 8 mile stretch of trail when Scott jumps off his bike ahead of us, yelling back, ‘Stop! Stop!’

My initial reaction was, ‘Strange. It’s pretty here, but Scott’s not one to cause a stop in the middle of a flowing downhill section of trail for a photo op.’ (His preferred method is just to descend really fast and get a good gap on me so he can stop and take a picture)

‘Rattler!’ He pointed down to the ground. Sure enough, a beauty of a snake lay basking in the sun.

‘What do we do?’ Cat asked.

‘Take a picture?’ I suggested.

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We watched as it hung out in the trail, sticking its tongue out, very aware of our presence. Eventually, it must have gotten bored of being bothered by us and it slithered into its snake-hole just off the trail. Guess it’s officially snake season. Bummer.

We continued on to Picket Post, Snake-dar going off at every root and twig.

Following the LOST (Legends of Superior Trail) towards town, we ran into an archeological crew surveying the ground with metal detectors. We learned that the old wagon trail was scheduled for demolition to put in a 4-lane highway. Guess that’s the end of LOST as well. They had hundreds of flags set up, some of them dug up with pieces of horseshoes and other metal knickknacks laying on the ground. Who knew.

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We followed directions in town to a new ice cream shop that we’d heard about. We were joyous about finding it, right up until we saw the sign on the door: Cash only.

‘I have no cash,’ I admitted. And more importantly, no way to get cash. Our hearts sank and we sat pathetically in front of the shop, watching jealously as dozens of people walked in and out of the shop.

‘Well, I guess we just have to go get ice cream sandwiches at the market,’ I declared. So that’s exactly what we did. And you know what? They were pretty much the most delicious ice cream sandwiches we’d ever eaten.

Eventually the meth-heads in town creeped us out enough to send us on our way. On to the highway for 16 miles back to the car. On the way back, I got to officially claim a million point bonus on our Cactus Arm game (every arm growing off an arm is a point) by riding by a cactus with an arm off an arm off an arm. I’d spied it on the drive into Kelvin, but rules of the game state that the cactus must be seen from the bike. Win.

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La Casita finished off the day in Mammoth.

Another bikepack. New terrain. New knowledge (bring cash to Superior). New critters (my very first wild rattlesnake sighting). A good day in the 24-hour bikepacking office.

Cat had to leave the following morning. Sadly, we had to stop our Camp Cat, though I think we did a good job of convincing her to come back down for the AZTR in a few weeks. Turns out, the desert is a good place for the soul. Riding. Eating. Smiling at the sun. And drinking wine while eating chocolate wasn’t too bad either.


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Now this is 24-hour bikepacking

Alexis had never been bikepacking. She also has her eyes set on the AZT 300 in an increasingly concrete manner. We’d been tossing around times to go out for an overnighter for a little while and ended up settling for a Wednesday to Thursday trip to the best place in the whole world to bikepack: The Gila. We planned to leave at noon, which after my 9 pm return home from Death Valley, gave me precisely 15 hours to unpack one bike, repack another one, and download pictures from my camera. And sleep. Sleeping is good.

Scott decided to join us, so when Alexis showed up with three giant burritos for dinner, we piled into the SportsVan and headed north to Picket Post.

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It felt good to be back in familiar territory.

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We climbed Picket Post in the late afternoon sun, heading up and over Orphan Boy, backwards on the old AZTR route. Scott pointed out where the trail used to go before the final miles were built. Remnants can still be found.

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Traversing high on the ridge, the light turned the landscape golden. This led to overall happiness.

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Dropping into Box Canyon, we lost the sun. While the Gila was flowing far too high to cross, we went for a short out-and-back to show Alexis the narrows of the canyon. Something about rocks and her really liking rocks…we taught her about Unicorn Dust.

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We rode until the ground became saturated from water from the last storm before turning around and retracing our steps.

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Climbing out, we did some sunset watching and burrito eating after finding a suitable camp spot.

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I love watching people figure out bikepacking.  Scott and I’s routine  when getting to camp generally consists of sitting down on the nearest pile of rocks and pulling out food and watching it get dark. I generally put a jacket and a hat on to stay warm. Watching Alexis set up her little camp before it got dark made me remember the times that I’d fumbled around with my gear, unfamiliar with how it all went together, wondering what to bring, what I needed to be comfortable. Would my air mattress hold air? Setting up sleeping accommodations  seems like second nature to me now, to be done without a headlamp if necessary when combat camping. The big gear choices these days are deciding what combination of sleeping bag/sleeping pad to bring for maximizing needed warmth to weight. And whether I want dried mangos or papayas.

Alexis introduced us to the Phases of Expertise. Phase 1 – beginner, Phase 2 – advanced, Phase 3 – Expert. When I pulled out blackberries to put in our oats for breakfast, she declared us Phase 3, at least in the breakfast department.

Packing up, we started on the 4-wheel drive extravaganza as a bypass to having to ford the river twice. New-to-me terrain, and beautiful to boot. You don’t find solid rock like this in many places around here, this road is a special one.

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We dropped down to river level after spying a shortcut that would have put us even with Dale’s Butte on the trail. But alas, we needed water, we needed the seep. Last time we’d been to the seep, I’d been too busy making sure that the sunset went according to plan to hike down and help Scott get water (yes, I’m a good girlfriend). This time I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Water coming out of the ground in the middle of the desert is so cool.

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Full on water, we rolled up through the Gila Canyons, stopping occasionally to enjoy the view and ask Alexis on her opinion on how certain rock features were formed. I’m Phase 1 – I’m learning to tell the difference between vertical and horizontal rock layers.

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Lunch at the top. Traverse across the Inner Canyons. Drop down, down, down to close the loop before starting the final 8 miles back to the trailhead. We were back to the car 24 hours after we left it, solidly tired, ready for Greek food at Mt. Athkos in Florence. I think that the cooks there are definitely Phase 3 when it comes to making Greek food.

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The ride was so simple. So beautiful. I love 24-hour bikepacking trips. Saguaro gives it two thumbs up.

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