AZTtripper

Monday, May 01, 2006

El Viaje Del Camino De Arizona

Riding Along the Border Fence.


March 14, 2006 day 1 of my second bike trip across the state of Arizona. The offical start of the trail is in Coranado National Monument and off limits to Mountain bikes. The bike trip starts on a 4x4 road just west of the Monument. I didn’t want to do a out and back so I got dropped off at the next road west and rode south to the border fence then along the fence to the start of the route. Let the fun begin. I start riding North on a rocky slightly up hill 4x4 road. After the Monument the AZT enters the Miller Peak Wilderness the bike trip heads west on a good dirt road with panoramic views of the San Rafael Valley and Mountains of Northern Mexico to the south and the Huachuca Mountains to the north. My goal is to ride as much as possible of the AZT single track that is leagaly open to bikes. I turn north on a 4x4 road heading for Sunnyside Canyon where the AZT leaves the Wilderness.

The first legal Single Track.


Now the fun really begins great riding with only a few short sections of hike a bike. Though short and a little bit out of the way I feel that this first segment is worth picking up. The trail is at that magical elevation where forest meets the high desesert. With a mix of Ponderosa Pine, Aligator Skin Juniper, Agave, and Cactus. Soon I arive at the start of the Canelo Hills East Passage. This is the starting point for the up coming AZT 300 bike race. Fellow AZT rider and GPS guru Scott Morris is inviting all commers to a 300 mile race using parts of the AZT and mostly off road detours around the Wilderness Areas. The Passage starts with a fun rocky jeep trail staight down hill and then staight up hill typical of trails created by motorized vehicals. Thankfully this end soon and well contoured single track begins with great riding, rolling down to Parker Creek. With a damn up stream creating Parker Canyon Lake the creek should always have water. I fill up and head on hoping to get in a few more miles before dark. At sunset I come to a junction with a migrant trail and the AZT starts a yet another section of hike a bike. I walk a short way on the migrant trail and find a not very level spot to bed down saving the hike a bike for a morning warm up. I was up at 5:00 am for the drive from Tucson so I am out like a rock by 7:30 pm.

I wake up a 3:00 am and can’t get back to sleep. As I am using the trip as training for the AZT 300 and figure on doing a little night riding I might as well get up and get moving. The single track hike a bike leads to a ridable jeep trail. I have a small headlamp on my helmet an a 9 LED handle bar light not as bright as those used in most night racing but running on AAA batteries lighter and long lasting. Now its one thing to do a 24 hour race with hundereds of other riders or on a night ride with friends. It’s a whole nother thing to be out in the deasert alone in the dark with only your imagination for company. The jeep trail eventully becomes hike a bike and as I come around a corner I see a glowing spot near the ground an eye but who’s.
I feel silly when a Common Poor Will jumps up to catch a bug. I have seen these little birds before they sit along dirt roads then jump up to catch bugs. I am a little more relaxed now as I continue on in the dark. Just before sun rise the jeep trail ends and more single track begins. Some riding and some hike a bike leads to a fun descent to Canelo Pass road and the end of the East Passage.

New trail in the rolling Canelo Hills and snow dusted Santa Rita Mountains.


The Canelo Hills West starts with great single track some hike a bike some riding. A great new section of trail bypasses a rocky jeep trail but eventully ends back on the old jeep trail leading to Cott tank where I hope to find water. Luckily there was water not a the tank but up around the corner in a small bed rock pool. The jeep trail becomes a rocky wash like thing that is ride-able if only just. The jeep trail ends at Red Rock Well there is water here in a small metal tank surrounded by cow manure. I am glad I don’t have to pump it. I have a filter of course but I would much rather pump fresh rain water off the ground than share with the cows. Back on single track and more hike a bike. It is nessessary to have a good attitude towards hike a bike in the Canelo’s as there is a lot of it. Forunatly the old saying what goes up must come down seams to apply here. So any time I find my self pushing the bike up a hill I tell myself that the down hill to come will be my reward. Eventully the AZT drops onto Harshaw road just east of the small town of Patagonia. A quick couple of mile on pavement and I am checking into the Stage Stop Inn. After a hot shower I head to the resterant for lunch and dinner.

Temporal Gulch road and Mt Wrightson.


Day 3 I am up early again pack up before heading to the resterant for breakfast. I head north out of town the AZT starts out a good dirt road rising into the Santa Rita Mountains. Eventully the road becomes rougher and steeper and hike a bike begins. At the end of this road the AZT enters the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness.

Carrying the bike in the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness.


Now strickly speaking there are no bikes alowed in the Wilderness even if it’s in pieces. But it’s only four miles and this was something I dreamed up years ago when I first started planning for a big AZT trip. So with the bike riding me instead of me riding the bike let the suffering begin. Also, this is a trial run for something bigger yet to come. After the four miles and a little more just to be sure I am out it’s time to put the bike back togeather and ride. This part of the AZT follows an old flume line that carries water from a spring high in the mountains to the old minning site at Kentucky Camp. This is one of the nicest parts of the trail and some of the smoothest riding in all of Southern Arizona. I arrive at Kentucky camp after a long and satisfying day. The USFS has a program called room with a view and you can rent out an old adobe cabin here for $75 a night. The problem is I didn’t want to make a reservation not knowing if I would be able to make it here in one day. So under the heading of it never hurts to ask, I went looking for the host and started my speal. Is there any way that I can rent the place at the last minute.

A room with a view at Kentucky Camp.

After Kentucky Camp the AZT heads out on 4x4 roads then more great single track. After crossing Box Canyon road I am back on the route of the AZT 300 still hoping to make it back in time to join the race. Several miles of fun riding a mix of single track and jeep trails and the built AZT ends. The official route has been laid out and for hikers it is possible to walk cross country. But the idea of many miles bushwacking means bikers need to find an alternate route. I knew of a way that would keep me off the highway and had a route laid out in the GPS. The only problem was the turn off didn’t seam to exist. After a little back tracking I was able to get to a ridge looking down on the road I needed to get to. Dropping off the ridge there was an on again off again migrant trail that led to a wash and finally the road. Back on track heading north on 4x4 and jeep trails. Late in the afternoon I leave the Santa Ritas and roll into Corona De Tucson a small town with one convience store. Six miles of pavement leads to AZ Hwy 83 and newly completed AZT single track. I crash out next to a wash.

Scott on the fun stuff in the Rincon Valley.

Hats off and many thanks to AZT trail building volenteers. Great riding single track leads north towards Colossal Cave Mountain Park. I had a great breakfast burro at La Postsa Quemada Ranch. I had planned to meet up with Scott Morris some where around Tucson as it turned out he was working on the trail just up the road. As the trail has not yet been completed from the ranch I ride up the road and out towards the camp ground. I arrive just in time to share lunch with Scott and the Trail building volenteers. In addition to having biked across the state twice Scott is also a trail building crew leader and route setter. After lunch we are off on more newly created AZT a great section that Scott had set the route for. We have a great time leapfroging to take pics. First Scott would race ahead and stop to take a pic of me coming and going. Then I would stop and get pics of him. This is a great way to get pics with out really stopping for very long as one rider is always moving. Eventully the new trail ends and the AZT will be entering Saguaro National Park so we use dirt roads to get in to Tucson. Scott lives on the east side and will just ride home. I live on the far west side of town so we ride to a bus stop and part ways. I get off the bus at a stop near Arizona Bike Experts and go to say hi to the ABE boys who built my bike. Then home for a last night with my loving wife. A big storm moves in and I stay home while it rains all day.

On Reddington road snow is all aroud us.

Monday March 20, the first day of spring, the snow is from the second storm of the winter. If I am going to be back in time for the AZT 300 I can’t afford to sit in Tucson and wait for the snow to melt. I call Scott to see if he would still be willing to ride out with me. This means leaving a warm bed and hitting the road at 5:00 am. There wasn’t a second of hesitation, Scott is always ready to ride on the AZT. We meet up on the far east side of town and head for the Rincon Mountains. The AZT hikers go up and over the Rincons in Saguaro National Park bikers can pick up the trail south of Reddington road near Italian Trap. We drop off Reddington on a fun fast jeep trail and then rejoin the AZT for many miles of great single track. A short jeep trail more fun single track then the big push and fun descent to Molino Basin. We cross the Mt. Lemon Hwy and head up a short 3 mile section of single track leading to prison camp. The AZT will head into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness we head up the Mt. Lemon Hwy. The snow gets deeper and deeper as we climb. By the time we reach the top its getting late and cold, the plan is to ride the Oracle ridge trail. Reality sinks in as we start down the control road. Two 4x4 pickups are stuck on the side of the road. Scott is in front and just as he is about to get past the second truck one of these fools steps out in front of him. He tries to turn and down he goes. When we get to the trail head not only is the trail covered by a foot or more of fresh snow there are at least 6 large trees down across the trail. I hate to miss the single track but clearly the road will be plenty exciting. We continue on to find yet another 4x4 stuck on the side. This fool sitting there in his warm truck with a cigarette in his mouth has the nerve to ask us to help them push their truck out. I didn’t even stop, Scott stopped and explained to him that we had no warm truck and needed to descend. Soon the snow turned to mud and then dry dirt just before dark we found apull out and settled in for a cold night out.

Scott Morris carefully descends the control road.


In the morning we continue on down the control road. At Peppersauce campground we fill up on water, and discuss our options. We could ride up a steep 4x4 road and regain the trail or continue on down the road. As much as I hate to miss the trail, the idea is not very appealing. We discuss the fact that I rode the whole ridge trail on my last trip so its not like I’ve never ridden that section. We head down the road and continue the discourse. It’s actully good to be on the road as it give us the chance to talk and ride at the same time, not something you can do on technical descents. Scott has the AZT 300 to plan out, and David Hicks executive director of the ATA would like us to help establish an official bike route. The AZT is nearly complete thanks to the hard work of many. On my first trip I had stayed on the ridge trail strait into town missing out on the Cody Trail. We decide that we will ride up Campo Bonito road and rejoin the trail just above the turn off. I had missed a lot of the trail on my first trip so one goal is to pick up the pieces I have yet to ride. We turn off Campo Bonito on a 4x4 road that degrades into a quad track then hit the ridge back on the AZT. We turn right at the Cody Trail and begin a sweet technical descent. Then hit the road into Oracle for lunch at Casa Riveria. Scott heads home and I get a room in town.

The end of the Cody Trail.

In the morning I head out to the trailhead for more fun single track in the Oracle state park segment. This part of the trail is poplar with local Mt. Bikers and is for the most part very ridable. Before long I am back in Oracle for another lunch at Casa Riveria. Large portions and good prices make Casa Riveria worth a couple of side trips.

I load up on water and head for the trailhead on Tiger Mine Road.

The start of the Black Hills Segment.

The Black Hills starts with 6 miles of great single track twisting turning mostly ride-able. The way the trail is laid out with lots of switchbacks makes this section ride-able, but it seams like your getting nowhere on the map. After the single track the AZT takes a pipeline straight as an arrow, now we’re getting somewhere. Eventually the pipeline road is block by private property and the AZT turns right and follows Bloodsucker wash. I walk the bike about 2 miles, and bed down off the side of the wash.

In the morning I continue up the wash and find a group of college students doing trail work. I thank them as I pass by. Single track and dirt roads lead around Antelope Peak and the end of the Black Hills at Freeman Road. A short way up the Freeman Road is the start of the Boulders Segment. Two years ago I found a water cache here, Scott also found water here last year. I am getting low and need to find water but the cache is nowhere in sight. Earlier I had passed a mud puddle and as a last resort I head back to try pumping some water.

Well it is water.


I manage to get a couple of liters pumped before the filter clogged. Now I have a decision to make continue with what water I have or a long side trip to try and find more. Not wanting to loose time I continue on. Great single track then some dirt roads and more single track leads into the Boulders Segment. This segment was incomplete 2 years ago so I look forward riding trail that missed on the last trip. In addition to my water concerns soon my rear tire is not holding air very well. 4x4 and ranch roads lead to the base of Ripsey Hill and single track climbing up a rib very cool. The sun sets while I hike a bike up Ripsey Hill and I put on my lights. The built AZT ends, but large cairns make route finding possible even in the dark. Soon I find more built trail and then finally a wide level spot provides a place to crash.

In the morning I continue down on well built single track and the segment ends at the Kelvin Hwy. Well they call it a highway but it’s just a well-graded dirt road. The route I have planned heads west, the AZT heads east and into an incomplete segment. I need water and the AZT guide says that an old cowboy named George Hunt is a friend of the trail and will give me water if I can find his house. George wasn’t home but his wife pointed me to a spicket out by the corral. As I leave George comes home from his morning walk and we have a nice talk about the trail and I find out that there is an ACE Hardware in Kearny. It’s a ways off route but I could use some new tubes as I had put one of my spares in the rear tire yesterday. Luckily the Mavic hoops use a plastic insert for presta valves that can be removed and allow the use of schrader tubes. It’s early but I get a room and spend the night in Kearny.

Kelvin Hwy and Ripsey Hill.


Back on route the Kelvin hwy is a big detour around the incomplete segment. After nearly 20 miles of boring 2 wheel drive road, at least the views are good, and the route finally turns of on a power line road. Then a fun 4x4 road leads to the Gila River.

Gila River ends at a diversion damn.


Below the damn I cross the dry riverbed and head out for Box Canyon. This is a popular 4x4 route and it’s Saturday so there is a lot of traffic by dirt road standards. As the road enters the Box things get more interesting near vertical walls close in. Rock ledges make for challenging riding and short sections of hike a bike. After the Box climbing a 4x4 road I see a couple of off roaders sitting in their trucks. They see me coming and can’t believe I am cleaning the hill. At the top I stop to catch my breath and see a Hummer II coming up the road the off roaders freak on actually seeing a Hummer off road.

In the Box.

More 4x4 roads lead back to the AZT at the top of Alamo Canyon. I arrive at the trail just as the sunsets I put on my lights and start down the trail. The plan was to try to get to the trailhead were there is an REI volunteer work party. About ¾ of a mile down the trail and over 50 miles into the day I stop caring about the REI people and find a level spot next to the trail. It’s been a long day and soon as I’ve had some food I am in my new down bag and out cold. Hours latter I awake to some noise and grab my helmet and turn on the light. Looking around I heard the noise again and try yelling. Then a fox comes running out from behind a bush and latches onto the foot of my bag. Screaming my head off I start throwing my feet up and down trying to dislodge the fox. Eventually he tares though the bag and comes out with my long johns that were at my feet. Fully freaking out now I jump out of the bag and see that my shoes, socks, ankle guards, and one sandal are gone. Panic would be the next thing without shoes I am fucked. I follow the fox around the bush and find one shoe. Back at my bag I put on one sandal and one shoe thankfully they are for different feet. I go looking for more of my stuff and find the other shoe and my socks, and one ankle guard. Back at the bag still freaking out the fox comes running around the other side of the bush. I try to do that look big and yell thing you always here about doing. So I am acting big and yelling and the fox is dancing around at my feet. All I can think to do is throw my helmet down on it. The light breaks off and goes one way the helmet the other. The light stayed on and I grab it first when I turn to look for the helmet the fox is laying their belly up. Not sure what to think I start putting on my shoes and socks and when I look up he is gone. And so am I! I pack up and start walking out to the trailhead. When I get to the parking area I lay down and get some sleep. In the morning I assess the damage there is a fist size hole in the bag, and down has been pouring out all night.

Back at home showing the bag to my wife.


In the morning the REI folks let me have a little free breakfast and I load up on water. The plan now head to REI in Phoenix I need a new bag and sandals as well as a water filter and headlamp. I only make it to a motel in Apache Junction. In the morning I start riding across metro Phoenix not the best place to ride but not the worst. After REI I ride about 5 more miles to a friends house in south Phoenix to drop off the extra gear and spend the night. Then back to A. J. for one more night in a motel and a lot of lost time. It’s not looking good to be back in time for the race, but I really want to finish the whole trip.

In the morning I head up the Apache Trail which is not a trail at all but a paved highway that eventually turns to dirt. "The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the Glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have. To me it is the most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful panorama nature has ever created." Well according to Theodore Roosevelt that is. I guess when they are naming a lake and damn after you it makes sense to butter up the locals.

Yea it’s scenic but hardly the Alps, Rockies, and the Grand Canyon.


AZT hikers have been out in the Superstition Wilderness and drop out to Hwy 188 to use the bridge over the Salt River. I make a short trip off route to the marina to hit the store that is actually out on floating boat dock. Heading out and across the bridge the AZT heads into the Four Peaks Wilderness I continue up the highway and pull into one of the lake side campgrounds for the night.

In the morning I fill up on water and head out for the El Oso road to rejoin the AZT shortly after it leaves the Wilderness. El Oso is one of the steepest dirt roads ever climbing from desert to forest in less than 9 miles. Joining the AZT at Forest road 422 two years ago I found a fun jeep trail rolling along Mazatzal ridge. Now I find a freshly graded road the USFS has been in here fighting fire and greatly improved the road. Well depending on your point of view for me the road has lost a lot of its character. After the 422 road the AZT turns west down Boulder Creek. On what was gnarly single track. In the spring of 2005 Scott Morris found the trail in the same condition I had in 2004. Now the trail is shot, burnt, thrashed and a pain in the ass. And if I thought the burn was bad I had no idea.

Before 2004.

After 2006

That’s the trail for what it’s worth.


Once out of the burn things only got worse by the time I got out I was as thrashed as the trail. Now I had expected to get pretty scratched up along the way. As some parts of the AZT are very remote and see little traffic. So if you want to do the whole trail you just have to plan on giving a little blood. But this was hideous. At the first opportunity I bail on to the Beeline Hwy and head for Payson to get a room and recoup.

Now that I have pretty much given up on being back for the race I decide to ask my wife to come to Payson for the weekend. I gave Scott a call and tell him about the Boulder Creek section. He e-mailed the segments steward and was told that they were working on new single track to replace a section of 4x4 road. He had not been very far up the trail lately. Also he said the trail had been brushed to 12 feet when it was first built, and he would put it on the schedule for clearing. After a relaxing weekend I am ready for more, the question is do I head north from Payson. Or load up in the truck, as my wife has to drive past the spot I bailed off at anyway. I decide to except a ride and give up on the whole self-support idea rather than miss out on a big piece of the route. Especially as I had missed this part on the last trip.

Another goal of the trip is to gather GPS data for Scott to help with putting together a complete AZT bike route. And there is a little piece that Scott had missed so I find the culvert the AZT uses to get under Beeline Hwy and back track to the spot where Scott turned off.

Back on the AZT heading north on fun single-track then ridable jeep trail. When single-track leaves the jeep trail the hike a bike begins. The AZT will soon be crossing in and out of the Mazatzal Wilderness so I head down a fun 4x4 road. And hit a paved road where the planned route turns north I find a gate with a private property sign. Fortunately I had come down here earlier and had already planned a way around the private land. A little more pavement then good dirt roads lead back to the route and a rugged jeep trail following the west fork of Sycamore Creek.

If you’re not hiking you’re not mountain biking.

Forest road 25A is not much of a road rugged even by jeep trail standards and then short fun ridable sections. A forest service sign says that 25A ends but it is obvious that the jeeps continue on for a while. Then the jeep trail ends at an over grown trail that leads to the AZT. More hike a bike on the AZT and I finally get a little reward for a lot of hard work. Great down hill single track leads to Mount Peeley trailhead.

Great views along Forest road 25A.


At the Mt. Peeley trailhead the AZT heads fully into the Mazatzal wilderness so the planned route heads east on a good dirt road. Next I need to find a forest service trial #47. There is a sign for the trail and I turn down side road and find a place to spend the night.

In the morning I go looking down the road for the trail and it’s just not there I remember that Scott said he had trouble finding it too. The GPS shows it just north of me but it’s not anywhere in sight. So I just drop down the hill and there it is an old road cut now barley a trail. Over grown in places great riding in others. I continue on down the trail. At least I know that Scott got though last year and have the GPS line as proof.

The Goldridge Trail.

Trail #47 is also called the Goldridge Trail the old road bed eventually become real single-track unfortunately there is a lot of fire damage. On again off again sometimes I even had to walk long sections of rutted out down hill. Even with the damage there was fun single-track and soon I was down to the Goldridge Trailhead. Heading up the highway and a stop for lunch in Rye. After lunch I cross the highway and pick up the route on a good dirt road. A friend of Scott’s lives in Payson and turned him on to a good quick way to stay off the pavement. The good dirt eventually becomes 4x4 and short hike a bike up and then a short stretch on pavement. And more good dirt road pops out at the Sonic in Payson. I thought that would end the dirt riding but then found that the track stayed on dirt for a fun, power line trail/quad track. And then I am in Payson and head to the Budget Inn and get a room.


The next day is cold and rainy I get the room for another night. Latter I go and check out Manzanita Adventure Sports and decided to let them look at my drive train. The chain has stretched and needs replacing and the cassette, as well as new rear brake pads. Also my shoes are shot, most of the sole ahead of the cleat is gone. Unfortunately they don’t have any shoes I like that fit so that will have to wait for Flagstaff.

On the AZT dropping into Pine.


The next day I head out of Payson again on the route that Scotts friend from Payson had given him. I turn off the main Hwy and enter a residential area. At the dead-end boulders block an old jeep trail. When the jeep trail hits the Hwy I can’t seam to see a way to stay off the pavement. The GPS seams to show a line next to the Hwy but I can’t see it so I ride out on the shoulderless Hwy not good. About ½ mile and the track turns left to leave the Hwy. I look left and see a trail heading back. I figure if I back track I can figure this out. The trail is a feint quad track in a creek bed. Riding along slowly trying to find the way, I go over the bars at a nothing little drop. I scraped the shit out of elbow and have a nice bruise/scrape on my hip. As well as tweaking the front wheel. I feel stupid but continue on and end up back to where I just was. I am sure Scott had explained this to me but that was weeks ago so I missed it. Back on track now I reride the creek trail in the right direction. Then the route follows a good dirt road that soon becomes a 4x4 road and great riding with nice views of the Mazatzals all the way south to Four Peaks. To the north and east I can see the Mogollon Rim, in a couple of days I’ll be up there 1000 feet higher. After about 14 miles on fun 4x4 roads and jeeps trails I come to the paved road leading out to Tonto Natural Bridge. The route turns onto the pavement and leads to a gated community access road. There is a small-unlocked gate and there aren’t any no-trespassing signs. Scott’s friend said we could go this way so I start down following the GPS. Down in the houses I find a nice single track and a place to sign in for hiking in the area. I sign in as an AZT through biker and give thanks to Scott Morris for showing the way. Also I know that Scott had met some of the locals at an AZT meeting and said they seamed excited that through bikers may come this way. Latter in Pine I learn that there is a parking area and trail access farther down the paved road. After some hike a bike and a little riding I come to a spring and the trail fades away. I know the AZT is just to the west of me and leave the bike to search on foot. Soon I find the trail and go back for the bike. Back on the AZT for more hike a bike and then a great down hill with views of the small town of Pine. The AZT crosses a dirt road just south of Pine I turn left and find a good back way into town. I hit the Mexican food place next to the grocery store. Feeling decadent I ask abut lodging and learn of a guestroom for rent at a breakfast place called the Randall House. At $125 it is the most expensive place I stayed, but the owner is a really nice lady who rides bikes and the room comes with a choice of any breakfast off the menu. Tip not included.


At the Pine Trailhead.

After a great breakfast I head back out of Pine and rejoin the trail. Soon I am at the Pine Trailhead. At this point the AZT follows the Highline Trail. The Highline trail was originally established in the late 1800’s to link homesteads and ranches below the rim. Built by mules in the 1800’s and 2 years ago I had the feeling that no work had been done to it since. As I start up the trail I find that the trail has been bladed over by the USFS doing a thinning project. Fortunately this doesn’t last long and I am back on single track. This section of trail is not very ride-able so I plan for a long day of hike a bike. Now some would say this part of the AZT is not worth doing with a loaded bike. The thinking is that the tougher sections may be worth day riding but not worth hauling a loaded bike through. I would say that this section is not worth day riding as there is so much hike a bike. Even on a day trip you would not ride enough to make it worth doing. So my feeling is that this section is only worth doing as part of the whole trip.


Tight spaces on the Highline Trail.


Actually the Highline is not all that bad some times you can ride for a couple of seconds at a time. But really it’s not that bad. The elevation changes aren’t that drastic as you traverse along below the rim crossing the many side drainage’s along the way. GPS records show I made Weber Creek at about 3:00 that afternoon I decide to make camp early as I couldn’t remember there being a lot of flat ground after that.

In the morning I head out and cross Weber Creek to the Geronimo trailhead and continue on the Highline trail not expecting to do a lot of riding. Soon I find that the trail has entered a burn area. I knew that the February fire had burned near here. What I didn’t know was how much of the Highline was effected. The trail had been bladed over but soon I find that the USFS has done great job of repairing the damage they had done during the fire fighting. Freshly flagged signs and newly worked trail made for easy travel, by comparison. I come across three hikers they have been doing the AZT in segments and have a shuttle set to hike the whole 17 miles in one day. The next day they will hike their last segment west of Pine and then they will have done it all. A couple of days ago they were on the Boulder Creek trail and saw my tracks. They were wondering why any one would have had a bike in there. They also say that they think I will find good riding just ahead. I am skeptical, as most non-bikers don’t seam to think any Arizona trail is fit for biking.


A little bit of slick rock on the Highline Trail.

Just after leaving the hikers I ride a fun bit of slick rock, and they were right I do find a fair bit of good riding. It seams as though the USFS has been doing more that just fixing signs after the fire. Soon I am at Washington Park and the AZT leaves the Highline Trail. Next up the Devin Trail and up and up. GPS record shows a gain of 1170ft in less than 2 miles. That’s about what I came up with at the time. The GPS comes up with a 25% grade the last 3 tenths being the steepest part of the entire trip.


Looking back down the Devin Trail.

Once on top of the Mogollon Rim it’s like being in another world. After rolling down and easy road to General Springs Cabin I head north on single track. One big change is that level ground is every where also there are no more cacti or other dessert plants. It’s not hard to find a nice level place to bed down.

In the morning fun ride-able single track becomes the norm short would be the only way to describe the hike a bike sections. I see a Robin and wonder if aliens have transported me to South Dakota. It’s like being in my home state nothing like Arizona where are all the rocks. Great riding easy roads and short hike a bike sections and soon I am at the Blue Ridge Ranger Station filling up on water. Back on the trail I find a few rocks but nothing much. One particularly bumpy section where the AZT crosses a meadow like area with no real trail you just ride from cairn to cairn.


It is mostly ride-able.

Shortly after the field of rocks the AZT turns to jeep and 4x4 roads I am making great time and start pushing for Mormon Lake. I come to a point where the AZT signs go one way and my GPS data another. I check with the trail data I have from David Hicks web site and read that the AZT hikers do several miles with no trail. I would like to stay on the hiking route even though David recommends bikers take the FS road. I start into the trail less section only to find that the ground is very soft and not really ride-able. Common sense kicks in and I go back to the road. If I push on through the dark I could probably make Mormon Lake but decide to make camp.

Continuing on the FS road I miss a turn and have to back track. The trail less section comes out at the road I am on and then north on FS roads and a little single track. After crossing a paved Hwy more AZT leads to a logged out spot and there is no sign of the trail. It’s times like this that the GPS comes in real handy. Soon I am at Mormon Lake and even though it is early I get a room.

The AZT is not quite complete in this area so in the morning I head out on pavement looking for a FS road described in the David Hicks notes. Back on the AZT lots of fun ride-able single track a little bit of 4x4 road and a lot more single track. Mormon Lake to Flagstaff was about 35 miles and according to my notes about 23 miles of that was on single track. Shortly afternoon I am in Flagstaff. Yes it’s like another world above the rim suddenly I can whip out 30 plus miles of AZT in a single day.


Fun Single track and great views of the San Francisco Peaks.

In Flagstaff I get a room and take the bike over to Arizona Bikes. The wheels need truing and at some point I have ripped a knobby off the rear tire. I pick out some new tires and leave the bike over night. Also I need new shoes I consider going with regular hiking shoes and switching to platform peddles. Flagstaff has plenty of choices when it comes to outdoor outfitters and bike shops. Eventually I decide on a new pair of bike shoes. The next day I pick up the bike and load up on supplies ready to head north the next morning.

Thursday April 13, 2006 I have been out for a month, well I certainly am not setting any speed records. But I have been enjoying the trip and have taken a ton of pics and had several days off as well as many short days. Tomorrow is the start of the AZT 300 I call Scott to wish him good luck in the race. He has five other racers challenging him. I would like to have been there even just for the start and to be part of the first ever AZT race. Well anyway I am not that fast and a tour of the full AZT is more my cup of tea.

The AZT leaves Flagstaff at Buffalo Park on great single track following the Lower Oldham Trail. After the Oldham Trail the AZT has changed in the last 2 years. On my previous trip the route climbed the Brookbank Trail now the AZT turns and traverses on the Rocky Ridge Trail. Eventually the plan is to build new single track around the Kachina Peaks Wilderness. For now the route climbs the Shultz Creek Trail to Shultz Pass. Then the Weatherford Trail leads to the Kachina Trail and the AZT enters the Wilderness. The bike route descends the Kachina Trail it’s an old roadbed but has the feel of single track as it is closed to motor travel and numerous fallen logs have only narrow gaps cut out. The Flagstaff bikers have it made the trails above town are great mostly ride-able fun single track. If you are fit and the altitude doesn’t kill you most every thing is ride-able with only short hike a bike sections. Flying down the Kachina Trail I can’t resist letting the rounded water bars act as kickers and catch a little air. Now catching air on a loaded bike is probably not the smartest thing to do. I tell myself, that if I fuck up and taco a wheel, there are plenty of wheels to buy in Flagstaff.


The Kachina Trail.


After the fun on the Kachina Trail the route continues through a USFS camping area the good dirt camping road ends at the paved Snow Bowl road. After Snow Bowl road the route takes a closed 4x4 road down to a good dirt road heading north. In summer I am sure that any car could travel this road in winter 4x4 and chains are most likely a necessity. I have fun plowing through small patches of snow. Eventually the hiking route comes out of the Wilderness and continues on various dirt roads some 4x4 others good dirt. I find myself on a wash-boarded dirt road. The consistently bumpy washboard is very annoying thankfully the AZT turns off soon. At Kelly tank I find a gate and AZT signs the trail follows along close to the road and is a little rocky but at least it is an irregular bumpiness that is much more enjoyable. The fun single track ends too soon but at least the dirt road that follows is smooth. The route gets more interesting as the road becomes more of a 4x4 track and skirts around Missouri Bill Hill.

Looking north from the flanks of Missouri Bill Hill.

After dropping off the side of Missouri Bill Hill the AZT passes Cedar Tank and enters the Babbitt Ranch Passage. A good dirt road rolls through open prairie with scattered trees on the hillsides. This area has been compared to Kansas, it reminds me of northeastern Wyoming and is definitely cattle country. A see an old cowboy at a gate I hurry hoping to get through the gate while he has it open. His wife rolls down her window and tells me to be sure that I close all the gates. The cowboy asks if I am riding from Flagstaff to the Canyon I say that I’ve come from Mexico on the AZT. Now gates are big deal in cattle country and he also reminds me to close them. When working on a cattle ranch in Wyoming I had learned to "leave um like ya find um". That’s was my response to the wife and again to the cowboy, and he yes that’s right. Earlier in the day I had found several open gates and "left um like I found um". Shortly I pass Tubs Ranch and the AZT turns left up Rabbit Canyon it’s not hard to find a level spot near the road and I call it a day.


Sunset in Rabbit Canyon.

I am up and rolling early hoping to make it to Tusayan. The AZT continues on good dirt roads that are only occasionally rocky. At the end of the Babbitt Ranch Passage the AZT signs are way off the road but I don’t see any trail besides the road. Continuing down the road I come to a spot where signed AZT crosses the road. Shit how did I miss the start of single track? I tell myself it’s OK to leave something for another trip and turn onto the trail and put the piece of missed trail out of my mind. Fun single track then some actual 2 track, most of the motor trails have been one wide track up to this point, leads to Russell Tank. From here it’s great single track all the way to Grandview Lookout Tower.


Singletrack along Russell Tank.

After Grandview the AZT follows the Tusayan bike trail. Fun easy single track, 4x4 roads, and a little more single track, and 4x4 roads. The next thing I know I am on the edge of Tusayan, 49 miles on the AZT in one day, its another world above the rim. Tusayan is likely one of the biggest tourist traps on the planet. Located right out side of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon there’s an IMAX and big hotels. At the Holiday Inn all the rooms are booked, as it’s Easter weekend, I got the last room at the 7-Mile Lodge. That night it pours rain in the morning everything is soaked and I get the room for one more night. Also I called the Canyon and there were no rooms for Saturday night so I book one for Sunday.

In the morning I head for the Canyon to get my name on the waiting lists for camping and the lodge at the bottom of the Canyon. What I wanted was to stay at Phantom Ranch one night and Cottonwood Camp the next. This would allow me to break up the hike into 3 days 7 miles a day.


Yaki Point Trailhead the dropping in point.

I got everything I wanted from the Park Service and the Xanterra Company, day one 7 miles down to Phantom Ranch. I have a bed in the dorm the first night, a steak dinner and breakfast and a lunch to go all waiting for me at the bottom of the Canyon.


On the South Kaibab Trail.


Phantom Ranch.

I arrive at Phantom Ranch tired but happy and like a horse drawn to water I head in side for a cold beer. It is actually legal to carry your bike in the Canyon no wheels can roll though. I think that knowing there is cold beer down here made it easier for me. 2 years ago I did the 215 miles around the Canyon pulling a bob trailer. By traveling light I was able to follow is Scott Morris’s footsteps and carry through. Scott and Lee Blackwell carried through in 2 days last spring. And the Scott did the whole 21 miles in one day last fall, by comparison my 3 days is slow.


Hiking the North Kaibab Trail.

Day 2 in the Canyon 7 more miles to the Cottonwood Campground. The trail is good and relatively flat day 2 was pretty easy the hardest part keeping myself from putting the bike together and riding. The first day you really couldn’t ride down the trail as there are so many people and the water bars are constant. But the second day not only are there very few people the trail would be totally ride-able. It’s a mental challenge to ignore the burning calves the aching shoulders and plod on. But that’s true of the entire trip there are so many places from the very beginning where you could take an easy way around some segment of the route. It really is a mental challenge to convince yourself to say on route, when you know that you could turn off and be at the same spot hours even days earlier. But it’s not a race and who would care? Who would I be cheating? Only myself. I plod on and soon enough I am at camp.


Roaring Springs on the North Kiabab Trail.

Day 3 is a hump Cottonwood is at 4000 feet the north rim is 7 miles and 4240 feet higher. Calves burn shoulders ache I plod on and on knowing the end is near. Actually the whole thing was great, the canyon is amazing and worth any amount of pain. The first day is really fun what with all the people who can’t believe what they are seeing. And the views well I won’t try to describe it. And, Oh what a feeling of accomplishment.


Sunsets on the Canyon.


I knew from my first trip that you could go out to the north rim when the park is closed. You just can’t drive there. And I knew that you could camp out on the edge in the group site. If you ask that’s where they send you right out to the rim and there is no one there. Well if the park is closed no one is there once the park is open this is a reservation only site. Once out of the Canyon I put the bike together and zoom out to my private campsite on the edge of the world. Actually I meet one person Ranger Fran, and we had a nice little chat about life on the AZT.

It was a cold night and I didn’t sleep well until I put my warm gloves on. I already had on a layer of capilene, a vest, and wind shirt, a beanie hat and fleece headband. The only thing I didn’t put on was my wind pants but my legs were warm only my upper body was cold. But the gloves did the trick and I slept in until 8:00.

I was rolling by 8:30 the first 10 miles of the AZT is still in the Park. Now on the South side bikes are not allowed on trail only roads. But on the North side they let us ride so I want to do the trail. The problem is snow and how much there will be. At the trailhead things look good but then the trial climbs 1000 feet and the snow keeps getting deeper but it’s hard snow and I am riding on top of it. This is great I even ride right over fallen trees covered by hard snow. And some times around the down trees off the trail but on ride-able snow. Then a little mud and I begin to wonder if this is going to work but then more ride-able snow.


A Blue Grouse and ride-able snow.

The AZT crosses the main road and then follows this power line road some times I ride, mostly I walk. But it’s all hard pack and not bad. After seeing the Grouse I come to the last big down hill that leads to the park entrance. Zipping along having the time of my life and all of a sudden. Well you know that feeling of instantly going over the bars. The front wheel breaks through and I am air born for a split second lying on my back. I see the bike above me and about to land on me. It hits my feet and I kick it away and come up laughing my head off.


After the endo.


I ride on more carefully. After the power line road the AZT cuts over to the park boundary on a 4x4 road covered in snow. None of this was signed 2 years ago and I had to make a big detour to avoid bushwhacking. This time it’s signed and I have the GPS data. The problem is its afternoon and the snow is getting soft and there is water running underneath. Before long both of my feet are soaked. I really want this part of the trail and then theirs more great trail on the way to Jacob Lake. But with soaking feet and only a few crumbs left for food reality sinks in, and I head back to the dry pavement. Ranger Fran says that the hikers usually take the road to Jacob Lake when there is this much snow. I am just stubborn and have to suffer a little before I can give up. 31 miles of pavement and I arrive at Jacob Lake and get a room at the lodge. On the 2004 trip I did all of the trail from the park boundary to Jacob Lake it is mostly single track and all fun.

April 21, 2006 39 days after starting 30 days of riding and less than 30 miles to go mostly down hill, mostly ride-able, and mostly nice single track.


In the Half Pipe.

Leaving Jacob Lake I look forward to a great day of riding. I did all of this in one short day pulling a bob trailer 2 years ago. One of my favorite parts of this day and maybe the whole AZT is a section that feels like a half pipe. After the descent the AZT borders on a big meadow and the cows have trashed the trail. Maybe the ranchers could build two 800 mile long fences 100 feet apart on either side of the AZT then we could leave all of the gates open. Now there’s a pipe dream. Soon the AZT leaves the meadow and though there are still cows the dirt turns sandy and the prints don’t stick in the mud. I guess that fence isn’t really necessary. At Winter road I enter the final Passage of the AZT.

Buckskin Mountain Passage Trailhead.

The Buckskin Mountain Passage is 11 miles of fun rolling mostly ride-able all single track. 10 miles from the end one of the bolts holding the bottom of the rear rack broke and I had to wire it with my spare brake cable. The other bolt held to the end.

AZT and the Coyote Buttes.

Nearing the end.

Staged photo of the end.


Already thinking of trip #3.

The final miles of trail are fantastic wide-open switchbacks and all down hill to the State line Trailhead. I do not have the words to express the scenic beauty of southern Utah and the state line. So I will end with some facts as best I can.

Taken with a grain, of salt, as there is no way to accurately measure the entire trip. Bike mounted odometers are only so accurate the GPS can’t do it either. So I just made notes whenever I changed from single track to road and dirt to pavement.

Here are the numbers I ended up with.
Approximately 275 miles of single track, 125 miles 4x4 road (suitable and legally open to 4x4 pickups), 90 miles Jeep Trail (I used this for trail/road I didn’t think a pickup would fit on), 145 miles 2 wheel drive dirt (smooth dirt you could drive a Honda Civic on), 200 miles paved, 835 total miles in 30 days of riding.

The list is from an e-mail I got from Scott, if you think it's missing some one please let us know.

The list of thru-trip riders:

1. Andrea Lankford

2. Beth Overton

3. Erik Schlimmer

4. Tim McCabe

5. Scott Morris

6. Lee Blackwell

7. Erik Schlimmer

8. Scott Morris

9. Tim McCabe

Who will round out the top 10?

Finally I would like to Thank Scott Morris again for all of his help with the GPS. And David Hicks whose e-book has help so many find the way. And most of all Dale Shewalter whose vision had lead to this remarkable creation that is the AZT. And last but not least all of the trail builders who come out and give blood and sweat to the cause.