Flagstaff to Picketpost on the Arizona Trail

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The is Part II of a three part series about our tour of the Arizona Trail.  In essence, this section is really two parts: the singletrack ride from Flagstaff to Pine, and the wilderness detour from Payson to the Picketpost Trailhead at Hwy 60.  Check out Part I from the Utah border to Flagstaff, AZ.

There is more to Arizona than a few spare saguaro in an endless desert.  Arizonan topography is more complex than I once thought, including broad plateau, deep cut canyons, and sky islands.  Changing scenery is entwined with variable elevation, from golden aspens at 9000 ft to wide open pine forests at 7000ft, piñon and juniper and scrub oak at 5000ft and classic Sonoran scenery dominated by the towering saguaro cactus below 3000ft.  And in a few places, such as in the Grand Canyon or on Mt. Lemmon, you’ll traverse multiple zones in less than half a day.  The Arizona Trail crosses reliably flowing surface water, in the form of Arizona’s major rivers, in no more than a half dozen places.  As expected, overall, Arizona is a dry state.  

Leaving Flagstaff toward the south, the AZT wanders through spacious pine forests and open meadows, passing a series of shallow wetlands and lakes.  A full day of riding is required to exit the pines, at which point the trail reaches the edge of the Mogollon Rim and drops toward the Highline Trail and the town of Pine.  The quality of riding on the Mogollon Plateau is high, not full of thrills and big views, but mostly smooth with the exception of some rocky trail and tracks battered by cattle in wet weather.  The first miles out of Flagstaff are especially memorable.  There are minor resupply opportunities off-route in Mormon Lake and Happy Jack, although we packed food for the distance from Flagstaff to Pine, without a peanut to spare.  Pine is a great trail town thanks to several local eatieries and a brewery called That Brewery, as well as a nice local grocery store.  

The Highline Trail looms as one of the great challenges of the AZT by bike, a reputation bolstered by the number of times its name is uttered in simple reference to the major obstacles along the AZT, a menacing gang including the Canyon and Oracle Ridge.  But not all challenges are created equal and the Highline Trail is remarkably ridable with high scenic value, an impression gained from our extremely low expectations.  The Highline is a 50-plus mile trail along the Mogollon Rim escarpment, crossing every minor drainage which comes from the cliffs above, although the AZT only follows about 20 miles of that trail.  Sections of the Highline are highly ridable, seemingly taken right out of the Sedona playbook, which sits at a similar elevation not far away.  Southbound riders definitely benefit from some gravity fed assistance overall, although the trail climbs and descends in both directions.

South of Pine, riders continue along a brief sections of the actual AZT before beginning an extended detour around the Mazatzal and Superstition Wilderness areas ending at the Picketpost Trailhead where the route rejoins the AZT.  The bikeable AZT750 continues on a series of chunky dirt roads to Payson where full resupply is possible 24/7, and on graded dirt roads and pavement to the south, including the scenic Apache Trail along the Salt River drainage.  Between Payson and Picketpost, quality roads and frequent resupply make for a quick and easy ride.  

The Apache Trail connects a a series of dammed lakes along the Salt River, each lake taking the place of what was once a great valley or canyon.  The presence of crystal blue water in the desert is stunning, and a welcomed relief on hot days.  The Apache Trail connects us to the furthest reaches of urban Phoenix, to a community called Apache Junction which provides convenient resupply in the form of a Basha’s supermarket on route, as well as other amenities.

Beyond Apache Junction the AZT traces a series of dirt roads, including a final water resupply in Queen Valley, before reconnecting with the Picketpost trailhead at Highway 60.  From this point, the town of Superior is about 4 miles to the east.  From this point toward the town of Oracle, the riding gets really, really, good.

Get GPS data for the AZT750 at Topofusion.com.  Current water resources along the AZT managed by Fred Gaudet.

Resupply notes, bold is on route:

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Flagstaff, Mormon Lake, Happy Jack, Pine, Payson, Jake’s Corner, Punkin Center, Tonto Basin, Tortilla Flat, Apache Junction, Queen Valley, Superior

There are a number of easy water resupply point between Flagstaff and Pine in the form of USFS campgrounds, just off route.  There are several near Mormon Lake and several at the intersection with AZ Rte 87.  There is clear running water along eastern sections of the Highline Trail.


Riding out of Flagstaff. 

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Regaining some elevation, looking back at the San Francisco Peaks.

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Above Lake Mary.

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Keep gates closed.  Jumping fences often saves time over opening and closing gates, and you’ll grow a massive pair of guns like Lael.

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Without shelter, October nights leave us shivering in our damp sleeping bags until the sun is well above the horizon, at least up above 7000ft.  Lael’s new Specialized Era transforms her riding, making her more confident over technical terrain.  The full-suspension platform also tracks better over rough ascents, improving her ability to climb rocky trail.  Fatigue is also reduced on long days.  There are many challenging technical sections of the AZT which require intense focus, yet there are many mundane rocky sections which aren’t all that challenging, but slowly abuse the rider over the course of a day.  A bike like this especially helps with the latter.  Rear tire clearance is a little tight.  

The proprietary Brain suspension is unique to Specialized bike and reacts to the terrain— firm on smooth trail yet opening to full stroke on bigger hits.  It is a brilliant system and it works marvelously.  I was a skeptic, until the first moment I rode it. 

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I remember a lot of mundane bumpy trail on the Mogollon Plateau, not that challenging, but taxing.  There is also plenty of trail much like this between Utah and the edge of the Mogollon Rim.  Lael and I call this “green circle trail”, and we like it.

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Through old oak groves which feel like they once accompanied a ranch house, amidst a greater ponderosa pine forest.  Northern Arizona is amazing, and most people have no idea.

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Much of the state is fenced to keep cattle in and keep cattle out.  Nick from Rogue Panda describes to me that Arizona is a “fence out” state, which means it is the responsibility of the landowner to prevent grazing cattle from entering their properly, not the other way around.  Nick spent some years doing trail work on public lands in the west.  In many states, it is the responsibility of the rancher to contain their cattle which becomes a financial burden considering the massive land tracts in the west, so the “fence out” principle is pro-ranching.

Here, a fence divides grazing lands on the right and non-grazing lands on the left.

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Pines, volcanics, sunshine, and sweet, sweet singletrack.

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General Springs.

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General Springs Cabin.

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At the edge of the Mogollon Rim is a brief section of trail called the Pipeline Trail, a several hundred foot scramble up, or down in our case.  Our first impression was, “so, this must be the rim”.

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Aside from the Colorado River we cross the first flowing water on the Arizona Trail just below the rim.  Naturally, we splash in a knee-deep pool.

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Some chunk, but lots of great trail.  There are large sections which require hiking, but the overall experience in positive.

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The trail crosses many drainages which means lots of fresh water, and lots of short climbs and descents.  This is some fine technical riding.

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Newer AZT signage on the right, older Highline signage on the left.  The Highline Trail is a classic in Arizona.  The descent down to the Geronimo Trailhead—southbound, remember— is awesome!

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We finish the night by descending the final 800ft into Pine in near darkness, an exciting and frightening challenge at the end of a proper full day of riding.  Lael still doesn’t have the guts for such stuff, but my new pink bike nails it.  The geometry of the Meriwether, the Pike fork, a fresh pair of Ardent tires– they let me do things I shouldn’t.

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The following day we ride through Payson, stopping to dip in the East Verde River.  Surface water in Arizona is a precious resource.  I am sure to swim in all of it.

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Descending from Payson, adjacent to the Beeline Hwy.

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Jake’s Corner.

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Resupply in rural Arizona.  Okocim beer was a staple from our time in Poland.  This is the first time I have seen it in the US, at a small grocery in Tonto Basin, AZ.  Reminds us of our time with Przemek in Poland and Ukraine.

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Rural America is beautiful.

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Theodore Roosevelt Lake, collected from the upper Salt River drainage.

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This dam marks the point where the Salt River convenes into a narrower drainage, most of the way to Phoenix.  Along the way the river is collected in a series of lakes which are partly responsible with providing water to the greater Phoenix area.  The Colorado River picks up the slack.  The unpaved Apache Trail, eventually a paved road nearer to Phoenix, is a great ride bounded by wilderness to the north and the south, highlighted by a brilliant strip of water.

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Migrating retirees treat this area much like migrating birds, stopping for a few weeks in spring and fall while traveling between their summering grounds up on the Mogollon Plateau and wintering grounds to the south in places like Slab City.

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Leaving pavement for a bit.  This 150 mile road detour, both paved and unpaved, certainly shortens the time is takes to cover the 750 mile route.

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We find ourselves camping on a sandy beach for the night, just a few steps away from clear freshwater.  I would have never expected this in Arizona.

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Our campsite is on the beach in the foreground.

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The Apache Trail is an old stagecoach route from Tonto Basin to the Greater Phoenix area, which follows human trade and travel routes along the Salt River which have been in use for many centuries.  Theodore Roosevelt, who was president at the time of the construction of both the dam and the road, says, “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, that is most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful.”  

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The western portion of the road is now paved, the eastern portion alternating between wide graded sections and narrow pieces of dirt, clinging to rocky mountainsides.

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Tortilla Flat.

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As near as you’ll get to Phoenix on the AZT750.

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The AZT750 passes a Basha’s grocery in Apache Junction, the last good resupply until Oracle.  If touring northbound, the four mile detour to Superior might make sense.  Picketpost (the trailhead at Hwy 60, near Superior), is about 90 miles from Oracle.  

En route to the Picketpost Trailhead from Apache Junction along a powerline road, with a brief stop in the rural retirement community of Queen Valley.  There is a diner and a very small store there.

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Picketpost Mountain, a welcomed sight guarding the nicest section of the AZT.  From here to the Gila River is a newer piece of trail worthy of Theodore Roosevelt’s description of the Apache Trail.  If only TR rode a mountain bike…

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Rejoin the AZT, duck under Hwy 60.

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Picketpost marks the end of the annual AZT300 race, an event which predates the hefty AZT750.  The AZT300 begins near the Mexican border (lopping 14 miles of dirt road riding from the actual border), and includes a high volume of singletrack, excepting some detours around wilderness in the Tucson/Mt. Lemmon area.  The 300 miles route has been ridden in as little as 45 hours and 7 minutes by Kurt Refunder.  We’ll certainly take much longer, enjoying the majesty of Arizona.

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Rogue Panda Designs and Flagstaff, AZ

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Nick Smolinske is Rogue Panda Designs, in Flagstaff, AZ.  Check out the Rogue Panda website for product and ordering information, or the Rogue Panda Facebook page for news and monthly deals.  Don’t forget, I keep a fairly accurate list of all known bikepacking bag makers from around the world.  Please send corrections and submissions!

I once wrote that I thought every town should have a baker, a brewer, a framebuilder, and a bag maker.  Flagstaff has all of these, in addition to a nice slice of the Arizona Trail and some of the most pleasant fall weather in the country.

Nick Smolinske is Rogue Panda Designs.  Nick has been designing and making bikepacking equipment for years, and blends his passion for lightweight backpacking and bicycling at the helm of his sewing machine.  His business recently outgrew his bedroom, his spare room, and his Etsy retail space.  Earlier this year, Nick quit his job to invest in full-time bag manufacturing and design.  He moved his equipment into a rented garage across town, a building which once acted as a horse stable with a few dusty corners to prove it.  Rogue Panda Designs debuted a full-featured website at the same time with an active retail portal featuring in-stock products and a custom ordering process.

Rogue Panda offers most of the now-standard bikepacking designs, but a few products stand out from the rest.  The Picketpost seatbag is designed to maximize the space behind the seatpost on a hardtail bike, preferring a more vertical orientation that also serves to stabilize the bag on technical trails.  Several companies are working to improve the stability of the modern seatbag, with varied approaches to solving the problem.  

The Oracle downtube bag is a small zippered pouch meant to hold tools, tube, or other dense items which don’t need to be in a framebag.  It attaches to the downtube or any other part of the bicycle via non-slip straps, with an integrated compression strap.  

Lastly, Rogue Panda’s custom framebags stand out for the detailed and bold designs which are offered.  Nick is most proud of the radiant Arizona state flag designs, yet regularly offers bags with the New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming state flag logos.  If you live in a state or country with a simple and preferably geometric flag, you could wave it proudly on you bike.  I’m thinking Israel, South Africa, Sweden, and Macedonia would be great candidates for a country flag.  Texans, you know you need Texas themed bikepacking kit.  Check out the time-lapse video of an Arizona flag framebag in production.

Most Rogue Panda products are named after sections of the Arizona Trail.

The name Rogue Panda originates from a local prank in which an electronic traffic sign was hacked, and the banner was modified to warn motorists of a “ROGUE PANDA ON RAMPAGE”.  Nick is not responsible for the prank, I don’t think.

Every town should have a friendly bike shop like Flag Bike Revolution.  The bike shop shares an old industrial building with an artisan Neopolitan-style pizzeria with a subtle bike theme called Pizzicleta, and the Mother Road Brewery, named for the famous Route 66.

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Our friend James manages Pizzicleta and bakes the best bread in Flagstaff, as a way to use remnant heat from the previous night’s fire. The bread bakes each morning while James preps for the day.  In the evening, the tiny eatery is packed with guests who share a single large table.  We gave Lael’s blue Raleigh XXIX to James while in Flagstaff.  We also gave Lael’s old green Surly Long Haul Trucker to his girlfriend Deja several years ago.  Since, Deja has traveled to Italy with the LHT.  

James reports that the rusty blue hardtail has been repaired– he discovered a hole in the frame while preparing for paint– and the frame now wears a new coat of white paint with metal flake.  A brand new RockShox Reba fork rounds out the build, along with a new framebag and seatbag.

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Building and customizing Lael’s Specialized Era at Flag Bike Rev.  She will be moving to a new hardtail in the coming months.  Anyone looking for a great full-suspension cross-country and bikepacking rig?

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A visit to Rogue Panda headquarters reveals a colorful array of bikepacking gear, and a few innovative designs.

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The Picketpost seatbag, mocked up on my Meriwether hardtail.  The two lower plastic loops are used to connect the bag to the seatstays for added stability.  This design also maximizes the total volume of the bag, without forcing a load beyond the rear axle.

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Nick has prepared a drawer full of Arizona flag panels, awaiting fabrication into complete framebags.  All framebags are custom and pricing starts at $125 for state flag bags, or $95 for single color and single compartment bags.

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This custom two-compatment bag is headed on tour in New Zealand on Brian’s Surly Cross Check.  Logos represent local businesses who have helped him prepare for his trip, and the text at the bottom is in memory of his parents.  James gave this bike to Brian, we gave a bike to James, the world is a better place.  Nick prefers a photograph of the bicycle with a measuring tape or meter stick in the image, rather than a hand-drawn pattern.

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Once the bag has been ordered and a pattern provided, the star is located on the drive-side panel.

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Handlebar bags are mostly standard designs, including sealed seams and a multi-purpose daisy chain which enables secure attachment to Jones Loop bars.

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Later, Nick joins us for a ride on the Flagstaff Loop Trail and a brief section of the AZT.  Our friends Lucas and Monica, once of Anchorage, Alaska, also roll through town while we are in Flagstaff.

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This mural by Cosmic Ray, now on display at Cosmic Cycles, depicts the local trail system.  The text in the bottom right reads “Copycats will ride Huffys in Hell… (Full Wald Gruppo!).

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Lael on her first dirt ride on the Specialized Era, also her first ride with a backpack.  She successfully used this Osprey Raptor 14 pack to haul her bike through the Grand Canyon. 

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Nick is proud of his dirt cheap custom bikepacking rig.  The frame is a Bikes Direct freebie from around town, a simple coil suspension fork, custom luggage, Thudbuster seatpost, with platform pedals.

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An early prototype of the Oracle downtube bag.

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Fresh bread!  Thanks Deja.

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Route 66 lives in Flagstaff.

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Pizzicleta is highly regarded for thin crust pizza, although I just like knowing that the pizza man rides a bike.  James treated us to an exceptional meal at “Pizzi”, as he calls it.  

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To come: A series of posts about the rest of the Arizona Trail, and some more insight into Lael’s AZT ITT and her future with ultra-endurance racing.  Lastly, in the next few weeks I plan to roll out a series of posts from our time in the Middle East this spring, including time spent in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine riding with Julian, Christina, and Klaus.  Lots of fresh stories coming soon.  

We will be in the Phoenix area over the next few days, then back to New York State to visit my family.  We will be in Northern and Central New York, NYC, and even the Washington D.C. area in the next few weeks if anyone wants to meet for a beer or a ride.

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Lael Wilcox AZT750 ITT Update: Mormon Lake, AZ

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Charging toward Oracle Ridge, in the uphill direction.  The AZT is a monster, and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses on route.  Lael was looking forward to the 4000ft ascent up Oracle Ridge. 

Lael left Flagstaff on the morning of her third day on the trail.  Slowed by a familiar breathing problem, she camped before town the night before, unable to safely continue due to shortness of breath and wheezing.  In the morning, she quickly covered the seven rocky miles on the Schultz Creek, Rocky Ridge, and the Lower Oldham Trails.  The AZT Urban Loop passes a few notable resupply points on route, including a Fry’s grocery store which we have frequently visited while riding through the area.  She spent some time at the grocery store resupplying and rethinking her ride, over a tall cup of Starbucks drip coffee.  If it hand’t already happened the night before, by that morning, she had come to terms with the fact that her breathing may not allow her to continue.  Even so, she left town with enough food to get to Pine.

Lael called that afternoon.  Her breathing had worsened by noon, and her progress slowed through the afternoon.  “Technically, I could keep moving”, she says.  “But I am not having fun and it doesn’t feel like I am racing anymore.  My legs feel good but my lungs can’t keep up.”  Lael got off the route and ended her ride near Mormon Lake.  We had both studied the forecast up until the start date and were well aware of the chance of rain on the fourth day of her ride.  Today is the fourth day and it is pouring.  If she hadn’t gotten off route, I likely would have extracted her from a muddy situation today.  How her respiratory condition would have worsened, we cannot know exactly.  We’re both certain that she has made the right decision.

Up until breathing issues changed the ride, Lael claims she “was having so much fun!”  She went out fast and rode without regrets.  If she plans any long-distance racing in the future, we’ll have to look seriously at her breathing condition.  For everyday touring and exercise, it has never been an issue.  Lael’s passion is to be healthy and active, and happy.

Thanks to everyone who helped put this ride together including Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution and Absolute Bikes; Revelate Designs, Specialized, and K-Lite; Greg Greene in Tucson and James Worden in Flagstaff.

We’re planning to visit Santa Fe and Albuquerque this weekend.  Send a message if anyone is in the area and would like to meet.

Lael Wilcox AZT750 ITT Update: Flagstaff, AZ

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Packing the new bike on the new backpack in a cheap motel room on Route 66 in Flagstaff, AZ, a few days before the start.  Several days of rain followed by several cool, dry days led up to Lael’s AZT 750 ITT.  The preferred packing method is to leave the rear wheel in the bike.  

Lael reached the Grand Canyon quickly.  She hiked through the Canyon in a total time of 14 hours, including a two hour nap by the river.  She hiked out of the Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail in just over four hours.  She rode to a high point on the route alongside Humphrey’s Peak at sunset on the second day when a familiar feeling crept into the scene.  On an extended singletrack climb from the open plains of the Babbit Ranch to aspen groves at 9000ft, the taste of blood touched her tongue.  This is a feeling she describes often, made familiar by cold weather high output activities like cross country skiing and running in Alaska.  Further, she described in a late evening phone call from her bivy, her airways tightened and mucus developed over the course of the afternoon.  She reports a bloody nose while pedaling into headwinds across Babbit Ranch.

She told me not to worry, that she would leave the remaining five miles of rocky trail for the morning, that she would resupply and rethink the ride in the morning, that morning would provide all of the questions and answers required.  At that moment, since leaving the Utah border almost 40 hours ago, she’d only had 2 hours of sleep while traveling about two hundred miles, including that little hike across the Colorado River.  Perhaps morning would be better.  I think we both knew exactly how the morning would be.

In the morning, she called from the grocery store to say that she would continue south of Flagstaff.  But we both know that the pattern is likely to continue, as it did during the Tour Divide.  Mornings are fine, afternoons are worsening, evenings are difficult to impossible.  She has a few strategies to minimize the risk of an attack.  Last night she slept between 8-9 hours, which may also help.

Despite delays, she is currently only a few hours behind her approximate “hopeful” schedule, more in line with the “expected” timeline.  She was once ahead of both projections, until her breathing changed.

Considering the pattern in the Tour Divide and again on the Arizona Trail, the likely diagnosis for her condition is exercise induced asthma, more accurately called exercise induced bronchoconstriction (EIB).  In any case, Lael was clear to say that she wasn’t interested in riding her bike every day until she collapses in an asthmatic fit.  She has been here before.  It isn’t fun, and there are potential long-term health risks.  A sustainable lifestyle is more important than a single fast ride on the AZT.

By the end of the day we’ll have a clear idea if she will be able to continue, competitively.  Cold rain is expected tomorrow.

Follow Lael’s AZT750 ITT at Trackleaders.com.

Lael Wilcox Arizona Trail 750 ITT

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Lael is at it again!  She left the northern terminus of the Arizona Trail at the Stateline Campground along the Utah/Arizona border on Monday October 26th at 5:24 AM.  She intends to ride the length of the Arizona Trail- – specifically the bikeable AZT750 route— as fast as possible.  This individual time trial (ITT) will take more than a week, and requires that she portage her bicycle through the Grand Canyon, strapped to her back.  At the time of writing, only 23 hours after starting at the Utah border, she has exited the Grand Canyon at the South Rim and is en route to resupply in Tusayan.  She hopes to reach Flagstaff by the end of the day.

The Arizona Trail is a nearly 800 mile cross-state hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trail from the Utah border to the Mexican border, ranging in elevation from 1500ft to 9000ft, from shady ponderosa pine forests to scorching Sonoran deserts.  Several wilderness areas require dirt and paved road detours for cyclists, and the established AZT750 route is the version in use during the group time trial informally known as the Arizona Trail Race, held every April.  There is also an established detour north of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to Jacob Lake along pavement, as snow typically lingers along this section of trail in the spring.  Lael followed this detour, with prior approval, as most AZT750 records have been set along this version of the route.  We toured this section of trail several weeks ago and in the context of a tour, it is highly recommended.

Our tour of the Arizona Trail ended several days before Lael’s ITT commenced.  We toured every inch of the trail from Utah to Sonoita, lopping off the last day or two of riding to get north in time for a weather window. This time of year, in an El Nino season, dry trails up north are hard to come by.  There is a risk of wheel-sucking mud north of Payson, mostly in the section between the Mogollon Rim and Flagstaff.  Long nights will also be a challenge, although a full moon will help light the night.  

Several hours of rain accompanied us on the night before Lael’s departure.  Despite freezing temperatures at elevation and the saturated earth, she passed the first section of trail to Jacob Lake with haste.  From the Stateline Campground the trail begins with a series of switchbacks to ascend well over a thousand feet.  I watched her headlamp disappear onto the Kaibab Plateau.

For this ride, Lael is a riding a new Specialized Era Expert, a 100mm travel full-suspension bike.  She is using custom Revelate Designs luggage, K-Lite dynamo lighting, and some other exciting new equipment.

Follow Lael’s AZT750 ITT at Trackleaders.com.

My Pink Meriwether Adventure Bike

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Everything I need to have fun and survive, all wrapped in pink.  Not shown here are a tent, computer, or a front derailleur, which broke after a year and a half of adventure.  For the AZT, we’re traveling without a tent.  The 11″ MacBook Air has rejoined the packlist and fits nicely in the Revelate Viscacha with a certain packing procedure (clothes and groundcloth packed first).

The basic details are that it carries everything I need to survive and have fun including 4 liters of water, clothing and camping gear, durable 2.4″ tubeless tires on wide carbon rims, a useful range of gears, 120mm of seriously plush front suspension, a wide handlebar, all time lighting and USB charging, and the same saddle which has adorned every bike I have ridden since 2009, likely over 75,000 miles of touring and commuting on its bent steel frame, still as comfortable as ever.

The important details are 434mm chainstays, a low but not too low bottom bracket, a long but not too long top tube, a portage handle, a 68.5 degree head tube angle, and the aforementioned 120mm Rock Shox Pike fork with 51mm of offset.  All other parts come directly from my Surly Krampus and are designed to be world touring friendly, including a threaded BSA bottom bracket and the option for standard QR wheels via replaceable Paragon dropout plates and of course, a different fork.  As always, the bike is designed for big tires and a ton of extra clearance.  

The Meriwether handles singletrack better than the Krampus, descends better than the Krampus, climbs better than the Krampus, and pedals more comfortably than the Krampus.  But that’s only because I rode the Krampus for a year– and during that time it was a great bike– but I was paying attention and figured out how to make a bike better for me.  Whit Johnson of Meriwether Cycles is the catalyst and the confidence for this project who massaged my ideas into digital lines and degrees in BikeCAD, and manufactured our ideas in steel, willingly coating his handiwork in a pink blanket of paint.  Some call the color theft-protection, but honestly, it is the only color I wanted.  I did consider a muted lavender hue, but settled on antique pink, as I like to call it.

The bike easily finds the center of the trail, and doesn’t have the tendency to oversteer or understeer as other bikes I’ve ridden.  I can look further down the trail and know that my tires will take me there, not into the weeds.  On flowing serpentine trail, I sit down and position myself between the wheels, which are properly weighted for the front tires to cut a line and the rear tire to follow aggressively.  Riding this bike through corners– thanks, for certain, to the lower bottom bracket which I initially resisted– is like waterskiing.  The harder I dig, the harder it turns.  

The bike climbs.  Shorter chainstays result in a more direct power transfer to the rear wheel, even through Whit was concerned that his drive-side half yoke would be flexible.  It is not.  The low bottom bracket changes my relationship with only the tallest, most menacing obstacles while climbing, resulting in more frequent pedal strike on technical trials-like climbs.  In all other situations, the 60mm BB drop is a feature, and within a week, pedal strike is minimized through experience.  I might adjust the BB drop to 55mm if I had the chance to do it again, but that is a very personal consideration because I love climbing chunky stuff.  But the bike doesn’t try to tip over backwards on steep climbs and the shortened top tube allows me to approach long ascents in a seated position, while out of the saddle efforts are directly rewarded.  I recently spend much of the Highline Trail in Arizona either hiking alongside my bike, descending behind the saddle, or ripping climbs in a 34-34 gear combination.  It is a stand-up and hammer gear combination on any steep mountain bike trail, but chain retention is good and it forces me to hit the gas.  Sometimes a little extra gas is what you need for the next ledge or rock in the trail.  Soft-pedaling through challenging trail usually results in walking.  And yes, the portage handle is awesome.  I now have three useful hand positions for hauling the bike, each for a different kind of hike-a-bike.

Descending is unlike any hardtail I have ridden.  The Krampus gave me much of the confidence I sought over the classic geometry of the Raleigh XXIX and its 80mm fork.  Add to that more modern geometry, including the 68.5 degree head tube and the 51mm fork offset on a remarkable 120mm fork, and this bike is seriously confident going downhill.  Again, a little lower bottom bracket helps to keep my center of mass behind the front axle, reducing the feeling of going over the bars on steep trails.  I’ve taken to descending almost every section of trail I can find, save for most of the Pipeline Trail off the Mogollon Rim and a couple rocky drops on the way into Pine.  But, I rode most of the last section of the Highline into Pine at dusk, and loved it.  Happy to be on 2.4″ Ardents, for sure.  And the Pike, get a Pike!  To be fair, I’ve ridden some MRP Stage forks which also feel phenomenal, and some other modern RockShox offerings have impressed me on test rides, including the new Revelation and SID forks.  But for the same weight as a Revelation (which has 32mm stanchions) and the same price as a SID (yes, kind of a lot), you can have the Pike which boasts 35mm stanchions with premium RockShox internals.  The concept of using more fork offset with a lower head tube angle results in a bicycle with improved descent characteristics yet which preserves mechanical trail and handling on neutral trail sections and on climbs– it descends better without any drawbacks. 

Contact Whit Johnson at Meriwether Cycles if you have any custom bicycle needs.  He specializes in mountain bikes with character, built for adventure.  He likes short chainstays, fat tires, and extra attachment points.  He has recently built several gorgeous custom forks for internal dynamo wiring to accompany custom frames and has pushed the boundaries with his fatbike and plus-sized bikes for the past few years.  I really enjoyed working with Whit on this project.  He quickly understood my ideas and converted them to numbers, to visual impressions of a bicycle, and ultimately into a sweet ride.  Check out Meriwether Cycles on Instagram, Flickr, and on the Meriwether Blog.  He is located in Foresthill, CA and has relatively short lead times.  Pricing starts at $1200 although a frame similar to mine would cost about $1500.  

If you are interested in stock bicycles with a similar character to my pink bike check out the Advocate Hayduke, Jamis Dragonslayer, and Marin Pine Mountain.  

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Build details:

Meriwether Cycles custom steel frame for 29/27.5+

RockShox Pike RCT3 120mm, 15mm TA, 51m offset

Chris King headset and BB

Shimano Deore crank, 34/22T rings

Shimano SLX direct mount front derailleur with Problem Solvers clamp, XTR GS rear derailleur

Shimano XTR 9speed rear shifter, front friction thumb shifter on Paul Thumbie

Shimano XT 11-34 cassette and SRAM PG-951 chain

Specialized 75mm stem

Race Face SixC 3/4″ riser carbon handlebar, 785mm wide

Salsa Regulator Ti seatpost, zero setback

Ergon GP1-L grips

Brooks B-17 Standard

Avid BB-7 brakes and levers, 160mm rotors

Derby HD 35mm wide carbon rim to Hope Pro 2 Evo rear hub

Light Bicycle 35mm wide carbon rim to SP PD-8X dynamo hub

Maxxis Ardent 29×2.4″ EXO tires, tubeless

Redline Monster nylon pedals

Supernova E3 Triple 2 headlight, E3 Pro taillight with custom brackets

Sinewave Reactor USB charger, top cap mount

Revelate Designs custom ziperless framebag, Viscacha seatbag, Gas Tank, small Sweet Roll and small Pocket

Randi Jo Fab Bartender bag, Bunyan Velo logo

Salsa Anything Cage HD and 64 oz. Klean Kanteen

Salsa stainless bottle cages on fork attached via hose clamps, 32 oz bottles 

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Through the Grand Canyon: Utah to Flagstaff on the AZT

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Sweaty palms hooked under the headtube and the right fork leg of the bicycle, I heft the load higher onto my back.  The textured brass headbadge of my Meriwether frame keeps the painted pink steel from slipping from my right hand.  Who said headbadges have no place on a bikepacking bike?  Concerning a well-designed backpack and a reasonable load, the weight of the pack is meant to be shared by the hips and the shoulders, the remaining pack resting against the back.  Only a few miles down the canyon and our 50 pound packs have already agitated both hip and shoulder.  Mine is an old EMS backpack purchased ten years ago in New York which has never been backpacking– neither have I– yet has been in regular use as an in town-hauler, akin to a pick-up truck to a commuting cyclist.  It knows the weight of a gallon of milk and a bag of apples and a twelve pack of beer, swimming in a week of other foods.  It may not be ideal for the job of carrying a bicycle, but the fault may lie in the fact that the bicycle is a stout steel hardtail packed for a comfortable month-long trip across Arizona.  By conventional bicycle touring standards it is a lightweight.  Shedding my tent and full-size sleeping pad in favor of resting on a 99¢ windshield sunshade under the stars, this bikepacking rig still measures as a middleweight.  By packbiking standards, it is a tank.  If there is a graceful way to carry a bicycle through the Grand Canyon, it doesn’t start with a 50 pound pink steel bike.

Lael is no better situated.  Her pack– I only realize once we’ve exited the canyon at the South Rim– boasts features which mimic those found on high-end packs, yet it sits too high above the hips, the straps dig into her shoulders, and the “suspension” system pokes into her shoulder blades.  The hip belt buckle is broken and she ties the strap around her waist.  This pack is borrowed from Bill and Kathi in Hurricane.  We’re grateful for a solution which costs no more than return postage to Utah and a postcard.  As bad as it seems, this might be about as good as it gets.  Carrying a bike through the Grand Canyon isn’t easy.  I can’t really blame the pack, nor the bicycle.  

One foot in front of the other for 25 miles, 6000 feet down, 5000 ft up, we walk.  We drop into the canyon a few hours before dark as visitors are exiting toward coin-operated showers or the luxurious dining hall of the Grand Canyon Lodge, precipitously located at the edge of the biggest cliff in the hemisphere.  Past dark, Lael stumbles not once, but six or seven times.  I demand that we stop to rest.  She won’t admit that she is tired or that her shoes are inadequate, but promises not to do it again.  Instead, I attempt to prove through some late-night logic that we need to stop and sit for a minute, that descending a cliff’s edge in the dark with bicycles on our backs is as much hazard as I am willing to accept.  Missteps will only make it worse.  We sit for our first break just before Manazanita Rest, almost 3000ft below the rim.  This is the only time we will hike more than 2 miles at a time without removing the packs to rest and to refresh.  We continue to the stock area at Cottonwood Camp for the night, the only available permitted campsite available when we applied at the backcountry office mid-afternoon.  Our visit with the ranger was brief and professional.  Ten minutes and twenty dollars later and we have a tag indicating a place to stay and the right to remain in the canyon for the night.  The remainder of our hike to Cottonwood is without missteps.

The next morning, we rise before dawn to avoid the heat of the day.  The previous night’s hike had been no more than 8 miles, although about 4000ft down from the rim, which towers above 8000ft.  On this day, we continue downstream for eight miles along Bright Angel Creek to Phantom Ranch before contacting the mighty Colorado River and the main vein of the canyon.  Thereafter– either by the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail– we will ascend 5000ft from the river up to the South Rim, a distance of about 10 miles by our chosen route along the Bright Angel Trail which affords a series of water and shade stops along the way.  The longer route is more popular with day hikers and is used by mule trains serving Phantom Ranch.  It rises less dramatically from the river, then tips skyward in the last five miles to gain 3000ft at once.  Working our way along the North Kaibab Trail in the morning and up the Bright Angel Trail in the afternoon, we crest the South Rim just after dark by way of headlight and headlamp.  Lael is ahead of me by one switchback and she screams, from just above my head, “This is the end!”  We hug and high five in the dark, like the end of a pointless challenge on a reality TV show.  What was once monumentally important is behind us, and now seems irrelevant except for sore calfs and shoulders and the abrasion which marks Lael’s hips.  We haven’t showered since Las Vegas.  

If anyone asks about carrying our bikes through the canyon, I’ll say, “It isn’t easy.”  But it is possible.  It is worth it.  And we did it.  Unstrapping the packs from the bikes and reinstalling the front wheel and the left pedal to the bike, we ride from the Bright Angel Trailhead to the General Market just before close.  By morning, we’re snaking through pine forests en route to Flagstaff. 

The history of carrying one’s bike through the canyon is barely a decade old.  While on their groundbreaking AZT-by-bike scouting mission in 2005, Scott Morris and Lee Blackwell of Tucson secured permission from Grand Canyon National Park rangers to carry their bikes through the canyon, through a 25 mile trail corridor.  Considering the arterial Grand Canyon trails are not wilderness, where possessing a bicycle would be expressly prohibited by federal law– still open to interpretation, says Casey Greene, who argues a disassembled bicycle is no more than a collection of bicycle parts– rangers decided on a “wheels must not touch the ground” approach to permitting bicycles in the canyon during Scott and Lee’s 2005 ride.  A sign at each major trailhead clearly states “No Bicycles”, thus referring to bicycles which intend to be ridden.  A disassembled bicycle, packed to one’s back, where the wheels do not touch the ground is legal (i.e. not prohibited, as has been decided in other parks).  Just don’t try to ride the bike anywhere in the canyon.  Park rangers aggressively enforce this rule, such as in the case of the Sedona 5 or the Riding the Spine crew.  

Why would anyone want to carry a bicycle through the Grand Canyon?  The nearly 800 mile Arizona Trail connects the Utah border with the Mexican border in a ribbon of singletrack and dirt roads, crossing directly through the Grand Canyon.  North of the canyon are 80 miles of the the most pleasant forested trail in the whole state of Arizona, the Kaibab 101 Trail.  South of the canyon are another 90 miles of trail to Flagstaff, and another 550 miles to the Mexico border.  If you wish to ride the whole trail you can detour a great distance on paved roads around the canyon, pay a shuttle service to transport your bike, or hike your bike through the ditch and roll away at the other end.  We’ve been in this position once before– wondering how best to enjoy the trails north of the canyon– and our solution was to skip the canyon and the Kaibab trails and start riding at the South Rim.  This time we wished to visit the Colorado River and to start from the border of Utah.   

From St. George and Hurricane, UT, Lael, Skyler, Panthea and I connect to northern Arizona via Colorado City and Fredonia, to Jacob Lake.  The initial plan is to ride back into Utah via Kanab to meet the north end of the Arizona Trail at the Stateline Campground via the unpaved House Rock Valley Road.  We soon realize that we can access the trail sooner by riding up to Jacob Lake on pavement, which further enables us to enjoy the singletrack descent to the Utah border.  

Arriving at Jacob Lake in the afternoon, Lael and I shoot for the border via the AZT, arriving just past dark.  In the morning, we loop back to Jacob Lake via the House Rock Valley Road along the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, climbing back onto the Kaibab Plateau on paved route 89A.  From Jacob Lake, we begin our southward trajectory toward the Grand Canyon about 50 miles away.

Further reading and planning:

For information visit Scott Morris’ Topofusion page dedicated to Cycling the AZT, link to forum discussions about the AZT750 and 300 time trial events (Google search for archived discussions), and read Scott’s recent account of touring the AZT with Eszter on his blog Diary of Scott Morris.  

The Kaibab Plateau is part of the larger Colorado Plateau, shown here extending from the Utah border in the north to the Grand Canyon in the south.  The AZT begins at the northeastern edge of the forested plateau in the narrow valley between the Kaibab and Paria plateau (top right).  Trail 101 north of the Grand Canyon is one of the oldest sections of the AZT.

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From Jacob Lake to the northern terminus of the AZT the trail slowly loses elevation from 7800ft down to 6500ft.  The last few miles of trail quickly meet the border at about 5000ft in a series of switchbacks.

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Descending to the Stateline Campground, the Utah border, and the Vermillion Cliffs at sunset on the AZT.

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The beginning or the end at the Stateline Campground, depending upon which direction you travel.  There is no water at the campground, although primitive sites and pit toilets are available.

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By morning, we look up at the descent which concluded the night and decide on a mellow dirt road ride back toward Jacob Lake.

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The ride takes us along the Vermillion Cliffs, now famous for the repopulation of California condors which has succeeded in the area.  Kaibab Plateau on the left, Paria Plateau on the right.

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The Jacob Lake Inn features a small grocery, a nice diner, and water.  We enjoy two mid-day rests at Jacob Lake on consecutive days.  Going south, there is also a good grocery at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the main campground. 

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The AZT north of the Grand Canyon is dreamy, alternating between wide open pine forests and newer aspen growth, the result of logging or fire.

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On the heels of a heat wave, clear nights begin cooling toward freezing.  Lael and I are willing to travel without a tent in such conditions, sleeping out on a ground cloth, minimal sleeping pads, and bare sleeping bags.  The Buffalo Trick Tank is full of water, contained in a giant steel cylinder.  Check our Fred Gaudet’s water resource for current water data on the AZT.

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The Grand Canyon Lodge is a marvelous artifact from a time past.  The current concessions operated by Xanterra likely pale in comparison to the grandeur of yesteryear.  Still, the structure is remarkable and the setting unimaginably grand.  Visitors– even unregistered guests– are invited to sit in this windowed room or out in the open air at the edge of the canyon.

Note, there is a good grocery store, coin operated showers, and a laundry at the campground.  Walk-in sites are available for $6 per person and wi-fi is available at the grocery and the laundry. 

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There is a first time for everything.  Until reaching the rim of the canyon I’ve never carried a bike on my back and never gone on an overnight hike.

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About two hours before dark, we descend with relative haste.  The next morning we repack our bikes with experience, improving load balance and clearance.  On this first evening it seems my rear tire scrapes every ledge overhead, my fork touches every cliffside to my left, and my 785mm handlebars clang against every rocky step.  We became quickly experienced at hauling our awkward loads, although it never gets easier.

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Trail construction in the canyon is incredible.  The engineering and execution of the North Kaibab Trail is remarkable, a jewel of trail design.

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Meriwether Cycles socks.  Under the laces the socks read, “Now go get lost!”  

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Night at Cottonwood Camp, and a pre-dawn start to the day.

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The trail between Cottonwood and Phantom Ranch follows Bright Angel Creek without significant elevation change, a distance of about 8 miles.  This is the only major temptation to ride the bike in the canyon.  Most of the rest of the hike would be conventional hike-a-bike.

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The Trans-Canyon Pipeline burst on the days we travelled in the canyon, forcing us to source our water from Bright Angel Creek.  Taps at rest stops and at Cottonwood Camp were under pressure, but without water.  This break in the line was the source.  Helicopters circled within hours.

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Phantom Ranch offers respite from mid-day heat, just over 100F on this day.  Pre-arranged meals are served inside to registered guests and campers.  Cold drinks and snacks are available for purchase to the passing hiker, for a reasonable charge considering they were hauled here my mules.  A beer costs $5, a energy bar about $2.50, and an apple just over $1.

For our efforts the clerk offered our coffee for free, which we enjoyed from our small enameled steel cup. 

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The North Kaibab Trail descends from the North Rim into the Bright Angel Creek drainage, on the right side of the map, crossing the Colorado River to connect with either the South Kaibab or Bright Angel Trais to the South Rim.

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The black bridge in the distance connects to the South Kaibab Trail, which features more open views of the canyon, but without any substantial shade or water along the way.

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The silver bridge connects to the Bright Angel Trail.  We cooled ourselves many times in various streams along the way.

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Tourist train.

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The Silver Bridge was constructed in the 1960’s, the Black Bridge dates from 1928.

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Mule train, packing supplies into Phantom Ranch and packing garbage out of the canyon.

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From the Colorado River up to Indian Gardens.

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From Indian Gardens, the trail turns sharply upwards.  We never knew how or where the trail would exit the canyon, which seems impossibly walled on all sides.  The trail always finds a way, easier seen from above.

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The Bright Angel Trail receives a lot of traffic, and is loose and dusty in places, compared to the surface of the North Kaibab Trail.  

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By late afternoon, we enjoy shade beneath the South Rim.

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The trail always finds a way.  

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And just as the sun sets, we reach our final water and rest stop on the Bright Angel Trail at the 1 1/2 Mile rest house, and old stone shelter adjacent to a water tap and pit toilets.  From the Colorado River there are three official tap water sources on the Bright Angel Trail, a welcomed resource which enables us to travel without more than a few sips in our bottles. 

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At dark, we crest the rim and reassemble our bikes, riding directly to the grocery store and a bivy under the stars along a nearby section of the AZT.  Elk bugle loudly through the night.

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Resupply is easy at the South Rim village or in Tusayan, just outside the park.  Each community has a proper grocery, although Tusayan boasts more commercial eateries as it is outside the park.  The post office in the park at the South Rim offers full services during the week, including General Delivery shipments.

We rely on a GPS track, but when following the trail, it would he hard to get lost.  Several wilderness detours in the south require deviation from the actual AZT, which is where the GPS becomes especially valuable.

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Grandview Lookout Tower, looking south toward the San Francisco Peaks above Flagstaff.

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North to the Grand Canyon.

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This section of the AZT is well signed and smooth.  After Tusayan, clean water sources are limited, although we have twice sourced water out of the Russell Tank.

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Russell Tank, like many systems in the area relies on a natural catchment area, a large steel container, and a method to dispense water to cattle via a trough.  Our water came from the smaller covered tank adjacent to the trough.  The large main tank, seen in profile to my right, is empty for the season.

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Nearing Babbit Ranch, a large private land tract which allows the AZT to pass via a series of doubletrack roads.

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Power from one of the two major dams on the Colorado River.

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At the start of each major trail section is a steel Arizona Trail sign like this one, showing a map of the route through the state and an invitation to hikers, equestrian, and cyclists to enjoy some or all of the route.

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Nearby is an official volunteer-supported water cache.  We see unofficial caches along much of the route– usually one or two gallons of water under a tree or near a road crossing, or next to a fence.  We try to leave water for hikers, who require more time to connect reliable water sources.  We each pull a liter or two of water from this cache for the remaining distance to Flagstaff.

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Leaving Babbit Ranch, back into the forest.

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I’m using a Sinewave Reactor USB-charger to power my Garmin e-Trex 20 GPS.  I’ll need to add a small in-line battery so that the device remains powered when I stop.  So far, the steerer tube mounted charger has provided power without fail, and is out of the way of mud and other contaminants, unlike the B&M USB-Werk which I stored on the side of my down tube near my front wheel.  The wiring for the Sinewave Reactor comes through the steerer tube and is a welcomed answer to the consistently flawed Supernova Plug charger, which has seen several failed iterations.

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Humphrey’s Peak, 12,637 ft.

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My new enduro-endurance bikepacker on the Arizona Trail, where it is right at home.  The RockShox Pike fork is amazing.  The geometry of the bike feels much more natural than the Krampus with the Fox Talas fork.  I’m happy to be back on 2.4″ Ardent tires.  

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Rising again above 9,000 ft, we rejoin aspen groves near the Snowbowl.

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Here, we connect to a network of trails enjoyed by Flagstaff locals, and a famed descent into town.  Signs like these…

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The trail is well traveled and smooth at times.

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Elsewhere, more rocky and technical.

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Leaving the Coconino National Forest for Buffalo Park and the Flagstaff Urban Trail System, we connect rocky singletrack to crushed gravel and pavement.  A bike path along Route 66 and the BNSF railroad line takes us to a plethora of coffeehouses, breweries, and supplies.  

Lael and I have spent time in Flagstaff in the past, making a home here for a few days two years ago in the fall.  Get a cappuccino at Macy’s, a beer at Mother Road Brewing, and fix your bike at Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution which offers a public-use repair stand. 

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Leaving Las Vegas, NV for the AZT

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Post-Interbike exodus out of Las Vegas.  While everyone raced to the airport on Friday night and Saturday morning, we met friends Skyler and Panthea at the baggage claim, arriving from British Columbia.  We assemble bikes, eat on the sidewalk, and roll into the desert for the night.  The following day, after some additional preparations, we leave town on a series of paved roads, bike paths, and BLM dirt tracks.  Our search for dirt only lasts a day until the 100 degree heat pushes us onto pavement in search of St. George, Hurricane, Colorado City, Fredonia and the AZT.  

There are some options for dirt routes between Vegas and St. George, and most of the way to the AZT.  A month later in the season might make it easier.  Some of the riding between Vegas and St. George gets soft and sandy, less of an issue on Skyler’s 29+ Surly Krampus and Panthea’s Soma B-Side+.  Anyway, the heat rules the day.  We’re excited for the pines of the Kaibab Plateau and the cool nights up toward the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at over 8,000ft.  

Riding to the start gives us the opportunity to acclimate to the heat, to the elevation, and to riding loaded bikes again.  All but Lael require this transition.  Now that she is fully recovered from her second Divide ride, she’s ahead of all of us and still goes running every day (and jumping rope, and swimming when possible, and she does planks and push-ups in front of the grocery store when I’m inside).  We’ve downloaded GPS tracks for the actual AZT race route on Topofusion.com, and have printed map sections from the Arizona Trail Association website, as well as current water data from Fred Gaudet’s site.  Be sure to join the AZTA and donate!

Reassembling bikes at the airport with Skyler and Panthea, Lael prepares dinner on the sidewalk.

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Camping 10 miles from the strip, about 200 yards from the nearest house.

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Out of Vegas.

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I-15 Travel Plaza, slot machines, fireworks, cheap cigs, booze, and snacks.

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Skyler cut a sidewall on his Gravity Vidar tires before leaving the city.  His tube seems magnetically attracted to the steel wires which litter the roadside, remnants of worn truck tires.  Lael naps.

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Into St. George, over Old US 91.

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Southern Utah towns are real nice– well planned and maintained with nice public spaces.

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The best available tire option for Skyler is a 29×2.5″ Maxxis Minion DHF, a great tire for this part of the country, although not quite the volume he is accustomed to.  He’ll try these for a bit, then mount some of the new Surly 29×3.0″ Dirt Wizard tires in Flagstaff.  We selected the 60tpi tubeless ready Dirt Wizard for a more durable sidewall.  The two tires share a similar tread pattern, although different volume and casing construction.  He is using an Easton ARC rim with a 45mm internal width, about 50mm outside. 

I left Anchorage on undersized used tires, remnants left from repairs at The Bicycle Shop, and quickly realized my mistake.  I find some 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent EXO tires in St. George. 

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Near Hurricane, UT we reconnect with Bill and Kathi Merchant, whom we first met at Interbike a few days prior.  Bill and Kathi have organized the Iditarod Trail Invitational since the early 2000’s and have hosted both a 350 mile race to McGrath and a 1000 mile race to Nome every year.  Bill and Kathi have lived outdoors for years in the Arctic, in the Southwest, and elsewhere.  

Kathi is currently organizing a Fatbike Expo to precede the start of the Iditarod Trail Invitational this spring in Alaska.  The Fatbike Expo will take place in Anchorage with an indoor exhibition at the Egan Center as well as a series of rides and other events.  Look for the Big Fat Ride which will include hundreds, perhaps even a thousand fat bikers riding together through Anchorage’s wide groomed trails.  The Fatbike Exop and the start of the ITI would be a perfect time to visit Anchorage.  Come enjoy local groomed trails and winter singletrack, check out the first miles of the Iditarod course, and if conditions allow, you can even ride to the Knik Glacier or over Resurrection Pass!

The Fatbike Expo happens February 26-28 in Anchorage and the ITI takes off on Sunday 2/28.

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Virgin River.

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Rockville, UT, just outside of Zion National Park.

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More soon on my new pink Meriwether frame and the RockShox Pike fork.  

Lael and I are each carrying standard mid-size backpacks on our handlebars.  It is legal to possess and transport a bike through the Grand Canyon, so long as the wheels don’t touch the ground.  Alternate routes around the canyon are long and complicated, and shuttling bikes and equipment is expensive.  When given the option of a 190mi paved detour and a 25 miles hike– with our bikes on our backs– we packed backpacks.  I’ve carried mine since Vegas, which I brought from Alaska.  Lael is borrowing one from Bill and Kathi, which we will return via mail from Flagstaff.

Okay, the paint is incredible, the details of the frame are nearly flawless, and of course, it fits like a glove.  More from Flagstaff once the bike has a few trail miles under its tires.  

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Green salsa and shade.  

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Lael and I have been joking a lot about the Tour Divide, mostly because I can’t keep up with her.

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Riding and pushing out of Rockville, we connect with a dirt route for a place to camp and to avoid the narrow paved climb out of Hurricane.

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Sleeping at the edge of a cliff, Lael calls this “Hollywood desert”.  The dirt is good, most of the plants are friendly, and there is shade when needed.

The forecast looks good for weeks and we’ve sent our tent ahead.  I’m sleeping on a 99¢ sunshade and Lael is using her XS Thermarest Prolite which she used on her two prologue rides this summer.  Nights are warm and dry.

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With a moment of sadness, we pass the turn to Gooseberry Mesa, a famous mountain bike trail system.  The day will soon be too hot and we continue on toward the cool pines of the Kaibab Plateau.

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Dead rattler.

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Off to Arizona and the AZT.  Flagstaff in a week.

Hope to catch up with James and Deja, Cosmic Ray, Stefan, Joe M., Nick from Rogue Panda, and anyone else in the area.

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Some People and Bikes from Interbike 2015, Las Vegas, NV

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Advocate Cycles frames are hot off the press, each featuring custom decals designed by local artists on the top tube.  Tim and Odia Krueger of Advocate Cycles shared a booth with Cycle Monkey, Sinewave, and Red Bear Products.  The 27.5+/29 Hayduke is in the foreground, and would be a great bikepacking rig.  It shares many features with my new frame.

Arriving on Monday morning, each of the five person Revelate crew had their own story of nocturnal misery at cruising altitude.  Except Lael, who claims the “shortest plane ride of her life” as she slept from takeoff to landing.  A summer of sleeping directly on the ground probably helps.  By noon, everyone assembled at the Mandalay Bay convention center to reassemble the contents of a shipping crate into Revelate Designs booth #21186.

Interbike is a trade show.  Everyone rolls their eyes about Las Vegas, about the nature of the show, about the cigarette smoke in the casinos, about the food, about the organization that operates the event, and the industry.  Everyone complains about Interbike.  However, it is the largest collection of cycling industry professionals in North America, eclipsed in size only by Eurobike and the Taipei International Cycle Show, and for the most part, a lot of productive things happen here.  There are a lot of nice people, a lot of exciting new product, and for most attendees, there are new prospects.  Lael and I enjoyed meeting many internet friends for the first time.  We made new connections which we look forward to developing into the future.  I met Charlie Kelly and after a teaser story from the first Iditasport event in the late ’80s, I bought his book.  Lael met Rebecca Rusch, the legendary endurance cyclist best known for her 13 1/2 hour passage of the Kokopelli Trail.  We huddled around pizza and beer to hear stories from Mongolia and secrets of new products, designs to make cycling better and more fun.  We talked a lot about Revelate luggage, bikepacking, and adventure by bike.  We met the Executive Director of the Adventure Cycling Association, Jim Sayer; Editor of Bicycle Times magazine, Adam Newman; and on more than three occasions, I passed Tom Ritchey in the aisles of Interbike.  Is Tom Ritchey the most recognizable guy in the industry, or is he just everywhere?

Interbike was awesome.  We spent so much time talking to people that the week passed much faster than expected.  And now, in a last minute rush, we find ourselves trying to shift entirely into bike touring mode.  I haven’t downloaded tracks for the AZT, scheduled a route from Las Vegas to St. George or from St. George to Kanab.  Skyler and Panthea arrive in a few hours.  We’ve located a nearby desert campsite for the night, expecting to return to town to pack and plan in the morning.  It will be nice once we get rolling, but for now, my busy summer continues.

Unpacking the crate.  The bare convention hall is transformed in less than 24 hours.

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Outdoor Dirt Demo

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The new Surly Wednesday.

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27.5+, full-sus, Nobby Nic tires=traction, lots of traction.

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18.9lbs, the new 9zero7 Whiteout Team Edition.

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The new Fatback Skookum.

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Icelandic Lauf forks, simple, light, maintenance free, and awesome.  They feel really, really good.  Best considered for gravel to light XC.  Think Tour Divide race bike…

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The Queen of Pain, Rebecca Rusch, and the queen of eating sandwiches and sleeping in the dirt.

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Some bikepacking junk show at Interbike, for sure.

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Charlie Kelly talked me into buying his book.  He didn’t have to try very hard, especially with Joe Breeze just over his shoulder.

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Big Adventures, and lots of Chinese carbon.

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Hey, it’s me!

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Vintage 1987 GT.

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Marin Pine Mountain 1 rigid 27.5+.

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Lauf leaf springs.

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John Lackey, meet John Lackey.  John set the Iditarod record to McGrath last year.

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Lael trashed a tire commuting around Las Vegas.  She borrow a Fatback Skookum for the ride home.  Rolling a fatbike through a casino in Vegas is fun.

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Each Advocate Cycle model features a different custom design, this is the new Lorax.

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New SP 150x15mm thru-axle dynamo hub for fatbikes.  SP hubs are now imported and distributed in the USA by Cycle Monkey.  I’ve also got the new top-cap mounted Sinewave Cycles Reactor USB charger to test on the Arizona Trail.

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Bikepacking junk show at the Giant booth.  The framebag opens from the rear toward the front, and without any tension it immediately jams up when you try to close it one-handed.

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Lael didn’t know these stickers existed.  She said, “that’s what I did all summer”!

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Adan Newman, the new editor of Bicycle Times magazine pretends to be a roadie for the new SRAM Red road wireless launch.

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This is Advocate Cycles, Tim and Odia Krueger.

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The Revelate Designs booth, while small, stayed busy for the three day indoor show.  During most of the show the booth featured a Jones+ bike, a Co Motion Gravel frame, and a Fatback Skookum.

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Interbike was a blasto  Off to ride the Arizona Trail.  Shipping the computer away for a while for a real vacation.

Summer Reduction: Anchorage, AK; Silver City, NM; Las Vegas, NV

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Local fishermen and families looking for fish in Ship Creek during the seasonal salmon run, Anchorage, AK.

I spent a full summer in Anchorage, Alaska, working.  Returning from Israel in May I arrived at The Bicycle Shop the next morning to build Lael’s Tour Divide bike.  I started work the next day, rode Lael out of town at the end of the week and then worked every single day until she returned from her ride from Alaska to Antelope Wells, about 50 days later.  Lael spent less than three weeks in town before turning back south toward Bellingham, Banff, and Antelope Wells for her second Divide ride of the summer, the LW ITT.  I worked during most of that ride as well, finally earning a few days away from work as the season slowed.

Less than a month before planing to leave Anchorage for the season, I flew down to New Mexico to meet Lael at the finish of the Divide, at the border of Mexico.  It was nearly– not entirely– a surprise.  

We both returned to Anchorage so that I could finish work for the season.  We sold her race bike, tidied up our affairs, and packed our bags for Interbike and adventure.  I gave the Krampus away to a friend.  Lael is riding a 2×8 drivetrain and platform pedals again, on a rusty bike with a half-dead Reba.  Still she claims it is “a good bike”.  We’ll spend the week in Vegas at Interbike with Revelate Designs, spreading our love for bicycle based adventure.  Thereafter, we plan to pack our bikes and ride into Arizona.  Ok, we might try to hitch a ride after Interbike to St. George, UT.  Anyone from Interbike headed back that way this weekend?  To SLC, Denver, etc.?

Aside from work– and I could write volumes about working in a busy bike shop in Midtown Anchorage– Alaskan summers aren’t bad, even if I didn’t always make the most of the long days and dry trails.

Anchorage, AK

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Riding along the Ship Creek slough during salmon season.

Life at the bike shop included lots of late night personal projects, including Lael’s two Divide bike edits, and this custom wheelset for Joe Cruz’s Surly Pugsley, which travelled to Norway this summer for a backcountry ramble.  He finally gave up the fight and moved from doublewall DH Large Marge rims to these feathery polished Marge Light rims.  Thanks to Fatbikes.com for providing the polished Surly rims and lightweight front hub.  I finished the build with butted DT Swiss spokes, gold alloy nipples, and a cheap sealed cartridge bearing Redline hub.  I failed the total lightweight build when I couldn’t find any high-quality 32h hubs in Anchorage, given our short time-frame for the build.

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Also from The Bicycle Shop, the analog Tour Divide Trackleaders page, exclusively dedicated to following the LW and LW ITT dots and promoting water cooler discussion about ultra-endurance racing.  This Michelin map of the American West provides a surprising amount of detail.

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Strawberries, not nearly as common as raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb, abundant while we house-sat for Dan Bailey.

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I also hosted two cyclists during the summer, this rider from Japan and another rider from France.  I do my best to help some of the hundreds of touring cyclists who pass through Anchorage in a summer.  Recently, I enjoyed the company of Adela and Kris, two Polish riders slowly making their ways round the world.  Check out their travels at biketheworld.pl.

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Salmon, even more common than berries in the summer.

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Working in a bike shops keeps me close to the “industry” for a minute, as a wave of mid-fat bikes arrive to market.  This Trek Stache+ and the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie FSR are widely lauded, and look like a fun and useful extension of fatbikes.  As fatbike sales eventually stagnate, we will continue to see the influence of large volume rubber elsewhere in the industry.

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Long nights leave ample opportunity to play in the city.  This beach is accessed from the end of the paved Coastal Trail at Kincaid Park, or by connecting a series of singletrack mountain bike trails.  This beach is often rideable through the winter.

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Salmon over the fire.

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Bike rides of various kinds filled my summer, although I only left Anchorage city limits twice.  

Riding to check in with Nate and the family.  It is always cool to see the evolution of his family bike circus.  Elin is riding a Yepp seat on the Big Dummy. 

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Her Revelate Designs Feedbag is stocked with Cheerios.

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Bill, co-owner of the 9zero7 fatbike brand is training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the full 1000 mile distance.  Christina tries to defeat Bill, unsuccessfully.

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Riding with Tamra, Lael’s local adventuring partner, and James, Lael’s brother.  They each bought their first mountain bikes this summer.  Bright colors are popular in the industry right now.

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Riding to rub shoulders with the after-hours crowd at Speedway Cycles, home of the Fatback.  Greg Matyas is good at keeping the shop stocked with beer.  Greg bought a special bottle to celebrate Lael’s first Divide ride.

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 Riding to visit family.

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And riding until finally, after midnight, the sun sets in the north.

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Silver City, NM

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On a whim, I bought a plane ticket to Tucson to meet Lael at the finish of her second Divide ride.  I spent the weekend with friends, Lucas and Monica, who recently moved away from Anchorage.

Lucas had just received a Lenz Mammoth, one of several 29+ full-suspension bikes made by Devin Lenz for Mike Curiak.  Two models have been dubbed the Fatmoth and the Fatillac.

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We spent the day building the bike and following Lael’s SPOT tracker through the Gila, anticipating storms and her late night passage through town.  While we went riding in the evening on the new bike. a severe thunderstorm rolled in, dropping just less than 3 inches of rain at the Silver City airport.  Only later did I learn that Lael hardly got wet, although there were many signs of flash flooding.

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That’s one Fatass rear end.

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Gomez Peak Trail System, looking north into the Gila and into a night of thunderstorms.

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Silver City is a great old western mining town, still supported in part by several local mines, Western New Mexico University, and a healthy population of local business.

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Lucas leads the way around town.  Gotta love a town with a proper main street, this one called Bullard St.

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Old buildings.

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Local beer.

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Gila Hike and Bike stocks Adventure Cycling maps for the Great Divide and Southern Tier routes, and supports a vibrant local cycling community.

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Local music, including friends Tim and Chloe, formerly of the Bike Haus in Silver City, also one-time residents of Albuquerque when we lived there a few years ago.

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The Bike Haus is locally famous as an informal guesthouse and cultural center for cyclists.  Jamie, who owns the house, rents rooms to a rotating cast of interesting people and on occasion, touring cyclists are invited to stay.  The property is full of bikes and puppets; a Seussian garden encircles the house.  I stayed here back in 2011 on my first ride down the Divide.

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I welded a welcome sign at the local Bike Works community bike shop back in 2011, which still hangs from the porch.  That was my first time ever using such a machine, some kind of wire-feed welder.

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I drove down to Antelope Wells to catch Lael at the finish, arriving a few hours early.  I passed her on the final paved stretch to the border.

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Waiting at the end, at the least used border crossing between the US and Mexico.

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Helmet hair, round two.  

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Anchorage, AK

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Back in Anchorage we prepare for our next micro-adventure, a trip to Las Vegas for Interbike and a ride on the Arizona Trail.  While Texas was the intended target after the Divide, it was cheaper for Lael to return to Anchorage for a few weeks than to kick around the SW, especially as we intended to go to Interbike.  The Texas situation is somewhat tenuous, thinking about Tucson for the winter.

Lost Lake, Seward, AK

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Oh, and carbon frames don’t resist abrasion very well.  Steel and titanium win this division, followed by aluminum.  Carbon comes in last.  But the ride is nice, and light.  

That is a pinky-sized hole in the seatstay of Lael’s Stumpjummper.  I suspect she rode it that way from Lime, MT to the finish.

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The chainstay has much more material and for some reason, also features more generous tire clearance than the seatstay.  The frame has been replaced, the complete bike sold to some awesome folks in Anchorage.  Mary walked away with a 22lb gravel shredder, complete with custom framebag and dynamo lighting system.

Mary, the woman who bought the bike, lived in Crested Butte, CO from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s, and told stories of housing some of the great names in mountain biking on her couch or floor.  Wes Willams of Willets fame– strapped for cash– once paid his rent in the form of a custom titanium frame.  She claims that was frame #3.  Mary painted that frame with flowers.   

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Las Vegas, NV

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This is a familiar task, building bikes and riding away from the airport.  Conveniently this airport is in the middle of the city, although I only packed a pile of bike parts.  My new custom Meriwether frame was shipped to Las Vegas.

To prepare for the show, Eric asked that we make custom Revelate t-shirts.  Lael rebranded her two cotton race jerseys from this past year.  The Alaska Grown tee was a gift from her grandmother, and accompanied her on her second Divide ride.  The Keeping It Real shirt was purchased at a t-shirt shop in Israel and is now locally famous for crushing the HLC route across that country.

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Set up for the show.  Friday is the last day of Interbike.  We will be at the Revelate Designs booth 21186 for most of the day.  Otherwise, we’ll be walking around the show jamming our pockets full of tubeless sealant and nutrition bars.  

In an exciting twist, it sounds like Skyler and Panthea will be meeting us this weekend for an extended AZ jaunt.  We’ll all going in the same direction at the same, although we’ve never met and we don’t have any real travel plans.  With little more than a few Facebook messages, we’ll roll out of Vegas this weekend, headed for southern Utah and the northern terminus of the AZT.  The new pink frame is going to get a workout.  Back on the road in 3, 2, 1…  

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