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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Bikes+AZT

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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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