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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