Picketpost to the end on the Arizona Trail

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Lael on her Specialized Era Expert in the hills around Mt. Lemmon.  The AZT is an incredible resource.  For an alternate cross-Arizona route consider blending the AZT with the Flagstone 500 route which incorporates Sedona, some of the Coconino Loop, and the Black Canyon Trail, thereby avoiding paved detours along the middle section of the AZT.  Both are worthwhile routes through the state.  The Arizona Trail, or more accurately the AZT750 version for mountain bikes, should make every avid bikepacker’s list.  Check out Part I (Utah to Flagstaff) and Part II (Flagstaff to Picketpost) from our travels on the Arizona Trail.

She introduces herself as Corinna.  Asking where she is from, a question which is similarly challenging for us to answer, we receive a short history of her life.  She has recently taken a new job as a librarian in Durango.  She rides a Salsa El Mariachi.  The staff at Velorution Cycles are knowledgable and supportive, she tells us, and this is her first solo bikepacking trip.  This is her third, or perhaps fourth morning on the Arizona Trail.  We’ve been living on the trail for over two weeks, minus a five-day layover in Flagstaff during the rain.  Sitting with legs crossed, mixing Emergen-C vitamin drinks and dining on rice crackers and apples, the first thing I notice at eye level is the pattern of bloody scratches on her shins.  Ours looked the same just a few days ago, although by now the lightly scabbed wounds hardly show.  We inquire, knowingly, about the trail ahead.  We share similar details of the trail north of Oracle: overgrown, hard to find, and prickly.  But we’re happy to report— as we are crossing paths in opposite directions— that she is soon to enjoy the smoothest part of the entire Arizona Trail in the downhill direction.  If she was overjoyed at the good trail ahead, she doesn’t show it, nor do we grimace to learn that more leg scarring thorns lay ahead.  Like choosing to go cycling in England, you can’t hate the rain.  You can’t hate Arizona for rocks and thorns and 90 degree heat.  Most of the time, being here is pure desert bliss.    

We arrive at the Picketpost Trailhead, the beginning of this section and the end of the long detour around multiple wilderness zones, with great excitement.  From our last time in Arizona in 2013 when we connected from Tucson back towards Phoenix via this route, this section was one of our favorite routes in the state.  The trail climbs several thousand feet along rideable singletrack to a series of high points, tracing high lines on the walls of deep canyons, plummeting down to the Gila River and the lowest point on the entire AZT.  The trail from Hwy 60 (Picketpost) to the small community of Kelvin on the Gila River is the keystone in the AZT, the most recently completed section of trail.  It is also the most stunning ridable section of trail— thereby excepting the Grand Canyon and sections of the Highline Trail.  This section is nearly 100% rideable.

Descending to the Gila River mid-afternoon, we spend more than an hour swimming in the shade.  By the time we are back on the bikes, the sun is low in the sky.  Even though we know better, we’ve miscalculated the remaining distance to Kelvin, where we hope to refill our waters.  The silty Gila River would be fine if treated, although we’re only traveling with a few spare chemical treatment tablets from South Africa with dubious properties.  The remaining 15 or 16 miles are wonderful riding, a little longer than expected, a little more topography than expected, and naturally, a little slower in the dark.  As we close to within 7 miles of Kelvin, in the dark, we both run out of water.  I have been rationing for the last hour and am quickly thirsty.  Without spoken agreement, we begin riding faster, grunting up short steep climbs, trusting the shadows and riding blind around tight corners.  It is an exhilarating ride fueled by desperate thirst.  We arrive without water, although Lael exhumes a small bottle of spirits out of her framebag and we wet our lips like sunburnt cowboys.  For a moment, it quenches the thirst.  We race the final mile to Kelvin for water.  Up the road there is supposed to be a trailer court.  We travel in that direction, into the darkness, but soon return to the glowing yellow lights of the locked ADOT yard.  I climb and squeeze between the gate and load all of our bottles and bladders with brackish, yet potable tap water.  Outside the fence we each consume over two liters while laying in the gravel, enjoying the feeling of mid-summer in October, now at 1600ft in southern Arizona. I return to refill our bottles, tearing the back of my cut-off t-shirt on a piece of barbed wire.  We roll away to camp for the night.

The following afternoon, forty or forty five miles down the trail towards Oracle, we cross a large wash and a low point on our track.  Rain clouds loom overhead, and only a short distance stands between us and our next resupply in the town of Oracle. I reason that we could arrive just after dark, perhaps and hour after sunset, two hours maximum.  Lael is skeptical, fooled one too many times by me, by straight-line mileage, and by the Arizona Trail.  We scout a route down into the valley, where we expect to find a paved road and several towns.  We race down Camp Grant Wash, keeping to the crusted sediments along the edges of the dry seasonal riverbed, avoiding the soft jeep tracks in the center.  We arrive at the railroad line adjacent to the road and ride the remaining miles into Mammoth in the dark.  It is a long detour for food, but since we are traveling without shelter, it also assures some chance of finding cover if needed.  We eat canned beans from the Dollar General and fresh pico de gallo from the new Mexican grocery next to the Circle K.  We sleep in town for the night, on a hill just above the main road.  In the morning we ride back out to the mouth of the wash and back up toward the trail.

Leading the way up the wash without GPS– as I have attached it to Lael’s handlebars for this trip– I miss the turn onto the trail.  I continue further and further up the wash until nothing looks familiar, thinking the trail crossing is still ahead of me.  I push towards rock outcroppings and even a windmill, faint recollections from yesterday afternoon.  But in different light, in a different direction, nothing looks familiar and I am lost. I could go back the way I came, but I feel like the AZT should still be ahead of me, or right near me, and I don’t know how to admit defeat and turn back.  I ride up a well-travelled side drainage toward the south, reasoning that I will at least cross the AZT at some point, but I don’t.  I climb and climb and climb the sandy track, desperate at least to gain some view of something.  By the time I reach elevation, I am hopeless that I can solve this riddle and resolute that I must retrace my steps, all of them.  But by that time I figure Lael will have left the wash, and would have gone back to Mammoth or toward Oracle on the AZT.  We don’t have cell service, nor an obvious meeting place.  I crest the hill and continue along the road.  I cross the Arizona Trail and begin back toward the wash.  But I discover that I am actually headed in the wrong direction, toward Oracle and away from Lael.  I reverse my route and now begin riding toward the wash on the AZT, about two thousand feet below.  The trail climbs and falls over a series of rounded peaks in these folded mountains.  I’m charging around corners at race pace, trying to make the most of my mistake and to find Lael as soon as I can.  Coming down the final rocky ridge toward the wash, I finally spot Lael walking her bike up the ridge.  We’re overjoyed at the encounter, nearly two hours after we split.  She decided, finally, that she would continue toward Oracle.  She left a note at the trailhead in the wash.  I fall to the ground, needing a proper meal.  Lael is crying and laughing.  It feels like a miracle, but we soon pack up and begin toward Oracle, together.

In three days, we’ve run out of water, run out of food, and lost each other.  That’s the price of riding like vaqueros, too confident in our abilities and in my sense of direction.  That, and the final ride to Oracle is a mess of overgrown trail, hard to follow and famously prickly.  That is how our legs came to wear all these scabs and scars, branding from the trail.  That is how Corrina and Lael and I commune upon meeting.  

The rains finally arrive in Oracle, and we seek shelter for the night under cover of $1.50 pints of Miller Lite at the Oracle Inn and a country band with a digital drummer.  We sleep under the pavilion to the side of the post office.  Gusting winds blow the rain sideways and I barricade our exposed down bags by turning several picnic tables on their sides.  In the morning, we resupply and head up Oracle Ridge.  

Oracle Ridge holds great weight around here, much like the Highline Trail and the Grand Canyon—these are the epic obstacles on an otherwise challenging route.  But, Oracle Ridge isn’t as bad as we had expected.  There is some rideable trail, some easy hiking, and some shrubby overgrown trail which could be a lot worse, which is proof that the trail isn’t very good.  The fact that this is still the Arizona Trail is remarkable considering the many sections of trail which receive frequent maintenance, seemingly swept clean on a daily basis.  We reason that even though we are carrying our bikes up 4,000ft, most people wouldn’t be able to ride much of the descent anyway.  About six hours after leaving Oracle, we exit the trail at Summerhaven, 20 miles and 4000ft away from our starting point.

The AZT750 continues along a prolonged stretch of pavement around wilderness, including a long descent, which stings after such a hard-fought ascent.  We enjoy the mellow pedal down Mt. Lemmon and seek shelter for a third night under the overhang of a locked concrete block toilet shelter in a closed campground.  In the night, we rearrange ourselves to avoid pooling water from the rain.  

Our ride resumes as the AZT exits wilderness, on a section of trail between Molina Campground and Redington Road, where it detours yet again around wilderness, channeling us into Tucson for the night.  Leaving Tucson begins a manicured section of trail through Saguaro Nation Park, the Colossal Cave area, across Cienega Creek, and under I-10.  And that’s where we meet Corrina, the only cyclist we meet along the entire AZT.

We tell her that we’re from Alaska, that we work seasonally and spend much of the year riding bikes.  She pauses, and asks our names.  

“Nicholas.” 

“And I’m Lael.”

Corinna informs us that she followed Lael’s Divide rides this summer and that it inspired her to get out and ride the AZT by herself.  

“Don’t curse me when the trail goes to shit”, Lael clarifies, distancing herself from responsibility.  “Mostly, the Arizona Trail makes me want to ride a road bike.”  

We laugh and point our tires in opposite directions.  

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Resupply, bold is on route: Superior, Kelvin (water), Kearny, Oracle, Summerhaven, Tucson, La Sevilla (water), Sonoita, Patagonia

Superior is 4 mi from Picketpost, Kearny is 7 miles off route, Oracle is 2 mi from the road crossing, Tucson is minimum 1.5 miles to decent resupply.  Kelvin is water, only.  

 

Download the complete AZT750 track at Topofusion.com.  Get current water date from Fred Gaudet’s site.

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Leaving the Picketpost Trailhead toward Picketpost Mountain.

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The trail reaches a series of high points.  The jeep track indicates the next high point in the distance, although the trail is hidden along the hillsides to the right.

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Epic AZT.  Rideable AZT.

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Coming over the third and final high point.

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Beginning the descent down to the Gila River.

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Ocotillo.

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Saguaro.

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The 15 or 16 miles along the Gila River seem to catch many people off guard.  Don’t underestimate this section.  There is some great riding, but these aren’t free miles.

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This is the Gila River.  Lael shares with me that on the Tour Divide, she sang the tune of the song “Tequila” to herself in the night while riding through the Gila.  Insert “the Gila” into the song, in place of “tequila”, then repeat the tune over and over and over.  These are the secrets to riding 200 mile days.

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Into the night, out of water.

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Kelvin is just a dot on the map, no services other than water are available.  Kearny is about 7 miles down the road from here if necessary.  Oracle is another 60 miles of mostly singletrack.

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The Gila River.

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The much-loved Ripsey segment.  Views and high quality ridgetop singletrack.

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The Meriwether is at home on many of these trails.  I think less often about full-suspension bikes, as a result.  

I’m happy to see a hardtail revival in the new breed of 27.5+ bikes like the Advocate Hayduke, Jamis Dragonslayer, and Marin Pine Mountain 2, but why are 29” trail hardtails losing steam, especially with the now common wide trail rims?  Even a company like Salsa, who claims the “Adventure by bike” motto, allows their El Mariachi 29er hardtail to languish in mediocrity while chasing esoteric “bikepacking” models?  

I replaced my broken front derailleur in Flagstaff with a Shimano SLX direct mount unit.  

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We’ve learned a lot in the past year, or year and a half.  In that time Lael has learned how to navigate by GPS, she’s ridden three different bikes, and clocked a whole lot of miles and saddle time.  Riding the Specialized Era on the AZT is a really positive experience, and puts her technical skills on a fast track.

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I cut my rear tire sidewall, a Maxis Ardent EXO casing.  Lael adds stitching sidewalls to her toolbox.

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At Freeman Rd., a little used trailhead provides a much needed water cache along this 60 mile stretch of trail between Oracle and Kelvin.  A local motel owner in Oracle stocks this cache, and leaves his business card with a welcoming note.  

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Cholla forests plus wind equal lots of cholla in the trail, lots of cholla in our tires, and lots of cholla in our legs.

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Windmills and washes.  This section isn’t the most scenic, but the riding is great and old ranching history is abundant.

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Camp Grant Wash, our detour route to Mammoth.

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The threat of thunderstorms leaves little more than a few drops, but an impressive rainbow.

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In rural Arizona, you can count on Circle K.

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Mammoth.

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Camp Grant Wash features a substantial freshwater seep.  We pulled water straight from the source.

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The remaining trail to Oracle is overgrown with dry grasses, which are losing lots of sharp seeds this time of year.  Acacia thwart low points and drainages.  Cholla pepper the hillsides.  

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Oracle.

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Oracle State Park, en route to Oracle Ridge.  The first miles out of Oracle are great!

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Mt. Lemmon and Oracle ridge loom in the distance.  Thunderstorms threaten.

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Classic AZT signage.

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The smoother side of the AZT.

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This is the part where we joke about how pleasant Oracle Ridge is, before the trail turns up, and before the trail nearly disappears.

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There are some rideable sections of singletrack, and a substantial section of jeep track in the middle which is rideable.

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There is a trail in there somewhere…

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Looking east over the San Pedro River.

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Rocky, overgrown, but not too bad with the bike.  There is a nicer way to ascend or descend, along the Oracle-Mt. Lemmon Rd., a winding graded dirt road connecting Oracle and Summerhaven.

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Some riding.

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Ducking and crawling with the bikes.

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The final section includes some on and off riding, although there are definitely several miles without riding.  We’re happy not to have to fight thorns, at least.

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The paved Catalina Highway takes as back to 5000ft.  This is one hell of a road climb from Tucson.  

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Shelter from the storm.  Mostly, traveling without a tent has been a blessing.  Instead, we brought a simple ground cloth and our sleeping bags and pads.  Lael is using an XS Therm-a-rest Prolite pad, and I’m on a 99cent windshield sunshade.

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Just over the hill from the Molino Basin Campground.

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There is a lot of clear freshwater this time of year.  We both bathe and splash for a bit.

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The AZT750 route soon departs the actual AZT again as the trail continues into the Rincon Mountain Wilderness.

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The AZT750 take a series of rough 4×4 tracks back to Redington Road, an unpaved access road connecting us with metro Tucson.

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Redington Road is all guns, and lite beer, and 4x4s.

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Leaving Tucson, following a pleasant paved section of about 15 miles, we reconnect with some of the smoothest singletrack of the entire route in Saguaro National Park.

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Water at La Sevilla Picnic area, between Saguaro NP and I-10.

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We continue south of I-10 on more super smooth trail, trying to finish in time to get back north for an upcoming weather window, which will be essential for Lael’s AZT750 ITT.

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Corinna, from Durango, CO on her Salsa El Mariachi with 1×10 drivetrain and Maxxis Ardent 29×2.4” tires.  She is the only bikepacker we met on the entire trail.  Read Corinna’s story about bikepacking the AZT300 on the Velorution site.

Lael later admits that she is surprised to meet a woman alone on the trail.  I suppose it gives her some perspective regarding all the strange reactions she has gotten while traveling alone.  

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The AZT: hike, horse, and bike.

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We peel away from the trail at Sonoita, needing time to get back north so that Lael can do it all again.  I thus continue a pattern started 8 years ago.  I have never completed a route or trail.  There is always reason to come back.

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Our shins will heal and we’ll be back for more of the AZT.  Arizona will always be one of our favorite places to ride.

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Flagstaff-Sedona-Flagstaff (-Sedona)

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Daily, we focus on moving forward.  Not that we are working hard toward an end destination, nor are we riding particularly fast or far in a single day, but we are always going somewhere, eventually.  On this occasion, with the opportunity to ride for a few days with our friend Jeremy, from Santa Fe, NM, we opt for something a little less directionally purposeful.  Rather, we set out to enjoy riding and camping for a few days, even if we return to same place from which we are to begin.  As is often said, “it’s the journey”.  

He head out of Flagstaff with a loose sense of tracks and trails in the area.  The AZT immediately shuttles us south of town.

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Alternating soft and rocky conditions are no match for Jeremy’s well-used Surly Pugsley.  I chase his tracks– a pair of Surly Nate treads, one of which I passed on to him last spring.  He’s thinking about a more trail specific 29er, or 29+; most likely rigid, ideally with a truss-style fork; definitely steel.  He’s nearly got all the details of his dream bike dialed, now how to get his hands on it, exactly?  A custom frame, a stock Jones frame with truss fork, a Surly?  Inevitably, many of our conversations lead back to ‘the frame”. 

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The ten miles of AZT south of Flagstaff is dreamy.  Sculpted from the land, the riding is easy, and surefooted– and fun.

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The trail rises onto a rocky mesa for the next few miles, before descending down to Lake Mary Road.  

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Beautiful views from up here.  Aside from some crumbly volcanic rock, the trail is also well-travelled by cattle in the summer.  The riding is not bad, but a bit bumpy.

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The San Francisco Peaks slowly disappear behind us.  Including the tallest peaks in the state, they remain visible from a long way off.

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Crossing Lake Mary Road, we return to forested singletrack, similar to the trail south of town.  Pine needles soften the ride.  

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We find camp for the night in an open meadow, and set up our tents in anticipation of a cold night, and the morning sun.  Jeremy procures a large piece of deadfall to burn.

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We enjoy a dinner of root vegetables, including beets, turnips, and potatoes– Jeremy’s usual trail food.

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By morning, the tent is glazed with frost from the inside– frozen exhalations of two people from a long fall night.  Nights are getting even longer.  By the time we arrive in Alaska, the days will be gaining light, nearly.

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The fire restarts with some stirring of last night’s coals.  We misjudged the sun by a few degrees, so are thankful for a fire in the morning.  

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Packed up by 9:30 or 10AM, typical of this time of year.  

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The AZT follows an old section of railroad (c.1923), tasked with hauling timber from the area.  

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We encounter a long-distance hiker, out to enjoy a few weeks of the trail.  We offer a couple of fresh apples.  We know what it is like to be on the other side of someone’s questions.  If you ever catch yourself grilling a hiker or cyclist about their travels, offer some food or hospitality in trade.  We all wear a look that says, “Will trade stories for food”.

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Digressing from the AZT, we connect a series of forest service roads towards Sedona.  I plug the Coconino Loop into the GPS to navigate this section of our route.  Mostly, we’re following routes and tracks from Bikepacking.net.  Thanks to Scott Morris for the tracks, and for making the resource available to all of us.

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Under I-17.

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On our way to Sedona.  Schnebly Hill Road is a rough route near town, on;y 12 miles from here.  For less capable vehicles, some alternates are suggested– good news for us.

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It begins rather innocuously.

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Changing, as we near Sedona, and a 2000ft descent.

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In lieu of the rough descent down Schnebly Hill Road, we drop into the Munds Wagon Trail for an even more challenging singletrack descent towards town. 

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The trail parallels the road, and offers a few chances to get on or off the trail, and to lose Jeremy along the way.

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In town, we shoot for the healthy foods store.  There are more than a few choices in Sedona.

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We head for the trails, and for the hills, for a place to lay our heads for the night.  Technically, there is no camping anywhere in or near town.  However, there is lots of open space about town, amidst the city’s hundreds of miles of multi-use trails.  

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By morning, we decide on an approximate plan for the next few days.  We’ll make some loops around Sedona, then will head back towards Flagstaff.  Without a map, we begin by connecting back to the Coconino Loop Route, beginning the day with a hike-a-bike on a section of the Lime Kiln Trail.

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Eventually, the trail mellows, and we cross through Red Rock State Park.

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Connecting trail down to Oak Creek for a refreshing dip in its clear waters.  Cool clear surface water is unusual in Arizona.

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With our sights set on some trails south of town, we ride back into the afternoon sun.

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On a cliff next to Cathedral Rock is one of several locations where energetic, spiritual vortexes are claimed near Sedona.  Some weird people hang in around this town.  Spend a few hours at the healthy food store to see what I mean.  

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The only vortices we encounter are the snaking and circling singletrack trails.  Sedona’s system of trails is one of the best anywhere.

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The trails are incredibly well built, making rideable terrain out of the undulating, rocky desert.  Features such as armored gullies ensure a durable surface under the tires of thousands of riders to come.

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Slickrock trails are reminiscent of Moab’s famed routes.  

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WIth two days of local exploration under our belts, we turn back up Schnebly Hill Road, to retrace our steps back to Flagstaff.  On pavement, the two towns are less than thirty miles apart.  This route is more like 40-45mi.

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Atop Schnebly, we catch our final glimpse of Sedona.  Memories of red rocks are caked around our hubs and rims.  

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Now told as stories around the campfire.  Sedona has left a strong impression.

One last camp, and one final campfire with Jeremy before the short ride back to Flagstaff.

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Jeremy will surely be back to Sedona, and the AZT.  We’ll be back in Sedona sooner than later.

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Back within close range of the San Francisco Peaks, nearing Flagstaff.

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Sandstone canyons, just south of town.

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And the beautiful wastewater effluent pond, under the interstate, that marks the connection of the city’s Urban Trail System to the AZT.  Flagstaff is a great place to spend another day.  We’re glad to be back.

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Flagstaff notes:

Cheap gear repair is available on San Francisco St., including basic stitching and zipper repair.  Look for the sign below.

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Amtrak runs from Los Angeles to Chicago, and many places in between.  Tickets aren’t as cheap, as they used to be, but it is still an easy way to travel with a bike.  Jeremy took the train from ABQ to Flagstaff for about $60, and a few extra dollars for the bike.  Tickets increased for his return trip home, so after a few hours on the roadside, he caught a ride home.

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I’ve been using these Velo Orange Grand Cru Sabot pedals for about a year, on a variety of bikes.  The platform is huge, with a slight concavity that improves grip and comfort.  On the Raleigh, with a high bottom bracket, pedal strike is rarely an issue, as I’ve experienced on other bikes.  However, I managed to bash the pedals in Sedona more than a few times, and the pedal body has held up well  The bearings still spin smooth, with very little play.  I dripped some lightweight lube into the bearings of one pedal several months ago to silence a slight creak.  After a reluctant start a year ago, I’ve grown quite fond of them.

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We’re headed back to Sedona for another few days of riding.  Incidentally, a certain Alaskan framebag maker will also be there for a few days, so I hope to catch up with him for a ride.    

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Kokopelli’s Trail: Fruita, CO to Moab, UT

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When routeplanning from afar– via internet and memory from Ukraine– riding Kokopelli’s Trail across the state line from Colorado to Utah stood out as a good starting point.  In such wide open country with so many roads, routes and trails, a signed and mapped route such as this is a blessing.  It builds confidence in the kind of riding found in the area to be able to follow a popular route for a bit.  It reminds us how to carry four days of food and as much as 8 liters of water apiece.  We’re a long way from Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Czech, Germany, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands– it has been a good summer.  For me, autumn in the cool dry air of the mountainous west is the capstone to a third consecutive summer.  Sleeping under starry skies under a frosty tent amongst juniper and sage and aspen is starting to feel like home.    

Kokopelli’s Trail, officially arranged by the BLM as a bicycling route from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT measures about 142mi in length.  Several distinct sections exist: a dozen miles of singletrack trails leave Fruita, miles of high desert dirt roads with brief interruption of rougher jeep tracks fit in the middle, and a push up and over the LaSal mountains to Moab finishes the route in the E-W direction.  The final section contains most of the climbing of the entire route, with several-thousand foot ascents and descents, along the canyons and ridges of the LaSal range.  The middle portion, on the high desert plains, is subject to becoming quite sticky following precipitation, due to a high content of clay in the soil.  Otherwise, it is fast and fun Divide-style riding  The first miles out of Fruita are sublime, especially when consider as part of a longer-distance touring route.  

For experienced mountain bikers, the concept of carrying supplies over several days may be a challenge, with great reward.  For the experienced cycletourist accustomed to ‘roads’, the riding will likely be the challenge, a step up from the open roads of the Divide, for example.  The scenery, for all, is unbeatable.  For us, it is a happy welcome back to the country.

Our ride begins at nightfall.  Within several miles, rain showers and precipitous cliffs send us dashing into our tent, illegally camping along the local singletrack circuit.  At dawn, we quickly pack up to begin riding some of the most beautiful singletrack we’ve encountered.  These trails are, let us not forget, central to the sport of mountain biking in the US.  Nearby is Horsethief Bench, for instance.     

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Above the Colorado River.

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Lael makes use of the backpack purchased in Ukraine.  It has never been our intention to ride with a pack, but our hurried start left us with three full-sized bike magazines, part of a 12 oz. bottle of Stan’s sealant, about 16L of water, and four days of food.  At the time, it was easier to load the pack with lightweight flotsam than to bother with framebag or saddlebag wizardry.  We hate to admit, but a proper backpack could be a viable solution for someone looking to expand their capacity.  It is much easier to accept a monkey on the back on a cold rainy day, than on a sweaty afternoon.  There is something comforting about the extra layer on a cold morning.  I still don’t think I could do it mid-summer.

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With rain threatening, we keep an eye on our escape routes.  We are aware of the tacky potential of western roads and trails.

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However, the Fruita trail system is well designed and drained, mostly composed of rock and sand.

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Except when we stray off route onto a jeep track, and push through clay until our bikes no longer roll.  After a few minutes, we cover enough distance to make it apparent on my GPS that we have lost the route.  I know exactly where we strayed.  

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A thick layer of mud coats our shoes.

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Back on track, we enjoy a singletrack descent to clear our tires of clay.  

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Eventually, reaching a tributary of the Colorado River, we descend and cross a set of train tracks.  With an eye on nearby 1-70, we consider the option of routing around potentially tacky roads ahead.  

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We break for lunch to reassess.  Not much changes in this time– rain to the north, less menacing white clouds to the south.  We continue.

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Climbing away from the river, pushing as much as riding on some rocky trails, we reach open desert plains adjacent to I-70.

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The roads we encounter are composed of sand and gravel, mostly, and make for fast riding.  A tailwind reminds me that I also enjoy long days on open dirt roads– such as on the Divide.  Chunky sections of trail have me dreaming of a Surly Krampus, but these roads lead my thoughts to a drop-bar Velo Orange Camargue

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I’ve been looking for a good piece of steel wire to repair my pot stand for my stove.  Not much barbed wire in Ukraine, but plenty of extra in the US.  This scrap will do nicely to repair my cook system.

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All is well, until a change in elevation, through changing geology.

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Dead in our tracks, no sooner than ten feet into this stuff!  Unfortunately, once the bike doesn’t roll, it has become no easier to carry thanks to pounds and pounds of mud.

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Looking forward to a 300ft ascent on sticky slippery clay, we heft our bikes into a nearby meadow for the night.

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By morning, no rain has fallen.  Clearer skies and some sun allow us to roll our bikes up the grade.  At the top, we ride our bikes back and forth on dry, sandy dirt roads to release as much clay as possible.  We clean and lube everything as best as possible, and ride on.

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Lael has a new pair of tires.  The rear, a 2.25″ On-One Smorgasbord looks like a cross between my Schwalbe Hans Dampf and the Nobby Nic she used this summer.  The front, a 2.4″ Chunky Monkey is exactly as it sounds– chunky.  Only sixty dollars for the pair–less than the price of one EXO Maxxis Ardent tire or a tubeless ready Schwalbe– this is an unbeatable price in a tire this size. The tires are constructed of thick rubber, making them suitable for use in rough country without fear of flimsy sidewalls.  They set up tubeless without any troubles.  I hope and expect that at $30 apiece, they are composed of an inexpensive, durable rubber.  Funny how this works, but cheaper mountain bike tires often use longer-wearing rubber.

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While Kokopelli is well signed, rock-cairns are user-maintained to help along the way.  If nothing else, they add an element of discovery to the process.

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A brief portion of pavement leads back down to the Colorado River.  

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We detour towards the Westwater Ranger Station in hope of finding fresh water.  The river could be a water source, although it is a bit silty.  However, the ranger station serves filtered water through an outdoor spigot.  It is operational mid-October, even despite the government shutdown.  

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These facilities are mostly aimed at floaters and paddlers on the river.  Campsites, pit toilets and fresh water are available.

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Riding away across more open plains is a joy, even packed with as much water as we can carry.  Almost all official resources state that there is “no water along the route”.  This proved to be untrue more than a half-dozen times, although Westwater provided the only source that did not require treatment.  A short 1.5 mi detour is nearly on the route, I say.

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Loping near, but not next to the Colorado River, we encounter changing scenery and conditions.

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Until at last, we are next to the river itself.  One perfect campsite beckons, about it is an hour earlier than we have planned to camp.  

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A quick swim will suffice.

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We encounter several curious fatbike tracks.  Incidentally, some internet stalking had lead to these details an hour before starting our trip in Fruita.  From Twitter:

Back from WA and running shuttle for the Kokopelli Trail with Dave and Jonny!

 

I met Zachary by chance in Kremmling, CO last summer while riding the Divide Route, soon after he had bought his white Pugsley. I lent some Divide maps to him, and borrowed some local maps from him. Now I was following his tracks, as well as the tracks of two other fatbikers.

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Crossing the pavement.  I guarantee that our byway is more scenic than this paved byway.

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Just before camping for the night, we slither along slickrock until the trail become difficult to follow by natural light.

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This is my favorite place to be this time of year.

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Rounding the first corner in the morning puts our sights on a new goal– the LaSal Mountains.  Moab is over and around those snowy peaks.

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Sandy slickrock trails are made possible by Jeeps and other motorized users.  

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Here signage for bicycles and motorized vehicles coexist, not that you couldn’t piece together routes from all of these resources.  

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Back down to the Colorado, across highway 128 again.  We could be in Moab this afternoon on the pavement, but that wouldn’t be as much fun. 

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Another swim, and another clean and lube at lunch before heading into the mountains.  It is warm in the sun, and cool in the shade– just how I like it.  Lael still talks about going to Mexico daily.

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We expect a big climb to the top, and then a big descent into Moab.  As we are mostly following trail signage and a GPS track on my tiny eTrex, we lose some of the perspective gained by a large-scale paper map.  I overlook several thousand-foot descents and ascents while relaying upcoming trail info to Lael.  Anymore, she doesn’t believe anything I say.

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Another water source.  Clear, with only a bit of grit and grime.

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Up…

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…and back down.

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The erosional patterns in such a climate, though sedimentary rock, form deep canyons and ridges.  Thus, the route climbs up and down several times before ascending over the mountains to Moab.

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Recent rains leave more than just water in the streams.

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From pavement, to roads that aren’t roads, Kokopelli is diverse.  This looks more like a rockfall, included as part of the route, although Jeep tracks were founds all down the length.  Needless to say, we carried our bikes.  A proper mountain bike is a good choice.

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Another night in the tent, which we are mostly using to stay warm.  We love sleeping out under the stars in dry climates, although the tent retains 10-15 extra degrees.  Our bags also stay dry and lofted throughout the night inside the tent.

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Quickly, sun fades the memory of a cold night.  This time of year, we are prepared with fleece gloves, long wool socks, and sleeping bag liners

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Frozen fields at five or six thousand feet.

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We encounter yet another water source listed on our GPS track near a remote campground.  The water smells of sulfur, but looks clear.  We picked up a USB-rechargeable Steripen Freedom in Denver.  For now, we are putting faith into this little blue light.  For reliable water treatment in the desert, I might still consider a physical filter, especially with an effective pre-filter for sediment.

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Up toward the peaks, past six, seven, and eight thousand feet.

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From here, we look back on the first few miles of riding this morning.  A long circuitous route is often necessary in canyon country.

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Nearing the top of the route, we enter aspen ablaze for the season, and some remnant snow from an early-season storm.

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From the top of the route, we look forward to a big descent into Moab.

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Around the corner, dirt turns to pavement.  Surely, we didn’t climb all this way to descent into town on pavement?

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Two thousand feet below, the routes turns up again, still on pavement.  It climbs back to 8500ft, before turning onto dirt for the last time.  Never underestimate the features in canyon country.

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Turning onto a popular trail system outside of Moab is a treat.  Now, we ascend to town, where pizza and beer, or some such delicacy, saves us from dining on the last of our peanut butter and pepper jack cheese for the night.

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Moab is densely used by many.  “Share the trail” is nearly as strongly encouraged as “Stay on the trail”.  The desert is a fragile place.

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Down into town by sunset.

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Nearly, by sunset.  Descending past BLM campgrounds into town, we ask about the possibility of finding a place to camp for the night.  Wild camping is a challenge this close to town, and all the campsites are full due to the government shutdown and a popular Jeep Jamboree.  A friendly government employee from Montana offers a place for the night in his campsite.  It seems being let off from work for a few weeks has some perks.

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For further information about the Kokopelli Trail, including a GPS file of the route, the Bikepacking.net website is an invaluable resource for numerous bikepacking routes.  Thanks to Scott Morris, curator of the fine Bikepacking.net and Trackleaders.com websites as well as Topofusion mapping software, for helping with some last minute learning curves associated with Garmin software and my new eTrex 20 device.  The GPS has become an essential tool for me, despite some initial frustrations.  Check out Scott’s personal ride diary for a healthy dose of backcountry riding.  His ride reports date back to 2003!     

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Headed south, looking forward to places like Lockhart Basin, Bridger Jack, Cottonwood Canyon, Needles, Beef Basin, Elephant Hill, and Arizona!