Charley Parr, Blackburn’s movie “Comes With Baggage,” some Sierra Nevada IPAs and camp fire would close the night out for the 2015 Tour of the White Mountains. It was a fantastic event, a great primer to bikepacking with good people and great Arizona atmosphere. Can’t wait until next year.
When I first heard of the Tour of the White Mountains, I actually thought that it was a bikepacking route in Eastern Arizona. I would later find out that it was a 20 year old race that that is held every fall in Pinetop Arizona. The race brings with any where from 500-700 people a year who line up to compete in a 10 mile, 35 mile or 50 mile cross country loop. It is your typical Epic Rides production: Bikes, beers, and banter! When I heard that Epic Rides and Blackburn teamed up to add a bikepacking portion to the event, I was intrigued and eager to take part. Not only was this a great introduction to bikepacking for some, it also came with a relaxing feeling – something that is not always associated with the start of bikepacking rides or events. The plan was to take off around 4pm for 12 or so miles the first day before we would lay down for the night. Then in the morning we would take on the rest of the 35 mile loop, eventually riding with and rooting on the 35 mile racers as we made our way back to the race start/finish early afternoon on Saturday.The group was small and consisted of 5 riders. Many of us were accomplished bikepackers including Kurt Refsnider and recent finisher of the GDMBR, Blackburn Ranger Amanda DelCore, and some other riders with varying experience. We made our way through the beautiful forest weaving between tight ponderosa pines on a windy but pleasant afternoon. The group clicked right away, with plenty of greetings and conversations. So much so that we eventually took a wrong turn and had to do a little back tracking. While it was not planned, the sun would set and we would still be a few miles from our campsite. In typical bikepacking fashion, many of us were prepared for this occasion, with lights mounted and ready to go. The early evening ride was mild and comfortable t-shirt weather. To me, there is not much that can beat a moon lit trail, in shorts and a t-shirt with a loaded rig.We finally made it to camp where a fire, beer and camp chairs awaited us, a little “glamping” never hurt anyone. The evening was filled with some great bikepacking conversation under a clear starry night. The chilly morning sun would eventually wake us up bright and early. In no rush, we sat around drinking coffee, eating breakfast and mulling over each others bikepacking setups. Today would be a longer day with more technical riding, but the weather was perfect, and our spirits were just as good. Friendly course volunteers were scattered all over the course eager to greet on coming racers, after a few miles that morning, we saw the leaders rolling through an open meadow and continued on after them. After a while, we would be intertwined with the mid pack, sprinting in-between each of them and then dismounting to root them on. Soon the back of the pack would approach, and we would continue on with them at the same pace. It was actually kind of exciting, you could see the struggle in their faces, it was rewarding to motivate them. After the course cleared for the most part, we had a blast, romping over some rugged rocks. I ended up getting a flat after I hit a rock pretty hard. As I stopped to work on it, I noticed a racer that did nearly the same thing, likely hitting the same rock.The rest of the morning feels like a blur, connecting sweet pieces of singletrack with dirt roads, aid stations and other racers. It was a very unique situation, one that I think more race organizers could add to their events. It’s not about the mileage but the trail, camaraderie, and environment. We cruised into the finish line with the crowd cheering us on, it put a smile on my face. I know we didn’t suffer nearly as much as those racers that day but it was a pretty fitting finish to a sub 24 hour overnighter.We got back just around 1:00pm, in time for our bikepacking presentation at the staging area.