:: click here for part one :: Some disagree, but in my opinion, the section of trail from Oracle to Superior is great! Mostly rideable and very scenic, there is usually a water cache a few hours in at the Freeman Road, and more water at the road yard or trailer park in Kelvin, if you get there at a reasonable hour. If you are desperate, or have a really good filter, you can get water from the Gila River. There is actually more water between Oracle and Kelvin than you would ever imagine, with many float tanks located just off the trail, but you have to join the ATA to get the gps coordinates for these. I continued to struggle through this section all day, mostly standing and doing a lot more hike a bike than I wanted. I camped near the Gila River that night and began the ascent up Picketpost early the next morning. This is another very hard, hot, dry section with no water, so be ready. It started heating up quickly that day and I was in a real daze trying to continue my forward progress. At some point, I missed a shift, dropped my chain and didn’t stop pedaling quickly enough. Bam! There was a loud explosion as the chain broke three spokes and made the tubeless aspect of my back wheel worthless. I sat there in the sun sweating and feeling sorry for myself for a bit while trying to pour Stan’s into my spare tube, which I couldn’t do. I finally threw the tube in and continued riding, sure that the wheel with three missing spokes would taco at the first sign of adversity. It seemed to take forever, but I finally reached Picketpost where I collapsed in the shade and drank some of the refreshments that a trail angel had left, but don’t plan on there being any water at the trailhead when you get there. After a few minutes, Cjell Mone pulled up and we laid in the shade awhile talking about how tough the course was. We decided to spin into Apache Junction to get some dinner and along the way I tried to test the status of my saddle sores by sitting down for a couple of minutes. That couple of minutes was all it took for the raw and bloody pus and sera coating my saddle sores to bond with my chamois, firmly cementing the two together with an epoxy of abscess. After a while it started hurting a lot so I stood up to relieve the pressure, literally screaming in agony as my chamois slowly delaminated from the wound. Cjell chuckled and said that my screams alone had made the trip worth it. We finally made it to Apache Junction as the light faded and were delighted to find the “Great Wall” Chinese restaurant where Cjell demonstrated his famous replenishment technique, and like a Mongol horde, we destroyed the Great Wall restaurant, leaving nothing but fire and rubble in our wake as we set off to camp. AZT A few more hours under the Mylar and I arose before dawn, setting out on one of the “less aesthetic” road sections. But it was beautiful with almost no traffic and the craggy Superstition Mountains towering over me and shimmering under a full moon. By now, sitting down was out of the question and so I just resolved that if I was going to finish I would have to stand up and pedal for rest of the race, which I was able to do. The interesting part is that I actually think I went faster than if I had been able to sit down! I stopped a lot more than I should have that day, and even detoured off route to Roosevelt Lake for a disappointing resupply, where the clerk seemed terrified of the trouble she would get into were she to sell me a can of fruit cocktail without a price tag on it. I selected a few items with price tags and pedaled back on route past the impressive Roosevelt dam and bridge, settling in for a long pavement stretch. Attention to the gps is advisable on this cruising road section because there are a couple of easy to miss turns where the trail diverts from the pavement to climb some steep, hilly sections. I arrived in Payson that afternoon, resupplied at Safeway and spent some time laying on sharp landscaping rocks and trying futilely to snooze in the sun. Eventually the sun started to sink and a chill crept into the air. One big mistake I made the first year was taking only a Mylar sheet instead of a sleeping bag. “Arizona is hot,” I thought, “I’ll just take a couple of extra layers and be fine.” This worked okay for the first three nights, but was really a stupid move, at least given my knowledge of the trail. Those two extra layers, which I only wore when trying to sleep, together weighed almost as much as a sleeping bag but didn’t keep me anywhere near as warm as a cozy bag would have. Noting the chill in the air, I went back into Safeway and bought some trash bags, which I thought would help keep me warm later that night. I was now getting to the Mogollon Rim section, universally reviled by all and possibly the hardest section of the whole route. According to Wikipedia, “The Mogollon Rim is a major floristic and faunal boundary, with species characteristic of the Rocky Mountains living on the top of the plateau, and species native to the Mexican Sierra Madre Occidental on the slopes below.” All I know is that this was a very tough, very slow section of rocky and often overgrown trail. There is a lot of chunk interspersed with smooth, but very short sections of rideable trail, and it is difficult to determine when to ride and when to walk. Most people will probably mount and dismount their bike hundreds of times on this section. When possible, I try to switch sides and hike on the downhill side of the trail. That first year, I tried to fake my way through too much chunk and went over the handle bars a couple of times at slow speed. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt and was able to keep on keeping on. After ten hours of this hike a bike bushwhacking, I finally reached the rim and thought that maybe the trail would ease up a bit, but a few miles later, I missed a turn and descended a fair ways down a wrong canyon. The trail was really switchbacked here, and I couldn’t make out the correct route through all of the arrows on my gps track. As the light faded, tendrils of panic tried to take root in my brain, but after a ridiculously hard anaerobic effort, I was able to muscle my bike back up to the trail and regain some equanimity. It was dark now, and the temperature had fallen drastically. The top of the Mogollon Rim can be cold, surprisingly cold! My ripped Mylar blanket, two trash bags and two upper layers made for a miserable, shivering few hours which left me more tired than when I stopped. az bikepack 2 and grand canyon 072 (1) I don’t know if it was due to the cold, the exertion, the stress, or something else, but all that next day, between the Mogollon Rim and Flagstaff, I moved forward in a very pleasant dreamlike state, and I kept having the strongest feeling of deja vu. Half-forgotten memories of the trail kept surging into my brain and I became certain that I had traversed the trail before, maybe many times before. Deja vu is discounted by some as merely a short circuit of the brain, but the feeling that I had been there before was so real and pervasive that I simply accepted it as true and spent my time trying to come up with different explanations for how time is an illusion. The next day was really tough due to my lack of sleep and lacerated behind, but I finally made it into Flagstaff a little before 7 p.m. Although I knew the bike shop would be closing in a few minutes and I still had three broken spokes, I couldn’t summon the will power to get past the first fast food restaurant and motel. This was probably a bad decision, since I would now have to hang around until 10 or 11 in the morning if I wanted my spokes fixed. Instead, I grabbed a few hours of sleep, and reasoning that since my wheel had already made it three hundred miles it could make it a couple hundred more, I started my ascent of the San Francisco Peaks at about two in the morning. I wrongly assumed that there would be a place to resupply right before I got back on the Arizona Trail, but was deeply hurt to find there wasn’t and that I had to descend three disappointing miles back to town, fuming at myself for making such a muddled start to the day. It is a long, tough ascent up the San Francisco Peaks, albeit mostly rideable, and after a few hours you hit a screaming downhill which drops down through tall stands of mature aspen trees. After descending out of the mountains, a long section of dirt road begins, eventually reaching the Kaibab Plateau and its stands of spruce-fir, ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper. Following the gps track that Scott Morris and Lee Blackwell laid down, I felt a bit like I was following in Lewis and Clark’s footsteps. Yes, I know Lewis and Clark didn’t have gps and SPOT, or maps for that matter, but there are many places on the trail where a breakdown will leave you 12 hours hiking distance from civilization, and even with all the technology it still feels pretty isolated out there sometimes. A few hours later, I rounded a turn to be greeted with a very impressive and panoramic view of the Grand Canyon. I paused to marvel awhile before hitting the sweet Coconino trail and the long drop to Tusayan, but this section worked me quite a bit more than I expected. The tires I was using that year were not heavy duty enough to stand up to the Arizona Trail, and by now they were getting quite thin, so thin that simply riding over a pine cone was enough to puncture them. Fortunately, I had received some great advice from Sun N’ Spokes bike shop in Sierra Vista. They showed me that when I get a puncture, instead of just rotating the hole to the bottom and letting the sealant, hopefully, do its work, you should actually grind the hole into the dirt so that the dirt bonds with the sealant, more quickly sealing the hole. For holes that won’t seal by grinding into the dirt, put your finger over the leak and cast about for a tapered twig which you can jam into the hole. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like this should work, but I patched at least three holes in this manner on my way to Tusayan, and it worked great. This stretch is also long and without much water, so either carry a lot, drink less, or do some research to find out where the hidden water supplies are. Hint: join the ATA. I gorged myself again in Tusayan, first eating a full dinner of Mexican food, and then heading across the street for another dinner and dessert under the golden arches. A few more miles, and I was really pleased to make it to the south rim and began to believe that I just might finish the race, broken spokes and all. I was so tired by this point that I was just kind of moving forward mechanically, which, I have to say is still a lot better than not moving forward at all. It would have been a really good idea to practice a system for hiking with the bike on my pack, but, I didn’t. I am not alone in making this gaffe, however, as the results of my own informal poll show that only a few racers actually practiced their system before getting to the rim. It took me a long time, like a couple of hours, to figure out how to attach the bike to my flimsy camelback for the hike across the canyon, and in the end, my ad hoc system was just good enough to get me to start hiking, but not one bit better, as the bike pitched and rolled from side to side, causing me to drunkenly weave my way down the trail. Taking the pack off for a rest, and especially trying to shoulder it was really hard to do, so most times I just tried to find a good rock to lean against for a spell. bp10 The crossing is roughly seven miles down, seven miles slightly uphill, and then seven miles steeply uphill. In the Grand Canyon, you will move through two billion years of exposed geologic history which has been carved out by the Colorado River over 17 million years. The trail descends through several life zones, once again entering the familiar Lower Sonoran Life Zone at the bottom. Deep in the canyon it was hot, but at least the water was running, and I was able to refill my bladder. Leaving Phantom Ranch, I was still weaving and stumbling down the trail, delirious from the heat and all the effort when I almost tripped and stumbled down an embankment. It could have ended badly right there, but luckily, I caught myself and resolved to pay more attention. A few more miles up the canyon and I reached the last water supply. Shedding my pack, I tried to doze in the shade for a few minutes, but having no luck I shouldered my pack with tremendous difficulty, took a couple of mincing steps and promptly fell flat on my face. There were a few trail workers resting in the shade, and they did a great job of saving me further embarrassment by pretending to ignore my face plant, though I’m sure they discussed its textbook perfection after I left! Up, up, and up, the ascent to the north rim is really tough and the miles go by very slowly. It didn’t help that runners kept coming by telling me that Blake Bockius was only an hour back, now a half hour, now ten minutes. Even though I wasn’t burning with desire to finish ahead of Blake in particular, I was in a race and started to get alarmed and panicked at the rapidity with which he was catching me. Soon, the rim came into view, but the Grand Canyon wasn’t done with me yet. As I struggled to shoulder my pack after a short rest, my rear cassette went flying when the zip ties holding it in place finally snapped. I quickly found the cassette and the bearing that went inside and continued on my way. After a bit more tough and sweaty climbing, I reached the rim, but as I tried to assemble my bike, I discovered that I was missing one of the bearings from the rear cassette. Blake pointed out that I could turn the bike into a fixie, and continue on my way. I did try to convert it to a fixie, but the violent carry across the canyon combined with the missing spokes had caused the rear wheel to finally deform and it really wasn’t rideable anymore. I was still pretty tired and delirious and thought I couldn’t ride, I started walking toward Jacob Lake.  I got a bit confused and forgot there was a road detour, and so was backtracking and looking for the gps track and the snowed over trail.  Fortunately Blake came by and reminded me of the road detour, and I turned around again.  I had misread the elevation profile and mistakenly believed that after a few miles, it would be all downhill and I would be able to coast, but after a few miles of walking, I was too cold and tired to continue and so headed into a snow covered campground, quickly gathered an ample supply of sticks and huddled all night by a small fire for some of the best sleep I had had in a week.

Part Three

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  1. Pingback: Two years on the Arizona Trail : Part one - Bikepackers Magazine

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