The plan was to ride a monsterous 123 miles with 12k ft. elevation gain in 2 days – and for some reason I thought that a leisurely 11 am start would suffice. Here is the story of what actually happened.
Saturday morning, I finished packing my gear, ran a couple errands and met up with Jonathan at his house. We loaded up our bikes with camping gear and began to ride towards the Arizona trail on selected dirt, sand, and gravel roads. A very strong head wind was blowing and we made it to the last supply/gas station after 1:10 hours, covering a whole 10 miles. Another 5 miles along a railroad service track brought us to 3 Bridges and with that, to the AZT. Fast, fun single track. We went under I-10 via a small underpass and then headed east along a dirt road that parallels large overhead power lines. It was pretty fun riding it, with lots of ups and downs. Overall, the dirt road was in very good shape, just some loose rock here and there, but no washboards 🙂
We then reached a section of the (dry) Cienega creek, called The Narrows, and I was surprised by the trees and vegetation. Very cool and unexpected. Just as we got out of there , Jonathan got a cut on the sidewall of his rear tire. He quickly put his sewing skills to use and then added some Stans sealant to do its magic. Unfortunately, the trick did not work this time, and a few hundred yards down the trail we stopped and put an inner tube in. With that, we moved on and at the next crossing of the Cienega, we encounter water! Clear, running water. With the slow progress and time spent fixing the tire, I was getting worried about having enough water and decide to fill up almost a liter of emergency water, as Sonoita is at least 3, maybe 5 hours away, at the rate we are progressing!
Once my water treatment with Aquamira drops was done, we began the evening ride-portion of our trip. Grandiose colors light the sky in the west, while the Moon was rising in the East. The dirt road was very smooth for the most part and fun to ride as the temperature became cooler. My legs were rejoicing from the refreshing air. Unfortunately, Jonathan’s rear tire started to leak again, and we had to stop frequently to pump it up. As it was now completely moonlit, we saw some car lights in the distance. This is southern AZ, and we both thought, Should we hide? Should we keep going? Well, we kept going.
As we stopped to finally fix the flat, the 2 trucks whose headlights we had seen earlier came around the corner. Ok, here we go! I got my light ready and the trucks stopped next to us. The driver yelled out: “Can we help?” “Do you need a ride?” – I tell Jonathan it’s his call. He decides to accept their offer – and 4 guys come out of the truck in camouflage gear and handguns on their legs. Yikes! They seem friendly though, so Jonathan decides to load up his bike in the F350. I decide that getting separated at this point would be the worst idea, so I also try to load my bike in the truck. But, there isn’t a good place for it, and I am worried about my bike getting smashed along the dirt-road drive. The other pickup truck, however, fit my bike perfectly, and so it went in. And we got in. And we all drove on.
The driver of my pickup truck was very talkative and friendly. We chatted about GPS maps, their failed deer hunting trip, and the flat tires on his friend’s truck. It’s good to be in the lead vehicle, I was thinking, as I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the dust that the second truck is driving in.
We stopped at a big RV and unloaded. They gave us a light, water, a real washcloth to clean the tube and our hands, and I patch the tube in a few minutes. Done. Now, what? It’s 7:30 pm, and we were short on water, food, time, and there’s no way we’ll make it to Sonoita before everything is closed there. Our hosts turned out to be super gracious. We warmed up at their campfire as they were putting marinated beef and chicken on the grill. Next, some tortillas found their way on the barbeque and all kinds of beverages are offered to us. The food was very good, we chatted and enjoyed the company. As it was approaching 9 pm, we were thinking that it was not too late yet to keep riding a bit farther.
Jonathan decided that our best option would be to cut the trip short and take the shortest way over to the Arizona trail on the Mt. Wrightson side, near Box Canyon road. The ride was pleasant, we were full, had plenty of water and were looking forward to a good night’s rest, soon. We pitched our respective tent/bivy bag in the dry grassland and after picking out all the seeds from our socks, fell asleep under an increasingly bright Moon.
The next morning, we got a very late start, as I am the king of fiddling around and not getting ready. By 9:30 am we were finally riding northwards on the AZT and it was plenty warm. This section is nice, nothing too technical (i.e. rocky) and pretty views of the autumn desert grasslands.
In some parts, the trail was very overgrown with catclaw and other nasties, but otherwise quite a pleasant ride. A few hike-a-bikes mix up the rhythm of pedaling. Then lots of coasting and twisting single track led us to Twin Lakes where we stopped for a while and enjoyed the shade. It was probably 85 F, and a bit toasty in the sun.
After we got back to Jonathan’s house, he introduced me to a “hole-in-the-suburbs” mexican restaurant, and I had the best fish burrito, ever! Great way to end the day.
For some great pictures, see Jonathan’s blog.
Day 1: 45 miles riding, 4300 ft. ascend, 11 hours
Day 2: 40 miles, 2300 ft. ascend, 7 hours