Arizona Trail, Desert Southwest (CO,AZ,UT,NM), Trip Reports » Bikepacking AZT south


Paula and I spent a morning gathering gear and packing. We left from the house, using a combination of city bus and pedal power to head southeast to the Arizona Trail.

Soon we were on the trail and the race was on. It was 93 degrees and we had ice cream and burritos on the mind. The desert spoon fresh air cafe lies about 0.1 miles off the AZT.

But it closes at four, not five, as we thought. With some sweet talking, the grumpy caretaker was convinced to sell us 4 ice cream bars, and confectionery bliss ensued.

We proceeded on the trail, with some 350 oz of H2O on board.

A wonderful evening for cycling. As if there are poor evenings for cycling!

I had a camp spot in mind, but when we got there Paula would have none of it.

“I’m having too much fun… and I never get to night ride!”

“You got it, hottie!”

We flipped on our headlamps, gliding down the sinuous trail. Through ocotillo and saguaro we dodged, trying to keep our eyes off the fading light over the Tucson mountains.

We stopped to observe reflective spiders, declared freaky with their robotic/mechanical movements.

Railroad tracks and interstate 10 preclude a quiet place to camp for while, so we just kept rolling, enjoying the cool air and smooth trail.

A beautifully still, warm night had us up early, anxious to gobble up more narrow trail.

After many a mile of bikepacker friendly singletrack, courtesy of the effort, we were forced onto the highway for about 5 miles. There’s still a missing link of trail.

As on any rural highway, the passing distance and speed of cars varies. After observing a small car with an Obama sticker slow down and give us a wide berth, we started joking that we could tell voting preferences based on passing behavior.

So, we started the election pollster service. I’m sad to report that McCain is winning in the redneck Friday morning scenic highway 83 demographic.

We merged quickly onto new-to-me AZT on the Las Colinas segment.

Unfortunately a certain someone from the Forest Service exerted his influence on some pieces of this trail, and the result is a few fall line sections and wheel grabbing “knicks.”

Mostly a great ride, though, and knee high grasses and flowers were enough to take our minds off any misgivings of trail alignment.

Oak Tree Canyon was less sandy than usual. For whatever reason, going south on this section of AZT is always more enjoyable for me.

Some bonerbrain (me) left our bottle of denatured alcohol on his work bench. So, we had pasta, oatmeal and hot chocolate, but no way to cook it. We brought extra food, so we were fine, but the caretakers at Kentucky Camp were kind enough to offer to boil some water for us.

We were the only visitors they had all day, so we chatted as we ate pasta and watched the clouds float by. They were an older couple, and hardcore Obama supporters — perhaps there is hope to turn the tide in the aforementioned demographic.

It was a very pleasant break from the labors of the trail. Paula had successfully navigated some 50 miles of desert terrain, with all manner of sharpness–both vegetative and geologic–waiting to injure her. But it was the porch of the caretakers’ trailer that almost did her in. She stepped onto what she thought was a step, but it was a little table that was barely able to keep itself up. A big gash on her shin and a slight possibility of a fracture was the result.

But she kept riding.

Waist high flowers and nearly invisible trail were not so kind to Paula’s shin. I suggested leg warmers for protection.

Time for some cloud magic…




I live for evenings like this.

Clouds that provide dramatic eruptions of color also signal changing weather. But with warm clothes and a tent there’s nothing to worry about, no destination for the night. Freedom.

Paula’s hobo stove (campfire + rocks) cooked us some oatmeal for dinner. As I set up the tent I watched lightning cracking to the south.

The wind blew most of the night, and some rain fell. But it was still an above average night for camp sleep.

We tried to time the breaking of camp with a lull in the rain, but it was impossible. The clouds were in a hurry and there was no predicting it. From sprinkle to downpour in 30 seconds.

But strangely warm, so it was no big deal.

Enough of a deal for us to abandon plans of exploring Hog Canyon or riding anymore AZT (it goes into the wilderness anyway). We detoured off to the town of Sonoita, and every look back at the mountains we had descended from confirmed our decision.

Dark f-ing clouds.

Contrasted by bright fields of flowers. It was still a fine day to be out on bike.

While staring towards Patagonia, watching clouds, a woman came over and offered us a ride to town. One look at the strength and direction of the wind was all I needed. Sure!

We hopped in and 10 minutes later we were wandering around the Patagonia arts fair, petting llamas and looking at desert photography. In the sun!

We left town, now heading north on the AZT 300 route.

Salero Road is a pleasant cycle. We saw two vehicles in the space of as many hours. Scenic, quiet and a solid road surface. It was a good day for those who like to watch clouds.

(I do…)

We were attacked from several sides by sudden storms. Visibility would drop to 40 feet without warning.

I haven’t been dumped on like this since living in Colorado.

Yet, it was still warm. So just a bit uncomfortable at being wet.

We descended into Tumacocori, through interesting new terrain.

You know it’s been a good trip when not rain, not direct headwind, not hunger can faze you (or your ever patient ride companion, whose interest in spending time with you outranks her interest in bikepacking and suffering on the bike).

We crossed the Santa Cruz river after marveling at the green corridor of the flood plain.

The spoils of bikepacking: tasty grub and a tail wind to blow us north to Tubac. We stayed the night at Lee Blackwell’s house, then he ferried us back to Tucson the next morning. Paula’s first grade class resumes Monday morning!

~120 miles riding, 18,000 feet climbing, and 3 days out on the bike. (~2000′ more climbing than descending, making it a reverse shuttle… doh!)

Comments (1)

John PateSeptember 30th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I’ve been looking for a first overnight ride to motivate me to try bikepacking. I think this route, or part of it, will be my first.

Add your review / comments

Your comment is powered by WordPress | Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)|