Verde Valley

            It seems that the longer we stay around in a place the longer it takes us to get ready to leave. As if there was a scientific exponential formula dictating our delays. Being in Flagstaff about a month, the end product of that equation was high. We struggled to get things shipped away, get our bikes in working order and say goodbye to the friends we made. In a feeble attempt to overcome the inevitably sluggish departure we enlisted one of Flagstaff’s finest, Blair, of Team Hobo, to bike over and wake us up at 8 AM for breakfast. It was worth a shot.

            We did not leave until after dark, but knew better than sticking around another night. We would as so many folks warned us, “become permanent residents.� Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad fate, as Flagstaff is a great place to be, but does not further us towards our goal.

After zipping around on trails for a month on a short bike without gear, the weight of my fully loaded Xtracycle was quite a burden. “How did I ever ride with all this crap on my bike?� I silently questioned, while wincing in pain.

So many things I had learned to take for granted, like being able to shift while ascending a hill. The steep driveway of our friends’ house forced me to stop, throw up my kickstand and hand pedal my bike into an easier gear. We rolled out of the residential zone and I began to get a feel for my new Surly Instigator frame and Thudbuster Seatpost, two drastic changes to my world. I had been having a lot of lower back pain and was hoping to switch up the geometry of my bike so I wasn’t leaning so far forward. My old titanium frame was a mid 90’s racing bike that was in no way conducive to cycle touring. The thin titanium tubing was remarkably flexible, and even functioned as passive suspension, particularly with all my gear. My new thick tubed steel frame designed for freeriding and lasting a lifetime, was as sturdy as could be. The Litespeed titanium frame felt like a wet noodle compared to this new ride. I knew it was time to get a different frame after Sean destroyed his Dean Titanium frame at the 24 hour race near Tucson. The last thing I want to do is get stuck in a foreign country without any way to fix my bike. Steel can be welded with just about anything, by just about anyone, whereas titanium requires space-age precision and is prohibitively expensive.

            The first night of riding was largely on paved roads, so that we could still get out of the town at night and ease back into the physically demanding lifestyle of off-road mountain bike touring. And we assumed we’d need to be easy on our newest member, Nate, who quickly proved that he was more than capable to hop on a 125 pound bike and ride. Even with Nate riding in front of us at times, we were still feigning sympathetic interest to the new guy as we chose the easier route to the town of Strawberry. He had been spending his winter tele-skiing and was in perfect shape to seamlessly integrate into the bike journey.

            3 bikes makes a crowd, and 4 makes a gang, not sure what 5 makes, but imagine we’ll know soon enough. Our campground was far more substantial with another Xtracycle and friend lounging around. I met Nate on a rafting trip on the Tuolomne River the summer before he came to UCSC, and had been friends ever since. He was a fellow “woodsieâ€� in Santa Cruz, having built and lived in a treehouse during his time at college. When I began the trip last July, I was leaving behind an extensive group of best friends, and it was nice to reconnect with that.

            We rode mostly on pavement to Strawberry, and I had repeatedly encountered tremendous fatigue while trying to ride at pace with the group. I couldn’t ever remember having to exert so much, and I struggled to keep up, at times pedaling while they were merely coasting away from me. In Flagstaff, I tried to ride a bunch, but without the gear. I feared I had just gotten soft. It got to the point where I had to rest, and it finally occurred to me to check my bike. The spring that causes tension to the brakes came out on one side and was pulling the brake pad into my rim, creating constant friction (and probably ruining the rim as well). It was bad enough to happen once, but I managed to repeat this same scenario 3 times that day.

            The traffic on the road was mild most of the way and gradually ascended throughout the day, reaching the edge of the Mogollan Rim before dropping a few miles directly into the Strawberry Lodge. Sean & Goat were patiently waiting for us outside, but I didn’t know because my vision was fixed on the Taco Tuesday sign declaring “All You Can Eat Tacos� for 6 bucks.

            The last time we sat down in the lodge, we had just climbed up at least 3500 feet of elevation in about 8 miles of muddy trail. It was supposed to be all you can eat fish & chips, but they claimed to have run out of food when we were just getting started.

            “Ya’ll still have plenty of Tacos?� I asked, still wary of the last “all they want to serve you� buffet.

            “It’s all you can eat.� A waitress replied, mildly irritated at my inability to comprehend their sign boasting the clarity of bold 18 inch letters.

            “That’s what they said last time,� I said under my breathe.

                We sat down at the same table and were momentarily transfixed, remembering our last visit. The incredible fatigue in our legs, the snowbanks outside and the black ice on the road. It was remarkable how much the place had transformed after a month. I remembered just how much I had come to hate the frigid weather.

            Instantly, I was snapped out of my post-ride daze as an energetic waitress came over to our table to say hi. We had met her just a few miles down the road in the town of Pine at a small café the last time we came through. We had given her a sticker and she had been enthusiastically following our travels online.

            “Wow…never thought I’d see you guys again! How is everything? You want the tacos?� She asked.

            And before we could really respond she had vanished into the backroom to return with plate’s full of tacos, rice & beans.

            “Did you guys get the Clif Bars?� She asked.

              “Oh yeah.. Wow. It was incredible. A huge box of just about everything they make. How’d this happen?â€� I responded, unsure how she knew about it.

            “I talked to my friend Kenny Souza, remember the guy I was telling you about, hardcore duathlon guy, huge bike fanatic. I told him to check out your site and see if he could hook you up.�

            My words of gratitude trailed after her as she rushed to the next urgent matter around the dining area. Then she was back.

            “So where you guys gonna stay tonight?�


            “Good should come over to my mom’s house. She’s a really cool lady. I’ll call her up.�

            I finished up another taco in about two bites, and she had rushed back.

            “I talked to her. She’s down. Doesn’t know if we have enough food for you guys, but you can stay there. She’s a really cool lady. Said she’ll cook you breakfast.�

            We had been voraciously consuming our tacos, like the good American buffet eaters that we have become. Except Nate, unaccustomed to our carnivorous and gluttonous habits of consumption was not enjoying it quite as much. He did not revolve his diet around meat, and his stomach did not fare well with all the ground beef. Either way, each platter of tacos disappeared moments after Coleen disappeared. Though, it was becoming apparent that the “all you can eat� part of this taco feast was questionable and Coleen had to fight higher powers to supply the unusually voracious appetites.

            “You guys still want more??�

            “Of course.� We replied.

            “Ehh… will 6 more take care of it?�

            “Uhh…well..that would be a good start.�

            “Sheeshh….they’re gonna kill me back there if I keep getting more.�

            “Awwhhh…that makes sense.� We said while realizing that we really didn’t need to consume tacos until we felt ill, nor did we want to cause any trouble for our benevolent friend Coleen. “6 more will be fine.�

            “Okay…so I can’t get outta here until a bit later, but I called my daughter and she’ll come meet you at the gas station by the Pine Market. Here’s 10 dollars, go and by a 12 pack and hang out. I’ll be there when I get off.� And with that she vanished behind the swinging doors leaving us staring at each other in disbelief.

            We meet her daughter and mother standing under a pale yellow street lamp in front of an old gas station. They lead us to the house nearby and gave us the tour. It was a trip hanging out with the daughter, mother and grandmother all at once. Stayed up chatting pretty late and crashed out, to be awoken the next morning by whispers of the youngest daughter.

            “Mom, can you wake them up? I want to say goodbye to them.�

            We were treated to waffles and coffee and relaxed out in the sun before heading back up the hill to access the Verde Valley.



            Our enthusiasm for dropping into the Verde Valley was expressed with various whoops and yelps, heard across the mountains. We’d keep our hands off the brakes and shred the straight sections, trying to see how fast we could get going before having to pull back hard on the levers and corner the turns that cut along the edges of steep cactus covered cliffs.

            Fossil Creek cut down through the valley, flowing with water so transparent you could see fish swimming in the cool depths below. With the sun directly overhead, we sought refuge in the crystal lagoons eddying out next to smooth flat rocks.

            “Hey Jacob,” Nate said as he popped up from underwater, “you should swim down and open your eyes and scope out the fish.”

            “This water is freakin’ cold,â€� I said as I stepped in. Instantly, regretting my words as I was bombarded with ridicule from the peanut gallery. It really wasn’t that cold.

            As we dried off in the sun, I felt a bliss vaguely resembling that of summer vacation when I was younger. Where everything you do feels right, and you’re certain that you’ve spent your day doing exactly what you want. How lucky we were to be lounging naked under the sun beside an otherworldly swimmin’ hole, on our way to hot springs and the ends of the earth.

            Over another hill with a remarkably deceptive false-summit, we made our way to the springs. Opted to cross with our bikes and camp on the foundation of the old hotel next to the spring, a modern ruin complete with two very out of place palm trees and rubble pile. Sitting in front of a plate of our usual nighttime oatmeal gruel, I heard something moving around nearby. My headlight illuminated two curious eyes that disappeared instantly. It wasn’t until the middle of the night that I got a better look as I heard something rustling around nearby, trying to run off with my oatmeal encrusted spoon. It had the face of a fox, the body of a ferret, and the tail of a raccoon. I was told later that it was a ringtail cat.

            We lounged around for an entire day at our campsite, dipping in and out of the Verde River and hot springs. Hiked up the creek, where Nate shimmied up an epic butte, to get the bird’s eye view of the terrain. We met plenty of characters passing by our campsite on their way to the springs, including an older fellow with a white beard who looks over some property in the area.

            “Ya’ll gunna be ‘roun this weekend?” He asked.

            “Probably not, only packed so much food. We’ll likely be outta here by tomorrow.”

            “It’s gonna be a busy weekend. Should be lots of naked girls. A lot of times their from France. There was this one time…”

            I interrupted, “You know anything about the trails around here? We’re hoping to take some dirt roads south. Maybe to pop us into Apache Junction?” We asked, hoping to not listen to this old guy banter about naked girls 1/3 of his age.

            “Sure. I know this better than just about anyone. Just yesterday I was helping some cowboys find some lost cattle. They didn’t even know the trails. Lemme think. You cross the river down yonder, puts ya up a hill…steep as shit. You’ll surely have to walk yer bikes. Goes up and up for miles. Then just keep on taken’ that road…up and down..up and down on outta tha valley..then you’ll hit a spring where you can get some water…then you’ll head out to the dam and a larger dirt road that’ll take ya on outta here.”

            We looked over our map and saw the road he was talking about end abruptly out in the middle of nowhere. But, our experience with the old topo maps is that a bit of local wisdom can likely offer more insight and was worth following. So we checked out his route.


            After a full day of soaking and sloth, we returned to our journey. Crossed a section of the Verde River and began what I would dub as the hardest climb we have had on the entire trip. There was nothing gradual about it, having begun about 60 paces past the river at an incline that would challenge some of the most advanced 4 wheeled vehicles. I dropped into my lowest gear and prepared myself for a day of unrelentless grinding, slowly churning my way up the first hill under the full intensity of the sun. Always cautious to not lose traction and having to step down, fearing that I wouldn’t be able to remount the bicycle on the steep grade and end up having to push. There was a brief section where the hill let up, kind of like the calm before a storm, when the climb returned with vengeance, punishing us for the next 2-3 hours of our life.

OUt of Verde

            At the top, I chugged a liter of water and collapsed under the shade of a tree while waiting for the others. Goat comes strolling in next and repeated my actions.

        “Whoowee…what’d ya think of that one?” I asked as he sat down next to me.

            “She was a beauty.. that’s for sure.” He replied..still out of breathe, “Glad that’s over.”

        “Wonder how ‘ol Nate’s doing on that. Sure is quite the introduction.” I commented.

            “Yeah…I’m pretty sure that was about the toughest hill we’ve hit yet.” Goat said.

            Then Nate rides up, his face bright red from the sun and exhaustion.

            “Damn good to see the end of that hill.” He said.

            “Yeah.. just so you know. That was probably the hardest climb we’ve ever experienced. Welcome to our little off-road bike tour.”

            “Heh.. That’s good to hear. When I was slowly inching my way up that hill, I began to realize that I’m out in the desert with three guys who are completely out of their minds.” Nate said with mild exasperation.

            “Make that 4.. You are just as nuts as we are at this point.” I replied.

            Then Sean rolled up, made some ambiguous grunting noises and popped open his gun case, extracted his musical burden and played a medley of short tunes and rifts while we sat staring vacantly at the cactus around us. We laid back among the silence and guitar chords for a good while, relaxing in the shade and dreaming about Mexico.


            A short descent began a few miles later and I celebrated the occasion by getting 3 pinch flats and another small leak, completely exhausting my patch kit with 7 repairs. This was a first of many flats to be fixed that day. The rest of the riding that day consisted largely of dropping down into small drainages and slowly rising up and out of them. After one hill I waited for Nate & Goat. Sean had waited for me around the bend, and impatiently rode back to see what was up.

            “Where are the other guys?”

            “Don’t know. They were just behind me a moment ago. Figured I should hold up, see what’s going on.” I replied.

            To abate my curiosity I yelled into the distance, “WHHHHEEEERRRREEEEE aaarrrrreeee yooooooouuuu?”

            Immediately, their reply was carried back by a gust of wind, “FLAAAAT TIIIIIRE.”

                Sean anxiously said, “Hey. Can I borrow your camera. There is a huge iguana or something around that bend. You should come check it out.”

            “ my handlebar bag.”

            We both rode over to check out the giant lizard who had sought refuge from the humans under a large prickly pear cactus.

Gila monster

            “Oh wow.. That’s a Gila Monster,” I said, “I hear they are poisonous.”

            It was a bit camera shy, wouldn’t move much unless it could regress further into the dry grass and out of sight.

            The sun was edging its way to the horizon and sending a cool breeze across the dry desert landscape. Darkness stripped the contrast from the foliage, leaving silhouettes of the cactus before submerging the long day into night. Fortunately the flat tire was repaired before it got too dark, and the rest of the day was downhill. From our vantage point we could see the spring in the distance, blooming with life and huge trees amids the desolate and thirsty environment.

            I was desperately hoping for a swimming hole to relieve my exhaustion, but was instead greeted by some folks camping there.

            I was immediately accosted and simultaneously adopted by Mary, a lady bursting with energy wearing blue jeans and a colorful shirt exhibiting all the virtues of Arizona. “Jacob, where have you been? We have been waiting for you.”

            I looked over at Goat hoping for a bit of clarity, though he seemed equally puzzled. I looked back over to the lady and smiled, unsure what else to do with myself.

            “We’re going to cook you guys dinner, so just sit back and relax. Do you want anything to drink? Some water, Ice cold Gatorade?”

            “Gatorade sounds great.”

            “You sit down. Relax.” She commanded. “I’ll go get it for you.”

            I obligingly sat and quickly found the ice cold beverage in my hand. My first gulp sent the cold liquid tangibly down my throat and into my stomach, filling me with refreshment. I responded with a reflexive sound of, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh” as if I was on a commercial. “This IS paradise,” I thought as I looked around at the lush foliage thriving on the clean spring water and our new friends cooking up a feast.oasis.jpg


            We then met Kevin and his partner Fran. Kevin was leaving for a 7 week horse ride around the Mazatzal Wilderness trying to follow old Indian & horse trails from a bygone era. He is an author of a book titled, “Ride With Me” about his previous horse packing trips. He wore cowboy boots and a hight top Stetson hat slung just over his eyebrows, an off-white cowboy shirt with the top half of the buttons undone, tucked into low slung jeans.

            He was extremely excited about his upcoming trip and told us endless stories about his adventures, from almost losing a horse in quicksand to getting left by his horses in the desert and almost dying of thirst.

            Mary’s companion, Gary, was cooking away on the open fire, perfecting the pork chops and sausage while Mary finished up the beans and vegetables. We sat listening to Kevin as our plates were filled in our new found desert oasis.

             We solicited advice on the best routes to take and got to hear about Gary & Mary who traveled all over Arizona and New Mexico, seeking remote camping spots,

                I remembered a distinct moment of silence, when we were all sitting around the campfire, illuminated by the flicker of fire. A strange moment in the universe where three different groups of people crossed paths, out the middle of a distant desert surrounded by a hundred miles of wilderness. There were the two horse cowboys, the two car cowboys and the bike cowboys, all seeking freedom and adventure. Inspired by their curiosity of the horizon. Everybody satisfied to be where they were at the moment, unburdened by complications of the real world and excited about the possibilities out there.

            We were greeted the next morning by bottomless cups of coffee and another feast. We solicited advice from Kevin about our route, having decided that the Arizona Trail is more an idea/concept than a specific route. There are trails/dirt roads crisscrossing the entire state and plenty of incredible riding that hasn’t even been discovered yet. We were always on the lookout for new and exciting paths. After lots of hugs and goodbyes we said farewell to our friends and continued on our trip

            The riding flattened out, and the dirt roads opened up a little. After a half a day’s ride we reached Sheep’s Bridge, crossing over the Verde River. Our first signs of civilization since leaving the hot springs overwhelmed us. American flags waved high and proud while humongous 4 wheel drive trucks carried trailer’s full of ATV’s, a miserable accompaniment to the outdoors. A giant party of belligerence to celebrate Easter with a bunch of beer bellies, good ‘ol boys and tall cans. We stopped to cook lunch and observe. 5 ATVers pulled up next to our makeshift picnic spot near a river crossing and revved their engines repeatedly instantly filling the space with exhaust fumes. One guy struggled to get off of his recreational vehicle to see if they could cross the river. He stumbled out into the river and got swept into the water and over a few small rapids, got stuck among some trees, stood up for a moment before falling down and getting pulled further downstream. We sat there watching, dumbfounded. Eventually he was able to get a bit of control and get out of the river and back to his ATV. They left us with a parting gift of a cloud of dust that they spun up with their tires as they went to get some more Bud Light.

            As soon as we could, we packed up and continued on our way. We saw a coyote just 10 feet from us around one particular bend in the road. It scampered away into the desert. It was nice to get away from the chaos of Sheep’s Bridge. But signs of civilization were growing, largely in the form of beer cans and garbage on the side of the dirt road. We even began to see trucks out there, kicking up dust as they blew by us. There are certainly times when we wished we didn’t have to re-supply.

            Late in the day I came screaming down a hill, abandoning my brake levers until I reached the beginning of a turn. Suddenly my front brake failed, about the worst thing that could happen to a bike tourist careening down a steep hill, turning along the edge of a cliff. My mind flushed with a momentary dose of fear as I wrenched my rear brakes, which were not adequate to stop my momentum. I considered laying the bike down, but as a last resort, unclipped my shoe and jammed it between the fork and tire to slow down the momentum. Eventually the mass of bike and momentum eased to a stop. The noodle on my brake had broken off and separated the two sides of the brakes rendering them completely useless. I took a few deep breathes to calm myself after my near catastrophic event and hiked back up the hill to where I heard the brake pop off looking for the remaining pieces. By some miracle, I was actually able to find the very small pieces I was looking for and fix my brakes.

            A caravan of about 8 cars and ATVs passed, and were kind enough to offer help (you’d be amazed at how many times we’ve walked our bikes because of some failure out in the middle of nowhere and have the only truck we see all day blow past us). Unfortunately, I separated from the rest of the riders by the caravan and cloud of dust. Fortunately, the quality of the road was so poor that I could pedal much faster than their cars could drive and quickly passed them up.

            We had to cross the river a half a dozen times and pedal over countless stretches of “babies heads” (large rock fields). Eventually, we reached the main dirt road and were treated to the company of speeding vehicles buzzing across the dry dusty roads. The caravan passed me by, with the lead driver slowing down enough to say, “Man does it feel good to pass you.â€� And sped away with a wicked laugh.

            Our turnoff was supposed to be within a a couple of miles, but because of a combination of an inaccurate map and degree of map reading incompetence we could not find it. We resigned to camp in a wash near the road among endless stretches of wildflowers that had recently bloomed.

            The next section of riding was supposed to take us into the outskirts of the Phoenix metropolitan area, and we were hoping to skirt around the dense cluster of city roads inherently plagued with dangerous drivers, construction, and bike unfriendly paths.

            We had spent countless hours looking over our maps, dreaming about where each one of those little red 4 wheel roads would take us and what they would look like. Rarely have we discovered a very dependable correlation between those lines and reality. We got off to a pretty hairy start, with a good mile of terrain so steep and technical that we were forced to push our bikes up most of it. It put us up on a ridge-line covered with Ocotillos and Teddy-Bear Cholla. I got bored waiting for Sean to fix a flat and explored the nearby area to take pictures of the cactus. Managed to get too close and found pieces of Cholla embedded in my ankle on multiple occasions. Each time I had to get pliers to get enough purchase to pull them out.

            At some point we managed to get off trail and did our best to follow a route along the river, but realized that it had long been washed away and was impossible to navigate with an ATV, and incredibly difficult with a bike. Our day of bike riding turned into a 5 mile river exploratory. If nothing else we hoped that a few miles down the river we could link up with another trail. It involved laboriously lugging our bikes over huge boulders and through dense spiky vegetation. We had to cross the river about 8 times. We’d tote our bikes a good ½ mile and reach an impossible juncture and all would go explore the potential routes and come back and decide on our next direction. We found ourselves pulling our bikes through swamps and attempting to ride across huge boulder fields. Once again, we managed to find some of the most challenging sections to thoroughly introduce Nate to our bike trip. I imagined there must have been a few moments when he questioned, “just what the hell he is doing, pushing a bike through a swamp or up an impossibly steep ATV trail.â€� But by the end of the day he was smiling as big as any of us.


            Even though our daily mileage was in the single digits we ended the day completely exhausted and set up camp near the river. Enjoyed a relaxing swim and laid back watching the stars. Dreaming of what the next day would bring us.


6 thoughts on “Verde Valley

  1. Archie says:

    Enjoyed the read and pictures. You’re on an amazing adventure Thanks for sharing it with me. Will you be adding more video clips? Seeing you guys in action was fun.

  2. Archie says:

    Enjoyed the read and pictures. You’re on an amazing adventure Thanks for sharing it with me. Will you be adding more video clips? Seeing you guys in action was fun.

  3. Archie says:

    Enjoyed the read and pictures. You’re on an amazing adventure Thanks for sharing it with me. Will you be adding more video clips? Seeing you guys in action was fun.

  4. cooner says:


    Reading this website is tearing me in half, guys.

    Stars and animals making noises, and the wind pushing the trees around.

    Dust and Sunshine,


  5. cooner says:


    Reading this website is tearing me in half, guys.

    Stars and animals making noises, and the wind pushing the trees around.

    Dust and Sunshine,


  6. cooner says:


    Reading this website is tearing me in half, guys.

    Stars and animals making noises, and the wind pushing the trees around.

    Dust and Sunshine,


  7. Scott Morris says:

    Glad to see you guys rolling again.

    A great read, Jacob. That’s some mighty fine AZ adventuring you guys did out there. Following drainages and 4×4 roads out into the unknown…

    Good stuff.

  8. Scott Morris says:

    Glad to see you guys rolling again.

    A great read, Jacob. That’s some mighty fine AZ adventuring you guys did out there. Following drainages and 4×4 roads out into the unknown…

    Good stuff.

  9. Scott Morris says:

    Glad to see you guys rolling again.

    A great read, Jacob. That’s some mighty fine AZ adventuring you guys did out there. Following drainages and 4×4 roads out into the unknown…

    Good stuff.

  10. Brad L Anderson says:

    I ride the motorized cycle, but was captivated with your pictures and experiences. I am all about the ride. For me that is what life is all about. Enjoy your time together and have a safe trip…

  11. Brad L Anderson says:

    I ride the motorized cycle, but was captivated with your pictures and experiences. I am all about the ride. For me that is what life is all about. Enjoy your time together and have a safe trip…

  12. Brad L Anderson says:

    I ride the motorized cycle, but was captivated with your pictures and experiences. I am all about the ride. For me that is what life is all about. Enjoy your time together and have a safe trip…

  13. coleen lawler says:

    still keeping a eye on you guy’s keep rock’n k

  14. coleen lawler says:

    still keeping a eye on you guy’s keep rock’n k

  15. coleen lawler says:

    still keeping a eye on you guy’s keep rock’n k

Comments are closed.