We got a ride back to Phoenix, got our bikes and gear back in touring shape, and continued our way along the Arizona Trail. I had yet to get used to the trials of the desert trails, and managed to get at least one flat every day for a period of two weeks. And yes, I tried putting Stanâ€™s in my tubes, but canâ€™t afford to replace my tubes every time Stanâ€™s inevitably fails. So I spent a lot of time with just my wheel sets and hand pump, laboriously airing up the tires with a minimum of 150 pumps
During our travels, we have become accustomed to following directions which are sketchy at best, sometimes. Thru-biking the AZT by Andrea Lankford seemed like an easy path to follow. But we had our difficulties. Itâ€™s possible our odometers were all incorrect and inconsistent, because we repeatedly had to stop and look around for a road/turn that didnâ€™t exist. For the most part, however, the guide was really easy to follow and an amazing blessing on a route so new and often unwelcoming to fully loaded touring bikes. She does a good job of keeping us off paved roads and moving south. But, it sure sucks to get lost in the middle of the desert with just the cactus and little water.
There is something disturbing about a cactus that apparently jumps out onto the middle of your bike trail. The jumping cholla constantly terrorized our path with their natural caltrop buds strewn about the desert landscape. No matter which way they land, there is a spike directed straight up and into your tire. Even easy trails became rather technical in order to avoid the cactus.
The other challenge inherent with crossing 100â€™s of miles of desert is all the sand, which can quickly reduce you to pushing your bike. However, I would say that the AZT does a pretty good job keeping you on your bike. Some of the other off-road routes weâ€™ve blazed have kept us pushing for up to five miles at a go.
The Arizona Trail is a remarkable phenomenon, 800 or so miles of incredible trails winding its way through some of the most beautiful and surreal scenery imaginable. Unfortunately, we have not gotten to experience it in its entirety. North of the Grand Canyon was super snowy, and barely ride-able even on the highways. South of the canyon we had two broken bike frame extensions and were unable to ride the trails. It wasnâ€™t until past Flagstaff when we were able to actually begin the trail and we were able to take it all the way to Tucson.
A day or so south of Phoenix we were hit by a thunderstorm late in the night. Prior to that, we had mistakenly believed that it doesnâ€™t really rain in the Arizona desert and had opted for open skies rather than the claustrophobia of our tent. When I felt a light sprinkle and a swift gust of wind in the middle of the night, I calmly and confidently assumed it was temporary. The rain swiveled on and off, like the windmill we were sleeping under. Until a crash of thunder signaled the sky to dump itself onto us. Instantly all three of us jumped up and grabbed our soggy sleeping bags and began the struggle to set up the tent. It was too late by the time it was up and everything that needed to be dry was completely wet.
The sky continued to pout the next morning and kept everything soggy and lowered morale. We didnâ€™t get going until about 2 in the afternoon. We only covered about 15-20 miles that day, but got to ride a nice downhill section through a beautiful box canyon where the rocks seemed to change colors at every turn. I lost my favorite brown fleece hoodie and rode miles back to look for it, and found nothing.
Camped at the Gila River and began a gradual ascent towards a town of Oracle. From there we had another dayâ€™s worth of climbing over
Mt. Lemon and figured we would descend from there down to the 24 hour race. The day was getting late and Oracle began lighting up in the distance. It was going to be a really late night, the dirt road would spill us out onto a highway just after sundown and we would have a good 8 miles of road riding into the town. But there was a pizza place in town, and we were not going to miss out on that.
Then I saw a sign that said â€œBicycle event in progressâ€� just before a quick-up tent filled with race info pamphlets.
â€œThe race coordinators are just down that road about a mile away. You should go check it out.â€�
I was a ways ahead of the others and went to check out the scene. The party had already begun, with the tent/RV city taking shape. I rounded up Goat & Sean and we set up camp.