What is this freedom? There are too many reasons to ride far. We took up the Arizona Party Series in acknowledgment of this; that the morning ritual of coffee by campfire is as important as the daylong effort of making miles disappear. Ride long, don’t rush, repeat. So it goes…
Arriving home early from our original tour APS tour, I couldn’t stand to waste days blubbering about the internets or otherwise slothing about. I sought approval for part two in a matter of minutes. With the remaining free days, I was to keep getting lost in the dirty desert. I would do so by riding back to Tucson. This was a great idea.
I would have three reasons to return to Tucson. First, el truka. It was left there as part of the logistics of AZT1. Secondly, the stretch of trail from PHX to TUC is arguably magical and perhaps the quintessential section of AZT if Arizona is to be considered a desert. Thurd reason is El Guero Canelo. If you have not, you should.
Yuri, having done his time, was out. This journey was now a ITT thing. This made me sad for a few reasons. First, I am not so good with accountability. Good accountabilibuddies are a hard to find, and harder to keep, and Yuri wouldn’t be there for this second effort of AZT riding. This means I would have to work REALLY hard on the judgement calls, which I did have trouble with. This is because when things get weird, I get curious, or perhaps I simply turn pro, I don’t know. Also, a year ago, I had experienced mega debilitating failure attempting this same route. No reason there to sniffle, but when things break, I tend to remember. So, in a way – and I am understating this – I was facing the fears of riding alone which is no big deal except that it is.
It re-began with a metro ride on the Light Rail to the end of it’s Mesa tracks. This was probably the most confortable part of the ride. Four hours later I would escape the hellish grid of Mesa, to arrive on dirty firma.
Picketpost Trailhead arrived with tired legs and two hours of light to ride out. I was able to get up into the higher ranges south of Picketpost Mountain for the night’s camp. There, it was peaceful and the sense of remoteness was striking. The horizon is southern.
When the day ends, there is no better thing than a bit of fire.
The Tapestry of the AZT
The Arizona Trail cuts a path through the Sonoran desert of Arizona that has (kinda) held man back enforcé ever since man was man except for the mines and explosives. But to be out here as a wee person, within the topography of the area, and one is in a labyrinth of washes, canyons, canyonitas, grasslands, plateaus, mountains, mesas, ranch land, ravines, rivers, and gates as far as the eye can see. It’s all known and recorded and divided, but it’s not known like KNOWN. The further one gets to the reality of what the topo map suggests, the more mesmerizing and relevant the terrain becomes. Bikepacking provides this in ways that road bikes simply can’t.
I had that realization as I was meandering past the Gila enroute to Kelvin and Ripsey. Riding on that AZT Tapestry and comparing it to the map, and soon enough, smallness becomes the issue. The stretch between PHX and TUC takes two days of haste to cover, three if you’re smart, and progress is measured in little dots and the little dots dont move very faste. The smallness felt can be profound and surprisingly emotional. At some point, somewhere between the to civilizations, there is a day of travel in either direction to get anywhere. This is no man’s land. Anxiety builds up, but for what? A stop light? Where are you going? That is your mind talking. Shut up mind.
There are over 50 gates on the AZT from the Mexican border to Superior Arizona over approximately 300 miles. Gates, in a way, set the tempo. After the 10th gate, the whole process of stopping, getting off heavy awkward bike, opening, going through, dragging bike, then wrestling it back closed…. well, it’s harder than it sounds when it goes like ticking clockwork against the sun’s pace.
This is Arizona as I want to see it. Not over-laden with humanity, there is something to the Sonoran desert, as far as the eye can see, that kicks calming. No cars, no boats, no bullshit of modernity. In these places, things seem calm. Things are calm. At least, on the surface close to the fire.
In Arizona, or the Southwest, this type of idea is incredibly easy to get into. Once “into it” well, the truth comes out fairly efficiently because it becomes no joke. Here, almost any direction hides great possibilities for wandering. And within wandering, purpose (or lack thereoff) is easier to define.
It wasn’t so much the 500 miles, but the hasty amount of time it was done in. If the legs were there, the legs were beat. As it should be. You aren’t there to conquer as much as you are there to survive.
Bikepacking makes civilization a wonderful thing. After seven days with one hotel and one home stop, I imagine having to live like this, and wow o wow is all I can think. It might be unbearable. No, it is unbearable. But in time, a new town emerges, and comfort is available once again. A shower, a table, a chair. The little things that separates a man from the elements. I would arrive in Tucson at 9pm one day after leaving the confines of Phoenix via the Light rail. By the time I arrived to Kelvin on the second day of riding, I was cashed in. I would find hwy 77 and ride it south through the mining country to Mammoth – another strange town between PHX and TUC. There, I would scale two large barbed wire fences. This is where I needed Yuri for accountability, because heaving the bike and the gear up and over two 8+ foot barbed wire fences with signs stating “tresspassers would be prosecuted to the fullest” was getting into dumb territory. On the insides of those fences was the extinct TIGER MINE. I would pedal through the extinct strip mine for a few hours it seemed, both getting lost and getting unlost in its own labyrinth of man made canyons and mountains and roads. TO my south was a collapse of excavated earth so large it was unimaginable. It was scary…. creepy. But it was the choice that was made. In time and silence, I would find the end which became the Tiger Mine trailhead of the AZT. From there, it was an easy 2.5 hour pedal to Guero Canelo, where I would ease the pain with a Very Mucho Chicken Burrito, and basque in the success of society. I would then drive the simple hour back to PHX in the truck, and be in amazement that the hour it takes by car, is a two+ day journey by off road cycling.