Team AZ - Character Building

This is the fourth in a series of posts about a group of Fort Lewis College students attempting to ride self-supported a portion of the Arizona Trail over their Spring Break in early March…

Click here for Part OneClick here for Part Two.  Click here for Part Three.  Click here for Part Four.

With another day of blue skies overhead, a suitable route to reconnect with the trail found, and a new of burst energy (from the junk food). All of the members of the team except for two decided to push on into the unknown.  Besides Katelyn, Devin decided that he had received what he had wanted from the experience and was content to end his trip at that point. The remaining six members of the group were eager to get riding and finish the journey. Within minutes of the decision we topped off our water supplies, refilled our bottles of denatured alcohol, ate a few more snacks, and then were pedaling north on a gravel road paralleling the San Pedro River. We were on the road again.

With the decision made to continue—it was mini-resupply time...

Our map showed a gravel road that would take us to the Gila River and then intersect the AZT at a bridge over the river in the small community of Kelvin. From there we would get to ride the final 40 miles of singletrack to the Picketpost Trailhead. This section of the AZT, known as the Gila Canyons, was supposed to be particularly spectacular and bike friendly. As we rode north, the viability of our route choice started to come into question. First, there was the gate and sign that stated that our road was going to dead end in eight miles. This was a few miles short of Kelvin. After double-checking the GPS to make sure we were on the correct route, we opened the gate and proceeded on down the road. Four miles later we encountered another gate with another sign stating that the road would end in four miles. Too stubborn to be denied or turn around we pushed on. Before long we were paralleling the Gila River and could see the town of Kearney on the opposite side of the river from us. Passing through numerous gates, our road slowly began to deteriorate. It truly was going to end. A change in plan was needed. We needed to find a way to get across the river to Kearney where we could ride on Hwy 77 for a few miles before dropping down another gravel road to Kelvin. 

At the top of a little bluff overlooking the Gila, I spotted a woman on an ATV fording the river from Kearney. That would be our crossing point. Five minutes later, at what would be our final gate, we met the ATVer. She said we could easily cross the river and make our way into Kearney. Wahoo! Within minutes I was pedaling into the chocolate muddy waters of the Gila hoping I could make it across without having to swim. Needless to say, I didn’t make a successful landing on the other side while still pedaling, but the just above the knee wade was refreshing and easily doable. It was lunchtime and we had covered just under 20 miles for the day. Yea!

Jared making the crossing of the Gila to the town of Kearney...

After a brief stop at Buzzy’s to fulfill our urge for ice cream, we were riding west in a paceline on the small shoulder of Hwy 77. Within a few miles we were off of the busy highway and descending on a gravel road to Kelvin and the AZT. Once at the trail we began climbing on some of the most beautiful and pleasant singletrack we had encountered on our journey thus far. It was super sweet as it climbed up and contoured above the river. The trail flowed among the giant saguaros standing as sentries along the mountainsides. The views into the carved out river valley combined with the trailside blooming flowers made our late afternoon ride the most enjoyable of the trip. We rode into the sunset relishing in the decision to continue on. It would have been a real shame to have missed this section of trail. After riding 17 miles of very enjoyable singletrack and covering 40 total miles for the day, we made camp near the river where the AZT turns north leaving the Gila behind to head towards Superior. The crew was exhausted, but everyone was in good spirits. Tomorrow would be our final day on the trail. The light at the end of the tunnel was beginning to come into focus.

The best singletrack of the trip...

At midnight I was awakened by a couple of big fat raindrops. As the rain began to fall in earnest, we scrambled to string up our two tarps and find a dry space in which to get a few more hours of sleep. As the rain poured from the sky for the next several hours, our sleeping bags became soggier and soggier. Shortly before 6 AM the rain faded to intermittent drops and the team began to rally for an early morning start to the day. As light emerged from the darkness, gone were yesterday’s views of rocky buttes and summits to be replaced by storm-threatening clouds with many hues of grey and blue. It was going to be a wet day of riding…a character-building day.

Packing up in the rain and preparing for a “character-building” day...

Immediately after departing camp we began a long climb up to the inner canyons of the Gila. The hanging low clouds and cool weather were in stark contrast to our previous riding days of eternal blue skies and energy-sucking heat. The desert landscape was vibrant and alive with color. The riding was amazing as our trail snaked ever upward towards a lofty horizon. As we climbed rain showers would come and go and hence, rain jackets would go on and off. With such big country it became a game to anticipate when the approaching rain shower would douse us causing us to reach for an already soaked rain jacket. 

Heading towards the inner canyons.  Photo Courtesy of Courtney Ott

Lunch came early, as after several hours of climbing in such soggy conditions we were all ready for a much-needed break. We timed the stop well as the rain abated for a bit and we were treated to more stunning views. Before long though, it was time to continue upward as resting was not getting us any closer to our much-anticipated finish. 

Though soaked, our spirits were high at lunch...

Crack! I nervously flinched as lightning and thunder began to add to the foray of the weather we were experiencing. As morning transitioned into afternoon our weather became more severe. At one point, with marbles of ice unabashedly pelting us and causing welts on any exposed skin, Josh looked back at me and simply said, “This is character building.” I laughed and replied, “Yep, this is what this entire experience has been about…building character.” From dragging themselves out of bed for early morning workouts, ripping yet another seam to fix a sewing mistake on a frame bag, pulling cactus spines from skin and clothing, pushing a heavy bike through an unrideable section of trail, enduring all of the unknowns the trail presented, pushing through the leg-searing pain of seemingly never-ending climbs, the feelings of exhaustion yet the mental fortitude to push on, the ability to deal with the unexpected and not let it be demoralizing, to riding in a torrent of rain and ice with quickly deteriorating trail conditions—this is what this experience had been about. 

Riding in the rain...

It never rains in the desert...

As we rode our final slippery miles to our end point in a torrential downpour, I took a few moments to reflect on the past couple of months. I am so proud of these students—Beau, Courtney, Devin, Sam, Jared, Josh, and Katelyn. You each committed to attempting to do something seemingly impossible in your own minds. You each believed in the process to making the impossible a reality. You each sacrificed your own aspirations to work together and achieve something as a team—not as single individuals. You each persevered through all of the challenges presented to you. You did it! Congratulations!

After a group hug at the Picketpost TH, a soggy Team AZ walks the final few steps to our waiting van...
Note:  Team AZ rode a total of 213.5 unsupported miles over the course of six days. Wahoo!


All of us at Salsa thank Team AZ  for letting us share their story. But more importantly, we congratulate them on their effort on this trip. It is wonderful to see students choosing a less common path. -Kid

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Brett Davis Explore Mountain Biking Sponsored Riders Touring

Share this post:

Brett Davis

Brett Davis

I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.


No avatar image

cmherron | April 8th, 2013

Absolutely fantastic, congratulations!

No avatar image

David | April 8th, 2013

Fantastic work team! 

Curious to hear your reflections (now that the trip is done) on gear & equipment choices.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What could you have lived without?  And what do you wish you’d brought along for the ride?

No avatar image

Jim Davis | April 24th, 2013

Great trip made possible by a great leader.  Way to go Brett and Team AZ.

Mom and Dad

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.