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Team AZ - More Detours & Sweet Singletrack

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 One.

Click here for Part Two.

Click here for Part Three.

We awoke just north of the Tiger Mine Road trailhead to another beautiful Arizona spring day. On the previous evening we had completed our resupply at the Oracle Market and then made our way back to the Arizona Trail (AZT) to camp for the evening. From this point forward we had roughly 80 miles of trail to ride before reaching our end point at the Picketpost Trailhead located just east of Superior, Arizona. Though the group had worked extremely hard to get to this halfway point, I secretly thought that the second half of the ride was going to be the most difficult. Gone would be the detours on gravel roads where we had made decent time, but rather we would be riding technical singletrack that would be both mentally and physically demanding. There was little doubt in my mind that all of our preparations would be put to the test over the next couple of days.

The last rays of day three—Halfway to Superior...

Our trail riding on Wednesday (day four) began with a series of short ups and downs. When looking at the ride as an elevation profile it resembles the teeth on a saw blade. We would climb 300 feet up to a ridge top, descend down the other side of the ridge into a wash, and then begin to climb yet another ridge. After about the fourth or fifth of these ridges, the energy rush from actually riding singletrack had worn off on the group. We now settled in to doing the hard work this portion of the trail presented. Additionally, the “jumping” chollas were out in force as I took to riding with the hemostat in a pocket on my cycling shorts for easier access rather than storing it in my backpack. Since I had been out in front for the majority of the riding for our first few days, I assumed the role of “sweep” as we embarked on the singletrack. It was a common occurrence that morning to pedal up to a team member with multiple cactus spines protruding from a sock or any uncovered flesh. I soon gave up the chore of picking the spines out and let the unfortunate victim get right to it. Every Team AZ member was earning their “adventure merit badges.”

Climbing to the top of yet another ridge...

After nearly 12 hard miles we lunched at a high point with expansive views of the surrounding desert landscape. We were in the middle of nowhere and going deeper with each pedal stroke. It was starting to sink into each of us how an expected accident (broken bike frame, busted rim, or a significant injury) would make getting safely out of “nowhere” a huge endeavor. We had to continue to ride conservatively, be smart, and hope for a little luck.   

Team AZ at lunch...

As we began our afternoon of riding, we soon came upon our first water stop for the day. The Mountain View tank, as called by the AZT Association, was full. To our surprise as we topped off our water supplies we found the open aired tank to have minnows living in it—not tadpoles, but fish. That was a first! 

A desert water stop with minnows and all...

Our ride continued through rolling hills as we gradually made our way ever upward. We made better time than we did in the morning as the singletrack was smooth and entirely rideable. Before long we were beginning a long descent to Camp Grant Wash. It felt as if the bottom had dropped out as we quickly descended toward the wash. Our brakes were hot as we worked hard to control our speed and safely negotiate the many switchbacks built into the ever-descending trail. After a fatiguing, bumpy ride downhill, I made it into the wash and found an unexpected surprise waiting for me. “Brett, Katelyn is hurt real bad.” These were the words I was greeted with as I dropped the final turn into the sandy wash. I looked over and saw Katelyn sitting calmly in the wash. She was conscious and coherent, not writhing in pain, and had no blood pouring from an open wound. Her injury did not appear to be immediately life threatening so I had time to lay my bike down and assess the situation. 

Riding deeper into “Nowhere”...

Upon finishing the descent into the wash, Katelyn had unclipped from her left pedal and placed her foot down. Upon doing so she lost her balance due to both the sandy conditions and heavily laden bike. On instinct she went to catch herself before falling over. Upon making this quick maneuver she heard and felt a “pop” on the outside of her left knee. This “pop” was a familiar feeling to her as she had experienced it several times before…she knew her ride of the AZT was finished and that most likely another knee surgery was looming in her future. Now we just had to get her safely out of “Nowhere.”

With the help of a GPS and a map we quickly determined our location—five miles west of Hwy 77 and Aravaipa Road. By climbing out of the wash for a little bit we were able to find cell reception and get in touch with the other group we had in the area who were rock climbing on Mt. Lemmon. We made plans to evacuate Katelyn down the wash to the highway where the rock climbers would meet us the following morning. Now we just needed a bit of luck to make the self-rescue a success.

Luck was indeed with us as:
1) Katelyn was able to ride her bike—she was in discomfort, but she could ride. Yea!
2) Camp Grant Wash wasn’t so sandy that it was impossible to ride a bike down it. Whew! 

It was 4 PM when we started down the wash and by 5:30 PM we had made it to the San Pedro River Valley. Highway 77 was just on the other side of the river valley. Upon investigation we realized we would not be able to easily intersect Hwy 77 on our current course—it was going to be bushwhacking hell through the river bottom. Our only option was to go north on the rudimentary road we had just intersected as the wash opened into the broad river valley. Six miles north was the small community of Dudleyville. Once there we could hopefully meet up with the other group and pick up our van as they were scheduled to shuttle it to our end point for us.

Beginning the detour down Camp Grant Wash...

With the sun setting on the horizon and Katelyn still able to endure the rigors of riding, we set off to ride another five miles and get as close to Dudleyville as possible for the evening. As the last rays of the day faded into darkness we met our goal and found a secluded camp site within an easy mile of our rendezvous point for the next morning. With camp set up, the team rallied to cook a meal as a group as we all circled up around Katelyn. The day ended with discussions about lessons learned, trip high and low points, and what it means to give your all to something when the outcome is unknown. The feeling throughout the group was that our attempt at riding the AZT was over. We gave it our all, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us. Our final act for the evening was to light three candles on a stack of mini cinnamon rolls and sing a round of “Happy Birthday” as today was Katelyn’s 23rd birthday.

A trailside birthday cake...

As the grey light of dawn began spreading across the eastern horizon, each member of Team AZ began to stir and go through his/her morning routine—light the alcohol stove; boil water; add a couple packets of oatmeal; deflate sleeping pad; pack seatpost bag; brush teeth; apply sunscreen, etc. By day five, everyone’s packing systems and routines were dialed and people were on autopilot. They were bikepackers. 

By 9 AM we pedaled across the San Pedro River and had met the trip leaders of the rock climbing crew. As the team snacked on chips, red vines, and apples, a discussion began to take place of whether or not to continue on with the journey and try to reach our goal of the Picketpost Trailhead. Katelyn’s injury was not in need of an immediate fix. Consultations with various doctors, along with a potential MRI were in her future, but there was little chance of increasing the damage already done by delaying for a few days. She could essentially Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate (RICE) for the next couple of days and then meet us in Superior. As the group debated on what to do, a map was pulled out and a route connecting us back to the AZT was determined. To make up for lost time, we didn’t want to have to backtrack to Camp Grant Wash and then ride back up it to regain the trail where we had left it the day before. We needed to continue on with the detour and reconnect with the trail at some point north of where we currently were. What would the team decide?

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TO BE CONTINUED MONDAY...

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

COMMENTS (1)

M&D | April 1st, 2013

we can’t wait for this to continue….ouch, ouch on the cactus. What a learning lesson for all on nature and life…endurance with a positive attitude.

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