Over the course of this past fall I submitted a series of posts about introducing bikepacking to college students at Fort Lewis College located in Durango, Colorado. The following is the first in a series of posts about a team of students preparing and tackling their first big multi-day bikepacking adventure. When I introduced bikepacking into our collegiate outdoor program this past fall, I was hoping that such programming would spark in the students an interest and passion to pursue the activity beyond simple weekend trips…
Team AZ—Spring Breaking on the Arizona Trail
When one typically thinks of a college spring break, visions of young scantily clad coeds flocking to beach destinations may come to mind. For many spring break means a week of forgetting about the demands of college life and engaging in activities that may not make many mothers (or fathers) proud. Throughout my career as a collegiate outdoor educator it has been my charge to create alternatives to such activities—to develop programming that is healthy for the mind, body and soul. I have taken college students to Mexico to rock climb; to Costa Rica to learn to surf and speak Spanish; to paddle sea kayaks among the Florida Keys; to explore remote canyons of our desert southwest; to ski and ice climb in Canada; as well as to whitewater kayak the amazing rivers and creeks of the southeastern U.S. All of these trips have been amazing, but this year’s trip may surpass them all.
On November 28th an invitation went out to all of the students who had participated in the two bikepacking trips we offered this past fall to take on the challenge of riding the Arizona Trail during our spring break scheduled for the first week of March. On January 7th five students and one OP staff member committed themselves in the form of a trip deposit to embark on this adventure. For many in the group this trip will be the grandest adventure of their lives—the greatest number of miles they have ever traveled unsupported on a bike; and the most remote they have ever been from their loved ones and ever-present technology. This adventure has the potential to be life transforming.
Team AZ Member: Beau (photo courtesy of Courtney Ott)
Team AZ Member: Katelyn
The Arizona Trail runs 750-plus miles from the Arizona/Mexico border to the Utah border. This National Scenic Trail connects and encompasses mountain ranges, canyons, deserts, forest, wilderness areas, historic sites, trail systems, points of interests, communities and people. Hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers alike have enjoyed and challenged themselves on this grandiose trail. In April of 2006 the Arizona Trail 300 Race was first held as local mountain bike enthusiasts tested themselves against the harsh desert and mountainous environments and raced from near the Mexico border north 300 miles to Superior, Arizona. In the ensuing years cyclists would begin to race the entire 750-plus miles including a 24-mile portage across the “Big Ditch” (aka the Grand Canyon) where mountain bikes are not allowed.
Team AZ Member: Josh (photo courtesy of Courtney Ott)
Team AZ Member: Courtney (photo courtesy of Katelyn Spradley)
With only a week, the goal of Team AZ will be to ride from just south of Tucson north to Superior—essentially we will be riding the final 200 miles of the AZT 300. Upon consulting with AZT veterans such as Scott Morris, a mountain bike explorer and creator of TopoFusion, it was decided that this section of trail would be an appropriate goal for Team AZ. Given the terrain, the abilities of the team, and the time of year (early spring), the team hopes to average just over 30 miles per day departing the southern trailhead on the first Sunday of the break and reaching Superior the following Friday evening. An extra day is built into the itinerary to accommodate for any unforeseen circumstances.
Team AZ Member: Sam
Team AZ Member: Devin
Can we do it?
The answer to this question is being determined as I write. Though we can’t control the weather, terrain, or any other unforeseen circumstances, we can control how prepared we are for reaching our goal. As I invited this group of students to challenge themselves and embark upon this adventure, I laid out for them what completing such a goal would entail. This spring break would be worlds away from consuming drinks with umbrellas on a crowded beach. Rather words such as Teamwork, Fitness, Mental Toughness, Remote, Suffering, Uncomfortable, Exhaustion, Incredible Natural Beauty, Solitude, Self-Discovery, Personal Growth, Reliance, Trust, Fun, and MORE FUN, were used to explain what this one-of-a-kind spring break would be like. To reach our goal Team AZ will have to work as a team; be fit; have the right equipment for the task at hand; and have a little favorable luck. This will not be an ordinary outdoor program spring break where students blindly show up with their packs packed and pile into a van on their way to a backcountry adventure. Team AZ will have to use the time leading up to the adventure to prepare—to train, to design and acquire the appropriate equipment; to work out logistics; and ultimately come together as a true team.
Team AZ! (photo courtesy of Katelyn Spradley)