Team AZ - Detours, Hemostats & De-Tensioned Wheels

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

Click here to read Part One.

Click here to read Part Two.

Team AZ—Detours, Hemostats & De-Tensioned Wheels

The students were giddy. They were fired up! They were ready to put all of their hard work and preparations to the test. It was time to put the rubber to the trail and have some good ol’ fashion fun riding mountain bikes. When you boil all of the preparations down (the trip logistics, the pre-trip work outs, the design and building of equipment, etc.), it all still comes down to the simple and fluid act of riding a bike. All of their preparations would help them make the journey, but only the act of taking one pedal stroke after another would truly knock out the miles.

Arizona Trail—Here we come!

We left campus on a Friday afternoon aiming to drive four hours or so to shorten our drive on Saturday to our starting point just south of Tucson, Arizona. The weather forecast for the week was promising with spring-like desert weather—meaning plenty of warm temperatures and lots of sunshine. Wahoo! It was going to be a welcome respite from a Colorado winter. The drive was uneventful and by Saturday afternoon we were in the starting zone. After a visit to a bike shop in Tucson for a few last minute items and a great final meal of cheeseburgers and fries from Five Guys Burgers & Fries, we made our way to our camp just down the road from our starting point. After discussions with numerous Arizona Trail (AZT) veterans it was decided that we would begin our ride on the trail south of Tucson at the intersection of Hwy 83 and Sahuarita Road. From there the goal was to ride the trail 200-plus miles north to the Picketpost Trailhead located outside of Superior. We had six days to get the job done with an extra day built into the itinerary for any unforeseen circumstances. 

Day one dawns with good omens...

Team AZ ready to begin the adventure...

Sunday morning dawned clear and beautiful with a stunning sunrise to welcome us onto the trail. There were no issues motivating Team AZ to rise from their sleeping bags as the nervous energy of anticipation was all that was needed to get the team moving. By 9AM we were taking the obligatory trailhead photos and soon tasted the first of many miles of singletrack. The AZT snaked in and out of the desert landscape. The coolness of the morning afforded us sights of multiple desert hares as well as a lone coyote making his way on the horizon to cooler venues as the heat was ramping up for the day. As with any start to a grand adventure, we were slow to find our rhythm. Numerous stops were made as we each adjusted our loads and shifted packed items from one spot to another. The trail has a way of shaking out improper packing jobs—before long a seatpost bag is sagging funny and rubbing on the rear wheel or the straps on an overloaded gear sling aren’t snug enough, causing more rubbing issues. The stops made our pace leisurely which was a great way to ease into the hard work ahead.

Enjoying the first few miles...

As we climbed towards Saguaro National Park the giant cacti became a permanent fixture of the landscape. Near Pistol Hill we encountered a fun-loving group of singlespeeders out for a Sunday afternoon ride. The guys of the Singlespeed Steeds of Steel were encouraging and gave us perhaps the most important piece of equipment we would need and utilize for the entire trip…a hemostat. Thinking ahead from previous biking forays into the desert I made sure my first aid kit was equipped with a pair of tweezers. I even went so far as to purchase an additional pair while on our final excursion into Tucson. So when offered the hemostat from an obviously wily veteran of the local desert riding, I was naïve and declined the offer. My mind quickly changed with his insistence and the fact that one of our team members had already had their first intimate encounter with a prickly friend. As I watched the tweezers come out and how inept they appeared for the job ahead, I realized at that moment that I would be a fool to turn down what would be the right tool for the many cactus spine removals ahead. 

Riding among the giant saguaros...

An ever present danger of the AZT. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ott

After our first trailside lunch our pace picked up as we rode some beautiful flowing singletrack to the edge of Saguaro National Park. Our journey on the AZT would have to take a detour for awhile as mountain bikes are not allowed on the trail through the park. Consequently, we followed paved roads around the western edge of the park (eastern outskirts of Tucson) to Redington Road—a dirt road which would connect us back to the AZT. After 50 miles and a final steep climb up the initial paved section of the road, Team AZ made camp for the night. Our resting place provided a spectacular vista in which to watch the final sunrays of the day dip below the city lights of Tucson. What a great first day!

A fitting finish to a great first day. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ott

Monday (day two) dawned clear and with a degree of uncertainty. After having spoken with several local AZT aficionados about the trail conditions on Mt. Lemmon and the ensuing Oracle Ridge, it was decided that we would have to take an alternate route to avoid being bogged down by the impassable snow on the northern reaches of the mountain. Scott Morris of Topo Fusion had previously provided me with an alternate route to be followed in just such a case. The only question was where there was viable water along the detour. In our preparations for the trail, we knew finding water was going to be a deciding factor of whether we would be able to complete our adventure or not. Every member of our team had the capability of carrying nearly 8 liters of water at any one time. I figured this amount would be more than enough to get us between water sources and even spend nights out in dry camps. The good folks of the Arizona Trail Association post on their website a table of potential water sources along the trail. I had these in hand, but I didn’t have any information on water sources for the 48-mile detour around Mt. Lemmon. The beginnings of all good adventures have an element of the unknown and we had just encountered our first worrisome unknown of the trip.

The San Pedro River Valley. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ott

Our snow detour consisted entirely of gravel roads as we climbed Redington Road, heading northeast towards the San Pedro river valley. The views were spectacular under beautiful blue skies. Several miles into the day’s ride we came upon our first viable water source. Wahoo! The concrete water tank had clear relatively-algae-free water in it. Everyone topped off their hydration packs and dromedaries. Drops of iodine were administered to the water to ensure that no one came away from this adventure with an unwanted parasite. 

Jared filling up with some much needed agua...

Near lunchtime our road began a long descent into the San Pedro valley. Over the course of the descent our group became separated due to our first major mechanical of the trip. After waiting nearly 20 minutes at the bottom of the descent, Katelyn, Sam, and Beau finally made it to where we were all patiently waiting in some much needed shade. Sam had flatted halfway down the descent. Upon further inspection though, it was learned that the spokes on his rear wheel had nearly all de-tensioned. We were so lucky his wheel had not folded under the stress of the descent. Katelyn had done her best to tighten the spokes with the pliers from a multi-tool, but it wasn’t going to get the job done for the long haul. The spokes needed to be re-tensioned and the wheel trued with a spoke wrench. Flipping the bike on its back I set out to essentially rebuild the wheel and make it useable (hopefully) for the remainder of the trip. After an hour of work utilizing the needed spoke wrench and a rudimentary method to check trueness, the wheel was ready to go. Sam was back in business and our merry band was back on its way. Time would tell if the wheel would stay intact, but for the time being the near disaster of having to walk out of the wilds was averted. Whew!

A backcountry wheel truing session. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ott

Our wheels taking a break...

As day two came to a close the need for water became increasingly more important. We had not encountered another water source since our fill-up that morning at the concrete cow tank. We still had enough water to last through the night, but the remaining 30-plus miles to the town of Oracle (our resupply for the next day) were another great unknown as far as water sources were concerned. As my worries started to come to a crescendo the trail gods smiled upon us and we spotted another cow tank just off our route. Upon investigation we found a nearly full silo of clear water just waiting for us. Hooray! Once topped off, a debate began in the group of whether or not to call it a day and make camp for the evening. The group was split. With a little cajoling and the help of a couple bags of peanut butter M & M’s, Team AZ rallied to put a few more miles behind us in the remaining hour of daylight. This would ultimately be a good choice as it would mean less riding on day three and thus, we would arrive into Oracle sooner to resupply and eat some ice cream. 

Refill #2...

The day presented us with a few unexpected challenges, but overall it was another superb day for riding bikes. We covered 35 miles with lots of ups and downs—both literally and figuratively. 

High fives all around as we end another hard day in the saddle. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ott

In my experience, day three of any multi-day adventure is the most difficult. Most of us in our daily lives hardly ever string together more than two consecutive days of performing a physically demanding activity (such as being on a bike for five or more hours a day). After two such days the body and mind are ready for a rest. I know that if I can just make it through day three, my mind and body will have adjusted to the work load of pedaling all day and that I will be over the hump and able to ride for days on end without a rest. As we departed camp and began climbing right away, I explained to the group my experience of what the challenges of a third consecutive day in a saddle would be. If they just made it through the day, then the following days would be a piece of cake.

Getting ready for another day on the bike. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ott

As the day progressed, I knew each team member was engaged in his or her own individual mental battle of will. Who would want to abandon the journey in Oracle? It would be so easy to do, as it would be our last little bit of civilization before our end point near Superior. For much of the day I was a cheerleader encouraging each team member to break through the mental and physical fatigue barriers. They could do this. This is why we trained and pushed ourselves during all of our early morning workouts. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. 

Oracle Ridge covered in snow. The detour was in order...

After a steep climb/hike-a-bike to the Cody trail we were reunited with the AZT and back on route. We just had about ten miles or so of singletrack left to ride to our resupply. The riding into Oracle is technical with many varieties of cactus overgrowing the trail. A particularly problematic cactus is the Cholla. It seems that the sole purpose of this devious plant is to impale itself into any flesh that it can. Riding a technical trail while trying to avoid the many sharp things trying to grab you is draining. As I led the group towards Oracle, I found myself under constant attack with my arms and legs getting poked, pried at, and scraped with every pedal stroke. My arms were a blood-streaked mess by the time I stopped for our first regroup. These scrapes though would be just minor nuisances compared to the havoc a “jumping” Cholla would inflict. As I descended into a sandy wash, I felt what I thought was a wasp stinging my shin. Taking my right hand off my brake lever I reached down to swat the little flying terror off of my leg. To my surprise I swatted a large clump of a Cholla—imbedding its spines into my hand as well as deeper into my shin. It was time for the hemostat, because tweezers were definitely not going to get this thing out of my leg or hand. Ouch!

The devious “jumping” cholla...

The hemostat called into service on Brett. Photo courtesy of Josh Larsen

By 4 PM we had covered the last paved miles into the Oracle Market. Our crew descended upon the little store’s aisles of food and supplies with purpose, acquiring more instant oatmeal, rice and noodle packets, cheese, energy bars, dried fruit, and…ice cream. We had made it to the resupply. Three days and 122 miles were completed. Our detour was over and from here on out we would be on the AZT trail proper. Packing lessons were learned. Mechanical disasters were averted. The value of carrying a hemostat would never again be underestimated. And lastly, all team members were in good spirits and ready to forge on to complete the ride to Superior. We might actually complete this…     

Team AZ makes it to Oracle... be continued...


This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Brett Davis Explore Overnighter 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

M&D | March 26th, 2013

Can’t wait to continue….hooray for Team AZ for what they’ve accomplished so far ! Amazing adventure.

No avatar image

bc | March 27th, 2013

Great story and photos—who knew a cow tank of water would be so welcomed! Looking forward to reading more

No avatar image

Jim and Dian | April 2nd, 2013

What a ride!  Thought we were out there in the cacti with you!  Congrats to all of Team AZ.
Looking forward to more adventures!!

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.