Note: This is the second in a series of posts about a group of Fort Lewis College students attempting a self-supported bikepacking trip on a portion of the Arizona Trail over their spring break in early March. Click here for Part One.
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. -Walt Disney
Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan in which we must fervently believe and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.
-Stephen A. Brennan
During our meeting in November, I played the role of a salesman who was selling a grand adventure to mountain bike the Arizona Trail without support. I showed flashy pictures of the trail, fully-loaded bikes and beautiful Arizona landscapes. I painted a picture of what it would be like to tackle such an endeavor: being self-reliant, rolling on two-wheeled machines through stunning desert and mountain landscapes; sleeping under an endless starry sky, and awaking each day to a glorious sunrise and a day of unknown possibilities; the feelings of accomplishment one would experience after summiting the leg searing climbs to high peaks; or the whoops of joy one would let out as we reap the fruits of our toil up those big climbs. As all good salesmen do though, I had to balance the flowery part of my pitch with the reality of the experience. Yes, the above are all a part of the package, but to achieve it a price would have to be paid. The finances to do this trip were small compared to the mental fortitude, physical energy, and time needed to prepare for and complete such an adventure.
As we returned to school after the winter break, the time for day dreaming about this adventure was over. It was time for action. It was time to start making the goal of riding the Arizona Trail a real possibility. It was time to prepare.
Team AZ members spinning on a Friday Afternoon (Brett, Katelyn & Courtney)
“Come on Courtney, don’t lose my wheel!” Those were the words I shouted as Team AZ participated in its weekly Friday afternoon spin class. With frigid temperatures and snow blanketing our local trails, riding our bikes on rollers or cranking on spin bikes became a great option for getting the necessary saddle time for the AZT. The physical training process took the form of four team workouts each week. On Monday mornings Team AZ members, Katelyn and Beau, would organize an outdoor adventure of some sort. These backyard adventures were designed to bring the team together as well as to get in a little physical activity. Early in January the team climbed a local peak. On another Monday they donned cold weather cycling gear and did a fatbike ride on the trails just off campus. On yet another Monday, they attempted to skate ski on the groomed trails of Durango’s public golf course.
Team AZ getting after it no matter the weather (Devin, Sam, Beau & Courtney). Photo courtesy of Katelyn Spradley
Tuesday and Thursday mornings found the team in the gym at 6:45 AM for grueling cross-fit workouts. These high intensity, short duration workouts included lots of push-ups, pull-ups, air squats, and short distance sprints. Our heart rates were maxed and our muscles gained more and more strength with each seemingly debilitating workout. Friday afternoon’s found us in a spin class climbing up imaginary singletrack along the AZT. Once off our spin bikes we would end our week with yet another short, high intensity cross-fit work out.
No pain, no gain! Beau & Courtney getting strong!
With a solid workout plan in place to ready us both physically and mentally for the adventure ahead it was time to focus on acquiring the correct equipment for the journey. In my sales pitch I had explained how, if they participated in this adventure, they would learn how to design and sew their own frame bags or make their own alcohol stove. This process would involve a lot of time on their parts.
Team AZ bending metal...
Every Wednesday at 6 PM, Team AZ would get together for a team meeting where we would focus on the different facets of bringing this trip together. During our first meeting we went over in detail the essential equipment needed to complete our goal. I broke everything down from clothing needed to both bike and general repair kits, to the various stove options. Having used an alcohol stove with great success on such trips I showed them my one pot and Arizona Tea can stove set-up. All were eager to make an alcohol stove of their own.
After raiding the various recycling bins around campus and town, everyone showed up to our next Wednesday meeting with several cans to cut, bend, and shape into a functioning alcohol stove. By the end of the evening, several team members had functioning stoves while others still needed to work on their prototypes. Needless to say, I believe some of the over 21 members of Team AZ particularly enjoyed the process, because it gave them an excuse to consume a few PBR tallboys or Foster’s beers.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the trip preparation process has been the design and construction of their frame bags. As part of our Wednesday team meetings I laid out for them how to make a pattern for a frame bag that would fit custom to their individual bike. Once their patterns were made and their fabric was cut out I conducted a clinic on the basics of sewing on an industrial sewing machine, as well as demonstrated how to put a zipper on their bag. Now it was up to them to learn by doing. For nearly everyone on the team (including me), the sewing portion of making their bags has been a bit overwhelming. There have been lots of mistakes made with a couple “do overs” along the way. But, as our departure date quickly looms, everyone’s bag seems to be taking the final shape. Wahoo!
Beau & Courtney in the midst of the design process...
Our remaining Wednesday meetings included a night of cooking meals on our alcohol stoves (with a discussion about meal planning and nutrition), as well as a final packing session. With our gear packed and stowed away on our bikes, improved fitness, and our sense of team growing daily, all that is left to do is to begin the ride. What will be, will be. Each member of Team AZ has worked extremely hard to prepare for this adventure. The journey began in January and now it is time to see how it ends…
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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.