Monday, March 31, 2014

Bikepacking Arizona's Black Canyon Trail

     I would like to start this blog posting by pointing out that my wife, Laurel, had never been bike packing, and she decided that it was time to confront her massive fear of desert reptiles on the BCT. I, for one, was a bit slow to the idea of bikepacking for pure pleasure, instead of training or racing. I am glad I warmed up to the idea, because it was a fantastic experience and quite nice to share some real time with Laurel in this busy, modern world. I will keep this posting much more brief than my wordy write up of the Tour Divide, but will make up for my lack of words with more photos.
     We started our trip from The Creekside Preserve Lodge in Mayer, Az, which is on the northern portion of the trail. The lodge proved a great starting point due to its close proximity to a trailhead, and also, because the staff allowed us to leave our car for the duration of our trip, even though we only spent one night in a cabin. The cabin was comfy and had a nice in room soaking tub, even if a bit tacky!
     The first day was a bit rough for us on the trail. For starters, the trailhead was quite undeveloped and had us bush-wacking through the desert, following a gpx track, until we finally found the ribbon of single track that would be home for the next four days. Secondly, and much more importantly, our spoiled, unadulterated Northern California skin was introduced to a beast so foul, so vicious, that a true horror story could be written around it. This beast, known as Cat's Claw, seemed to thrive on the northern portion of the trail, and was absolutely, painfully unavoidable. Between the Cat's Claw, the multitude of rocks and the long sections of exposure, our forward progress could only be described as pathetic (note to self; when an Arizona mountain biker says a trail is not technical, don't listen, because their scale is clearly different than the one used in California!).
Rocky exposure
Cat's Claw carnage
Cat's Claw

     Even with all of the challenges during the first day, the riding was fantastic, the scenery beautifully diverse and the primitive camping absolutely stunning.  

    The second day of riding proved to be equally technical as the first, but the trail was much more maintained, which meant less encroaching Cat's Claw to slow our progress. By this point, Laurel was mastering her crash technique, and was dazzling me with her ability to dismount her bike in mid air before headfirst plunges off of the trail. I, on the other hand, simply went for the headfirst approach, as I am far too prideful to admit that I am going to eat shit, therefore holding on well past the point of no return. I think that this would be a good place to interject that we were riding fully loaded hardtails, which, no doubt, compounded every small technical aspect into a large one...the old proverbial mountain out of a molehill scenario. Our incredibly slow progress eventually led us to Black Canyon City and a much needed respite at The Rock Springs Cafe. This was a fantastic place to sit in the shade, eat amazing pie and plan our next move. As we relaxed, we decided to roll across the highway and rent a Kozy Kabin at the Black Canyon City KOA. Not exactly a pillar of luxury, it was nice to take a shower and lick our wounds.
Mural in Black Canyon City
      Our third day of riding felt a lot more like a normal day ride. Don't get me wrong, we still struggled miserably with the terrain, but we spent much more time sightseeing and focused a little less on forward progress. Starting our day at the Black Canyon City trailhead, we quickly found ourselves riding the first real sections of exposure in our mountain biking lives. To say we actually rode those sections would be an outright lie. We actually walked every exposure section like the proper cowards that I guess we are. I now have a deep respect for all of the exposure riding videos I have watched, as it is a long way down with no positive outcome for the sucker who makes the wrong move!
     The rest of the day was full of fantastic riding, albeit loaded with little climbs. The great thing about this section was how quickly terrain would change, constantly keeping us on our toes. The long climbs would give way to fantastic, flowing single track descents that were a blast to ride. We also came across the first riders we had seen for the whole ride: three guys killing it on S-Works Epics (I'm not going to lie, I was a bit jealous of their bikes).
     As evening began to encroach, we started to look for a camping spot for the night. Unfortunately, we were smack in the middle of an area heavily used for shooting and moto riding, so we had to push on looking for a spot. At this point, Laurel was ready to stop and I just kept telling her that there was probably something better around the next corner, over the next hill. As it turned out, there was a nice little spot, it was just around and over the next thousand corners and fifty hills. We finally settled into a little spot on top of the hill and pitched camp. It was great to lie in the tent, watching the stars and listening to the desert come to life. What a time to reflect on the trip so far.


      The last day of riding, as always, is a little bittersweet. It is always nice to get back to the world, get cleaned up and eat and drink to the heart's content, but it also means the inevitable return to worldly responsibility and its faithful companion, stress. As we packed up our last campsite, I couldn't help but look around and really admire the beauty of my surroundings. The mountain bikers of Phoenix are really incredibly lucky to have such an amazing trail system at their very door. As we rode during our last day, the trail began to level out, and the riding became very flowy and fun. We swooped through saguaro, had our first and only flat tire ( Thank you WTB!), tangoed with a Tarantula, crossed a very pronounced threshold from dirt to the pavement and rode into Anthem, Az, concluding our first husband and wife bikepacking adventure.

The End


  1. Nice work and beautifully written, as always.

  2. Really enjoyed reading about your trip. My wife and I did our first ride on the Katy Trail about a month ago and fell in love with endurance rides, nothing as primitive as what you and your wife did (which I would really enjoy), but none the less, we plan on doing more!