Corn dog, corned beef, corn nuts, candy corn... Somehow we got onto a corn kick - name everything containing "corn" - about halfway through the first day of our Arizona trek. Not sure how we got on the corn kick. Maybe it was the 22 switchbacks out of buckskin wash or an escape from the reality of what we had just started: a 750+ mile, North to South off-road bicycle crossing of Arizona.
The idea of riding across AZ came to Brian Bennett and me during a drunken evening at John Benson's white-trash party in 2005. Over a year later, at noon of the 2006 Autumn Equinox, Brian Bennett, Blair Foust and I (Troy Marino) started our trip on the Arizona Trail (AZT) in Buckskin Wash at the Utah border.
start at the UT border
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The first 10 miles consisted of 20+ switchbacks and 2,000 feet of climbing. The single-track, weather and views were perfect. After that we ripped rolling pasture lands to soft and climbing single-track consisting of pine needles and momentum killing pinecones. South East of Jacob Lake I realized that we were going to run out of daylight before our rendezvous with my wife, Dara Marks-Marino and Brian's wife, Jennifer Bennett. As we rode single and double-track trails through the forest affected by the June 2006 Warm Fire, I checked our global positioning system (GPS) for a good location to jump onto Highway 67. Soon we could hear the cars on the highway so we rode through the woods and jumped onto 67. I was bummed to leave the dirt but the 5 miles of pavement would likely insure that we would make it to camp by dark; or so we thought... At sunset we made it to what I thought was the rendezvous location but a mishap in our earlier communication meant that we had to huddle by a fire for 2 hours as the nighttime temperatures approached freezing. We made our fire next to a bow hunter camp. The bow hunters arrived after an hour and we explained our predicament. They offered to give us a ride - to look for Dara and Jen - and as we accepted, Dara and Jen pulled up. Let this be a lesson: if you are meeting a second party at a location that neither of you have ever seen, then be very explicit with your rendezvous arrangement and have a backup plan!
After a warm meal in the van, I had a cold night's sleep and was somewhat concerned about the rest of the trip. I was fairly wiped out after only one day, but it was a tough first day consisting of fifty miles, five thousand feet of climbing, and building a fire to stay warm.
The 40 miles of AZT to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was just spectacular. The red and golden colors of fall made it brilliant and all three of us rode a strong day two.
Blair ripping AZT single-track
During the ride, I went ahead about 200 feet to snap a bicycle action-photo. "Hey guys you might want to forget about the photo and check out this porcupine I just scared up a tree!" That spiney but cute critter was rather distressed climbing 40 feet up a Ponderosa pine tree. Additionally, Brian and Blair spotted a cat watering at Pleasant Valley Tank. They considered it to be a bobcat. I caught a glimpse and thought that it was larger than a bobcat, but then again everything looks big in the forest. That day Dara and Jen went out to ride bikes on the Rainbow Rim Trail, but we all pulled into the Grand Canyon North Rim campground at exactly the same time. The reunion on day two was much smoother than that of day one! We set up camp and headed over to the North Rim Lodge. None of us had been to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is so much more spectacular than the South Rim. Dinner and sunset on the rim followed by gazing through telescopes at binary star systems and planets put us all into a warm and fuzzy place.
To cross Arizona lengthwise you must either hike 23 miles through the Grand Canyon or ride hundreds of miles around. We decided to hike. Bikes are not allowed in the Grand Canyon so we had ours shuttled around by Four Season Outfitters. We could have carried the bikes on our backpacks, but having them shuttled made the Grand Canyon hike a nice little vacation.
first day into the canyon via the cliff-side North Kaibab Trail
Brian and Jen near Roaring Springs in the Grand Canyon
Jen and Dara hiked into the canyon with us for the first night. We had no tent but we did string up a 6 by 8 foot tarp. I woke up with a few light drops hitting my face. All I could do was laugh out loud to the partly cloudy and starry night sky as I thought of the five of us huddled under that tarp. Fortunately it never rained.
4 fingers = day 4
After breakfast, we parted ways with Jen and Dara and continued down the
North Kaibab trail. Blair and I were just floating along singing a homemade
tune about how bacteria is the most evolved species on the planet
when I almost stepped
onto a Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnake. I was glad for the tail-rattle warning.
Without further incident we made it down to Phantom Ranch where we downed 12 Tecates before one o'clock. Cheers to electricity and cold beers at the bottom
of the canyon! After some soaking in Bright Angle Creek, and a dinner of orzo,
summer sausage and sun dried tomatoes, we called it a day.
Blair takes a shower at Ribbon falls during our second day crossing the Grand Canyon
I woke up at 3:00 AM to take care of my toes. I don't hike much so 3 of my little pigs were barking and raw from the last two days of hiking. After a light breakfast and coffee we were on Bright Angel Trail by 4:00 AM. We hiked with headlamps then stopped just below Indian Gardens campground to enjoy Indian Creek as daylight arrived. I hiked through there on my third day as an Arizonian, eighteen years ago. For me, Garden Creek has a magical feel. As we entered Indian Gardens campground, bats flew around and between us. I wish they would have landed on a shoulder so I could see their charming little mouse faces.
hiking out of the Grand Canyon on day 5
By 9:00 AM we were eating skillet plates at Bright Angle Lodge. Thanks to Four Season Guides, our bikes made it around the Canyon and we
were pedaling and stocking up our food supply at the Grand Canyon store by lunch
time. Dirt roads and trail got us out to Grand View Tower, and then
beautiful AZT single-track got us out to Russell Tank.
camp at Russell Tank
I came up with some weird squash, summer
sausage, orzo concoction and we then bedded down to our coldest night of the trip. It was likely in the mid 30s, but the fire did help keep us warm.
After a cold night, we spent some time that morning purifying water from Russell Tank. Fortunately it was good tasting water.
start of day 6 at Russell Tank - I look like a merry grump!
With 75 miles of dirt roads
and trail to Flagstaff, day 6 turned out to be a demanding ride. We were all
carrying a lot of camping gear that was nice to have hiking through the Grand Canyon,
but not so nice to have in a heavy pack while pedaling a bicycle down bumpy trails.
We also underestimated our calorie consumption and about 30 miles from Flagstaff
we ran out of food.
loaded bike and pack
As we got ornery from the
miles and lack of calories, we came across two bow hunters and like Blair's
mom said, "It never hurts to ask." Blair went over, told the two hunters our story,
and those nice fellows loaded us up with bananas, Doritos, Gatorade, Snicker Bars
and homemade elk slim-jims! The hunters were breaking camp after they successfully
took down a large buck from 100 feet. They said the arrow went all the way
through. We shared stories with the hunters and went on our way.
The golden aspens of fall lit up the mountain sides as we climbed and made our way around the Kachina Peaks. We rolled into Flagstaff at sunset, got a shower and ate at Taco's Los Altos. It was good to sleep in my own bed.
Brian repairs the first flat of the trip. Flagstaff is on the other side of those distant Kachina peaks
sunset fading as we ride trails close to my home
After eating breakfast at Martans and reducing our pack loads, we stopped by Steve Garro's shop where he installed a head badge on my new playboy blue Coconino 29 inch touring mountain-bike. From there we detoured from the AZ trail so that we could ride fun trails through Sedona. Sedona has some of the best single-track in the state so we decided that a mountain-bike ride across Arizona should include Sedona. To get to Sedona we took the Old Munds Highway - a smooth and fast dirt road that follows an old logging railroad grade from Flagstaff to Munds Park. From Munds Park we took the Schnebly Hill dirt road and the Old Munds Wagon Trail singletrack into Sedona, then Broken Arrow, Little Horse and Bell Rock Trails into the Village of Oak Creek.
Old Munds Wagon Trail
note the lighter load on bike and back.
Blair working the trail
bridging the pools
Sedona trail side
We had dinner at Los Betos. From there we picked up beers and food for breakfast the next day, then camped in the high desert. I watched the waxing moon set and felt the warmth of contentment as I fell asleep.
For our first breakfast of day eight, we pulled blueberry muffins, bananas and Starbucks Double-shots from our packs. We then decided to make a paved road detour to Montezuma's Well, however, at McGuireville we discovered that we must head back North four miles to get there, so we canned that idea and rode into Camp Verde, AZ, for a second breakfast at the world's slowest restaurant. From there we ascended Mingus Mountain via Cherry Road - a long dirt road climb that got us back up into the larger shade trees of higher elevations, and took us through the "off-the-grid" town of Cherry, AZ.
Cherry Road climb
In Cherry we found "no trespassing" signs and every water spout locked. Welcome
to Cherry, now keep going...
At least they have a cool old 4x4 fire truck and I managed to fill half a water bottle in a shallow creek.
day 8 in Cherry, AZ
After some descending we crossed highway 169, then got off my GPS tracks and ended up at a ranch. We tried to talk to some folks there about some dirt roads but no one spoke English. So we turned around and while looking for another jeep road heading south we came across a very skinny "alien" dude and his abstractly painted van complete with a large mother-ship antennae. He had a Wal-mart mountain-bike and said that he was a "terrain rider". He offered some water (I was getting low) and I emptied out my unfiltered Cherry Creek water and gratefully filled my water-bottle. Later I realized that he may have thought I WAS NUTS for emptying my water. He didn't know it was unfiltered... So he directed us to an old Jeep road that correlated with my GPS data. This worked great until the road disappeared. We could see the outline of the old dirt road but it seemed that someone came through and destroyed the road twenty years ago. It was very rough going and I had to encourage Brian and Blair to stick with the idea of following the GPS even though we were moving about two miles per hour on no trail. The ground was so soft that we had to pedal just to keep moving downhill.
no trail or road to follow just go South
It worked out and within a mile we were on some great double track that took us
across highway 69 where we picked up the old Sycamore Road that took us into the
town of Mayer. We found Papa's Steak House -
full of spur wearing cowboys, and a crappy honkytonk band. The staff was very
nice and in no time I was full of prime rib, beers and crappy music.
We slept about 100 yards behind the honkytonk Steak House.
parking outside of Papa's Steak House
Because we knew it would be a hot day through Bloody Basin as we descended into the Sonoran Desert, we awoke early and were eating breakfast at the Cordes Junction McDonalds by 5:45 AM. We then stocked up on water and snacks at the gas station where three women had been programmed to say "Good Morning! How are you?" every time we went inside. I went in three times to buy snacks, use the restroom and fill my water bottles and by the third time I did not tell them how I was. Blair and I decided that they were robot-people. Shortly after sunrise we were on Bloody Basin Road.
9 fingers=day 9 on Bloody Basin Road
Brian catches some shade under a juniper tree
temperature rising on Bloody Basin Rd.
Bloody Basin Road is a 30 mile dirt road
through the beautiful high desert/juniper grass lands. By noon we had drunken
much of our water as
the temperature approached 100 degrees.
We still had 40 miles
of dirt between us and
the next town, Phoenix, and we became concerned that
we would need more water and shade to sit out the hottest part of the day. About a mile or two later we came upon Picnic Springs where we spent the next 3.5
hours keeping cool. I knew from my earlier map reconnaissance that we might be able to get water
at Picnic Springs, but I did not know it would be a nice little creek.
Creeks in the desert are always magical, especially if you are hot and running low on water. We took naps, purified water, ate lunch, and cooled off in the creek - a Picnic at Picnic Springs!
By 4 PM we were back on the bikes and hitting some steep climbs that were now in the shade. We rolled through the Seven Springs Campground area that was hit fairly hard by the 2005 Cave Creek Fire. The campground is closed but still has a beautiful creek and large cottonwood trees. At 8:30 PM we rolled into Scottsdale and ate at Pinnacle Pizza where two Albanian-Italian brothers treated us right, feeding us some excellent pizza and calzones. By 9:30 we were asleep in the desert just 150 feet Northwest from the intersection of Pinnacle Peak and Scottsdale roads.
At sunrise we broke camp and pedaled 300 feet to Starbucks for coffee and pastries, then went to Safeway for trail snacks and water. While I was inside, Brian discovered a crack in the top-tube of his bike frame. Bummer, but Brian's home was only 30 miles across town where he had another bike. He took off towards his home while Blair and I stuck to the original plan of riding single-track trails East of Pima Road. We would rendezvous later at Scott and Mandy's home in Mesa, where we planned to stay the night.
looks like day ten and ten fingers with one directed towards cracked frame
I have enjoyed the Pima/Dynamite (a.k.a. 100 miles of single-track) trails for over ten years and I was stoked to ride them on our trip. I never saw the rattle snake on the trail, but it saw me and promptly coiled up in front of Blair who promptly jumped off his bike and ran! The snake crawled then crawled under Blair's bike and it took us 10 minutes of interesting maneuvers to pull the bike away from the snake.
after this picture was snapped, the snake crawled under the bike
Blair shredding a classic desert trail near "Little" Granite Mountain
From Little Granite Mtn. we jumped crossed Dynamite Road, jumped some fences and connected the Pemberton Trail to the luxury town of Fountain Hills. I ran out of water as we entered the hottest part of the day, riding past the world's tallest fountain. I spotted a water park and charged right into the chlorinated sprinklers, fountains, and water-dump-buckets. It was so refreshing and so fun, even with some of the kids and all of the adults giving us odd stares.
playing at the public water park
An excellent lunch was had on the shady patio of the Euro Pizza Cafe. We topped off our water and returned to the water park to soak ourselves before heading back out into the hot desert. A couple of kids got a great big kick out of turning on the valve that filled the water-dump-bucket that drenched me.
view of the fountain from lunch
We rode on Highway 87 for a couple of miles then picked up an old dirt road in the Salt River Indian Reservation. This worked out fine until we got to the shooting range that we had to navigate around and jump a few fences. We then found ourselves in slow going gravel and sand bars of the Salt River bed for about 2 miles.
dry Salt River bed
From the river bed we picked up the 100 year old Roosevelt Canal and followed it all the way to the neighborhood of Scott and Mandy where they and Brian and Jennifer Bennett were preparing hamburgers and bratwursts. We immediately jumped in the pool and cracked a beer.
canal riding - over my shoulder are the New River Mountains where we enjoyed Picnic Springs the previous day
Brian wished he could have ridden the trails of day ten, but was also glad that he could ride to his home and get his other bike. If his bike had failed 100 miles from his home it would have been a whole other story... Thanks to Scott and Mandy we drank arak and had a great nights sleep.
After a breakfast of cereal, fruit and coffee, we headed South on the Roosevelt Canal, then South East on the Rittenhouse Road which was closed to cars. Sweet! We then turned East on Ocotillo Road which became dirt and took us all the way to Highway 60. One mile on Highway 60 got us to Florence Junction. There we discoverd that Highway 60 had been rerouted so the Florence Junction store that was on the old route was closed. Damn! We were counting on that stop to get food and water.
Each of us had only one bottle of water and there was no way we were going into Cottonwood and Box Canyons at mid-day and in 100+ degrees so we started thumbing for a ride to the retirement community of Kings Ranch, 8 miles back up 60. No one stopped but a guy did leave us a gallon of water about 100 yards down the road. Then a friendly guy with a peg leg and trailer stopped. He was not headed to King Ranch but rather Florence so we jumped on the opportunity and took the 15 mile ride to Florence where we hydrated and refueled. From Florence we jumped on Diversion Dam Road and took it to the Gila River crossing where we got back on to our planned route.
Gila River at Diversion Dam
Shortly after crossing the Gila, we got lost and ended up in Box O Wash for three hours of full moon night riding/navigating and running over two rattle snakes. We were off-course but headed in the right direction - South. It was slow going in Box O Wash, but the sand and gravel was rather firm and ride-able due to recent rains. At some point I decided to hike a 100 feet up a side wash to see if there was an exit through the cliffs above and onto Cochran dirt road - our planned route. As I started up the side wash Brian said "Be careful." Just then I saw something move under my feet - I had almost stepped on a beautiful and venomous Sonoran Coral Snake!
sunset just before getting off-route in Box O Wash
After 3 hours of full-moon wash riding and some trespassing, we got onto Cochran Road then rode primitive jeep roads until 1:00 AM. Somewhere on Tecolote Ranch Road Blair said, "That's it, no more riding." No one argued with the decision to bed down.
We rode 17 hours that day - 8am to 1pm... that was a tough evening - our payback for getting a truck ride for 15 miles to Florence. But getting that lift was better than being in the 100 degree Sonoran and out of food and water.
After 4 hours of sleep we were back on the bikes before sunrise. It was still 60 miles to the town of Oracle and we were in the middle of the Sonoran desert where it was likely to be over 100 degrees by early afternoon.
11 fingers = day 12 = delirious after a 17 hour day and 4 hours of sleep
After 3 hours of jeep roads and washes we hooked back up with the AZT singletrack which was really nice singletrack for 1/2 an hour. Then it started to become faint, overgrown with thorny plants, and hard to follow. We became concerned and anxious when Blair pulled a 3 inch thorn out of his flat tire. The trail crossed a dirt road and our GPS coordinates indicated that it was Freeman Road. We took it south and picked up Willow Springs Road which we took all the way to highway 77. From there it was about five hot and uphill miles to Oracle. We arrived in the town of Oracle at mid-day where it was 94 degrees at an elevation of 4,500. We showered with cool water from the Circle K water spigot. After eating some monster sized burritos at Casa Riveras we had to take a nap. I found us a spot where we took the world's worst nap - next to a road, poor shade, sticker-bushes and buzzing bugs.
Blair is happy before the world's worst nap
After thirty minutes we decided to hit the road, it was time to tackle the Mount
Lemmon climb. During the climb, but still low on the mountain, I had a flat
and used my last spare tube. I said a little prayer as I pumped it up - we
still had 35 miles to Tucson and Brian's and Blair's 26" spare tubes would be a
stretch in my 29" wheels.
Mt. Lemmon and 4,000 more feet of climbing in the distance
It took us six hours to ride the 30 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing from
Oracle to the top of Mt. Lemmon. The last three hours were done at night in gusting
wind and occasional rain showers. I felt very slow getting up that mountain, but
Brian was considerate, slowing his pace and keeping me in view.
Meanwhile, ahead of us, Blair was riding strong when his bike frame broke at the seat collar. He was able to keep riding but had to strap his seat to his backpack and pedal up the last 5 miles of the Mt. Lemmon Control Road without sitting down. Blair arrived at the top to meet some confused Pima County Dept. of Transportation employees. They thought he was crazy and on drugs! Once they learned of our 16 hour epic-ride from near the Gila River all the way to the top of Mt. Lemmon they gave him shelter, soda and potato chips. Once they learned that we had done this after riding from the Utah border the previous 11 days, they thought he was crazy and on drugs again!
Thirty or forty minutes later, Brian and I reached the top of Lemmon and were welcomed with cheers from 7 or 8 Pima County D.O.T. employees. They gave us water and offered shelter for the night. As soon as we walked into the sheltered equipment area, the sky opened up, releasing the most rain we saw the entire trip. After a dinner of beef jerky, potato chips and nuts we slept next to a bulldozer.
camp at the Pima County D.O.T. shed
The weather cleared and we coasted 25 miles down the Mt. Lemmon Highway to Tucson. We needed to get down the mountain and into Tucson to try and fix Blair's bike - if possible. After coffee and a delicious breakfast at Le Buzz, I purchased some more slime tubes and had a new headset installed at Sabino Cycles. While in Tucson we stayed with Erik Murdock, where we contacted Andy Gilmour. Andy's shop was just around the corner and he welded Blair's Harry-Gary Fisher seat collar back in place.
Blair road 40+ miles without a seat - Andy Gilmour took care of that problem
Blair really lucked out getting his bike fixed and Andy only asked for 30 bucks.
In Oracle on the previous day, Blair said to me that he was "flying low to make the trip happen"
as his check card was denied. At Gilmour's, I had $28 in my pocket and Andy
was happy to take only that. The rest of the day was spent eating, relaxing, and washing clothes at Murdock's
We ate breakfast and stocked up for the next few meals at Brueggers. We also hit walgreens for some trail snacks and a new disposable camera.
14 fingers=day 14
With Blair's bike repaired and the Mexico border nearby, we left Tucson in good spirits. Near the Rincon Mountains we returned to the AZT. The weather and singletrack were delightful.
beautiful AZT singletrack near Tucson
The AZT passes through a tunnel under Interstate 10. After the tunnel we ate lunch
then noticed a 5+ foot rattlesnake coiled up about 4 or 5 feet from Blair. He was
hidden by a hanging tree limb and must have been there the whole time while we ate
lunch. He took noticed of our gawking, uncoiled and slithered away. Shweewwwwww!
From there we road more singletrack then jumped onto Highway 83 where the AZT has yet to be completed. This was 8 or so miles of highway that we should not have been riding on a Friday afternoon. Big trucks pulling horse trailers buzzed us on the small to non-existent road shoulder. We finished the highway stretch and jumped back onto the AZT. With dusk just around the corner we made camp under a large oak tree, built a nice fire, ate dinner and hit the sack.
15 fingers = day 15
By morning Blair and I had finished off our water and Brian had only one water bottle left. We were not too concerned because Kentucky Camp would have water and was only 7 miles away. There was a stinky cattle tank next too our camp site so Blair and I filled up our water bottles and treated the water with our purification drops. I was afraid to try it because the water smelled bad even though it was fairly clear. There were little creatures living in the water so I figured it could not be that bad. I would only drink it in an emergency.
great trails to Kentucky Camp
The 7 miles to Kentucky Camp had some great double-track and single-track trails that meandered through beautiful grassy hills dotted with Live Oak Trees. After 6.5 miles and with Kentucky Camp in site I decided to take a small swig of my stinky water. Gross!!!!!!! Spit, spit and spit again. That was the worst water I have ever tasted.
We filled up with FRESH water and took a little break at Kentucky Camp, then headed out on more awesome AZT. We gently climbed single-track for 10 miles. The trail follows some interesting history along an abandoned mine water-flume and pipeline.
great trails after Kentucky Camp
We crossed a few streams and one crossing was so nice that we decided to take baths.
The climb steepened and we eventually arrived in the Santa Rita wilderness area. Here we dismounted and pushed our bikes up-hill for 2 miles through some beautiful country. Note: it is illegal to ride bicycles in wilderness areas.
back on the bikes after the wilderness area
We then rode
some more singletrack and about 20 miles of dirt roads to the town of Patagonia
where we ate dinner at The Velvet Elvis Pizza Company. During dinner my right hamstring turned into a knot. That was my first and only
muscle cramp during the entire trip. Our waiter and restaurant co-owner, J.P., invited
us to The Mission for drinks and music that evening.
We hung out in the city park drinking beers until dusk then went to La Mision. Inside we found astonishing artwork, stunning decoration and good live music.
The place was loaded with older folks. We were the youngest by 25+ years. We drank and drank and drank. We only had 28 miles of dirt roads to complete our AZ Trek so we drank some more. At some point I decided I had to leave before I lost control. As I left I saw Brian in the fountain.
I crashed out in the city park between the shuffle board slabs just as the sprinklers turned on. Fortunately they didn't water the slabs! Some time later I was woken up by Brian. "Hey Troy, Blair is puking - I'm going to take a picture!"