Hey, let’s strap 60 pounds of water, food and whiskey to our bikes and ride up mountains. It will be fun!!
Right, well, caution be to those who always say yes to adventures far in advance only to realize, “OH SHIT, that’s next weekend?!”
So, to give a little rundown of what crap is carried where:
On the Bars: There is a stuff sack strapped to the bars that holds an MSR Stove, lighter, pot, propane, dry backpacking food, beef jerky, trailmix, my cup/bowl/spork, a down vest/beanie/long johns.
(Also on the bars is the gopro/mount and a high powered LED mountain bike light and the battery is strapped to the frame)
Just behind the bars on the frame (The red one): Bike tools, gopro batteries, snacks for on the go.
Black frame bag: 30oz of water and 30oz of Whiskey. Del Bac to be specific.
2- 26oz water bottles.
Tailbag: Sleeping bag, pad, pillow, tent.
Osprey backpack: 100oz Water bladder, water purifyer, microstart battery charger, more snacks/food, “Emergency whiskey 13oz”, 30oz water bladder, riding jacket, Spot GPS beacon.
I think that’s about it. I weighed it before I added a bit more food and the whiskey and was at 57 pounds. That plus the weight of the bike meant I felt like I was riding a water buffalo.
What could go wrong!?!
We drove up to “That Brewery” in Pine, AZ.
Here is where I google other’s maps to use...
So, that’s us, well that’s Matt and Jeff. (Jeff on the left is the one who got me into endurance mountain biking and racing. He was sick enough to insist Singlespeed was the only way to go so for years that’s what we did. Who needs gears or suspension... We’ve had 100+ mile days on our mountain bikes suffering away, we each did a 24 hour race solo on singlespeeds and I’m sure neither of us is recovered from still, and that was years ago. He’s the enabler, and a great buddy. This is all his fault. Thank goodness we now have gears and suspension).
It’s Thursday night, 10PM. We had all worked a full day and driven to the mountains so I was ready to sleep, but Jeff wanted to just “ride downhill to the Verde River.” That turned into hours of climbing up roads and then descending down and then climbing and then descending. It’s amazing how much you can climb to go downhill. At 1:30am-ish we got to the Verde river and collapsed into our sleeping bags 26 miles later.
Along the way we saw Elk, a Skunk, deer, some hunters camping and a random BMX bike is a section of trail that’s hard to get to... that was odd.
In the morning we woke up to a pretty view. I say morning, but really it was just a couple hours after we’d arrived.
That’s the Verde River. Not far from the Verde Hot Springs on the other side. You may remember Kelsey and I went there in the FJ40 from the “back way.”
Good morning Jeff, this is all your fault!
We had some coffee, and by some I mean 3 starbucks via packets...
We stashed our bikes and most of the gear so we could wade across the river and visit the hot springs.
This area is beautiful. You can see the old power lines above for the “Child’s Power Plant.” No, it was not operated by umpa lumpas or children. History here:
Some more great photos of it modern day are here: http://darrensrides.blogspot.com/2010/01/childs-power-plant.html
Back to crossing the Verde River. When Kelsey and I were here last the river was nearly neck deep and it was downright dangerous to cross. I watched some college kids having no idea of the real danger make it across, but others were not so lucky this year. Heavy snow and rain made for a high river. Now, it was about as low as it could get during the year which was nice because it was COLD.
These hot springs were once quite a resort. What’s left is this main pool, a warmer small pool inside the stone shack, and some cement foundations all around. You can even see where a suspension bridge connected over the Verde river.
You can see a painting of what the resort used to look like here:
Warm water flowing from the rock inside.
Here is a shot looking back from the way you get to the springs. That’s Gypsy, a dog we met there.
The art at hot springs makes you wonder what they were on, it’s pretty, but it’s always pretty weird.
And with that, we crossed back and loaded up our bikes. We had 26 miles of climbing ahead of us... fun!
I can’t show you a photo that represents how steep it was. The pic above was steep enough that 2wd trucks passing us would spit out a rock on occasion. Still, it looks dead flat.
We were hoping to climb past this section and onto the now closed section of Fossil Creek road before it got too late (AKA Busy!) so we could climb in peace without vehicles driving past us.
After what seemed like a days worth of riding we got to Fossil Creek. This area used to be overrun with people and trash. With the advent of instagram this was one place that blew up in popularity and I hadn’t been back in 6 or 7 years. There is now a permit system for access part of the year. We were about a week past the permit time of year and no longer being miserably hot in Phoenix meant that this place was empty. Not a piece of trash in sight too. I have to admit, the permit system worked, it was beautiful.
We moved the bikes down by the river and decided it was time to kill an hour.
This water is all from Fossil Spring making it clean and COLD. It felt like being tasered when you jumped in, but it was great.
Just hanging out under the bridge.
I want to come back and dive down in this deep spot to see what it looks like. With a mask and when it’s about 20 degrees warmer!
Crazy Jeff had been carrying more beers up those hills so it was a huge treat to have a cold beer creekside.
With that the relaxing time was over and it was time to tackle the bigger of the 2 climbs of the day. The good part is that we’d be away from any cars for most of it.
We climbed and we climbed. As we climbed we came across that BMX bike from the night before, but it had moved. I kid you not, it had moved several switch backs away more than 2 or 3 miles from where we saw it the night before...what the hell. That was creepy. A BMX bike with a flat tire and rusted chain had moved in the night. Happy Halloween I guess...
We eventually hit pavement and road back to Pine. We were supposed to cross the highway and hit single track of the Arizona Trail.
That being said... we were right next to the brewery we started at... they had food that was not dehydrated... and beer... beautiful beer to take the pain away... So we stopped!
We then crossed over the road and camped in an actual camp ground at the trailhead. I hate camp grounds and avoid them... I remembered why when a group came in and set up a tent/tarp city and partied until 3am. The accordion playing mariachi music was actually pretty well done, but the guys stumbling into our camp near our bikes wasn’t that great. This was the second night of no sleep so I was essentially a zombie that could turn pedals and occasionally crash.
Coffee? Yes, all the coffee. You got drugs? I would take them right now if you got em. Anyone? Give me something, please!
What’s notpee? Well, it’s not pee. You gotta carry finely aged mesquite smoked notpee when you bikepack, it’s a rule. Did we take a shot before we rode out that morning? You’re gawdamnrightwedid.
Well, somehow I was having fun. I’m not entirely sure how it all happened, but somewhere between the sleep deprivation and the insane work and pain I started to realize this was great! Something about the childlike freedom of loading up a bike and riding around with buddies. Stopping at water holes. Not having any responsibilities besides turning pedals. I wasn’t “leading” anyone, I wasn’t the “responsible” one. I was just a kid, a very old kid, on a bike. We all smiled at each other, this was fun.
Let’s go ride!!
(These very easy ramps seem scary when you’re loaded down and tired. Lots of rusty metal to fall into around you...)
We climbed, we descended. We laughed about the insanity of the trip so far.
We talked about everything in life. We talked on a level you never really get to around friends in normal life. There’s no time, or you run into another friend and start at the superficial layer all over again. Or... you decide you shouldn’t over share. Here, we were isolated with each other. If you wanted to tell an hour story between huffing and puffing, go for it! We’ve got NO WHERE to be!
We would turn on the go pro and rally a downhill section. Nearly crashing at every drop off because of our overloaded bikes.
We rode sections and thought of the guys who do the entire 750 Mile AZ Trail race. We had to walk our bikes up big step ups, or ride through bushes that cut our legs open with a hundred tiny cuts. How do those guys do it....?
Hey look a tree changing colors... aka any excuse to stop and breathe for a sec.
We were riding some rugged trail. We were haggered from the prior 2 days. We decided that taking it easy and lots of breaks was the pace of the day, so we did just that.
We found a section where the AZT hit a motorized trail. So what? That’s a good enough of a reason to take a break to us!
Later on we hit a section that was so green and over grown we had to take a pic. Was this still AZ? Why do my legs itch? Why do I see so much blood? Oh... raspberry bushes, great. You can sorta see the trail behind Matt’s bike snaking through the growth of spiky evil bushes.
Just after this, we were back onto a dirt road. We decided that stopping early and sitting in a creek sounded pretty good.
So we hunted for a spot with no trash... okay, we’ll settle for no diapers.... dammit, we’ll settle for no people around....
This area was horrible. It was too easy to get to and we knew it so we started to bushwack up the creek. So much trash near any pull out. We had to get up stream to cleaner waters and harder access. This really got all of us a bit bummed. We’d felt so remote for most of the day so far only to find ourselves on a creek near “idiot” access. Once we were past where the nice graded road could take you we found it! Perfection!!!
Well, perfect for us and no trash. Good enough.
It was time to be lazy bums and sit around and relax.
Well boys, we’re not carrying the notpee back to the car in the morning so let’s enjoy it.
Well, we walked around, talked to some hikers passing our camp, played some music on our phones. Nothing special. I guess that’s why it was so special. It was just so nice to be in the middle of nowhere with no agenda, no plan, no destination. Sometimes in a truck you have so many responsibilities, so many things worth a lot of money that need to be used with caution, rules, laws etc.
The next morning we woke up, loaded our bikes and did the easy 10 or so miles of graded dirt road back to our car. The idea of taking the rutted and rough singletrack back never even entered our minds! We headed down the hill towards Phoenix and went our separate ways. It was pretty uneventful. Real life was calling. The school principal with 2 kids, the physical therapist with 2 kids and some yahoo with needy vehicles and overdo work at an office had to go back to it all.
Kelsey asked me what was good about bikepacking. Why do it over backpacking, dirt bike camping, overlanding etc? I didn’t have a good answer... In fact, I had the opposite. Let’s see, we don’t really cover THAT many miles being so loaded down. In fact on really rough terrain we cover just a bit more than motivated backpackers, we don’t carry luxuries you don’t have when backpacking like when you overland in a truck... what was the plus? I guess just feeling like a kid, running away from home for the weekend on your bike? Whatever it was, I can’t explain it and I don’t care to try. It was a helluva lot of work and climbing. We did 70+ miles and a few miles worth of elevation gain. We considered it the shortest and easiest bikepacking trip we’ve ever done by the numbers and yet we we’re all beat tired and dead from it.
Let’s not do that ever again... and yet,
...there will be a text message
...in about 2 months time
... and I’ll say yes.. Why, why will I say yes.
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