In the past year I've taken a few opportunities to combine my original outdoor activity, backpacking, with the one with whom I've become obsessed in the last year: endurance mountain biking. I put together a route, primarily on dirt, from my home in Prescott to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I estimated it to be about 200 miles, depending on options. I left home at dawn on Saturday, and planned to get picked up by my wife in the park Sunday afternoon.
The forecast was ideal late spring weather; sunny, no clouds, but not too hot. My plan called for getting the low point of the journey, crossing the Verde River drainage at 3500', over early on Saturday morning.
One of the best things about cycling is the combination of speed and intimacy with the terrain. Front and center in the above is Bill Williams mountain. Five hours after I took this picture I was at it's summit.
By early afternoon, and after enjoying a fantastic, technical singletrack descent of the north side of Bill Williams, I stopped in the town of Williams for a blizzard at DQ and to refill on water. I had around 80 miles on the day, but a healthy distance yet to go towards my destination: the foot of the San Francisco peaks north of Flagstaff.
It was now that I entered the endurance phase of the ride. Up to this point, even climbing from 3500' to over 9000' had been fun and fairly easy, with plenty of views, wildlife, and interesting riding to keep me entertained. The gravel roads east had their moments, but I was getting tired and fighting a headwind and sore butt, and struggling to keep up moral. Eventually I made it to a truckstop, refueled with water, a Subway sub, and food for the next day (M&Ms, twizzlers, Fritos). Pedaling off into the evening, my pack was the heaviest it had been all trip. Six liters of water in my dromedary, due to no known sources (except cow ponds) from the peaks to the canyon. I geared down, pushed out another 10 miles, found a camp in the pine needles, and passed out before full dark.
I had been looking forward to the next days route for a long time, and motivating to ride at the crack of dawn was easy. It was chilly at 8000', and for the first hour I rode hobo-style, wearing everything I brought. So enough I descended out of the trees, and out onto the low point (elevation wise) for the day, the sage plains. Huge views, antelope sightings, and firm dirt roads had me loving life, especially cruising along, eating up miles at 16-8 mph.
It didn't stay easy forever. I was following the historic, late 1800's stage coach route from Flagstaff to the Grandview area; the standard tourist route before the rail spur was built north from Williams. (The stage route is also synonymous with the Arizona Trail for most of this stretch.) It climbed, gently but steadily, up through the Pinon-Juniper plain into the pines, on rocky roads and sandy old two-tracks.
I reached the Grandview fire lookout tower a bit after noon. Hot and tired at 7500', but happy with the day. The views from the lookout are remarkable, and I had the mostly downhill, and unknown to me, Tusayan bike route singletrack to enjoy.
The trail did not let down. Well built but not well used, it swoops through gorgeous forest and outcroppings of limestone for 16 miles down to town. Fast, fun miles. Elk and turkey were seen. And I was almost done. The road ride into the park to meet my wife was a nice coda to the day, belching tourist buses and unexpected rollers nonewithstanding. Soon I was laying in the shade, in the grass by the ice cream fountain, drinking a 7-Up, with no need to pedal any more!
Life was good.