A follow up to my last post with the announcement of the Arizona Trail, I thought you may be interested to hear about the trail and some logistics.
The AZT, as it’s referred to, is (another) long distance trail in the United States. And let’s take a moment to give credit where credit is due: the US has done a phenomenal job of creating incredible trails and, more specifically, long distance trails. The AZT is the only “National Scenic Trail” (a designation) that allows mountain bikers on it. Although more people thru-hike it versus thru-bike it, given my love for doing long distance things combined with Adam’s love of mountain biking, well, we’ve decided to give this whole ‘bikepacking’ thing a try.
What is bikepacking? It’s as if road cycle touring made love to backpacking: you are off pavement, on singletrack or dirt roads, and for multiple days at a time. Where cycle tourers carry their gear on panniers, the bikepacker has a unique set-up to prevent the bulkiness of panniers but not have to carry everything on their back. It’s a mixture of handlebar bags or straps, seat post bag, frame bags…there is quite a variety. This activity seems to have exploded in popularity in recent years (although I cannot find any actual statistics) and it’s easy to see why. You get to be off the main, paved roads; making the route as gnarly (single track) or gentle (railgrades) as you want. You are generally in the backcountry, self-sustained, and covering more ground than you do walking. Plus, you get the thrill of the down!
The AZT traverses the state, generally done South-to-North, and is approximately 1200km/740mi. For full details, visit the Arizona Trail Association at www.aztrail.org, but here are some highlights and preliminary plans:
Starting at the U.S.-Mexico border, the path climbs and descends from one “sky island” mountain range to another, gaining and losing thousands of feet in elevation and traversing biomes ranging from desert to boreal forest. Continuing across the Sonoran Desert, the route crosses the Gila River, winds through the Superstition Mountains and the Mazatzal Wilderness on its way to the Mogollon Rim and majestic San Francisco Peaks. The trail north takes travelers across the Grand Canyon through billions of years of geology. Topping out on the North Rim, conifer forests dominate the Kaibab Plateau, eventually giving way to red bluffs dotted with sagebrush as the trail nears the Utah border on the edge of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. It is the backbone of Arizona.
—-Arizona Trail Association website
With just under 20,000m/65,000ft of climbing, and the area being well-know for some technical single track, people tend to take about 3 weeks to complete it at a “touring” pace. As with everything, there are people who do it much faster. The Arizona Trail Race has both a full length and half length option, respectively called the AZTR 750 and AZTR 300, and the top finishers of the AZTR 750 complete in the 6 – 7 days range. Let me do the math for you: 120km/day! Remember, this is not road touring on pavement – this is techy, rocky, sandy single track; a popular hiking path.
So what are my (our) plans? Honestly, I don’t know. I legitimately have no idea if I can average 60km/day, for 3 weeks but I’m going to try. I’ll give myself the cushion of an extra week, which would allow me to drop my daily average to closer to 40km, but I don’t know that the week would be the ‘deal breaker’ to allow me to complete.
How will my body react to 3-4 weeks of extremely stressful conditions, in the sun? The medical community does not know too much about lupus but they do know that it is aggravated by both stress and sun. And in case you haven’t put it together yet, Arizona is a pretty sunny locale and known for just a wee bit of desert environment! Nonetheless, I’m not willing to shut myself inside. It’s about adapting and, for me, that means ensuring lots and lots and lots of regular SPF application, wearing sun gear, and adjusting my mindset from “attempting a thru-bike of the AZT” to “a 3-4 week bike tour on the AZT”. I am also not actively in a flare and my health has improved dramatically over the last couple of years. That being said, what will 1 week of 50-70 km days do to me? Who knows, it may turn into shorter days but more tacos & margaritas (hmmmm…that doesn’t actually sound too bad…).
At the moment, we’re assessing our current gear and working out what we may need to upgrade and what we definitely need to purchase (such as bike packs/bags). My bike is confirmed as the 2019 Pique Advanced (Liv), a full suspension with 130mm/120mm travel, 27.5 tires, and 1×11 drive train. The full suspension set-up is a little unorthodox. Many bike packers choose to go with just the front fork (or even fully rigid) to reduce the overall weight of the bike and finding frame bags for a full suspension is proving difficult. But this bike is already lightweight and I think I’ll appreciate the extra suspension over some of rough terrain!
One tip that seems common throughout the bikepacking community is to ride and test out your gear, prior to embarking on trip, fully loaded. Well, with the weather, I don’t think that’s happening anymore. Besides, we literally cycled across the country with way less biking and excursion experience than we have now and were regularly informed how ill-advised that would be. Meh – we’ll figure it out.
Besides, it’s just riding a bike, right?