I’ve hiked in the desert for months.
I’ve schlepped a backpack weighing over 70lbs through bog in the north.
I’ve cycle toured in sleet, hail, and snow and lost the function of my hands and fingers.
And yet, it’s been the AZT that has (nearly) broken me.
Leaving Tucson, where they apparently have to inform drivers NOT to hit school children when they’re crossing the road, wasn’t terrible. We had a bunch of pavement riding then a long, slow climb up a dirt road. I even put my music on and just pedalled away, singing as much and as loud as my breathing would allow me, and was quite happy! We found a nice little campsite and called it a day after 34 miles.
Morning came and, apparently, the Earthly embodiment of hell. The immediate terrain was intense jeep road: we were traveling around 1 mph and were walking a ton. However, we now knew to expect this kind of terrain so weren’t really put out by it. Sun was behind clouds and it was so quiet, it’s why we’re out here. It eventually smoothed out and we even found singletrack, which was technical but not over the top; very fun, actually.
Top of the hell climb… not impressed!
And then we had the climb. 800 feet over ~2 miles. And rocky. We were hauling our bikes, heaving them over obstacles. Finally, we crested and saw our destination. At that point, thru-hiker (Crunch) caught up with us… and it was so hard going down that he passed us. You want demoralizing? Have a hiker pass you while you push your bike downhill.
At the campground at the bottom, we both needed to stop and regroup. We made an early dinner and, as it was only 430, decided to head out again to put some more miles in. We knew climbing Mt. Lemmon, at 18 miles and 4100 feet, even if on road, was going to be a hard day: why not put a few more miles in? There was 2 miles of singletrack followed by 18 of pavement. It took us an hour to do that 2 miles. We were gassed. All climbs were pushes, and there was a lot of pushing. It was probably doable on fresh legs/unloaded bikes but, alas, we had neither!
When we finally reached pavement we just wanted – needed – to pedal. So we did. And managed about 3 miles up to a campground where we arrived famished. With low fuel and wanting to have breakfast in the am, I went begging to the only others for a spot on their stove so we could book water for ramen. Luckily, Jeremy and Jessica were more than happy to help out AND offered us beer. We eagerly accepted and their amazement at what we have accomplished thus far was invigorating.
The morning was cool and we were slow to get going but finally hit the road at 9am for the upcoming 13 miles up to Summerhaven (Mt. Lemmon). Once again, I just put on my music, geared down, and 3 hours later we were splitting a cookie the size of our heads (chocolate brownie!). A lingering (and pricey) lunch at the only restaurant in town, followed by a little nap, and we were off again to experience the notorious Oracle Ridge.
See that steep forest road? We came down that, part of Oracle Ridge.
Oracle Ridge is a beautiful section of high ridge walking but is known within the biking community as tough, including a section dubbed the “Traverse O’ Death”. We were well prepared for an intense hike-a-bike along the exposed and steep ridgeline. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of pushing and even full-on heaving the bike overhead, over top of obstacles. But this was still nothing compared to the push we had the day before! We are at a loss as to how Oracle Ridge has received such noteriety over this random, unnamed section previous.
We camped on the ridge and made our way into Oracle for lunchtime tacos at a super Mexican restaurant, staying at the super AZT friendly Chalet Village Motel. The owners here are well known for supporting bikers/hikers and it’s been incredibly relaxing.
We are nearing Superior, the end of the AZT 300, and have our sights set on Flagstaff as the end point. Wish us luck (and blessingly cooler temps!).