Day 4: 23 miles, random camp
Journal image: Smiling sun saying “I kill you!”
Once again, another smoking hot day on the AZT but we were able to be smart about it and took a very long, very extended break at Kentucky Camp. The morning was wonderful riding and reflective of what we had thought the trail would be: some hike-a-bike (HAB) but more riding than not. A bit of jeep track or ATV road and some swooping single track. We actually had FUN. We crossed a creek that would have been a beautiful campsite but at least by getting to it after the sun was up, we could dunk our heads and really appreciate the flowing water. We reached the oasis that is Kentucky Camp (approximately 14 miles from where we camped) at about 10am, just as the heat was really starting to ramp up.
About Kentucky Camp: an historical site that welcomes hikers and bikers. There’s running water, a massive wrap-around porch, and an outhouse. You can rinse out/wash your clothes (and after 4 days of dusty trail and sweating buckets, you can imagine how luxurious it felt!). We stayed there for 6 hours. Napped…ate…watched hummingbirds. And chatted. A group of 3 bike packers that we had first met in Patagonia and a few groups of thru-hikers. Per the group of 3 bike packers, whom have done various other bike packing trips, we learned that the AZT is hard and was likely the hardest trail we could have ever chosen for our first bikepacking trip. Between technicality, weather/heat, distance between resupplies (and quality of resupplies), and water access, the AZT is a very difficult trail.
At about 4pm, we reloaded (I soaked my jersey in cold water for some ‘air conditioning’) and we were off, aiming for 5 miles but ended up getting another 9 miles. This was definitely a highlight day for us. It was beautiful terrain with some great single track that was a little bit technical to make it interesting riding but not terrifying. Of course, we realized today that if we planned on sitting the heat out every day, our mileage will never be sufficient to finish the trail in our allotted time. The flip side is that we push through the heat and feel miserable, sick, and just not have any fun. I think you see where our mindsets were starting to head…!
Day 5: 34 miles, Colossal Cave Campsite
We pulled a 34 mile day in 9 hours of riding and camped at an actual campsite, complete with ice-cream, chips, and cold beverages.
The riding today was absolutely phenomenal. We had some beautiful, flowing single track and I nailed an incredibly hard, technical climbing section that I never thought I could clean in normal day riding, let alone with a loaded bike! It was overall such a wonderful day. The biggest downside to the day was we convinced ourselves that the restaurant at Colossal Caves would be open. We met up with bikepacker Taco Juan and the 3 of us decided the restaurant would be open. So we biked up a steep, winding, 1-mile road, arrived at 4:30, salivating about burritos, and found out it closed at 4pm. We were 3 devastated bikers…
It was a bit cooler today due to the wind but I still struggled with a queasy stomach. We came across a water cache at the Vail trailhead crossing that had recently been filled and there was cold water in it! I noticed that both times after taking in cold beverages (here and at Colossal Cave) my appetite appeared. Clearly, the hot weather and dehydration was having an affect.
Day 6: 34 miles, random jeep road camp
The sweetest 10 mile of singletrack I’ve had in a long time happened just before Tucson. It was a beautifully built section that allowed us to hoot and holler. We were whooping it up through an incredible (natural) cactus garden. And we saw a Gila Monster (super cool)! One thing I wondered (and I don’t have a definitive answer to) is whether the single track that we’d been on was truly as magical as we remember…or is it a result of the hard fought effort we’d done to get there? If we drove out to the trailhead for a regular mountain bike ride, would we have had so much fun? Whatever the answer, we can guarantee we had a blast after biking 6 days to get to it!
The dry, dusty trail and terrain caused some nose bleeds for me. They are quite annoying in the backcountry (especially given I’m on blood thinners) since access to any kind of tissue or rag is limited (thank you, Buff!). I can only imagine what other people were thinking when they saw me: dried blood around my nose; caked-on dust all over me; more spots of blood on my jersey or shorts. I must have been quite a looker at this point! I was also starting to struggle with fatigue – lupus fatigue, not just biking tiredness. It’s difficult to describe the difference but it’s this all encompassing exhaustion (it’s something people with autoimmune disorders regularly struggle with explaining that we’re not “just tired”).
Nonetheless, we arrived in Tucson (13 miles of road riding) and I was on resupply duty. My purchases definitely reflected my state of fatigue: I was walking around the grocery in a zombie-like state, complete with above mentioned random blood on me! I forgot things that were on the list and picked up random/questionable items that I had no idea what we were going to do with. I even accidentally picked up 1 L of sparkling water instead of 1.5 L of regular water.
We finished the day at a random pull-out on a very rough 4×4 road. We even found a trickling river nearby! It was important to get off the road as much as possible for fear of people still driving, which one did! It was fun watching a Tacoma crawl up this insanely washed out, rutted up boulder-field of a road. I grabbed the sparkling water, one of the random items I bought (a goldfish & pretzel snack combo), and we sat on a rock and enjoyed our entertainment for the evening!
Days 7-9 in progress and will be posted shortly! Check out Days 1-3 here.