Popping in for the first time? Check out Days 1-3 here
Day 7: 27 (very hard) miles; General Hitchcock campground
Trail magic: the experience of someone/something providing exactly what you need at the exact right moment. Today, Jessica and Jeremy saved our day by sharing their camp stove fuel for us to boil water and then giving us a beer, restoring our badly bruised and broken spirits.This was the day both of us were ready to quit. We wanted to throw our bikes down the side of the mountain/cliff/embankment and be done with it. I have never been so angry and frustrated while on an expedition before. Never.
We woke up in the morning knowing the jeep road would be slow going. It was a bit frustrating but, by this point, we knew that’s what the AZT is so it wasn’t terrible. We plodded away and just accepted it. We then got on single track after Agua Caliente and both expected more of what we had the previous couple of days but it was horrific: “pure hell” (per my journal, the nicest of the descriptions either of us wrote). There was a 1.5 mile uphill HAB that nowhere had we seen any information about or warning for in previous readings, journals, or videos. And I have no idea how or why this section has been missed but I was literally hauling my bike up over my head to get over the boulders. And I am not short. Not surprisingly, while pushing and hauling your bike you tend to favour one side. It was this section that ended up aggravating my one shoulder/neck area. It was pinching and shooting a pain across the back of my neck. I could barely write in my journal it hurt so much.
We get to the top and then…had to walk down because it was so steep, technical, and loose. A trail that, unloaded and with a full-face helmet on, I might consider riding but on a loaded bike? No way! (Side note: the people that race this trail do ride it!). We got to the bottom and stopped at the Molina Campground, debating what we should do. It was still so early but we were both in such a bad mood. Making major decisions (such as leaving a trail) in this state is never a good idea. I decided we needed to have dinner, a mega load of instant mashed potatoes with salami sliced up, before deciding whether we would carry on or stay the night. After eating, we looked at the map and saw there was 2.5 more miles of single track before getting to the paved highway up to Summerhaven/Mt. Lemmon. Having rested and sodium-and-carbo loaded, we opted to go a bit further. Perhaps we didn’t eat or rest enough but that 2.5 miles further destroyed us! I can’t specifically say why as the trail was not overly technical nor steep but…neither of us could ride it. When we got to the road, I urged us to put in a few more miles just so that we could finish with actual riding our bikes versus pushing them.
We put in another 5 miles on the pavement before calling it a night at the General Hithcock campground. And then we discovered we were low on fuel. It wasn’t critical – it basically just meant not coffee for the morning (I mean, no coffee is pretty critical!). However, the other couple in the campground (Jessica and Jeremy) graciously allowed us to boil our water on their stove. And then gave us a beer. All was right with the world again!
Day 8: 18 miles, random camp
We woke up knowing we had a 12 mile road ride up Mount Lemmon. We knew it would take a few hours but it was going to just a ‘sit & spin’ kind of morning. Sure, riding up a road is harder on mountain bike than on a road bike but the weather was delightful! Alas, I was starting to succumb to saddle sores and my butt hurt soooooo much. Luckily, I had candy to help me through. That, and the magnificent Summerhaven Cookie Cabin spurred me ever onwards (Cookie. Cabin.)! And the chocolate brownie cookie? Worth it! (Skip the coffee…it was terrible and expensive at $4USD.) But the cookie – it was bigger than my face. I wanted another one but Adam thought we should go find real food and not only eat cookies. I still disagree with that decision.
The general store was better stocked than I expected but we still had a solid amount of food so mostly bought more candy (and a fuel canister!). We then hit the Sawmill for lunch (French Onion soup was the daily special – yes please!). It was expensive but it’s also a resort town so pretty much cost exactly what you think it would. The service was pretty slow but we were in no rush and I just enjoyed multiple refills of root beer! And then, my most favourite part of long-distance travelling, a nap outside the visitor’s centre on the sidewalk. It was delightful.
After our nap, we braced ourselves for the infamous Oracle Ridge, a section of trail that is notoriously known for its difficulty and HAB. We still don’t know what the fuss is about. After the section from the day before, this was nothing! There was some HAB but we rode most of it. Sure, if it was windy there would be sections that would be difficult but we’re both at a loss as to why this is the area known as the “Traverse of Death”. I’d take Oracle Ridge any day – it was beautiful.
I also had to accept that I was having *real* lupus symptoms: sore gums, canker sores, and a sore, swollen ear. I cannot attribute these to anything other than lupus. Combined with the exhaustion, I knew I had to accept my limitations and that my trip was coming to an end.
Day 9: 15 miles; Chalet Village Motel
Getting into Oracle was longer than expected as I ended up with a lot of HAB down, we took a slight “detour”… and the sand. OH THE SAND! In the washes, they were horrible. And they broke me. I was swearing every time we had to cross one. There was one section where we walked for ~1.5 miles in the loose sand. Zero momentum and it sucks the energy right out of you! To this day, I curse those washes!
We rolled into town at noon and downed a slushy each. Again, just cooling down my internal temperature made such a difference for me. We chatted with some of the staff at the 7-11 and found there was a Mexican restaurant in town: Casa Rivera’s Taco Express. At this stage, we were starving.
I should note that at no point on this trip were we carrying enough food. We should have brought slightly larger packs. Unfortunately, no companies are (or were) making frame bags that fit full-suspension bikes and we really wanted to reduce what we carried on our backs. Additionally, the resupply options along the trail are…limited. Unlike the PCT, the towns haven’t really begun to cater to hiker/biker needs. There was a lot of ramen consumed – more than a typical expedition! And so, we rolled into Casa Rivera’s and ate. It was fantastic (it was so great that when Adam had to return to Arizona for work a month later, he made the detour to take his colleague and confirmed that, even without biking to it, it was still incredible).
After an amazingly delicious taco lunch, we went back to the Chalet Village Motel where Marney greeted us. A common stop along the AZT, the accommodations may be modest but the atmosphere was amazing. They helped hikers/bikers get to the post office to retrieve items (like Adam’s new seat post). Allow use of their laundry, had loaner clothes, and a hiker box. We truly appreciated the hospitality and ease of this stop. Crunch, a thru-hiker we had been playing leap frog with for a bit, was also there. The 3 of us walked in for dinner (disappointing pizza joint – should have gone for tacos!) and then resupplied at the Dollar General, loading up on…Spam.
Wait, what?! Did they eat spam?! Find out in Days 10-12, coming up soon!