Words and Photos By: Aaron LaVanchy
Every year, a small group of friends and I get together for a bikepacking adventure. A different person takes the planning reins each year, and the cast of characters tends to rotate slightly each year. I guess we follow an “if it’s planned, they will come” mantra. Since we all have day jobs, our rides are generally three-to-four days in length. This year, a former Flagstaff resident, Michael Bussmann, who is well versed in the bike scene, took the lead. Michael’s idea was to ride the Arizona Trails (AZT) from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff on single and double track for roughly 110 miles.
Since we would need a one-way shuttle, Michael enlisted his pal Richard, a local bike builder in Flagstaff. Richards price for his shuttling services was unbeatable, “money for gas and a sense of adventure.” Thursday morning Richard rolled up in what can best be described as an old bread truck. It was a former panel work truck from the city of Cheyenne. Seven bikes and seven riders piled into a tight, possibly illegal fit and set off on the road. As we started down the roads on the outskirts of town, I mention to Richard the smell of something burning. A quick roadside inspection showed the parking brake was stuck on, which also provided some smoke to go with the burning smell. After the Plan B shuttle-shuffle, we finally arrived at the South Rim Park and Ride and ready to hit the trail.
A paved bike path left the parking lot and quickly turned to dirt double track in less than one-mile. After 35-miles of weaving in-and-out of the pine-lined trail, we arrived at Moqui Stage Station, a threadbare stagecoach stop. A trail marker explained this site was one of the three stops on the 1890s stagecoach route from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. The stagecoach trip took 12 hours and cost was $20, which is the equivalent of $500 today. Luckily, we had stashed water at this stop the day before. The spot was forested with pine and oak trees which made for an ideal spot to camp before dropping into the Babbit Ranch land.
The night was colder than we had anticipated, hovering around freezing. Most of us awoke more than a few times throughout the night at the sound of coyotes yipping and barking from all directions around us.
This time of year in Arizona, the sun rises relatively early. By 6 AM we were basking in the sunshine with morning coffee. With a leisurely wake-up pace, we hit the trail around 8 AM. The plan was to ride 25 miles across the Babbit Ranch Land, a high desert landscape scattered with cattle gates and plenty of cattle. We took a snack break and filled waters before the exposed climb up to the San Francisco Peak passage.
At our rest spot, there was also a cache box with water provided by the Friends of the AZT. All I can say is they are saints for their work on keeping the box stocked. We were not planning on needing the water refill but were very glad we had it. We kept our break to about 30 minutes then were off again on the loose steep double track.
On the climb we caught a little breeze and was super exposed to the sun. After 1500 feet of climbing the pines started to line the trail again, providing much needed shade. The doubletrack turned back to singletrack as we climbed another seven miles which took us into a beautiful aspen grove and full-on pine forest.
We decided to set up camp near a faint logging road which was supposed to lead to a spring. Since this might have been our only water source, we took advantage of it. The spring proved to be nothing more than a gloried puddle, but we were still able to filter out of the hole. At just over 9,000 feet up, our total for day two reached about 45 miles with 3,500 feet of mostly exposed climbing.
Up in elevation gave us a cool and comfortable start to the next morning. We climbed another 600 feet up through more pines & aspen trees before the rocky and loose 2,000 feet descent to the Snowball Road area. From there was the undulating exposed ride to the Schultz Creek Trail, part of the impressive trail network outside of Flagstaff.
This trail network made for a ripping singletrack ride back to the “main road”. From there we connected to a paved bike path, neighborhood singletrack, and road back to town. We even were able to connect to a well-deserved slice of pizza and beer along the route.
Alas, we prevailed on the three-days of riding through diverse landscapes, breathtaking backdrops, and plenty of laughs with friends old and new, all while scheming on ideas for the next bikepacking trip.
See Gear List Below
Due to the terrain, I had packed more water than usual and due to various camping elevations, I erred on the side of caution as far as clothes. I will admit it was worth the weight to have pants around camp.
Niner ROS 9 PLUS with Maxxis Chronicle 3″tires