The race is a lot like the Susitna 100 I did last year (see my Rolling on the River post) but about 15 miles longer and has quite a bit more elevation change. The Fat Pursuit takes place in the “Yellowstone ecosystem” right on the border of Idaho and Wyoming, so it’s bound to be beautiful. Looking forward to this adventure!
Update 8 p.m. - Dad and I just returned from the pre-race meeting and dinner. It was encouraging and inspring to meet the fellow riders–adventurous spirits all. Jay and Tracy Petervery are fine hosts, and you can tell this is a labor of love for them. It’s an honor to be among this crew.
Update 10 a.m., 1/6 - An incredible ride! Although a significant snow dump beginning around 10 last night prevented me from completing the ride, I feel like I gave this one my all and am satisfied with the outcome. I bivvied out from 2 to 5 this morning and hiked back to the West Yellowstone checkpoint (a feat in and of itself) to find my dad ready with the car. Always grateful for the support crew!»
On Saturday, September 22 I’ll embark on a bikepacking tour of the Arizona Trail. That morning, the map below ought to begin to track my progress every five minutes. It’s always energizing (and a comfort) to know that I’ll have some friends along for the ride – albeit via satellite. For more detail about the terrain I’ll be traveling, and my likely stops along the way, download a map of my route and the corresponding elevation relief.
Update 9/24 - Alas, it seems a thru-bike of the AZT wasn’t meant to be. After two days mostly hike-a-biking the fifty miles from the Mexico/US border to Patagonia I decided to come on home (I’m in the car now, nearing the TX/AR line). My mother, who dropped me off at the trailhead on Sunday was still in the area and was able to pick me up in Patagonia. Thanks Mom! The scenery was gorgeous – I found one of the greatest campsites of all time – and yet the midday heat and the extreme exertion involved in pushing a seventy pound bike up the loose, rocky hills cancelled out the fun factor fast, and I’m pretty sure I was close to heat exhaustion. It was a tough decision to call it, but also an easy one once I realized what would be safest. Although the experience was shorter than planned, there’s still a good story in it – I just need some time to sort it all out in my mind.»
Writing out the details of my bikepacking gear is just as much an exercise in thoroughness as it is an opportunity to share knowledge. Plus, I’ve always wanted to take one of those pre-bikepacking, OCD-esque gear layout photos. Readers, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email if you see that I’m missing something!
Bike For transportation along the AZT I’ll be peddling my trusty steel Surly Krampus. It’s a fully rigid mountain bike with “plus size” 29” wheels. The rims are 45mm WTB Scrapers mounted tubeless with 3” WTB Ranger tires – built ‘em up myself. The 1x drivetrain is geared with a 11/42 cassette and a 28T chainring. I have great confidence in this bike’s ability to endure the rugged AZT terrain, however, its heartiness comes at a price – its heavy. Hopefully that 28T chainring will make up the difference. Oh yeah, it’s red.
Bags I have a full set of well-loved Revelate Designs bags that performed flawlessly on the Tour Divide. They’ll keep me company again on the AZT. The harness and pocket will carry my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, tent poles, and other quick-access gear. The frame bag will hold my bike repair kit, first aid kit, bathroom kit, and pump. The gas tank will hold snacks. The mountain feed bags will carry water bottles. I’ll load up my nano panniers with food and electronics, draped over my Old Man Mountain rear rack. On top of the rack I’ll have a lightweight Seal Line dry bag containing my tent, extra cloths, cook set and stove, all strapped down with two Surly Junk Straps. In a Salsa Anything Cage on the fork I’ll strap an Anything Bag stuffed with my rain gear and wool jersey. And finally, I’ll wear a JanSport fanny pack for my GoPro, phone, glasses, and sunscreen (Yes, the family is having lots of fun ribbing me about the fanny pack).
Sleep System and Shelter I’m going vintage on the sleeping bag this time around and digging out my purple, synthetic North Face 30 degree bag. I used it on the AT a bunch of years ago so it’s probably no longer good down to 30 degrees, but it’s pretty light and very compressible. It also comes loaded with a nasty smell – something you can’t buy from REI. My Ridgerest pad is also from my AT days, but I’ve chopped it down to 3/4 length. It will double as something to sit on while I’m cooking. And my shelter is a solo Big Agnes Fly Creek UL tent. It was bomb proof on the Tour Divide.
Water and Filtration Getting the water system right is paramount on the AZT. I’ve opted to go with water bottles, as I’ve never warmed to bladders and hoses. I’ll have four bottles strapped to my bike (one on the underside of the downtube, one on my fork, and two in my mountain feed bags). That gives me almost three liters. I’ll also carry a two-liter Platypus bladder in reserve. This system worked well on the Tour Divide, but I’m anticipating needing to fill the Platypus more than I did then – it just means extra weight. For filtration, I’m trying out the MSR Trailshot. It’s just “so hot right now” in the bikepacking crowd that I couldn’t pass it up. This is a switch from my Polar Pure iodine mixture, but I understand AZT water primarily comes in the form of mud pools and cow troughs, so, yeah.
Clothing I will have two lightweight Smartwool t-shirts, two pairs of Pearl Izumi bike shorts, two pairs of wool socks, one pair of Patagonia capeline boxers (for sleeping), one pair of cool weather bike pants, one long sleeve Ibex wool jersey, two pairs of bike gloves, one bike cap, one bike helmet, and one pair of prescription sunglasses. My rain gear will consist of a pair of lightweight GoreTex Patagonia pants and a lightweight Marmot Jacket. My shoes are Shimano XM7’s – also all the rage with the bikepacking crowd these days. They’re rugged and flexible enough to serve as my Grand Canyon hiking shoes as well.
Electronics Honestly, dealing with electronics in the wilderness is kind of a pain. Back on the AT I had a cell phone but hardly ever any service. My parents and I had a scheduled Thursday evening phone call each week, if I recall, and all I had to do was give the phone a charge at a restaurant here and there and everything would work. My camera was a Kodak with regular film and I’d just mail home the exposed rolls. Today, on the other hand, some serious thought has to go into these things! I’ll bring my iPhone which I will use for calls, texts and the occasional photo. My GoPro (with mini tripod) will serve as my primary video and still camera (three SD cards and three rechargeable batteries in tow). My bike headlight, a Scalfano special, is accompanied by two lithium ion batteries and a charger. My Garmin eTrex 30x needs spare lithium AA’s and my Spot Tracker needs spare AAA’s – and I’ll be carrying several of each. Finally, I will bring an Anker PowerCore 20100 which will serve as my on-the-trail charger for everything. It’s fairly high capacity (and therefore heavy) and so I’ll likely have to charge it just a couple times during the trip. Unlike my ride on the Tour Divide, I will not be using a generator hub. I anticipate slow, uneven speeds on the AZT, which makes a generator hub fairly inefficient. Plus, I didn’t want to drop another $200 on a boost-size generator hub!
Cooking and Food My cook set, also a repeat traveler from the Tour Divide, is a GSI Soloist, and my stove is an MSR Pocket Rocket. I have a purple titanium spork as well. I plan to fire up the stove for breakfast and dinner, as I’ve always enjoyed taking the time to cook meals when I can. It’s a reminder to slow down and take things in. Breakfast staples will be rolled oats, brown sugar, walnuts, and coffee (Starbucks Vias). Dinners will generally consist of pasta, tuna, mac and cheese, and other quick prep meals with high calorie counts. I’ll be snacking throughout the day on various energy bars and goo shots, salty chips, and candy. I plan on supplementing my trail food with the occasional restaurant stop whenever I go through town. As always, I’ll be on the lookout for the ubiquitous gas station fried pie. At 1500 calories per pie, those things are bikepacking gold.
Bike Repair Kit Aside from the standard two tubes, pre-glued patches, chain scrubber (toothbrush), chain lube, zip-ties, multi-tool, rag, spare cleat/bolts, and quick links, I always bring along a set of quick link pliers as well – a little heavy for the road, but always come in handy when you have a chain problem. #beenthere
First Aid Well, I’m still a certified NOLS Wilderness First Responder, so I’ll take my brain with me – and maybe my certificate to inspire some confidence. (o: Aside from that, I have some band-aids, gauze, moleskin, Neosporin, a bunch of ibuprofen, and some athletic tape. I’m counting on my knees acting up around day three, so I’ll need to get tape underneath my kneecap and work out that IT band. My Spot Tracker SOS button is always with me as well, albeit a last resort.
Bathroom Kit TP, hand sanitizer, chamois cream, Dr. Bronner’s (for washing clothes and dishes), and a stylish orange titanium cat hole shovel. ‘Nuff said.»
I’m currently wrapping up a read of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, a poetic chronicle of the Mercury Seven astronauts. If you haven’t read the book you’ve probably seen the 1983 movie of the same name. Who can forget Ed Harris’s portrayal of John Glenn, the “Boy Scout” astronaut and first American to orbit the planet? How about Sam Shepard’s swaggering Chuck Yeager, the first man to scream through the upper atmosphere and break the sound barrier (while recovering from a couple of broken ribs and nursing a hangover from the night before no less)? The right stuff, writes Tom Wolfe, is something “a man either had or didn’t! There was no such thing as having most of it.”
These two and many others involved in the early days of NASA are lauded by our nation as some of the most adventurous individuals to ever live, risking their lives for a greater cause. It’s likely that the national focus on a “greater cause” is what actually gave rise to this age of national heroes. Beyond simply beating the Soviets into space, we wanted to test the limits of humanity – scientific, intellectual, creative, emotional, and physical. Collectively, we wanted to see if we could turn our wildest dreams into reality. And so we strapped those who had the “right stuff” to the top of roman candles, lit the fuses, and held our breath. We were bold and courageous, and the payoff was no less than a “giant leap for mankind.”
The 1960’s was a golden age of big ideas, and that same larger-than-life energy that fueled the space race was also at work in the minds of others. With the sky no longer the limit, literally, it seemed that anything was possible. In 1968, caught up in the electrifying spirit of an impending moon landing, Congress joined together to pen some large-scale, gutsy bills a little closer to home. In October of that year it passed the National Trails System Act “to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation.” The act immediately named the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail and the 2600-mile Pacific Crest Trail as National Scenic Trails, offering them protection and maintenance akin to that the National Parks enjoy. Since the act was passed, over 50,000 miles of trail have been added to the national system. And, in the spirt of the age of their inception, they encourage patrons to hike a little farther, to climb a little higher, and to dream a little bigger than they thought they could.
In a sense, there is a little bit of the moon in these trails, I think. To journey along one is to join with other daring souls in that unique American desire to test limits and break barriers. The National Trails allow everyone the opportunity to discover the “right stuff” within themselves.
Since I doubt I will walk on the moon anytime soon, I might as well get as close as I can by gazing at it on a clear desert night from the Arizona Trail, one of America’s eleven National Scenic Trails. It’s been seventeen years since I completed an end-to-end journey on one of its oldest cousins, the Appalachian Trail, and I have been feeling the need to return. This time, though, I’ll be riding my bike instead of hiking (easier on the knees), I’ll be out for two and a half weeks instead of five and a half months (easier on the job and family), and I’ll be in my forties instead of my twenties (easier to find my way home at the end). No, I’m not looking to risk my life for a greater cause like those early astronauts – the rescue team is only as far away as the button on my Spot Track device – but I am hoping to glimpse a bit of the view that John Glenn had from his small capsule window, a view that might gain me some perspective. How can one not be changed by seeing the swirling, blue-green Earth zip underneath while in rapid orbit around it? How can one not be moved by the grand scope of it all? I realize I won’t be speeding in a spaceship at 17,000 miles-per-hour, but rather chugging along on a bike averaging somewhere around 7. I do hear, though, that the desert, like outer space, has been known to bring a kind of revelation all its own to those who make the journey. I’m counting on it.
A little more about the journey. Unlike the AT, the AZT permits mountain bikes – but that doesn’t mean it’s all rideable. I’ve been told the trail offers some of the best mountain biking there is – and plenty of equally impressive “hike-a-bike” to keep the ego in check. In fact, through the Grand Canyon, hikers are asked to either strap their bike to their back and hike the nineteen miles down and up or shuttle it around the canyon via local motorized transport!
The Arizona Trail spans the entire state, from its southern border with Mexico to its northern border with Utah. For hikers, the trail distance spans just over 800 miles. Bikers get a bit of a break at 750 miles due to reroutes around National Wilderness areas, which don’t allow bikes. There are a number of bikers who have carved out the trail in recent years, some soloists like myself, and others as participants in the annual race, which usually takes place in April. Much like the Tour Divide from Canada to Mexico, the AZT race asks that competitors ride self-supported, carrying all their gear and food, resupplying along the way or via prearranged maildrop, and that they stick to a generally accepted route, of which there are several. Although I won’t be racing with the pack, I plan to follow the rules with one exception. After some serious soul searching, I’ve decided to have my bike shlepped around the Grand Canyon instead of packing it down myself. I’ve disassembled and hoisted the steel Surly beast and all it’s gear onto my back several times and no matter how much I balance and re-balance the weight, 70 lbs is 70 lbs. Of course, I’m still planning to hike through the canyon and camp at one of its historic campgrounds (if I can secure a walk-up backcountry permit, which is apparently something the National Park Service offers to thru-hikers/bikers).
Other than the rugged terrain, and water being somewhat scarce due to the desert climate, enduring the heat can also be a challenge. I will begin my ride on September 22, the beginning of one of two acceptable seasons for a thru-bike (the other being April), however, despite it officially being fall at that point, the weather gods in Arizona won’t necessarily follow suit. It’s predicted to be in the 90’s during my traverse of the Tucson/Phoenix region, but it will most certainly get cooler the farther north I go as the elevation increases. Here’s to sunscreen and a high carrying capacity for water! If all goes as planned, the entire trip should take me seventeen days. That’s approximately fifty miles each day with the exception of the two leisurely ten-mile days I will be in the Grand Canyon.»
I had originally intended to transcribe my Tour Divide journal entries onto the web, editing along the way, but I thought it might be a little more authentic to put them up “as is.” My handwriting is mostly legible – to me, at least. It has been fun to read through the experience and remember just how challenging, inspring, and transformative it was. Keep on truckin’!»