A Veritable Cornucopia of Bikepacking in Arizona

During my two peaceful days at Ranger Dean’s place in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, my primary task was mapping my route South toward Flagstaff, Sedona, and Prescott. I knew I wanted to ride some sections of the Arizona Trail (AZT) and a few other trail systems well suited to bike packing through the state. The Arizona trail is a similar but less popular sibling to the Colorado Trail. Over its 750 miles it winds through many of Arizona’s most beautiful areas, reaching from the Utah border at the North to the Mexican border down South. I chose to pick it up from the South Rim and ride it to Flagstaff, perhaps further…

 

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 I rode a few miles of pavement out of South Rim Village to catch the trailhead to the AZT. I’ve never seen a “cougar crossing” sign before. Seen signs for moose, deer, elk, even caribou, but this was a first! I did not end up needing to make way for cougars unfortunately.

 

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One last view of the ditch before cutting South.

 

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Trailhead for the AZT, so glad to get my tires back onto some dirt after a long paved section to the North Rim!

 

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Really good signage on the AZT, with distance notifications and trail markers at every intersection.

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The most significant challenge in riding the AZT, especially in the Fall, is access to water. I left the South Rim with 10 liters as I didn’t know what water sources I’d find before reaching Flagstaff, nor did I know how fast I’d be able to travel without knowledge of how rough the terrain would be. I’d see signs alerting hikers and bikers to certain named “tanks” for water. But this word is used quite loosely it turns out. The above photo is Russell Tank. A 20 foot long puddle of muddy water, surrounded by cow hoof prints. NOT an exciting prospect for drinking.

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Another mile down the road, I came across this. Another “Russell Tank”. Given the ladder, I imagined I’d be able to climb up to the rim and filter some water from a full cattle tank.

 

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I was wrong.

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Over the next 70 miles, I saw numerous cattle tanks. All empty. Those 10 liters ended up coming in handy!

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The San Francisco Peaks. Tallest mountains in the state of Arizona, just 20 miles North of Flagstaff. And yes, they have skiing. It’s called Arizona Snowbowl, and is supposed to actually be a pretty good ski hill.

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It’s fantastic that even in Northern Arizona, groves of aspen trees always appear exactly as one climbs above 8000’.

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Another few twists and turns of the trail led me beyond the apses to a pine forest. I loved the contrast.

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 Another would be ‘tank’, this one was actually called Bizmark Lake. Similarly, a 20 foot wide muddy puddle surrounded by hoof prints.

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The following morning, I woke up to a frosty, frozen trail. Luckily I’d done all the climbing the day before and would have a long steady descent all the way into Flagstaff.

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I found these maps on the trail, which led me through some great single track near Shultz Creek just North of Flagstaff. Fun, flowy and at times rocky terrain.

After 2 days of fun riding through beautiful country on the Arizona Trail, I descended out of the San Francisco Mountains into Flagstaff. I found myself feeling estranged, surrounded by cars, college kids, and a seemiling endless array of coffee roasters and breweries. As is my custom, I found the nearest bike shop at which I would ask about cheap places to eat and free places to sleep near town. Luckily I had limitless camping options right outside of town if my two host opportunities fell through.I contacted a backcountry ranger whom I met while camping at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon who said she had a house in Flagstaff. She was not in town, but put me in touch with a good friend of hers who offered to let me stay without hesitation. Amazing.

Now that housing was taken care of, I could focus on getting the myriad tasks done that can only get done in a bigger town: REI to exchange defective items, bike shop to do some basic repairs and get beta about my route South to Sedona from here, post office to send some stuff, and the big one: zipper repair.

The more time I spend out on the road, the more deeply I appreciate how every object that moves and rubs against another object eventually wears out. On the bike we’re talking about gears, chains and bearings. On clothing we’re talking about knees and butts on shorts/pants, and elbows on shirts. On all bags, we’re talking about ZIPPERS. Such a simple design, and yet when they fail, they render a bag useless without the ability to close. After a lengthy conversation with the generous fabric repair workers at Big Agnes in Steamboat Colorado, I learned that zipper care is like bike chain care: you have to lube them and clean them and limit the load placed upon them. But eventually they wear out. I asked around and was put in touch with a woman in town that specializes in gear repair. Graciously, she was willing to take a look at my defective zippers to see what could be done.

Moments after speaking I rolled up in front of her home business to find a house full of warm, welcoming people. She invited me back to her work room and we schemed about how best to solve the zipper problem to avoid a relapse, especially in some tiny town in Central America without materials with which to do repairs. We came up with the idea to convert the zippers to velcro flaps, which would last longer than zippers and be much easier to replace when needed. She said she could do it by the next if I helped her with some of the scut work. I loved the opportunity to be a part of the process, plus it was a chance to get to know a new person. As I helped her by pulling the seams to remove the old zipper, various housemates came in to chat. Before I knew it I was invited to stay for a beautiful vegetarian feast of stew, beets, fresh baked cookies and more! 10 of us gathered around the fire behind her home and ate, shared stories, supported by beautiful music on guitar and violin. I had to drag myself away after 5 hours to find my way to the home where I was to be hosted for the night. Filled with the beauty of connection, I rode into the night via the amazing systems of trails through town, the FUTS (Flagstaff Urban Trail System) to the home of Rand. he and his partner took me in, offering beer and food before showing me up to a whole room just for me (I expected a couch or floor space). Most comfortable bed I’ve slept on for MONTHS. I almost didn’t make it up this morning.

 

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 The talented Katie Nelson of Skunk Mountain Sewing with new and improved frame bag and Stubbs the super dog.

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So far the new velcro system is a huge improvement. Easy access to the main pocket while riding and improved rain protection. Thanks again Katie!

With bags repaired and body well rested, I pushed on from Flagstaff toward Sedona, famous for the “new age” movement, unreal beauty, and fantastic mountain bike trails. I found the rumors all true…

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I found this book in a bike shop in Flagstaff illustrating an interesting off-pavement route to Sedona. Kindly the shop let me grab a photo to aid in my route finding.

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 Directly from downtown Flagstaff I was able to hop on the FUTS and ride dirt trail immediately. Flagstaff has the mountain bike advocacy thing down pat.

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A few extra twists and turns through the single track of Fort Tuthill just for good measure.

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On to the long stretch of Ponderosa forests heading South on the Old Munds Highway. This was the flattest section of road I’d ridden for weeks. And for the most part the smoothest dirt road as well!

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Cutting across the highway onto Schnebbly Hill Road, I came around a corner to get my first view of the Sedona valley. I knew this was going to be something amazing. Every turn thereafter proved me more correct…

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A few miles down the road descending into Sedona, I saw a trailhead for the Munds Wagon Trail. Decided to give it a whirl, and I’m so glad I did. A technical single track trail that descended through the cliffs for the next 10 miles, it was challenging, exciting and the views were, well…

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When the trail ended at a parking area that charged by the hour, I knew I was in a different place. I was told by locals that the paid parking is actually slightly illegal as it’s run by a private organization on Forest Service land. Thus they cannot enforce the fees their charging. Good to know…

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I landed in the center of town moments later to find countless buildings with advertisements for crystals, tarot readings, vortex tours, even UFO tours. Lots of purple. LOTS. Luckily I was immediately met by a friend of a friend, Rachel. We grabbed a happy hour beer and she kindly offered me a place to crash that night.

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Eager to explore the trails around Sedona, I woke up early and headed to the local bike shop, Bike and Bean. Turns out this is the first place to develop the Bike/Coffee shop idea. Great vibe inside with locals hanging out drinking joe. They pointed me to the trail system 1/2 a block from the shop. I was able to connect over 20 miles of world class trails, could not wipe the smile off my face!

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I stopped a few times to chat with bikers I met on the trail. This guy also came down from Alaska, but by truck. He’s touring around the country in search of the best mountain biking he can find. We had a lot to talk about of course.

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All in all, I was able to explore about 50 miles of trail in various areas of Sedona. While the town didn’t quite capture my heart, the trail stole the show. Next on the bikepacking tour de Arizona: Coconino 250 into Prescott, Senator Highway, the Black Canyon Trail, and Phoenix!

3 Responses

  1. Dana VanVoo
    | Reply

    * F A N T A S T I C *

  2. James Greathouse
    | Reply

    Absolutely incredible. You inspire me so much with your blog! You seek to always pursue new relationships with those you meet on your journey and the results are fantastic, bravo! Love everything you do, thanks!

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Hi James,

      Thanks for your words. You are correct. New relationships and building community are deeply important to me, especially being away from my chosen and blood families for so long. Big lessons learned about people, honestly, love, and reciprocity.

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