Monday, April 30, 2012

Bike Packing: You're Almost Doing it Right!

 "How you feel greatly influences your perception of the world around you."

I'm sure someone famous said something similar to that, but that's my version of it.

Friday night found me figuring out how to pack as much of my backpacking and camping gear as possible into two panniers and a backpack. The tentative plan was to leave Saturday morning, and ride as far south on the Arizona Trail as I could before either it got dark, or I found the Mogollon Rim, whichever came first.

The reason this plan was tentative was simply because it was Friday night. I still had time to back out.

Well... Saturday arrived, and after sleeping in for longer than I would have liked, I headed out. There was only one problem:

I had a headache.

Specifically, it was the precursor headache to one of my migraines.

Me being me, I decided I was NOT going to let a headache spoil my fun, and so I tossed everything on Snowblind the Pugsley, and as earlier mentioned, headed out.

The ride started out along Lake Mary Road, bypassing the Arizona Trail across Andersen Mesa. I don't enjoy that stretch.
 After about 17 miles of asphalt, Snowblind's fat tires kissed dirt:
This is more like it. Let the fun begin!

The Peaks are already getting smaller.

It was at this point that the headache started kicking my butt. Anyone who knows me, knows that a headache, even a mild one, will floor me.  As a result, I spent a lot of time riding in the lowest gears, moving slowly, taking frequent breaks, and yelling about how cruddy the trail was.

That didn't stop me from taking a few pictures, though.
I wasn't expecting to find stuff like this out here.

Railroad right-of-way.

Mormon Lake off in the distance from the side of Mormon Mountain.

I couldn't find the wall this sign was referring to.

But I did find large metal parts... maybe to an old locomotive?

Or maybe to an old Cadillac.

Pond, on the site of an old railroad Y.

The view from one of the many spots where I stopped to take a nap.
 At this point, I was running on fumes. Not as far as fuel went, but I was very lacking in willpower to keep riding. I decided that when my trip meter said 40 miles, I would start looking for a decent spot to camp for the night. So, at 40.3 miles from home, I pulled off the trail, and scouted out a good spot.

No place like hammock.
I had cell signal, amazingly, so I let Exegete know where I was, and told him I would be riding back on the road, because screw that trail. It was rocky, it was poorly built, it wasn't even made for bikes. It was all routed through drainage, and had 5,242 trees blown down across it. You couldn't ride 50 feet without having to go through a gate. I just spent the whole day being miserable on the trail, because the trail was stupid.

Thus my resolution to ride home on the pavement, since I had just crossed Lake Mary Road 2 miles or so ago. I had an easy way out, and I was going to take it.

With that in mind...
I watched the sun set...

And cooked dinner, by which time my headache was subsiding...
 And then crawled into my hammock for the night, after telling Snowblind to stand guard.

If there's one thing that did go right up to this point, it was my choice to bring a hammock, a 20 degree sleeping bag, and all my cold weather riding gear. Wool socks, leg warmers, arm warmers, hat, and my light jacket, plus the bag, and I was nice and warm, despite losing a lot of ground insulation from being in a hammock. I drifted off to sleep as coyotes started howling off in the distance. It was awesome.

Good morning bike-butt!
 I slept in intentionally, letting the sun warm things up outside before I crawled out of my nice warm sleeping bag. The woodpeckers were insistent that I get up. (They sounded like gunshots, from far away, and machine guns up close. Weird.) It didn't take me long to pack up, and by 9, I was ready to roll.

Leave no trace? Check.
 However, I had done some thinking as I dozed amidst the drilling woodpeckers. I wasn't looking forward to riding 40 something miles back home on pavement. Pavement on a mountain bike is boring. Pavement on a loaded down mountain bike is almost agonizing. Plus, I was sure that my perception of the trail the day before was greatly influenced by the fact that I was forcing myself to ride despite the headache, and associated sick stomach.

In short, I was miserable, and so the world around me sucked.

So I decided to give the Arizona Trail one more shot, and retrace my steps back home on it.

And boy was I glad I did.

It's a whole different forest out here than what I'm used to. So much grass...

Follow the Pugsley Tracks!
 About 10 miles away from camp, as I'm rolling 20 miles an hour down a railroad bed, over cantaloupe sized rocks, and barely feeling a thing, I decided that riding home on the Arizona Trail, instead of the pavement, was the best choice of my life to date. The big stupid grin on my face I'm sure helped.
I got ya, Bambi.


And flow.

And roll.

And stop and admire the forest.

Railroad goes one way, the trail peels off another.

And, all too soon, back on to the superslab to ride the last 17 miles home.

 Ultimately, I have to call this trip a success. I didn't make it as far as I would have liked, but I blame my head for that.

As far as equipment went, I think I brought everything I needed, and very little that I didn't need. I didn't use everything I brought, but what I didn't use would have sure been handy if I needed it. Stuff like the water filter, folding shovel, TP, stuff like that. I brought enough food for 2 nights, if I needed it, and had 1 night's worth of food left over. I also finished the ride with 1 liter of water, but I topped off on the way out, and back at a campground spigot that the AZT wound past. If not for that, I probably would have had to break out the filter. There was plenty of water along the route this time of year, had I needed to.

The Pugsley makes an awesome dirt-touring/bike packing bike. I had probably 20 pounds of stuff on the rack behind me, and it didn't care, especially on the second day, when I was actually riding and feeling good. I found myself riding UP slopes, staircases, and switchbacks that I had WALKED DOWN the day before. And half the trees across the trail that I had dragged the bike over, or around on Saturday. I RODE over on the way home. Snowblind took it all in stride. Despite all the weight over the rear wheel, handling didn't change at all, and the bike was securely planted on the trail in all conditions, except for when I was airborne. I definitely brought the right bike.

My panniers continue to surprise me. They're the cheap Jandd Economy panniers that I got when I first got Bi, so almost 4 years ago. They've been abused, and now they went on a dirt tour, stuffed to the gills, and bounced around, and they don't show much wear at all.

Though, if I keep this bike packing thing up, I may have to invest in a larger pair of panniers, just to get the weight off my back. My shoulders are sore from having 8 pounds of backpack hanging off them.

The only equipment failure was the GPS battery dieing half way home. If I want to use it to navigate on these sort of rides, I'm going to need some way to charge it in the field. Something to keep in mind. Fortunately the AZT was well marked, and I have a good sense of direction. If you'd like to see the incomplete GPS track of the ride, check it out here.

I met some people on the trail, too. A couple guys from Northern Spain who were fascinated with the Pugsley, a backpacker going from Mormon Lake to Pine, and on the road, a roadie who was also interested in the Pugsley.

So, with all that said, I say again, it was a successful trip, and I can't wait to do it again.

Though, after getting home and chilling for a while, there was bike work to be done. With the help of Exegete, and Su pup, Bi got fresh wheel bearing grease, and the summer tire went on the rear.

It's not often you see Bi on the stand.

Fresh grease!
An excellent weekend of riding, and camping, overall.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about the Grand Canyon again, yeah?

Mileage: 80.6 miles for this trip, over two days.

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