Overnight bike packing on the Arizona Trail

On our thru hike of the Colorado Trail this Summer, I was introduced to fatbikes and bikepacking. A few weeks ago I picked up a Surly Pugsley fatbike. We’ve been planning our sobo thru hike of the Arizona Trail in October. I thought bikepacking would be a fun way to explore the trail and go on a mini overnight adventure. We did our first overnight adventure (back in FL) to Ft Desoto County Park as a shakedown ride for our bicycle tour of the South West. Ever since then I thought of the overnight bike tour as one of the best mini adventures, especially if you can ride right out your front door to start the trip. I cheated a little bit and got a ride to the trailhead and then rode home from there.

I had most of the gear already, the only thing I picked up was a Revelate Designs Ranger frame bag from REI. I figured I ought to test out one piece of bikepacking specific gear. This is definitely something that would be good as a DIY thing. Right now these bags are mostly made by cottage industry companies and the prices reflect that. I think I paid around $150 for 8.6 liters of storage…if you did the math on price per liter storage these things cost a fair bit. My other new piece of gear was gear ties that the cable installation guy left behind. I used these to strap my Thermarest Zrest to the handlebars. Not pretty, but free and they did the job.

So to the actual bike packing! I started at the trail head for the Walnut Canyon Passage #31 and rode through a small part of Passage #32 which is called Elden Mountain. Total distance was just under 30 miles. I got the trail head at 2pm on Saturday afternoon and pulled into my driveway at 10am Sunday morning.

Here is my route. I started at the Passage #31 trail head just off Lake Mary Road and rode to my house in Upper Greenlaw
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A quick picture from the start of the passage. I was pumped as I’ve never bikepacked before and this would be my longest off-road ride ever. Also my first night sleeping out by myself I think. 
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The trail begins by climbing the mesa. I was told not to cycle the mesa soon after rain. It rained on Wednesday and even on Saturday, 3 days later, you could see how this mud could make for very hard progress. 
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The night before I left I figured out how to use my phone as a remote control for my Sony A6000  camera. Pretty cool but I don’t have the patience for the set up and take down.  
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Riding away from the camera set up. Not very exciting but full of possibilities. I think the range between the camera and phone was about 30ft via blue tooth. I used my ancient REI daypack to carry some of my lighter gear. 
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The view from on top of Fisher Point. I rode here last week and got the view from the valley; this time I’m shooting from the top. I had to hike-a-bike up most of the way to the view-point. There was lots of large stone steps. Way too technical for my mountain biking skills. 
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After leaving Fisher view-point the trail follows the rim of Walnut Canyon (looking down into the canyon).  It was neat riding. We’ll have to go on a day hike there sometime.
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I found a spot off the trail to set up my camp around 6pm. I had ridden just over 15 miles starting at 2pm. My Eno Double Nest Hammock is more for warm weather. I planned on using the hammock to hang out in and then cowboy camping on the ground for the night but, I forgot how comfortable hammocks are. As soon as I laid down in it I knew I’d be spending the night in it. 
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I had a great sunset from the little rise I camped on. I planned on having a campfire but I was hanging over a foot deep carpet of pine needles so a fire was not ideal.
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Every time I got for a short overnight camping trip I seem to forget something important. On our Grand Canyon hike I forgot my Thermarest and had to sleep on the car window shade. On our backpacking trip of the Cabin Loop Trail, I forgot the tree straps for my hammock. On this trip I forgot to bring a fork or spoon and, rather than cover myself in tuna juice trying to eat it right out of the packet, I decided just to eat snacks for dinner and cold Yerba Mate tea
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In the morning I was woken up to the sounds of hikers talking loudly on the trail. I had burrowed into my sleeping bag and pulled my hat over my eyes so it was pitch black. I pulled off my hat and it was bright and after 7am. Normally at home I wake up with the sun around 5:30am. I was so comfortable in the hammock that I slept in and didn’t wake up once during the night, like I normally would in a tent. I’m going to have to invest some money in an under-quilt for the hammock. Laying on my Thermarest kind of worked, but I’d say I’m only laying on half of the Thermarest at any one time. The rest of me is just separated from the 35f air by a thin sheet of nylon which makes up the hammock. After a quick breakfast of pop tarts and cold tea I hit the trail.
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Leaving my campsite there were a lot of other trails that crossed the AZT. I had to rely on my Guthooks app to keep track on the trail and not veer off too often. I picked up that cell phone holder on Amazon. It worked great on our South West bike tour and held my phone firm on 23 miles of trail riding. I highly recommend it. 
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There was an Arizona trail-head parking area off Walnut Canyon Road. I stopped to check out the signs and have some water. 
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 Here is Walnut Canyon Road. Would be nice for a road bike. 
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The trail lost elevation as I got closer to the end of passage #31. A few twists and turns and I was in a rolling landscape of sage and juniper with great views of the mountains. 
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Crossing under Interstate 40 was the end of Passage #31 and the beginning of passage #32 Elden Mountain. 
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I stopped underneath the railway for a drink and a train went over while I was there. It was creepy to think that thousands of tons of train was right over my head. 
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I’m not a train-spotter but the train and the sage looked nice in the morning light. 

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After a few miles of very rocky riding on passage #32 I took a short side rode and got back onto old RT 66 for 7 miles of road riding back to my house. I’ve never been on this section of 66 and it was cool to see Mt Elden from a different angle and to get a look at the cinder quarry I can see from my house. Sandra rode down 66 to meet me and we cycled the rest of the way home together 
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The best way to end an adventure…waffles and coffee. 

Overall it was a great trip. I’m definitely going to do some more bikepacking in the future. I may be able to squeeze in one more bike trip before our thru-hike. The Surly Pugsley fatbike did great. I didn’t fall on my head or do myself a mischief in 23 miles of single track. Overall I’d say it was a succesful trip.


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2 thoughts on “Overnight bike packing on the Arizona Trail

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