Into the Scamp

We’ve been nomads for a while now. We seem to follow good weather and good adventures around the west, working on the computer in most places as we go.

In 2014, we lived off our bikes, traveling north on the Continental Divide Trail. We shipped our laptops to post offices along the way. Even they were too heavy for the demanding trail.

In 2015, we spent most of the year living out of a minivan and a tent. We were able to see many new places and be semi-comfortable camping throughout. After bad weather or other adverse conditions, we’d look forward to staying with family or friends, a roof overhead. Occasionally, we missed having a home base, our own space. Being able to work effectively meant going to coffee shops or seeking shade/indoors in some way. Laptops get frustrating to use from camp chairs in the sun/wind/elements.

At the end of 2015, we took it a step further and bought a mobile domicile. The Scamp!

We debated between a number of options, from RVs to McSprinters to just continuing on with the minivan/tent (or bike!). In my opinion, there’s no ‘best’ option for mobile living. All have their positives and negatives, and what’s good also depends heavily on the style of mobile living you employ. That style is also hard to predict and tends to change over time.

So we didn’t agonize too long, but chose the fiberglass Scamp because it was cheap, simple, and provided all the amenities we were looking for. The fact that we didn’t need to buy a new vehicle was a bonus — the Sports Van would roll on.

It’s a 13′ trailer (including tongue) that has:

– a bed
– a table/bench suitable for two people to work on laptops
– a small fridge that runs on propane
– a deep cell battery and solar system to power LED lights, phones and laptops

Anything else (stove, heater, storage, etc) was just a bonus, and not really needed.

But now, could a lowly Sports Van really tow it?

AZT Jamboree at Starr Pass. Espresso shots and empanadas!

There were a few things to figure out first, like installing a hitch, wiring and tuning up the van. The used (2007) Scamp needed a few things like LED replacement lamps and a new battery, too.

Meanwhile, the AZT Jamboree fundraiser was moved at the last minute to Tucson Mountain Park due to rain. This is significant because the only ‘venue’ we could come up with for parking/riding/beering/camp fire-ing was a place called Snyder Hill.

Chad killing it climbing Golden Gate

Eszter and I hung out there long enough that we convinced ourselves it would be a suitable place to Scamp a night or two, as needed.

the first of many Scamp sunsets

Once we had a trailer hitch, we started conservatively, by towing the little trailer to the closest place we could, and all on pavement. Gilbert Ray campground would become a favorite place to Scamp, and our test trip went beautifully. We’d only planned a single night out, but we didn’t want to go home just yet.

So we pushed our luck, entering Synder Hill’s ruts with a tad too much confidence. The trailer’s jack dragged in the dirt and bent even further back. Ouch. At dusk, a little white dog appeared, scared and begging for food. By the end of the night, Eszter had the dog in her lap, and the dog had a name: Sparkles.

Sparkles would become a point of contention, a source of joy and warmth, and a source of major heartache, over the next months. Her arrival delayed us moving “full time” into the Scamp as we struggled to figure out what her story was, and what we would do with her.

The Sparkles story could fill an entire blog post, and is written up over on Eszter’s blog already. Suffice it to say, Sparkles won the dog lottery (as Eszter correctly puts it), ending up in a happy and loving home, with Eszter’s parents. We still get to visit her, and she doesn’t have to deal with the stresses of being a camp dog.

Scamp mods!

While Sparkles hung out in the yard of our tiny rental house, we continued making preparations to move into the Scamp. I had some years of accumulated stuff to go through and get rid of, including lecture notes and exams from grad school. It took some time to decide what got donated and what got trashed. How much, exactly, would fit in the trailer/van, and what did we really need? We didn’t really know.

Luckily we had Lee Blackwell and his shop at our disposal for further Scamp mods. The jack needed to be moved up (major design flaw in Scamps), and back. Our wiring harness needed to be tucked up out of the way, too. He also helped us put in a little bit more LED lighting. We were getting close.

We pulled the trailer out to Willow Springs for the 9th running of the Antelope Peak Challenge. It was a good crew, and I enjoyed riding the loop in the traditional direction (switched from the previous year).

Another beautiful Scamp sunset, this time with friends and a little camp fire nearby. The dream. We’re getting so close.

During APC, trackleaders was beginning the dive into sled dog season, or, the busy season. I still hadn’t transitioned to a fully mobile computer life. Somehow through all the previous years I’d held onto a giant desktop, that was lovely when fully set up, but a pain to haul around, and not Scamp-approved by any means.

Finding a suitable new laptop wasn’t too hard. Low power, fanless, direct DC charger, small and light. Would it be fast and capable enough to develop TopoFusion and run Trackleaders from? I wasn’t sure, but just like much of the decisions going into full mobile life, there was only one way to find out: try it.

It was a bit of a mental shift, but not too difficult. Luckily nothing I do these days is too (locally) resource intensive, so a laptop that’s well less than $1k does the job. Check another one off the box, we’re getting close!

Plans for Ole Pueblo were hard to settle on. I ended up watching Sparkles back in Tucson, and the Scamp stayed in town as well. I came up to cheer Ez and Alexis on with donuts, and to do the fuzzy math of lap times for them. They ended up taking the win! And Eszter had found a free ride to Boulder for her and Sparkles. Sparkles was bound for her new home, and we were now VERY close!

After spending some time trying to get Sparkles settled in (with some success), Eszter flew back to Tucson, and….

Full time Scamping, just outside of Tucson!

Everything fit with room to spare. But from our first camp we ended up making a trip or two to Goodwill and the community bike shop to donate more stuff. It didn’t take nearly as much effort to whittle it down as I thought.

The most common question we got, during this ~2 month period before we moved into the trailer, was some variant of: “That’s an awfully small trailer. How are you going to live in that?”

We thought it kind of a funny question, because in our mind it was an upgrade over living off the bikes, or out of a minivan and a tent. The Scamp was going to be luxurious, or so we thought. We didn’t really know, but we knew enough to have a good hunch.

The other common question was, “What’s your plan? How long are you going to live out of it?” The answer is that we don’t really know. We’ll stay in it for as long as it works, for as long as we enjoy it. It is true that though we’ve lived off bikes and out of cars, we’ve always returned to some kind of dwelling in the winter months and had a home base for part of the year. So striking off and going full time in a trailer was still an adventure in the unknown. And I don’t think we’d have it any other way.

More interesting and open questions, for us, were things like the following. Would the convenience and comfort of the trailer be worth the hassle of towing and the longer setup/takedown time? Tents sure keep things simple. Would the van be able to tow the trailer, plus gear, on highways at a decent speed? How about over steep mountain passes? Would having low clearance and 2WD be much of a limitation? Could we keep all our electronics charged, and could we both work using mobile data plans that didn’t cost an arm and a leg? Would the Scamp be comfortable enough that even in adverse conditions we wouldn’t go looking for shelter?

These questions, and more, were yet to be seen, as we starting Scamping around Southern AZ in the springtime. One thing was for certain: we were infinitely fortunate to both be in a place in our lives when the mobile life was not only possible, but desirable. So we put away any excuses, and went for it.

Grand Enchantment on the Safford Morenci Trail+

photo by Lee Blackwell

It started innocuously enough. Lee and I pedaled a graded dirt road into the Black Hills east of Safford.

The original idea was to recreate a memorable bikepack we did on a rather iconic section of the Grand Enchantment Trail some years back. We hiked our bikes a lot back then, but the memory of that had faded, replaced by the strong sense of “we need to go back there” that lingered.

But re-creating a ride that we know already ‘goes’ isn’t nearly as exciting as, well, something that we don’t know. When I took a look at Maestro Brett’s latest GET maps I quickly realized there was trail we had not been on. It looked steep, and remote, and full of water crossings, and probably hike-a-bike. Just a brief mention of the new section was all Lee needed — new country calls to him loudly.

the range does indeed look good

We wanted to hit the unknown stuff first, and in the downhill direction, so we pedaled the ‘self-shuttle’ portion of the ride first. In this case, it’s the Black Hills Backcountry byway. We had time to stop and read all the informative signs along the way, this time.

And what’s this? A gazebo with picnic table and a huge view of all the terrain we would be immersing ourselves in over the next several days! It was practically begging us to camp there, with the roof being a good full-moon sleep aid.

Then, just after night fell, the wind picked up. The mice started scurrying around. Lee’s air mattress blew into his bike and sprung a leak. The wind only increased its fury through the night. The cold seeped in from the ground to Lee’s core.

It wasn’t the greatest night of bikepack sleep we’ve ever had.

To the Gila River, where Lee’s puncture was obvious and repaired with a small piece of nylon cut out of the stuff sack.

Meanwhile, I looked for birds. And there were many dancing through the cottonwoods.

Already down some time and tired from the night, I suggested we alter our plan to grab a good night in the motel before launching off into the ‘doing of the thing.’ That also meant we could take a little side trip in search of… a hot spring!

An abandoned rail way turned singletrack, on a shortcut bearing? Yes, please!

photo by Lee Blackwell

Sand and steep rock made sure we didn’t ride our bikes all the way, but a bike was a pretty good tool for rolling over hills and dropping back to the river in search of hot water.

Hot water was found. Too hot, largely. At 180 degrees, it’s the hottest in AZ, but if you mix it with river water, you could maybe get it just right. Lee and a young couple did some digging, but I settled for a “half” soak — back half hot, front half cool. Not golden, but I’ll take it.

We rolled into the funky mining town of Clifton with time to spare. First stop was Roy Tyler’s Texas BBQ place. Before we were done there, we had bellies full of food, pie and ice cream. We had also met the mayor, half the city council, and collected a stack of business cards from various characters that call Clifton home. Lee’s personable way does well at making friends quickly.

We took the evening to spin unloaded around town, exploring the cave jail, churches, giant loaders and other nutty aspects of a town steeped in history. It’s too bad much of the the original town has been swept away in various floods of the San Francisco river.

Everyone was so friendly. “You guys look decidedly non-local.” Yeah, bikepackers aren’t exactly common around here. Neither are thru-hikers since even the GET skips these towns now.

The night at the motel was good. I awoke and was facing the only part of the ride I was not looking forward to: climbing 1000 feet, steeply, through the massive Morenci mine (largest copper mine in North America, dwarfing Kennecott, Silver City, Butte, etc), dodging mine traffic the entire way.

Out came the stack of business cards, and Lee’s talents. A few minutes later, he had a ride secured through the mine from none other than city councilman, jokester, sole republican of Clifton and owner of the Texas BBQ joint.

Being ‘pure’ (i.e. pedaling every last mile) is overrated.

Leave it to Scott and Lee to find a way to integrate hike-a-bike into what should be a straightforward ride between the towns of Clifton and Morenci.

The “Greenlee County Healthy Lifestyles Trail” does still exist and provides a traffic-free way to climb between the towns. But it’s changed a little bit since our 2008 GPX track.

The good Roy Tyler dropped us and our groceries just past the mine. We still had 1500 feet or so to climb on the deserted highway. We’ll call it semi-pure.

It was semi-rad, for sure, as we climbed towards the White Mountains, mingling with the mexican blue jays and acorn woodpeckers along upper Chase Creek.

And then, at long last, we were on the GET proper, into the meat of it, with 3+ days of food, a willingness to hike and a voracious appetite for new country.

photo by Lee Blackwell

Our expectations were set appropriately low. Any section we rode was considered a bonus.

photo by Lee Blackwell

We could tell someone, at some point, cared about this trail. But the current conditions? Less than favorable for mountain bike travel, despite the fact that we were losing elevation rapidly, there wasn’t a whole lot of riding going on.

Catclaw and other overgrowth is a real problem on a narrow trail bench. Beyond that, it’s been my observation that last year’s monsoon rains were ideal for growth of cheatgrass in the mid elevations of Arizona. Think Canelo Hills. Except the Canelos probably get 500x the traffic that the GET receives.

The winter’s brief freeze and snow was not enough to push the grasses back. So even sections that might be followable/rideable were often obscured and left the poor little bikepackers back on their feet.

In short, it isn’t hard to imagine that this trail could be more rideable under better conditions.

“This might be the hardest 3000 feet of elevation we’ve ever lost.” It was sure a good thing we weren’t going up (thanks to Master Brett’s suggestion).

“What, you want to go all the way up there? You’re crazy.”

Time wasn’t running high. Progress had been minimal all afternoon. But I had a hunch, given some vague hints on Brett’s maps, that this was the area, and that it was not to be missed.

What we found amazed us.

Magic springs coming from the cracks.

Hawks screeching and strafing us, repeatedly.

Magic trees and caves.

It is not hard to imagine and feel the vision quests that might have occured here.

Or the spirit animals that, at times, inhabit it.

We continued the quest of our own (whether or not it qualifies as visionary or a fool’s errand, I don’t know) further down the GET, as the ‘trail’ was simply in the jumbled streambed.

At dusk cottonwoods began to appear in the drainage as we picked our way down. Then, a spring! Clear water. We called it a night, enjoying the luxury of a wet desert camp, meaning extra coffee, emergen-C and even some whiskey that I surprised Lee by carrying.

The morning’s route continued down the drainage, occasionally rideable, and always highly interesting.

Painted Bluff slickrock! Ah the tasty little nuggests only available to the adventurous bikepacker.

Perhaps such nuggets will be enough to sustain us as we fight our way down to Eagle Creek? Occasionally bits of unrideable trail took us out of the drainage, presumably around pour-offs or other obstacles, but it was always slow going.

After nearly 24 hours, we had only covered 13 miles, while losing several thousand feet. But we had reached Eagle Creek, and it was running higher than expected.

The next 9 or so miles were following the creek, downstream, with an estimated 50+ fords. For the first couple miles there was rumored to be a ‘pack’ trail, but given the lack of use we’d seen anywhere so far, we were skeptical.

There was, at times, some paths to follow, as we repeatedly played the game of ‘do we ford here’ or continue fighting the brush on our current side, hoping to save two fords?

It’s a fun game to play, really. You just can’t have any expectation of making much progress.

After reaching a ranch house the topos indicated a jeep track to follow for the rest of Eagle Creek. Poking around left us skeptical. Brett had suggested we perhaps exit Eagle Creek on the other side of the jeep track, climbing thousands of feet away, but avoiding further slow travel and many fords.

We opted to stay in the cool shade and with the cool water. It was simply too beautiful and too rare a thing to leave, even though we new it was going to be slow. The jeep track was semi-followable and ill used, but it did improve vastly as the afternoon wore on.

We started getting the confidence to ride a few fords, perhaps as water level fell a little, drainage widened, and definitely as the water temperature warmed. It was fun to go flying into the creek with speed, losing it just as you hit the channel, and dumping your shoes straight in.

We don’t often get to ride with water in AZ. And, oh, what a setting.

We were followed by multiple black hawks as we made our way through the tight bends and oxbows of the rhyolite cliffed creek. Black hawk is a new bird for me!

photo by Lee Blackwell

Energy levels were not high as we paused to take a break where the route climbs away from Eagle Creek. Time estimates of what remained were not promising. Did we have enough food to actually push this thing through? Our second day on the GET was running out of daylight and we’d only covered 23 GET miles total!

There was a bailout, back to Morenci and Clifton, at this point. But Lee delivered my favorite quote of the trip, “yeah, but then we don’t get to see our country!” For Lee, seeing the country is always the highest priority, riding or hike-a-biking, tired or energetic.

We pedaled past the eastern terminus of the Safford Morenci trail. The sign marking the terminus was almost shiny, it felt so new, in direct opposition to the state of the trail, or the history of the trail.

It’s an old pack trail, through supremely rugged terrain, that once linked the farms (Safford) to the mines (Clifton/Morenci). Remnants of the original trail can still be seen, especially in places where it has to cling to cliff walls in order to make passage.

The BLM has revived the route and signed it, with some (imaginary?) fanfare some years ago. That fanfare seems to have conincided with the last time we rode it, when conditions were quite agreeable to the adventurous cyclist. We were about to learn just how things have deteriorated since.

While briefly a steep and rubbly 4×4 road, it was semi-rideable. As it turned to singletrack, the effect of the bovine inhabitants of Smith Canyon became apparent. There were stones and baby heads everywhere.

We pushed bikes into the failing night, scanning the terrain for any flat and stone-less ground that might afford some rest. It took a while before we found a couple of tiny cubbies big enough for bikepackers to lay their weary heads.

photo by Lee Blackwell

It was a cold morning at nearly 6000 feet, but our position was favorable for early morning sun. I think a few cows had also figured out this early morning sun perch. They came in the middle of the night, snorting at us in disapproval of us taking their sleeping spots!

We crested Bellmeyer saddle to grand veiws and much elatement. We had crossed the Turtle Mountains and were on a downward pitch to the next riparian wonderland — Bonita Creek.

photo by Lee Blackwell

I remembered climbing a fair bit of this singletrack, terrain pulling me upward like a magnet, last time. Cheatgrass and catclaw once again had other ideas on too many sections that I would have loved to coast down.

But what did remain was brilliant, and freeing, and lovely, and so much easier than dragging bikes up through baby heads. The singletrack ended quickly, and for the first time in 3 days, we had open 2-tracks to coast on.

It might have been the first time that our bikes did us much good. In a rational, logical way. But what is logical about crossing this terrain in the first place? After all, a smooth and swift highway can take us where we’re going orders of magnitude faster.

photo by Lee Blackwell

We dropped into Midnight Canyon, as the excitement level peaked, and our bikes continued to be highly ‘useful.’ Where by useful I mean incredibly fun.

Choke rock! No regrets at the possession of two wheeled bicycles were offered as we coasted and pedaled our way down the magnificence of the slot.

photo by Lee Blackwell

It is not every day you encounter a rideable slot canyon to ride through, to wonder at.

photo by Lee Blackwell

And to not want to leave behind. Partly we stopped for shade, partly we stopped because of the beautiful spot, and the zone tailed hawks (another new bird!) flying overhead.

And partly it was because we knew the ‘fun’ was over. Bonita creek was here, and the infamous Johnny Creek loomed ahead — in the uphill direction.

photo by Lee Blackwell

First we had to get there. Riparian areas are a unique and wonderful thing in the Arizona Desert. But keeping a trail or route anywhere near them is near impossible. Little blue ‘Brett’ flags kept us on track, got us to the ford spot, and away with muddy feet.

photo by Lee Blackwell

Those feet struggled to wrangle bicycles up and out of the lower reaches of Johnny Creek, on centuries old trail, chopped precipitously out of sheer rock. It’s a sight to behold, and just on the edge of what’s possible to push up with full water bags on our backs.

Into the slot of Johnny we go. Even for thru-hikers, the pace through here is not quick. But it’s delightful travel, in a way, picking your lines and marveling at the geology throughout. Some water obviously runs fast through here!

If not for the concave curve of the slot, midday shade would have been hard to come by. It was slim, even still, but Lee is a certified master of napping. Somehow he perched himself on a tiny ledge, completely in the shade.

“Perfect, when my water bag is done filtering, it’ll fill up and fall off on my face. That’ll mean nap time is over.”

The nap was declared good, though only a ‘2-sided’ nap. For the best recovery results, Lee recommends a 3-sided nap (lying on back, and both sides).

It was enough that we resumed charging up the slot, finding occasional pieces of new trail that would guide us out of the drainage for the stone dams and other obstacles that might prove difficult for horses (or bikepackers!). They sure didn’t overdo the bench construction or pruning on the new sections though.

Johnny done. Time to push bikes up steep roads, somewhat of a relief?

But we had forgotten about “Johnny Two”, the next canyon of singletrack. Some of it was good, and some was choked with brush and finally had us wanting to cry “Uncle.” Enough raising and lowering of loaded bikes over boulders. Enough slamming of pedals into legs. Enough cat claw skin loss.

But the end was reached, again with fancy sign. As we laid in the dirt elated at completing our second traversal of the Safford Morenci trail, Lee was heard to mutter something extremely rare. “I don’t know, Scott, that was bordering on ridiculous.” [the amount of hike-a-bike and difficult conditions]

Bordering on ridiculous, but not actually ridiculous.

The evening light, the quiet spaces, the open roads, the fact that we’d seen zero humans in the last three days, the sheer joy of coasting and wind on the face [thanks bikes!], the satisfaction of completing our visionary (to us) quest.

photo by Lee Blackwell

Well, that was all pretty damn nice. We coasted for miles and miles, down into the Gila Valley and towards Safford, where the ride (or hike?) was over.

Thanks for a great adventure, Lee. I’m looking forward to the next bike/hike adventure, whether on the GET or not. I love that we are still able to get along so well and see such country. It’s truly a rare and special thing.

Emergency Gila Bikepack

It wasn’t going to happen otherwise. We had to do it, we had to declare an ’emergency’ and drop everything. We can’t let a beautiful spring season go by without a visit to the Gila Canyons and the Arizona Trail. We just can’t.

What was the emergency? The emergency was many fold:

We needed to check on the poppy bloom.

Someone had to ride next to all the color, to see how extensive it is.

Make sure the Gila Monsters of the Gila Canyons are well fed.

See if the new Revelate bags are as rad as always (or even more rad?).

Does our favorite hidden watering hole still flow? (It does!)

And what of the sunset? Will the sky turn ablaze and add even more color to the rhytolite cliffs, as we turn to climb deeper into the canyons?

Will the owls hoot at night, the poorwills whistle and tweet while hunting for bugs?

Will we wake up in a place like this, refreshed and invigorated?

For these very important issues, and more, the bikepack of the Gila Canyons was declared an emergency situation, one that could simply not be ignored.

In the morning there is no such thing as an emergency. There is no work to be done, no doubt about how the day is going to be spent.

It’s going to be spent, *out here*, amongst saguaro and cactus wren.

Speaking of saguaro, Eszter and I have a favorite cactus. He’s still just as stoked as ever, giving the Gila Canyons, the AZT, and the universe at large two thumbs up.

Gone are the days when Lee and I would explore this area, sans a complete AZT. Thru-hikers and thru-riders were nearly an impossibility.

By those standards, seeing 3 bikepackers and 4 thru-hikers is ‘crowded.’

Hedgehogs are always the first to go, overlapping nicely with wildflower season.

Stevan is on a thru-mission, having started at the Mexican border, aiming for the South Rim as a finish. He had the 750 track loaded on his GPS, but was making similar (wise) decisions to skip certain sections, as Eszter and I did on our tour a couple years ago.

Climbing to the unicorn rock, we met another pair of bikepackers doing the full Gila River Ramble Loop, including the ice cream option! Come race/event time I know there are a good number of folks following my GPX tracks around. But it was pretty neat to run into people I would have never known about otherwise, and even better when they are making prudent decisions such as the ice cream loop!

We wrapped it up by self-shuttling and closing the loop via the highway. The emergency was resolved, crisis averted, all was well in the world. Especially when we had root beer floats in Kearny. And twist ice cream cones in Mammoth.

Thanks for making this one happen, Lee. Looking forward to the next, longer, one on the GET.

Return to Tucson

The first photo on this blog has been, for the last month, a photo of my green Lenzsport Mammoth. The bike was leaning against a ledge of that beautiful white rock on Gooseberry Mesa. Sadly that bike was stolen soon after we returned to Southern Arizona for the winter. It had seen many a mile, been pushed up many a mountain, and traversed the CDT. It had a good life and it served me well.

I’m not one to get sentimental over bikes (i.e. possessions), but it was one of my favorites — and probably the most capable and versatile I’ve yet owned. The loss made me feel less like writing here. The fact that my camera got stolen along with it may have had something to do with it, too.

But… the blog must go on. The diary is some 12 or 13 years old now. Yikes.

We recovered from Southern Utah adrenal fatigue with some local rides.

And runs, too.

photo by Eszter Horanyi

Friends converged on Little Creek Mesa. My photos of the rides and hanging out with Alexis, Denny and the crazy dogpack are lost, but it was a great weekend. The growing November cold had us deciding that tent season was closing in Utah.

Time to head to…

The Sonoran Desert! Let tenting season continue!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to work Picacho Peak into a northern/southern migration, but it’s never worked out. This year, with nowhere to ‘live’ in Tucson set up, it was an easy choice. Good camping, and a silly fun hike out the door.

That top singletrack still calls for wheels. It’ll be a task to get a bike up there, though!

Overcoming fear can largely be a function of familiarity. The more time spent in situations like this, the better.

Bikes got stolen, so we turned our attention to other activities.

Like hunting for birds!

Not that kind of bird. Have you ever seen cattle be rounded up by helicopter? I can’t imagine the number of cowboys rolling over in the graves.

Crazy beak deformation on this northern mockingbird.

Bikepacking was out, so backpacking was in. For Thanksgiving we hiked up to ‘our’ saguaro on Ripsey, ate slices of pizza and watched what seemed like the longest sunset either of us had ever seen.

Backpacking has a beautiful simplicity to it, I must say.

For “#optoutside” day, we went to check the mail at Picketpost.

The picket is an entertaining scramble.

It seemed so much easier than last year, especially for Eszter.

We had just enough daylight to check out the nearby Arboretum. We need to go back… with far more time.

A fall color “Us-ie” inspired by Chad and Kendall, who were killing it in the Usie department while in Japan. Thanks for letting us crash your house while you were away, guys!

I pulled a bike out of storage — a Tucson appropriate bike, as it would have it. I joined Chad for his singletrack commute on the 50.

The only bike waiting for Eszter was a decidedly non-Tucson-appropriate one. This ride was fun, though. She’s taken the opportunity to focus on running instead.

So happy to be back, and near my favorite Tucson trail system.

Lee put together a Canelo ride slash trail scouting party. He’s the new regional steward for the first six segments of the trail.

The Little Outfit! Lee and I stayed a night at the ranch during our 2005 thru-ride of the AZT. The stay was complete luxury — with swimming pool, WW2-era tank tour and delicious food. Not all of our nights on the trail would be so glamorous…

Regional steward at work! Our biggest task was to figure out the nasty areas and make the trail easier to follow.

I always enjoy riding in the Canelos. But without fail, you’re always glad to get to that last hike-a-bike before the descent to Patagonia, knowing the Canelos are behind you.

The early December weather in Arizona was simply ridiculous, with temperatures warmer than anything we’d experienced since… August? Tent season was back full on. At Harshaw road, then Patagonia Lake, where we found a Green Kingfisher, among many other interesting birds!

It’s really fun to be on the steep upslope part of the curve on a new activity. We are learning so much, and having so much initial success, all while spending copious amounts of time outside. Birding, check it out….

Next hot spot was Madera Canyon, where the camping is good and the birding even better.

The riding? Leaves a little to be desired. Elephant Head is an old favorite of mine, but it has been all but swallowed by monsoon-fueled grass. I flipped it earlier than I would have liked, after getting stuck in a monster catclaw bush I was trying to trim with my little snippers.

The good doctor J-bake organized a big crew of chunk-riders for what can only be described as a TMP beatdown ride.

Wormhole, Krein, Wormhole again, Wagonwheel, Hooligan, Hidden.

It was *such* a fun ride. I wasn’t riding in midseason Tucson form, but was waaaay more confident than the reciprocal ride last year, upon return from the CDT.

Ancient rock art, well protected courtesy of the US military.

Lee and I had a bit of an ill fated attempt to ride the AZT, from Sierra Vista. For years I’ve been curious how Sierra Vista riders get through the mountains to connect with a section of trail (Sunnyside Canyon) that is rarely ridden otherwise.

We made it to the crest of the mountains, but it was too cold/snowy to want to continue. We froze descending back down Garden Canyon.

The main objective of the trip was to pick up our new home — a 13′ little Scamp! We purchased the little guy from a small time fisherman from Homer, Alaska who winters in Bisbee.

Lee was kind enough to offer his truck and expertise so we could get it back to Tucson. We have some stuff to learn about pulling stuff and keeping batteries charged, but we are super excited to ‘move into’ the Scamp.

It’s funny that people seem to ask us how living out of it is going to work — it’s so small, right? But really, it’s an upgrade for us. We spent ~7 months living out of just our minivan, with a tent.

We’ll spent another month renting the tiny house we’re in now, then move about Southern AZ for the rest of the winter…. if all goes according to plan.

Last year’s return to the Techy Taco ride was full of ignominy — and not just for me. Both Chad and J-bake got reamed out there, so much so that we almost abandoned it for the whole season.

But this, this is a new year! Trails are in better shape, and the tacos were damn tasty this go round. It’s back in the regular rotation, I’d say.

Who remembers these? It’s pretty funny the crazy old things I still had lying around. Part of the Scamp transition is to pare down things even more, and it’s a good feeling to be trimming down.

Agua Caliente should also be a part of the regular rotation this year. So much fun out there!

We’ve had a little bit more time to squeeze in some local adventures before heading north for the holidaze. This day was a good one. I ran up to the saddle on Hot Water Hill, then switched to ride up nearly the same distance. Then we both went to the spring fed lake to hunt birds.

Vermilion flycatchers are one of my favorites.

It’s good to be back in Tucson — so grateful to be here. I can’t wait for the rest of the winter.

Adrenal fatigue in Southern Utah

Moab’s wind and rain brought us to Salt Lake. It was a good time to visit with my family — overcast and cold for several days. Very little temptation to go outside and play. We played inside, with nieces and nephews, instead. It was fun.

The skies began to clear over the west, and the Sports Van drove south like it had a mind of its own.

just enough daylight to get a taste of the white rock before a blustery night in the tent

It pulled us to another mountain bike mecca. Another rare expanse of rideable rock. Another classic area that I have neglected too long.

Gooseberry Mesa.

I love that I live in a world where a trail system like Gooseberry has become official and protected, despite its roots as an unofficial / underground.

In the late 90’s we happened to stumble into the creators/explorers/builders at a shop in town, and they were kind enough to show a bunch of college racer dorks around their stash.

We were duly impressed, and at that moment, the Slickrock Trail was suddenly old hat. Yet despite coming to visit St. George many times over the last decade+, I rarely get out to ride it.

Luckily the Sports Van righted that wrong and took us there.

Luckily we had a couple weeks of riding in Moab under our belt, and chunk confidence was approaching levels not seen in years.

Ez, in particular, was killing it out there. I’d be challenged by a section, then turn around to be surprised by her riding it first try. She also climbed a couple sections before I did, or in less tries. My girl can ride tech!

It was a glorious day on the white rock, grunting up steeps, trying not to peer off the cliff edges while riding along them, and basking in the desert sun. We covered nearly all of the trails out there, returning to camp pretty worked over.

Evening was spent reading, computerizing, and sitting by the fire. In the morning, Goose called again. We covered the sections of trails we’d missed and felt the magic of the place again. It was completely empty on a Monday morning.

A certain place, seen visible in the background of this and many of the photos above, also called us.

We had one more day of good weather, so haste was made to the other side of the mesa, through the park entrance station and into Zion!

The goal? Angels Landing.

New to both of us, we’d long heard of it, but never made it happen. The route is along the wall behind Eszter in the photo, luckily protected with lots of steps and chains.

I LOOOOOVE the trees out there and all their crazy roots

Into the white rock layer and the top! A little breathing room here.

Eszter conquered some fear out there, claiming to be a member of ‘Team Vertigo.’ She got very quiet and focused the whole way up, while being more relaxed on the way down.

I was really only scared watching people coming back down at us. The biggest danger, I think, is someone slipping and knocking other people over. Choose your waiting spots carefully.

Floating down ‘Wallys wiggles’ — switchback attack!

Maples and oaks still changing color. This canyon made me miss Tucson, strangely enough.

all fed from water coming out of cracks and weeping from walls

Soon, soon, we’ll make it back ‘home’ to Tucson for the cold and dark months.

We motivated for another hike up to the Emerald Pools despite what we realized was a good case of being completely drained in the adrenal department. Gooseberry and Zions will do that to ya, apparently. I’m really grateful we were able to squeeze these days in. Both need return visits.

To the desert!

At last the snows did come to the mountains. It piled up in a slushy mess, up high and on the roads down low. We were lucky to get out safely when we could.

The destination? Fruita / Grand Junction – the desert.

Eszter and two Bec(k)s were bikepacking the Kokopelli Trail …. [Continue reading]

Closing out the alpine season — with a binge and a bang.


The view from my ‘office’ was superb. Gold aspens, blue sky. Trails from the door. Easy access to the alpine. A cozy place to stay.

Why leave such paradise? Why jump back in the van and sleep in a tent for two weeks, working from campsites and libraries, constantly on the lookout for …. [Continue reading]

Feeding the addiction

bird nerd!

Our addiction to high places and to places where trees cannot grow, continues.

run! the storms are building!

Sometimes that just means getting in the car, driving up high, and walking for a few hours. (We were also hoping to catch a couple of CDT hikers and ‘perform’ some …. [Continue reading]

6 Million Trackleaders

I’ve been meaning to write this code for a while. It would dig through the trackleaders archive, and do a little counting. The results are a little staggering, at least to me.

That’s a lot of tracking, a lot of adventure covered. 6 million miles!

It started back in 2008 or 2009. …. [Continue reading]

A fleeting fall

We set up camp in the shadow of Mt. Shavano, and just outside of Salida. We needed a tiny bit of recovery after the 14ers and such, and Salida is the perfect place. We have friends to visit, there’s a friendly bike shop, a hot spring / rec center, and even my favorite …. [Continue reading]

Huron Peak and Mt. Sherman – mountain biking 14ers

descending off Huron — dream riding

I didn’t think it was going to happen. If you’d asked me a week ago whether I’d be riding down Huron Peak, after having summitted, I would have put the likelihood somewhere close to zero. Yet there I was, late on a Saturday afternoon, sun shining bright …. [Continue reading]

Alpine Season in Winter Park

I feel so lucky to be able to experience prime alpine season here in Colorado. The monsoonal flow has settled down, days are still warm, and snow is a non-issue. It’s time to get high!

With this comes an appreciation for the freedom and opportunity we have, being mobile and able to live …. [Continue reading]

Ride to the hike – Byers and Vasquez Peaks


Look! Proof that we occasionally hit the trail early.

I was overly excited and awoke at an uncivilized hour. It’s not every day you have a new peak to climb, accessible by bike/foot right from ‘home.’ Alpine(ish) starts are a good idea when heading above treeline in Colorado, too.

did you know …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Hot Springs Route Photo Roll [2 of 2]

Let’s continue on with the second half of the photo reel. Part one left us at Oakridge, roughly halfway through the loop.

big tree went boom

The route hits some deep wooded singletrack, a very pleasant 98 degree ‘warm’ spring, and some roads, leaving town.

Paved roads aren’t the first choice …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Hot Springs Route Photo Roll [1 of 2]

The Hot Sisters Route came together we’re putting the route on the fast track to being published. There will much more info to come, but for now we have a page coming together over at

Hot Sisters Hot Spring Route

The route is ready to go — email me if you’d like GPX …. [Continue reading]

Adding some Pacific Crest Trail to the Hot Sisters bikepacking route

Eszter and I spent a few days scouting an alternate route for an exciting new bikepacking route that just came to life this month. It’s a five or six hundred mile backcountry loop highlighting singletrack, hot springs and mountain climbs (on foot) all through the central Cascades in Oregon.

Despite the fact that bikepacking and …. [Continue reading]

Day 23 – Wrapping it up on Mrazek

Done. A little more than three weeks, which is pretty much what we guesstimated. It all came together supremely well.

We got up lazily from camp at Devil’s Lake. I love camping in the same spot for multiple nights. A few miles climbing on the pavement back to the Metolius Windigo trail took us through …. [Continue reading]

Day 22 – Hey South Sista!!

It wasn’t an alpine start, but I did wake up earlier than normal, excited about the day ahead. We were camped at the trailhead for the South Sisters Climbing Trail. 6 miles and 5000′ up was the top of the volcano, one we have been looking at, and riding around, for the last 3 weeks. …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Day 21 – Metolius Windigo Trail , from horsey to bikey

A few hours ago we pretty much completed the loop, reaching the top of the Mrazek trail, which is a heavily ridden and mostly downhill ride into Bend. We could have been done in a few short and easy hours.

But, we are not done! We have our biggest climb yet, and the centerpiece (literally) …. [Continue reading]

Day 20 – Black Butte and soft trails


Coming into Sisters today, we both independently realized that the route had somehow ended up almost entirely singletrack for the last day or so. We hadn’t really planned on any from the end of McKenzie all the way to Sisters. Yet, that’s the way it played out, as we coasted at 10mph on smooth trail …. [Continue reading]