Pinacate Fat-biking

We had grand plans for a bikepack around the Sierra Pinacate, a large collection of volcanic peaks and cinder cones just across the border from the Camino Diablo, in Mexico.

Chad had previously received permission to ride park roads and singletrack from a supportive and enthusiastic park superintendent. He couldn’t get a hold of that superintendent before our trip, but we figured Chad is fluent in Spanish and should be able to talk his way into it, right? He spoke our case well, but the superintendent was on vacation and the underlings could not give permission for something they didn’t understand. Bikepack? Camping on bike? We’ve never heard of that. “Here’s where you can drive your car…”

It’s not like we had spent months planning a route or anything, we were just going to wing it. So we winged it without the bikepacking gear.

First we rolled out of the entrance station for the “pista” or track, specifically created for mountain bikes!

It was ill used, but has some interesting features including bridges and ramps.

Cobbled sections for some of the steep bits.

Rubble on some of the other steeps.

I love how different the desert is, not even that far from Tucson.

The pista was a fun loop — it reminded me of other purpose built racing loops in Sonora, with named features and steep climbs.

We headed for the park’s campground, somewhat annoyed to be in a car instead of on our bikes. I was excited to tour the park by bicycle the next morning, though.

First up we climbed the cinder cone right above camp, where views of lava flows, other cones and the greater Pinacate complex presented.

A short ride led to one of the park’s best features — el Elegante caldera. Not a cinder cone, this area was once flat but was hollowed out underneath by emptying flows, eventually collapsing and exploding.

The signage was amusing, telling the story of the caldera’s formation as though you were there to witness it. “Suddenly you hear the loudest sound you’ve ever heard, and stray rock is flying everywhere! You run for your life!!”

It’s quite a sight — measuring a mile in diameter.

I’m currently selling this fat bike rather than have it sit in storage for the summer.

There’s a techy singletrack around the entire rim, and it proved challenging on our fatties.

The whole idea of the fatbikes was that we were going to attempt a crossing of the Altar desert, recreating an inspirational trip from the mid-nineties that seemed more like a hike than a ride. We were even prepared to recreate the headbands they wore. Without permission to loop back through the Pinacate (yet) we were sunk. But we did find some dunes to ride.

So hauling the pig-bikes wasn’t all for not.

Tiny tracks.

Fat ones.

Rider down. Crashing in sand is fun, just like snow.

I’d never ridden full-on sand dunes on the clown bike before, and it was a complete hoot, even if it was only a short ride that didn’t traverse any grand deserts.

We rolled back to the states, grabbing some street tacos before crossing the border. Organ Pipe National Monument has a beautiful campground not far from the border where we spent the night.

There’s a new park superintendent in charge, who has opened up the other half of the park. It has been closed for the last 10+ years due to border security issues (a ranger was shot and killed in the early 2000’s). This is Camino Diablo country, so not knowing how sandy it might be, we thought the fatties would be a good tool for the job. And here we were with a day to kill.

The start was paved, and beautiful.

Push the (panic) button!

Our 50 mile loop transitioned to dirt, winding through organ pipe cactus and more familiar Sonoran desert species.

At the farthest point out we reached Quitobaquito Springs, an amazing oasis in the desert. Pronouncing and singing the name kept us occupied for hours on the dirt road, but it was a little disappointing when we got there. Somehow I had the idea it was a hot spring, but even as we traced the source of the water back up into the surrounding hills, it never got more than lukewarm.

Wilderness on one side of the dirt road, Mexican national highway complete with stores, restaurants and garbage piles, on the other. It was an interesting juxtaposition of different management. We thought about jumping across the border for a cold drink or a cheap taco.

In the end there was minimal sand. It’s a nice dirt road loop I’d recommend, but of course primitive trails and places unreachable by motor vehicles is really where it’s at.

I’m happy to have seen it all, and the four days rides were a nice impromptu consolation for not bikepacking the loop. Hopefully we can return with bikepacking gear *and* permiso next time.

Back to December

Many blogs are dead these days, but mine is not one of them. As of… right now.

I think it was mostly a case of over-sharing. The CDT was a long trip, and one we documented well. I took thousands of pictures and wrote tens of thousands of words. And I enjoyed just about every minute of the documentation, and would do it again. But four months is a long time to be sharing and sharing. In the effort to re-balance things, I haven’t felt much like sharing adventures, and have really enjoyed getting out and leaving the camera at home.

Still, this blog is something like 12 years old, and I always knew it would feel right to come back.

And I still can’t resist pulling the camera out in some places and in some instances. Like when J-bake gives Chad a run for his money in the grimace department.

I don’t know, I think Chad still wins.

J-bake nails a new drop.

All I could do is visualize. Come on brain, snap out of tour mode. My brain would tell me “no”, “no”, we don’t ride this kind of thing. YES, yes we do!

No grimace. We fell far short of our winterly quota of techy taco rides. Looking at these pictures now makes me want to get back out there for at least one more before leaving the desert for the summer.

Buckwheat chewin’ ridin’ fool.

Nailed it? I love it that it’s been so long that I can’t remember if he (or I?) made it up that one. Guess we’ll just have to go back…

I deeply trained my brain to match a pattern very similar to this… scanning trees and signposts for the pattern C^D (for CDT). I have no idea what these pavement markings mean, nor have I ever noticed them before. But they would fire a match and grab my attention before I could even process that it was a false positive. And that I’m no longer lost on the CDT.

I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising that a 4-month thru-hike would take months to process and learn from. I honestly still think I am processing it, some 7 months later. Re-adjusting attitudes towards it… how hard was it? What did it mean? Was it a completely good experience? Would I wholeheartedly recommend it to others (YES).

Chad leading Iditarod champs Jeff Oatley and Heather Best into the Tortolitas, to ride a little Ridgeline.

J-bake going for a boulder I look at every time I ride by, but have never made it successfully over.

Another sublime evening in the Tucson Mountains, with trails so rocky and ridiculous that few ever ride, or hike, them.

Freibert rolls a steep I haven’t seen anyone attempt before. What you can’t see is you have to make a hard left immediately on exit. There is no run-out.

We’d see this guy several times on the trails behind Pima, our “commuter” trails out to Starr Pass.

I’d see this cutie all over the trails. Even when we were doing our own rides, seems like we’d end up bumping into each other. Lucky me.

Ah, the ride we showed up for that turned out to be a race. It was a good crew of riders, led here by Schilling and JeffZ. We just didn’t know they were semi-time trialing it, leaving us off the back and scratching our heads with our cameras in our hands. Lesson: read the ride description before showing up for a ride.

Still, a beautiful day in one of my favorite places.

The Gila Canyons! I just wasn’t fast enough to get anyone in that shot.

Just like the previous December when the gypsies passed through Tucson and stayed with us, we had an off-road tourist on his own big trip — this one more than 4 months. I think Mr. Pauker is doing some processing while on the bike, and it was a pleasure to meet him and see him on his way through Starr Pass, heading for the Camino Diablo and Baja.

We spent the remainder of December with Eszter’s family in Colorado, then it was time to wrap up 2014 with a fatbike trip to Mexico with Chadly. More catchup to come. Thanks for checking in after a few months.

Run vs Ride: In Hot Water

photo by Jonathan Buchanan

Agua Caliente sits maybe 3000 feet above Tucson, a prominent high-point between the Catalina and Rincon Mountains. The trail to the top is only 4.5 miles long, so it’s steep. And like all good trails in Tucson, it’s full of chunk and rubble.

As such, it’s a brilliant place to pit feet against wheels. Which is better, which is faster, which is safer, which is more fun?

Ez and I ran up to the summit a couple weeks ago. This weekend I joined J-bake for a ride on the trail. It had been far too long since I’d pedaled up it. It used to be a go-to ride for me when I lived a little closer, but for various (weak) reasons it’s been years.

excellent skipping form by J-bake

The comparisons that ran in my head were interesting. On foot the trail felt loose, overgrown and so difficult. I wondered how I had ever ridden up or down any of this! And yet somehow it had been a favorite trail.

Maybe I’ve just lost it — whatever appetite and ability to ride this stuff I used to have.

enduro style

Perhaps a better comparison for the uphill would be “hike vs hike-a-bike” rather than “run vs ride”. I can’t really envision being fit enough to run up this entire mountain, though I bet the most fit could come close. I certainly can’t envision riding it all — no way, no how.

We ran into Eszter on the way up. She had already tagged the summit. No doubt about it, going up, feet win for speed. You can just keep going and slog it out — it’s a slog that feels good.

But, oh, how I love trying to climb this trail on a bike. The bike forces anaerobic fits, light headedness and the seeing of stars. Deep breaths of life. Then you get stopped, regain composure and try the next section. Or walk your bike slowly up it. It’s harder, and easier, but definitely slower.

Notice J-bake’s patented hike-with-loppers-technique. We were slowed by some pruning and general tom foolery, both up and down.

Reward at the top — the kind of beer that tastes good. :)

j-bake smooths one of the trickiest spots on the top descent

The downhill is, of course, a different beast altogether. I used to fear downhill running because it tears my legs up. My weak cyclist legs can’t handle it, and I can end up with delayed onset muscle soreness that DOMinates the following weeks if not months.

Running adaptation has been taking place since mid-Sept with hikes and runs. I’ve gotten to the point where running downhill is extremely fun, and doesn’t cripple me. I can finally see it as easier than uphill running — whereas I used to think uphill was the easy part.

But coming down the top of Agua Caliente is … not runnable to me. I came to a stop in a few places, the hands came down, and I generally fumbled. I just can’t get over having only one point of contact with the ground at times. If that point of contact slips… boom! Running down the top was pretty scary, and I could only think how impossible and crazy it must be to ride.

Indeed, in previous bike runs, I’d never tried to ride the top portion. I dismissed J-bake’s enthusiasm over the top section as both misguided and based on better conditions — surely the summer rains have made the trail sketchier than it’s ever been.

Truth is, Agua Caliente is just low-down dirty riding. Rutted, grassed in, filled with rubble. There’s no dirt, no transitions, no lead-ins. If you need time to get set up or grab your composure before the next drop or the next chunky roll, too bad for you. There’s nothing pretty or well done about it. But there is something beautiful about it — rough, rowdy and scrappy. Some people are never going to get it, others love it. It’s worth the push to the top — even better if you can enjoy some of the climbing.

photo by Jonathan Buchanan

I rode a lot of the top section, with J-bake as inspiration. But also it just didn’t seem that bad. As I rolled to the lip of the steepest rocks, I felt in control. Green lights were going off in my head. On foot, it was all red! Perhaps the comparison was part of what made it easier to ride when I got there with a bike.

Sure, I’m anything but an experienced trail runner. I have no idea how fast or good I am, which most likely means I completely suck.

But on the bike I liked having two points of contact with the ground when it got loose and steep. Even though these are nutty trails to be trying to ride, it sure felt a lot safer to me.

More fun? When you factor in the rapid fire manualing session at the bottom, for sure. But I do have to admit that picking lines through the chunk on the lower stuff was super fun on feet, too. I know the lower stuff pretty well and could really let is go, both on foot and bike.

Easier? I couldn’t coast downhill for more than 2 minutes without my quads burning and giving out on me. Turns out they are the same muscles you use to run downhill. Mine are weak! And tired. Running downhill, while slower, actually seemed easier to me than absorbing all the shock this trail dishes out.

In the end, Eszter also beat us downhill, both in actual time and total downhill time. Sure, we goofed around some, trimmed a little more catclaw and threw sticks for Nana in the pond, but, still….

For now, all I know is both running and riding trails are silly fun, and that I really enjoy trails where feet and bikes are closely matched — especially when those trails are open to bikes… making the comparison possible.

What’s an interesting adventure?

What’s an interesting adventure?

It’s a question I’ve been repeatedly asking myself since finishing the Continental Divide Trail. What do I find interesting, what’s next?

For a while, not much was very interesting, adventure-wise. But the worry was that if nothing was that interesting, I must not be interesting, and what if I never find anything that captures my imagination again?

So I looked at what other people found interesting (answer: anything involving a packraft is automatically interesting, or anything involving fatbikes, or anything involving rigid adventure bikes or anything involving lots of suspension and bright colors). But just because other people are interested in it doesn’t mean it’s interesting to you. Often it wasn’t to me.

The cycle has been, variably, to try on different suits: from chunk rider to packrafter to runner to trail advocate to racer to who-knows-what. Maybe I just need more ideas, and surely one of them will ‘lock’ in and be declared interesting enough to pursue. I kept trying to look at the logic of why things were interesting to me.

And while you can dissect it in that way, explaining why some endeavor holds your interest, there’s so much more going on in our little minds than we can understand, let alone articulate. Sometimes things are simply intrinsically interesting. They are interesting to us because they are. When they are, you know it, and don’t need to list the reasons why. It just clicks.

And other times, like when you are recovering from a 4 month journey, nothing really clicks that much. It’s hard to think about what’s next in comparison to something that was so big and so fulfilling. You need distance from it, and time to process it.

Running around frantically hoping something is going to inspire you as much as the past did, immediately, is just foolish and counterproductive. The worry of unfulfilled potential is perhaps the most unfulfilling of all.

Of course, it’s easy to look back and see wasted energy and worry, now that certain things are starting to click for me (perhaps even a little packrafting, or fatbiking, or wearing of bright colors!). I can feel it coming back, and am back to wishing I had more time in this life to do all the things I want to.

But as often in life, it’s another lesson in patience. Everything passes. Passion and fire come back.

Life is just too short for patience, sometimes.

(photos from – running Agua Caliente (that one crushed me), Sweetwater trailwork, Hidden Canyon, Ruffian’s Ridge and Wasson Peak)

November Re-training

Some call November the off-season. Some might think after 26 days of moving time over the summer, we’d be looking for some significant down time.

Life is too short for an off-season. For me, November has thus far been for re-training.

Re-training, as in re-learning, as in reminding yourself how to do something you once could.

I can’t get that move Chad is attempting above, though I have done it before.

I can ride that one, and successfully escape the sea monster’s tentacles.

That one’s a classic and now goes for me.

Yup, that’n too. It’s coming back.

New one. Chad’s not making it look good here, but I made it look worse by not even attempting.

This was a semi-redemption techy taco ride. Compared to the first, with horrible trail conditions and even worse confidence, almost anything could be considered redemptive.

No redemption needed here. Tucson sunsets are the best.

We are so lucky to have trails out the door. When the cloud ceilings look good for pyrotechnics, it’s time to head out for a quick run!

Halloween Night ride! We ventured into the spooky woods south of Rosemont Junction on the AZT.

I know my body well enough to know I had no business racing the AES Kentucky Camp event. That event is never well timed for me, and I’m fine with it. Instead we did the night ride, camped and hung out, then ran the opposite direction with Kendall and Pocket while everyone rode.

Stickers in the shoes notwithstanding, it was a fabulous run and beautiful day for it.

We had the brilliant idea to run up a mountain the next day. I believe the quote was, “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.”

We took the less optimal but more interesting choice at the beginning of Kings Canyon – sand and pour-offs!

This might be the current winner in the baby saguaro contest. Can you find a younger one?

This ridgeline is the best part of the run. It’s an incredible trail, and one closed to bikes!

7 miles with 2000′ of elevation gain, we were pretty happy with how we handled back-to-back runs. We can actually run trails now!

The next taco ride was the following day, and my energy level was so low I really had no business being there.

The ride had an odd vibe to it, serving to even further turn me off to even attempting redemption. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t ride anything. It was still a beautiful day to be out on the rocks, and I appreciated it for that, but the usual zeal just wasn’t there. Normally with this company and day, I could use it to really push some limits, and I needed a little help with the push, but this day just ended up being frustrating more than anything.

Ez got a new carbon Salsa Spearfish to replace her old one, which has seen many a mile and many a harsh condition. It was ridden hard and put away wet, as the saying goes, but served well.

We were obliged to chase the evening light.

I was obliged to chase the flashy orange blur through the desert.

Same view, different bike.

The first full suspension fat bike, done extremely and surprisingly well by Salsa. It rides like a mountain bike — a big and capable one.

I don’t have enough stans in my tires, nor can I bunny hop that far

The effects of our micro running binge weren’t felt for several days. Mostly our feet were hammered, and I ended up taking almost an entire week off “the feet.”

Said feet got itchy and were longing for a big day out. Luckily we have a lovely big loop available right out the door, and though it was perhaps a little warm for it, I set off late in the morning.

Tech confidence still low, but there are ways to avoid the hard stuff while staying on dirt. Except when I got to Brown Mountain, I figured, why not?

I *loved* the “hike-a-bike” ascent from the south side, pulling off a shocking number of ledgy moves I had no right to even attempt. I paid the price, getting dizzy and roasting myself in the sun. Hard efforts are still not really agreeing with me.

I took the liberty to do some exploring on the town side of Picture Rocks, attempting to find lower traffic alternates.

I’m not sure I found long term viable routes, but I did find some cool stuff, like this rock art.

And this impressive crested saguaro. It was a good ride. Somehow I’d managed to stretch a 50 mile ride into an all day excursion. I suppose the nap at the visitor’s center might have been part of it…

Mt Lemmon eventually gets cold, and maybe even snowy. Now is the time to grab the upper chunk while you can still get it.

I figured the best way to re-train my brain for steepness, chunk and height of drops is…. practice, of course! What better way to get in a ridiculous amount of practice than on a Lemmon Drop.

Ez wanted to pedal up the Catalina Highway and avoid rocks and trail BS. I wanted to ride down Lemmon and find as many rocks as possible. We were able to strike a nice little deal wherein I drove to the top and she was so kind as to pedal up and fetch the vehicle.

I started not at the top, but with secret/1918 in order to have some uphill to warm up on, and also not miss any fall color. The leaves are all on the ground, sadly, but the organic smell of fall was quite nice.

It says AZ Trail Wilderness bypass, so I suppose I’m obliged to include all this in the AZTR route, right? (Oof)

Despite being in solo mode and despite lacking familiarity, I rode really well. Might have ridden better than last April. The trails are more resilient to big rains than some of the lower stuff, and actually in as good of shape overall as I’ve ever seen them. High time to get up there!

I started to get tired midway down Bugs. The goal had been accomplished. I could feel some major re-wiring of neural pathways taking hold.

Luckily Bugs and Prison are smooth and easy compared to the rest, and a joy to ride even roasted. I turned for the highway and skipped the beating of Molino/Millie, pedaling to meet Ez at Le Buzz.

Re-training of a different sort was next up, as we headed to the Picketpost Trailhead the same weekend as the Punisher AES Event. Friday’s goal was to scramble to the top of Picketpost itself, something that looked pretty dubious as we stood in the parking lot trying to decipher the route.

Ez is not a fan of heights (as she details on her blog), so we weren’t quite sure what to expect and were ready to turn around if needed.

Several times on the way up she stopped and declared she “didn’t like it.” I usually went to scout ahead, just in case it was the last difficult spot. By the time I got back, she was past it.

Fears dealt with and conquered. Well done, Ez!

I have to admit it was a little dicier than I was expecting. No one section was harder than I expected, but it was pretty continuously a little sketchy for most of the climb.

The way down was considerably easier, without the uncertainty of the option to turn around.

Really, we went up there?

My confidence also increased from all the practice. I relearned breaking points of traction on rock and loose gravel. I re-trained my mind for what is steep, safe, and doable. These are again things I’ve acquired in scrambles past, but are sorely out of practice in.

The sunset was classic AZ. We talked with nutcase Schilling on the eve of his 20+ hour Pulverizer ride, and met others showing up to take on Montana Mtn and Picketpost. I had planned to ride at least Montana Mountain, but my thumb had other ideas.

I’d put my hand down on a bee while climbing slickrock. Can’t blame it for stinging me. I knew the swelling likely wouldn’t affect my ability to keep climbing and hold onto rock, but holding onto a handlebar the next day was firmly out.

So instead we ran seven or so miles looping the old and new AZT out of the trailhead. Not a bad consolation at all. Various things are trying to keep me from riding too much, and I think that’s a good thing, especially when I’m making progress re-training and re-learning all the while.

I’m pretty excited to see where running leads us, as well as looking forward to a bunch of good desert rides this winter.

Advice to future CDTers

I have a few thoughts to get down that may be useful to future CDT riders. As always, take advice you find on the internet with a grain of salt!


Go light. The CDT is not a bike trail. But you should ride it (and hike-a-bike it), anyway! You really should. But …. [Continue reading]

Rest and Recovery

Even when you can’t do that much, you can still do some cool things.

Looking back at my photos from the last ~month of ‘rest and recovery’ it sure seems like we’ve gotten out a lot. But there haven’t been any long rides. There haven’t been any bikepacks. No new trails explored. No big techy …. [Continue reading]

CDTBike Photos – Lincoln to Fin

From Lincoln, the official CDT is done, but there are still miles to ride. On to the Great Divide Mountain Bike route, with a huge sign of relief and excitement at some straightforward miles.

It’s not well a known fact, but Ez is a horse whisperer.

Quick ride to Ovando. Look …. [Continue reading]

CDT – Reflections and observations

We’ve been off the trail for about a month now. But we can still feel the effects of four months spent on the trail. I’m still processing the experience, and still recovering from it.

So, how has four months of bikepacking changed us? What were the lessons and insights learned? Here are a few …. [Continue reading]

CDTBike Photos – Butte to Lincoln

It’s hard to describe the kind of fatigue that settled in during the last quarter of the trail. We could still put in big days and cover difficult terrain, but resting no longer returned much strength to us. Huge town meals were a way to survive, instead of giving us an instant boost of energy …. [Continue reading]

CDTBike Photos – Wisdom to Butte


We spent some time in the town of Wisdom, eating and watching it rain. This would become a pattern all the way to the Canadian Border as cold storms continued to hammer Montana. They seemed to come at a frequency of one per week.

We needed rest badly, so the rain was …. [Continue reading]

CDTBike Photos – Lima to Wisdom

We pedaled out of Lima, a day too early, as it turned out. When fatigue sets in two hours out of town, you know you might be in trouble. Luckily the first 30 or so miles are on the GDMBR, so it’s a gentle warmup.

These are beautiful GDMBR miles. Though I know …. [Continue reading]

CDTBike photos – West Yellowstone to Lima

Though I managed to keep up on daily blog posts, I fell woefully behind on photos in Montana. No matter, I’m loving going back through them now. These start at West Yellowstone, where we waited out a couple days of rain, then finally hit our first section of Montanan CDT.

I loved the giant …. [Continue reading]

CDTBike – Statistics and report card

green - official CDT; cyan - Colorado Trail; yellow - Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

CDTBike 2014

May 12th to September 12th – 124 days Total mileage cycled/hiked: 3737 miles Mileage without day rides: 3623 miles Mileage without resupply runs and day rides: 3260 miles Moving time: 26 days, 14.5 hours Elevation Gain: 453,000 feet

Zero days: 26 Average overall travel speed (including zero days): 30.1 miles per …. [Continue reading]

Day 112 — CDT done!


We are done! Finished with the CDT!

Starting out in New Mexico, exactly four months ago, this moment was anything but certain. We didn’t even have a plan to make it the final miles to the northern terminus (you can’t ride bikes there), and some of the ideas to reach it were pretty …. [Continue reading]

Day 111 – Canada!


We made it to Canada!

And it’s not just like a different country, it feels like a completely different world. These are the Rockies as I’ve never seen them. Huge, towering, majestic… and covered in snow! It feels a storybook-esque, like a fantasy land. It feels a little unreal to be finishing this thing, …. [Continue reading]

Day 109 and Day 110 — Flexibility. Waiting for sun in Babb, MT.


If there is one thing the CDT teaches you, it’s flexibility. The divide decides your pace and whether it makes sense to proceed or not. Sometimes we’ve busted out 70 mile days, others we struggle to hit 20. You can’t be in a hurry or have rigid plans.

It’s funny that of all the …. [Continue reading]

Day 108 — Glacier!


Well that was fairly to moderately epic! We made it through Glacier… barely. It’s snowing outside, but we found ourselves a roof and a warm bed for the night.

We woke up in Whitefish earlier than we needed to. We hit breakfast and were primed and ready for a big day. Post office 15 minutes …. [Continue reading]

Day 107 — When winter calls, run to the border!


Neither of us slept very well, though the night was not overly cold. Failing and turning back never tastes good. But it was absolutely the correct choice for us. Some mental demons needed a night to be worked out.

When the sun finally lit the horizon I looked up, through fuzzy eyes. Are those …. [Continue reading]

Day 106 — Misunderstood


“If I seem superhuman…… I have been misunderstood.” — Dream Theater.

The CDT is long, and hard, and full of hike-a-bike. But it is not a superhuman feat. We’re just regular riders, and we get tired. We run out of patience with unrideable trail and difficult conditions. We get frustrated, we crater. We …. [Continue reading]