AZT – Oracle to Superior with Hermosa Tours

I must be doing something right here at ‘the diary of scott morris’, when my endless streams of images and words force people to say things like “that’s it, I’m going out there.” Or “After Scott posted this pic I had to go there to see and smell for myself…”.

So it was with Matt McFee of Hermosa Tours. He made the mistake of checking in here a little too often, and soon found himself not only planning self-guided MTB tours on the Arizona Trail, but also out on the trail himself. We bumped into each other in Sedona, where he had been guiding for Dirt Rag, and the wheels were set in motion for me to guide him through 100 miles of AZT, from Oracle to Superior. I had planned some rest after Sedona, but the trail calls!

We met early in Oracle. Matt had dropped a trailer with camping gear and food at our halfway point in Kelvin. So we rode light, and planned on roughly 50 miles a day.

That was about the extent of our planning. First thing I asked when I got out of the car was, “do you guys have fresh stan’s in your tires?” They in fact had regular tubes. This could get interesting. Luckily I had a spare 29er slime tube floating around in one of my bags, plus my stans filled tube.

Launch off point onto singletrack, into adventure. I love the anticipation that builds as you cross under that sign.

My bike is on the trail in that shot.

It’s unbelievable how much is growing out there, despite the super dry winter. It’s unbelievable how much the trail needs more traffic, too.

Kevin puts his Knolly to good use.

Flat #1 of 3. Not bad considering.

Bust out the camera while flats are fixed.

I’m getting used to the big camera, loving it, really. You can’t deploy it nearly as often/easily, but when you’re more selective about when to shoot, it means longer stretches of riding in between.

Gila Monster!

I feel like we were riding through flowers more than half the time on the gasline bypass.

Making the little red hill (source of the Antelope Peak time bonus) a little larger, finally.

I love how dry/dusty/desert that shot feels. That’s exactly how it feels out there on 80* bluebird days. Love it.

But luckily someone built this handy dandy cabinet, and others are kind enough to stock it with water. I am a little concerned that AZT racers might run out come April. I wouldn’t stake my life on it being well stocked… especially if you’re not off the front.

As much as I love riding the AZT around Antelope Peak, transitioning to the Boulders segment is always a welcome change, where you get to ‘feel like a mountain biker again’ as Matt put it. Carry momentum, rally turns, shoot straight across washes. Yes, yes!

Hike-a-bike on Ripsey.

Not for McFee!

This Ripsey shot never gets old, nor does putting tire to dirt up there.

It’s a pretty big day from Oracle to Kelvin, even though you lose ~2500′ in the process, most of which is spent coming down Ripsey. We were all ready to hit the trailer and be done for the day.

This ain’t bikepackin’, this is luxury living! Well, OK, it’s still camping, but the food was quite tasty (thanks for cooking Matt!). It was a nice night, full of stars and desert lullabies. I love opening tired eyes to see a hint of dawn, then realizing where you are and what lies ahead.

Breakfast singletrack along the Gila River. I’m so lucky to be out here again!

We scored the same friendly neighborhood tail wind that I had with Chad and the gang last time. Makes good singletrack even better. Unfortunately the 2-3 miles of trail (on the “Rincon” section) that had been finished and rode so well last week had been badly damaged by cattle. It was a shame to see such good work so quickly torn up.

We made our way to the river at our last opportunity — at the old site of the Cochran ford. We dropped our core temperatures and Matt used his shirt to pre-filter some river water. He treated it with tablets and filled both his and Kevin’s packs. We were going to need it since Scott’s 3rd rule of the desert states that “After one day riding hard, add +5 to perceived temperature.”

The climb away from the river is such a treat. Good grades, good breaks, and well beyond good views.

photo by Matt McFee

The Javelina skull is still there.

Shortly after we came upon this desert creature.

photo by Matt McFee

Somebody needs a flip screen camera for flower and reptile shots! At least my back can handle it now. Can’t begin to describe how much easier life is when your back doesn’t hurt all the time.

The tortoise might have been a sign for the future of our Gila Canyons climb. The next time we saw Kevin, he was toast, and understandably so after two hard days riding a big bike (~35 pounds and 2.4 tires). We quickly came up with a plan for extraction that involved Matt riding ahead to retrieve their vehicle in Superior, while Kevin and I proceeded to the nearest bail out spot. That bailout was still quite a distance away, at Telegraph Canyon road.

Quite an amazing distance away.

Unfortunately Kevin wasn’t in a state to enjoy it much as he might have.

On the plus side, I got to spent a lot of time chilling in the shade, just marveling at this place I love so much.

This was the first blooming cactus I have seen all year!

Getting close to the top now.

The top leads to The Inner Canyon.

The camera was worth carrying just for that shot. It’s one step closer to actually being there. The detail/clarity in the full 18MP image is just too cool, and in the midday sun, no less.

Inner Canyon II

Among other things clearly missing from the feeling of actually being there is the sun cooking your exposed skin (see rule #3, with a dehydration coefficient of x1.5). And the parching in your throat as you conserve water, knowing this day’s epic factor might only be just starting to ramp up. But the coolness of the breeze and darkness of rock shadows was delightful, and without the heat would not be appreciated in the least.

Kevin railed the switchbacks of the Inner Canyon like he was reborn, cleaning them all.

I enjoyed the extra time in Gila Canyons right up to the point where the only water we had was in my one bottle, and that was going fast. At that point I must admit that it was frustrating to think I could have been in Superior hours ago, sucking down blizzards and gatorade. Or at least applying myself to get out of here. It was a bit of a bummer to be guiding someone who wasn’t able to enjoy the trail I was showing him, too. He probably got sick of all my stupid positive comments, bubbling on about how cool the trail was, or how amazing the view was. I gotta say, he did keep a good attitude and didn’t have anything bad to say. Considering the state he was in, he pushed through a lot and did admirably — that is always cool to see.

It’s beautiful, but unforgiving out here. It was a lesson in being over-prepared, especially when it comes to water. We could have used an extra gallon or two. Especially when we waited another 45 minutes for Matt to reach us in the truck at Telegraph Canyon. At least we didn’t have to move anymore, and the shade was growing, but all I could think of was my next drink. While we waited I explored a good and bad route over to Trough Springs, which was full of murky water and unfortunately not running out of the pipe. I dunked my legs in the tank and splashed it all over me, as the hundreds of bees buzzed. It was quite refreshing, but also frustrating knowing I couldn’t drink it. If I’d brought my full bikepacking setup I would have at least had tablets, though we would have really needed a filter.

Salvation. There’s nothing like quenching a big thirst. We then bumped down the 4×4 road for an hour so, trying to keep the 64 ounces of gatorade in our stomachs and not out the window.

The next day I got hammered by the worst migraine headache I’ve had in a long time. I used to get them as an adolescent, but they are less and less frequent now. For some reason I can get toasted and dehydrated in the sun without issue if I am actively applying myself. But the downtime and lack of effort, plus greater than normal dehydration I’m sure, seemed to set something off.

I look forward to seeing more people out there, both this spring as a part of the AZT 300, and as a part of Matt’s self guided tours (a much more reasonable way to see this country) starting next fall. Just carry a lot of water, ok?

6 comments to AZT – Oracle to Superior with Hermosa Tours

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