Just an average week in Arizona

Mister Mike usually makes a winter trip down to AZ, with the aim to put as much tire to chunk as possible. This year the plan morphed a little, from back-to-back big bike days to, well, a few things a bit more adventurous. I drove up to Camp Verde late Monday night and found the lads car camping above the river. After a few shuttle logistics and generous loaning of gear (boat, paddle, pfd, dry suit for me), we put in at Beasely Flat.

photo by Mike Curiak

It was mellow enough to start, each constriction and rapid getting increasingly more exciting. Mike pointed out the stupid grin on my face. I hadn’t really noticed.

Scouting the first rapid brought my heart rate up nicely. It wasn’t going to go down with the sound of roaring water in my ears. Not until I safely navigated my little packraft through the rocks and white water, usually emerging to a “whoooooooooooo!” or three.

photo by Mike Curiak

Like that! I portaged pre-Verde Falls, and we all walked the actual falls (not enough flow).

photo by Mike Curiak

There were plenty of mellow moments, paddling along or leaning back and smiling at the sun or enjoying the view. Unlike riding or even hiking you really can float along and just look around.

It’s quite an interesting mix of the super mellow and the scary. Quote of the day was from Skippy, while driving the shuttle: “I liked Mike a lot better before this packrafting thing became a passion.” 🙂 Skippy has about as much whitewater experience as I do (nearly none). I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity and encouragement to do something new and exciting. Hopefully learning some skills for future bike/raft adventures, as well. Mike’s a leader, if I’ve ever known one, and I’ve been lucky to follow him at some points along the way.

A late drive put us in Kelvin, AZ. We’d bikepack away from the cars in the morning.

I’ve been whispering in Mike’s ear about bikepacking with big bikes and big cameras along the Gila for several years.

Maybe the most excellent beyond excellent trip with Eszter finally pushed him over the edge.

Greg Luck, bike tourist extraordinaire

Whatever the case, we were all more than happy to be out here, being pushed down the Gila River by the friendly neighborhood tail wind, in 70+ degree ‘heat.’ It’s the warmest place in AZ, if you ask me. Maybe in the whole world. When all else is cold and heartless, go ride a bike here:

And here:

I got to flex the photo muscle a bit more than usual on this trip.

Because no length is too great for ‘Team Photo’ to go to, in order to get the perfect shot.

I questioned the focus (sorry…) on camera work only for brief times.

But with the power sun, beaming as it was, and in this unimaginable place, it seemed as good an activity as any for trying to understand the place, trying to determine if it’s real, surreal, unreal, or somewhere in between.

I never want the sun to go down out here. Never want the trail to end.

But it always does. We threw out the bivy gear, rationed our water, and looked over some of Mike’s 900+ photos (!) from the day before calling it a night.

sunrise from the sleeping bag

It was a lovely night, once my feet warmed up. I was filled with deep memories and future hopes, many of which were formed in this very place.

Team Photo was at it early, risking life and limb for the perfect shot. Though I believe I scored the first shot of the day! Other team members would soon surpass me in photo-love of the Gila Canyons.

But not before I got a few keepers myself.

Unicorn dust!

Based on dwindling water supplies (and poor planning on part of GPS man), we turned back from the high point of ‘the Canyons’ to descend back to the river and known water.

It was a shame to have to ride through the Inner Canyon and many wonders of the drop to the river again. Especially given how fun the riding is.

photo by Mike Curiak

The Gila Canyons glow! And look, my legs do bleed.

photo by Mike Curiak

More to glow about in the Gila Canyons.

Once water was procured, we proceeded across the river at Cochran.

photo by Mike Curiak – no need to sell it when the terrain and mood demands it!

The route from here was new to me, but I knew it would work out.

The bright colors are for maximum photo ‘pop’, of course. Would you expect anything less of Team Photo?

It was a nice climb, to rejoin the usual Gila Ramble Loop above Area 52. Sadly 52 was not in the cards for us, despite the ample suspension and rubber at our disposal. It was deemed that Ripsey was the main event, and we hoped for golden light atop it.

This was Skippy’s first bikepack. He made an impressive transition from whitewater madness to first bikepack. He pushed a *BIG* bike (bigger than any of ours), big tires, and a tent to boot. In the pic he’s smiling because he was just bequeathed several of Greg’s bags. He coasted down Florence-Kelvin road back to the cars while we pedaled to a yonder ridgeline, one full of switchbacks and full of dreams.

The light was flat, but that meant we could balance out the pixel to ride ratio a bit. And it gave Mike a chance to reach his stated goal of emptying the tank, and, additionally, squeezing the fuel lines dry.

He still had plenty of energy to out gun me on the switchbacks.

And then we were at the top, coasting and far dreaming.

The sun stayed shy, but when I reached a certain spot, I stopped, sat down, pulled out a carrot cake cookie, and had a moment. So many things to celebrate.

I caught back up to the guys, and caught Mike cheating (I’m telling Jeny!!) on a switchback. The rest of the descent was giddy fun, as it always is.

And then there was hot pizza waiting for us at the bottom. Thanks Skippy! As if the day couldn’t get any better.

Oh wait, it can! Team Photo joined me on the hilltop above the sports van, 4 photo geeks clicking happily away as the sun became shy no more. I just wish there was a 5th person to take a photo of the 4 of us, dorking out.

Another night in the van, a heavenly breakfast burrito in Mammoth, then it was on to the 50 year trail. There had to be at least one big bike day!

It started out a little rough, as we tried to wake up and shake off a few days of adventuring.

Got better.

photo by Mike Curiak

And more and more beautiful as the day moved on.

Louis took us for a full Sonorasaurus and Cherry Tank tour.

Revealing all the fun lines to us, and showing us how to ride them with grace, as well. It’s been years since I’ve been up there.

We hit all the usual goody goods out there, too.

photo by Mike Curiak

The snow and ‘cold’ weren’t even a blip on the radar.

A perfect day out.

That was the riskiest line I rode (slash Mike pressured me into). I have so, SO, many exciting things planned and on the horizon, that my mind was automatically in a more-conservative-than-usual mode.

I walked away from that one, to the tune of a lame-o “L” on Mike’s forehead. I hated to miss out on the opportunity of pushing limits with such a talented crew, but I hated the idea of even a minor injury more.


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