June 5, 2016

Bismarck & Back

Sometime during the Flagstaff AES post ride chatter the topic of bikepacking to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon came up. We've done this ride a couple of times and it's great fun. Why not do it again? Perhaps an annual occurrence? The usual suspects were all involved: Jeff, Nancy, Ray and now Joe - we've been poking & prodding him to give bikepacking a try!!

We settled on some dates and a few days later I asked Jeff if he thought anyone else 'might' be interested in coming along. We both agreed to extend an OPEN INVITE for this ride making people fully aware of the 85 miles required each day. While not an overly difficult route, that's a lot of pedaling on dirt. Apparently word has gotten out about this ride and one by one the list grew in response to the bikepacker's siren's call. +1...+1...+2...+1... The list kept growing, reaching 21 or so. While that was great to see, I had a bit of a problem now. Where were we going to camp? Mather Campground was booked, so it was looking like we'd be somewhere outside the park boundary for Sat. night.

Nancy kept checking the online Mather reservations in hopes of a last minute cancellation. She found one and grabbed it. I kept looking as well and the following day grabbed another site right next to Nancy's!! They were RV sites that allowed tent camping so they were bigger than standard size. We figured since we didn't have any vehicles a few extra people wouldn't be a big deal. Plus, we had Nancy who is a known renegade to the establishment.
A welcomed sight on Friday afternoon.
The extended forecast was calling for the first scorcher of the year with temps in the Valley soaring near 115º. Flagstaff was tickling the 90º mark when I arrived, but by the time I reached Bismarck Lake trailhead at 8500' it was in the upper 70's. Time to relax, but first I had to find a good camp location. I rode around checking a few of the pullout areas and found a large flat area in the trees that could easily accommodate a bunch of vehicles. I began getting everything ready for the next day and one by one the others arrived. We had 13 people camp out for the start, and expected a few others to show up the next morning.
Great night for a campfire. Photo by Shannon.
Singletrack begins almost right from camp.
Water is scarce on this route, so everyone was warned to bring a ton and then a bit more. Jerry was starting down the mountain at the beginning of Babbitt Ranch and dropped a few gallons in the public cache for the ride. What a guy!!
Definitely helped out on the return ride.
With such a large group it was best to let people go their own pace. Jeff & Nancy were first out of camp sometime after 4:30am, only to realize they left their passenger window open!! Oh well, rain was not in the forecast, just have to keep the squirrels at bay. One by one riders departed camp for the South Rim. I took off with Ben and John, who was dropped off but couldn't get the track loaded on his phone. We'd end up riding the entire way together.
John & myself reaching the AZT. Photo by Ben.
Ryan starting the long AZT descent. Photo by Shannon.
Dreamy. Photo by Shannon.
The first 1 1/2 miles are uphill to the AZT. I was feeling it, walking a couple of short bits. Soon enough the sign comes into view and the 20+ mile downhill into Babbitt Ranch begins. The first 10 miles or so are on some of the best singletrack in the state, meandering through aspen groves and alpine meadows.
John & Ben getting stoked on the singletrack.
Casey taking a break. Photo by Omar.
Carlos knows how to roll. Photo by Omar.
By the time we dumped onto the jeep roads north of Missouri Bill Hill we had company, Kelly & Tim had caught up to us. The five of us would stay mostly together the rest of the day.
Ranch gate limbo by Timbo.
Entering the wide open expanses of Babbitt Ranch.
Nearing the end of Passage 34.
What happened to the trees? Photo by Tim.
The fast downhill riding made Hunphrey's Peak look small relatively quickly.
Kelly & Ben leading the charge. Photo by Tim.
I tried a slightly different setup, putting my sleeping pad on my pack. Photo by Tim.
Tim gets welcomed on his Babbitt Ranch exit. Photo by Tim.
Nearing the halfway point we were back on singletrack.
Taking 5 in the shade as things warmed up. Photo by Tim.
More riders from our group!! Holly & Josh super stoked to be out on the trail.
It was now midday and things had warmed up. At least we were now heading back into the trees for some shade relief when needed. There were a few gallons of water stashed at the Moqui Stage Station junction and were available for the public. I thought they may come in handy on the return ride. We had 19 more miles of trending uphill trail before reaching Grandview Lookout, the final 20 miles after that were fairly easy.
Shannon at the 'Not' Russell Tank. Photo by Shannon.
John and I took a short break near the 'Not' Russell Tank. I was sitting on the ground propped up by a tree for a few minutes munching away on some Pringles when I noticed a few small black ants on my sun sleeves. Then one bit me. Then I noticed about 50 of them crawling inside my shoe!! I quickly scrambled to my feet and began flailing the ants off of me. The pine needles must have obstructed my view of the nest because they were everywhere!! Even after a few minutes of riding I was still finding a stray ant or two crawling on my arm.
Our first glimpse into the Grand Canyon, looking over the Coconino Rim.
The one noted HAB section on the Coconino Rim, the signed Bike Bypass route isn't much better.
We all arrived at Grandview where a fella told us a few more from our group had just left 15 minutes prior. I was still good on water, but the warm temps were taking a toll on everyone. We were all anxious to get to camp for cold drinks, food and relax time.
More shade time at Grandview Lookout. Photo by Tim.
The last sign for Utah! Photo by Shannon.
Carlos cruisin'. Photo by Omar.
John was really starting to feel the effects. He lives up north and doesn't see too many warm days like this. He has the altitude acclimation advantage for sure, but the heat is a different animal. I caught up to him after fiddling with my froze-up GPS. We took a few extended breaks on our way towards Tusayan. As we got closer it was decided we'd go into town for some cold beverages.
Tusayan greenbelt. Photo by Tim.
We jumped on the bike path in town and made a beeline to camp where we found everyone who had left before us in the morning. We were all eager to grab a shower and head off to dinner.

Of course I had to pay extra for my shower relief. The machine took all 8 of my quarters, then proceeded to spit one back at me, then I couldn't deposit just a single quarter to turn on the water. Grrr. I got dressed quickly, grabbed some change and tried a different stall. This time water came flowing, ahhh.
Golden Hour view near the Bright Angel Trail before dinner.
More of the ho-hum view.
Omar hamming it up at the rim. Photo by Omar.
1/2 group shot!! Photo by Shannon.
Gotta do the Canyon bike pose. Photo by Kelly.
El Tovar Hotel. Photo by Shannon.
We chowed down on dinner then made our way back to camp. Rhino & I stopped by the market for next day supplies. By the time we arrived back at camp almost everyone was crashed out for the night! Who's going to help me drink my thermos full of margarita? Perhaps a treat on the ride back?
Carlos, Casey & Omar had also caught up to the group, everyone was now in camp and aside from some noisy neighbors I slept great.

The next morning most of the group was up getting ready by 4:30a. Jerry had already split and Jeff & Nancy weren't too far behind. I took off around 5a, but I really wanted to head over to the S. Kaibab trailhead. There was a different track listed for the AZT from the race, but it turns out I think that's an equestrian bypass. It follows a powerline towards the trailhead, not very exciting.

I arrived at the trailhead shortly after sunrise and was quite content to not be packing my bike on my back for a rim-to-rim hike!!
Morning rays at S. Kaibab TH.
I took a few minutes to soak it all in.
This Cow Elk was only a few feet off the paved bike path. Not far away were two Javelina.
By now I figured everyone else had split and I'd be bringing up the rear. I still had to stop in Tusayan for breakfast, but that was a quick 6 downhill miles away.
Spotted this fella munching away next to the greenbelt. He wasn't fazed.
A few miles out of Tusayan I spotted a couple of riders up ahead. It was Holly & Josh, who had just gotten stung by a bee on the lip!! Ouch. I passed by them and rode the first 50 miles of the day solo to Cedar Tank arriving around 11am.
Quiet forest roads all morning.
First view of Humphrey's Peak. Photo by Tim.
I usually dread this sign, but it was short lived.
Some history along the way. I opted to skip the water cache here.
I also didn't filter water here.
Fast canyon leading out to the expanses of Babbitt Ranch.
Humphrey's getting closer, as was the Cedar Tank water cache.
Collared Lizard!! Caught this guy out of the corner of my eye as I flew by. 
Still plenty of water...and it has my name on it!! Thanks again Jerry!
It was starting to get warm and the view of the upcoming elevation profile had a distinct slant upwards. I topped off on water and relaxed for a bit at Cedar Tank. A few minutes later Holly & Josh rode up, followed by Mike. He kept on going not wanting Ben to be waiting too long for him up at Bismarck Lake. Holly, Josh & I would stick together the rest of the way.
About a mile after Cedar Tank we began pushing. Taking plenty of shade breaks on the way up.
The HAB wasn't too long, it was actually a nice change up. Elevation was gained rapidly.
Up top the riding improved and so did the shade breaks - complete with margaritas!! Cold too.
A grim reminder of how dry our state is right now.
Our plentiful breaks were slowing us down, but no one was complaining. In fact, most of the time Holly couldn't stop laughing!! Perhaps the strawberry Twizzlers & margaritas had something to do with it?

When we were pedaling we made good time and reached the screaming downhill over to the AZT by early afternoon.
Josh, railing his AZT re-entry!
I was barely one mile into the AZT and the wheels came off. I hit the wall, no power in my legs. It was painfully slow going. The minutes ticked away and I finally shook off the crappy feeling a few miles up the trail.
That dirt road is nice, but singletrack like this wins out every time!
Snow lingering to the high alpine slopes.
I caught up to Josh in aspen country, it was now his time to pay the piper. Thankfully our ride was just about done. I felt fine climbing the last 4 curvy trail miles to the Bismarck Lake split, then finished with a 1 1/2 mile rip down the Bismarck trail to the car.
So glad to be back in the aspens, somewhere above 8000'.
I had some serious 750 flashbacks on this ride, but from here it was all downhill.
We were the last three of our group to finsh, except Kelly - who returned the next day with another friend, Ian, who delayed his ride one day. It was a great group this year even if I didn't see a few of them at all during the ride!! At least we all hung out at camp each night. The warmer weather really split things up this year, but that's ok. Thanks to everyone for coming out. Pedal on.

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