Definitely not Comfy Pants

“Do you want any beans for your pillow?”

I looked at the weather forecast in Chino Valley this afternoon, noticed the over night low of 25 degrees and shrugged it off. It will be fine.

20 miles and a few hours later, it’s already below freezing and we’re wearing all our clothes, coming up with creative things to use for pillows.

We could have hitched a ride south to warmer climes, taken the train, or a more direct route. But we didn’t. We’re stubborn and easily distracted by quiet dirt roads and rugged two track.

So, here we are, wearing everything we have and stuffing our pillows with red lentils.

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The coyotes yip and the moon shines down. It’s going to be a cold night. We’ll be a bit uncomfortable. The tent is strategically placed to catch the first rays of sun in the morning. We’ll be fine.

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Buttered Hot Cocoa

I have very little to say about rafting the Grand Canyon for 24 days with 11 other people.  The best I can come up with is straight from Katie who joked that all she had written in her journal was “Today was awesome.”  And so it was. 

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

The inside jokes and camaraderie that occured are only understood by those that were there.  What made us cry from laughter at the time would hang in silence if presented as stand up comedy. It just doesn’t make sense unless you were there.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

Some of us loved the white water while others got physically sick at the thought of it. All were determined to see the journey through. A team was built and boats were rigged. It became routine. All hands were on deck in the morning to break camp and load boats. Rapids were scouted as we moved down river.   Adjustments were made as necessary. Swimmers tossed by a few gnarly holes were picked up quickly and congratulated on joining the “Colorado River Swim Team.” Folks soaked up the sunshine in flat water. When the boats touched shore at camp all hands were ready to fire line the gear up the beach. Camp was set up and the groover open for business. Dinner was prepared and a fire lit.

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We had the occasional fowl weather. Wind, rain, hail, and lightening. While presenting a challenge it had little affect on spirits. It was the big rapids that kept most folks on edge. My worst moment was arriving a Phantom Ranch. With many of the big rapids near at hand, I was uneasy. Feeling responsible for inviting each and every person on the trip, I feared that any one of them might get injured. We proceeded with caution and met Horn Creek that afternoon. Known for its menace, particularly at low water, as it was when we scouted it. I was first in and had a successful run.  I found an eddy to pull into while Liz and Rich gave updates as to how the others were doing. All four boats were through. All 12 heads.  We moved down river.

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Photo by Lyndsey Kleppin (Lava Falls)

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Photo by Lyndsey Kleppin (Lava Falls)

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Photo by Lyndsey Kleppin (Lava Falls)

Mike asked me towards the end of the trip if I would do anything differently. I wasn’t sure at the time. I gave some nondescript answer. Overall I was very happy with how everything turned out, however, I’d like to go again where I’m not the trip lead.  Maybe spend some time further back in the group getting closer to the white water and running some of the bigger holes. Enjoying a few more buttered hot cocoa around the camp fire.

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Photo by Lyndsey Kleppin

Buttered Hot Cocoa
1 Part Hot Water
1 Part Half and Half
1 Packet Hot Cocoa
2 Tablespoons Butter

A sure fire way to regain all the weight lost pedaling from Alaska to Arizona.

Comfy Pants

Winter catches us while we’re on the river.

Back in Flagstaff, we plan to regroup, change gears and get out of town. Instead, we linger.

We linger at the library catching up on old news.

We linger with friends around their fire place sipping hot drinks.

We linger in our comfy pants – literally and figuratively.

Leaving is the hardest part. The best thing to do is rip of the bandaid and go. The discomfort will fade and the desire to see what’s around the next corner will replace it.

Today’s the day, except I have been awake all night, listening to the wind howl around the house and through the junipers. The last night on the river we floated through the night. Since then, I wake up, thinking I’m on a boat.

We ride a maze of fire roads through the Coconino National Forest. The ponderosas filter the wind gusts. Ice and snow cover the road in some spots.

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We talk about being around a warm fire with family and friends. The mud bogs down my tires and my emotions. It’s a slippery slope, a rabbit hole.

Everything feels off today. It feels like day one all over again. What are these bicycles? Where are we going? What are we doing?

A thicket at the bottom of a wash provides protection from the wind. We’re down at 4,500′,  and it’s slightly warmer here. I set up the tent and we crawl inside. In this moment, I am home.

Down the Ditch

Tyndall got excited about boating in Alaska. He found a used 14′ Otter, then a packraft. With the packraft, the options on a map unfold before your eyes. Soon, his desire for white water out paced my tolerance for risk. While he ran Six Mile, I rode down on my bicycle and met him. I am not an adrenaline junkie. I shrink before it.

The Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is beautiful and terrifying. The walls of the Granite Gorges are dark and moody.

Others’ opinions may differ. This is mine. The river is wild yet tamed. Remote but accessible. Pristine yet dirty. The flow is managed to feed our insatiable energy demand and the landscape has been altered by dams. Our gear was checked by a park ranger wearing at least two guns. He wasn’t going anywhere fast.

Tyndall and Jerami discovered that you can go left at Bedrock and emerge unscathed from the Room of Doom. Mike threaded the needle to the right of the Killer Fangs. Three boats ran through the hole on House Rock. Sometimes the river takes you where you didn’t intend to go, and sometimes, that’s ok. T it up and punch it through. A line may be Not Recommended, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Some people joined the Colorado River Swim Team. I swam half of Soap Creek Rapid after getting in over my head in my packraft. It wasn’t so bad. After that, I stayed in the big boat.

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend 24 days with. Thanks to Jerami and Eloise for hauling our river gear down from Alaksa, and to Traverse for hauling it home.

Here are 24 photos for 24 river days. You won’t see any photos of big white water, but it’s there. For those stretches, I kept my camera safely tucked away and just held on.

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Flagstaff, for awhile

We wind our way through suburbia, trying to connect to the Rim Road out of Lakeside. Gates and no trespassing signs have us taking one step forward and two steps back. I’m ready to go to Scotland, where Eloise tells me that private property isn’t really private.

Another biker zips by and points us in the right direction. Time to get out of town. The road surface alternates between dirt and lava rock. I bump along.

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Past Forest Lakes the road improves. We ride through rain showers and morning thunder. A bit of unmaintained singletrack on the General Crook trail keeps us engaged.

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The Rim Road intersects the Arizona Trail and we head north for Flagstaff – intrigued by the trail, not wanting to give in to the rain.

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The first miles we ride are sandy and swoopy along a creek. Then we’re going down into a wash and up the other side. Along the way, the soil changes. No sand here, only sticky wet clay. I grow a few inches taller. Tyndall says his wheels have stopped turning. We peel mud off tires.

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There’s a forest service road up ahead and we bail there, riding pavement the rest of the way. The AZT is not meant to be this go around.

We’re in Flagstaff, putting things together for a 24 day float down the Grand Canyon. We’ll be back on the bikes (and the blog) in late November.

Exit New Mexico, enter Arizona

The Toaster House in Pie Town provides a place to sleep for the night, and books and maps to keep us entertained for hours. The house is full of stories of other bikers and CDT hikers. We can’t not stay.

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Dirt roads lead us south from Pie Town. Questionable and non existent water sources keep us on our toes.

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We spend three hours boiling mud puddle water, and then searching for a cache a couple on a tandem tell us about. We don’t find it.

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70 miles south and we leave the Divide for the final time, aiming for Reserve. Soon, water is flowing along the side of the road. It’s been ages since we have seen good, clear cold flowing water, I think. I guzzle a bottle just because I can.

Reserve has everything we need and want. We’re in and out and on heading down the road again, back into the National Forest to camp for the night.

We leave pavement again and climb up along the edge of the Blue Range Wilderness. Don’t take your bike in the wilderness though, just skirt the edge. Bear scat litters the road. It looks like bears here eat the flowers of the prickly pear. I assume they are small and inconsequential compared to Alaska bears. We don’t see any, so I’m not proven wrong, or right.

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The road drops down to the Blue River, and into Arizona. Red rock spires frame the landscape. We climb out of the river valley towards Alpine, refuel in town and then pedal on. All the roads are uphill today. We haven’t showered since Albuquerque and I think it’s time.

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Back in Apache National Forest we make camp. I fall asleep to elk bugeling in the distance, and coyotes howling.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.