First Pick the Partner, Then Pick the Adventure
“Wow, where’d you come from?” she said staring at the bikes heavy with water bottles and bags.
“We left our homes in Hurricane, and rode south until the land stopped.” I replied.
For most of the visitors at Tuweep Overlook, the drive to get there was quite an adventure. 90 miles of desolate dirt roads completely devoid of any services, the last seven of which require some moderate off road driving skills. Seeing a couple of guys on loaded bikes was a bit of a sight.
This ride had been on my mind for at least a year. Besides the usual barriers of work and family commitments, there’s the natural barriers for a ride like this deep into the Arizona Strip. Extreme heat during the summer months, complete lack of water and other resupply resources, and roads that are highly impassible during heavy rains are just a few reasons why a ride like this should be taken with caution. All those factors can be managed, but there’s one major challenge that is the most difficult to get around; finding someone to go with you.
Due to the extreme heat and lack of water, riding to Tuweep in the summer isn’t practical. Winter is better where highs in the 60s are common, however extreme cold is still an issue with overnight low temperatures in the teens.
Dave and I have been doing bike-packing rides for about a year. Both starting off as novices, together tipping our toes deeper into longer adventures as we learned to optimize our gear and build our endurance fitness.
Our first rides were short overnights not far from home, with multiple resupply options. Going further out into the wildness, the danger exponentially increases when traveling solo, so a good companion is priceless.
Fortunately for me when I shared the plan to ride from Hurricane to Tuweep, Dave was in. We picked a weekend in February, allowing for enough time for us to refine our gear and prepare for our first winter bike-packing trip. We each made some adjustments to our setups. I got a warmer sleeping bag and a tent. Dave changed to higher volume bags for his gravel bike to carry more gear.
Having sorted out our new gear, we decided to do a shakedown overnighter ride near JEM trail in Hurricane. After work, we rode to the Hurricane Cliffs, where we tested our new set ups while watching the lights of our neighborhood below while our families slept in warm homes in the valley. The following weekend the day arrived for us to set out on our journey.
For our adventures, whenever we can, we try to ride straight from home as opposed to driving in a car to starting point. There’s something about starting a trip by riding a loaded bike from home that makes it feel delightfully rebellious. It feels like being a child running away from home with a backpack of supplies. All those feelings of freedom and independence, without all the anger and fear that usually accompanied my childhood escapes.
We rode from town with Coach Bob, who accompanied us for the first fifteen miles. Bob is a beast on a bike with Popeye calves, but also patient enough to ride slow for us mortals with our 50 pound bikes. Secretly, Bob was invited not just because he’s great company, but also because we hoped that he’d see the excitement of our journey and someday want to load up his gravel bike and come with us too.
Our route out of Hurricane started with a climb to the top of the Hurricane Cliffs, then turned south to ride along the top of the cliffs, passing the historic Honeymoon Trail and eventually winding southeast to join the Mount Trumbull road and then straight to the Tuweep Overlook within the Grand Canyon National Park. The total route covered 150 miles over three days.
Every partnership has give and take. Through our friendship, Dave and I have learned when we should give, and when the matter is one where we have strong opinions on how something should be done. I, having given the area months of study, took the route planning without much feedback. Dave, on the other hand, had a strong sense of place for where we should stop to camp. After riding the first 60 miles, we stopped to camp near a spot where I had previously cached water for our trip. Even though the spot was good enough for me, Dave was unsettled that evening with the location that I had planned for us. I suspect that Dave knew our spot was not ideal and that a few miles away there were likely more scenic and secluded locations. Learning from that, the next night we made sure that Dave had full discretion to pick the camp spot and he was led, by instinct I suppose, to a much better spot among a grove of cedar trees.
I imagine these rides might be similar to what it feels like to be two cowboys out on a long cattle drive. After a while you can sense how the other rider is feeling, whether they are feeling strong, or struggling. When it’s time to chat and tell long stories, or when it’s time to put the ear pods in and go heads down pedaling mode and allow for some physical distance between riders.
When we finally made it to the Tuweep Overlook on the rim of the Grand Canyon, we stopped to eat lunch. The desolation of the route now punctuated by groups of people who had spent the day driving to the rim. It seemed strange to be at the furthest point into the wilderness and surrounded by so many people.
For the return journey, knowing that the headwinds would be strong, we decided to take a more direct route back to civilization towards Colorado City. The dirt road between Tuweep and Colorado City is unique in its miles of featureless terrain. For most of the ride, the road is very flat, straight, and surrounded by an unchanging landscape of sparse brush. This long stretch feels like a sensory deprivation chamber with what seems like endless time to prefect the pedal stroke and meditatively reflect. The only feature on the road is occasional cattle guard crossings with signs that warn: “Bicycles Cross with Caution,” as if the cattle guard crossings were the biggest danger to bicycles and warranted the investment of time to install these dozens of signs. Never mind the lack of water, extreme temperatures, no services, and that if you became incapacitated, it may be days before you’re found.
It seems a better warning sign on the road would read, “Extreme high and low temperatures, no water, no services, long sections of road that are boring, if you get stuck here by yourself you’ll be in trouble; choose a good companion and make it a wonderful adventure.” But I guess that wouldn’t fit on a sign.
The final stretch of the road ended with a few soft sandy sections before entering the town of Colorado City. These sandy sections seemed to suggest that even though civilization was close, the road wasn’t going to make it too easy. We then made it into Colorado City and were picked up by family. During the drive I reflected on the journey and how of all the remarkable elements of the ride, the most remarkable was finding someone else to take the ride with me.
I consider myself fortunate to live where we are surrounded by a harsh wildness to explore. I’m even more fortunate to have a friend who is game to experience the wilderness with me.
Words by Logan Phipps