I’m back from a few nights camping with James, whose company I greatly enjoyed while riding through Utah’s Canyonlands in 2010, one of the South West’s premier 100 mile dirt road loops.
This time, we biked from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, following the pavement-free Arizona Trail. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Northern Arizona, I can’t think of a better way of arriving at the Grand Canyon – 100 miles of sublime trails and idyllic camping spots, preluding one of the most surreal, larger-than-life views I’ve ever experienced. I’ll get a trip report up at some point, just as soon as I get through a backlog of writing.
Flagstaff has made a great base this last week. Come 7pm, I’ve ridden out of town to freecamp on a hilltop in the nearby national forest, enjoying a city overlook, star-filled nights and awakening to a soul-warming sunrise each morning.
I’ve reset my body clock for touring that lies ahead. My daily ritual has been simple: up and ready to roll by 6am, then a quick descent down to Macy’s cafe to write (and enjoy budget-friendly, delicious Day Old pastries). My days here have offered the chance to see friends, ride wonderful trails and soak up some of Flagstaff’s hip, North Arizonan lifestyle. I’ve also been fortuitous enough to meet up with Megan, passing through town on exactly the same weekend – the third member of our Canyonlands posse. We hadn’t seen each other since Nicaragua, when she joined me for a week with little baby Neva.
Last time I was in Flagstaff, I based myself out of Josh’s burgeoning Bike Shop Hub, so it was good to visit and see how the business has developed. Incidentally, Josh has offered to affiliate this blog to his shop. This means that if you order anything online via this link, I’ll receive a small cut. In the interests of transparency, I’ll talk more about this business deal at some point soon; ultimately though, it’s a way of supporting this blog, without influencing actual content. The good part is that buying gear through these links won’t cost you a penny more than it would normally. As Josh stocks the likes of Tubus racks and Ortlieb panniers (including all the tricky-to-find extras), it’s hard to go wrong (-:
My big travel news is that I’m finally booked to return to Ecuador! It’s been a long time coming – I left South America almost a year ago after riding down from Alaska, to return to the UK for some unexpected lung surgery. I’ll be catching the train this evening and flying out of LA on the 17th, destination Quito. So, if anyone wants to meet up in LA on the 16th, I’m around and about. Better still, if you know a place I can crash for the night, please let me know – otherwise I’ll be kipping in the airport before my morning flight back South.
Weaving between ponderosas synonimous with the higher elevations of the South West. For this part of the AZT, James tesed out the Tout Terrain Mule, which worked perfect with his lightweight Gunnar mountain bike. He was impressed with how it handled.
Not a car in sight. Just 100 miles of trails, jeep track, big skies…
And then this…
In time for sunset…
James communes with four legged locals.
Perfect camping out in high meadows. James carried his Tarptent Double Rainbow, while I had a chance to try out my new solo Moment, both of which are ultralight, and great value.
Note to self…
Back in Flag, I hung out amidst the inner workings of Bike Shop Hub. As ever, thanks to Josh, Robin, Robert and Ted for welcoming me in. Whenever I’ve passed through Northern Arizona, Josh has always offered me a workshop to service my bike and an address to receive mail.
Pack ’em high. Panniers, racks and trailers galore…
The place to come for all your Ortlieb bits and bobs… Bike Trailer Shop even stocks Revelate gear too.
Have you ever seen a bubble wrap roll as gargantuan as this? I’d have had a field day as a kid.
As well as selling a dizzying range of trailers, Bike Shop Hub build their own. This is their fully customisable cargo hauler, the provisionally called The Really Big Bongo, soon to be available in two sizes. It’s rated to pull some 200lbs (90kg), and is aimed at tradesmen who want to go car-free, amongst others.
It’s expertly crafted in Flagstaff by Stu Henderson, who also forms a third of Sendero Cycles. The arch design stops water pooling in the waterproof cover.
Quick releases allow the angle of the arm to be easily adjusted, so the trailer can be pulled by hand, or to form a stand.
I also had the chance too to scrub my dust-ingrained gear Rocket bag. A tip for long distance bikepackers – keep your framebag’s zips clean to ensure years of rugged use. I popped it on the scales too: 1.1lbs, or 500g. It’s more than most framebags as it has secret compartments, extra padding and bonus sleeves. But it’s certainly useful enough to be worth its weight in gold.
James has a Long Haul Trucker, so I borrowed his rack and panniers to experiment with trailer-less riding on my Ogre. Using a blend of Porcelain Rocket bags and small Ortlieb front roller panniers, the above setup includes everything I’d need for indefinite travel…
Beady-eyed gearheads might have noticed that I have a Porcelain Rocket Anything Bag (100g, or 4oz) strapped directly to a Profile Kage. As much as I love the concept of Salsa’s all-embracing Anything Cages, I’m not finding them burly enough for my uses – two have broken on me. My take? Great idea, but best treated with care. Bring on some chromo versions, Salsa!
I’ve opted to take the Surly Ogre away with me, despite its awkwardly sourced 29er wheels and tyres. This means taking extra care of them. Seen here is non other than mountain biking legend Joe Murray, of Kona and Voodoo fame, showing me how best to keep my Deore hubs running smoothly.
Jumping back to cages for a moment… Joe sold me a limited edition, titanium, triple eyeletted King Kage I’d been coveting – the perfect fit for a 1.2l Kleen Kanteen. Be great to get another run of these going…
We also headed out for a ride, climbing up to the Overlook and looping round the challenging terrain of Rocky Ridge.
Even though Joe retired from racing in 1990, he still comprehensively crushed me on the climbs. And the descents… In my defence, I should add that Joe was a NORBA national champion with an as yet unmatched streak of 12 straight victories…
His weapon of choice: a prototype, rock-munching Voodoo Zopob 29er.
Talking of munching… Aside from sustaining myself with Day Old pastries, I’ve enjoyed wholesome home cooking too. James is the master of conjuring up delicious food on the tightest of budgets… like these sliced corn tortillas snacks. The trick? Fry with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper, until crispy.
Or this, a simple mix veg special.
James’ Mix Veg Special:
Chop up celery, onion, carrots, zucchini, garlic and some fire roasted red pepper (to fire roast, simply place directly on burner, for a sweet, charred, South Western flavour).
Saute in a touch of olive oil.
Add in kale towards the end.
Squeeze in the secret ingredient, lime juice, which adds acidity and brings out the vivid flavours of each vegetable – without the need to add fat or salt.
He rustled up some polenta too – a stone ground corn – prepared with smoked gouda, pepper, salt and olive oil. incidentally, corn, beans and squash form the ‘Three Sisters’, combining to make a complete, energy-rich protein. Great cycling food.
The full effect. Perhaps unsurprisingly, James has worked as a chef in France…
To round it off, homemade coconut macaroons, on a bed of farmer’s market strawberries, under a topping of homemade whipped cream (simple: place heavy cream in jar and shake!).
Little Neva joined us too, who I’d last seen in Costa Rica – in her Chariot trailer. As expected, the dessert went down particularly well…