My First Bikepacking Trip

They grow up so fast! Well, I apparently do, because I finally went bikepacking.

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My mountain bike had been down since it developed some shifting issues last October after only a week or two with the Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub. The bike mechanic installed brand new internals on warranty. Preventing future damage, he also reoriented the hub using different no-turn washers.

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Having the bike working after all those months was great! I rode 5-15 miles of trail just about every day for a week, and before long decided to try out some bikepacking kit. I did two trial rides and it went alright. Slimming the packs down, I aimed for an easy but interesting destination: Marshall Lake.

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I headed down the now-familiar connector trails and stopped to gaze at magnificent Fisher Point in Walnut Canyon.

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Turning south in the canyon for the first time, the 26x2.35 tires rolled over an alternately sandy and rocky hike/bike trail along the dry creek.

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It’s amazing how quickly the vegetation changes in valleys.

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The trail finished through a steep side-canyon. I would be very challenged to ride up this section on a good day, let alone pushing camping gear with an unfamiliar IGH. Losing control over a couple rocks, I elected to walk.

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Panting through the sweat, I reached the top and proceeded to the Sandy’s Canyon trailhead, greeted by this view. Please pardon the terrible editing.

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I opted to skip that unknown trail in the interest of time and sanity.

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Next stop was the Canyon Vista Campground, at which I expected to fill up on water. No dice. I even asked someone, and still couldn’t find it. But with 4 liters of capacity on the bike I could afford to keep riding and keep sweating.

I hopped onto Lake Mary Road for a few miles, nearly dying of boredom. The road bikers like this stretch, presumably because it’s flat and wide and smooth.

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I exited Lake Mary Road and made my way up toward the observatory. Splitting off onto dirt again was refreshing, but coming upon the grassy countenance of Marshall Lake, I felt a bit anxious. Was there any water to be had?

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Thankfully the USFS map on my Backcountry Navigator app (thanks for the tip, Tim!) pointed me to a tank along the east shore. I used a Sawyer Mini water filter, but its stock 16oz bag was wholly inadequate for replenishing two liters of bottles. I will carry another, empty 2L bottle next time specifically for filtration purposes.

A young Tucson lady had some bikepacking questions for me. A woman- talking to me! What a pleasant surprise. I should have stayed and hung out longer, but my mind is slow to think of these seemingly obvious things.

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Regardless, it was getting dark and the lakeside campsite selection was a bit full. I headed onto the Arizona Trail a quarter mile or so to settle down.

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Laying my tarp, mattress and bag down, I began to “cook” dinner. Mountain House Sweet & Sour Pork. It was barely adequate, and the dead tree wasn’t a very good reading chair.

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I cleaned up and hung up the PCT style bear bag I learned how to hang that morning. It did creep back down to the stick overnight, and I’m not sure how to actually get it the recommended 15 feet high. It seems that no matter the tree height, it’s about 10 feet off the ground.

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After a fitful night’s kind-of-sleep, I awoke to the beautiful pre-dawn at a slightly less satisfying 4:45am.

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I “cooked” some oatmeal. I think the stove is made from an Izze can, so it’s smaller, lighter and more miserly than the average pop can stove. Just enough to boil 2/3 cup of water in a few minutes and fit neatly back into the Sierra cup.

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Pro tip: Scribe lines inside the cup to ensure accurate water measurement!

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In no time I was packed up. I quickly filtered some water and got to talk to my new friend again before heading west on the AZT.

There are some janky gates along the Flagstaff trails, but this one takes the cake. It was just a bunch of scrap wood tied together with barbed wire. Who thought that was a good idea?

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All in all the bike was light enough to be serviceable on the singletrack. I’m growing tired of the handling, though. The 50mm wide rims give the 2.35 tires a rather square profile which, although great for straight line traction, gets prematurely squirrelly in hard cornering. Since I’m not looking to rebuild the wheelset (AGAIN) any time soon I’ll be looking at getting the widest possible tires for this frame once the Maxxis Ignitors wear out. There’s not a lot of clearance between those chainstays, though.

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Here is a quick tour of the bike if you are interested.

The ride down from Marshall Lake was pretty rad. There is some good, flowy trail with a few rocks thrown in. I also happened upon a huge bull elk with a full rack. He adopted the most graceful run I’ve ever seen and disappeared into the woods without any trouble.

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The flow gave way to an intense descent back into Walnut Canyon. The entire trail was littered with fist-sized rocks. For a fatbike this would be fine, but on a ‘skinny’ bike, it was exhilarating to say the least. Add to this the fact that much of that trail was on the edge of a seemingly endless drop, and I was almost relieved when confronted with these trees blocking the path.

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The trail briefly opened up through a burn area...

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...and out across the canyon. Not missing a beat, the track promptly dove off several large rocks and tested the suspension again.

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Ah, flat ground once more. Spectacular rocks.

I had to HAB up the Fisher Point equestrian bypass due to the unwieldy nature of the trail and the loaded bike, but ended up getting home around 9am.

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Overall I have to say the trip went pretty well. It was short, fairly predictable and I was once again successful in keeping the shiny side up. I’ve got a few modifications implemented and another in the works when I have the cash. It’s exciting!

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I look forward to doing something a bit longer next time, and hopefully having a riding buddy. The way my mom was asking to join in, I feel like she’ll probably be first in line. But, she also won’t be jumping over rocks!

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