All my bikepacking trips up to this point have been filled with equal parts gnawing hunger to see more of the backcountry and complete and utter physical exhaustion (wearing into the mental realm). Last year, we tackled the Sky Island Odyssey eastern loop over Veteran’s Day (our first unpaved bikepacking trip), and Janna and I were returning this year because we loved the time of year in this area. But, I felt strong nerves because of how butt-kicked I have been in body, mind, and confidence by every bikepacking outing. Bikepacking combines the best of road touring and backpacking. Yet, I still felt unconfident I could crack that flow state of performance that leads itself so well to mastery and growth.
I decided on two mantras for this trip:
I’ve used mantras many times over the years to carry me through tough or uncertain outdoor moments. These two seemed primed to help me where I most struggled: (1) embracing the beauty of where I’m at when the going gets tough and (2) pushing too hard and not slowing down to the point of utter exhaustion.
To further help our plans along, we decided we would start this year in Green Valley. We found a hotel that would let us keep our car in the back of their parking lot for the length of our trip in exchange for getting a room the night before. We wanted to start here as, no doubt, the ride up the Santa Ritas over the western shoulder of the Santa Ritas was the toughest length of the route, and we only discovered that on our last day the previous year.
School done, we headed down Thursday evening, each of us having used a personal day to call Friday off.
The next morning, we used Komoot to get on the Juan de Bautista Anza Trail (something we skipped for the paved route the previous year). It was actually gorgeous singletrack and city trail, making me glad we opted for it this time. It soon led into the deep-sanded San Pedro River bed. We skipped that 1-2 mile portion, joined the pave frontage road, and then jumped back onto the trail. Soon, we were by Elephant’s Head, heading up the road to the observatory. We felt strong, the clouds were keeping the temperatures low, and knowing the route ahead gave us stamina to get the ride in. Plus, it was gorgeous.
We eased into the rocky and rutted jeep road that wound up and down washes and foothills. The route led past several mines and then suddenly we were at the bottom of the big climb. A truck was sandwiched perfectly across the entire road, side-to-side, having bottomed out on a large boulder in an attempt to turn around. A man was underneath trying to dig the large boulder out with a shovel. We asked if he needed help; he said he was good. We could get around with our bikes but ATVs and trucks could not get around this point. We started the climb, staying on the pedals, impressively not doing any hike-a-bikes. And like that, we crested the saddle and I zoomed down the steep incline where I caught some gravel and jumped off my bike as it flipped over itself. Shaken, I got back on and we cruised up and down the cow-studded hills until we were at the bottom of the other side.
From there, Janna and I quickly rode the now-nice dirt road through ranchlands for miles until the Patagonia Mountains sprang into view. The ride cruised down next to the Sonoita Preserve with the deciduous riparian zone in awesome autumnal hues. We arrived in Patagonia around 4 pm, so we biked to the RV park on the other side of town and secured camping for the night. Once changed, and showered, we walked back into town where we learned that the Spirit World 100 Race/Gravel Ride was happening tomorrow. Gravel riders from all over the US were here along with Lael Wilcox joining in. We talked to several, gathered up some food, and went back to crawl into the Triplex well into the evening. Soon after getting in, a large family of javelina started rooted around the tent for several hours. Janna and I reminisced about how were here only half a year ago on the Arizona Trail before we both passed out.