Visit Part 1 here.
If some of the images are blank, refresh the page to get them all.
Click on any to view the full-sized version.
As we bike our way northbound on the AZT, I’m constantly having my preconceived notions of its terrain realigned.
Miles of open grassland, broken up by large islands of aspen, or pine, then sloping chaparral then on to other surprising changes.
(Below: One trail, many horizons.)
The riding goes on and on.
The miles turn into days, then nights at camp. The long stretches of bike-pushing from the first day are now a rarity at this point.
But some rough sections keep us from getting too comfortable while enjoying the gravel roads, hardpack single track and jeep-double track.
(Below: Russ and Thomas appear as two dots cresting the hill. The wild horses guard their passage.)
Consistent are the hot sun, dry air, and wind. We all curse the wind.
My favorite moments are lulls that leave us in dead-quiet and without dust.
(Below: A wind-free and post-lunch beer before we head out into the elements for another afternoon on the Arizona Trail.)
As usual, for these long stretches of trail between Flagstaff and South Rim our group formed into a few smaller groups.
My group is me, Russ and Thomas.
(Below: Me and Russ getting our bearings, Thomas embodies happiness on the trail.)
(Above photo by Alex Madden)
Another consistent is private ranchland and property boundaries.
Agreements have been established between the state and landowners to allow the trail to cross their ranges and pastures, although if left to their own devices, many say that ranchers would disallow it.
During a full day of riding, much of the land under your knobbies is private.
Each boundary crossing usually means opening a gate to get through a fence that looks like it goes on for 20 miles in each direction.
Always close the gate behind you. It’s the golden rule of the trail.
(Below: Thomas is always the first to arrive at the next gate. This scene played out at least a dozen times.)
We discover a fire tower next to the dirt road and cannot resist. We de-bike and begin to ascend the metal see-through steps.
The wind is brutal up there. We max out at 80ft.
But behold: We get our first glimpse of the huge hole in the earth we’ve been striving for.
No longer an imaginary destination, we proceed with boosted excitement.
(Below: The forest breaks in an abrupt line along the edge of the Grand Canyon.)
We are getting closer to the Grand Canyon and civilization creeps into our wilderness biking world.
Tourists jam the little towns and shops that lead up to the South Rim.
Our riding groups are starting to merge to one peloton and our dirt track is now a paved bike path. We must be getting close.
We keep riding.
There is no notice or warning when we cross into the National Park. We pass without fanfare through a secret entrance void of rangers or entry fees or waiting lines or posted bear warnings or other admonitions.
Just trees, birds and striped chipmunks to welcome us through. We feel special.
(Below: Entering the GCNP: Merilee’s turn to chase Thomas. Again, with husband Greg. And again, alongside Alan.)
Our bike path crosses the main park road that goes along the rim.
Then, suddenly, a reality check. Car gridlock. Idling SUV’s. Tired faces. Exhaust fumes.
We cross slowly, walking our bikes, stunned to be among the crowds. Oh, right. It’s Memorial Day Weekend! Gah!
Then just like that, poof, the terra firma, the shadows of the pinon pines and tufts of grass give way to one of the most amazing open spaces you’ll ever see.
The great chasm of the Grand Canyon.
(Below: First look at the canyon, and me with Rosie on the edge.)
Our epic bike exploration is turning into a visit to the most crowded part of the park - that happens to have some biking restrictions - it’s a holiday weekend and the crowds are tarnishing our mood.
A few more spots to peer over the edge, then we raise the white flag.
Time to point our motley crew back to the trail, southbound now, to meet up with our outfitter about 10 miles down the way.
There, we get a long shuttle back to Flagstaff.
To squeak out a little more fun – and dinner - we get back in time to invade the local pizza joint to inhale slices and pitchers. High fives and talk of new adventures carry us to the parking lot after dusk.
We depart. Some of us to Amtrak, some back to van-life, some to a motel.
Life is good. We all feel it.
Even if you've been to an iconic place, getting there - or visiting - a different way brings insight and appreciation to someplace that you though didn't have much more to offer. I loved sneaking up to the canyon this way.
If you've ever been to "the grand" let me know!
Comments are encouraged, you can do so below. The comment password is: life is good