The Black Canyon Trail, coming to be known as a not to miss track in Arizona, a helix in front of us. We camped last night at the trailhead having arrived in the dark and by headlamp after a cheerful dinner and grocery run in Mayer. Yesterday was a crunching frost ride push posthole slog over the mountains southeast of Prescott, snow accumulation into silencing drifts, sometimes grim sometimes glinting hemming amusement.
Now we’ve down to where morning sun has us out of our bulky layers and pedaling early. The early miles wind and snake and gritty crunch, achieving a clip and breeze until the balance tips and we can feel the sweat under our pack straps telling us that winter is someone else’s thoughts now.
Transition from rolling swells of landscape with an overall downward pitch into a canyon. Narrow path with plenty of turns, some muscular outcroppings where suddenly you’re all back into it, tugging on the bars finding the line clinging to hopping grips or dropping down to a wash down chunky steps to ricochet around the trail armor up the other side. I’ve been keeping alert for the first and northernmost saguaro on the BCT and we take a break when I spot it. A runner, dirt against her shins and her water pack swaying back and forth nods as she goes by headed in the other direction.
Dry lips, I can feel them scaling in the evaporation but instead of drinking I savor the pricking premonition of heat.
We see more people on this first day than we’ve seen all the days combined on the trip since Sedona. Groups of mountain bikers out on a club run, singletons and pairs pedaling and pressing personal fast times. There’s an equestrian event on one stretch, some of the horses oblivious to the bikes, others stopping dead stop in alien petrified bewilderment.
Hours later, gunfire in the distance—recreational shooting at cans, pins, improvised targets—crack and pop, kind of funny and to me familiar enough from youthful years spent in A-Z. My Englishman companion sometimes raises an eyebrow, I just smile and say out loud that I’m sure that it’s unlikely that they’re shooting at us.
We’re achy and the afternoon is sloppier, banging off the trail edges literal or of the lines of our imagination. We reach an especially rutted chute, tired cable brake hands dropping faster than that width of attention to make it feel wild unfettered, let the bike and body fall into its own perpetual motion tumble, we transform the mistakes into features and then at the bottom collect the pieces of fear.
Supper, resupply in Black Canyon City then we ride just a bit more to find camping. The trail ascends and then drops into a glorious river cut, sandy plateaus on each side so we call it a good day and look forward to the soft ground sleep.
We’re too impatient to wait for the sun to reach our spot, so shivering and kicking cold toes we throw our gear together, cross the river, and climb until we reach the sunline. Standing in eyes closed contentment, we give ourselves fifteen minutes to come out of our stupor. The BCT doesn’t let up, it’s classic Arizona riding, small bump repeats, sharp edged rocks, flora that doesn’t forgive zealousness, a steady ruggedness that makes the short distances feel a little longer than they are. Galloping toward Phoenix, grains at a scale from dust to golf sized fist sized chest sized rocks, and cholla stands, a tunnel of the tall cactuses, a roller coaster through Wile E Coyote’s dreams.
We spend this day that way the best riding days are, mostly nothing and nowhere else. I’ll know from the GPS that we’re not far, the run into the city is more sigh than trumpets. These southernmost stretches of trail seem not very much used, we sometimes lose the thread, have to traverse overland to get back to the wayward signage.
The BCT is a brilliant two days, just what we craved in the sensation of a crossing and effortfulness, ragged concentration. It ends, just ends. Rob opens the fence to the busy two lanes of Hwy 74 that our map calls W Carefree. Headlamps back on and our flashing red lights onto a latticework of bike paths. In a couple of hours we’ll pack bikes, fly home.
Get details on the BCT on Bikepacking.com.