The final school bell on a Friday afternoon rung, the halls echoed the excited voices of students as they funneled out of the school for spring break. The teachers, myself included, moved with a spring in our step usually not present at the end of the long week. For some it meant a week of poolside lounging, short vacation trips, or spring training baseball game viewing. For me it was time to pack up my camping gear and my bike and head north. The month prior two other co-workers and I had met over drinks to plan out a bikepacking trip for our upcoming school hiatus. We kicked around possible paths to pursue until we settled on doing the Black Canyon Trail, located just north of Phoenix, Arizona. Unbeknownst to us, some awesome singletrack sections awaited us on this multi-day adventure that was more exciting that we could have imagined.
The Black Canyon Trail (the BCT) runs somewhere between 60 or 70 odd miles depending on what starting and terminal points you use. Ours ending up being 64 miles, but we cut out before doing the final stretch. The trail drops several thousand feet from start to end, making for large sections of descending, but there are also several uphill sections that allow for even more downhill shredding. Depending on previous months’ rainfall there can be several river crossings with flowing water. It is recommended to do the trail in the fall through early spring so as to avoid excessive heat, which is well advised as almost the entire ride is exposed.
We set out on Saturday morning and caravanned two vehicles up to our predetermined ending point, and parked one of the cars. We took the other vehicle and all the bikes back onto the highway and kept going. At the northernmost trailhead (there are many to park at along the trail, so it can be broken into a variety of segments) we met up with another rider from Prescott, a nearby town. We began to pedal at sunrise and put several miles of flat riding in before encountering our first downhill section. For the next hour or two we meandered down amazing sections of singletrack that offered exciting turns as well as steep drop-offs. Carrying our camping gear made us a bit more cautious and we took turns and rock gardens a bit slower than usual
Apart from several short uphill and brief flat sections, we spent most of our time cruising downhill. Several stops for water and snacks kept us hydrated and happy, enjoying the trail, but wary of the steadily increasing heat. When we paused we were rewarded with awesome views, marveling both at how far we had come, but also at the trails that we could see were yet to be ridden; our trail took us along the upper edge of the canyon at most times, allowing us to see further down into it. After several hours we came to our first river crossing. The winter in Arizona had been particularly wet that year, and we certainly were blessed with riding among huge patches of desert wildflowers, which contrasted brightly against the drab desert tans and greens. The rainfall also meant that the river was flowing faster and fuller than normal, and in the center it came well above my waist. Portaging our bikes was difficult, but enjoyable. It felt ironic to be crossing a rushing river in a state named for its arid qualities, but I relish the memory as much as I did the cooling effect the water had on my body. We reached the other side and used the shade of nearby trees to rest as we refilled our water bottles from the river, purifying them with tablets. In drier years the river may not flow at all, so we were fortunate to have this chance to replenish our liquids. From there we continued a long but steady rhythm of short climbs and steady descents, crossing the river 2 more times, and made our way to our designated campsite near one of the trailheads. We had selected a spot in a wash that was still dry, and unpacked our food and beverages, recounting our favorite parts of the day. The evening waned as we let the fire die out and fell fast asleep on our sandy beds. The plus side of doing the trail in the spring is that we did not need to bring sleeping bags or tents, as it only got down to the high 60’s at night.
The next morning we packed up our gear and continued our trek. We crossed the river again, albeit at a significantly shallower area, and refilled our water stores once again. The trail the second day was significantly rockier and seemingly unkempt. We moved at a slower pace, terrain and tiredness being the culprits, but still enjoying the spurts of downhill our pedaling had earned us. The final 10 miles or so were mostly unremarkable, and lead us to our car after a few hours of slow uphills and brief declines. Finally, we arrived at our car and were glad to find that the cooler still had ice and cold drinks inside. We still had to shuttle each other up to get the other vehicle that was at the trailhead, but we waited for a while, under the shade of looming saguaro cacti, spent but proud.
All told, we clocked in sixty plus miles over the two days. Yeah, we could have gone faster, but we really saw the sights and took time to enjoy ourselves. We were fortunate to have no major crashes (my rear wheel did come off the trail once, tipping the bike into a mini-chasm, but I was able to hop off and grab the bike, both of us came away unscathed) and to our surprise, we had no mechanical issues. That is no small wonder when you are riding through pastures of prickly desert plants. From start to finish it had taken us only a day and a half to do the trip, leaving plenty of time for rest and relaxation in our respective spring breaks. We all agreed to do the BCT again in the future, and will probably try for a winter month. That was the beauty of the trip, you can do it 8 month out of the year, and it only takes a weekend to complete. Maybe we will even put on the lycra and try to do it all in one go sometime. No, actually, that sounds like a terrible idea; I would not want to miss the scenic views, and the sense of trekking that the BCT so kindly and readily offers. If you prefer to ride the BCT with a fully supported tour providing food, camping accommodations, sag service, etc, contact Escape Adventures today: https://escapeadventures.com/tour/the-black-canyon/.