Bikepacking The Black Canyon Trail

Words by Wade Simmons
Photography by Margus Riga
Film by Brian Vernor
Produced by Brian Park
Music by Brandon O’Connell
Featuring the Rocky Mountain Sherpa
Ridden by Wade Simmons, Geoff Gulevich, Brian Vernor, Alex Cogger, & Andreas Hestler

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For some, adventure is defined by harrowing near-death experiences. For me, having the intent to adventure is what defines it—even just getting away from civilization for a short while. And with that in mind we organized a trip to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert for an overland bikepacking trip early this spring: three self-supported days on the Black Canyon Trail’s 80 miles of secluded singletrack.

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The roll-call included Olympian Andreas Hestler, shiny new tattooed freerider Geoff Gulevich, renowned filmmaker Brian Vernor, Rocky Mountain product guy Alex Cogger, and washed up old freerider Yours Truly. Our first goal was to escape the Pacific Northwest’s winter weather, and our second goal was to test Alex’s fancy new bike design.

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We fumbled with our gear for hours in the parking lot of a Prescott motel the night before departure, packing and re-packing, adding and discarding. Ultimately we probably did pack too heavy, but there are the necessities of course: coffee, chocolate, down, wool, and whisky. Fully loaded, our steeds probably tipped the scales at 45+ lbs, and I was less and less sure that this was going to be fun.

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There was something liberating in the first few pedal strokes that next morning leaving our drop-off zone, an innocent abandon of responsibility and order that comes with an uncertain weather forecast and only a vague itinerary. Fortunately, the overland bikes performed just as Alex had promised. It was evident in those first few miles that having our houses and kitchens packed along with us wasn’t going to keep us from having fun. It might have been the combination of increased overall mass and over-sized tires, but whatever it was we were having a blast absolutely ripping up the desert terrain on these fully loaded pack-horses—skids, drifts, airs, and all.

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The Black Canyon Trail runs roughly 80 miles North to South. Beginning on a high plateau, it winds through rolling grasslands before descending into a landscape of Saguaros, Chollas, and other Sonoran Desert flora. We were treated to chilly nights and frosty desert mornings, but once that sun rose, layers were peeled and we had to contend with the steady, relentless heat of the day. The landscape we encountered was fully alien to us, full of incredibly beautiful things just waiting to stab you the moment you stray from the trail. Between the bullet-holes in everything and the buck-naked rider we ran into on day three, it was clear this trip was about getting weird in the desert.

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We had been modest in planning our daily mileage expectations, allowing for explorations up various drainages, relaxed lunches by the Agua Fria river, and the necessary sessioning of worthy trail features. Each night however, our camp spot was reached a little later than expected, assembling tents and cooking dinner by the light of our headlamps.

Grizzled old-timers and keyboard adventurers alike might be disappointed by the lack of hardship we encountered—water wasn’t hard to come by, we ate enough, the bikes worked flawlessly, and the dire weather forecast never materialized. But for us, the trip was a complete success. We had a blast, it was an insight into new possibilities, and the best adventures are the ones that inspire future adventures.

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Presented by:
– Rocky Mountain Bicycles
– Manitou
– Pinkbike

Supported by:
– Overland Journal
– Arc’teryx
– Porcelain Rocket
– Exped
– Defy Products

Thanks to:
– Scott Struve
– Luke Musselman
– Julian Coffey
– Christophe Noel
– Jo Salamon
– Scott Felter
– Benoit Deshayes
– Paul Breedlove