Early the next morning we are out the door to start our adventure. We decide to drive an additional 30 miles south so that we don’t have to ride as much pavement on the bikes. This is just one of many decisions that would prove to have a significant impact on our trip.
We park at a small roadhouse and spend a few minutes talking with the owner. As always, we are searching for any new bits of information to help us find our way. But there is nothing new to be gleaned here, so we grab a quick breakfast and are on our way.
As Jimmy and I are packing up, we each grab the few things we think we will need for the coming day; water, food, gas and extra clothes. In retrospect, it is funny how a passing decision on something as simple as an extra layer of clothes or bottle of water can later become very important. As I talked about in my “Backpack” video, I always try to keep my backpack fully prepped as sort of a ready bag. It stays in the van at all times because you never know when it will be needed.
Jimmy has our initial route charted and has ridden some of this area before. For me it is the first time into this region. As we hit the dirt, the conditions are fantastic. It has rained hard in the past few days and the ground is perfect. A great day of riding must lie before us.
After a few miles, we hit a narrow rocky two-track road. Summiting a small rise, we stop to survey the area and take a quick break. Ready to leave I discover that I have a flat tire. Of all things, I never get flat tires! I have Slime in the tube so I give it a little air and hope it will seal. However, a few miles later it is flat again. Changing it, I see a perfect little snake bite pinch. I guess I have forgotten to account for the extra weight of my six-gallon fuel tank while riding.
But we are quickly back on track, me with about 20lbs of air in the front tire now. The country quickly starts to look more remote as we climb towards the foothills. As for the GPS track that we have laid out, we know it has a gap in it. At some point we need to leave the course we are on and make our way to the opposite side of a huge canyon to pick up a different road.
As we go, we can see the evidence of many new roads. Small tracks appear on the horizon in nearly every direction, a good sign. As we near the higher reaches of the mountain range, it stretches into a large plain. Luck was with us when we realized that the track we were following took us exactly where we hoped to go, to the north side of the big canyon. This was not on Google earth.
We continue to climb and pop out on the rim of the huge canyon. A mile below, there is a solid line of palm trees along the bottom the canyon. They trace the flow of water. This is a spectacular area and will need exploration on some future trip.
At one point we decide to follow a road east, we are not quite to our destination area, but wonder if we can see over the edge to the eastern slope. We find ourselves looking over the very headwaters of the famous Matomi wash.
As we still need to be a little more to the north, we continue onward. Shortly, I stop because I realize that something is not quite as expected. We are following a small but clear road. My GPS shows that we are exactly on course. Yet we are now on the section of the GPS track that I plotted as cross-country travel. I stop and double check with Jimmy. Sure enough, an all-new road exists on the exact course that I hoped to follow. It is amazing how precisely it follows my proposed route, literally within a few feet.
This is an incredible find. We are going to be able to ride right to the very edge of the mountain. A quick survey of the terrain tells me that it would have been nearly impossible to the cover miles of this rock and cactus strewn landscape without this road. I guess this is why no one has ever attempted this route before.
We purposely ride beyond our expected “jumping off” point, hoping to get a better idea of where the road would lead. But it is soon clear the road is taking us away from our goal and we turn back. As for the purpose of these new roads, there are new radio tower installations built along the summit. I don’t know exactly what their purpose is, but it explains the new roads.
Once we reach the magic jumping off point, we venture across one field and up the slope to get a good view of what is in store for us, a view of the abyss. Even on flat terrain, the rocks and cactus make the going a challenge. It takes me a few minutes to visually plot out the course and find the starting point. One thing becomes very obvious. Once we start, we will be committed to do the whole thing. It is steep enough that there will only be a short window to turn back.
We can see the bottom of the canyon, the destination. But we can hardly know the specifics about what lies over the next ridge or the one beyond that. It is all downhill, how hard can it be? Jimmy and I have a pow wow that lasts about 3 seconds. “I am game if you are”. Away we went. It was 1:30pm.
The entire distance we had to cover to reach the bottom of the canyon was about 3 miles as measured on the map. The actual travel distance was probably closer to 4 miles and included a 2,500-foot drop in elevation. The first mile went deceptively easy.
With every foot we traveled, the terrain got steeper and the work got much harder. The first part was mostly rideable, but with a large degree of difficulty due to the rocks. We were attempting to follow a faint goat path, but many times it simply disappeared. Somewhere after the first mile we had to use the rope (for the first time) to help lower both bikes over a rock face.
The rope was primarily to keep the bike from getting away. The amount of work required to portage each bike was huge. With the bike nearly vertical, it would inevitably drop the front wheel into some small hole. It would require lifting almost the entire weight of the bike to get the wheel over each little obstacle.
One hour passed, then another. The physical strain was now starting to take a toll on us. We had to make frequent stops just to keep our heart rates under control. It became steep enough that there really was not much riding to do. Walking alongside the bike was the best to hope for. Mostly it was just muscling the bike along and hoping to keep it in control down the loose sections of rock and dirt. We were quickly consuming our supplies of water and energy.
After the second rope descent, I felt relieved that the sun had moved enough that we were now in the shade of the mountain. It had not been particularly warm during midday, but we were working so hard that the coolness was a relief. It was also the warning. The sun was moving away quickly on what was nearly the shortest day of the year.
I was anxious to keep moving, but Jimmy needed a little extra rest time. He had tipped over downhill once and we spent a tremendous amount of energy to drag the bike back up to the trail. Now, nearly every step was precarious. One wrong move could easily lead to a situation where two of us would not have strength enough to retrieve the bike.
I was determined to reach the bottom before dark. On my previous scouting trip, I had stood at the exact spot that would mark the bottom. With good lights, we could ride our way out from there. We just had to make it there before dark.
We were back on some semblance of a trail. It was still too narrow to ride, but it showed hope. I knew we were close. We went over two more steep drops. I could then see the trail crossing two successive ravines. It was just reaching dusk.
I was trying not to think about how hard I was working or what my heart rate was. My water was empty. My conditioning is good enough that I typically drink very little on the trail. I had started the day with 70 ounces and it was now gone.
I managed to push/ride my bike over the two ravines, there was a big step at the top of the second one, but I got over it fine. I parked my bike to walk back and help Jimmy. It was quickly getting darker and I was having just a little trouble seeing. My vision seemed just a little dark around the edges, not a good sign.
Reaching Jimmy, I realized I needed to sit down immediately. For the first time that I can ever recall, I had no confidence in my legs. It seemed that they might go out from under me at any minute. Jimmy gave me one of the two extra bottles of water that he carried in his belt. I would have eaten another Hammer Gel, but I had already used two and given Jimmy my third one. Now low on water, I knew that eating a granola bar or jerky was out of the question.
With a short break, I was able to take Jimmy’s WR over the same short section of trail. Once beyond, it was now too dark to readily find the way. I tried to make some progress with my bike, but in maneuvering around a bush, I dropped the wheels down off the trail and was unable to get them back up. I might be able to ride it out from here, but in the darkness, I could not find the correct line.
We were both exhausted. It was now fully dark and we just dropped ourselves to the ground, still on the side of the mountain. Miraculously, Jimmy pulled an apple out of his pack and shared half of it with me. I thought this was the best tasting piece of fruit I had ever eaten.
I was not ready to concede defeat for the day yet, not ready to accept spending a long night in the desert. After a break, I attempted to use the WR to find the line. I made progress, or what felt like progress. After a few minutes, I was well down the hill, but too far into a small ravine, clearly not the correct route.
I had a small flat LED light that I had taped to the strap on my backpack for light. I allowed me to walk around hands free. Leaving the Yamaha I started walking around hoping to find the correct line. Even so, I knew it was getting hopeless. Neither of us had the strength left to go any further, line or no line. We are going to spend the night here.
Jimmy was in slightly worse shape than I, partly because all the walking and bouldering had caused serious issues with his boots. They had rubbed his feet raw in places. He had also physically pushed himself right to the edge.
It is 6:30pm and will not be light for another 12 hours. It is time to take inventory of the situation and make a plan.