What do you know about Arizona
Bikepacking: Arizona & Utah
As part of the 'Bike Jamboree - Around the World' project, I had the unique opportunity to travel through Arizona and Utah by bike.
The trip took place in March and April 2019 and was a completely different bike tour than any I'd done in Europe before. Together with two friends, we drove almost 1,700 km as a team in 4 weeks. We started in Grand Canyon Village, cycled through 6 national parks and finally arrived in Saint George, Utah.
We experienced a lot on our trip and had great experiences. Every day we mastered a number of challenges, overcame enormous differences in altitude and had all weather conditions on our trip from spring to summer, autumn and winter. What also shaped us a lot were the great people we got to know on our tour.
Would you like to know more about my journey and the Bike Jamboree adventure? In this article I tell you what I experienced, what my stages looked like and what I learned about the places on my trip. I'll also tell you how to best prepare for such an exciting trip.
The bike, the panniers and the right equipment
The most important rule when packing for such a trip is: less is more. Remember, you have to carry the full weight of the bags with you for the entire trip.
Important things that you should definitely take with you:
The right bike
I chose a typical for this trip Touring bike, with a front and rear luggage rack, corresponding Panniers, as well as solid light and fenders. The bike had a comfortable geometry where you could take a relatively upright position - which is very good for long tours - especially for your back.
Compared to my gravel bike, the touring bike is heavier. I had to get used to that on the tour. The main advantage of the touring bike lies in its stability and good gear ratio with sufficient gears - which is particularly advantageous in off-road terrain and on hilly stretches.
If you prefer to ride a lighter bike, you might as well find one Gravel bike to offer. However, you should note that if you take all your things with you, such as tent, sleeping bag and mat, a stove, tools, clothing, food and at least one water bag, it is best to attach classic touring bags to the bike. Your gravel bike should therefore offer the option of attaching luggage racks to the front and rear. If that is possible, the gravel bike can be a good choice for such a tour.
Tip for the pedals: I would recommend clipless pedals for the tour. They enable better power transmission and thus save energy.
Bags and panniers
As mentioned above - we had a lot of luggage that had to be stowed away somehow. We therefore opted for panniers on the front and back. This gave us enough storage space to store everything we really needed on the bike. In addition to the bags, I also had a 60-liter bag made of waterproof material that I attached to the rear of the luggage rack between my panniers. I stowed my tent, mat and sleeping bag in it. At the airport, the bag could conveniently be checked in as luggage. A sports bag with cords is also perfect for storing valuables. If you park the bike and continue on foot, you can easily take the bag with you.
Personally, I would advise against carrying a backpack on such a tour. It's more comfortable when you don't have to carry additional weight on your body and the pockets offer enough storage space to accommodate everything.
In addition to the matching Cycling clothing (You can find more information about this in the “Weather” section). In any case, tools and a repair kit for emergencies should be in your luggage.
The most common problem on such tours is flat tires. Of course, you know that things like a couple of tubes, tire levers and a small pump shouldn't be missing in any luggage - tubeless riders should also have a suitable repair kit close at hand.
A well-equipped mini tool is usually sufficient for small repairs on the bike while on the move. My tip: take spare spokes with you - they are light and take up little space. However, like me, they can be very helpful in an emergency.
What should not be missing on such a trip are chain locks and tools to be able to repair a cracked chain if necessary - because with a broken chain somewhere in nowhere you are otherwise completely lost.
Real all-purpose wonders are also a few cable ties and strong duct tape. In Mac Guyver fashion, it can be used to fix a great many things. For example, you can use it to attach a lamp to the handlebar if the original bracket has broken. You can also use it to mend holes in bags, tents or mats.
As a tent, I recommend free-standing variants, because in some places it is difficult to fix the pegs in the ground. For example, that was the case with the very hard ground at the campsite in Canyonlands.
Don't forget the first aid kit with an emergency blanket, bandages and disinfectant on your packing list.
You can buy pain relievers without a prescription in almost any grocery store or gas station in the United States, as can insect repellants and sunscreen.
Please note: There are various restrictions on taking medication into the United States.
In general, you should have a valid prescription or doctor's letter, ideally in English, with you if you need certain medications. Please visit the FDA website for more details on the subject.
As a rule, most things are packed on the back of the bike. You should try to distribute the weight evenly on all sides, both left and right, as well as front and back - the better the weight distribution, the less you have to balance yourself.
“Are we there soon?” - route planning & orientation
When planning one should not lose sight of the fact that the area of the USA is almost the same as the whole of Europe. So plan your rod carefully and allow enough time. You get to mountainous terrain quickly on this route and then need the time. (For example, the Grand Canyon Village in Arizona is 2,047 meters above sea level). With a journey of 100 km you have to conquer 1,000 altitude meters or more quickly. For those who are not out in the mountains that often, this could be a real challenge.
What you should also consider:
On the other side of the pond, imperial measurements are used, which means:
Kilometers become miles, liters become gallons, and altitude is measured in feet rather than meters. At first, you may not know what to wear as the temperature is displayed in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. So every day becomes a little math puzzle until you are familiar with the units.
You should also be prepared for the fact that Arizona and Utah do not have good coverage for cell phone coverage. Even in the Grand Canyon Village, although popular with tourists and very crowded and also with numerous hotels on the edge of the area, there was no telephone signal. As a rule of thumb, one can say: the higher you go, the less cell phone reception there is. If you rely solely on online maps, this could become a problem. Should you ever need help, it would be good to look for the next street - you can stop a car there and ask for help. Ideally, you travel in a group so that you can help each other. In any case, it would also be good if you also have a GPS device with you that works offline and has a long battery life and also loads the maps onto your mobile phone so that you can also navigate offline. In addition, nothing beats a good, traditional paper card, because it still works when all other devices have run out of juice.
If you are thinking of camping outdoors on your trip through the USA, I recommend this useful website: Free camp site Here you will find all campsites in the regions, including descriptions, directions, facilities and even information about the telephone network with the best coverage in the area.
It is difficult to plan the entire trip completely at the beginning. We calculated a minimum distance for ourselves that we had to cover every day in order to reach our destination without stress.
"I don't know what to wear" - a word about the weather
It's not just the Fahrenheit temperature that poses the tricky question of what to wear. Since the difference in altitude on the tour is sometimes very large, you should prepare yourself for a wide variety of weather conditions on such a bike tour. Especially in March there can be harsh winters in the higher elevations with heavy snowfalls and temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius, while down in the valleys up to 25 degrees are reached.
So it's best to take both winter and summer clothing with you on your trip. You won't believe how happy you can be when you have a cozy down jacket and warm trousers with you after sunset and early in the morning.
Also think of a windbreaker, thermal underwear and long cycling gloves. You should also include overshoes and waterproof socks to keep your feet warm and dry.
A model should be chosen for the sleeping bag that will keep you comfortably warm at least up to 15 degrees. In addition, a sleeping mat protects against the cold floor. Ideally, you should also take a floor mat with you that you can put under the tent. Not only does it insulate, it also keeps your tent clean at the same time.
"What's on the menu today?"
Those who want to climb mountains and hills also need proper refreshment. In order to be flexible when planning meals on the go, we had a camping stove with several cartridges in our luggage. Our meals mostly consisted of pasta or rice. It's easy and quick to cook, which was important to us after a long day on the bike. We simply refined the base with sauces and canned or fresh vegetables. In our panniers there were also bananas, trail mix and chocolate bars as snacks for the day. What we were always grateful for was a hot tea in our thermos flasks, which also warmed us from the inside.
Whenever we got the chance, we ate at local restaurants - high calorie dishes were guaranteed.
Of course, it was also important for us to always have enough water with us both for drinking and for cooking. So we took every opportunity to replenish our supplies. We also used the springs of the national parks when they were not frozen.
Fortunately, our bags on the rear wheel had enough space to take a water gallon and a vacuum bottle with us.
Those devious, constantly hungry creatures
Seeing wild animals is exciting - but it can also be dangerous
On this journey, be aware that you are crossing a region inhabited by moose, mountain lions, coyotes, bears and other wild animals. Often you will come across signs warning of these animals in and around the national parks. But you shouldn't just be wary of the large animals. Never underestimate a squirrel! The little rodents are very interested in your food. Actually that sounds very cute, doesn't it? Well, at least until the cute little animals have bitten through your bag or tent or bite your hand when you try to feed them! You should also be aware that the small animals can also transmit diseases. So take good care of your food and bags. Ammunition boxes are often provided on campsites to help you store food and rubbish safely. You should take advantage of this offer. It's definitely better, even if it's just squirrels, not to feed the animals. Better for your health and your own safety!
The national parks
You should definitely take a visit to some of the national parks in the area with you on your trip.
My tip: start planning your visits early enough. This is especially true if you want to hike and camp near popular hiking trails.
Many of the parks charge entry fees of up to $ 30. A group pass for up to four people could be interesting. The pass costs $ 80 a year and gives you access to all national parks and some other scenic and historic recreational areas. In many parks there is the possibility to camp anywhere, even in the wild and away from designated campsites. For this, however, you need a so-called backcountry permit. However, these permits are limited depending on the national park. Therefore, you often only get a permit if you book months in advance (this also applies to cabins or rooms in lodges). On the official website of the respective national park you will find all relevant information, maps, current weather warnings and interesting facts about outdoor activities. If you have any questions, you can also contact the national parks by e-mail, they will be happy to help you. If you are planning to stay at one of the campsites, first check whether you can reserve a space there or whether the rule applies: first come, first served.
The best thing about cycling is meeting the people you meet on the way: You exchange experiences and hear impressive stories - it is precisely through these people that the trip becomes something very special.
We always felt very welcome in the USA. The people were curious, open and helpful. We received helpful insider tips from the locals for the best campsites. They made sure that we had enough food and water and they were impressed with us cyclists because this area is usually dominated by cars and campers. These encounters strengthened my conviction that bikes only attract nice people.
If I were to list every person I met during my trip, this section would be longer than the entire article. For example, I could talk about Jonathan, a friendly and proud Navajo man who invited us to his house, or about the helpful ranger from Zion National Park and the curious little boys who loved our bikes.
Conclusion? People were curious about us bike packers, open to sharing experiences and ready to help. It was these people who made our trip so unforgettable.
Accidents can happen. Medical care is very expensive in the United States. Before you leave, you should therefore find insurance that covers and covers any hospitalization, medical treatment and other medical services in the event of an emergency. Of course we hope nothing happens, but it's better to be covered and nothing happens than the other way around.
Although the bicycle infrastructure in these two countries is not very developed, you can ride well here, because drivers usually obey the traffic rules, as the penalties for offenses such as speeding are usually very high. The roadsides are usually wide and have a good surface. Nevertheless, you should make sure that you can be seen. Lights and reflectors should be visible on the bike, clothing and helmet.
Different accidents can happen in the gorges. The most common causes of death in the canyons include dehydration, heat exhaustion and, believe it or not, photo shoots on risky slopes. Seriously, the second leading cause of death in the Grand Canyon is falls on slopes. So this is meant to be a friendly reminder that it is important to follow the rules and to be smart about security information beforehand.
Also, keep in mind that guns are easy to access in Arizona and most people there own a firearm. If you cannot find a suitable place to camp, but you find a suitable place on private property, always ask the owner beforehand whether you can stay there. This helps to avoid misunderstandings. That doesn't mean that the people here are dangerous or aggressive, on the contrary, as described above, we only met friendly people. But the rule is: it is better to be safe than sorry.
The bottom line
As you can see, there are a few things to consider before embarking on your adventure. At first glance, all of this might sound incredibly time-consuming and complicated. But if you start planning everything in peace 6-7 months before your trip, you will not have any stress and can plan your trip in peace and step by step. If you prepare well in advance, nothing can stand in the way of a fantastic journey and a great experience that will stay with you forever.
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