Utah to Phoenix Bicycle Trip

April 16th through April 27th, 2011

It turned out that this was the most challenging of the bicycle trips I have tried so far. Much of the challenge came from the many long, sustained climbs (and many shorter, but steep climbs). This I was aware of, having prepared profiles of all of the steep sections. I also knew there would be multiple sections where it would take us more than one day to get to the next store, so planning supplies of food and water became very important.

What caught me by surprise was the very strong seasonal winds, which I did not know how to research on the Internet. I did take into consideration the climate for the very different regions, ranging from cold temperatures from Flagstaff through Payson, to the hot temperatures of Phoenix to Nogales. In researching the climate, it became apparent that I would have to do the trip in either April, or October.

The long range forecast (from the standpoint of precipitation and temperatures) seemed okay for April, so we went with our primary plan of doing it in April. I was unaware of the very strong winds they often have during April, so we cycled into it, and had to push on through, in spite of the difficulties.

The original intent of the trip was to cycle the length of Arizona, from north to south. Given the unexpected challenges, and the considerable heat in the Phoenix area (along with my choices to take extra days for rest, and for visiting my son), we only made it to the Phoenix area (Mesa, AZ).

Because I wanted to have cycled a contiguous route from Canada to Mexico, we had a short day of cycling, followed by a long, hard day of cycling before we even reached the Arizona border. The total length of the trip we did was 409 miles, as measured on the bicycle odometer.

There were easier routes I could have chosen, but they would have been very boring from the standpoint of scenery. The difficult route chosen was, I think, well worth it for its scenic values, and I was not disappointed by that scenery.

Scenic vista, on the steep descent near where highway 89 joins highway 89a, near Bitter Springs, Arizona

It was a trip of wild, open, scenes of desert country. It was also a land we came to call “cat country”, where the bushes, shrubs (and even grass) all have 'claws' (thorns). Because of that, my self-inflating sleeping pad was not up to the task, due to the very real danger of the thorns puncturing it.

But such is the case when traveling in a desert.

Here is an overview of the trip (on the left), and links to the details and pictures of each day of the trip (on the right):

Trip Overview

Map from Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah, to Cedar Ridge, Arizona

The first day was mostly a travel-day. We started at Mt. Carmel Junction, on highway 89, east of Zion National Park. This starting point was on our length-of-Utah bicycle-trip route. We had only 17 miles to go that day, but a 1,000 foot climb in that short distance.

We spent the night in Kanab, then had a long, hard day of cycling to the Wahweap Marina campground.

The next day, we only made it to Page, where considering the wind, and the fact that we were really worn-out from the prior long, hard day, we just stayed in Page, starting out relatively early the next morning before the winds reached maximum strength.

The next day was one of those days where it took more than one day to get to the next store, and we camped along the highway, about 4.8 miles before Cedar Ridge. The next store was at “The Gap” on the map, which we didn't reach until mid-morning the following day.

Map from Cedar Ridge, to Flagstaff

We made it to Cameron that next day, staying in the RV-park across the road from the Cameron Trading Post. The next day, due to a late start because of talking with another group of cross-country cyclists, the winds were already howling when we started cycling. It was so bad we turned-around and cycled back to Cameron after only a mile and a half, staying an extra night there.

We started much earlier the next day, and made it all the way to Flagstaff. There we stayed an extra day to visit my son, who works at Grand Canyon National park, but took the shuttle to Flagstaff to see us. We also had to do an adjustment on my bicycle requiring a bicycle shop.

Map from Flagstaff to Payson

From Flagstaff, we headed southeast on the Lake Mary road. This day was for me, the high point of the trip, because of the scenery. But it wasn't without extreme difficulties due to extremely strong cross-winds at Mormon Lake.

We eventually made it it Clint's Well, where the Lake Mary road meets highway 87, for a cold, windy night under the stars.

The next day we did more climbing, then started our long descent down from the Mogollon Rim, losing 2,000 feet in elevation by the time we made it to Payson, where we stayed the next night. Here, I had to replace my bicycle's rear wheel, due to a bearing that was making noise, and I didn't trust it to make it all the way to Mesa.

Map from Payson, to Mesa, in the Phoenix area

From Payson, we lost another 1,900 feet (but not without re-climbing much of it in some long, steep climbs). This was another section where it would take more than a day to make it to the next store.

Due to repairing my bicycle, we didn't start cycling until the afternoon, so it was a short day of travel. We camped by the side of the highway, about a mile into a 4-mile walk-up hill.

The next day, after climbing 800 feet first thing in the morning, and another 600 feet later in the day, we did a long, pleasant descent of 2,000 feet into Mesa, Arizona, with only an easy climb at the end.

We stayed in a motel in Mesa, and considering the heat, and being a bit short on time, we opted to end the trip there. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable stay, since we visited the Commemorative Air Force Museum, and visited with a college friend.

We will finish the trip at a cooler time of the year. Please see the details of each day of the trip, along with the picture, by clicking on the links in the top right column of this table.

You can view the trip statistics by following the following link:

Trip Statistics

Details of each dayclick on each link below for the pictures and narrative of that day.

Day 1 - Mt. Carmel Junction to Kanab

Day 2 - Kanab to Wahweap Marina

Day 3 - Wahweap Marina to Page

Day 4 - Page, to near Cedar Ridge

Day 5 - Cedar Ridge to Cameron

Day 6 - Trapped in Cameron

Day 7 - Cameron to Flagstaff

Day 8 - Stayed in Flagstaff

Day 9 - Flagstaff to Clint's Well

Day 10 - Clint's Well to Payson

Day 11 - Payson to 1/3 the way to Mesa

Day 12 - The rest of the way to Mesa

Visiting in Mesa, and the trip home

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