The Black Canyon Trail in central Arizona is an absolute gem, linking the northernmost exurbs of Phoenix with the small town of Mayer, following a dizzying sequence of exquisitely benched switchbacks, cobbly saguaro-lined canyons, and grassy mesas. The full trail now stretches more than 70 miles, and more trail is in the planning stages.
Typical BCT views
Amazingly, I hadn't ridden a meter of this trail in the ten months since moving to Arizona until recently. Last month, I raced an Arizona Endurance Series event that combines 20 miles of dirt road with 30 miles of the Black Canyon Trail. It was a whirlwind of a morning for me. I had not seen any of the course, didn't really know what to expect in terms of terrain or technical challenges, and hadn't been doing any serious training. I took my usual brilliant approach of going out hard, pinning it for as long as possible, and hoping my legs would hold out until the end. After only a few miles, I found myself alone at the front of the race, heart rate higher than it should have been, but legs feeling strangely superb. Hands draped over the bars, head down, and legs pushing a big gear, I powered along the dusty dirt road for 90 minutes before turning onto a faint singletrack.
I had thought that from that point, I'd be able to relax a bit once reaching trail. Boy was I ever wrong. While not adversely technical, the trail is slippery and windy enough that you're on your toes the entire time. Well-designed sections of trail contour for miles above rugged canyons, but the views are challenging to appreciate without stopping. I raced for all I was worth, eventually reaching my breaking point amongst the unexpected steep climbs in the final half hour. Luckily, the guys behind me faced a similar fate, and I limped in alone for the win and proceeded to relax with subsequent finishers in one of the coolest aspects of AES races - the post-race festivities.
Post-race gathering. Photo by maad jurger.
This past Friday, I returned to the Black Canyon Trail with a group of guys from Prescott. The goal was to ride as much of the trail as possible before dark. We were pedaling south shortly after sunrise, all smiles amidst the yellow grass and soft early light. Stopping frequently to regroup, a general sense of excitement lasted well into the afternoon before fatigue finally started to set in for many of us. By that point, half our group had surpassed the length of their previous longest rides! The steep climbs began to take their toll, but the descents were enjoyable enough that everyone's motivation remained high. An hour before dark, it was apparent we weren't going to have sufficient daylight to reach the southern end of the trail, so our pick-up was diverted to a closer trailhead, which we reached just as the sun was dropping behind the basalt-capped mesas to the west. We covered 50+ miles in 10 hours, and everyone came out relatively unscathed, save the extensive cat claw damage done to all of us.
Our crew rolling south from Mayer
Steve's biggest ride ever!
Yours truly, courtesy of Steve Lummer
The other Steve grinned the entire way on his fat bike
The Black Canyon Trail really is a spectacular trail, one of the best I've ridden anywhere in the region. It also has fantastic bike-packing potential - views are stunning, there's not much hiking, and while the route has a secluded feeling, there is a convenient resupply option mid-way along the route. There are numerous bail options to dirt roads should that become necessary. Water availability may be a challenge, but with the nearby dirt roads, water can easily be stashed ahead of time (just be sure to gather your empty bottles). If you are ever in the area, take a day or two and explore this trail. I guarantee that you will not regret it.