This past weekend, my SAT (“self-appointed trainer”) and I joined a few other novice bikepackers to camp on the Mogollan Rim. The Rim, as it is more commonly and easily known because NO ONE knows how to pronounce “Mogollan,” sits at around 7500 feet elevation, which results in perfect summer temperatures of 80-85f. Phoenix, in comparison, is averaging 107-110f everyday….
“Mogollan” can be pronounced “muggy-own,” “mo-GOY-an,” and “mug-goy-OWN.” However you say it, the Rim is gorgeous. It is easily accessed via the small communities of Payson, Strawberry, and Pine on the west side (the way we drove). Drive time was about 2.5 hours from Phoenix to the Forest Road 300 trailhead, including one bathroom break.
Let me say a few things about the preparation for this trip before I get into the details of the actual trip. Because this trip was our first bikepacking trip, we didn’t really know what to bring. Although we have backpacked a few times, bikepacking is a little different. Most of your gear is in bags that are attached to your bike. So, in addition to the usual camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothes), you have to bring bike stuff like spare tubes, lubricants, pump, etc. Let’s not forget food and water and a stove to cook the food.
The night before the trip, we were up late trying to cram whatever we thought we needed into our bike bags….or, rather, my SAT’s bike bags. He has the full bikepacking setup because he will be doing a weeklong bikepacking race next month. I do not have any setup. My bike frame is too small to accommodate m(any) bags, so my plan was to let my SAT carry all of our gear. Hey, he has to train and I am happy to help!
As we were picking and choosing what items to bring, I kept hearing my SAT say that we are not going to bring a stove because that’s a luxury….not going to cook….that means no coffee…camp towel is a luxury so no….no cokes or chocolate….Meanwhile, I’m thinking, how fun will this trip be without “treat” food and drinks? The moratorium on luxuries would make us a little sad at dinner the next day….
The next morning, we met up with the other riders at McDowell Mountain Cycles in Fountain Hills, just north of Scottsdale, AZ. After going through the introductions and arranging carpools, we were off. A couple of hours later, we were ready to roll.
(Before we got covered in dust.)
Our plan was to ride along Forest Road 300, aka Rim Road, to Knoll Lake campground. That was a distance of about 30 miles with approximately 2500 feet climbing. I quite enjoyed the descents as they were really fast. The climbs? Well, anyone who knows me on the bike knows that I don’t tend to talk much on climbs. I don’t like to waste oxygen talking when I need to BREATHE. The whole ride was very beautiful with gorgeous views of the valley, perfect temperature, and good company. We got pretty dusty from the vehicles passing us both ways, but decided to remedy that when we got to the campground and lake.
(Clockwise from top left: enjoying the view; my SAT on the left loaded down like a pack mule; at the turnoff for Knoll Lake campground; Rob and Gary pedaling away.)
Knoll Lake campground is on a first come first serve basis. When we arrived, we thought that all of the campsites were full because there were white slips of paper attached to the numbered campsite posts. Those slips of paper were actually informational papers, not campsite reservations. We scored a campsite near the bathroom and water spigot. Easy access! After setting up camp, which ranged from bivy sacks to our 3 person tent, we ride down to the lake and had a refreshing swim. That felt AMAZING. The water wasn’t too cold at all. Well, the water wasn’t too cold for all of us, except for my SAT, who complained about how “my feet feel cold and I don’t need to get in the water” (except he was wistfully gazing at the rest of us enjoying ourselves in the water) and “it still feels cold.” I told him that the water felt SO refreshing and wow, I didn’t think you were such a baby and didn’t you swim competitively as a kid? He finally took the plunge – literally – and swam to the other side of the lake and back. (The other side of the lake was about 60-70 metres by my SAT’s estimation.)
(Our campsite, bikes, and Gary’s “Christmas tree” clothes drying rack.)
Side note: neither my SAT not I brought swimsuits. That’s right, they were deemed luxuries. I went into the water in my cycling clothes and my SAT dove in wearing only his underwear (when he FINALLY went into the water).
(Enjoying the water and getting all that dust off!)
Back to camp. Dinner was highly anticipated by all, except us (remember the “no luxuries” motto?). Everyone else had a little stove of some sort, from a JetBoil to an ultra tiny, ultra light folding camping stove like this. They all had soup or pad thai or quinoa for dinner. We had peanut butter and honey sandwiches. But wait! As we were munching away on our less-than-gourmet sandwiches, our campsite neighbor walked over bearing 2 freshly caught and cooked trout. “Hello! We can’t finish these, but we thought y’all could use them!” They were traveling from Alabama and were just so gracious (and apparently felt sorry for the bedraggled looking bikers.) We happily accepted the trout and wow, they tasted great!
(I will happily violate my vegetarian leanings when someone offers me this.)
The next morning, we all enjoyed camp coffee and oatmeal, except us. We had a few biscuits and more peanut butter and honey sandwiches. My SAT really missed his morning coffee….I think he will allow us some luxuries next time.
Ian, my SAT, and I left camp earlier than the others because we were already packed up and the others hadn’t started doing so. We ride back the way we came, arriving back at the trailhead in under 3 hours with many great memories, loads of dust, and one lesson learned: luxuries may actually be necessities in order to have a more enjoyable camping experience.
(I was tired.)