Detours in the Desert

As soon as the sun sets in Arizona’s high desert, the temperature drops quick. Stan Jorgensen and Jackie Paaso get a jump on setting up camp while the light still lingers.

Detours in the Desert Trial and Error on the Arizona Trail

Shivering inside my sleeping bag, I went through my mental clothing checklist to see if there were any clothes that I wasn’t already wearing.

I’d been trying not to admit it, but I had to concede it was taking every last layer I had to keep me warm in the low-20s temperatures. It was mid-October, and the Arizona high desert was teaching us a lesson in temperature swings.

I’d come here with a friend, big mountain skier Jackie Paaso, to bikepack a stretch of the Arizona Trail, from Flagstaff to Cottonwood, just outside of Sedona. I was surprised to learn that Flagstaff sits at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, and even more surprised to feel how quickly the temperatures dropped off once the sun had set. Due to a delayed flight and a host of last-minute, on-theground preparations, we’d gotten a late start to our journey, hitting the trail at 5 p.m. with only an hour or so of daylight left.

At 800 miles, stretching from Mexico to the Arizona-Utah border, we had only signed up to ride part of the Arizona Trail as a quick escape. But within minutes of pedaling, I could tell the trail is a colossal collaboration. Using a variety of public lands, the trail connects some of Arizona’s most famed historic sites, ascends mountains, crosses plateaus and provides access to the state’s most epic views for hikers, equestrians and bikers alike. Designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009, the concept was originally dreamed up in 1985 by Dale Shewalter, a Flagstaff schoolteacher who worked tirelessly to help the idea come to life.

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