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That time we went on an unsupported ride through the Arizona desert with some amazing humans

On most Far Ride adventures, the formula is simple: assemble a team, pick a route, ride bikes. Destinations vary, as do dynamics, weather and discipline. Sometimes the plan runs smoothly; other times, it doesn’t—and the real adventure begins. On rare occasions, all three variables in the Far Ride formula balance seamlessly with a perfect team, a perfect route and a perfect ride. 

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The Team

 For #FarRideDiablo, our plan started with the team. When we first met Nam and Ronnie at Toros de Gravel in Mallorca late last year, we knew we wanted to plan a bigger ride together. Nam grew up in Connecticut as a first-generation Tibetan-American. More often than not, she can be found on two wheels, where she uses cycling as a means—and cause for—advocacy. Nam is a cofounder of WTF Bikexplorers, a nationwide group that brings together women, transgender, femme and non-binary cyclists. Fellow adventurer and Connecticuter Ronnie “Big Janet” Romance has turned off-road exploration into an art form and way of life. Ronnie is a former fisherman, current social media master, photographer and writer, the sole-proprietor of #RoseEmoji bikes, a frequent collaborator with Swift Industries and fantastic fireside story teller. 

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 Together, Nam and Ronnie have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of back-country adventure spots and the organizational skills to make those adventures happen. At their suggestion, we invited along Sam Scipio. Sam lives in Chicago where she works as a mechanic and rides bikes—really rides bikes. Sam was introduced to competitive cycling two years ago and put the pedal down hard, racing Dirty Kanza, Tour Divide and Gravel Worlds, to name a few. Sam needed little motivation to escape Chicago’s polar vortex for sunny desert surroundings and quickly signed on.

 To round out the team, Nam and Ronnie invited their friend Daniel Diaz from Hermosillo, Mexico. Daniel is a dedicated bike traveler and the solo member of the #RoseEmoji bikes factory team. We lucked out and caught Daniel between extended bike trips, adding a fifth and final member to our crew—now we just needed somewhere to ride.

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The Route

 Selecting a good route out of an endless pool of good routes is the sort of enviable task that spoiled cyclists frequently complain about—ourselves included. Sometimes, though, a perfect route is simply presented. In our first planning call with Ronnie and Nam, they suggested a ride in the desert. They’d be wintering in Tucson and had been looking to reexplore a route they’d first ridden a few years ago, a route ominously named El Camino del Diablo—The Devil’s Highway. 

 El Camino del Diablo is a couple-hundred kilometer stretch of sand through the Sonoran Desert. First formed as a footpath over a thousand years ago by local desert-dwelling populations, the route’s tragic and fascinating history continues to be written today. Some of the earliest recorded accounts come from the 1540 Coronado Expedition, a failed search by Spanish conquistadors for the legendary riches of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. Mid-expedition, a party was dispatched to find water, returning with little more than empty canteens and reports of hardships on the path they had followed. The route’s notoriety and devilish nickname were born.  

You can find the detailed breakdown of the route day by day on Komoot.com or just by clicking on the map below. 

 

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 Over the centuries, from priests to prospectors, traffic increased along El Camino, as did the death-toll, with an estimated two-thousand lives lost to the dangers of the desert. Today, due to its proximity to the US-Mexico border, the route is a frequent and dangerous crossing point for migrants entering the US and sits at the center of a fiercely fought border security debate.  

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The Ride

 One of the most exciting parts of planning a ride in the US is the accessibility to true solitude, often no more than a few hours from a major city. The start of El Camino del Diablo sits just outside of Ajo, Arizona, a small town west of Tucson, south of Phoenix. Despite its convenient location, riding the Camino means no resources, little water and few people for well over a hundred miles. It also means zero connectivity. To make sure we didn’t add to the Camino’s morbid statistics, we followed the experience of Benedict and Nam as well as the offline capabilities of route planning app Komoot—our partner for #FarRideDiablo. 

We’ve worked with our friends at Komoot on several occasions and love the app’s routing and storytelling capabilities. Planning routes through more desolate regions is fun, but can also be challenging, even intimidating—especially when water and food are scarce. Komoot’s highlight function lets the community share spots to stop along any route, from the neat to the necessary. 

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The full ride report and collection of highlights from our three days on El Camino del Diablo is now up on Komoot. Catch the full #FarRideDiablo story, created by all members of our Camino Crew in Far Ride Volume 11, out soon. 

Get tips for your own desert ride on Komoot now.

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