Layla’s First Bikepacking Trip: Kayenta, Arizona
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Determined to get out on her first bikepacking trip, six-year-old Layla Pearl Tso trained for three weeks before joining her grandparents Jon Yazzie and Nadine Johnson on an overnighter in Kayenta, Arizona. Read on for a recap and photos from their trip…
Friday. I spent a good part of the day driving to two reservation towns to deliver checks to a couple of high schools that we help with funding. The dirt road to one was slow, dusty, and the erector spinae-busting washboard had me anticipating the bike tour we were about to embark on with our six-year-old granddaughter, Layla. This was going to be an entirely new experience and I wanted it to be as smooth sailing as possible. It wasn’t, but we’ll get to that.
Our preparation for Layla’s first bikepacking trip began three weeks prior. She has always bugged us about going bikepacking every year she visits, but she was always too young. We researched trailers, tag-alongs, and many other options. But this summer was different. She wanted to do it on her own. We wanted the same and took it as a challenge. We’d long looked forward to being able to take her.
Her training regime started with hot laps in our neighborhood, dirt doubletrack miles we did out of my work parking lot, and handfuls of torrid hike-a-bikes to a round sandstone impression we dubbed Teegan’s Pond. This was our late dog’s favorite spot to lie in monsoon pools to beat the dog day heat waves. It made sense to try to replicate the terrain we had in mind for our overnighter. It included all those elements: dirt roads, soft blow sand, broken up sandstone shelves, and plenty of hike-a-bike. The only difference was that now we had loaded bikes.
Seven hours later we ate a quick dinner and were on our way. The first part of our journey would be close to a half dozen miles of dirt roads until we eventually traversed a less-traveled dirt road strung with barbed wire fence separating livestock grazing areas. This short two-mile section would be the most challenging with all the overgrown tumbleweeds, ankle-deep sand, and a few tough traverses of sandstone knobs until we reached our camp spot.
Upon arriving, we immediately set up camp before it got too dark. We had a few snacks and settled into a game of Old Maid. Layla carried the cards on her bike. Not long after enjoying several rounds of laughs and turns, we noticed huge ants in and around the center of our camp entertainment. We clambered to our feet. They were the biggest ants I had ever seen. They were the size of dimes and had legs as long as adult male black widows. None of us were remotely curious about what a bite from one of those beasts would feel like, so we opted to climb into our tents and count the stars until slumber.
Before bed, we shared a story with Layla about why we wouldn’t want to kill those ants just for the sake of them inconveniencing our little card game. We told her about when the Hero Twins were traveling to see Talking God to get power to beat the monsters that were tormenting and killing the Dine people, and they came upon terrain that was widely exposed. In the distance they could see and hear their killers closing in. Without a place to hide, they prayed for help. It was the ant that answered the call. After brief introductions they brought the Hero Twins down into their hole and the monsters passed without notice. If it wasn’t for the ants, the Dine people would have been destroyed and we would not exist today.
Our haphazard weather research left us traveling without shelter or rainflys for our tents, which turned our pleasant evening on its head. I was in deep repose when a dream about standing on the roof of a gas station apprehensively watching funnel clouds approach from Black Mesa almost turned real. A Southwestern microburst blew in and tossed our camp chairs and gear several feet in all directions. The wind and rain clobbered us through our mesh tents. I called for Nadine to help me pack up whatever would get soaked and make our trip home less enjoyable.
We quickly gathered our gear, packed the most important within seconds, all while awkwardly holding our tents down with bare feet. I checked the time. It was 1:47 AM. The full moon we went to bed with was hidden in darkness behind heavy rain-filled clouds that were headed our way. I could tell this was not going to end well. We climbed back into our shelters to keep them from flying off. The wind continued to violently whip our tents around and the rain stirred some perturbation. My next thought was of the dirt road my friend Josh and I had just been caught on last week during a small shower. It had us carrying our clay mud disabled bikes a good distance. I didn’t want to subject Layla to that, especially not with loaded bikes.
Soon it was calm, but those black clouds were still headed our way. We were in the center of the burst and I planned our next move. Nadine asked if there was any shelter nearby. There wasn’t. She checked her weather app, which slightly calmed our fears. “We’re gonna ride this out.” Perhaps break down the two-person tent and cover ourselves until the tail of the storm passes. We prepared ourselves. I took a quick look around for those huge ants we saw earlier. Would they try to seek shelter with us too? We thought positively instead and tried to laugh about the situation. The ants didn’t appear, but the storm lasted 20 more minutes and the night continued with the most quiet calm I’ve ever experienced. We enjoyed another round of slumber.
When the Hero Twins were young and being trained as warriors, their fathers would race them around mountains. This continued every four days until the Twins were able to beat them. In between those four days the wind would wake the boys up early and make them run around the mountain. Each time their fathers came back, they would become stronger until one day the boys would win. With that, the twins were deemed strong enough to protect the Dine people. And much like the wind, we did our best to prepare Layla for this journey. Except the monsters we slayed were fear and self-doubt.
About Jon Yazzie
Jon Yazzie is a full-blooded Navajo from the Navajo reservation in Kayenta, Arizona. His clans are Near the Mountain and Zuni-Edgewater. He’s an aspiring adventure cyclist, former mountain bike racer, and lover of the outdoors. He works as a school administrator and his passion project is to run bike tours via his bikepacking company, Dzil Ta’ah Adventures, create routes on the nation and, help create a sustainable cycling community. See more on Instagram @dziltaahadventures.