A Winter Getaway on the Queen’s Ransom
In early February, Andrew, Austin, Max, Mike, and Neil escaped winter to ride the Queen’s Ransom, a ruggedly beautiful bikepacking route east of Phoenix, Arizona. Along the way, they experienced outstanding views, incredible light, perfect weather, and plenty of surprises. Watch the video that documents their trip alongside a written reflection from Mike and a beautiful collection of photos.
Southern Arizona is one of a few reliable places that offer a sunny weather and loads of bikepacking options to escape the bitter cold of winter. With established routes like the Fool’s Loop and the Queen’s Ransom leaving right from Pheonix, there are a lot of excellent ways to take a break from frigid temps and dry out in the desert for a few days. After months of more snow than usual in his Gunnison, Colorado home, Neil decided to do just that. He gathered up several of his closest riding buddies to tackle the relatively new 227-mile Queen’s Ransom over the course of five days. Along the way, he put together this video documenting the ride. Watch it below, then scroll down for a collection of photos from him and riding partner Andrew Opila and a written reflection by Mike Behrendt.
Queen’s Ransom in Review
Words by Mike Behrendt / Photos by Neil & Andrew Opila
Our time out on the Queen’s Ransom route was a proper adventure that I had been craving for months prior to the start. I tried to imagine the scenery, what our campsites would look like, and the feeling of being exposed to the elements of the Southwest. Do I know the route well enough? How much food and water should I plan on carrying? Are we prepared if we have an emergency? My mind tried to grasp the unknown but I knew these answers would only come with time.
My thoughts quickly came back to the enjoyment of lounging around the house on a Sunday and enjoying a movie on a comfy couch with my wife later that evening. This would be the last bikepacking trip before I become a father. I felt so lucky to be able to make this happen, and I was grateful that my buddies could also carve out time in their busy lives to join. The trip could not come soon enough.
It didn’t feel like long before we were all together on the trail facing the challenges we knew would come. Punctured tires, cactuses and sticks in the legs (that one wasn’t on the agenda), sunburned noses, sore muscles, slight dehydration, fatigue, and that deep hunger that comes after finishing a long day in the saddle. Accepting that we would wake up the next day and do it again felt natural. These are the elements of adventure we’d been looking forward to and were now experiencing with each passing mile. It was just what my body and mind needed.
As I got further into the route, my thoughts regarding the comforts of home drifted away and were replaced with a heightened awareness of the surrounding environment. The smell of the desert air and the sight of vast mountain landscapes put my mind at ease. The nostalgia of desert riding felt like I was “home,” and I knew I was in my element. Perhaps it’s a more primitive mental state that I shift into while bikepacking brought on by all of these different senses. It’s difficult to pinpoint, but it certainly clicks while out on these trips, and I thoroughly enjoy the deep fulfillment it brings to me. As we crested another mountain summit of towering saguaros with the midday sun beating down on us, I could tell from the look in my friends’ eyes that they were feeling the exact same thing.
On the morning of day two, we left camp on a steep section of trail that had us fully engaged from the start. I rounded a rocky, cactus-filled corner pressing my brakes just hard enough to keep the rubber from gripping the ground so as to not slide out from under me. As I leaned into the turn and balanced my loaded bike around to the right, I had a split second to decide if I was going to put a foot down or trust that I had picked the right line. As I squeezed the brakes, my bike rolled quickly forward and straightened out in the center of the trail, pointed toward another even tighter switchback just seconds ahead. Somehow, I think we all managed to ride that section without stopping, and it proved that we were ready for the day ahead.
We navigated such a diverse mix of trail conditions during the five days we were out. We had fast and flowy singletrack, sections of hike-a-bike, sustained climbs on smooth roads, and sand that stopped us immediately in our tracks. We enjoyed the constant change in terrain because it kept us wondering what’d come next. We made sure to stop and enjoy the beauty Arizona had to offer. There had been heavy rainfall in the past weeks, and the streams were flowing strong—a rare sight in the desert.
Wildflowers were starting to show their colors, and the occasional lizard scurried across the trail in front of us. It felt hot on some afternoons but still nothing compared to the scorching conditions in the summer. We’d hit a sweet spot with timing and the weather conditions and kept commenting on how lucky we were to be there.This was the second bikepacking trip we had embarked on as a crew, and it certainly will not be the last.
Getting out on a bikepacking trip with friends is always such a pleasure, and I try to make an effort to appreciate it before, during, and after the experience. When I finished the Queen’s Ransom route with Andrew, Austin, Max, and Neil, I thought to myself that ‘d love to be able to stay out for a few more days and nights. Even though there was a cold beverage and a tasty meal available to me at that moment, I realized the temptation was conflicting with a unique mindset that I’d cultivated throughout our time in the Arizona Desert. Those thoughts continue as I sit in the comforts of my home thinking about my feelings after a multi-day trip of this nature, where our minds are teetering between wanting more and daydreaming about the indulgences that are just around the corner.
This trip was a good reminder to always settle in and enjoy the ride no matter what. Unexpected moments are the most memorable ones, and I try to embrace and welcome them instead of worrying about them before they happen. I am about to be challenged with the new adventure of fatherhood, and I’m looking forward to the unknown. Being uncomfortable is a tool for personal growth and helps us live in the moment and not look too far into the future or back into the past. I’ve been trying to imagine what it will be like to have a boy of my own, but I am reminded that these questions will only be answered with time.
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