The last week of January, we pointed our van West from Tucson to spend some time in Ajo, Arizona. We heard reports of great camping, warm temperatures, and endless dirt roads. After some chillier days and chunky riding in Tucson, our bodies were ready for the change. The first few days in Ajo, we pedaled the network of doubletrack roads a few miles outside of town. We took in views of John the Baptist peaks, unique rock formations, and a diverse population of cacti. The doubletrack was interesting enough to hold our attention and the lack of elevation change was easy on the legs.

On a whim, we left our camp spot with the intention of riding El Camino del Diablo as far as our 2.4” tires would reasonably take us. We read on Trailforks and Bikepacking.com that plus tires were needed for the road. We can always just turn around if it sucks, right? We got the appropriate permits to enter the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and pedaled optimistically on the flat, washboarded road. We encountered surprisingly little traffic- one car on our first day, and no border patrol.

40 miles in, we started slogging through sand at about 7mph on the flat road, cranking until we had to get off our bikes and walk. We were on and off the bikes until mile 50 where we decided to make camp. As we talked about our day, we realized that we both thought the other was more invested in pushing on. We both kept going without complaint based on that assumption.

We made burritos and sipped some whiskey for dinner. A brave little packrat thought he was invited to our camp and persistently kept coming right up to our sleeping bags in the dark. Fortunately once we put our food in thick dry bags hanging from our bikes, he decided to look for food elsewhere.

If we had more time, sure we probably could have pushed through walking when needed to complete the route, but with only three days, no idea of how sandy the conditions to come, and no shuttle at the end of the trail in Yuma, we figured we would be happier turning back. Lesson learned: when people say bring plus tires, they’re probably right.

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