The Cyclist's Menu was born of two passionate souls. Zander Ault, a renowned Farm Direct chef and Heidi Rentz, a retired professional mountain bike racer turned endurance cycling coach. Together and along side an advanced team of professionals, The Cyclist's Menu hosts gravel and road cycling camps that have built a reputation on providing a transformational experience.
«Our food, cycling and compelling love for life is the launch pad for this adventurous journey.»
The road topped out on a small saddle over looking the entire Green Valley to the west and Salero Canyon to the east. The map had no name listed for this gap in the southern end of the Santa Rita’s. It confirmed the fact that we had just ridden our bikes into an area that deserved to be explored by human power far more than it seemed to have been already. This was our reason for leaving Tucson that morning. We wanted to find something we didn’t know existed. We wanted to map it out for what would become the network of routes we would pull together for Arizona Gravel Camp at The Cyclist’s Menu.
“Jaws,” our 2014 Dodge Pro-Master sat waiting in Patagonia, Arizona that day as we set out in search of new terrain. Highway 82 brought us north through Sonoita that morning. Then over Box Canyon, past Greaterville (a historical mining town) and into Green Valley. The ranch roads around the bottom of Elephant Head rock (a prominent trad climbing area) were too sandy and washed out for faster-moving gravel rides, so we took the frontage road towards Mount Hopkins. This lead us to Road 143, 35 miles of double track that will change the way you define adventure.
As so many have come to know our style of adventure now, it would seem that day was no different. However, it was simply the beginning of what we hoped our style of riding would eventually evolve into. No formal training schedule, a computer with a map and goals of getting from point A to point B whatever way we felt most comfortable. Adventure riding has been a thing for years; we hadn’t set out to rewrite the wheel. What we knew we could do was set out using the bicycle as a tool for more discovery, both of place and of character. We knew the rest (the most important things in life) would fall in line as we found our way.
The descent off this high point in the southern end of the Santa Rita’s was immediately steep, fast, yet incredibly well maintained. Its unnamed stature remains true to this day, at least from our research. It’s an old-school 4x4 road still used by regional ranchers to move cattle and horses through specific areas of federal and private grazing lands. This landscape is also home to the incredibly powerful Mexican jaguar. Now endangered, this illusive cat quietly roams the borderlands region, holding tight to its historical range land that stretches between Northern Mexico and Southwestern Arizona. There are only 3 jaguars left in this area, again narrowing the lens on how rural the Empire and San Rafael valleys truly are.
As we continued down road 143, we passed by the historical ghost town of Alto, the Salero Ranch and Circle Z homestead, one of the first family enclaves of the Patagonia region. We entered this dirt double track without any knowledge of what was ahead. Way before “No Name” pass and it was still leading us back towards civilization. We hung a left onto Blue Haven Road,
waved to gal on the front deck of the Nature Conservancy’s migratory bird sanctuary and pulled into the Patagonia townpark to find “Jaws”. We both smiled, grabbed each other’shands in celebration and began chatting about the cooler that had leftovers from last night’s meal and hopefully a semi-cold cerveza.
That day sparked something inside us. It was a great sense of connectivity to this landscape. The same type of emotion one might feel after years in one place. Between the cactus forest, alpine ridge lines and wide open vistas we experienced in a single ride, that energetic power that pulsed through our bodies was a type of power we couldn’t ignore. We had to design a way to share this place with others.
The 90 miles we explored that day assured us that everything to the west of Patagonia, Arizona was rideable. Depending on the type of rider and who wanted to join us, bits and pieces of that ride could be enjoyed or the whole thing could be patched together for a day never to be forgotten. Now, it was time to hit the sack and get some rest for day two and plans to unlock something in the heart of the San Rafael Valley. We drifted off to sleep that evening with images of Montezuma Pass and desolate, old border towns called Lochiel.
It was a typical morning for us. Coffee, some cast iron toast with almond butter, desert honey and we were ready to get after it. The route was on our GPS, again winding through historical mining townships originally settled in the 1870’s. Harshaw, Canelo, Duquesne; all were now just memories of the past. The San Rafael is defined by massive ranch lands. Outlined by seemingly endless fenceline, our GPS expressed its remote nature by a spider web of road systems listed by numbers more so than actual names. Ride snacks, hydration packs and we were off.
Harshaw Creek road led us upwards through a tight canyon. A fresh spring quietly ran along the creek bottoms, feeding the ancient cottonwoods that call this high desert home. Patagonia, Arizona is just over 2,000 feet higher than Tucson. A place to find reprieve in the hot summer months, its unique mix of desert and alpine ecosystems create an unforgettable opportunity for outdoor recreation. Dispersed camping was everywhere, remnants of old fire pits were abundant and we ascended what seemed like a final hill onto a plateau. Our conversation halted as the natural beauty struck us in the face. We were in awe of what we were staring at. We unclipped, sat on the top tubes of our bikes. We looked out, looked at each other. Then Heidi screamed, “Boom Shaka Laka!” Her hands went up in revelry, we erupted in laughter and began hooting and hollering at what we felt we had found. It was like Christopher Columbus at that moment he struck land. Arizona Gravel Camp would become a reality. Patagonia, Arizona was beginning to feel a lot like home.
Since that first moment, we’ve explored every vein of the San Rafael Valley. Its beauty continues to strike the hearts of the gravel family who travels to join us during the winter months. An escape from the stronghold of winter across the rest of the US, Patagonia, Arizona delivers the exploratory miles we all lust for as cyclists. The emotion you feel when you read a magazine article that opens the doors into a journey, that in that moment, you wish you could drop your life’s expectations and leave.
Season 4 has begun; Ride Bikes Eat Food is rolling full steam ahead.