Most would consider hiking across the Grand Canyon a challenging enough endeavor without adding 50 pounds of gear, including a bicycle, to your back.
But Bend’s Alice Drobna is unlike most.
The 40-year-old bikepacker extraordinaire was the fastest woman in the 750-mile Arizona Trail Race earlier this month. She biked — and hiked with her bike — from the Arizona-Mexico border to the Arizona-Utah border in nine days, 13 hours, 53 minutes on a singlespeed bike, shattering the former women’s record in the race by nearly five days.
The race included a 22-mile stretch during which Drobna and the other participants had to strap their bikes to their backpacks while descending the south rim of the Grand Canyon some 4,500 feet and then climbing up the north rim about 5,000 feet.
Because cycling is prohibited and bike tires are not even allowed to touch the ground inside the Grand Canyon, Drobna had to take both wheels off the bike, attach them to the frame, and then attach the frame to her backpack using extra straps. She was hiking through some of the most unforgiving terrain in the country while basically wearing a backpack with her bike attached to it.
“It took me six hours to get back out of the north rim,” Drobna says. “But it’s just unbelievably beautiful there. You kind of go through a mix of emotions. You’re extremely exhausted, you’re carrying 50 pounds on your back, and you’re scaling these crazy paths that go so close to a rock wall you could hit it with your bike and knock your balance off. But then you look around and it’s unbelievable how beautiful it is.”
Drobna had planned to take part in the Arizona Trail Race since last year, even before last July when she completed the Tour Divide, a 2,745-mile mountain bike race along the Continental Divide from the Canadian Rockies to the badlands of the Mexican Plateau. She set the women’s singlespeed record in that race, finishing in just over 22 days.
While the Tour Divide was a supreme mental challenge due to the daunting distance and the 30-mile climbs up dirt roads, Drobna says the Arizona Trail Race was more of a physical challenge because it required pushing her bike or carrying it over rugged terrain for about one-third of the route.
“They’re completely different,” Drobna says of the two events. “The Tour Divide was more of a tour. Even though it’s extremely long, pretty much 99 percent of it is ridable. It’s really just the sheer distance that’s difficult. Arizona was more of a workout. It was like a full-body workout. You were constantly pushing your bike, getting on and off every two minutes. I got frustrated a few times.
“A lot of it was very physically demanding, especially on the upper body, because as cyclists we hardly ever use our arms that much.”
The Arizona National Scenic Trail has existed for about 20 years, and although mountain biking is allowed on the trail, it was designed primarily for hiking. Many sections of the trail are simply unridable because of rocks and massive boulders, according to Drobna.
Only 14 of the 24 cyclists who started the race managed to finish. Drobna finished sixth overall, and Jay Petervary, of Victor, Idaho, was the overall winner, finishing in 7 days, 20 hours, 3 minutes.
During the race, Drobna camped most nights under the stars with her bivouac sack and sleeping bag, but no tent. Temperatures, she says, reached as high as the upper 90s near the start of the race, and as low as the teens at about 9,000 feet of elevation in the Flagstaff area in northern Arizona.
“Around Flagstaff was actually one of my favorite areas to ride, because the trails were quite a bit like Bend,” Drobna says. “They were a lot more smooth and flowy, and not a lot of rocks.”
Because there is a shorter 300-mile version of the Arizona Trail Race, Drobna saw several other racers along the first 300 miles of the route. But she rode most of the race completely alone on her hardtail Moots Cycles mountain bike, a custom-made singlespeed model with 29-inch wheels.
“With my bike being a hardtail and singlespeed it was a little more difficult,” Drobna says. “There were people who had full-suspension bikes that had a little bit easier time descending on the rocky stuff.”
Drobna did not even try mountain biking until seven years ago, when she was 33. Her longtime boyfriend, Ross Winsor, got her into mountain biking, and she started competing in the National Ultra Endurance Series, which is made up entirely of 100-mile races. She did it all on a singlespeed.
The couple moved to Bend from Salt Lake City four years ago, and Drobna landed a job as a graphic designer for Hydro Flask, a Bend-based manufacturer of insulated flasks. Winsor got a job at WebCyclery, a bike and nordic ski shop, also based in Bend.
Drobna has already registered for this year’s Tour Divide, which starts June 12. She says she might make an attempt at the Triple Crown Challenge, which includes completing the Arizona Trail Race, the Tour Divide, and the 500-mile Colorado Trail Race through the Rocky Mountains all in the same year.
The three events are all considered self-timed individual time trials, with no entry fee, no support, and no prize money. Drobna would have a mere three-week break between the Tour Divide and the Colorado Trail Race, which runs from Denver to Durango.
The Triple Crown Challenge was dreamed up by bikepacker David Goldberg in 2012, and so far only four cyclists have completed it, all of them men.
“If everything goes well, we’ll see,” Drobna says. “I don’t have any concrete plans.”
If she does go for the Triple Crown Challenge, she says, it will be all on her singlespeed bike.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,