From Madrid to Tucson: The 2023 Komoot Women’s Arizona Rally

Last fall Cristina Maristany joined 70 other riders from all over the world in the Sonoran Desert for the Komoot Women’s Arizona Rally designed and hosted by Lael Wilcox and Rue Kaladyte. Over eight days, the self-supported group camped under the stars and overcame the challenge of traveling through remote zones with limited food and water. The total route was over 400 miles (650km) and 25,000ft (7,600m) of elevation through breathtaking Southern Arizona landscapes.

Below, Cristina recaps this spectacular ride with her own wonderful photos, in addition to a gallery from event photographer Ashley Gruber, and a video she produced about the rally….

In June 2023 during one weekend trip with my women’s bikepacking community in Spain, “Soy Cicloviajera”, I started dreaming about attending a Komoot Women’s Rally. We were sharing dinner and stories at our campsite after a wonderful afternoon riding together. MaryBeth Iannuzzi, a woman from Alabama who lived in Madrid, joined us for the first time and told us about her experience in the Komoot Women’s Torino-Nice Rally in 2022, the second edition. That was the exact moment when Celia Martín and I started our international journey to the Arizona Rally. What we didn’t know yet is that MaryBeth would join us there too.

Komoot Women’s Arizona Rally

Kicking off in 2021 with the inaugural Komoot Women’s Torino-Nice Rally, the women’s rallies are adventure cycling events open to women, non-binary, and trans riders who want to take on a big cycling challenge in a supportive environment. The rallies aim to connect, unite and break down the barriers in adventure cycling by making adventures by bike more accessible to women of all backgrounds. The goal of each women’s rally is to share knowledge, learn-by-doing and above all else, have fun!

From November 11th to 18th, 2023, Komoot celebrated its first rally outside of Europe. The route started and ended in Tucson, Arizona, or what Lael Wilcox likes to call her backyard (I’ve been a huge fan of hers!). The loop Lael planned combined north of Tuscon and picturesque remote riding near the U.S.-Mexico border. In the month before the rally, the organizers hosted a Zoom call with all the participants and they covered topics such as the route map and terrain, a resupply guide with food and water points, the legality of camping, preparing and flying with the bike, basic bikepacking tips, and logistics.

When Celia and I studied the map, we thought that once we completed the hardest stretch which would be the first 84 miles (135 km) — riding out Redington Road and climbing up the backside of Mount Lemmon, which gains 6,000 feet (1,800 m) in 20 miles (32 km) — it would all be easy after that.

We were so wrong.

Friday, November 10th, Celia and I met in Tucson at the apartment we rented for the night. Our idea was to sleep well and be able to shower one last time before the wild adventure. We both flew from Madrid but traveled separately. Celia flew directly to L.A. and drove to Tucson with two other participants. I flew to Phoenix days earlier to visit a friend and almost suffered a panic attack at my layover in Chicago when an agent told me my bike was still in Madrid. Luckily, he was wrong, and the bike was just coming off the plane a bit later than me.

The night Celia and I met, we went to Lael and Rue’s house for a pre-rally pizza party they hosted. It was a dream to be in their backyard, meeting the other participants, and realizing we were all so different in capabilities, ages, and mindset, even a few women who admitted this would be their first time bikepacking. What we all had in common was simple – biking as a passion.

The next morning, on the first day of the rally, we gathered at the start point at Rillito Regional Park, where Rue took each of our photos as we eagerly waited to start the ride.

Once we started, we rode as one big group for the first 30 minutes but slowly broke into small groups according to our pace and riding preferences. As we pedaled along Redington Road, we experienced how the temperatures changed drastically from the fresh cold of the early hours to high dry hot by noon. Once we came off the road and hit the countryside, my group of four (everyone called us The Spanish Team or The Spaniards!) started experiencing many challenges: punctures, mechanical gear problems, falls, and the laundry list kept growing. We lost a lot of time and were afraid of having to ride at night so we decided to keep eating energy bars and snacks instead of stopping for a big lunch. After sunset, we arrived at Mel’s Drive-In in San Manuel, about 60 miles (97km) in. Many riders had dinner there and were about to continue riding to Pepper Sauce campground, our end goal for the night’s accommodations. My group and I weren’t the only ones too tired to keep riding and luckily, the ladies at the bar invited us to camp behind the building. It ended up with 10-15 women camping there that night!

The following day was the biggest challenge: Mount Lemmon, dirt edition. We woke up very early and tried to leave as soon as possible since we first had to ride the 13 miles (20 km) that we couldn’t complete the night before. During the first part of the day, the riding was mixed terrain of gravel and pavement – with the wind against us – soon finding out a hardtail mountain bike would be ideal for a plush steed. Desert riding through wide open country on gravel bikes becomes very challenging, especially when carrying so much weight. In fact, we had to come off our bikes and push them during the last 5 miles (8km) which were very steep, sandy and ultimately unrideable. The four of us finally made it to the cabin we rented on top of Mount Lemmon and cooked a huge family-style meal while setting the electric fireplace to its highest temperature!

Day three started the best way possible: almost 20 miles (32 km) downhill from the top of Mount Lemmon, back to Tucson, on a world-class paved road that passes through seven biomes — starting at a pine forest that resembles those of Canada and finishing with Saguaro Cactus. The descent from Mount Lemmon became the absolute prettiest ride I’d ever done – no wonder it’s world-famous! It took us almost as long as going up because we stopped to take many pictures and videos. After that incredible experience, we met other groups for lunch and finally had our first proper lunch. The day continued with an easy flat ride on paved road, until we reached Sahuarita and found a spot to wild camp with many other riders.

Day four was a mental challenge for me. We began riding on very bumpy and sandy terrain. Soon, we found ourselves far behind the other groups since we couldn’t pedal harder. It was very hot, no shade at all, no food or water resupply points. After 20 miles (32 km) uphill on these conditions, I experienced a breakdown.

“I thought it would be easy after Mount Lemmon!” I shouted.

My bike bags started to loosen and constantly hit my tires, which added to the difficulty. I stopped, took a few minutes alone, gave myself a pep talk, fixed my bags, and began to ride again to the beat of my favorite songs blaring out of my phone. Pausing for myself and taking in the music allowed me to overcome my personal breakdown.

That evening, we arrived in Patagonia and camped in TerraSol, little did I know this was where the true magic would happen! The campsite owner cooked us dinner, ready upon arrival, and made us a comfy circle with chairs surrounding the fire pit. Most of the riders selected TerraSol as the fourth night camp spot and I proposed a game in which we had to introduce ourselves, explain how we got into bikepacking, select another person by name and how, then pass the mic on to the next person. The campfire’s magnetism drew out everyone’s storytelling talents to share with others.

Day five was my active-resting day. I woke up frozen from cowboy camping and not building my whole tent but I was able to take a shower and warmup at the campsite. That day we rode across the Condado de Santa Cruz, on a beautiful gravel path. I felt so energetic and I decided to ride as fast as I could to try to get ahead of every group and fly my drone to film everyone. I made it! You can watch the beautiful shots at the beginning of my video. We camped at Lakeview that night. We arrived there before sunset, when it was still hot, so most of us jumped naked into the lake. That was another magical moment! Then we built a fireplace and shared many laughs, which by then that moment of calmness together was already established.

On our sixth day, the problems hit my group again. Celia’s gear wasn’t working properly and she couldn’t switch between speeds. MaryBeth’s knee was hurting her so bad that she had to walk on steep hills. It was a very long day, with no food or water point in 50 miles (80 km).

The landscape was beautiful, like every other day, but when we finally got on a paved road all we could think about was finding a place to eat. I almost cried when I saw a Wendy’s restaurant and I asked them to give me the fattest sandwich – it even had nachos inside! We stayed there chilling, with no rush at all, until we felt our body batteries recharged. Then we continued our route to the campsite, having to ride at night but it didn’t matter, our bellies were full and happy!

All of a sudden we were already on our second to last day. It rained during the night so when we woke up, we waited for our equipment to dry off under the sun of the morning. We left the campsite later than ever that day, at 10 am. We rode through Ruby Road, one of the most stunning landscapes, took many pictures, and sang “God Bless the USA” quite a few times until we reached Arivaca to stop and eat lunch on the sidewalk, purely exhausted.

After that stop, Celia was depleted and I cheered her up for the rest of the route. We finally reached the last campsite at night. We were the last ones to arrive and everyone started clapping when they saw us. The organizers wanted us to camp all together that night so we could also ride the next day and finish the rally together. They had dinner and beer for everyone and we sat around the fireplace to share anecdotes and express our gratitude for what we were experiencing.

The following morning, we became early birds and surprised everyone when we left the campsite by 8:25 am. The route for the day was about 50 miles (80 km) and we wanted to make sure we would be able to make it to the rally celebration, which was scheduled to begin at 2 pm. We made it! The route was basically downhill from Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory to the Mercado in Tucson. We were able to see the Tour de Tucson passing by that day!

The last part of the route was through Tucson’s protected bike paths. I was riding with Celia and MaryBeth but we were all far from each other, in silence, reflecting about the whole adventure. When we entered the Mercado, I felt so proud of myself that I couldn’t hold the tears from rolling down my face like waterfalls. I cried so much. The celebration ended with a great group of women having so much fun together, singing karaoke at a bar.

Now looking back, I can assure you it was the most magical experience of my life and the hardest thing I ever accomplished. I met incredible women from all over the world and together we faced the discomfort of really hot temperatures during the day and extreme cold at night, long stretches of water and food resupply points, punctures, falls, and mechanical problems. Words cannot describe these women and the incredible moments we shared, but my video can. Please watch it to understand what will stay with us forever.



I would like to conclude by saying that my bicycle is much more than a vehicle – it is a lifestyle, a freedom, and a passport to travel the world accompanied by people ignited with the same passion or even going solo. Above all, my bicycle and the filming equipment I always carry are the speaker to reach more women and encourage them to embark on their own adventure. Please do not hesitate to contact me on Instagram for any questions you might have or just to let me know you have gone for a bike ride after reading this ;)

If you want to join one of the rallies, registration just opened for the next Komoot Women’s Badlands Rally in Southern Spain. Find all the details over at Komoot.