People ask me all the time, was the Arizona Trail Race"fun"? It is fun, painful and more pain but its an experience that is like no other adventure. It is the most physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging event or race or adventure or bike ride I have ever done. It beats you down on every level and it takes so much to complete it. I came back for seconds so it must be, right?
Before we get into it, I would most of all like to thank my wife, Yolonda, and my kids for allowing me to be gone for several days while I was out doing my thing. Thank you for time to train and futz over gear and bikes every day as well. Thank you to John Schilling for providing so much knowledge and for being at the finish both times with a cold beverage and high fives. Also, thanks to Davey and Darch for the cheers as I came into Picketpost this year- so rad. I also thank Craig Fowler and many other bike-packers that provide endless knowledge on how to get it done. Thank you Scott Morris for organizing this, your efforts are amazing and you and Eszter are an inspiration to many. Also, my friends for their support and virtual cheering and kudos. Big thanks to my parents for giving me the gift of adventure, without it and them I am not sure where I'd be. Thank you!
Here is my account of the 2018 Arizona Trail Race.
This year I opted for a shuttle since my buddies Jalene and George were unable to make the trek to the start. I found Homegrown MTB tours out of Tucson that was picking up riders at Picket Post and taking them to the start at Parker Canyon Lake near the border. I drove my truck to PicketPost which is only about 40 minutes from my house. This was great, when I finished my truck would be there waiting and in case I rolled in at 3 am I would have a place to sleep. I will use them again, great service. I arrived at PicketPost to a scene of 10 or so bike packers unloading and tightening straps and fidgeting with gear. I introduced myself to most of them, as always nicest people around. We chatted and got ready and within a few minutes the shuttle came flying in, woohoo. Here we go. We all helped load the bikes and we were off. Instantly everyone started sharing great stories and the level of excitement was in the air. We were all so jazzed. The buzz was good and the people in the shuttle were super cool. It was going to be a 5- 6 hour drive to the start. Tucson was the next stop where we would grab a few more riders. We arrived in Tucson at the Safeway and I purchased a few sandwiches and last minute items for the race. There is no grocery or store near the start of AZT at Parker Canyon Lake so its best to get your breakfast here too for the morning of the start. I was set, grabbed lots of fruit, avocados, red bull, coconut water and a snickers.
We arrived at the start, Parker Canyon Lake around 4:30pm on Wednesday. To my surprise there were only another 4-5 riders at the start. We unloaded and picked out a spot on the ground to lay for the night. A couple familiar faces were there but the majority of folks would arrive the next morning or later in the evening. I met Neil, apparently a White Sox fan and he commented on my Detroit Tigers hat. I guess it was opening day the following day. Jason, Jennifer and Shelby Hanson, John and Mike were there and I said hi to Scott and Eszter. Again, the group is great and full of positivity. I went down to the lake with Ben and Andrew and we caught the most amazing sunset. The pre race jitters were gone and I was ready to just go, almost debated just leaving for an ITT start but I wanted to start with the group. I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept much better than the previous year. I knew what was coming so I wasn't as freaked out as last year. The stars were so bright and the weather was perfect, this is going to be awesome. Love this stuff.
Day 1- Morning of the race, up at 6am. Organized my belongings and started consuming my breakfast from safeway. 2 bananas, 2 avocados, 1 orange, breakfast burrito from circle k and a redbull. Yummy. I ditched some extra clothes and gave it to John and Mike to bring back with them. They did the race last year but life and injury held them back this year. Super nice of them to do that. Scott Morris announced some stuff and we had a moment of silence for a rider that passed away this year. The start area was filled up with 30 or so riders ready to get the beat down of the AZ Trail. I loaded the track on the GPS, turned on my SPOT tracker(this gave me issue the whole race) and 8am went off and so were we! I think I hopped in around the 5th spot or so, I wanted to be near the lead pack and I wanted to get out of the canelo hills ASAP. It wasn't as bad as I remembered and I made my way through this segment with little effort. It went quick actually and I felt really, really good. Kurt Refsnider, who went on th break the 750 record flew by me in those hills, you could tell he was riding strong. His setup looked so light, that guy is dialed. Arrived in Patagonia an skipped this stop, had enough water left to get me thru to Sonoita 15 road miles ahead. Arrived Sonoita to see Chad, Dana, and another rider. They quickly gathered their things and were off. I wanted to be quick at this stop to keep those guys within sight. I grabbed water refill- 3.5 liters worth and ice from machine. A couple of snack bars and two ham and cheese sandwiches and pedaled off towards Kentucky Camp. The section to Kentucky camp is pretty good. Fire roads and great singletrack that cross over old historic mining landmarks. Actually, even crossed a couple of lightly producing streams. I wanted to stop and sit in them but wanted to keep moving. Forward progress, always. As I am riding along I hear this country or folk type singing coming up behind me, here comes captain happy Max cruising along. I followed him into Kentucky camp and we sat and chatted and ate quickly and refilled water at the spigot. Talked to the nice host at that remote little campground or resort, whatever it is. Back woods cabins that look like a nice retreat. My hamstring was starting to bother me and pedaling became quite laborious around this time. I had made good time to Kentucky camp but it was getting quite irritating to pedal on my left hamstring for some reason. I tried stretching a few times and would take extra long steps on the hike a bike sections to try to stretch the leg. This section of the Santa Rita hills are beyond beautiful, the grass looks like wheat and the mountains surrounding this stretch have an amazing vista. Very nice section. I finished up this section with the golden hour and made my way into Vail as night fell. I could see Tucson off to the northwest shining in the night. Epic views and perfect weather along a flowy section of trail made for a wicked descent. Beto had caught me and we rode this segment together and we had a blast ripping through the desert. I reached the road and there was a cache of water and refilled. Beto had to stop has he needed to fix a spoke. I borrowed him a multi tool and relaxed while he fixed it. Off I went with the goal of reaching Colossal Cave, mile 102, and resting for a couple hours. I picked up with Bill and rode into the parking lot where there is a toilet and running water and laid out my inflatable pad and sleeping bag. I pulled out my last sandwich and inhaled that. It was 1am, I opened my phone and turned on the signal to about 10 text messages of friends and family asking where I was, my SPOT wasn't tracking. Are you kidding ME!! This is the last thing I wanted to deal with after 100 miles on the AZT and 17 hours of riding. Stupid thing, I was pissed. I turned it on and off and a few times hoping it would catch a signal. Not sure why this happened, still not sure. I did put regular batteries in the unit and realized Scott Morris saying use lithium. UGH. I set my alarm for 4am and slept like a rock those two hours and half hours. Felt really good. I heard Bill about 2am get up and take off, good for him I though -warrior.
Day 2- I hurried up myself and swallowed a few peanut butter packets, gross. I need to figure out a better mode of nutrition. PB sucks out there. I got back on the AZ trail and off I went into the morning, it was Tucson day, which is tough day in its entirety. Up and over Mt.Lemmon was the goal. Some brutal sections await. Topped off water at the bathroom and I was off. Body felt really good, no aches. Saddle sores were a bit annoying as I forgot to attend on day 1. Oops, that could turn for the worse. I loaded up on the chaffing cream. The morning ride was absolutely stunning, the sunrise over the Rincon mtns was truly awe inspiring. I love the section that leads into Tucson, its smooth and fast and the crisp air felt delightful. Passed a rider in here, he didn't look like he was doing well. We leaped frogged the whole way from here and he passed me in the Martinez canyon climb towards Picketpost. Jason, I think. Strong rider. Around this time my SPOT tracker finally began to read on the trackleaders website. It never did work quite right the whole race, oh well.
I pulled into Safeway, which is on the outer edge of Tucson around 7am and resupplied with sandwiches and stuff. Prepared mentally for what was to come-Mt.Lemmon. The ride up Redington road isn't awful, its the section after Redington road that wears on me. Bellota trail in the Coronado national forest is a tough section. Its not the elevation but just the constant on and off the bike that gets me. I made it through, and faced Molino canyon. This is a gnarly hike a bike section where you almost have to drag your bike up steep boulders. My least favorite HAB. I made it over the canyon and ran into Bill and his wife. He was loading up his bike and calling it. He was feeling some knee pain and didn't want to risk further injury. He and his wife were super friendly and we chatted for a few and I made my way up Molino basin to Mt.Lemmon road. The road climb is not so bad, 20 some miles of beautiful vistas. Would be awesome on a road bike, speaking of roadies saw a few zipping down Lemmon at 40+ mph. Whew, that looked fun. I was riding at 4 mph maybe 6 mph up hill. I arrived at Summerhaven around 7:45p, just in time to be seated at Sawmill Run. Super lucky to have made it! I devoured a cheeseburger, fries, onion rings, chili and 2 cokes. After dinner went into the public restroom at Summerhaven and laid down for 45 minutes. I t was hot in there and I wasn't sleeping so I decided to push down Oracle ridge at night. That was interesting and death defying experience. At one moment I was HABing up a boulder and slipped and my headlamp went flying off the ridge to its demise. That sucked, needed a headlamp. Oh well, pushed on but that missing headlamp would have come in handy later. Made it down with a couple bumps and bruises and little crashes. I took a 2 hour nap just before Oracle.
Day3 - Awoke to another rider going by, so I hurried myself up. Consumed calories and drank a liter of water. I knew I was going to stop at Oracle Circle K which was maybe 10 miles away so no need to ration. I arrived at Circle K to see other racers resupplying, Jason and Rebecca. Grabbed some goodies and water for the long push to the Gila River. The section that lay ahead is very fun- BUT HOT. And unknown to me the heat was was going to be around 95 degrees today. Off I went and flew down the road which is downhill towards the AZ trail head. Breeze felt great. I cruised during the morning into the Black hills and started to gulp water. For some reason every sip made me thirstier, it was bad. The heat was searing and I ran out of water about 3-4 miles from Freeman road. I was eating salt just to try to rehydrate my cells. This was uncomfortable and I didnt like this feeling. I reached Freeman road and there was a cache. Plenty of water in that cache so I filled my bladder. Ran into Ben, Rebecca and another guy doing the same. It was a hot one. I pushed on toward the Tortilla Mtns and the Gila River. At about 5 pm I lost it. I laid down in the Ripsey wash and debated pulling out. My head was spinning, my fatigue was peaking and my mental state was not good. I wondered why I was doing this, for what? Lots of stuff goes through your head at these times. It's a roller coaster to say the least. I pushed my bike up a steep and switchback part of the trail. The sun was setting and I called my wife. I think I asked her to pick me up. She gave me moral support and it felt so good to hear her voice for the first time in a couple days. While out on these things I am so focused I often forget to call her, but I needed her now-badly! She came through and picked up my spirits and I watched the sun set over the Mountains and what I think was Phoenix way off in the distance. It was amazing. I was so tired I spaced on the photo opportunity. I just laid on the trail for about 15 minutes and got up. When I got up and started pushing my bike I felt re-energized and almost brand new. Weird. So I pedaled up the rest of the mountain and made the Ripsey ridge downhill at night with no headlamp only bar light. YIKES. That is steep and technical and with a 45lb rig and no sight light it was tough. I zipped through the Gila river section and made it to the trail head. Here by advise from pal John I called Old Time Pizza in Kearny and had them deliver me a pizza and pickles and 2 cokes to the maintenance shed at the Gila bridge near Kelvin. I was relaxing on the side of a road next to a Pima county maintenance shed and up rides Paul from Idaho who had the same idea and ordered pizza and soda. Poor guy couldn't eat tho, he did get ice and water and this turned out to be a lifesaver. There is a water spigot at the shed but it would not turn on, I don't know if they shut off or I was just too tired to figure out the handle. The ground was wet under it from other riders that refilled here. All was good, Paul happily shared his water ice as he had plenty. It was around 10:30pm and I had the goal of finishing at 8am which would of put me at 3 day flat finish. 13 hours improvement from my first year on the AZTR 300. This next section is a beast, the Gila River canyon up through the never ending maze of the Martinez Canyon and down to Picket-post. 36 miles to the finish. Again, a very slow and physically demanding 36. I hopped on my bike and Paul said he was going to follow as long as possible and then sleep for a bit. As we rode into the canyon I couldn't believe how hot it was still. I struggled through the canyon, it was almost impossible to keep my eyes open. I crashed twice and once went head first and got stuck with my bike and body awkwardly positioned in a cliff side with head facing down the mountain. It wasn't a high speed wipe out, just a dreadful slow motion blunder. I was imaging a mountain lion was stalking me, felt the eyes on me. Freaky, not sure if anything was but the sleep monsters were getting me good. I was hallucinating in the rocky walls trail-side with all sorts of weird stuff, mainly faces in the rocks. I finally reached the point where the Arizona trail heads up the steep canyon- roughly 17 miles. I was so tired I could hardly stay awake, I was falling asleep pushing my bike and with cliffs and darkness I was thinking maybe I should stop for an hour. I pushed on til about 2am and found a fairly flat spot and crawled in my sleeping bag. Closed my eyes and instantly fell asleep, luckily I set my alarm for 1 hour and 15 minutes. It was tough getting up. Packed up and started pushing. I didn't realize it but 4 people passed me here. Jason, Ben, Rebecca and Paul. In order to reach my goal of 3 days flat I would really need to push, problem was I had very little energy and needed motivation. UGH, it was a brutal trip up Martinez canyon. The never ending winding and twisting trail tested my patience. I think I was yelling at this point at the trail. You do some weird things with 6 hours of sleep and little food. Patience was waning. The sun was rising and it was beautiful, the end was near I told myself. I kept pushing my bike. Saw a few rattlers and they kept me moving. I made it to the saddle and now it was a mostly downhill ride to Picket-post. It was 8am and my 3 day flat goal was lost.
Day4- Once I reached the last gate I took a few selfies and I remember screaming out in joy that the climb was behind me! I rode into Picket -post at roughly 10:30am, with a finishing time of 3 days 2 hours and 26 minutes. I was super pumped to see a few friends cheering me on to the finish. That was the best part of the whole thing. Friendly faces offering high fives and congrats. It is an unreal feeling finishing a challenge. It is euphoric. Thanks Dave, Darch and John for the welcome!
Overall, it was awesome. Will I do it again, maybe. It is pretty hard on the body but I will most definitely be back for more. I have so much to learn about ultra endurance racing. Touring is one thing, but trying to do it quickly is a whole new set of challenge. I did improve my time by 11 hours so I feel very good about that. I finished 14th out of 78 some riders. This includes the 750 and 300 riders. Its not about that for me tho. It is neat to see how you compare against others. When I bought my first real mountain bike in March of 2015 I never thought I would be doing this. It has changed my life and for that I am grateful. I have a different perspective on life and profound love for the outdoors and mountain biking is a great outlet for me personally. I have met some of the most amazing people and I am also grateful for that. So, in closing to this story and adventure documentation- thank you for reading and I hope you find your adventures too! Ride on :)
This race was dedicated to my beautiful wife and family for their love and support of my crazy ideas!