Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dirt is Calling

Long winded BS below...

As evidenced by the lack of my entries here, things have been basically non existent in my adventure life. I've tried my best to keep some kind of fitness by doing road rides and hiking, but there isn't much that can replicate MTB fitness. Not that I was ever the fittest, but I did OK.

While there are many reasons for my lack of MTB adventure, the bottom line is that I need to start to release some junk in my life and also reclaim one of the things that makes me happy. And if there is one thing I have begun to learn is that you have to make YOURSELF happy. You can't rely on others to do that for you. If you rely on someone else for your happiness, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Anyway, as October came, I realized I need to break out of this funk - I kinda made a half-hearted promise back in April at Parker Canyon Lake that I would be lining up for the 2019 running of the AZTR300. Oh, and a little bikepacking trip was on the calendar for the first weekend of November. Guess I better try to gain a lot of fitness in 2/3 weeks... OOPS.

I decided to revisit a route I last did in August of 2017. Which is crazy because I used to ride Sonoran at least once a week if not more in prep of the 2017 AZTR. Why is that significant? That last time I rode this route was on a Friday night. There were monsoon storms all around the perimeter of the valley, but nothing was threatening. I rode as a way to escape my reality at the time. A marriage that had basically fallen apart - it was over before I had a chance to save it really. I tried to save it I guess in a way similar to how an adventurer might try to fight off a bear or other apex predator. But the final and very unexpected blows I received were just too much and in essence I kinda gave up and hoped to die... literally. In this case, the bear had the final say and I was at its mercy...

Here in the desert this time of year, the sun fades fast... Is the sunset the end of the day, or just the beginning???

The last warm rays of the sun

As I rode this very familiar section of trail, it was like meeting an old friend. It started with a friendly kick to the nuts of course, climbing up from the Desert Vista TH. Of my God am I out of shape. Flow was hard to find - too much road biking has really impacted my ability to ride on dirt. Hopefully that comes back quick enough.

I always think I can capture the moon with my phone, but it never comes out great. 

As I rode, I was surprised with how much I remembered the trail. No big surprises even though there has been a pretty big monsoon season which has changed other trails dramatically. There is one cactus that I always think is a rider as the trail works around a curve. It was still there and I still thought it was another trail user. Haha. Nothing much to note here difference wise, other than a fence built in the middle of the flats between Sonoran South and Sonoran North. Weird.

On the flats between N/S Sonoran

I was feeling OK, but I really just had zero power in the legs. I got to the Apache Wash TH and decided to just call it and get home. I have to admit that I got a bit emotional here... the last time I was here over a year ago I sat at one of the tables in the dark and cried. I mourned the loss of my wife and marriage and an intact family. I yelled to the surrounding desert why I had to go through this. I didn't understand, and I still don't really. 

But I have to believe that it was for a reason. It's funny, that was just the beginning of a crazy time. Losing my wife, then a melanoma diagnosis for me. Then a few months after that and being cleared of it, my father died of his melanoma. I guess they didn't get it all 7 years ago... 

Anyway back to the ride...

Even though the south side of that system has no big climbs if you stay on it, I still bailed off to the cement bike path. I had had enough and I was getting cold haha. AZ native here...

Last bit of dirt before escaping to the cement path. 

Of course I still had to get home which was still about 14 miles away on primarily dirt but at least mostly flat. I'm glad I got out there. I'm going to be getting out a lot more. The pain, the beauty, the solitude. And maybe most importantly, the good people that I have met while doing it. While I rarely ride with others, when I do - it feels significant. 

I'm really looking forward to reclaiming my happiness over the next six months and beyond. Time is short. 

Dirt is calling in a couple of ways. One is adventure. The other is death. One is certainly inevitable. The other is a choice we get to make.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Munds to Mormon Lake Backpack

This isn't bike related, but who cares. Adventure is adventure - and it is outdoorsy so there you go.

I've been getting back into riding more (mostly road meh), but the call of an overnight adventure was calling and as luck would have it, there was someone (I'll refer to her as "The Machine") who was wanting to go on a "fastpack". I guess this means backpacking but with a bit less gear/travelling light-ish. This sounded right up my alley as it sounds basically like bikepacking without the bike. I prefer the simplicity of this, and with wonderful weather here in Arizona (read: chance of precipitation being very low) it's easy to grab a sleeping bag/food/water and get the hell out of dodge.

We originally had thought to do a full circle around Humphrey's over two days but with the crushing drought and subsequent forest closures that got idea shut down in May. In retrospect, that ended up saving our asses because we would have been way in over our head. Hey, who knew that dragging a pack around on foot (even if it is "lightish") would be tough.

As the weekend was approaching, we were still stumped on where to go. Up on the rim was a possibility, but nothing was really appealing and the closures shut down some prime spots. I saw my buddy Ray post up a ride near his place in Munds Park and it got my wheels turning. It's not really a place I ever think of, but I thought maybe it just might work. I asked him about the route he rode and if it would be suitable for what I was looking for. He ended up working up a route that would keep us on quiet forest roads/double track for much of the route - quite an accomplishment since it was a holiday weekend. He even got us on a nice chunk of the AZT that I haven't been on. Thanks Ray for always being willing to help out on outdoor adventures!

With the 35 mile route in place, we were ready to roll. I had to wrap some business up at work, so I wasn't able to head out until around 8:30PM. Picked up my The Machine and we were on our way north along the I17. The beautiful thing about leaving late was we had an uneventful ride up the hill. We made quick work of the drive and went down the main drag of Munds Park and onto a forest road that would lead us to our camping spot for the night. Plenty of people were camped out but we found a quiet spot pretty quickly which is amazing considering the holiday. We had a couple beers and crashed out in the back of the truck with sleeping bags and an air mattress. It got damn cold that night because we were in a bit of a cold sink.

We were up at 7am and packed up quickly and started the route. We passes some early camping spots but were soon on double track and away from everyone. I don't think we saw anyone for the first three hours. It was amazing. Saw some deer, but mostly we just enjoyed the quiet surroundings. We wanted to keep the pace around 3MPH and we were actually just above that at 3.2.

Really nice and quiet forest back here!
Early on the call of food at the Mormon Lake Lodge was calling us. I felt really solid for the first three hours - I knew cardio wise I would have no issues, and I wasn't worried about the weight of the pack on my hips/shoulders due to my bikepacking experience. Even though I was loaded heavier - carrying 200oz of water due to very dry conditions which made every obvious water source on route dry as a bone until the lodge and campgrounds north of that it still never bothered me in the upper body. My feet however were getting angry and I got a bit concerned starting around our first break at mile 15.

We continued on after our break and were really looking forward to hitting the AZT and finding more shade. Three miles to get there from our rest point. We did start hitting a bit more traffic as we were getting close to Lake Mary Road, but everyone was really courteous. Nice to see.

We arrived at the AZT turnoff and since we were now heading North and the sun was past its high point we were shaded a lot more and we really tried to enjoy this very pretty section of the AZT. However, we were both really starting to hurt - my feet were pissed at me. That said, we were kinda committed to getting to the lodge mainly for food. Water would have maybe been a concern too if we crashed out before getting to a resupply.

Singletrack on the AZT!
So begins the slog/pain cave. Wow it has been quite a while (over a year since my run at the AZTR in 2017) since I have been in the pain cave like that. Just one foot in front of the other, but with hiking there is never a free foot/yard/mile. You have to take every step. No gravity assist downhills. If you want to get there, you have to move. So much different than MTBing so it really gave me such a new respect for backpackers/runners in general.

We finally made our way to the Navajo Springs Trail junction and it said 1.1 miles to the lodge on the sign and we were stoked. Of course, this 1.1 miles took FOREVER. It's always like that. That said, I just checked the track and it's closer to 1.4 miles so...

Descending Navajo Springs Trail to the Lodge. There's Aspens in here! Didn't like the loose horse trail at the end though. 
Mercifully, we made it the mass of humanity that is the Mormon Lake area and headed straight to the lodge. We were both crushed and needed food and off of our feet. The Machine headed to try to clean up a bit in the restroom while I ordered the first round of drinks and french fries. Truthfully, the fries weren't great but they went down quickly anyway. Not very often am I too tired to eat, but I was spent. A couple of beers made their appearance as well. Not a great call... mostly because I was so tired. I really should have gotten some caffeine.

Beer me right now!
We finished up our meal and drinks and loaded up our hydration bladders with water that the very kind staff at the restaurant provided - really nice people in there by the way. We stood up and walked at a snail's pace out and onto the main drag. I've never been that sore or wrecked before. I was a mess and it took quite a bit just to get moving again and the pace was very slow.

We were ready to call it a day, but wanted to get away from the lodge a bit - we eyed some space on the left side of the road and decided that when we were away from the lodge and all the campers we would head up a bit a find a place to crash. It was around 6PM maybe. We had just barely made it away from the lodge when the steepness gave way a bit. It was signed as no camping, but we didn't really see much of an alternative other than crashing on the right side of the road but we would be exposed to vehicle traffic - not good. We made the call to head up a bit - there was some OHV trail that headed up there, so we didn't feel terrible about hiking up. We got some elevation and it flattened up enough and there was some bushes that we could crash behind. 25 mile day 1. Done. Laid out our sleep gear and I was out in minutes. It was about 6:30PM wow.

We had one weird interruption when we were up there - I had hung my pack up on a tree about 40 yards from our sleep spot. There was a OHV that had come partially up to our location but they still couldn't see us. They apparently saw my bag hanging and went to check it out. Of course once they got to my bag and looked back there we were. They were very kind and apologetic about the disturbance. We were a little worried they were going to give us problems due to the no camping sign, but they seemed cool. They asked if we were OK (I'm sure we looked wrecked) and we said we were good, just really tired. They apologized again and headed back down. We didn't have any other visitors the rest of the time.

I basically stayed horizontal for twelve straight hours. I didn't even get up to go to the restroom which was a bad sign - I would need to get on top of my hydration was the first thought in my head as I started moving around in the morning.

Good sleep spot!
We both felt better, but at the same time we didn't feel great. We knew that we would be walking the main road for a bit, but the question was how much. There were a couple of forest roads that we could jump on but they would lead to a bit of extra miles and time. Any extra of either one wasn't very appealing. So we just stayed on the main road (it wasn't heavily traveled since it was still early on a Sunday morning) until we came across the campground where we would jump back on the AZT briefly.  We also dumped some trash and washed up a bit there since there was running water. After our brief jaunt on the AZT we were on forest road 240 which would basically get us all the way back to the truck. There was a bit of OHV traffic but not bad. It was a little bit exposed to the sun since we were heading east to west, but whatever.

After getting some elevation via the AZT to 240. 
We held a decent pace, but were just ready to be done. At one point, I was hoping for someone to ask us if we wanted a lift. I would have gladly said yes.

We were really starting to lose it a bit there towards the end. Making up dumb songs, mainly along the lines of the video "America, fuck yeah" (look it up on youtube). It was the weekend before 4th of July so it seemed to make sense. Besides the dumb songs, I'm pretty sure I said "this is bullshit" about a thousand times.

Wide open spaces and bluebird skies.
The Machine was solid. She knew when to shut up but also when to offer encouragement. It's hard to come by someone who knows that balance. I think it just comes from experience. She has done plenty of stupid bullshit in the ultra running community so we are both stupid in our own ways.
The Machine

Anyway, not much else to say except we made it to the truck. It was getting hot and the sun was high in the sky but somehow I managed to park the truck in a spot where it was shaded. YES! We enjoyed a fairly cool powerade that I had left and washed our nasty ass feet with water that seemed very cold.

We then made a call to head into Flagstaff for some lunch AKA watching me walk around like an old man. Tore up some pizza in town, walked around a bit more (I limped mostly and earned the nickname "Walter") then decided to leave to hopefully beat the traffic down the hill.

Hell of an adventure. I might do it again - but I'd rather do it on a bike.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Oh hi there

So in the spirit of people resurrecting blogs - I figured I might as well jump in the mix as well. This is more of a life update entry rather than any riding or adventure talk. I hope to jump back in the mix here soon as life is kinda getting back to some kind of normalcy.

My life took a pretty dramatic turn to WTF land back in July when my wife of 16 years said she wanted to separate. I'm not going to get into details of that or anything but suffice to say that the whirlwind ended with our divorce in November. Truthfully, I'm still reeling a bit from this, but I can only control myself so I'm doing my best to move on and be the best person and dad that I can. One day at a time.

Because life can be a cruel mistress, the week prior to my divorce going final, I was given the diagnosis of cancer. Melanoma. For the first time in my life, I really honestly felt that first twinge of my own mortality. That taste is/was terrifying, especially as a now single dad with two early teen daughters.

The two months following that were agonizing. Cut shit off my ear, analyze. Nope, we didn't get it all. More cutting. Oh hey, what's this on your back, we should look at that. Mercifully, four procedures on my ear later (only one needed on my back), they officially got all the cancer. I was lucky they caught it early, before it migrated anywhere. I'm very thankful.

So three words to all you outdoorsy adventure people. WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN.

Also - get annual skin cancer checks. This is all pretty manageable if caught early, but it will fuck you up if you let it. I now have to go get skin cancer checks four times a year, plus additional eye/dental/general practitioner checks. Small price to pay to stay in front of this.

Moving on...

I did a lot of hiking over the last six months - just easier logistically for now since my schedule has been tight and I don't have "wife backup" anymore. I can walk right from my house and get to a good hiking trailhead, so I have a reliable workout right there without needing to worry about mechanical issues on the bike that could delay me. Got some rides in, but nothing notable. Just trying to keep some semblance of fitness.

So where does that leave me? Over the last couple weeks I have felt a bit of a shift. I feel like I am beginning to move forward. The AZTR is calling my name again - and good thing because I need a driver to get me back in shape. This year is out, but 2019 it's going to happen again. I'm not sure which flavor yet. Likely the 300. You never know though...

I hope to see my friends out on the trails this year. Shooting for first AES appearance in Prescott in April - should be in decent shape by then. I will be heading south to the border for the AZTR start this year since I committed to shuttling legend John Schilling down to the start. I'm gonna get that Seis burrito this year!

Peace my friends. May 2018 bring you all many adventures and no bull shit.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Some post race reflections on the AZTR 300

So, I'm sitting here about two and a half weeks after a most wrapping up a most amazing and difficult adventure. I haven't ridden my mountain bike once (due to some maintenance/repairs that are taking longer than needed) and I've only commuted a couple of times since then. Partly due to some knee pain that mercifully didn't manifest until after the race, and the other being that it has just been downright windy around these parts for the past few weeks. I don't have much patience right now for thirty miles home into a headwind, thank you very much.

Being off the bike is probably a good thing in a way. I love riding, but probably needed to take a step back after all the riding I did to prepare for the AZTR. My family is important to me, and they made a big sacrifice while I spent a lot of time on the bike. I hope to make some of that up to them - but I also hope that they see what I did and apply it to whatever the want to tackle in the future.

Anyways, just a bullet point list here of things that have stuck with me or I thought were interesting.

  • I'm just now feeling like I don't need naps at random times of day. Granted my sleep schedule has left some to be desired... but still...
  • The post race weight gain (water retention) was cray cray
  • Such an amazing race!
  • Every day brought a low point of some sort. Not necessarily always "I want to quit" - more like "what the hell am I doing out here - and I have to do it again tomorrow"
  • Never thought I would be so comfortable sleeping without a tent/bivy. 
  • The worst times comfort-wise were the first 10-15 minutes of being on the saddle after being off for a bit. Once that time passed, it was all good again.
  • There are so many ways to improve on my time
  • Why am I thinking about improving my time? Side note: Improving time adds additional challenges beyond just moving faster. 
    • Sometimes tougher resupplies
    • Being on Lemmon at night (cold, harder re-supply)
    • I like to sleep haha! Could have pushed this envelope pretty easily though. 
      • But what are consequences... haven't experienced this yet
    • I would consider the pace I had to be "fast touring"
  • That said, I regret not interacting with other riders more when stopped. Introvert problems!
  • If you would have asked me 15 minutes post race if I would ever do this again, I would have said no - HELL NO. 1 day after, it was a "meh" ... 2 days, "maybe" ... I think you see where this is going.
  • Jeff Z had to go and do the freaking 750. Following in Schilling's footsteps. These guys are stronger riders than me - and with much more experience. Still... the wheels are turning. Family time is the big constraint here... Oh and fear of the ditch...

Friday, April 14, 2017

Arizona Trail Race 300 Race Report

As I've mentioned in previous entries, this race has been on my radar for years, but it wasn't until the end of 2015 that I really ended up committing to doing this. Up to that point, I had done a couple bikepack trips, and done some of the AES routes. So 2016 was fully focused on getting to the 2017 running of the AZTR 300 with enough fitness and HTFU hours logged (arguably much more important than fitness) to be successful. I'm not going to get into that too much here, you can check previous entries for more info. However, during 2016 I did the following:

AES Sedona BFL (ITT)
AES Flagstaff AA (first ever group start on an AES ride!!)
AES Prescott Mini Monster ITT with Marcus
AES McDowell ITT after it was cancelled
AES Picketpost Pulverizer ITT

Bradshaw Bender Bikepack with Marcus. Up to CK via the back road from my house (Happy Valley and 51st ave area) then down to Cleator then up to Mayer via BCT. Then BCT all the way back to my house. 2 days, 160ish miles.

Also started commuting twice a week in April - 25 miles minimum one way. I routinely added miles on in the afternoon return trip. I did this even during the hot weeks of the summer. I think this helped a lot.

I thought all of these were very important in preparation of completing the 300. The "interesting" AKA WTF!! route choices that a person experiences on the AES rides definitely provides some insight into the type of stuff a rider will encounter on either of the AZTR versions. That said, certain things just can't be prepared for. But I'll talk about those later. I will say that every single mile of this race was new to me, save for the stretch from Kelvin to Picketpost. I'm kinda glad it was that way, though it did make those "interesting" sections more interesting. OK enough rambling, let's get to it.

Day "0" - Prestart

Amazing little race overview courtesy of John Schilling

One unique challenge of this race is the logistical aspect of getting down to the start in the first place. The 300 starts a few miles north of the Mexican border near Parker Canyon Lake. Then the ending of the race is of course open ended. I ended up getting my brother who is working near Globe meet us Thursday around 10AM at Picketpost.

Arrival at Picketpost - already buzzing with activity. Talked to Ray, John, Jeff and Nancy briefly.
Marcus looking stoked! The vibe at Picketpost was positive for sure.

My brother parked his work truck and he jumped in with myself and Marcus to drive my truck and bikes down to PCL - but first - FOOD. We stopped at Seis in Tucson, but we timed it badly (lunch rush) and the wait was way long and the line didn't seem to be moving. I didn't want to keep my brother longer than necessary since he still had to drive back to Picketpost and work the next day. So we bailed out and got food from somewhere else and got on the road. 

We had a good time driving down to PCL, but as we drove I became keenly aware of just how far we were driving to get to the start. Um, holy crap we have to ride bikes back. Haha! A really cool thing about the drive for all of us was seeing the amazing terrain of this area of Arizona. It was really neat having my brother with me (who has seen so much of the state due to his work) see this area for the first time.

When we arrived at PCL, we rolled up to the trailhead and saw the familiar site of Scott and Eszter's scamp - first time seeing it in real life for me as I had only seen it countless times on their blogs - which you should check out btw. Scott's blog Eszter's blog

I introduced myself to Scott, but my introverted self couldn't bring myself to introduce myself to Eszter. I just couldn't do the "Hi, I read your blog" intro twice in five minutes. Ugh. I'm so weird. 

We were some of the first ones there, and once we were sure we had everything I told my brother to get out of there before I changed my mind. It was pretty weird watching him leave, knowing we had to ride bikes some 300 miles in order to get the truck back.

We started arranging some of our gear and got a spot set up to sleep for the night. Other familiar faces started showing up (Ray, John, Jeff, Nancy and and a bit later Joe P ) and soon the whole freaking place was buzzing. And wow, what an amazing area!

My sleeping spot directly to the left of my bike. Parker Canyon Lake in the background.

Another shot with Marcus's bike.

Sunset over PCL

And another.
We had a pretty chill night, including some birthday cake and a singing of the birthday song to birthday boy John S. Soon enough, everyone crashed out and I had a pretty restful night. Heard some coyotes, turkeys and a cow throughout the night. Gotta love the desert!

Day 1 - Race Start. Canelo Hills and Kentucky Camp: 

Woke up with the light from the sun around 5:50 or so. Time to get ready. 

Woke up to this - it doesn't suck.

Sun getting ready to make its appearance.

L-R: Marcus, Angry Ray, and Mr Schilling himself.

Soon enough, Scott called the riders to assemble - it was just about "go time". We had a moment of silence for two legends of cycling who tragically lost their lives. Then some final instructions and he sent everyone off. I promptly set my bike down and went to take a leak haha. There were so many riders at the start it wasn't worth trying to fight the crowds at the beginning.

My goal for the Canelo Hills section was seven hours based on other ride reports I had read. It was already getting warm, so I didn't really want to push the pace too much. This is a long race and if you try to go out to hard on day one, you can end up DNFing pretty easily. 

While the Canelos were tough, they weren't as bad as I was expecting. Still though, there was plenty of hiking in this section. Mainly to conserve energy and prevent overheating.

"Riders" in front of me.

Brief little shade break and some approaching riders

I ended the east section of the Canelos and briefly talked to Ray who was sitting there at the pass. I asked him when Marcus had gone through, and he said about twenty minutes. Ugh. Marcus crushing already.

Started up the Canelo west section which is much more ride-able than the eastern section.

Sweet singletrack

Gotta give some love to Rogue Panda. Their bags were rock solid the while trip.


More hiking... catching a theme yet?
I finally escaped the Canelos in six hours (very happy with that) but figured I was probably close to an hour behind Marcus so I decided to just skip Patagonia and get to Sonoita. Little did I know Marcus was waiting for me in Patagonia. The pavement miles went pretty quick, but I was expecting a slightly stronger tailwind.

"Welcome to Sonoita"

I stopped at the market and grabbed a sandwich, gatorade and water. Joe and Nancy were there and I asked if they had seen Marcus. They told me that he was waiting for me back in Patagonia haha. Right on cue though, Marcus pulled up. He was watching on trackleaders and saw me blow through the stop and gave chase. We finished loading up our packs and bottles with water and started on the ranch roads to get to Kentucky Camp. We passed Jeff Z briefly on the ranch roads and eventually Marcus pulled away from me again *shocker*. Enjoyed the sweet trails leading into Kentucky Camp where we loaded up on water again. Jeff Z had blown by me on the singletrack and I told him to pass through at he gate he met me at. Never saw him again.

Here's a pic that Jeff Z caught of me

Sunset after Kentucky Camp

Not sure what we were doing here, maybe checking cues.
It was a tough day already, but the goal was to hopefully get to the "magic green gate" but we settled for a couple miles short of Helvetia Rd. Hindsight is of course 20/20, but I wish we would have just pushed through. We knew day two was going to be long and tough, so we wanted to be well rested. However cutting the day a bit short made day two obviously longer. Our goal for day two was to get over the the Catalina HWY which meant a late night push of the Molino HAB (hike a bike).

Day 1 Summary - 13 hours - 70.1 miles

Day 2 - Tucson:

Had a pretty good night's sleep, just a few riders passed us during the night, including John S who was trying to rally the troops after a rough start. He ended up riding until 2am. Damn.

Nature's alarm clock.

All packed up and ready to ride.

Since we didn't make it to the "magic green gate", we had a bit of tough-ish riding to start out today.

About an hour in, getting some calories.

Beautiful, but rugged terrain.

The magic green gate! Easier riding is about to start...

Yep, much better.

It was right at the I-10 culvert that we realized our Spots weren't tracking anymore. We had gotten a note from Scott saying that resetting tracking wasn't necessary every 24 hours so we had just left ours on all night. Apparently they stopped anyway. That could be because they are our personal spots, and not part of the rental fleet which might have the upgraded tracking service. I don't know. Either way, we started tracking again at I-10. We crossed Cienega Creek and passed under the train bridge. Right after, we were on an elevated ridge and saw a train approaching... like a little freaking kid I start doing a very exaggerated *blow your horn" arm motion... the train responded...CHOO CHOOOOOO!!!!!! Holy crap I raised both arms in victory and Marcus and I were just cracking up. So freaking cool. Made our day for sure. It was getting WARM, and that was just the spirit lifter we needed.

Train passing by. Thanks for the choo choo Mr Train Engineer

It was hot and we were getting low on water. We knew that Posta Quemada ranch was coming up, but were a little concerned because the cue mileage wasn't lining up quite right. We didn't want to miss this water source, and we wanted a burrito!! We weren't sure how obvious this off-route option would be.

Luckily, we saw the building from a ridge and we dropped down in fierce anticipation of some real food. We came up to a sign on the trail with a "fork and knife" AKA food in .25 miles and we were IN. We rolled over and there were ten or so seriously disappointed riders, including John S. His previous year's blog report was a primary driver for us being here in the first place. He was in a pretty bad place, and the other riders there were bummed out too, so we rolled back up the hill a bit to another place where we used the facilities to clean up a bit and fill up on water and take a short shade break. It was right around noon I think and we needed it.

Feeling a bit refreshed 

So serious haha!

We got back on the trail and then ran into John again at La Sevilla - like a ninja he kept getting in front of us despite feeling whipped. He informed us that he was done and had called his wife to grab him in Tucson. Major bummer. He told us to chill out for a bit in Tucson due to the heat. We filled up on water at the spigot in the rock there even though we had just filled up. It was now hot AND windy... very hard conditions to stay hydrated in. We hit up some sweet trails to approach Tucson, with John in tow... we dropped him pretty quickly... the last time I saw him he was on the other side of a pass taking our picture. I was so bummed out for JS, he is one of the main reasons I ever thought I could do something like this. He's completed both the 300 and 750 versions of this event... to see him tapping out just demonstrates how tough this event can be. Nothing is certain.

Getting ready to hit some pavement into Tucson. 
After some fast flowy trail, we ended up on pavement with some pretty nasty but short climbs. The wind was brutal - pushing us all over the place. Just grind away. I let Marcus put some bike lengths between us... I didn't want to draft off of him at all. Even though we were riding this thing mostly "together", I thought it was important to not reduce my effort by drafting him. We rolled up to Saguaro Corners and were ready to take Schilling's advice. Rest up a bit, and get some payback for the missed burrito at La Posta.

Didn't even bother to get a "before"... it was gone too fast. 
We got some quesadillas to throw in the packs for dinner and made our way out, full of food and hydrated.

Never-ending road towards our next destination.
We detoured off the route at Tanque Verde Rd and headed to the Circle K to load up on water/gatorades/snacks before getting back on route to start the dreaded Redington Rd climb. We started the climb and Marcus is really in his element here. So strong. He dropped me fairly quickly and I did my best to enjoy the climb up. The traffic heading up wasn't too bad, but there were a couple instances that were definitely indicative of the "Redneckington Rd" moniker. Rapid fire shooting, a couple of faster drivers, but all in all not too bad. I took a couple of breaks just to capture some pictures.

The climb is over, now to the 4x4 roads

Big views

Start of 4x4 area

Marcus taking a quick break. He was a bit cold and this rock was still warm.
Sometime after the singletrack started, my night took a bad turn. I was tired, and mentally fried a bit. It was beautiful, but I knew we had a big, big effort coming up. I was getting frustrated because the mileage in my mind wasn't working out right and I wasn't sure when the dreaded Molino HAB was going to start.

Mentally drained, so stopped to take a pic of this singletrack

And that's the last picture of the day. From here pretty much every place that looked comfy I wanted to stop. But we pressed on. I would see Marcus's lights a few minutes ahead of me for the next few hours. I continued to try not to lose him. Eventually the Molino HAB started. Lots of HAB's are fairly easy, just roll your bike as you push - not this one. The whole way up was basically a series of steep steps/ledges. Pretty rough hoisting a loaded mountain bike up. We were approaching midnight as we neared the top. I was hoping to be able to ride down, but I was so fried and the terrain technical enough for me to basically repeat the process down the other side. We ended up at the Molino campground around 1AM. We passed a sandy wash in the campground and were so smoked we stopped right there and laid out sleep kits. We tore into our quesadillas and bedded down. I was out in minutes...

About thirty minutes later Marcus yelled out "skunk". Holy crap IT'S UP AGAINST ME!!! I'm sitting straight up in my bag and no matter how I turn, I feel this pressure pushing against me. Shit, I'm going to get sprayed and this is going to suck.

Soon, I realize the pressure I feel against me is my rolled up puffy jacket that I was using as a pillow rolling around the inside of my bag and pushing against me. Breathe a sigh of relief, but are you serious there are skunks coming into camp? Just wanted to sleep...

I put on my helmet so I could have some light and walked around the campground half naked since I was too tired to get dressed. I was trying to find a better place to set up camp... I was contemplating sleeping ON the campground tables to be off the ground. As I looked at one of the campgrounds, I ran across the skunk. I was in full on skunk panic. Did not want to deal with this. I came back to where we were set up and starting pulling out any unsealed food items out of our packs and tossing them in the animal proof trash containers further away from us. Then I hung our packs 30 yards away on a sign. I hoped it was enough to prevent another encounter. We didn't hear anything after that, but I can't say I slept well that night. Felt my heart pound in my chest for quite a while after that.

Day 2 Summary: 88 miles 18ish hours

Day 3 Mt Lemmon/Oracle Ridge:

First rays of the sun near Molino campground

Well rested after the skunk encounters???

Some of the terrain before hitting the paved climb.

In the middle of a grind. Break to take a picture of what I've come up already.

Got worried on the climb up Lemmon. There were a ton of hotshot/fire truck crews that were heading up, plus there were helicopters doing drops further up. I'm not familiar with the area, so I was hoping the upper towns weren't in danger. Luckily, when we got up there we found out they were safe and we proceeded to smash some serious food. It was a bit chilly at first, but then the sun came out and the feast was on!

Marcus looking like I was feeling

Legit! Power fuel for Oracle Ridge

No chance!!! Victory is mine!

Dessert? A challenger appears!!! Mike wins.

We finished up and headed over to the general store for water. There were some kids and a mom doing some sort of sale outside of the general store. We had bought a gallon of water, but needed a bit more. I was going to go inside, but the mom asked if she could just fill up the bottle for me. I said sure. I talked to her kids while she went inside. I gave them a couple of dollars in their donation jar and talked to the little girl. She might have been 9 or 10? She said that her uncle said "all these bikers are crazy" and I said yeah we are a little bit! She said that she wants to do this someday. I told her if she want to do this, SHE CAN! She had a look in her eye that told me she believed that she could. It was awesome to be able to affirm her belief in herself. In this random little town far away from all of my comfort. To be able to tell a little girl that she can do this. What an opportunity and privilege. I wish I would have gotten her name. Damn.

We left the general store and hit the steep road approach over to Oracle Ridge. Feeling stuffed to the gills we were happy we didn't really have to ride too much.

We got to the start and boom there it is.

Consulting mileage cues - doesn't look too bad yet.
Hi, I'm a trail

Burned area

A rideable section. Usually these rideable sections were so short they weren't worth hopping on the bike for

Trail behind me. Do I look entertained?

Quick mental break to take in views

If we are going down, why does it seem like we are getting higher?

Marcus pulls thorns out of his shoes

Oracle ridge man. What the heck. Somehow, even though you are going down in elevation, you are always climbing. They only way I can describe this is as a game trail. Very over grown, very steep. Just tough, tough terrain. If you want to simulate this, go to the gym with your loaded bike. Go to a stepmaster. Turn it on, then lift your bike from step to step while someone slaps your entire body and face with vegetation. Also make sure that someone just randomly grabs your bike to prevent you from lifting it. You see, branches are the perfect thing to get stuck in random bike parts that prevent you from moving your bike. Just wow. If you haven't done this section, you have no idea. Trust me.

Oh, now we lose elevation. See that ribbon of dirt? We just came down that. 

Quick break

We hit some OK trail towards the american flag trailhead but man those water bars were constructed in an interesting fashion. Enough of that.

We saw the American Flag TH and did our best cowboy holler. We got responses back in kind and we thought there would be some riders. Nope, just the residents of the building there. Nice folks who offered water, but we declined as we had enough to get to Oracle. An older gentleman came up on a quad and asked if we were going to Superior and we said yes and he said we were crazy. He then started talking about "the old women" who were doing thru hikes. It was kinda funny, but I think he under-estimates the folks out on the trail - regardless of age.

Marcus happy to be here, but let's get out of here and get to Oracle!

We rode through oracle state park, it was fairly quick and fun riding, but man we just wanted to get to Oracle. These felt like "busy miles". Eventually we got to highway 77 and the sun was just about gone. We hopped on the highway and weren't super pleased with the shoulder. It was kinda narrow to start. Marcus wanted to take the first left into Oracle, but I insisted we continue on 77 because there was a circle K and other food further down. As we went further down 77 I started freaking out a bit - it seemed like nothing was going to be on this route - did I make a major mistake when scouting this? I got Marcus to stop and we pulled up google maps (thankfully had service) and saw that indeed there was a circle k just a bit further up. We made the left and then saw a pizza place on the left. We put our order in, then headed next door to the circle K to get plenty of fluids and food for tonight and the next day's push and finish.

Went next door to eat our pizza and wrapped up the extra and got out, heading back towards Tiger Mine TH. These miles went fairly quick, and we were done physically and mentally. We wanted to ride until 10PM and evaluate our sleep environment. At 9:55PM or so, we hit the first sandy wash of the area and enthusiastically laid out our sleep kits and finished off the rest of our pizza. I slept pretty well, but there were some noisy birds down there that wouldn't shut up all night.

Day 3 Summary: 15 hours 53 brutal miles  

Day 4: Tiger Mine to Kelvin

Another stellar sleep spot.

Hard to capture the feel of the terrain. So big!

Splashes of purple

Fun trail here. 

More big views

Careful for cholla around here!!!

Some awesome gates are being installed. Much better that the shoddy stuff found earlier.

Beehive well. We tanked up on water here knowing that Freeman cache is not guaranteed and also not wanting to pull too much from it.

It's a party! More riders showed up after this as well.

Getting closer...

Self closing gate that doesn't work as well as it used to...

First rattler sighting! Close to a gate.

Amazing to see what we have been through today

Sunset on ripsey!

Golden hour at ripsey

Gila Monster!!! First one I've seen in my life. I would see one the next day as well.

Somehow during the HAB up Ripsey I picked up a freaking monster cactus spine in my front tire sidewall! Dammit! Same type that I got at the end of the CK/BCT bikepack trip. I didn't want to eff with it up there, so I broke off the extra, put some superglue on it and put gorilla tape around the tire/rim to help keep it from moving. I hoped this would hold to Kelvin. It did!

By time we got to Kelvin, we were spent. It was around 8:30 or so, and there were some riders there resting up. They all took off while Marcus and I hydrated and planned our next move. Eventually, we just laid our kits out right here and slept. First for an hour... then for another two. Then for two more. Finally at 2:15am I knew we had to get out of there. We'd be looking at a noon finish at the earliest now. Not ideal, but what can you do?

Luxury accommodations - running water! 

Day 4 Summary: 13 hours 54 miles

Day 5 Kelvin to Picketpost

I don't have any pics, that last pic took the last of my juice due to the cold temps. Probably a good thing, since I would have wasted too much time taking pictures of this area. If you are curious to know what it looks like, look at my picketpost pulverizer entry!

This day was rough which is to be expected. That said, it was so peaceful riding along the Gila in the moonlight. The moon was so bright I kept thinking that a rider was approaching from behind, especially since we had passed the riders who had left us the night before. They didn't get super far away from Kelvin. In fact we passed Jenny fairly quickly after starting the AZT proper. She was crashed out right on the trail, I think we scared her because her stuff was scattered all of the place. We both managed to avoid her phone thank goodness. There were certain areas where the moon was reflecting off the river - so cool and a treat in the desert. Marcus was a rock star. His IT band was really angry - so much so that he was thinking of scratching in Kelvin. But he sucked it up, I stayed behind him quite a bit and didn't talk much. I knew he was fighting an intense personal battle - you have to know when not to say something to anyone. I think we said two or three words between Kelvin and the AZT sign after "the turn" away from the Gila. I was actually amazed at how quickly it came. I didn't think it was right when we got there, I was shocked. 

Begin the trudge up. There was a lot of hiking up this section, at this point we just moved forward as fast as possible. Neither of us wanted to be caught, but it was getting hot and we were slowing down. Continue this battle until the final ten mile "descent" to Picketpost. This again is some kind of voodoo magic section because it feels like there is a lot of climbing and the trail never ends! Just keep looping around and around and around. It was hot and we stopped at the little cache close to the end - I took 10-12 ounces of water and chugged it. I knew that was the boost I needed. The trail started to flow a bit more, but there were still some tech moves to be careful on. Don't want to make a mistake now. 

I was just waiting for my tire repair start to fail, but it never did thank goodness. We first caught glimpse of the 60 and got excited, then we saw a few cars in a lot and we knew we were just about done. We started hollering and just talking and yelling belligerently. I was telling Marcus in my best redneck voice "Go on and go get that truck boy!" Or something like that. Finally there is a final wash and we hear John Cox who had made his way to see us in yell, "you better clean this". Thankfully we both did haha. Marcus rolled in and I was right on his tail. WHAT A FEELING!


Relieved - Uh, what do we do now? 

"You can be my wingman anytime"... "Bullshit - you can me mine" Top Gun-esque moment. 

Proud freaking moment right here. 

Several other riders rolled in after us. Including Jenny (always in a happy mood on the trail and a strong rider), and Mike Sowers. Nobody caught us after we passed them earlier today. We even almost caught up to Jeff Z. He's riding strong and going for the full meal deal (750).

We finally changed and cleaned up a bit and headed to Gold Canyon to grab food. It felt so weird to drive! Had a hard time keeping up with the speed limit - it felt so fast. It was not lost on Marcus or myself how easy it is to get up some of those rolling hills leaving Picketpost - just push the gas pedal. Weird.

I know I had a hard time talking and piecing together coherent sentences. That took a couple of days to pass. And woah - the post ultra event bloat was weird. By time I got home, I was two pounds heavier than when I started. Two days later, I was up ten more pounds! My body was holding on to everything. Ugh.

I still want to eat everything in sight, but I finally feel rested and not as sleepy anymore.

I can't say enough how satisfying it is to set a goal to tackle this beast and actually accomplish it. Every year, this race takes out the strongest of competitors. This year, Scott says that the attrition rate is over fifty percent! Wow. To finish in the midst of those odds is something I am very proud of.

I would like to thank those whose writings have helped me succeed in this endeavor:

John S
"Angry" Ray
Jeff Z (and Nancy)
Scott and Eszter (links are earlier)

There are plenty of others. In fact, I think I probably read every linked blog entry on the aztr results page. Something valuable can be gleaned from every experience out there in my opinion.

I can't say enough about the AES/ultra mtb community. Kindest people ever. I still have yet to run across a jerk at any of these events. "Interesting" people, sure - but negative - nope!

Last but not least I need to thank my family for letting me get out and do all the training required to pursue this dream.

Day 5 Summary 10 hours 38 grueling hot miles.

Strava (or it didn't happen):