Arizona Trail Race 750
Finish Time: 10:11:15 3rd Place
So about 2 weeks before the race started I began scheming whether or not I might give the 750 a shot this year. It would be just a week out that I decided I was in. My new bike arrived just 2 days before the race, we put it together just 24 hours before the start, got me a bike fit down at Faster bike shop and zoomed off to sleep at the border.
The morning of was cold, even for a winter weather guy like me. The wind howled all night, anxiety and cold feet kept me awake most of the night. I hoped out of my sleeping bag early that morning and ran up and down the road a couple times to get the blood flowing. We drank drank some coffee, ate a small breakfast and socialized with those that were awake.
A little while later others appeared from the tall grasses with their bikes and started getting ready. Before we knew it 06:00 rolled around and we were off. I got a little bit of a late start though, I needed to attend to front shock as I forgot to account for the extra weight on my bike. Once I started riding all the stress and anxiety of making it down to the border in time vanished. Its the feeling I look forward to every time I start a race.
The cold quickly vanished as my body warmed up, but the sun was still behind the mountains so I kept my warm clothes on as long as I could. When I made it to the single track section to take me to Parker Lake trailhead I saw something move in the bushes, it was a mountain lion. The first one I had ever seen in person, it was HUGE and was only about 40 feet from me! It scared the shit out of me so I rode around a different way to get to the single track section while constantly looking behind me. Without incident I made it to Parker Lake trailhead where the other 300 riders were getting ready. I only spent a few minutes there messing with my bike then I was off.
I looked at my watch, it was 930. I figured it would be awhile till the 300 riders flew by me. Five minutes later Aaron Gully passed me running up one of the steep HAB sections in the Canillo’s, everyones favorite part of the race :). The first 30 miles always seems to be a mad dash, a sprint, as if the race is to Patagonia, so I make sure that I post a decent time without exerting too much energy.
Noting too exciting happened on the way to patagonia, just the occasional HAB through some sandy washes, plenty of cattle gates and the long awaited pavement section all the way to Sonoita.
The pavement section from Patagonia is a nice break from the HAB. I rode with a couple other guys, can’t remember what their names were but managed to get them close enough for a photo.
I left the Sonoita gas alone so that I could get my own pace going. I usually don’t enjoy the Canillo’s because its hard to get your own pace going when you are constantly being passed by those usually going too fast. There is some great riding near Kentucky Camp, especially when you reach it in the evening with the sun setting.
Looking back on where I rode from that day was a great feeling. I finally felt like I was on an adventure, a long awaited one. It had been 8 months since I had been on the bike, so just being there put goosebumps all over my body. It was one of those moments when you realize how much you love just getting way the hell out there for some good old suffering.
This year I pushed the first day pretty far, I made it all the way to Colossal Cave and arrived there at 2am. I had been hallucinating for the last 15 miles but I was determined to make it there. That was 20 hours of riding but my body felt great. I woke up with the sun around 6am and got going right away. It was great to wake up to some awesome single track, certainly one of my favorite sections on the entire race.
Although I enjoyed the single track the only thing on my mind was all the ice cream and coconut water (Eszter mentioned that coconut water is the shit in the Canillo’s-she was right) at the Rincon store. I think I spent around 90 dollars on food there, half of it was finished by the time I left, yes I eat a ton of food.
After leaving Oracle with a heavily weighted bike I began to have knee issues. My right knee that I had dislocated back in June began to flare up in severe pain. I pushed on to Freeman Road that night, this was one of the lowest moments in the race and that night I was almost sure that my knee was going to only get worse. I slept on it, woke up the next morning and it felt OK, so I decided to just suck it up and finish at least the 300. I got to the Gila River around 11am. Forest Baker was sitting under the big tree at the White House. It was almost 100 degrees outside, or so it felt and much to hot to venture out for the last 38 miles with 7600 feet of elevation gain.
Forest and I rolled into Superior feeling DEMOLISHED from the Gila section. I rode the last 38 miles with a snickers bar, one Gu and some cashews. We both ran out of water and we both felt pretty screwed up. But that was nothing that Circle K couldn’t fix. We both got a bunch of food, rolled over to the city park and crashed hard for a few hours. I woke up and Forest was already gone, so I dragged myself out of my bag, stumbled across the street for some mexican food and rehab.
My knees were still bothering me, so when I stopped at the Basha’s in Gold Canyon I called Aaron Ross, my bike fit guy at Faster for some help. I explained my tendonitis issues and he had me lower my seat 5mm’s. It helped my knee pain go away almost immediately and by the next day it was completely gone! It was the defining moment for me, right then I knew I was going to finish.
I rode all the way to Tonto Basin that night getting there around 1130. I decided to get a hotel that night, the first one of the route. I went into the office, which was open. The owner in the back was snoring really loud and it was impossible to wake him up. So I looked on the desk, found his guest sheet and picked a room that had vacant. The keys were just hanging up so I grabbed one and went to the room. I showered, iced my knees, ate lots of food and slept a full 8 hours. The next morning I turned the key in, paid and was on my way to Payson. The riding from Superior to Payson is the easiest on the entire route and quite enjoyable after getting the crap beat out of you on the 300.
I barely made it to the brewery in time for some food, I got there within 2 minutes of them closing the kitchen. With a 60 dollar bill, full stomach and food to go I left Pine and began the HAB from hell on the Highline Trail. Not sure how to describe to you how bad the first 8 miles are but picture me cursing at rocks, bushes and just the shity trail for hours. That basically sums it up.
I few ours later I caught up to Forest again. I was really excited to ride with someone, mainly because the riding sucked soooo bad, shared misery. Some clouds began to build, and the temperature began to drop. We pushed on up and over the rim, it was hard but it was really just a warmup for the Grand Canyon portage.
The riding once on top of the rim is faster but not fast by any means. It wanders down and out of small canyons and the trail is covered in baby heads and rough basalt. By the time I made it to the highway I was almost out of food. I decided to go off route to Clints Wells for some much needed resupply. I knew the store closed at 6pm so I rode my bike as fast as possible, just making it to the store with 2 minutes to spare. Both Forest and I camped in the Clints Wells CG bathrooms, there were two of them. I woke up at 3 am to leave for Mormon Lake and turned around after a mile. It was a frigid ~20 degrees outside so I came back to the bathroom and went back to sleep.
After getting back on route I left Forest and wished him luck. I didn’t think I was going to see him again, but we ended up bumping into each other again and again.
When I left Flagstaff that morning I thought it was 70 miles to the South Rim, well I think it was closer to 100. That was one long day, 16 hours or something with the last 8 hours out the the saddle cranking hard the whole time. I got a motel in Tucsayan, woke up the next morning and went to the general store was. I needed to buy a backpack and some straps because the post office was closed. But I had some great luck and there happened to be a postal worker in the back office. I quickly ran over to him and begged him to give me my pack, he did! I was super happy and left the store on a good high.
When I caught a glimpse of the canyon goosebumps covered my entire body. I was happy to finally be at the canyon, and ready to do some hiking. Getting to the canyon filled my body with joy an happiness that would last for about 2 miles or so into the canyon.
To say the least the canyon took its toll on me. It destroyed my calf muscles, I could barely walk after finishing the race. Here are a couple pictures of me at Cottonwood Campground, it really tells you how I feel about the hike at the moment.
I woke up to the sound of a faucet, well look who it is Forest Baker! I couldn’t believe he caught me lol. I slept a little longer and then noticed he was walking away. So I packed my stuff and took off, once I passed him I didn’t see him again. I got to the top of the rim, packed my things and rode the highway to Jacob Lake for a late lunch. I left there feeling super tired but overwhelmed with happiness. The last 25 miles were just as hard as every other mile in the race. I was cursing at cattle gates, cow prints molded into the trail and more crappy HAB. I was so done with the trail and I lost it a few times. I was sure that I was never going to come back and ride this stupid race ever again until…the last 3 miles of heaven. The last 3 miles were sort of a redemption of the trail. It was an amazing indescribable feeling those last miles. Something that I will never forget.
And even better, Alicia was there with lots of food and drinks. We had a nice ride back home to Flagstaff, and when I tried to get out the car I could not walk.
The Full Arizona Trail Race is a great adventure and for those willing to put up with the suffering for over a week, its well worth it all just for the sake of a personal challenge, the feeling of accomplishment, and all the other greatness that comes along with it. Being out there definitely changes you, it puts in perspective what is important in life. I have to give respect to that trail, its brutal and simply humbling. For those of you that give it a shot I hope you have a great time, experience some pain and suffering but most of all those moments of pure happiness you can’t get anywhere else.
I’ll be back again!
Big Thanks to those that helped get me there.