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.

All fit and put together.  Here we go!

All fit and put together. Here we go!

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.

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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.

A cold early start for all of us 750 riders.

A cold early start for all of us 750 riders.

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.

Halfway through the Canillo Hills

Halfway through the Canillo Hills

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.

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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.

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Cjell Money chillin at the Sonoita gas station.

Cjell Money chillin at the Sonoita gas station.

Lots of us at the gas station.  The farther we get into the race the more lonely it gets so enjoy the comrade while it lasts!

Lots of us at the gas station. The farther we get into the race the more lonely it gets so enjoy the comrade while it lasts!

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.

Just one of the many gates I passed through.  I would grow to hate cattle gates during the last 200 miles of the race.

Just one of the many gates I passed through. I would grow to hate cattle gates during the last 200 miles of the race.

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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.

Killer single track north of Colossal Cave.

Killer single track north of Colossal Cave.

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.

Hanging out on the cool porch of the Rincon gas mart.  It was already 90 by the time I left, defnitely hard to leave the ice cream freezer but time to look forward to mexican food n Oracle.

Hanging out on the cool porch of the Rincon gas mart. It was already 90 by the time I left, defnitely hard to leave the ice cream freezer but time to look forward to some mexican food in Oracle.

Redington Road, might as well be called Redneck Road!  And damn was it hot!

Redington Road, might as well be called Redneck Road! And damn was it hot!

Cliff filtered some water from here!  Not sure if he ended up drinking it or not.  I made it all the way to Summerhaven that night but was out of water for the pavement section.  Which was better than drinking that stuff.

Cliff filtered some water from here! Not sure if he ended up drinking it. I made it all the way to Summerhaven that night but was out of water for the pavement section, which was better than drinking that stuff.

More great single track

More great single track

Last year I got here at 11pm, this year at 4pm.  We had a big fire here last year, it was 20 degrees that night.

Last year I got here at 11pm, this year at 4pm. We had a big fire here last year, it was 20 degrees that night.

I slept in the community center bathrooms in Summerhaven.  They were heated and super clean.  Awesome night of sleep.

I slept in the community center bathrooms in Summerhaven. They were heated and super clean. Awesome night of sleep.

One of the best meals I had the entire route.  Mexican food in Oracle.  I got two of these plates and an extra burrito to go.

One of the best meals I had the entire route. Mexican food in Oracle. I got two of these plates and an extra burrito to go.

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.

Trail magic Tiffany offered us some sandwiches and gatorade.  She also wanted us to come in her house to sing karaoke but we politely declined.

Trail magic Tiffany offered us some sandwiches and gatorade. She also wanted us to come in her house to sing karaoke but we politely declined.

Beautiful desert setting and great single track.  Rode all the way to the end of the 300 with Forest, shared misery.

Beautiful desert setting and great single track. Rode all the way to the end of the 300 with Forest, shared misery.

Riding into the sunset on the Gila section with Forest.

Riding into the sunset on the Gila section with Forest.

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.

Canyon Lake was spectacular!  I need to come back here.  It was hot so I took a jump off the bridge into the water.

Canyon Lake was spectacular! I need to come back here. It was hot so I took a jump off the bridge into the water.

The most beautiful section on the entire race.  The Apache Trail.  Simply amazing sunset.

The most beautiful section on the entire race. The Apache Trail. Simply amazing sunset.

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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.

Extreme HAB!

Extreme HAB!

Yeah...not actually that extreme.  This is the last section to the top of the rim.

Yeah…not actually that extreme. This is the last section to the top of the rim.

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.

Big breakfast with forest at the Long Valley Cafe.

Big breakfast with forest at the Long Valley Cafe that next morning.

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.

Mormon Lake Lodge burger.

Mormon Lake Lodge burger.

Amazing sunset on Anderson Mesa outside of Flagstaff

Amazing sunset on Anderson Mesa outside of Flagstaff

The sign that reminds you its still a long ways.

The sign that reminds you its still a long ways.

I like this sign more, I have come sooo far.

I like this sign more, I have come sooo far.

Leaving the mountains.  That's Humphrey's Peak (12,633')

Leaving the mountains. That’s Humphrey’s Peak (12,633′)

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.

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Let's do this Shit!

Let’s do this Shit!

My pack setup, worked great.

My pack setup, worked great.

Its all downhill from here!

Its all downhill from here!

Where am I?

Where am I?

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.

In Cottonwood Camp.  I bonked hard here and slept about 2 hours.

In Cottonwood Camp. I bonked hard here and slept about 2 hours.

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.

My favorite moment on the entire route.  The last 3 miles were so amazing I considered coming back next year.  It made it seem like it wasn't so bad after all.

My favorite moment on the entire route. The last 3 miles were so amazing I considered coming back next year. It made it seem like it wasn’t so bad after all.

The amazing views on the final descent.

The amazing views on the final descent.

Me at the Finish!

Me at the Finish!

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.

11 thoughts on “Arizona Trail Race 750

  1. Awesome effort Eric. Really interesting to see how much the scenery changes after the first 300 miles. You just convinced me to come back and finish what I started this year.

  2. Very good story! I really like your pack set up for the canyon. I am thinking about racing this next year….kidding!

    • Thanks man!

      One thing I would change about my pack setup is the frame orientation. I would put the rear towards the top next time so that it’s easier to set down when you are tired. You risk breaking things like the derailleur the way I had it, but I was just really careful.

      You should do it!

  3. Well Grandpas usually have good stories to tell. You’re gonna be a GREAT grandpa! This grueling adventure of the natural world..shared so well. I hope you get to follow many more trails, and we all get to follow along, living vicariously through your photos and stories.

  4. Hell of an effort dude! Great read. Thanks for suggesting that Mexican food joint when I met you at the Oracle Market. The green chile burritos that place dishes up are delicious.

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