Saturday, June 23, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 9

For the first time in over a week I didn’t wake to a beeping watch. I just woke naturally (admittedly it was still early-ish) checked the race flow on Trackleaders and leisurely ate some breakfast. I did feel a need to get going but I told myself to remain calm as I couldn’t go anywhere until I had visited REI.
Heading outside on my bike the day looked nice but as soon as I left the wind shelter of the motel I discovered it was bitterly cold. It made me pedal hard for the few blocks that I needed to cover to the REI store. The forecast top of 5 Celcius and 50mph winds seemed accurate!

Once there I took my bike inside and had a look at shoes. They didn’t have anything I liked the look of so I checked out helmets. I liked the look of a new Giro Hex so grabbed one while I waited for an attendant. It took about 20 minutes before anyone was free as it was a very busy store.

8 days usage on the AZT!!

When I showed the guy my shoes and asked if he had some more Pearl Izumi X Alp IIs, he said no. Then he remembered they had a piar that had been returned by a customer who didn’t like them. They were the X Alp Elevate, not the X Alp IIs and one size larger. I decided to try them and luckily they were perfect! They looked so new and shiny compared to my old ones. Better still they felt so soft and plush underfoot. Something I would no doubt appreciate on the Canyon crossing!
I had him fit some new cleats and bin my old shoes (but not before I removed my orthotic insoles) along with the new insoles. I should have kept the new insoles but more on that in a later post.
My trusty old helmet that saw me through thousands of miles of training and the Tour Divide Race was also consigned to the skip bin with the old shoes.
I pedalled out about $280USD (about $800AU Pesos! ;) lighter. I was glad I wasn’t buying warm clothing as well to head out on the trail today as I may have needed to sell a kidney!

New kicks, same old legs. Non ventilated too- perfect! Not the legs. They have clearly been ventilated...

Nearing my motel I bumped into Beth about to head into Starbucks. She had been to REI as well to buy more layers and was about to press on toward The Canyon. She didn’t look very enthusiastic and I didn’t envy her. As much as I felt a bit soft at sitting today out, I knew it was the right decision for me. I wished her well and knew I wouldn’t see her again. She is a very strong bikepacker.

Back in the motel I proceeded to carry out some bike maintenance,

Checking brake pads. They were actually ok!

some body maintenance

Blister on right ball of foot from Highline and the Mogollon Rim. Black nails from the dye I used to dye my grey Ground effect socks to black. Scratches courtesy of Southern Arizona desert!

and some resting. (sorry,no pics - think of the children!!)

I headed out to the Fry’s again for another shop, then headed to the Agave Mexican Restaurant at the motel next door. I bought a burrito meal for dinner and also one to go for tomorrow.

Retiring to my room I discovered this was by far the best burrito of the whole AZTR for me! I almost went back to get another but it was too cold to venture out now and I eyed the one I had bought for tomorrow longingly......

Checking Trackleaders before I went to bed I could see that Beth and Dean had made it about half way to Tusyan, so about 80km for the day. I intended to do the whole 160km in one hit and was reassured that my decision to stay in a warm motel for a second night was a sound one. I had a soft, warm bed versus their (very) cold hard ground.
160 AZTR kilometres is always going to be tough but I would be strong after my lay day.

Bring it on!!


Agave Mexican magicians on Route 66. The AZT runs through the lights at the intersection from right to left.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 8

It was a windy night and quite cold but I was snug and even sweating a little in my little cocoon. I looked at my watch. 5:45am. Time to get up. I was up and into my riding gear in record time as it was too cold to faff around this morning!
Looking back to where Beth had camped I was pleasantly surprised to see that she was still there and had gear strewn around the place. That meant she wasn't about to pedal off soon either. 
I thought I had better give her space and not go over to say hi as she may need privacy. I decided to pack up and gently pedal off, knowing that she would catch up with me at some point today.

The trail was more rocky shit, followed by some more rocky shit, then the odd bit of silky smoothness, followed by, yep, more rock. Just more typical AZT.

Rocky shit. Miles and miles and miles of it......

When the trail smoothed out it was sublime riding. The pines and the elevation made it soo different to southern Arizona.

Silky Blue Ridge trail.

After a few gates and road crossings, I came to the Blue Ridge campground. It would have been nice to stay here last night, if only for the toilets. I was confident that it wouldn't be too long until resupply at Mormon Lake so I left one of my precious Starbucks Esspresso Doubleshot cans on a rock outside the lavs for Beth, writing her name on it with the Niko pen I was carrying. I had passed a couple of hikers this morning and was hoping they wouldn't get to the coffee first!

Blue Ridge campground loos.

When I packed up this morning I noted that I only had 1200ml of water remaining. I would have to make that water last the 60-odd kilometres to Mormon Lake....which should only be 3-4 hours away....right?

I grovelled onward, looking for water along the trail but all of the tanks(dams) were dry. It had been a particularly dry winter up here apparently.

No joy here.

I had taken to filling my bidon from the camelbak so I could monitor my water situation and now I only took very small, judicious, sparing sips. This made my already dry burrito very hard to swallow.

Mmmmm, 36 hours old.....

I was now riding the infamous Happy Jack section of trail but I didn't know it because there was no signage anywhere along here to indicate where I was. When I got to the section of dirt road that was in fact all boulders, I knew it just had to be Happy Jack trail.

Happy Jack single track

I rode in the grass alongside the road, I crossed the road multiple time because it always looked smoother "over there". I took to walking for a while, pedalling standing up, pedalling seated, pedalling seated while cursing, pedalling standing while cursing.........

About now in the race is where the gates started to piss me off too. I had been pretty chilled with them up until Happy Jack, but now they were just another bloody obstacle to slow my progress. Oh, and they were ridiculously tightly strung so that you used almost every ounce of your remaining strength to get them closed again!!

Button-pushing, overly tightly strung mental torture device! Or a gate to you......

I was not in a good head space as I was pretty thirsty by now. I considered wading through the mud to get some of this this murky water but thought I would get bogged in the mud trying.

Just how thirsty are ya?

It couldn't be too much further to Mormon Lake....right? After a few more twists and turns, a few more gates it was getting cold despite the sun being high in the sky. I stopped to put another layer on after passing through a gate and as I turned around, Beth rode up. It was nice to see her again after a morning spent alone with my thoughts.

We rode along at a decent clip, except for the odd blowdown and particularly rocky sections of trail. I had my one and only "step off" of the race along here while decending a particularly rocky left hand, downhill switchback when the front folded. I was able to simply step off the top side of the bike and didn't go down, but the bike had a little lie down. The effort of leaping off the bike was bad enough in my fatigued state though.

Blowdown HAB.

We encountered a new section of single track along here that had only just been opened. It was so new that the pin flags marking the cut were still alongside the trail. There was some consternation that we were going off the official race trail but it was obvious that this was the new AZT. And thank god for that! It was well graded and routed trail that once bedded in will be fun to ride as it contoured the hillside near Mahan Mountain.

Soon after, we crossed Lake Mary Road at Allan Lake Landing. It was super windy here and I had some trouble closing the new gate on the western side of the road. Gaining the shelter of the trees, there was a very new looking sign that said "Flagstaff 26 miles". Only 26 miles? Awesome!! We must be nearly at Mormon Lake then I exclaimed! Well, we rode and rode and rode. There are three trails into Mormon Lake as you head north on the AZT. The first two require a big climb back to the AZT, where the third is along a relatively flat road, but is longer. We elected to use the third(last) access to Mormon but it was taking forever to get to it. When we finally did, it was 3pm!! I had been riding since 6am, on 1200ml of water to get to what I thought would be breakfast. Here we were, at afternoon tea time with a couple of miles still to ride into Mormon!!
There was consternation as to whether the store would be open but I needed water at the least, so I pedalled off toward the resort and I think Beth reluctantly followed. I was pedalling hard as I needed that resort to be open.

No photos of the resort unfortunately.

Rolling up to the store and it was indeed open! I was so relieved but the clerk said they were closing in 30 minutes! I went a bit nuts trying to find coffee, hot food, sugary food and WATER. I made 3 visits to the front counter as I ploughed my way through a mountain of food. Sated somewhat, we discovered we had cell service and looked at Trackleaders. We saw that Dean Anderson was only about half way from the rim to Mormon and I knew he would still be hours away. It was getting cold and he would no doubt be low on food. I bought two small sugary danishes and asked the clerk for a brown paper bag. Placing the treats in the bag Beth wrote Dean's name and 'trail magic" on it. We left the bag at the Saint Joseph Youth Camp AZT trail head, hoping Dean would see it in the dark. I was still paying the Molino beer forward.

Thinking that Flagstaff was less than 26 miles away, we headed off along the trail, well watered and fed. I felt like $1M after the food and especially the coffee. The trail was a little taxing for a while but the odd sighting of deer or elk helped make it interesting. We then came to a section of trail that follows an old railway line. The trail swooped up and down, crossing the line many times. IT. WAS. AWESOME!! It was almost golden hour now and I really should have stopped for some photos but it was just too much fun and we hooted along this section. The trail went under a road near the Pine Grove campground, which I had noted as a possible camping spot in my notes but it was too early to stop yet. As were blasted under the bridge there was a hiker cooking dinner on her stove. I think we scared the daylights out of her as we were hooking along at a good clip! I shouted a "hi" and we were gone!

We crossed Lake Mary road again and climbed up onto Anderson Mesa. The climb wasn't too bad at all and the views were amazing, right on sunset. I didn't like the look of the clouds on the horizon. They looked decidedly like snow clouds. We stopped to layer up as when the sun dropped, the temperature plummeted as well.

Horse Lake on Anderson Mesa.

The trail relentlessly climbed at a low angle but just enough to keep you working hard. I was feeling strong again and just stood and mashed the pedals. It felt good to be making fast miles and Flagstaff couldn't be too far away.....

It was totally dark now and we were in the 'tunnel of light" again, so who knows what the countryside looks like along here? The trail was pretty good and got better the closer we got to Flagstaff. It became proper mountain bike trail after a while and we were hooking along. Until we got to Walnut Canyon where we were suddenly off route, even though we were following the trail. Back tracking a couple of times we could just see in the darkness where the old trail had been closed off and this new trail replaced it. Cool, just follow the trail. But where was Flagstaff? We had been riding for almost four hours, non stop since Mormon Lake and we still weren't near Flagstaff.....

Somewhere on the steep descent into Walnut Canyon my headlight cut out, bat flattery. I took my little camping headlight out and put that around my head and continued on, following Beth now. We climbed out the other side of the canyon and at every turn we were stopping to zoom around on the GPS, looking for Flagstaff. We couldn't even see a glow of lights on the horizon. Around here I remembered from my notes that Flag is about 40 miles from Mormon, not 26-ish. What that sign way back at Allan Lake Landing was indicating must have been via a different road - it confused us because it was on a AZT like wooden board.

A few more steep climbs and a long steep descent later, we were at the I-10 underpass into Flagstaff!! Woo hoo!!

It was late, now around 10pm and bloody cold, around zero Celsius (32F) and we made for the motel I had planned on staying at, the Travelodge on Route 66. It proved to be cheap at about $40 a night. We had been warned that tomorrow was meant to be super cold with a top of 5C and 50mph winds up here. I decided that I wasn't going out into that, what with the lack of cold weather gear I had and in 50mph winds, one would be walking nearly everything. Nope, I was staying two nights and having a rest/recuperation day. Plus I needed new shoes as mine were toast by now and sometime tonight my helmet retention band had snapped, allowing my helmet to bounce all over my head with the heavy light mounted on top of it. 
A visit to REI for some replacements was in order tomorrow but first to get into a warm room and get some food. I couldn't figure out how to order a pizza online from Pappa Johns so I quickly rode around the corner to the Fry's supermarket. It was open and I shopped up a storm so that I didn't need to go out early tomorrow for food. Microwave soup and pizza hit the spot tonight, with yogurt, muesli and fruit for breakfast, plus the old favourite Doubleshot espresso to wash it down with. Three bags of groceries in all!
Back in the room,  I had that heater cranking, had a hot, hot shower and was in bed by midnight.

Today was a tough day. Far tougher than expected - but that was becoming the catchcry of the AZT. I was thinking every day that it must get easier, that I have the worst of it behind me but every day I was getting my butt kicked by new hurdles. I began to worry about the Grand Canyon crossing now, as it was only one day's ride away and EVERYONE said it was brutal.

That is what the Arizona Trail was. One word summed it up......

Day 8.


Not likely!!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 7

I had watched Trackleaders, yesterday afternoon, as both Beth Shaner and Dean Anderson rode into Payson and was a bit bummed that they would be passing me and hence, bumping me back two more places in the race. It was my choice though to stop riding so early in the day (about 2:30pm) to get a room so as to have some recovery time - so I wasn't too hard on myself.
When my alarm went off I dozed for a while, not wanting to get out of the warm, soft bed. This is why motels are dangerous for racers. They suck time away too easily. Anyway, I finally got out of bed, had some breakfast and was out the motel door at about 5:20am. I saw this morning, on trackleaders, that Dean and Beth had actually both stayed in motels in Payson as well so I had some chance of bumping into them again. Company was getting thin on the ground as of the 34 or so 750 mile racers, about half had scratched from the race and 10 or so were well in front of me (or finished already!).

Riding out of Payson was pleasant, if cold. The route went through some suburban back streets before finding the dirt again. The dirt was good back road, if a little twisty and turny, but it made for good riding as the first rays of daylight began to light the way for me.

Just leaving Payson. The trail was fast and fun. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 6

I woke at about midnight to the sound of bike tyres crunching on gravel. A dim light rolled past with a little blinky red tail light flashing, then it was gone.....
I had set my alarm for 0330 and when I woke I really didn't know if I had dreamt about someone riding past or actually seen it.
It was a clear, cold morning on top of this hill and I packed up as quickly as I could to get rolling. The now dirt road climbed for 15 minutes which was good as it allowed me to stay warm, then it proceeded to drop from 916m(3000ft) to 650m(2130ft) which was a hoot, even if it was cold! Somewhere near the bottom of that first descent I crossed a small bridge, then there was a light coming toward me. Someone else out on a bike? At this hour? Cool!
We stopped to say "hi" and it turned out to be Aaron Denburg, the sole North to South AZTR750 racer! We chatted briefly and I warned Aaron about the big climb coming up, then we got back to it. (I later learned that Aaron was a veteran of this race and knows the course like the back of his hand)

Monday, June 11, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 5

I was up at 1230ish and quietly packed my bivy into my bar bag. It seemed like Dean was sleeping in, as a quiet snoring was emanating from his bivy, about 20m away. I tip-toed past him as he was by the entry point to this little clearing by the river. I knew I would be seeing him again, later in the race. He is one strong rider.

The trail went up, pretty much straight away. It started out as double track but quickly went to single track. Single track that skirted around a cliff face with a high wall on one side and a drop off the other. I pushed most of the ups and hooted down the downs. There were many, many of these. 
I made a deal with myself this morning. I was not going to look at my gps distance at all and I was not going to look around in the darkness at all. I was simply going to look at the trail, keep moving along it and when I had done enough moving, Picketpost trailhead would be in front of me....

The only photo I took of that morning. Lots of exposure.

Friday, June 8, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 4

Beeep, beeep beeep,beeeeeeep.........

My watch was telling me it was 2am and to wake up but again I had beaten it to the punch. I was already looking up at the stars, sweating my arse off in my bivy. I was not sure if it was my sleeping bag rating, the warm night or the “night sweats” that one tends to get when doing these bikepacking races. I turned the bag and my bivy inside out and hung them from my handlebars for a quick dry while I got dressed and ate another burrito. I was always slow to get going but I always look after my gear which I think pays dividends in the long run.

It was very dark and quite cold and windy as I began pedalling toward Kelvin, a mere 89km away. The trail was quite tight and tricky this morning with lots of steep pinches that had me off, pushing. Add to this a 25-30 knot wind and any time I turned into wind I was crawling again. I was on the lookout for water as I went along but even though tanks were marked on the gps I couldn’t see anything in the dark of night.
Just when the trail seemed to get a bit of flow to it, a gate would loom out on the darkness and cause a dismount. At least most were of the modern, easily operated variety.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 3

My alarm was set for 6am today. I was giving myself a sleep in but I woke at about 5:45 to the sound of tyres crunching gravel. A couple of riders were rolling out of the campground to attack Mt Lemmon. I laid back and stared up into the tree above me. There was no burning desire to leap up and give chase, instead I was enjoying the warmth of my bivy and the lack of rattle in my chest. While it was far from perfect at least my breathing wasn't as laboured as it was last night. Maybe 8 hours of solid sleep and a lower dust environment helped with that.

I slowly hauled myself out of bed and slid into my riding gear. I wasn't wet or sweaty which is one advantage of racing in a near zero humidity environment. Now that it was light I could survey my surroundings. It was quite a pretty little spot under this big 'ol tree.

Skunk free digs