Monday, June 25, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 10

So, the alarm did go off stupidly early today. I thought about getting up for a minute or two....or three. Curse these warm motels!!
I got up, had a long, warm shower, ate breakfast and stuffed the last of my food into my bags. Time to get out there! I deliberately locked my key in the room so that I couldn't come back to the warmth. I had to get this thing done.

Trouble was, it was bloody cold! I was rugged up with everything except my puffer jacket on and pedalling hard to generate heat but it was still stupidly cold! I made my way around the Flagstaff urban trails system and then finally into the forest. Once in the forest it was quite hard going as there was a lot of large rock sections that I just couldn't ride. This meant a LOT of hopping off and on the bike, which was made more awkward by being trussed up in my warm gear.

During yesterday's rest day I had made a rare-for-me call to home. I generally don't call home when doing these races as I find it takes my head out of the game and destabilises my focus. The only times I wanted to quit the Tour Divide were the times I called home and spoke to the family.
Anyway, during the call home my daughter asked me if I was having fun. I thought for a second and said "no, not really". Her reply was "well, why are you doing it then?"

Bloody good question Lucy!!

I didn't have an immediate answer for her but this morning her question was rattling around in my head. It first popped up about 15 minutes after I started riding, about when the bite valve on my Camelbak froze. Then again about 30 minutes into the day when the spout on my bidon froze shut. "Why was I doing this???"

I had a big day in front of me, I was bloody tired despite my rest day and I was absolutely grovelling along in this slow, cold bowl-gully, high altitude climb in below freezing temperatures.

I reckon that this was the place, just north of Flagstaff on the lower slopes of Humphrey's Peak, that I was closest to throwing in the towel in the whole race. About 5 times I decided "Thats it! I'm turning around and going back to the motel".

Schultz Creek. I was as blurred in the brain as this photo looks. It was just daylight, still -2C and uphill in this cold bowl. I sooooo wanted to turn and just roll down the trail back to Flag and warmth...........and failure.....

But....I didn't. I kept pedalling and pushing forward. The trail slowly opened up, the rock outcrops disappeared, and there was a pleasant enough, if uphill singletrack in front of me.

Climbing into the first of the Aspens. Always an inspiring time for me, even in their leafless state.

My half frozen, fatigued brain kept saying "keep moving, just keep moving forward" so that is what I did. I didn't have the strength to argue with myself at this point and in hindsight I am glad I have a certain amount of blind determination for times like this.

I came around a bend and sitting in the sun on a downed Aspen tree was Rob Adams. He was eating something and trying to warm up. As I spoke to him Scott Fisk rode up. I hadn't seen him along the trail this morning but Scott but he said he camped out last night and was near frozen solid! He admitted it wasn't a good call for the extra few miles he made past Flagstaff. Sometimes you just have to know when to call a day.

All three of us rode along for a while. The trail got steeper and steeper and we leapfrogged a bit along this section. We were almost at 9000ft now and it was still really cold, despite the clear morning. Suddenly we broke out into open meadow and were finally warmed by the sun. It called for a photo session as there were snow patches on the ground and views to the west of the vast plains that lie south of the Grand Canyon.

Scott Fisk and I taking in the view.

Snow in the shade near Snowbowl.

Scott was hungry as he had camped out last night and was going to the restaurant at the Snowbowl on the southern slopes of Humphrey's Peak. I was tempted to go with him but it was about a mile or so off route and I knew that meant at least 90 minutes of time loss if I went that way. I had eaten porridge in my room and had plenty of food so declined the offer of joining him, pressing on instead.

Seeing the sun I had stripped off some layers in preparation of being hot but withing about 15 minutes I had to stop and slip my layers back on. It was still bloody cold despite the sunlight. WTF?

Layers back on, Humphrey's Peak (12 631ft) frowning down upon me at a mere 9000ft.

The trail went downhill now as it wove it's way through the pines. It was actually fast and fun with the only impedance to forward progress being the odd downed tree here and there. The problem with going quickly downhill is that it got colder and colder! I had to stop and put on my puffer jacket over the top of everything else. I was now wearing everything I had and despite pedalling a 25kg fat tyred mountainbike I was still cold. Super glad I didn't do this yesterday when the top was 5C (it was going to be 18C today) and 50mph winds. It would have been downright dangerous for this banana bender!!

Right, thats it! That is all the clothing I own and it is still freezing! Get me out of here!!

I pedalled and pedalled away from Humprey's but it didn't seem to get any smaller. I would be looking at it's slopes for most of the day despite my best attempts to get the hell away from it!

AZT gate. Humphrey's. Cold.

I was checking out the cache' box just 20 metres through the gate above when Rob came through. I yelled to him "did he need some water" but he rode past without even flinching. Hmmmm, mustn't need any?

A short time later I rode up behind Rob and was following him along a rocky section of single track when my bike spat a rock out with a "plink". He near jumped off his bike!! He had no idea I was behind him and hadn't seen me standing at the cache' box at that last gate. So it wasn't just me that was rooted out of my mind and operating on a fairly basic level today!?! ;) In a perverted sort of way it made me feel better. I though it was just me that was suffering.

We rode and rode. The rocky single track eventually gave way to rocky jeep road where we made good time. Passing through a "bespoke" gate Rob decided he needed to eat his travel buritto. I was still ok but had a little snack and chatted with him for a few minutes. Rob had done the Tour Divide in 2016, The Colorado Trail Race in 2017 and was completing his lifetime Triple Crown with the AZTR now. We discussed the TD, as I had done it in 2015 and he posed the question "if I HAD to do one of the races again, which one would it be?". From my experience so far I said I'd rather do that 2700 mile(4300km) Tour Divide, hands down. He completely agreed. The AZTR was BRUTAL!!

Rob tucking into his burrito. Humphrey's watching over us....still.

I left Rob to eat and pressed on. I soon caught up to two riders. Who were they? There were only Dean and Beth out here ahead of me? It turned out to be two young ladies touring the route. They had left Flagstaff yesterday and battled the cold and wind. They were in amazingly good spirits and made me reflect on how racing the route bends your mind and body. Perhaps the AZT could be the right pace?

The girls told me that they had met Dean and Beth yesterday and that they had pressed on. They were worried about Beth as they had found some of her layers/protective shell stuck in some bushes along the trail. Perhaps Beth had dropped them or perhaps they had simply blown away and she couldn't catch them in the wind. The girls had collected the clothing and were worried for Beth's welfare. They planned to mail it back to her once they reached the Canyon.

I came to a hard right turn onto Babbit Ranch. There was a large loader parked there, right by the cache' box that is hidden behind some bushes. I checked the cache' and it had plenty of water but then, so did I. I didn't need any so didn't take any. One good thing about the cold weather was my low water consumption rate.

Cedar Ranch trailhead(I think). Cache' box behind bushes to left of photo.

The trail followed farm roads across fairly flat, open prairie. I WOULD NOT have wanted to be out here with 50mph winds!! It would have been a case of walking and lots of it. Stopping to open and close a gate I took the opportunity to fix a squealing front brake disc. I had put up with it for a few hours now and upon lifting the front wheel to spin it so that I could confirm that it was the front disc I heard- no- felt a graunching of wrecked bearings through the bike frame and handlebar that I was holding. SHIT! The front wheel wobbled from side to side about 5mm as well. I knew these Shutter Precision dyno hubs with the 15mm through axle had a reputation for failing but this one had done so well, coping with the TD and all the training miles I had done in preparation for the AZTR. Here I was, about 80km from Tusyan (which doesn't have a bike shop anyway) with a colapsing front wheel bearing. SHIT!! There was nothing I could do except just keep riding and hope it didn't get any worse.

Trail I had just covered, upper left. Yes, the AZT wound it's way back on itself putting Humphrey's Peak in front of me AGAIN!

The next few hours were a blur of climbing small hills only to descend, then repeat again, then some single track through low scrubby country. I just pedalled and hoped that I would see the Grandview Lookout at the Canyon soon. It wasn't to be though as it seemed to take forever and I began to worry about my front hub even more.

Eventually the trail became nice doubletrack and headed in more a less straight line. Hopefully toward the Canyon!

Coconino Passage? I am getting close to The Canyon now!!

I passed a few hikers along here and they were all pretty chipper. It still amazed me how fast they were all travelling. One could be severely embarrassed by a hiker passing if one wasn't careful!

NOT Russell Tank. I still didn't need water though.

I started to catch glimpses of the Canyon through the pines and thought I must be getting close to Grandview Lookout tower, my original planned camp site for tonight. At this rate I would make the resort township of Tusyan easily tonight. 

Canyon glimpses

But as usual, the AZT bit back. The trail stopped being so direct and began to contour the hillsides of the above photo. It dropped steeply down into washes before climbing out again. This was getting decidedly OLD!

I was catching up to another hiker and I saw him go through a gate just ahead. I went through as well but stopped for a few minutes to fit my light to my helmet, add a layer and eat a bite. Fair dinkum, it took me at least 15 minutes to catch and pass the guy! He was powering....or I was grovelling.....

Eventually I came to the Grandview Lookout tower just on dark. I managed to get a photo of it despite the low light. I decided that it was cold, I was hungry and it was only about 12 miles into Tusyan, where lay hot food, warm showers and soft beds. I promised myself another hotel room to recuperate for the Canyon hike tomorrow if I pressed on tonight.

Grandview Lookout. 10 hours pedalling to here on one tank of water.

Of course, those 12 miles took a long time. The trail seemed to take a lot of turns back and forth as I inched closer to Tusyan. It was now completely dark and I was just operating off my helmet light with the dynamo hub toasted. Deer ran here and there across the trail and I did worry a little if I was in bear country. It had that look about it.....

I eventually came to the back of Tusyan. I just needed to find a way across a high fence to the town and civilisation. I found a gate and it took me through the back entrance of the Grand Canyon Camper Village. I cut straight through, turned left at the main street and rode straight up to the Holiday Inn. Walking into the reception, I was almost knocked down by the heat emenating from the foyer! Damn, it was cold outside. I had shut it out but I guess it was pretty damn close to 0C(32F) by now at 9pm.

To my delight, the receptionist said yes, they did have a room. That would be $ credit card flashed across the counter to her. A deal was a deal. I had ridden the 160km(100mi) from Flag to Tusyan and now the nice room was the payoff. 

Wheeling my bike into the room I walked straight back out, across the road and into McDonalds. To say I was peckish would be an understatement!! 20 nuggets, a quarter Pounder, a strawberry and custard pie(effin' delicious too!) and a MASSIVE hot chocolate with caramel flavouring were swapped for a small fortune and I was on my way back to the hotel. Placing the nuggets on the cistern of the toilet I was able to have a hot shower AND shove food into my face at the same time.
Absolute. Fucking. Bliss.

After some quick facebooking to home and checking Trackleaders I turned in for the night at about 10pm. I was chuffed that I had made the leap from Flagstaff and was rally excited and just a little scared at the prospect of tackling the Canyon crossing in the morning.

FB snippet, typed tired and addled.

I had also answered Lucy's innocent, if cutting question of "well, why are you doing it then?" during today's ride. To paraphrase JFK - I am doing it, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. I told myself I can quit this thing at any time, any day or night. Anyone can quit the Arizona Trail Race but it takes a special kind of crazy - an adventurous crazyness that I admire -  not to quit. 
So that is why I was still going Lucy........that plus the thought of crossing the Grand Freakin' Canyon tomorrow!!


Tusyan Maccas contemplation....shit it was cold!!


  1. As excellent as ever Dave. I think that in the largely comfortable existence which most of us have these days, we need a worthwhile challenge to remind ourselves that we're still alive. I hope you'll turn the blog into a more permanent record for yourself in the coming years but more importantly, for Lucy so that she understands a bit more about the important things in life as she grows up.

    1. I agree Geoff. I think that is a reason behind so much unhappiness in the western world. We have it too easy and on some level ask ourselves “is this it?” Bikepacking racing might not be the “it” for most people but I think everyone needs to find their own “it”. You give back with you training. I give back with volunteer trail building. Volunteering for a common cause is satisfying on a deep level and more people need to rediscover that fact.(IMHO)

    2. You've nailed it on the head. Jennie and I have both been fortunate to combine our passions with volunteer work. It doesn't feel like work when you love something but it really is the glue which holds communities together. Nicely said mate.

  2. Shoving maccas into your face and calling it fucking bliss, you were completely out of your fucking mind. It's complete lunacy I say

  3. You have no idea. You clearly have never been that cold and that hungry. I can loan you a bike......


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