Saturday, June 30, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 12 And The Finish!!

I woke to the alarm on my phone at 0430 and promptly turned it off. My right side was frozen so I rolled over to my left and went back to sleep. There was no commitment this morning despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements....

I eventually woke again at 0620 and this time I hauled myself upright. Damn it was cold! I was so glad that I was inside and it had to be below freezing here at 8000ft. I ate my second Maccas burrito as I took stock of what needed doing. My bike was still pulled asunder and had hiking straps lashed to it. Clearly, getting it rolling was priority one this morning.

North Rim outhouse Hilton.

It took me a while to do that as I had a rather fiddly setup with my front wheel. The fork was a modern "boost" model, 110mm wide but my hub was an old spec 100mm job. I had to juggle two little 5mm spacers while I held the wheel in place and simultaneously slide the axle through the hub. A more complex task could not have been devised if they were selecting astronauts! Luckily, I held my mouth just right, squinted a bit and had it back together faster than Armstrong himself could have achieved!!

I munched some dried dates and had a sip of my water. Ahh, yes water. I saddled up and rolled down to the trailhead sign/spigot and hoped against hope that the water was on.
Eureka!! It was on!! I greedily filled my bladders and my bottle. I was pretty dry from last nights effort and my lack of water. Why I didn't check the spigot last night when I leaned my bike against the trailhead sign I do not know. I guess I was so focussed on getting to that shelter......oh, and was rooted out of my head!

North Kaibab trailhead. Trail goes down directly behind it and the outhouse Hilton was up the hill behind me. That is the 67 road coming into the park in the background.

I hit the road at 0721 according to my Spot tracker and little did I know that Dave Wicks was just a few hundred metres down the trail! He had almost caught me!! Oblivious to the fact I pedalled off along the North Rim access road, not the AZT. The road is a valid way to go because there is always too much snow on the actual AZT on the North Rim. This is a consequence of starting the race in early April to avoid too much heat down south, by the time that even us back markers get to the north Rim there is still too much snow to do the actual AZT. 
To be brutally honest I was soooo glad that I didn't have to take the AZT proper as I had almost no food left and questionable energy reserves. The prospect of 70 km(44mi) of pavement to Jacob Lake, at just on 9000ft above sea level was daunting enough but the thought of doing the single track was abhorrent to me this morning. I could see the AZT in places from the comfort of the road and what I saw looked like a lot of uphill HAB.

Hwy 67. Technically closed, if I saw a vehicle I was going to jump off my bike and push it to avoid infringement.

It was quite cold and overcast but the wind was favouring from behind which was great as it was quite strong. I had read that Max Morris had to punch into a 50mph headwind up here last week. I considered myself very lucky.

A little out of focus but so were my eyes this morning after a 20 hour day and only 4 hours sleep.

I was glad to make the North Rim entrance station without seeing a single vehicle. I was now on state highway, which was technically open to traffic.

The Grand Canyon, thata-way 17 kilometres.

There were some steep climbs along the road here where I simply got off my bike to push for a while because I was so sore and needed to change it up. I was sweating hard on some of the climbs and when I saw the North Rim County Store I decided to pull in to shed a layer. I was also secretly hoping that they might be open and I could get a hot drink, but it was not to be. They were very much boarded up for the winter still.

Still one chunk of ice remained.

The country opened up a lot from here. I think I should have been riding through an Aspen forest but there were signs everywhere that it had been razed to the ground by wildfire. What would have been beautiful, soothing riding was instead like a warzone and combined with a 30 knot wind that swirled and gusted, it made for pretty unpleasant riding....except for when the road turned North and that horrible wind was at my back. The problem was the road kept taking bites to the West, where the wind would be a diabolical cross/head wind, before turning north again.
And still the road climbed. I started seeing elevation markers and the news was all grim. The Beast and I were at almost 9000ft above sea level. No wonder I had no zip left in the legs!

One of the few cars that passed. They were few but they were doing at least 80mph!!

Eventually I came to Jacob Lake, which basically consists of an Inn and a Chevron gas station. I parked up out the front and wandered in. I was met by a cheerful young girl who asked me how she could help. I would like some food, lets make that lots of food please!
I was ushered to the huge square shaped bar in the centre of the room where I ordered a large coffee while I perused the menu.

As soon as I sat down a rather attractive woman came over and asked "are you Dave?" "Ummm, yes I am" I replied, momentarily confused. She introduced herself as Rob Adams wife and not some crazy stalker. Whew! That made sense! She asked about the race and how it was going and it was so nice to talk to someone who 1) knew exactly what we were going through and 2) spoke lovely she was English! In fact, she mentioned the Commonwealth Games which were going on in my home state right at that moment. It seems that she was at the last Games in Brisbane in 1982 - as a 1500m competitor, coming in 6th place no less! 

Anyway, I ate, which could not have been a pretty sight while we chatted. It was so nice to have somebody to talk to after 36 hours on my own and someone that I felt an affinity with, what with the English accent (my wife is English by birth). I had put my light and cache' battery on charge and after what felt like 20 minutes but was probably 90 minutes, it was time to hit the trail again. Rob's wife (sorry, I think it was Clare but can't really recall now) offered to take a photo for the folks back home. I couldn't believe how red my face was from the wind burn this morning!

Leaving Jacob Lake refuelled and refreshed. Thanks for the chat Clare.

I rolled down the steep hill toward the AZT crossing and turned left into the final section of this AZTR750. It was just 47km(29mi) to the finish and I was guessing that would be 4-5 hours of riding. I had finally learnt to respect the distances on the AZT! 

Finally, sweet, sweet trail. Sweet AZT no less!

The trail started out a little rocky and hilly, underneath a pine forest but it soon became super flowy and fun, trending downhill along a deep drainage. I was flying along this track and having a ball but also dreading the inevitable climb that must come after all fun downhill sections.
To my eternal amazement the trail ended at a gate and opened out onto a flat paddock! No climb awaited! That isn't to say the trail was easy because this flat sagebrush paddock was pock marked with cattle hoof prints. It was like riding a jack hammer for a few kilometres and the only way to tackle it was to get on top of the pedals and hammer it back! Luckily I had a good tailwind to help me and I made great time through here, despite the potholes.

There were a few gates through here and as I knew Dave W was close behind I left him a little gift, a Buttermilk chocolate bar with Go Dave!! in Nikko pen on it sitting on the rail of a gate. I figured it was cold enough that it wouldn't melt despite being in full sun. I hoped he would get a buzz out of the gesture as he was riding a killer race now but I knew he wouldn't like the bar itself as those things tasted like eating chocolate covered sand!! :-0

AZT crossing a tiny back road in the middle of nowhere.

There was still qite a few pinchy climbs to be had, with brake searing, whooping descents off the back side. It was as if a series of huge sand dunes were between myself and the border. I would have cursed them if I had a few days still to ride but I actually embraced the climbs as I knew I was getting close to wrapping this race up.

Topping one such climb I was suddenly greeted with a view of Utah! It was starkly different to all of the other terrain around and just had to be in Utah!

Utah ho!

I kept dropping down hooting descents only to get off and push up the following climb. Each time I crested the top there was Utah, bigger and brighter....

Not far to go now!

Cresting the final climb I stopped to take a few photos. The trail was typical AZT. Rocky and loose as hell. What a perfect way to finish this epic race!

The last section of trail was everything I would expect of the AZT. Fast, loose, rocky, tight downhill switchbacks to the Stateline Campground.

John Schilling has the exact same photo on the exact same rock on his blog! I didn't realise until I got home.

 I rolled in and stopped in front of the sign.



I took a photo in case my stupid unreliable Spot didn't register my finish time.

That meant 11 Days, 8 hours and 59 minutes for 12th place out of 34 starters. Look at that alarm set time! No more 0115 getups for me!!

To say that the finish was an anti climax is a huge understatement! I was here, on the border of Utah and there was not another soul around. I backtracked 10 metres to the closest shelter and sat down, just a little dumbfounded that I had finished this crazy race, despite the 486 times that I had been ready to quit.

I sat down and ate the to-go sandwich that I had bought in Jacob Lake at midday. Looking at my phone, I actually had some service here and some text messages from home began to come through. This drove home the reality of this thing and I got a little emotional. I am glad no one was there to see......

I ate my sandwich then laid on that soft concrete bench and slept for 90 minutes.

When I woke there was a hiker walking past. He came over and we chatted for about 30 minutes. He had just completed a through hike with his buddy in 34 days or so. Very impressive. We compared experiences and I decided that riding the trail was a more sensible option than hiking it.... :O

While we chatted Wicks rode up!!
Woo Hoo!! Go Dave!! Massive Effort!!

The instant Dave finished (for his second 750!). He had just unclipped and was pulling his ear buds out. One happy chappy!!

Our ordeal wasn't over though. We now needed to extract ourselves from the finish line.

It was 73km(45mi) to Page, the nearest town that we might be able to hire a car. Luckily for us, a car pulled into the carpark and parked next to the car that you can see in the photo above. the driver got out, went to the mini van and opened it. He proceeded to transfer gear and faff around. I went up to him and told him that we had just finished the AZT and asked if there would be any chance of a lift to a town? I thought he looked familiar then it hit me, this was Aaron Denberg, the sole Southbound racer that I had met north of Tortilla Flat all those days ago! He had arranged a car swap/shuttle with Mark Caminiti and was just picking up his car which had been parked here for just over a week.
"Sure, I'll give you a lift" Aaron answered but "I just want to sleep for a few hours". That was just fine as that is what we wanted as well. We rolled out our bivys and were asleep instantly, only waking hours later when Scott Fisk's welcoming party woke us asking if we were AZT racers and asking a heap of questions that I can't remember.
Aaron was up as well and called us over. We loaded all three bikes into his van and he impressed us with the speed his little van could achieve. Easily done though after 11 days on a mountain bike! He even had some luke-warm beers for us to suck on while we were whisked toward Page and civilisation. Thanks Aaron, I owe ya one!

With that, our Arizona Trail Race was over.

While we did have a few more hectic days extracting ourselves back to Phoenix and to our clean clothes we were done pedalling.

I have a few (a lot actually) people to thank for this awesome experience. Firstly, my lovely wife Rebecca who puts up with me not growing up. My hair brained plans and schemes are all taken in her stride and I simply could not do this crazy shit without having her by my side, solid as a rock.
Thanks Bookie. ;)

I would also like to thank Dave Wicks for talking me into this crazy adventure. Without his siren song of the AZT I probably would not have pulled the trigger on this ride. Thanks for all of the advice, encouragement and piss-taking! You make a great travel buddy.....for a Kiwi!

Jim Napier of Transitional Fitness who put nearly as much effort into learning about the race and what I would need to do to survive it as I did! The strength and psych training pain off. Cheers Jimmy!

Scott Morris for conceiving of this race and doing the hard yards each year with making sure we have a track to follow and putting up with about a million dumb questions from us rookies. Thanks mate!

Thanks also to John Schilling for his infectious love of the AZT. John's race blog from 2016 was THE go to resource for all of my planning. "What would John do?" was my catch cry before and during the race. Thanks for the generosity before, during and after the race John. It was awesome to meet you and have a beer or three. MTBers are the best people!

John made us drink beer........ cheers mate!

To all of my mates and ride buddies here in Oz, thanks for putting up with my crazy training rides, all of the "can't stop to chat, must keep pedalling" moments and all of the positive support. I am no athlete, just a middle aged balding Dad who likes to ride his bike. I don't do this stuff to impress anyone, it is just that I like a challenge. If anyone takes inspiration great, if they think I'm nuts...great too!!
 You may be right.........

In the 70~ish days since I finished the race I have tried to process the experience and that is partly why I have waited so long before writing this race review blog. My initial thoughts were that I hated large sections of the ride because frankly, they are brutal! I wanted to have some time for my mind to smooth over these brutal bits and see if they were really that bad! While that has occurred to some extent, with me thinking that I wouldn’t mind having another look at the trail, there is no hiding from the truth that to race this trail IS a brutal experience that is going to cause a racer much discomfort and a certain amount of mental distress!
I have tried to convey the way I felt and what I was thinking in this write up without rose tinting it. I hope I have achieved this without sounding too negative about the trail.
 As I indicated in the lead up to the race, I probably didn’t have as much “buy in” for the AZTR as I did for the TD and I think this effected my outlook for a lot of the race. Despite all of the prep work I did with regard to route knowledge I was still quite stressed on a daily basis with how hard it is to cover distance in a timely manner along the AZT. To a certain extent you are always going to feel like this as a rookie no matter the race and going around again for a second time would see a much calmer outlook. The problem with racing the trail a second time is that you would then know when a really shitty, physically or mentally challenging section was coming up and it would be a huge mental battle to press on. I dip my lid to those who have lined up a second time (or more) for this race, let alone set a 6 day record!(Kurt!)
What am I rambling about here?
Well, I have had so many people ask if I would do it again. Mainly out of bloody mindedness I have answered “no way!” but the truth is I just don’t know. There are sections of trail that are just so beautiful and inspiring that my “smoothed over” memory has me thinking that I wouldn’t mind seeing them again. I also hugely enjoyed the interaction that I had with other racers and members of the public during the race. I have fond memories of sitting in the cold, at the top of the Mogollon Rim on the Battle Of The Big Dry Wash memorial with Beth, eating some jerky and dried dates. Having an ice cold beer handed to me out of the blue at Molino campground?

Never say never I guess?

My AZTR 750. The extra green tents in the Canyon are false but the rest are accurate.

Cheers and thanks for reading this epic assault by written word. I hope the photos have eased the pain somewhat.

Packing to come home. Mission completed!

AZTR Gear and Preparation List
(This will be a work in progress)

Fuck. Yeah.


  1. Hi Dave,
    What can I say that I haven't said already? Simply magnificent and I especially enjoyed the mental side of the race. I really hope that you'll desktop publish it for you and your family to read in later years. Warmest congratulations mate on taking on such a serious personal challenge and getting through it.

    John White is now in Oz preparing to start the Canning Stock Route so I'll be looking forward to following his progress too. Maybe a new challenge for you? :-)

    1. Hi Geoff. Glad you enjoyed the journey.
      Does John have a tracking link or a blog? It would be interesting to watch his progress.

    2. Yes he does but not sure what permissions are required. I'll send you an email with some info. He and a mate from Sydney are travelling overland to the start. They're currently just east of Port Augusta.

  2. Great stuff! What a great result after so much effort. Congrats!

    1. Thanks Andrew. There is something in the next post for you moto guys. ;)

  3. Well done Bro, well done. A very solid effort and we are all proud of you and what you have accomplished an may I say its quite inspiring reading this even though your are quite eccentric!

    The race was shorter than the TD but look like it was much harder with much more HAB and rocky terrain. Glad you finished and onto the next bike tour, whatever that may be.


  4. Not eccentric, fucking nuts......but a good kind of crazy....I think.....

  5. Finally got around to reading the rest of your AZT posts. I really enjoyed this report on a race I assuredly will never attempt. Thanks for taking the time!

    1. Thanks Jill but never say hindsight it isn't as bad as it first seems. It is that daily anxiety about "what is coming up next" that worries me most at the time. In reality there are only one or two really tough points. Iditarod would be far more terrifying and you have been eating those for breakfast.... ;)

  6. Damn, thats hardcore and very cool!
    I love riding my bike here in Japan, its a way of life, heaps of people have no car, myself included, I ride to town every 2nd day to shop. Or just to clear my mind. Really love it as much as my motorised two wheels.

    1. Glad you liked it Warren. Yes, I love 2 wheels, whether it has a motor or I am the motor. Youy get that feeling of freedom from both but you also get the health benefits from the self propulsion version.

  7. Well Dave, I finally finished the entire read!! I think you've outdone my report!! I probably have more pics though!! Haha. Reading your last day gave me shivers, your trail was dry & clean, I woke to a winter snowscape, hail, death mud and a beer handup on that desolate road crossing!! Now that's pure gold!! Once again, a huge Congrats on finishing the 750. Wear that buckle with pride.

    I'll be interested to hear how you feel about the AZT when next April rolls around... I'd highly recommend riding all the skipped miles on the North Rim...during the summer or fall on fresh legs!! Some of the best in the state. Cheers!!

  8. Lol. Your report is the benchmark, so no outdoing that!!
    In hindsight, the last day of the race was a pretty good one. I was just feeling pretty beat down on the ride to Jacob Lake but that last 47km from JL to Stateline simply blew by. I was pumped for it!
    As for next year? Yep, there will be pangs of jealousy for those lucky enough to start the race. I feel that way each year as the TD starts but it doesn't mean I am going to line up again any time soon... :)


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