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

I leisurely ate my second frozen/thawed burrito, downed my regulation Starbucks espresso doubleshot and watched Alice Drobna slowly ride past. Alice is one strong, consistent rider. I dip my lid to her skills. 
As I ate and sipped I wandered around the campground. I found an information display that explained the Prison Camp name. It was a WW2 Japanese resident internment camp now named after Gordon Hirabayashi, a former detainee who fought the US government after the war to obtain an apology for the wrongful internment of those who worked and lived in the camp.(more info in the link). So that explained the "Prison Camp" name. I had understood it to be Gordon Hirabayashi Campground and that is why I didn't know what everyone was talking about all afternoon yesterday!

Finally I was loaded up and rolled out of the campground. Turning left I was straight into the climb up the highway to Mt Lemmon and Summerhaven. I was actually looking forward to this 28km/1000m climb as it was all sealed road and I could just sit back and spin, taking in the views instead of hanging on for dear life and trying not to embed myself in some cacti.

The view did not disappoint!

Ice! Ha! I wish....

And it only got better and better!

Tucson waaay down there. We started waaay past those very distant mountains just 2 days ago!

Sure, my legs began to hurt a bit, my butt was getting sore from sitting in the same spot but I was motoring up that hill! Plus the road bike riders that passed all said something encouraging. 

One for the moto readers.

The sports bike riders were just cruising up and down, not going too nuts at all, so there must be some enforcement up here.

Summerhaven, that way, yes, up!

I eventually got to the spigot at the Pallisades visitor centre (or the carpark across the road actually) where I put about 2 litres in the Camelbak. No sense carrying too much water to the top of the hill as I would be resuppling at Summerhaven, just 8km up the hill. I topped out the climb and took the obligatory photograph. That is almost 1000ft higher than Australia's highest mountain.

Fat bike high.

Originally I was going to try to not go off route into Summerhaven. Something about no extra off route miles but this morning you could not have paid me to stay away! My mouth was watering at the thought of a huge burger and a thickshake and chips and ......well, you get the idea. Rocking up to the door of Sawmill Run cafe' just after 10am I was MIGHTILY disappointed to find the door locked. Confusingly, there was both an Open and a Closed sign in the window. There were staff standing around inside but no matter how hard I leaned on the door, it just wouldn't open and they would not make eye contact.

So, I rolled down to the Summerhaven General Store, parking the steed outside and sauntering in.

Summerhaven General Store and life savers.

 I was pleasantly surprised at how well stocked the place was and I began to fill my arms with food, glorious food! A lovely lady came over to ask if "I was finding everything ok?" like they say. I replied that I was looking for some hot food. She showed me these little heat and serve pots of pasta and offered to heat one up. I am always dubious of these types of food but agreed to try it. Once outside, on the stoop of the shop, charging my cache' battery from the outlet I tucked into the lasagne that I had just purchased. It tasted effing fantastic and I almost shed another tear as I scoffed it down. A Starbucks Frappaccino washed it down and an ice cream bar was desert. How good was that!!?? So good that I got up, went back into the store and bought another Lasagne plus another great find, a Krispy Kreme Pecan Pie. 
Oh. My. God. So glad I came to Summerhaven........

Balanced bikepacking breakfast.

After chilling, filling and BookFacing the peeps back home with atrocious gramar and spelling due to me being rooted out of my head, I climbed out of town toward the infamous Oracle Ridge. Now, while there are many infamous sections of the AZT, Oracle Ridge strikes fear into plenty of riders and it's name is spoken in hushed tones. I must admit, I was suitably respectful of it's impending arrival in front of me!

Oracle Ridge Trailhead. Looks suitably shitty already.......

It was not far to the next resupply at Oracle (again, off route) in pure distance terms but like much of the AZT, distance does not equate to normal timeframes.

I had my expectations set suitably low. I fully planned to grovel along this section of trail all afternoon, so lets get going already.

It proved to be mostly rideable at the start. 

Until it wasn't......

Oracle Ridge HAB warm up.

The trail was interspersed with rideable bits then HAB sections, then rideable again. There was plenty of major exposure in places but to be honest, I was loving it! The view from up here at about 7500ft was amazing. Following a razorback ridge, the trail weaved from one side to the other as if to take in the views on both sides. It was certainly a great distraction to the difficulty of the trail. I definitely would not want to do Oracle ridge at night as you would miss these views!

I was riding a lot of the downs, slightly heart-in-mouth but loving it!

I had it in my head that there was 15 kilometres to the Oracle Ridge trail. Nothing to do but keep going then....after a quick rest in the shade......

Looking back to Mt Lemmon and Summerhaven.

This was inspiring stuff. The AZT was finally delivering!

Looking northwest toward Biosphere 2

Looking east toward Mammoth and San Manuel

Any difficulty with lifting the bike was overshadowed by the sheer beauty of the area. There was only one large rock stepup that I thought to myself, all sexism aside, "how do the girls lift their bikes up that?" It was a large rock outcrop, well above head high with no real handily placed steps and I struggled to get my bike up it without being forced to just drag it across the rock! Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of it as I think at the time, I just wanted it behind me!

Soon after, Oracle Ridge went all flaccid, dumping us out on a jeep road. That was it!? About 5 kilometres of challenging stuff and it was out onto more rideable, normalish trails - even if they did point down at about 25% gradient (according to Strava)......this was a white knuckle ride for 5-10 minutes as we dumped a heap of elevation.

Oh, well, that wasn't anywhere near as bad as I was expecting. After dropping steeply for a while I was watching for the gate back to the AZT as I didn't want to miss the turn and have to climb back up this "road". Luckily, because I was aware and watching for it, the gate was easy to spot. I had a chuckle at this sign. Glad they pointed that out several hundred miles along this trail as the loose rocks, falling trees, flash flooding and damaged and blocked trail could be dangerous.......!

This led to some steep, loose trail covered made up of large loose rocks. It was fast and fun but I was concerned about slashing a tyre and how much heat I was putting into the brakes. This trail would be awesome fun on an unloaded bike and awesomely soul crushing if you were a south bound AZT racer.

Gate and a break from the rockfest.

This tank was somewhere on Oracle Ridge/AZT trail above High Jinks Ranch but I don't know what it was called.

Unknown trough.

The trail down to High Jinks Ranch was well made and quite fun, well until many, many tight switchbacks with a log and a drop at the exit began to proliferate the trail. 

Top of High Jinks trail.

I could ride some but most were frustratingly big drops and the risk of  crashing onto a wrist was just too high. I didn't have fun here hence, no photos until the American Flag trail head.

The trail from here until the Hwy 77 underpass was bloody good fun. It was fast, sandy, loose trail and there were even some cacti blooms along the way. A shitty section had been cut out and replaced with sweet singletrack and I think everyone would be happy about that!

Eventually I came to the Hwy 77 underpass and there was a racer (sorry, forgot his name too but he was a great guy from Colorado - please respond if you read this) sitting in the cool, under the road. He had already been into Oracle for resupply and highly recommended the fried chicken. Mmmmm....fried chicken....... I know it hadn't been that long since I was at Summerhaven, in fact it was only about 4 hours, but you guessed it, I was hungry and also hankering for an icy cold drink or three. 

I had a plan with Oracle. It was to ride the Hwy 77 past town to the western entrance, then cut into the western (there are two) Circle K convenience store for resupply. This would cut out the up and down nature of the service road that most riders take. Seemed like a solid plan but it did expose me to more of the headwind on the highway.
Arriving at the Circle K I left my bike outside (hoping somebody might steal it - seriously!) and went into the airconditioning to cool down. I loaded up on turkey sandwiches, frozen Coke, Muscle Milk and danishes. I filled my Camelbak with ice then sat in the rear corner of the store, icing my achilles while I munched my food. I did three more visits to the clerk with armfulls of food, then returned to my ice pack by the refrigerated section, stretching each time before I sat down. I was very concious of how grubby and smelly I was and honestly, was a little embarrassed to sit there.

Awesome cool down and chill-out. Muscle Milk 2nd shelf from top at right - non dairy so packable.....

That was until a guy walked in with a small dog on his shoulder, like some sort of pirate parrot! I suddenly felt invisible and didn't worry any longer! 
While my head light and cache' battery continued to charge I paid the clerk one last visit to buy some frozen burritos for dinner and breakfast, plus some Vitamin water as an after dinner treat. I was getting a bit over the taste of  the Nuun tablets I was sucking down each day. When I began to shiver from the cold of the refrigerators I knew it was time to go!

Riding out of Oracle on the 77, I was full to the eyeballs with food and water. I enjoyed the push in the back from the strong westerly wind and the now downhill road. I passed someone else coming into town and gave them a big wave. King of the world!

Turning off onto the Tiger Mine road I was rudely awakened by having to pedal uphill again. Now I just felt fat and bloated. Bleh.

Dangerous sign.....subdued.

 It was approaching golden hour and I stopped briefly at the trail head for a photo or two.

Tiger Mine trail head. Shame about the smudge on the camera lens....

I rode straight past the cache' box as I had 7 litres of water plus a litre of Nutrient Water and another Muscle Milk on board. It was 160km (100mi) to the next guaranteed resupply at Kelvin Bridge so I was paying this section of desert mucho respect. 100 desert miles of AZT was going to be rough.....

Tiger Mine single track. It was awesome!

I really enjoyed the trail along here as the light faded. Crossing some washes I passed racers bedding down for the night. My original plan for today was to get from Molino to Ripsey Wash, a "mere" 125km(78mi) for the day. That was based on nothing more than riding from water point to water point, all planned while sitting comfortably at a computer in my study. The reality on the ground was that Mt Lemmon, then Oracle Ridge were in that 125km. While I was about 5 hours ahead of where I had hoped to be entering Oracle, I had taken a good rest there and I was at least 6-8 hours from Ripsey Wash.

The Gila (pronounced Hila) Canyons on the horizon. Tomorrow's challenge.

As I rode into the night I tried to figure a strategy for the coming day. I eventually decided that I was pretty beat (duh) and  would stop early, then get up super-early to beat the heat later in the day. I soon found a flat spot on the inside of a corner, about 5 metres off the AZT. I did my usual faffing around setting up, getting out of my riding gear and into my bivy while eating, drinking and stretching all at the same time. As I was doing this I heard some gunshots over the hill behind me. Great! I hope they don't come hunting this way. How do I not look like game? A couple of riders came past and I warned them about the shots but they seemed unconcerned...or tired out of their minds.....

I coughed and wheezed some as I settled down for the night. My breathing was still laboured and wheezy but it didn't seem to be getting any worse. The stars out tonight were simply amazing, as were the large number of satellites whizzing across the sky. You don't see anywhere that number Down Under.
It took me a while to feel sleepy as I took in the night sky.
I set my alarm for 2am and eventually closed my eyes. Today had been a "short" day at just 12h 40m on the bike and a very short 84km(52mi).

Perhaps I should have pushed further into the night? Perhaps I could make up for it tomorrow? Did it really matter?

I was doing the best I could.....

Day 3.


Oracle Ridge


  1. Another superb write-up Dave. I know I shouldn't be surprised with the calories you burn but can't believe how much you guys eat!!! No healthy lettuce sandwiches and a carrot for you on this trip :-)

    1. That is why I do it Geoff. I like to eat. Its a hobby of mine. ;)

  2. There sure is a lot of breath taking scenery in those photo's. Stunningly beautiful place the USA. Those moto riders were probably miles from help if anything went wrong so were cruising.

    Those 'mericans didn't bat an eyelid when you told them about the gun shots because they probably hear gun shots every second day, probably just taking care of another one of those pesky road signs....

  3. Mt Lemmon isn't far from Tucson but it is probably the only windy mountain road around so the highway patrol know where to catch their fish. I did see some fairing bits in the roadside drain from time to time.

  4. Slowly catching up...I'd be hopeless in a pushy race...

  5. 4+ hours to conquer Oracle Ridge is blazin' fast!! I bet your rotors were cool to the touch, doesn't sound like you used them!!

    1. On the contrary, I was scared I would cook them on the drop off Oracle. I really did like Oracle I odd?


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