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.

So it was that what felt like hours later and miles of trail later I came to a green gate. As I hopped off to open it I noticed a rider packing up their tent a little off the trail. It was Alice again! I thought she would be miles in front of me by now and yesterday would be the last day I would see her. Too far away and too windy to say hi to her, I just kept rolling along. Shortly after, my headlight simply stopped. This Lezyne light is awesome but it doesn't slowly fade, it just cuts out altogether. That meant I had been riding for near 5 hours if it was flat. I could see a faint glow on the eastern horizon, so sunrise wasn't far away. I decided to keep riding with my dynamo light which was fine while I had speed. If I had to roll into a gully with a steep pinch on the other side it got a bit exciting as the light would suddenly go dim as I slowed! I managed to ride like this for about 30 minutes, only clipping a pedal on a rock once, causing a heart-in-mouth moment, before the sun was up enough for me to see the trail.

Soon after first light I couldn't help but look around and I saw what I thought was Picketpost. It looked a bit different but I figured I was coming at it from the other side to that which we camped last week. I still had not looked at my gps even once so I didn't know how far I had to go but it couldn't be more than a few miles. 

Getting close now!

I passed two hikers coming the other way and we chatted for a minute. They were hiking to New Mexico! They looked like they were on a day hike from the gear they were carrying! They knew about the race and said they had passed another rider just up the trail and I wasn't far behind. We parted ways and the trail seemed to be getting faster and faster. I was staying off the brakes as much as I could, hopping rocks and sliding around. Last week I was being uber careful not to fall of and hurt myself but now I thought to myself "well, if I crash and break something at least it will be over and I can rest". I seriously didn't care if I went on with the race at this point. It was brutally tough out here.

I stopped to try and get an "after" shot to match the one I took last week on this trail but I honestly couldn't remember exactly where I took the first photo. These two are from roughly the same area. Pick which is "before" and which is "after".

I rolled into the parking area at the trail head and leant my bike against the trail head sign. You bloody rippa!!
I had done the AZTR300!!
I could see some riders chatting around the back of a car as I stood there getting a few selfies of me, the sign and the mountain. 

AZTR300 DONE!!!!!

A woman hopped up out of her chair and walked over. "Have you just finished the AZTR?" she asked. "Yes, why yes I had". She took my phone from me and said stand right there and proceeded to take some photos for me. Then she handed me a can of sparkling water, of which I was very grateful.
The woman introduced herself as Rebecca Rusch and said that she finished the 300 a few days ago and was waiting for her husband, who had finished earlier this morning. I felt very self conscious of my disheveled state as she stood there looking perfectly manicured. 

Me feeling very self concious

She invited me to sit in her camp chair and we chatted about the race, where I was from and what was next.  450 more miles of the AZT was next for me I told her and I politely goaded her into having a crack at the 750 next year. I am not sure how she replied now, perhaps she changed the subject. It wasn't hard to fool my addled brain this morning. Rebecca was lovely and very kindly emailed some pictures of me at the finish to my wife and I was extremely grateful for that. I thanked her for her kindness, jumped on my bike and pedalled off toward the AZT exit. 
Man, I was glad Dave W had showed me where it was last week otherwise I would have been chasing the gps track around the carpark......

Utah, this way.......

As I pedalled off I realised that I had been sooo focused on getting to Picketpost these last few days I hadn't thought about what lay beyond it! I had to think back to my route research to remember what came next. There was some rough singletrack through a few paddocks then we were on a dirt road, very much ala Tour Divide. This road would take us, with a few twists and turns, to Queen Valley which had a small shop. I planned on eating and drinking there plus doing some charging of my cache' battery and light. 
I didn't take any photos along here as it was just dirt road. What was interesting was all of the gunshots I heard ringing out here. It seems people were just pulled off the side of the road, shooting things. What, I do not know but probably those dangerous Saguaro as I had seen plenty of bullet holes in them the last few days. I was a bit concerned when I head a lot of semi automatic fire but then I was thinking "why don't I go over and ask if I can have a shot?" "Nah, stick with the plan is my best bet".....was my sensible answer.
I rolled into Queen Valley, which looked like some sort of golfing/retirement community and stopped at the Fitz shop. Paul K and another guy were there already. I said hi and proceeded to shop. Charging my electronics while eating and chatting in the morning sun was pleasant. Paul asked how much longer I would be as I think he wanted me to ride with him. As I had just arrived I thought I might take it easy for a bit, so he took off. That was the last I saw him, he rode to a very strong finish several days ahead of me.

Leaving Queen Valley it was getting quite warm again. The route followed the sealed road for a while, then turned right through a "gate" and into open desert. This was the Gold Canyon section of trail that John Schilling had added to the route to get riders off the main roads for longer. I thought that a noble idea and was glad to be on dirt again, even if it was pretty barren and bleak looking.

We paid $16 for a permit for this??

The trail was quite fast but it seemed to loop around a lot and consisted of baby-head sized rocks in a lot of places. My sense of humour was slipping.....


Another gate and I liked the sign on this one.

The trail started climbing some very steep, loose jeep roads and the breeze ceased. It must have been 100F+ in here and I was not pleased. The sealed road seemed like a much better option now....


This went on for quite a while then I was on a dirt road again. Cruising along the dirt I noticed that the magenta track line on the gps was no longer there.......scrolling out I saw that I missed a nothing turn off this road onto a narrow dirt track a kilometre or so back. Bloody bugger!

Finding the correct track I was soon at the Gold Canyon single track. Now, there were trails going everywhere here as it was the local trail network. The first trailhead split two ways and coming in at speed I chose one.........and after 50m saw it was the wrong one! So, I backtracked again and took the trail on the left. The trail snaked around in what felt like circles as local single track tends to do. The problem was that I wanted to go to Utah as directly as possible, not swirl around on "trail for the sake of trail". A couple more intersections where I was carrying good speed but my 50/50 decision saw me off on the wrong trail...again!! It would be fine if I was a local and knew which trail went where but being an out of towner, following a pink line on a gps these trails were incredibly frustrating! I was getting very hot and bothered now and perhaps even swore a time or two. I cursed the people who had talked me into bringing a hardtail to this race (yes, my arse was hurting, a LOT). The originator of this reroute also copped a spray. I was not happy, Jan.

I stopped for a moment and chuckled to myself, like the sun had maybe got to me.......
It was a light bulb moment.
Why was I beating myself up here, cooking myself riding these pointless trails in this pointless race? I told myself to just slow down or I was going to crack. Get to Bashas at Gold Canyon. Buy heaps of food. Sit in the shade. Charge you electonics, look at track leaders, take some time to study the trail ahead but just relax for a while. I had not let myself relax for 4 days now.
This was the exact point in the race where I went from racing my hardest to just riding it to finish the thing.
It took a while to get to the Bashas though. I had to ride some distance through a pretty wealthy looking suburb where the golf greens hurt my eyes to look at, they were so green! At Bashas I passed Alice loading food onto her bike as she was about to head out, plus Paul K and another guy, another DH(Dan Holmes I think).
I wandered around and stacked a basket pretty high. Sitting outside I had my fast charger pumping the juice into my cache' and my light again. I sat down to a nice warm terriyaki salad and an icy frappaccino.

Real food, Bashas style.

I looked at Trackleaders and could see that Beth Shaner was coming into Gold Canyon. Once she arrived we chatted a bit and she commented that my tyres were the ones she had been following all morning! Apparently she could ride across the washes if she stayed in my tyre track. Hey, I was happy to help!! ;)

Beth tucking in while I recharge

After almost two hours of recharging I figured it was time to get going again. I headed out into the hot sun and bumped across an open paddock to a back road that took us to the Jacob Crosscut trail. This trail had a reputation of being a bit tough as it was very rocky. We would see.

As I rode along the seal, a car pulled up next to me. I looked across to see what was going on and it was none other than John Schilling! He snapped a photo then said he would meet me at the trail head.

Hey John! (Schilling photo)

 I caught up to him and we chatted for a bit. He said that Jacobs Crosscut had been worked on recently and it was much better as far as loose rocks went. That sounded good to me!

Jacob Crosscut trail head with Superstition Mtns in the background (Schilling photo)

I indicated that I thought the Gold Canyon trails were not much to my liking but were probably still better than a busy highway......John didn't seem too hurt by that. ;)

This is a quote from 750 winner and new record holder, Kurt Refsnider, on that particular section -

"North of Picketpost, I transitioned into pushing the pace on the most rideable sections and dialing it back and being patient on the more technical and unrideable terrain. The heat nearly melted me on the new dirt sections near Gold Canyon, but being off pavement and at the base of the cliffs at the edge of the Superstition Mountains was well worth the extra effort and time"

In John's (and the gold Canyon Trails) defence, I rode them in the midday heat, under a blazing Arizona sun. Had I ridden them in the cool morning air or the warmth of the evening just before last light I am sure I would be gushing about how awesome they were. In short, any section of AZT that I rode in the heat of the day sucked the big one during this race.

Jacob Crosscut climb looking not too bad

John was going to go for a drive and catch some of the other riders that were just heading up the Apache Trail  (Hwy88) toward Roosevelt Dam, at the other end of this off road section that I was just starting. I was really pleased to have seen him and headed into the trail in good spirirts. While it was a bit rocky I actually quite enjoyed Jacob Crosscut, even though it was uphill for quite a while. The Superstition Mountains were right there in front of me which provided a great distraction every time I looked up. Jacobs eventually linked into the Massacre Falls Trail which was much easier riding than Jacobs Crosscut due to no rocks.

Massacre Falls Trail

By now I was around the northwestern side of the Superstitions and the sun was starting to get lower in the sky (see shadow above).

Rabies warning for the foxes.

I was really starting to enjoy the flow of the trails now as they got faster and smoother.

Cholla, Saguaro and the Superstitions. Eastern Phoenix in a nutshell.....

I weaved around some very faint trails in the Lost Dutchman State Park and found this to be great fun. The trails weren't really trails as I went further north in the park, well, not well used ones anyway. Pretty much the only traffic looked to be the AZTR750 racers from the very few tyre tracks on the ground. This section consisted of lots of rolling gullies where you would have to change direction as you dropped into one or as you climbed up, out of it. This was all on loose soil and again I was glad of my plus size tyres as I was really buzzing along through here, throwing the bike around corners and enjoying the tyres hooking up.
Coming into a parking lot where I was to join the Apache Trail who should come driving in but John! He had just been up the 88 catching up to Alice and Paul K and saw on trackleaders that I was about to pop out onto the highway, so pulled in to see me again. After a quick chat I began the climb up toward Canyon Lakes and Torilla Flat. I was looking forward to a soda from the Tortilla Flat vending machine and had made sure at Bashas that I had plenty of $1 bills.

The climb up the 88 was super smooth and fast as they were sealing the road during the day but had finished work for the day. It was pleasantly warm and I was feeling really strong. I was just standing up and smashing the pedals and it didn't hurt one bit. Maybe I had found my climbing legs?!

After a bit of climbing there was a couple of sweet, sweet downhills to enjoy. There were a few Harleys cruising back and forth and we exchanged waves. Two wheel brothers and sisters.....

Downhills put a spring in your voice!!

The Canyon Lakes area was a bit of a surprise to me just a few weeks ago. During my route preparations there was nothing showing in that area on the mapping program I was using (Garmin Basecamp). I happened to be having a coffee with Dave W and he mentioned the marina there and of course I said "what marina?". On closer inspection with Google maps I saw there was a huge lake there with campgrounds, shops, restaurants, the whole nine yards! I wasn't ever planning on using any of it but it was nice to know it was there now. As I coasted down toward the lake I could see one lone ski boat coming back into shore. The water was almost glassy flat and they had it to themselves. That is what it is all about!

It was now my 5th day without a wash and Beth had mentioned how she was going to strip off and dive into the lake on the way past. I thought I might have a wash up as well but finding an easy way to the waters edge that didn't involve a steep climb back out looked impossible. I waited until the very last opportuntiy to duck down to a boat ramp. Taking my shoes off, I waded in to wash my legs and arms. Unfortunately the boat ramp smelt like two stroke oil and dead fish so I didn't feel that clean at the time but as I rode away I felt much better and was pretty sure I didn't stink like a dead fish.....

Bath time.

It got dark now and I was glad I ducked down to that boat ramp as it was the last lake access point. Normally I procrastinate until it is too late and have gone past. The next bright lights on the horizon were the little shops at Tortilla Flat. I stopped at the hitching rail in front of the vending machines and dug my dollar bills out. I put some money in and began pressing buttons. Nothing - out of stock. Ok, press the next one down. Same story - out of stock. Hmmmm. Luckily there was a long row of buttons and as I got near the bottom the "Big Red" button worked! Woo Hoo! I had a can of Big Red...whatever the hell that was? Didn't matter because it was cold. I cracked the can and it actually tasted pretty good! I then set about getting a few bottles of water out to top my Camelbaks off. I considered getting another Big Red and putting it on the hitching rail for Beth but as we had discussed needing $1 bills, thought "no, she has money and anyway, she will probably miss it in the dark".

With a full water load I pedalled off, up into the hills. My plan was to pedal until I got to the top of the first big climb out of Tortilla Flat which was about 10km(6mi) all of which was steeply uphill. Luckily my legs were feeling great and I just kept spinning away. When my bum got sore I stood and ground away but my legs didn't get that feeling where lactic is building and I have to change position or stop. I really did have my climbing legs and to top it off there was zero traffic. I had the road to myself.
As I got near the top of the climb I started to look for a rest area that John had told me about. It was hard to see where it might be on my gps as my eyes were pretty tired by now and I couldn't see anything in the beam of my headlight. I eventually came to an area off to the left of the road with some stock yards and a big pile of gravel. It looked flat and if I hid behind the gravel I couldn't be seen from the road.
I proceeded to set my bivy up, eat and stretch as per normal but I did it in a more relaxed way. It had been a great day progress wise, despite my gold Canyon melt down and I was going easy on myself now, not feeling like I had to rush everything. As I finally climbed into my bivy it was pretty late. Looking at my gps trace of the day, it had been 19h40m since I switched my garmin on and I had been up 30 minutes before that and was faffing around for 30 minutes now, on top of this big hill. That made it almost a 21 hour day! A long time to be awake and still put 144km(89mi) and 2500m(8200ft) under my wheels.
I lay there for a while just looking up at all of the stars, watching the jets descend into nearby(for the pilots) Phoenix and recounted the day's events. I had met some great people in Rebecca, Beth and John which had lifted my spirits a lot, especially after lunch, when I really needed it.
I thought I had broken the back of the climbing to Roosevelt Lake tonight, so it should be an easy run into the Tonto basin for breakfast at Butcher Hook or even Jakes Corner.

Yep, tomorrow was going to be a great day......

Day 5



  1. Another outstanding report Dave! Bloody hell mate, the difference in your face! Interesting that you don't look haggard though, just got rid of some of your pilot's expense account ;-) .

    John White has been enjoying your write-ups too. He's off to do the Canning very shortly.

  2. Yup, it's a great weight loss program!
    I was wondering who john White was. he was trying to follow me on Strava and I was ignoring him. ;) All sorted now though.

  3. Those gunshots would freak me out - nearly as much as riding on the wrong side of the road...

    1. Not nearly as hard as it seems Andrew. Get over there!!

  4. Looks brutal bro, you look every bit of your 55 years in that photo.
    Perhaps all the gun fire you hear at night is some of the ATZ racers shooting their bikes?

  5. How cool that you got to meet the Queen of Pain herself.

    1. She was lovely Geoff. Very down to earth and caring.

  6. So glad I was able to track you down that day after Gold Canyon. Too bad about the stagnant hot air back there, it truly is a wonderful place to ride. Maybe we'll update the cue sheets through the GC singletrack, giving riders a headsup on which way to turn. Believe it or not, that route IS the straight route through!! You should've seen my route from 2016. Silly.

    1. Don't feel bad John, it was just crappy timing with me riding it in the blazing sun. I wouldn't have read cue sheets anyway 'cause I was racin'! Can't go fast when you are reading notes.
      Your tagline of Bikepacking did cross my mind though. "I ride the crappy trails so you don't have to" was changed in my mind that day to "I ride the crappy trails and now you have to as well"..... :-O

    2. Oh, yes, it gave me a good lift to chat with you that afternoon. I smoked through Jacob's Crosscut and Lost Dutchman after that.


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