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. 

I was very wary of this section to Pine though. All accounts of it indicated that it would take about 5 hours to do the 36km. That indicated lots of HAB and hills. 

The going was still good here. Cockpit setup with Nuun in bottle and Alfonso's buritto at the ready.

Soon enough, the trail went steeply up and I was off, pushing my bike and closely inspecting the tyre tracks left by previous riders. At least it allowed me to strip off some layers as I quickly warmed up. It also allowed a few photos as I was virtually stopped anyway.

Pre stripping off the layers.

There were some really steep pinches on this road and the going was slow but it was all on wide fire road ala Tour Divide. Nothing technical, scratchy or exposed. Just steep.
I eventually reached what felt like the top of the climb with great views out to the Mogollon Rim (pronounced Moggy-on Rim. Thanks for the elocution lesson JS :0 ).

I think that is Pine, just to the left of the sign, under the top rail of the gate.

Soon after this I was on a sealed road that went steeply down. I was watching the GPS like a hawk as I didn't want to miss a turn and have to climb back up. Lucky I was, as quite soon there was a hard right, back onto the dirt.

Sealed AND downhill. An AZTR racers dream.....that didn't last long.

The trail dropped steeply down the dirt road until it came to some sort of little community beside a dry creek. The trail weaved it's way along the creek, behind the houses and was very pleasant indeed! Finally, crossing the creek it did what the AZT does. It went up.....and there was a typical backwoods gate!

Typical strength-testing AZT gate.

This section proved to be mostly unrideable with stiff, scratchy brush either side of the trail. It did look to be trimmed back a bit which was nice as one would be scratched to pieces along here if it was overgrown.

Narrow and uphill HAB.

Someone had lost their gillet vest on one of the stiff bushes. It hung there in the morning sun like a prize that the AZT had claimed. Somebody was going to miss that jacket up on the rim!

Gillet thieving bush.

Not much further along I caught up to a woman pushing her bike along. It was Beth. We pushed, pedalled and chatted as we made slow progress toward Pine. I asked if she had seen Dean Anderson as I assumed his tyre tracks were the other set that I had been following all morning. She hadn't seen him today though.
The trail alternated between rideable and non ride able so we mounted and dismounted the bikes dozens of times along here. Crossing a small wash I hoped to get a photo of Beth riding into it but she had pre-dismounted as you do when you are resigned to yet another HAB. What does it matter in the larger scheme of the AZTR if you have to HAB a few steps more.....?

Beth, HABing.

The trail climbed steeply again and opened up to more rideable terrain, although it was still rocky and also featured some blowdown across the trail. I chatted to a couple of hikers for a minute as Beth caught up again.

At the road crossing I had already decided that I wanted to head into Pine for some morning tea so as to preserve what food I had on the bike for the push up Highline and across to Mormon Lake. Beth was of the same mind and we rolled down into Pine (yes, it was down which meant a climb back up) to search out sustinance. It was only 10am so "That Brewery" wasn't open. Bummer!! I had my 2 for 1 card ready to go, carried all the way from Australia. ;(

We continued to roll down into Pine and settled on the Pine Creek Fudge, Ice Cream and Esspresso cafe'. 

Great, fresh food.

I think the owners were a bit overwhelmed with me trying to order with a funny accent and adding stuff to my order, not following the set menu. "I'll have a banana smoothie, with honey and can you put ice cream in it?" I also had a breakfast sandwich with extras (which confused the hell out of them) and a huge mug of filter coffee. The coffee was actually very good! was the smoothie......and the sandwich! If in Pine, I highly recommend this place to eat and drink....even if they were a bit slow.

After devouring everything I had ordered, I went back to the counter to order some fudge to have with my second coffee. The guy painstakingly wrapped it in cellophane, with a dainty little fudge knife  packed inside, all tied off, real purrrdy like. I got it back to the table and tore the packing a new one, hooking into the delicious fudge...with the dainty knife. Beth tried a bit and gave it the thumbs up too.

 Fudge and to-go sandwich in foil. Pressure relieving glove surgery at the same time. Multi-tasking is a bikepacking racers bread and butter. 

Riding (er, habing) into Pine, I had begun to notice that my right thumb was getting a bit numb. I put it down to my gloves being a bit tight in the thumbs so I borrowed some scissors to right that wrong. Shame, as they were near new Ground Effect gloves but everything is sacrificial in the name of comfort on the AZT.

Leaving the cafe', I began the pedal up to the AZT. Beth wanted to buy some more stuff at the supermarket so I continued on alone. Turning left onto the AZT I recognised some of the signs from other people's blogs. I stopped to get a few photos as this was a very pretty trailhead area. Think the scenery from a Lassie episode.(showing my age here...)

Pine AZT trail head. Highline Trail is about to become real!

Starting up Highline I bumped into four hikers coming the other way. They were probably all in their mid sixties and were very well dressed, so clearly not hiking far. We stopped and had a great chat for 5 minutes or so. They couldn't believe that I had come all the way from Australia to ride the trail. When I told them about the race, they couldn't believe that either. Then I blew their minds by telling them there were women doing the race as well, that they were incredibly strong and look, here comes one now! As Beth was riding up the hill toward us I told the hikers that they had to chat to Beth for 5 minutes as well, just to even things out, then bid them g'day. One of the ladies had asked me if I rode the rocky sections 'like that one just up there", pointing up the trail to a rocky outcrop. I replied with a qualified "it depends" but now as I rode off I made sure I rode the rock climb and rode off into the distance. They probably weren't even looking but it made me feel good to own that little section of trail!

I don't think they held Beth up for long as she caught back up to me while I was taking photos shortly after.

Looking back toward Pine.

The trail had been mostly rideable with just a few steep sections that due to fatigue and altitude I had got off and pushed up. Now we were coming to more and more HAB sections. 

Highline HAB kicks in.

This, of course, was expected as there has been so much written about Highline Trail and how tough it is. In my route notes I had only planned on getting from Payson to Washington park campground, a mere 68km(42mi). I knew I would be tired by this stage of the race and didn't want to set a goal that was a mile too far and suffer the disappointment and self-flagellation that comes with missing a goal.

I reached the first of the natural springs out of Pine but didn't need any water, just a photo.

Red Rock spring.

Then soon after it was Pine spring. No water needed here either.

Pine Spring.

Up and up we went. There was some down in there as well. Actually, there was a lot of down and I was surprised how much of Highline was rideable after reading all of the negative blogs posts about it. I guess if you were doing this alone and had not had a good nights sleep it would be pretty tedious. Thankfully Beth and I were sort of 'rubber banding" along the trail - stretching apart, then coming back together, which made it much more enjoyable. We were also able to get some photos for each other.

Traversing the face of the Mogollon Rim. Beth Shaner photo.

I decided to filter some water from a briskly running creek. I am not sure what creek it was but think it may have been Bray Creek. Beth caught back up to me here after we had been stretched apart for a while.

Filtering water

We kept making our way across the face of The Rim and I was trying to pick at what point we would top out. This was a near impossible task, as we didn't often have a very open view, working our way around the contours of The Rim as we were.

Typical Highline. Trail is on the left of the tree.

The sun was starting to get low in the sky as we approached the Washington Park trailhead. The trail became somewhat more rideable and we were into the pines along here again. At least it felt like we were making some progress but it had been a slow old afternoon.

Slow progress, but progress non-the-less.

Finally at Washington Park, there was a nice stream flowing alongside the fire road we needed to climb so Beth filtered some water here. If I had known how dry it was up on The Rim, I would have filled my bags as well. At the time I didn't want to carry much weight up the steep climb that we were about to attack. Rookie error.

We then climbed the infamous Tunnel Trail. It was just on dark so I didn't bother taking any photos which is a shame as it is an awesome bit of trail, hewn from the living rock! I have borrowed this photo from John Schilling's great blog, My Two Schillingsworth, to illustrate what we were climbing as he climbed it during the daylight in 2016.

Tunnel Trail climb. Waaaay steeper than it looks.

We finally topped out on the rim just after dark. It was a bit windy and cold. We sat on the step of the memorial of the "Battle of Big Dry Wash" and ate some food. I had some dried dates and some beef jerky but refrained from touching the Alfonso's burrito. That was for supper/breakfast. 

Battle of Big Dry Wash memorial. Shame we missed the view from here in the dark....

Now, for some reason we both thought we would be going downhill on jeep road for a while so we both rugged up for the cold. The road did go downhill. For about 100 metres. It then turned off into more singletrack and before I knew it I was sweating hard as we worked our way through the trail. We were looking for the General Springs Cabin which was right by the trail. Somehow, in our tunnel of light, we missed it completely and pedalled on oblivious of the fact.

We pedalled and pedalled. Sometimes the trail was smooth and flowy, following a dry water course but most of the time it was rough, rocky and unrideable. I was pretty keen to stop and call it a night but Beth wanted to go a little further on. I agreed as I didn't really want to be left alone up here and having some company is always a nice thing in a bike race of this length.

We dropped down into a large drainage, crossing a huge dry wash at the bottom. No water here. Then we began to climb in the dark. Up. Up. Up, we went. We climbed 220 metres (720ft) in 1 kilometre (0.6mi) and I was sweating hard under all of my layers despite the cold night air. I also had a wicked thirst but I was trying to conserve water so just put up with it.
We had of course just crossed an arm of the Blue Ridge reservoir and it is a major obstacle on this section of the AZT. Had it not been for Beth insisting on going on, I would have faced this descent and HAB climb first thing in the morning. We looked for a soft pile of needles under a pine tree to crash out on for the night but all we saw were rocks. It took a couple of kilometres more riding before Beth saw a likely spot and I found one a further 100 metres up the trail.
I told Beth not to wait for me in the morning if I wasn't up. I didn't want to be a drag on her race even though she was great company and I planned on sleeping until 5:30 to 6:00am.
I spread my groundsheet out, had a quick stretch while chomping on that Alsfonso's buritto. It was a bit dry and hard to swallow in my dehydrated state but I hadn't wanted any sauce on it as now, 26 hours later, it would have been soggy and yuk.
 I kept layered up and climbed into my bivy. It didn't take long to fall asleep tonight. 14 hours for only 94 kilometres (58mi) doesn't seem much but there was almost 3000m (10 000ft) of climbing with a 25kg (55lb) bike...all at 7000ft above sea level....That said, thanks to Beth's determination to push on, I had covered far more ground (30% more) than I planned today. Winning!

Today we had slayed one of the dragons on the Arizona Trail, the Highline trail climb to the Mogollon Rim. I was very much looking forward to getting to Flagstaff tomorrow. Having a hot shower and sleeping in a real bed twice in three days would be bliss!!

Tomorrow would be an easier day......

Day 7.


Starting Highline. Over half way to Utah!!


  1. That's a fairly substantial dropout rate from the race Dave. Guess it's probably more mental than physical if my long distance motorcycle events are anything to go by. The other thing that surprises me in your photos is just how much large greenery there is in some places. I was expecting mainly dry, scrubby stuff.

    As always, excellent reading!

    1. That is the standard drop out rate for these races Geoff. A certain percentage pick up an ailment or have a mechanical but I think the vast majority of scratchings are due to lack of preparation or poor planning. I am just an ordinary bloke physically but I make sure I plan and prepare, then modify while on the trot where needed. My goal is to finish at all costs, as quickly as I can manage. It isn't to be as fast as possible at the expense of finishing. Some might say that isn't truely racing but it's good enough for me. ;)
      Yes, the Staes is an amazing place. That is why I am continually drawn back. It (and it's people) are not what you expect... in a good way!!

  2. Nice one. I understand the glove modifications - I have big mitts and have had issues with some gloves putting too much pressure on fingers on long rides.

    Also think it's great you've got so many pictures considering it's a "race". It would have been a shame to go through all that cool country and coming away without some memories.

    1. I bought a new GoPro so that i would get plenty of pictures but I think I took less than if I had used the point and shoot camera that I used on the Tour Divide. I did get some video that i will try to get edited at some point but it is taking me long enough just to get this recount together. Much patience needed I think!

  3. Reading this and comparing it to my '16 ride only makes me want to get out there and do it again!! I gave away so much time in certain areas, it's laughable. I don't think I'd necessarily ride any faster, just be much more efficient and slack off less. Haha!!

  4. Yeah, I kick myself for wasting time, especially in Flagstaff but I reason that if I had gone harder I may have "popped" and not finished at all.
    Off route bonus miles are where one can save big time. You will find that on the TD where you need to be efficient otherwise your finish time will blow out by days if you aren't careful.


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