Friday, June 8, 2018

2018 Arizona Trail Race 750 - Day 4

Beeep, beeep beeep,beeeeeeep.........

My watch was telling me it was 2am and to wake up but again I had beaten it to the punch. I was already looking up at the stars, sweating my arse off in my bivy. I was not sure if it was my sleeping bag rating, the warm night or the “night sweats” that one tends to get when doing these bikepacking races. I turned the bag and my bivy inside out and hung them from my handlebars for a quick dry while I got dressed and ate another burrito. I was always slow to get going but I always look after my gear which I think pays dividends in the long run.

It was very dark and quite cold and windy as I began pedalling toward Kelvin, a mere 89km away. The trail was quite tight and tricky this morning with lots of steep pinches that had me off, pushing. Add to this a 25-30 knot wind and any time I turned into wind I was crawling again. I was on the lookout for water as I went along but even though tanks were marked on the gps I couldn’t see anything in the dark of night.
Just when the trail seemed to get a bit of flow to it, a gate would loom out on the darkness and cause a dismount. At least most were of the modern, easily operated variety.

I had the same frustrating feeling as early on day 2, when I grovelled along in the darkness that morning. It took me about 2 hours to go just 12 or 13 kilometres as there seemed to be plenty of steep, rocky HAB.

AZT typical HAB

I topped a small ridge and looked back towards the lights of Oracle, well I think it was Oracle. It was dishearteningly only about 10km(6mi) away yet I had been going for hours by now(if I include the ride out of Oracle last night). I was suitably disgusted in my progress that I felt a need to talk to my phone. My poor Samsung had become a sort of therapy/counselling device to help deal with the isolation and exhaustion that was creeping up on me.
Added to the steep pinches was the now increasing wind. It was very strong and quite cold. The cold was great, that was the reason I got up so early, to take advantage of the cool conditions but the wind almost stopped me in my tracks anytime I turned westward. This long section of trail had featured in many a rider's blog about it's lack of water and I was obsessed with getting more water even though I had plenty left on the bike. My assumtion in the video below that Behive Well was only 10km away was probably waaay out. I wasn't judging distance or time very well in the dark.

Wind, wind and more wind....

I just kept pedalling and pedalling, opening gate after gate, crossing huuge wide wash after wash yet I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere. I saw some water cache' bottles with hiker's names on them here and there. Instinctively, I checked the messages on the bottles in case they were "public after X date" and were fair game. To be honest, the problem was that I wasn't exactly sure what the date actually was, so daren't touch one in case I had my calendar confused..... losing track of time is easy in the AZ desert.

After crossing Bloodsucker Wash the trail followed a dirt road which was much straighter than the AZT so it actually felt like I was getting somewhere with a bit of efficiency. Shortly after getting onto this road I saw my first rider for the day, Alice D, who was packing up her bivy. I didn't stop as I was on a mission to get to Beehive Well to filter some water. The road went up and down some steep pinches and I began to wonder how much farther to this bloody well? Eventually, but not soon enough, it appeared in front of me just as first light was making the countryside visible. I had a look around the tank, which was about 5ft high. The water in the tank was a murky, horrible green colour and not appealing at all. I was almost thankful when I couldn't find a way to reach down into the tank and scoop up any water.

Beehive Well

As I was looking around Alice rode by and we exchanged hellos. Not being able to get water I hopped back on the bike and pedalled up the hill behind her. Freeman road cache' was the next chance for water and I would really NEED to pick up some there.
Alice, being on a single speed was off walking up the steep hill and as I rode up behind her she waved me past. We chatted a bit and I joked that she would be passing me again soon enough but she must have stopped for some readjustments as I didn't see her again for quite some time, despite me stopping several times myself. The first was at the top of this hill to capture the sun peaking over the horizon.

Sunrise above Beehive Well

Saguaro sunrise

The next section of trail was actually quite good, with decent flow and open views but it was spoiled by my anxiety about getting to water. Coming around a bend I found a guy on a plus tyre bike fixing a tube. I asked him if he was ok to which he replied yes, but I thought what a horrible situation to be in, way out here, reduced to relying on a tube with all of this spikey shit around.

Evil, evil Cholla (pronounced Choya) overhanging the trail

I came to an old school gate where there were two hikers packing up their bivys. I was watching them as I hopped off my bike and deftly swung my leg into a Cholla bush.
FAAAAA.....IRETRUCK that hurt!!
Looking down at my right shin I had a dozen spines sticking out of it. I began to pull them out but I swear those spines went straight into the bone!! While I didn't need to get my tweezers out, it was a very close thing as these spines took a lot of effort to pull out. They seemed to have barbs on the that precluded them from being pulled out of whatever they stuck into.
The hiker must have wondered what I was doing, bent over behind my bike for a few minutes! I eventually opened the gate, then closed it behind me saying "hello". The woman was hiking with her son and we chatted about the trail and water. Mostly, how much we carried and where to get more. She said she carried 9 litres and was hoping like hell there would be water in the Freeman road cache'. It reminded me how much easier us riders had it as we could cover ground much quicker to get to water and I resolved then that if there wasn't much water at Freeman road I wouldn't take any. These hikers needed it more than I did. I offered the woman a handful of my peanut M&Ms, which looked very secondhand after bouncing in my frame bag for 3.5 dyas now! I promised that they tasted better than they looked but she was made of stern stuff and took a small handful. Wishing her all the best I pedalled off toward Freeman rd cache'.

It felt like I was never going to get to Freeman rd, then when I did I began to wonder where the hell the cache' box was. The trail went for some way past Freeman rd then looped back to pass a trailhead/carpark area and there was the box! Woo Hoo!!
With some trepdation, I opened the box to see what was inside.
It was full of water, glorious water!!

WTF do faces mean.....?

There were some bottles marked for hikers but most had silly faces drawn on them. Not knowing AZT cache' ettiquette, I was a bit flummoxed. I grabbed a bottle from the back that derinitely said "public" and topped up my barbag bottle. Putting it back in I noticed the bottle of booze but paid it no heed as I thought it would be private for sure (rookie error as it was for any AZTR nutter).

I moved over to the little shade structure and sat on the bench under it, munching some jerkey and nuts. I was soon joined by Alica and the two guys I had walked the climb to Prison Camp on night 2 with. The guy standing is also the one who recommended the fried chicken at the Hwy77 underpass. I wish I could remember his name!!

Freeman cache' partay!

Alice shared with us her "carrot" which was the thought of getting to the Gold Canyon Bashas and how she was going to devour half the store. I am not sure if this was strictly going to happen as she seemed to be able to operate on almost no food. She showed me an apple that she was saving for Kelvin Bridge, which was our next water stop.

Bidding the others good riding, I headed out toward Ripsey Wash and the Big Hill. Just over the first rise after leaving the others a trio of what I thought were wild pigs burst out of the bushes and scattered to the winds......I later found out these were Javalina. Cool!

The next section of trail was loose, sandy but awesomely flowy and fun! It helped that the wind was pushing me along and as usual, when I felt better about my progress, I stopped and took more photos.

Hilly, fast dirt road goodness.

I also came to the weighted gate of which I had seen many photos. It is the only gate like this on the trail so I had to get a photo as well.

Self closing gate - what will they think of next?

It is funny how your mood changes with the lay of the trail. There were even some cacti blooms along here and I stopped to smell the desert roses.....

In typical AZT style the trail bit back though. I came to a section of trail that was very overgrown with Catclaw or some other spikey, scratchy horrible bush that I was forced to duck under or force a way through. I lost the trail a couple of times through here as there were little trails going everywhere. Just when I was starting to make good time too!

It started to open up an bit and I though it was time to put the GoPro and the tripod I had been lugging all this way to some use.

Just after the shitty, scratchy bushwhack.

The trail dumped out onto Tecolote Ranch rd and soon I came across this little fella. He was only little at about 1.5ft long but I gave him plenty of space.


Along the power line trail I caught up to two hikers who were very unusual looking, in that they were using silver umbrellas to keep the sun off of them. I slowed to say "hi" as I passed. They said hi and I noted a certain "twang" to the red headed (Ranga) guy's voice. An Aussie! I introduced myself and he said "you must be from Brisbane" and I was a bit stunned. Then I realised that one of the others ahead must have told him about me coming along and he thought he would mess with me a bit. We chatted for what felt like ages (probably only 5 minutes) as they hiked along. He was from Bendigo, Victoria and was through hiking with his American mate. I was also stunned at the speed they were hiking and how little gear they were carrying. He estimated that it would take them 30 days to hike the entire trail and I am certain that they would meet that goal at this pace! I made a mental note not to slack off too much today as these guys would catch me again if I did! Wishing them well , I tried to power off into the distance with at least half as much vigour as they were showing.....

Typical trail leading to Ripsey

After getting back onto the singletrack that led to Ripsey I started to have fun again. This was really flowy, fun trail, even if it was starting to get quite warm by now.

Fun, flowy trail

After a while I eventually came to what I think was Ripsey Wash. It was now late morning, so it had taken about 6-7 hours of almost non stop riding this morning, to get to the place I had "targeted" to reach yesterday evening! Talk about having no clue about distances and time on the AZT!!
It was bloody hot in the wash now, probably around 35C(95F) with no wind and a long, sandy, dry creek bed to ride along for a few hundred metres. The respite from this was to climb a narrow ridgeline out of the wash, up toward the Big Hill. I REALLY DID NOT like the sound of that name.....

I could see the guy that was in front of me in the video above, waaay up the hillside, tackling the switchbacks on Big Hill. Shit. I resigned myself to just getting off the bike right away and pushing. While it was well built trail, there was no way I could ride a loaded bike up that trail, not with the miles I already had in my legs. So, a pushing I went. If nothing else, the view got better and better!

AZT climbing the ridge to the left. I came over those hills in the distance.

Cresting out at the top of Big Hill the view was fantastic. I was looking down over Kearney and the huuge ASARCO Ray Mine just northeast of Kearney.

Sweet trail on the top of Big Hill

Now at the top of Big Hill, I took others advice and switched my phone on. Service! I had service! I quickly Googled Old Time Pizza'a number and was soon calling them to place an order. The first woman I spoke to couldn't understand me (Aussie drawling accent) so she handed me to another woman. This one knew what I was on about because she already had an order "to go" to Kelvin Bridge. I over-ordered with 2 pizzas and 3 cans of Coke, plus some alfoil to wrap pizza for my bags. The woman told me that she was delivering to Kelvin in 45 minutes and asked if I would be there then? I said "yes", but told her I didn't know how long it would take me to get down. I was on the top of the biggest hill around so I figured that every direction was down and that I could make the 45 minute deadline. That made it 1215 at the bridge. Oh..kay......

I literally burnt every match that I had left to get to Kelvin. I pedalled my arse off and was quickly frustrated with how much uphill there was from this Big Hill! There were super tight downhill switchbacks, steep pinchy climbs as well as some hootingly fast downhills. All the while I was telling myself how good that first Coke and slice of pizza was going to be.

I blazed through the Kelvin AZT trailhead and across the road. The trail was well made around here but very loose. I was sliding all over the place and it was now 1215! I was still some distance out of Kelvin but I didn't know how far. God, I hope she doesn't leave! I was frantic to get to that food. So frantic that I rounded a corner and there was Dean Anderson bent over his bike doing something. What was he doing? It was way too hot to be standing there in the sun.  I shouted a "hi Dean" and blasted past yelling something about pizza over my shoulder...

I suddenly dropped out of the hilly inferno trails and I was at the river! There was a huge bridge under construction, with a smaller, low level bridge underneath. under the big bridge, sitting in the shade were 6 or 8 riders. They were tucking into pizza and drinks. They said the woman had just driven off after asking for "Dave". I quickly got on the phone to tell them "Dave" was!! I could see a truck on the other side of the river at the ADOT yard, where the spigot is, so I quickly pedalled over there. To my great relief, there was a guy sitting there with a pizza delivery hotbag and he asked if I was Dave. Hell yes was my reply. He pointed to the bag and Cokes sitting alongside and said "they are yours". He could have asked for $100 for them and I would have gladly paid up!

Pizza man! And Chad Hummer

The first coke didn't touch the sides and I was halfway through the second before I grabbed my first slice of pizza. Unfortunately, I was so full of liquid now that all I could manage was two lousy slices of pizza....

Chad Hummer photo.

Dean A turned up, looking like absolute crap. He had gone 20 rounds with Catclaw and various cacti, plus had a crash in the loose stuff just before Kelvin so was starting to go for the Massai warrior look. He was seriously cut up! He sat down opposite me and I offered him pizza. He seriously looked like he needed it (plus maybe a paramedic).

Pizza smile. Chad Hummer photo

I packed some slices into the foil then offered the pizza to everyone around, finally leaving it to anyone who wanted some as "Trail Magic". The great people from Old Time Pizza took the trash away for us, so we left no trace.

I rolled back across the bridge, into the cool shade and laid down on the side of the road for a while. I was too full to ride, plus I had turned myself inside out to get off Big Hill to meet my delivery and I was really feeling it.

Enjoying the shade of the new Kelvin bridge.

The other riders began to roll out and for once I didn't feel that "pull", that need to get going with them . I needed some more rest and perhaps not to be seen grovelling along the next section of trail. No, I would go it alone with a bloated stomach as company.

Back across the Gila River bridge again (3rd time) and turn left. Another gate, but this time a large one and easily ridden around.

Start of the Gila Canyons sufferfest.

It was now early afternoon and the heat of the day was about peaked. What better time than now to go into a windless, energy sucking section of single track? I had been warned not to tackle this sction in the afternoon heat but what can you do...? I was here, now and it was the next bit. I had to just get it done.
I did a lot of pushing along here. I would like to say it was so I could take more pictures but the reality was I just didn't have any "ooomphf" left in me, having been up since 2am. This seems normal for me at this time of day and I usually get a second wind late in the day.

Looking back at Kelvin and it's new bridge.

I had been going for 12 hours now and covered about 95km(60mi).
While under the bridge one of the others said his wife had finished the 300 race yesterday morning and said that the Kelvin to Picketpost section had taken her 12 hours. It was brutal.
12 hours for 38 miles.....12 hours for 61km. She was obviously a strong rider if she finished yesterday morning and it took her 12 HOURS for this bit??!!

Ray mine tailings

So how long was it going to take a mere mortal like me? In this heat? 18 hours? I formulated a plan. it was about 26km to the end of this Gila Canyon trail, then the trail swung away from the river and climbed into the dry, barren hills toward Picketpost and the 300 finish. I decided that I would camp early tonight by the river so that I could filter as much water as I liked, then get up at midnight and push through the cool night air to Picketpost.

Gila River rail bridge

First I had to get to the end of this Gila Canyons passage. It was all wide, new trail and very well made but it was simply too steep for me to ride up on a fully loaded bike. The trail would climb away from the river for a while, making 3-400ft of elevation then plunge right back down to almost river level. I am not sure how many times it did this but I can tell you it was TOO MANY! I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. Even the buzzards wheeling above thought I looked like toast.

Garbage disposal team.

The trail opened up a little to loose double track, which I still had to walk up but at least I could ride the downs.

This is getting OLD!

Just then another rider came around the corner. It was Dean Anderson and I was confused. I thought he would be well in front of me as I hadn't seen him at the ADOT spigot when I turned into the Gila trail. We chatted for a while as we pushed up the next climb. He was pretty beat, like me, and was planning to camp by the river as well. Same plan as me!

We continued on and I was starting to feel better. A combination of the late afternoon air and having someone to ride with. Riding with someone always gives you a lift, proving that the feeling of no strength or energy is all in your head.

Gila River. So close but oh so far away.

I somehow managed to drop Dean along here. Perhaps he stopped for some reason or other but after a while I noticed that he wasn't there. I eventually came to where the AZT turned up, into the hills toward Picketpost so I went hunting for the Gila river.
I soon found the river. There was a very small clearing where I could set up my bivy, not 3 metres from the waters edge. I was slightly nervous about this as in Queensland you would be croc bait sleeping so close to a river but I was pretty certain there was nothing in the water here that would eat me.
I washed my arms and legs in the cool water, then filtered some. Dean turned up not long after. I told him that I was going to get up at midnight and ride the big climb to Picketpost in the dark and cool. He replied that he needed to take a body maintenance day as he was feeling pretty beat up (remember, he was on a single speed bike) and that if he was awake he would come with me but if his body needed sleep he was just going to wake naturally. Cool, I totally understood. You have to race your own race on these things and listen to your body.
Well, I had a plan to get at least as far a Picketpost Mountain trailhead......

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Gila Saguaro


  1. The first thing I noticed in that cache photo was the booze. Not sure what thats saying?

    Trust you to order a pizza in the middle of the desert, bet that tasted so good.
    Good write up bro.

    1. I drank too much Coke to fit more than 2 slices in!

  2. More awesome reading Dave! Looks like the flora on the trail poses more of a health risk than the fauna (rattlers excepted!). Sitting here in front of the computer at the start of winter, it's nice to read about heat and dust, even if you might not see it this way :-)

  3. Some more great pics and the little vids are cool too!

    Getting tired just reading this...

    1. Sorry about that. You can rest and have a refreshing beverage to recuperate if needs be. Lots more words and super short videos to go!

  4. Awesome read... Font size sure is small in the latter part of that posting.


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