Not that we ever really left and not that we’ll do it the same as before, but Dave and Jen are throwing together a mountain bike team for 2014.
The weekend before AZT, Jen and I decided to give the 12 Hours of the Wild West a second go ’round. The inaugural year was pretty fun with a fast course, despite a nasty head wind on the final descent. We had a babysitter that year with my mom joining us for some help with the C-man. We took the win in the coed category that year and we were third overall.
This year Jen was pretty motivated to do this race again. I figured it would be a good, albeit late, tune up for AZT. With no babysitter and Connor in a pretty new cast on his lower leg, we were a bit nervous as to how this race was going to end up. When Jen registered us, she mentioned that she wanted to win the whole thing. I figured it would be possible as long as no 4 person male teams were too stacked and Connor understood that he wasn’t going to get much attention.
We got to the venue near Ft. Stanton, NM and set up in the gravel parking lot right near the timing tent. Jen got out for a pre-ride and I just chilled with the C-man checking out some of the other rigs at the race. The weather was perfect with only a slight wind/breeze. The course was much longer than the first year and we were looking forward to getting in a few miles.
Since there was no Lemans start, I went first. I put it in cruise control and let Paul Pacillas lead things out. I kept it rolling on the second lap and put in a chase for Paul’s teammate Jay. I was reeling Jay in when my chain started skipping on my cogs. Uggh. That’s what I get for thinking all my wheels/cassettes are worn about the same.
I held my position in the race and handed off to Jen. Jen came back with a pretty substantial gap on the leading team and I switched over to my Superfly 100 which was set up with a 32×21. It was a bit easy for the course, but I made it work. What sucked was that the brakes on that bike have been getting louder and louder. I cleaned them, lubed them, did a bleed on them, put factory pads in, tried different rotors….no difference. Howled like a wolf who had just smoked a pack of camels. Oh well….brakes only slow you down.
Our lead grew throughout the day and we ended up finishing up in less than 11 hours with the overall win. Jen put in lap times that were equal to mine….and where much faster than the slowest members of our opposing teams. The longer laps were definitely beneficial to us with lap times of 1:10 or so. Some riders took almost 2 hours to get in a lap. My suggestion to the race promoter was to stick with a slightly shorter lap in order to allow teams to put in more laps.
Connor did quite well and stayed occupied with all of his trucks. He even noticed when one of my tires went flat and immediately let me know. I had punctured through the rim strip. Luckily we both brought two bikes each so we were never stressed about bike related issues. Other than my howling brakes that frightened the bajeezus out of more than one rider, and my skipping gears, no major issues slowed us down. Notubes….NO FLATS!
Click here to see the official results.
I always get asked about what I take with me on the big rides. I’ve covered my packing list in the past with my CTR equipment list. This year’s AZT was MUCH warmer than last year’s and the CTR, so a few things were different.
On my back I carried my Osprey hydration pack with a 100 oz. Camelbak bladder, my non-functioning SPOT, multi-tool, arm and knee warmers, an empty 1.5 liter platypus bladder (I used this once), spare shorts, a spare pair of socks, sunscreen, spare AAA and AA batteries, and PI rain jacket (packed more for warmth than rain protection). I later found out that at the bottom of the pack I had an extra pair of arm warmers.
On the top tube, I carried as many snacks as I could as well as my cell phone and my gopro HD3….The Black! I took more pics this year, but they weren’t all that. On the bars I carried my full length neo air pro pad, tyvek bivy, and my 30 deg bag…..which I could have gone without. In the bar pouch….extra glasses with clear lenses in a hard case, and my hygiene kit.
In the top frame bag I had another 100 oz. camelbak bladder in a fabric sleeve to prevent punctures. Also in that compartment were 3 MRE meals and heaters with some MRE crackers, cheese, and bread. I packed a wool tee and a light weight beanie cap.
In the bottom compartment….2 bottles of Stan’s sealant, one tube, 2 Big Air cans, 6 lipo Ayup batteries (24 hours total), Pur Hiker (now Katadyn) water filter, and my Fenix LD 20 flashlight, a micro LED blinky light, and my tire repair box with Leatherman micro, Crank Bros mini pump, needle and thread, plug tool, spare brake pads, chain master link and spare links, super glue, and patch kit.
Each day I’d start off with a small snack and a bunch of water and walk a short distance before jumping on the bike. Sometimes I’d remember to lube the chain….but using ProGold Extreme usually meant I could go a day and a half before lubing. Eventually I’d stop for a more substantial snack and brush my teeth. When the sun started coming up I’d apply sunscreen. I tried to eat as much as I could when riding, but after the first store stop, I seemed to be out of bars and other items that are easy to eat while riding, so I seemed to stop a lot to eat.
Before going to sleep, I always made sure my belly was full, my ass and crotch were clean, and my teeth were brushed. My second night was tough because I had downed 3 big glasses of Coke so it took me a while to go to sleep. I should have ridden longer to get that stuff out of my system, but the camp spot I found was just too awesome to pass up.
On the bike I ran my favorite tire of all time….the WTB Weirwolf LT 2.55… on the front. This tire is now about 5 years old and had 750 miles on it. It held up great and still shows little wear. On the rear, I ran a brand new WTB Exiwolf. I had run one of these for 750 miles on the CTR and the Coco 250 with ZERO issues. For this effort it got cut early in the ride. Aaron Boatman gave me a tough time about using WTB tires as their quality has been hit or miss for the past few years. Some tires made in Taiwan, others in China. Some in different factories in China. Some with sidewalls so thin they started showing thread immediately after installation. Some with 60 tpi, others with 120, and others with 31 tpi…??? Whatever. I’d love to be able to afford EXO Maxxis tires, but I even saw one of those with a stitched up sidewall. I honestly believe that getting a cut sidewall is just pure lack of luck…..and sometimes lack of skill. Looking at past AZT’s and this year’s AZT, the best riders get cut sidewalls. How you deal with it is what makes the difference. Having some mad stitching skills will pay off. I had some practice before via a Stan’s clinic I gave in El Paso. I gave a clinic the weekend after AZT and took a knife to the rear tire I used. I was able to stitch it up and it held air at 40 psi (in pic below). I rode it around my neighborhood a little and it still held air. Practice is important so you know what you’re doing when crunch time comes.
I was super amazed at how well my feet, butt, and hands held up. My hands started getting numb as I approached the Gila, but nothing compared to last year when I had blisters on my palms. My feet did real well also, but three days after finishing, both my big toes went numb and I’m still having some issues there. My butt didn’t bother me much at all and I only applied Okole Stuff once. I got a bit nervous when I went to apply as it was the same container I had used for CTR and Coco 250 and I’d yet to replenish it. It was almost empty.
The biggest equipment mistake I made was on the last evening when I stuffed my sunglasses into my top tube bag instead of in a sunglass case. The fabric inside the bag wore off the mirror coating in a couple of spots. I’m horrible with sunglasses. Someday I’ll figure out how to make those things last.
I have no secrets to hide, so if you have any questions, ask and I’ll do my best to give you an honest answer.
My second attempt at the AZT 300 snapped up on me much faster than last year’s. My fitness was WAY below what I had going into last year’s, and I spent the final week trying to figure out what bike to ride. I really wanted to ride my Superfly 100 set up as a SS, but I couldn’t get the brakes from sounding like a howling wolf with a tracheotomy. They chattered and howled and drove me nuts….not just with noise, but with inconsistent feel. Not a good thing. So I went back to the Dirty Girl which proved her worth on about 750 miles of the toughest single track routes known to humans on some of my adventures from last year.
So Dirty Girl got a new chain and the much more powerful Elixer brakes from my Superfly. I also switched over to my Fox fork which hadn’t been used since AZT 2012. The night before the race, I rushed to finish a new frame bag for it in order to highlight a new fabric I recently picked up, but my rush caused a poor fit that I wasn’t pleased with…at all. Oh well, there was nothing wrong with my old bags. I still got more sleep that week than the week previous to AZT 2012.
Our drive to Parker Lake was uneventful and we arrived to see Judd and Rhino setting up camp. Rhino was rocking one of my harness/pouch systems and it looked good on his bike. Later, others started to show up and sometime well after I had crawled into the warm covers, a large group rolled in. It was the shuttle from Picket Post (the 300 mile finish point) which was supposed to leave at 5:30 pm. It’s only a couple of hours driving from Picket Post to Parker Lake, so I secretly hoped they had hit the bar to begin the dehydration process early.
A bit of socializing and a briefing from Scott Morris, and we were on our way. This year I led it out. Aaron Gulley quickly moved past on his way to a record time. I never saw him again. A couple of other guys got around me as well, but knowing the trail and my fitness, I held back as much as possible. The first section of the Canelo Hills brought little drama except for the unnecessary hefting of Dirty Girl over a fence which was off-route. A re-heft found myself and the 3 others I caught up to at that time quickly back on course where I pulled away from them all. I drained my first bladder about a half mile from the end of the trail. I waited till I hit the pave to trade bladders and make a small adjustment to the front brake caliper. On the road I spun my giant legs and clown feet as fast as they could spin and actually caught up to Chad. Ross from Australia caught me and the three of us were soon at Sonoita where some early starters were exiting and Pete Bassinger was eating. After grabbing a bunch of crap food, I went outside to eat, top off my bladders, and finish a bottle of Gatorade. Pete was helping Neil with his fork which despite looking almost brand new, was not working at all. Pete grabbed his shock pump back and rolled out. Ezster rolled in and I rolled out after Pete and Chad.
The next section of dirt took us into the Kentucky Camp section. I forgot how difficult this section was, distracted by the fun sections of swoopy descending and flume singletrack, quickly catching and passing Pete and Chad both. Thinking I could make it all the way to Colossal Cave with the water I had, I passed on topping off at Kentucky Camp…..bonehead move #1. At this point in time I was well ahead of Pete and Chad and well ahead of my time from last year. I cruised on and eventually had to take a break where Chad, Pete, Aaron Boatman, and a guy from Tennessee came past me. I eventually got going again and caught up to the last two and put a little time on them.
Night started to come and the lights came out. I eventually passed the spot I camped the previous year and wasn’t near the level of tired I was the previous year, but I was starting to worry about water. About that time I heard the worst sound ever. The psssst of air quickly leaving my tire due to a cut sidewall. This of course was payback from Aaron B. as about an hour before he warned me to heed the rocks I was popping out from under me with “save those sidewalls”. The previous year I was shocked to see he did not have his GPS tethered to his bike, and sure enough, he ended up losing it….backtracking the next day to find it still on.
I quickly got off and tried to get my wits together. The cut was pretty big, but only about 3/4″ went through the threads of the sidewall. Stitching it up was the only desirable choice in my book. I removed the wheel, found my repair kit, and went searching for my needle and thread. Grabbing the thread, I pulled it out….sans needle. I searched the box for the needle and found it stuck in my Leatherman Micro. Crap. Threading the needle was going to suck. It was dark and my close up vision is long gone. I focused my lights on everything and after only two tries, I got it threaded and knotted. Leaving the tire seated on the rim, I stitched it up quickly. In the meantime, a bunch of people passed me….Eszter, Aaron, Tennessee, Chad, ??? They all asked if I was ok. I mumbled that I could use some water, but nobody wanted to lighten their load for me. After running the stitch up and then X’ing it back down, I tied it off, added a bottle of sealant, and hit it with an inflator. It held!!! I packed everything away and was back on the trail. I’m pretty sure it didn’t take me much over 5 minutes….but then again, time is weird on rides this long.
Back on the trail I passed a guy that had fallen in a cactus. (This may have been before I flatted.) There’s no other way to describe his predicament as other than being ‘effed. He knew it too. I was actually afraid he might go into shock. I asked him if he had duct tape….he which had wrapped not so neatly around his seatpost…..and told him to get to work with it. I asked him if he had a Leatherman…..which he did….and I told him to start digging. He eventually gave up and made his way to the highway flagging down a Border Patrol vehicle finally making it to a hospital. His saga is highlighted with a picture of all the thorns he removed on the bikepacking.net forum here.
I continued to cruise along towards I-10 in hopes of some trail magic in the form of a gallon jug full of water. I caught back up to Chad as we crossed the highway to the final section of trail to the I-10 tunnel. I mentioned that I was getting tired and that if I found water I’d put down for the night. As we entered the tunnel, I saw 3 jugs of water!….or what appeared to be water. They were not full, so I assumed that the intended user had already topped off and left behind what they didn’t need. I filled one of my bladders with fluid from two of them, and sure enough, one of them was not water. It was pretty weak tasting so I couldn’t pinpoint it. Fermented Vitamin Water? Fermented Gu2O? Zima? Bartles and James? I wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t burning my throat or making my stomach upset, so I cruised on soon catching back up to Chad…..soon followed by bonehead move #2.
Chad and I worked our way up the final climb that would have taken us over to Colossal Cave and on to a totally sweet picnic area with a water spigot, but we wimped out and camped in a flat spot where the train woke us up 4 times in about 5 1/2 hours. Cramping also woke me up. Most of it occurred in my feet and in my back/neck. I was hoping this was not due to dehydration, but it was most likely that combined with my poor fitness and the fact that I did a pretty stellar job hauling my big ass up and down a bunch of hills for 95 miles. Sleeping here was not the best choice. Chad didn’t snore, but that train was VERY loud. In hindsight, I’m sure I could have made it to the picnic area without much more suffering and had a much quieter sleep in cooler temps.
Strava file for the day here.
Early the next morning Chad and I wound up at the picnic area where we came across Neil.…the guy with the blown fork. He, Luke, and Casey got around us sometime in the night. Luke and Casey were not there. I emptied the suspect water from my bladder and topped off quickly chasing after Chad where we ripped some sweet singletrack that was added to the course since the previous edition. Soon we rolled into the Rincon Market where the bitchy owner told us about calling the Sheriff on a couple of riders who slept on her porch. I bought two Don Miguel breakfast burritos and a crapload of other crap and enjoyed a break on the porch with Chad and Max Morris who had put down early….I think I passed him before I flatted. I got reloaded and headed out alone realizing that I left my coffee cake on the table next to Ray’s bike. Ray was another singlespeeder who had his sweet Seven frame get crushed by a truck on Reddington Rd. during last year’s race. He looked pretty beat and also mentioned a cut tire on which he had stitched in a patch. I wasn’t too worried about him and took off wondering where some of the other racers might be….maybe at the Safeway? Maybe already to Prison Camp? Meh. I kept moving.
The cruise up Reddington was pretty uneventful and traffic was non-existent. Pretty awesome for a Saturday. I messaged Jen at the bottom of Reddington since my SPOT refused to work. It was 10 am local time and the heat was starting to come on.
I saw Max headed up the road a couple of switchbacks down, but he didn’t catch me until I stopped under some shade to eat a snack. We rode together all the way to the top of Milagrosa where we topped off with water. Max was pretty beat down, super skinny, and mentioned something about finding some shade. I took off to tackle the switchback hike-a-bike to the Molina Basin campground where I topped off with water again….both efforts were quick, but I chose to pump from the creek so it took more time than you’d think. The next water was more than 15 miles up the road and I did not want to go dry. Max said the nice restaurant at the top of the mountain closed at 9, but I wanted to be there before dark. I topped out on the climb just as it went dark….7:15ish?? I went into the restaurant surprised that it was almost empty on a Saturday night. I quickly ordered two meals….a pulled pork sandwich with soup and salad, and a turkey sandwich to go. Then came bonehead move #3. I ordered Coke. I’d yet to take on any caffeine, but I figured I’d ride until midnight or so and it would help keep me awake. In a few minutes, Casey, Luke, Max, and Ross all poured in followed by Neil. I was super stoked to see Max for I feared the worst for him after we parted ways at the top of Milagrosa. I spent over an hour inside taking care of hygiene and refueling.
When we left it was buttass cold and we were all layered up for the decent down Oracle Ridge. I couldn’t wait for this portion as it was one of my favorite portions from 2012. The road down was no fun as a dozer…. or a crew of idiots in crappy jeeps….WTF?…. had completely softened up the road surface. I struggled to get down safely and finally got to the singletrack where it seemed the temps went up quite a bit. I worked my way through the climbs and decents until I came to a really nice spot with soft sand and no wind. It was only about 9:30. Since I love sleeping outside, I put down for the night. A few more riders came by, but I wasn’t worried as I really wanted to get a great night’s sleep. I removed my shorts and wasn’t even all the way in my sleeping bag and passed out for almost 6 hours of sleep.
Day 2′s Strava file here.
With no alarm set, I got up around 3:30 (according to Strava…which may be reflecting MST instead of the wacky non-daylight savings AZT). I quickly got back on the trail and passed somebody tucked away on the side of a gnarly section of trail. Whoever it was kind of freaked out thinking I was going to hit him. No problems though and I was on my way. Then I passed the trio of Neil, Luke, and Casey. Neil was up and about, but I kept on rolling. The sun was coming up and I was dreading the passage across the desert to Kelvin.
It has some great trail, but it can get hot and seem endless out there. Not long after the sun rose, I was rolling into the Kanally Ranch house and quickly cleaned up at the hose. Luckily I did not top off my water here as it turned out it wasn’t so great, almost causing record setting finisher Aaron Gulley a disaster in the middle of the desert. I cut the top half off my home made tyvek bivy and threw it in the trash just to drop a half pound, and changed my socks. Bonehead move #4…..I didn’t reapply sunscreen after washing my face.
Rolling into Oracle I was pretty bummed that the grocery store wasn’t open yet but I plowed on to the Circle K. It had a surprisingly decent selection, but since I had just finished off the sandwich I ordered the night before, I didn’t grab anything substantial. They did have bananas!!! At this point I probably made the smartest move of the weekend. I filled my empty bladder with ICE! As I was rolling out, Neil was rolling in. He looked great and was super motivated. On my way back to the highway, I saw Luke and Casey killing time at the trailhead on the Oracle road. I waved and rolled on. I rode for another couple of hours on the awesome switchbacks up and down the washes until my tire finally gave up. Here came bonehead move #5. I removed the stitches from my tire and without removing the tire from the rim, I restitched it wrapping a tire plug under the stitch. This did not hold well so I attempted to patch it. My glue was unopened, but it had turned to a gel and it didn’t work. I then plastered a piece of Gorilla tape on it. At this time, Neil rolled up and hung out with me while I finished it up. This seemed to do the job and I punctured my last Big Air cartridge. We rolled on down the trail to see a pretty amazing sight for sore eyes. It was Jen Judge (Aaron Gulley’s girlfriend), Caroline Soong (Kurt Refsnider’s girlfriend) and another female. Was I hallucinating? We quickly exchanged pleasantries and rolled on. Caroline took this rad photo of me and Neil.
Neil and I wound up at the Beehive Well and took a break under the shade of the building there and I took off without him. Eventually I made it to the Freeman water cache to find Aaron from Wyoming taking all the shade under the Mesquite tree. I quickly topped everything off (both 100 oz bladders were dry) and rolled on. I noticed it was getting kind of late in the day so I stopped to eat an MRE. It was delicious and I was on my way.
Soon though, my tire went low and I pinched it crossing a wash. This time I wasted no time taking it off the rim so I could do something to the backside of the hole. I removed the flapping Gorilla tape (I couldn’t believe it was still clinging on) and balled up all the adhesive from on top of my stitch job. Then I dabbed some Gorilla brand super glue on there. I then put two layers of Gorilla tape on top and used the last of my Big Air to seat the tire. Yay! Still tubeless. Neil finally caught back up to me and we rolled on….into this very nice Crotalus atrox. It didn’t even rattle….pretty rare for a diamond back as they usually get all pissed off and let you know where they are.
Neil and made the goal of getting to Kelvin before dark. FAIL. At the bottom of Ripsey we saw this cheesy love note from Jenn to Aaron.
We got to the top of Ripsey as the sun went bye bye and we had to break out our lights. We did our best to rip the switch backs down to Kelvin where I ended up getting Cholla balled for the first time ever in my life. I pulled out the Leatherman micro where the ball promptly jumped from my leg to my hand.
Neil and I finally got to the large parking lot that’s about a half hour from Kelvin and it was DARK. We knew nothing would be open and I was pretty bummed at the thought of having to pump water from the Gila. Lucky for us some kind trail stewards were keeping the trailhead stocked with Kearny water. We at first thought it was reserved for a group calling themselves Kearny, but then we saw multiple dates on the jugs going back a couple of weeks and I remembered that there was a town called Kearny. Duh. Let’s top off!!! We then hitched our bikes to the hitching posts in the parking lot and ate dinner. It was 9 pm local time and my last MRE tasted like a million bucks. Beef ravioli!
On we went to the awesome singletrack that lasts forever. FOR EVAH!!! Sheez. 4 hours later (and we weren’t goofing around) we still weren’t climbing away from the Gila. So when we hit a nice gate in an even nicer sandy area, we decided to take a 30 minute nap. Alarms were set and I rolled out the bed roll and spent a couple minutes getting enough air into my pad to be comfortable. A nearby cow seemed a bit distressed at our presence and I shouted out, “Sing us to sleep Bessy!” The next thing I remember was waking to my alarm. Holy crap! That was the best nap ever. Just as we started packing back up, Ross rolled by. He said his knee was shot and he was quitting after 300.
Not long after the nap, we were finally climbing away from the Gila. I told Neil that I didn’t want to climb that last section in the daylight as 2012 put the hurt on me and it wasn’t even that hot. I was bummed to escort the young rookie through one of the most beautiful desert environments on the planet. Saguaros 50′ tall, grottoes, and huge barrel cacti, cliffs and rocks and tons of vegetation, and we couldn’t see any of it. What was really trippy is that every time we passed a Saguaro, it felt like we were riding in a dense forest. The temps were perfect for putting in a hard effort at the end of a 300 mile jaunt across one of the most unforgiving deserts anywhere. We hear frogs (saw a good sized toad on the trail) in some the cold side canyons indicating that water must be present. I ran up on a bobcat that trotted up the trail and then turned to stare at me for a while. I waited on Neil to proceed as I didn’t want to mistake what I thought was a bobbed tail for a full size one attached to a 200 lb super cat.
On we went eventually catching up to Ross who was taking a rest near the crux of the top of the inner canyon. I got a bit excited and turned up the heat a little as we began some descending. From this point on I never saw Neil again until the finish. As the sun came up I ripped the final descent to the sound of waking birds to the parking lot where Jen and Connor were still sleeping. I finished in 2 days, 21 hours, and 23 minutes. 11.5 hours faster than the previous year and on a single speed! 5th overall and no other single speeders nearby. It was an awesome ride!
No….that is not an ice pack on my crotch. It’s the leftover crust from an entire loaf of bread from which my family thought I’d enjoy. The butter was delicious.
2012′s return to the 12 Hours of Old El Paso had me motivated for a repeat win despite the lack of steep climbs and gnarly descents that I prefer on a race course. Being the first of all the solo riders last year on my SS, I really wanted to do the same again this year with hopes of a bit more competition that might push me a bit more than what I’m used to. Vince Anderson from Grand Junction was supposed to make the trip, but his name never showed up on the start list. I thought I saw Gustavo Fierro’s name on the solo list, but he ended up doing it with a team. sem Gallegos was not on the solo list. A couple guys from New Mexico were rumored to show up, but not Cameron. Juanito was returning, but I beat him last year and he’s older than me. My ride last year was really the only big ride I did all year other than the Chile Pepper road ride. This year I had 4 races under my belt for a total of 1,078 miles…..racing miles. I knew I had the endurance from my bikepacking races and I knew I still had a lot of speed from my Horny Toad rally. I was still concerned about my knees, but they seemed to be getting better.
While I love the venue at the Bowen Round House, I did not like the way the pit areas were arranged. Solo row was not at the end of the lap, so I parked on the road about 100 meters from the finish tent. A couple others joined me on the road including last year’s solo women’s winner Alison Kinsler. This ended up being a huge advantage for us for several reasons. First, we didn’t have to start out of our pits with some short power climbs, and second, we were able to see our competitors coming down the road.
Notice the clouds? Those didn’t last long.
I took my first lap on my hardtail because the Superfly was still skipping a bit even with a new chain on a cog that was not showing any visible wear. The fork on the hardtail needs a bit of love, so I was not enjoying the ride very much. I came through the pit somewhere in 3rd or 4th with the solo riders. Remember, I’m not just racing the single speeders. I wanted to take the overall solo win again. When I pitted, I decided to ditch the hardtail due to the lack of comfort and because the dropout set screws were loose. Jen had it ready to roll on lap 3, but the Superfly only skipped twice so I decided to stay on it. My third lap, it only skipped once. On lap 4, I caught Juanito.
This is where I made a dumbish move. I followed Juanito through Lazy Cow and we got to the Tin Mine Rd, he was going way too slow for me. He appeared quite tired already, bobbing up and down a lot and looking like he was having to make quite an effort to go fast. I wasn’t sure who was ahead of him at this point and I thought he might have even been the leader. I went to the front, and pulled away leaving Juanito to smolder in the crater he created blowing himself up at that pace. Problem was, I was feeling it too. It was really hot….high 80′s. In 2011 I drank 2 bottles per lap. Here it was lap 4, and I was almost finished with 2 bottles before heading down to Mad Cow….about 15 to 20 minutes from my pit. On lap 5 I cramped up Polecat, stopped to stretch, and drank ALL of my water. I made it up to Robert Newman’s aid station below the top of the course and filled my large bottle. I ended up doing the exact same thing on lap 6, only cramping a bit higher on the course. Not good. On lap 7 I carried a third bottle so I wouldn’t have to waste time filling at the aid station. After lap seven, I drank an entire bottle of water in my pit before heading out with NO botttles. Whoops. I back tracked to my pit losing about a minute or so.
By this point in time, I figured out who was ahead of me. Some guy on a 29er hardtail wearing a Feedback Sports kit was about to get crushed. He only had a couple minutes on me and I knew the hardtail would take it’s toll on him. I figured I’d get him on one of the pit stops when we had to get lights on. Mine were already mounted and all I needed to do was change helmets. At about 5:05 I headed out for lap 9. I made the entire lap without lights and passed Mr. Feedback in his pit. He was sitting on the ground and looked completely shelled. I bottled back up for lap 10 and still didn’t need my lights until I got about 10 minutes down the trail. Now that it was night, I picked up the pace a bit but it was still really hot. When I came through for lap 11, I tried to figure out the time gap, but was having difficulty doing the math. Since I was leading, I was trying to do an estimation from the previous lap. I guessed I had about 8 to 10 minutes on second.
Lap 11 wasn’t any cooler and Jen told me the snakes were out as Alison had seen two on the previous lap. I caught Alison going up Tin Mine and just after I passed her I almost ran over a diamond back. It didn’t rattle, but appeared to be doing all it could to get off the trail. My bike was making some weird noised but I was too busy trying to stay on the gas. I wanted to make sure I was doing a sub hour lap with the possibility of doing lap 12. As I came out of Deadman’s Drop, something made a horrible sound. My chain was jammed up and I noticed that I was down 2 chainring bolts. Oh no. I ran the bike up the climbs and soft pedaled the descents. Running was kind of nice in that it used muscles that weren’t cramping, but I was pretty paranoid about snakes. After making it to my pit, I traded bikes and bottled up for lap 12. It was 9 pm on the nose. I went to the finish tent to do some math. Second place was only about half way into his lap, so I raised my arm in victory and headed back to my pit for some food, drink, and a shower.
Eleven hours, eleven laps, 25 bottles of fluid, 2 lost chainring bolts. Keys to victory? Having all my bottles already filled up in a cooler packed with ice. That saved me so much time. I’m sure my total time in the pits wasn’t much over 5 minutes. I went with the same food as last year….a foot long Subway club and a cheese pizza. I didn’t start eating any real food until after lap 5 which may have contributed to my cramping issues. I also snacked on fruit leather, Z-Bars, and some chews. Heat was the biggest factor for all the suffering on the clockwise loop. It’s amazing how fast you can stop cramps if you drink enough water.
Thanks goes out to Mike Rossen and the Bicycle Co. staff. Turn out was pretty low for this event due to some conflicts in northern New Mexico and possible burnout by those who did Chupacabras. Maybe next year we can have this thing in November during a full moon. Maybe turn it into an 18 hour race……Ride all night!
Here are some pics I jacked off of facebook. Priscilla Rossen was all over that course and took some pretty good photos.
The Coconino 250 was something that was not on my radar screen at all until about a month before the event. The main event was a 4 day stage race consisting of 3 nights of camping between each stage. I knew my buddy Beto would be interested in doing an ITT of the loop as he’s yet to do a bikepacking stage race. So Jen and I had to figure out if we really wanted to do this.
- With great riding in Sedona and a shload of desert singletrack, I had no doubt Beto would be ready for this one despite the short notice.
- Delivering a couple frame bags would net me some cash to help pay for the trip.
- We’d stay with our friends Dara and Troy so Jen could do some trail running and riding.
- Troy was willing to do some kid sitting while the girls played.
- We’d take the Kia. I figured the Kia would get close to 30 mpg driving at about 75 mph, much faster and cheaper than the truck camper.
- We’d leave Wednesday evening so we could car camp somewhere…..Connor’s first car camping trip.
- The weather was looking stellar.
- I have plenty of sick days!
- My knees have been killing me since CTR.
- Only one big ride since CTR….125 miles of road the weekend before Coco. It killed my knees.
- We wouldn’t be driving our second home.
- I knew very little about the course despite printing out the cue cards.
- My classes would fall behind.
- Motivation was low.
We loaded up Tuesday night and Jen picked me up after work on Wednesday. That car was packed. A quick stop in Cruces to give Smokin’ Ray his bikepacking kit…then we battled the headwind up to the free campground west of Socorro. We had a great night of camping other than some plant causing Jen to have some serious allergies. I slept outside the tent on my bivy while Connor and Jen got cozy inside. Connor was super stoked to be in the tent. He thought it was so cool and could barely contain himself.
The next morning we stopped for pie in Pie Town (rip off) and took the dirt road short cut (NOT!) to Gallup. We made good time in the Kia and got to Dara and Troy’s early in the afternoon with Les and Jill not far behind to get a couple of frame bags I made for Les. After dinner I headed over to The Place, the official starting point, to meet with Beto. On the way back I missed a turn and got pulled over and when the cop realized I had not been drinking and was only frustrated driving in an unfamiliar place in the dark, he let me go with a warning. I spent the rest of the evening getting my shit together for a 6 am roll out from the house.
I met Beto at the Place on Friday and he was ready to roll. We checked the back parking lot and pounded on Les’s truck, but no answer so we rolled out at 6:25. We made pretty good time and took needed breaks to make adjustments. Beto had to change shorts as the ones he was wearing were causing him some issues. Luckily he brought a second set. I only had what I was wearing. We soon found ourselves at the top of Schnebly Hill overlooking Sedona. This was our first missed turn.
Back on track we rallied the gnar down to Mund’s Trail where we had to bypass the infamous Hangover Trail on our beeline to town. It was getting pretty hot and we needed food and water. We took about a half hour break at the Circle K hiding in the shade on the side of the building chowing some sandwiches and ice cream. The next leg was a bit of a struggle on the single speeds despite a low’ish gear (32×22 for both of us) and some familiarity with the trail system. I forgot how much up and down techy stuff there is in Sedona. Luckily it’s beautiful and we knew we weren’t going to be on it for long. Soon we found ourselves crossing Hwy 89 for the Lime Kiln Trail. The sun was starting to fade and the climb up the ridge was not rideable on a SS. On this trail we missed a couple more turns, but ripped up the last section into the campground where we washed up a bit in the bathroom.
Cottonwood was the site of our first major time suck. I did no scouting of the town, but knew we’d have to go off course for anything but gas station food. About a half mile towards town we stopped in a grocery store/grill. We spent about an hour waiting on food and refueling. We got a bit worried as we were the only customers who did not buy a tall boy or two and drive off in a shitty car. Needless to say, since I had the blinky tail light, I followed Beto up the road to Mingus.
It was only about 9:30 when we passed the airport, but my eyes were burning due to lack of sleep the week prior and a controlled burn in the area. We found a flat spot and set down for a few hours sleep. We were probably about 1,000′ up from town, but it was really warm. We decided to hit the trail again whenever we woke up….which we hoped would only be about 3 or 4 hours. At 1:30 am or so, we got going again enjoying the cool weather up the hill….which we were grateful for as the hike-a-bike up Mingus sucked ass. I’ve done worse, but not that long with that level of difficulty. We got to the top at 3 am and ate breakfast in the campground. We weren’t real quiet, but I don’t think we woke anyone.
On the way down I missed a major turn and lost some vertical. Beto waited for me at the top and we eventually got back on track. The single track to the bottom was really good and quickly made us forget about the difficulty of the hike-a-bike up Mingus. We made it all the way to the Verde without having to stop for water. Being a Hispanic, Beto thrived in the heat drinking about 2/3rds the water I drank. When it was cool, I had the jersey unzipped and he was putting on arm warmers. We laughed about this more than once, but sometimes I got a bit nervous about running out of water or overheating.
There was a large crew of single speeders under the Verde bridge getting ready to head the direction we just came…which would be a really long climb for those guys…..in the heat….and probably pretty stiff for their gearing. Where we were headed wasn’t much better. It was getting hot for me and the climb was a slight grade that went on and on finally getting back into the Ponderosa and cooler temps…..only to come to our last spike on the elevation profile.
That spike was Bill Williams Trail where the top half consisted of a rarely used switchbacking hike-a-bike. We pushed up and forward looking forward to the backside descent into town. The backside descent was pretty burly and really put our gear to the test. If there was any trail that would expose any weakness in your bike or anything attached to the bike, it was this one. Ledgy with lots of wheelie drops and BIG water bar blockages, this trail pounded the crap out of is. Both of us only walked a couple small sections and afterwards we spoke about how other types of bar setups would handle that mess. My setup was so solid. I felt no bouncing or twisting and nothing shook loose. Thumbs up on the latest configuration that both Beto and I were running.
Into Williams we rode in search of pizza! We rode right past the Safeway….neither of us seeing it as I was glued to my smartphone looking for the pizza joint. We spent about an hour at the pizza joint then headed out of town…..away from the Safeway. After asking someone for directions, we turned around and headed back to reload with snacks and stuff for the last stretch. Ben and Jerry’s, beer from Smither’s (a finisher in last year’s Coco), and not quite enough room in our packs, we headed back towards Flag. We rode for about another hour before finding a place to crash out under some small trees. It was only about 7 pm.
We both ate a bit more in our very nice camp spot, but were soon being high beamed by some redneck who was in an RV nearby. We did absolutely nothing but stare back and continue getting ready for the night. I had to glue the sole back on my shoe and kind of appreciated the extra lighting during that moment. We crashed out hard and I awoke a bit before 4 and ate some more. At 4 I finally woke up Beto and we took our time breaking camp as it was pretty cold. We got to the Sycamore Trail just before daybreak. On the rim we heard lots of elk bugling away. We took some pictures and ate lots of snacks. I took us down some more singletrack that was off course. We lost a lot of time here because we stopped to take off some layers and never noticed we were off course. After heading off in the wrong direction, my gps died just as I noticed we weren’t on the track. I had Beto lead the way and we got back on course immediately exiting the canyon and on to the power line. We spun away to the Texaco where I dropped $6 on 4 AA’s to get my gps going again.
We missed about 4 more turns, but soon found ourselves railing the final singletrack into town. I called Jen to let her know I planned to eat a big breakfast at The Place, then we finished up at around 2 pm. Beto was pretty stoked to finish unscathed and I was excited to have completed another bikepacking adventure….my 3rd for the year. I was quite impressed by the difficulty of the course, and was not at all disappointed that we weren’t even close to record pace. Our first 2 days were tough and I knew that if we pushed on, I’d still have to call in sick on Monday to safely make the drive home.
Jen got to do the Wardog Trail Run with Dara, and Troy took care of the kiddos. Many thanks to the Marinos for being such great hosts. I owe Troy a big one. Also thanks to Chad Brown and Scott Morris for putting together what had to be a bit of nightmare in regards to connecting gps files for this big loop. Keep up the good work brothers.
To summarize: The Coco 250 is a brutal test that can easily be done in under 3 days. It is not SS friendly. It is not hardtail friendly. I give it a Gnar rating of 5 stars. The views are about 4 stars. The camping was 5 stars. Water accessibility was 5 stars. Food availability was 4 stars. I highly suggest you try this route if you haven’t already.
GPS TRACKS!!! Don’t use these if you do the course. I missed way too many turns.
MY BIKE: I rode the exact same setup I used in the CTR. I had only cleaned and lubed it since then and added a bit of sealant to each tire. I ended up breaking a spoke nipple on my rear wheel (no adjustments needed) and by the finish, my chain was sagging pretty good. No flats in 750 miles! I made a couple mods to my bar harness which made it even more rock solid than in the CTR. I also carried a bit less stuff and more water. Only one tube, no spare shorts and socks, and no rain pants left plenty of room for a 1.5 liter bottle of water. I had a bit of clunkiness in my fork which after returning home I discovered to be too little air in the negative chamber. Not bad for a 4 year old fork.
Never thought I’d think that way about a full length XC race. Today’s Horny Toad Hustle in Las Cruces piles on a full 28 miles of sweet singletrack that swoops, dives, and climbs through primo Chihuahuan desert. What usually ends up being a heated suffer fest, turned out to be a super fun cruise. And why should I expect anything different after completing 470 miles of ridiculously difficult singletrack at high altitude this summer? At first I was hesitant to enter the event as I was afraid I would have the top end to be up front, and I really like being at the front of a mountain bike race. But I’ve got some plans for this fall, and picking up the pace is a necessity. XC racing is one way to get there.
It took me a couple of hours, but I got the Superfly 100 to finally work with the YESS tensioner and rocking an 18 tooth with light tires. I can’t find a blog post from the last time I did Horny Toad, but I’m pretty sure I did it on my Racer X with the same gearing. The Superfly is kind of a noodle and getting it to not drop a chain was a challenge. It ended up slightly skipping only a few times, but the chain stayed on. I didn’t spend much time getting the bike completely dialed and it never got a solid test ride. I always seem to be lazy like that for these short XC events probably because I feel I’ve got nothing to lose. Luckily I had a decent gap about 10 miles in when I realized I was working way too hard due to a dragging front brake. I actually told myself that I wouldn’t stop to fix it unless I found a multi-tool on the trail. In this economy, people aren’t losing stuff like they used to, so I nutted up and pulled off the trail to dig out my tool. A minute or so later I was back at it.
After going through the first feed zone, I asked myself, “Why am I riding so hard?” So I set the cruise control to fun. Returning to the feed zone Jen told me that I was only about 15 minutes down off some of the geared pro riders and only a couple minutes up on the next singlespeeder. So I ramped it up just a little bit without hurting myself. 2 hours and 18 minutes later I was back at the finish for another Hustle Victory. I think I’ve won the SS category 4 times now with no losses. Someday someone really fast will give me a run for the money. I thought Tyson Brown was going to stay with me today, but he released a mushroom cloud somewhere along the course.
Speaking of mushroom clouds, Chris Oaxaca from the Bicycle Company is working on the logo for my bike bag business. If you haven’t heard, the name of my business is Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks. My logo is going to be a mushroom cloud with the image of a bikepacker making a run for it to get the hell out. It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but I had over a dozen people ask me where my logo was for my bags. I didn’t think people cared, but I guess they do. Somebody told me that if you put a logo on a box of crap, people will think it’s cool…..maybe that was Tommy Boy or something. My product is not crap.
I’m making really sweet frame bags and have finally figured out the gas tank. I’ve got a couple people testing out my bar harness/bag system. I think feedback is going to be good. Hit my website for more info.
I don’t ride with an iPod……or any other noise maker stuck in my ears. This non-participation in the modern world has saved my ass more than once. It also really bugs me when I roll up on someone who is MUCH slower than I, and I have to yell or even bump tires with them to get their attention so I can safely pass. I don’t ever want to be that person.
The main reason I don’t do it is because the bicycle speaks to you. The creak in the bottom bracket could be your crank coming loose or even worse. My last night on my AZT ride, I was working hard to make it to the Freeman water cache at a reasonable hour. I started noticing a slight sound that was out of the ordinary. This was after being hooted out of the area around a solar powered well by a very loud owl. I stopped to check things out, and sure enough, my front rotor was coming loose. 6 titanium bolts….every one of them slightly loose. I got them all really tight and was back on the trail. If I had been jamming away with candy in my skull, I’d never have noticed and eventually the bolts would have fallen out and I would have had to do some serious bolt switching…..pull 3 out the rear…..3 on each rotor works but isn’t ideal.
On my CTR adventure, I didn’t have any mechanicals. A morning check on the start of my second day (squeeze of the tires and lube the chain) and I noticed my Paragon sliders were loose. A quick fix and I didn’t have to touch them again. My shoes blew out on me, but no creaking or tell tale sounds of future failures.
The downside to not blocking out the sounds that surround you is that frequently you get songs stuck in your head. I don’t remember anything getting stuck in my head during the AZT, but the CTR almost….not quite though….brought me close to the brink of actually wanting some music in my ears….not in my head.
Me and Bobby McGee. Written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster. Most famously sung by Janis Joplin. For most hippies out there, you remember it and probably still hear it sung by Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Only a line or two of the entire song kept repeating in my head. Sometimes it was Janis, other times it was Bob. For some reason it, amongst many many other songs that I like much better and that frequently get in my head during long tough rides, was repeated maybe a thousand times. My play list sucked. For some reason though, it didn’t get me down. I found it kind of funny. Especially since only a line or two kept getting repeated.
You ear bud junkies out there are probably thinking, “Why doesn’t he just use an iPod, or his phone?” Well, that’s just something else you have to deal with. Keeping things simple on the trail saves you time. It saves you weight. It saves you thinking energy. Anything that is not attached to you, you think about. For example…..you stop to change your light batteries. You are tired and after you get going again, you start wondering if you put the old batteries in your bag. The same thing could happen with an iPod.
Keep things simple. And learn to deal with Janis….windshield wipers slappin’ time, holdin’ Bobby’s hand in mine….
Lots of people seem to really dig these kinds of posts. Personally, I can’t stand them. However, with what turned out to be an amazing ride, I thought it might be a bit of help to those who might want to attempt something super epic like this but may not have the newest equipment or the coin for the latest and greatest. I haven’t sought sponsorship for a couple of years now, so I’ve been doing my best to take care of my equipment. I think some readers will be surprised when they see what I rode. Keep in mind that I am 6’5″ and weigh 200 lbs.
Frame: custom 29er ti hardtail with Paragon sliders (4 years old)
Front wheel: WTB hub, Stan’s 355 Rim, DT spokes with alloy nipples (3 years old built by me), Ashima 180mm rotor, Mavic crossmax skewer
Rear Wheel: DT 340s 8/9/10 speed hub (5 years old), Stan’s 355 rim, 2 cross DT spokes with brass nipples on the drive side built by me, 160 Magura wavy rotor, crossmax skewer
Tires: front WTB WeirWolf LT 2.55 60tpi, rear WTB Exiwolf 2.3 120tpi brand new
Drivetrain: 6 year old (???) XTR 180 mm cranks with outer spider ground off, 32 t Blackspire chainring, Chris King BB, Crank Bro’s chromoly spindle pedals (brand new), Endless Bikes 22t aluminum rear cog, SRAM SS/BMX chain.
Brakes: 7 year old Magura Marta SL’s
Cockpit: Ritchey carbon with 5 year old Ergon GC-2 (I think), little dinky bell, mid-level FSA stem, Chris King Headset
For the rear end: Moxey Pro seatpost (15 years old but in and out of storage as a backup post to a much looser one), brand new WTB Silverado with NiCro rails.
As you can see, this rig is just a plain old solid ride with some of the most reliable equipment found in the industry. If there is a secret weapon, it’s the Moxey seatpost. Thanks to the idiots at Cane Creek, you’ll never find one of these on the market. It is by far the best suspension seatpost on earth with 3 inches of travel and the elastomer has a damped return stroke. It made a bit of noise, but I didn’t care. If there was one thing I’d change on this bike, it would be the brakes. While they worked excellently, I could probably save a bit of energy with something that has bigger pads like a set of Sram/avid XO or even an older set of Elixers.
Daily ride wear: Cheap Canari shorts, mostly white full zip jersey, SOS Merino Wool multi-sport socks, Giro gloves, Rooly mirrored sunglasses, Shimano M-087 size 51 shoes with Superfeet insoles (almost brand new when I started), Bell Influx helmet with 4 year old AyUp lights on top.
Backpack: Osprey Talon II, 100 oz. camelbak bladder (5 years old), Mont Bell UL down jacket, Pearl Izumi rain jacket, Park multi-tool, Spot II, 6 extra AAA batts and 4 extra AA batteries, full size shock pump, crank bros mini-tire pump, small container of Okole Stuff, sample bottle of ProGold Extreme lube, earplugs.
Gas tank: Lots of snacks, chap stick, cell phone, small CT guide book.
Bar bag: Smith glasses with clear, yellow, and mirrored lenses in hard case with lens cleaner. Toothbrush, toothpaste, saddle sore meds, Aleve, Visine, and a 15 pack of anti-bacterial wet wipes.
Sleep gear: stuffed into a stuff sack I made that is held in by a sling/harness system I designed and made as a Thermarest NeoPro air matress extra long, Mont Bell spiral hugger long 30 deg, and a homemade Tyvek bivy. In the bottom of the bag I had a thermarest repair kit.
Main frame bag: My frame bags are a 2 section system. The bottom section velcros to the top bag and bolts into the bottle cage mounts. In the top bag I packed a full length pair of Sugoi rain pants, extra pair of socks, extra shorts, wool short sleeve tee, wool arm and knee warmers, wool knicker underwear, micro fleece beanie, Fenix tactical flashlight with AA batteries, and as much food as I could possibly fit inside. I started with 4 MRE entrees and heaters as well as some MRE crackers, bread, and squeeze cheese. The lower bag held a repair box that had a spare cleat and bolts, some chain links, a chain master link, super glue, patch glue, 6 patches, needle and thread, 3 sets of slightly used brake pads, and a Leatherman Micro. Inside the lower bag I also had 24 hours of AyUp batteries (two 6 hour and four 3 hour), 2 small bottles of Stan’s, 2 Big Air cartridges with one head, one tube wrapped in Tyvek, and a 15 year old Pur Hiker water filter in its original stuff sack with some tablets of some sort. I also had a bottle of sunscreen and a pair of light ski gloves crammed in there.
I had a small white blinky and about 5 feet of 1′ wide Gorilla tape wrapped around my seatpost.
I weighed my loaded bike at a shop in Crested Butte and it was 41 pounds. I think that with more food and the few things I added before the race, I was around 45. My backpack ranged from 11 to probably around 20 depending on how many sodas and snacks I packed in it. It was definitely at it’s heaviest after Buena Vista.
My daily routine was a key to my success. Each morning I would eat a light snack while packing up my gear. I would trade my sleep knickers for my shorts and knee warmers but leave my wool tee on and usually wear my puff jacket and rain jacket. I’d shed clothing as necessary and when the sun eventually hit me, I’d put my bike jersey back on and apply sunscreen….which got to be pretty gross. Usually I’d wait until the sun hit me to stop to eat breakfast.
I’d lube my chain about twice a day. The only issues I had with my bike were too much air in my tires which I relieved on the second day never to touch them again the entire ride, and on my second morning my rear dropouts had come loose. Once tightened, they were never an issue. I don’t consider the worn out brake pads on the descent into Silverton to be an “issue” as it was to be expected and it only took me about 5 minutes to get them changed out.
Occasionally during the day I’d apply Okole Stuff to my bum. It’s lanolin based so you don’t need much.
Each evening I’d make sure I had a full’ish water bladder, throw an MRE in the heater, and prepare my sleep gear which included cleaning my crotch with anti-bacterial wipes and changing out of my bike shorts into my sleep clothing. I’d also apply my saddle sore meds. I won’t get too detailed on that, but my persistent sore is an ingrown hair which my doc says I should get cauterized. The meds work really well and it never got much larger than a small pea during the ride. While sitting on my inflated pad, I’d eat, drink, brush teeth, cram everything back into my bag, and then pass out using my pack as a pillow. My 4th night of sleep I crashed out in my bike shorts and knee warmers. I figured I’d only be down for a couple of hours, it was most likely my last night of sleep, and I was really trying to pick up the pace wherever possible.
I went to my second pair of shorts the morning I awoke on Seargents Mesa. I rinsed my jersey a couple of times. Once was on Molas before Blackhawk. I was really hot and it was less of a wash than a soaking to help keep me cool. It was pretty hot up there. I’d also rinse my face and hair whenever in a bathroom with running water or if it wasn’t too cold when I was filtering water. My head itched a lot and I really got tired of wearing my helmet. I also changed my socks at Princeton hot springs during the shoe/blister episode. I left my dirty socks in the trash as they had holes in them.
I think the gear I was most thankful for was the light ski gloves I purchased a couple days before the ride. If I hadn’t had them I would not have been able to ride that second night in the rain. They were very comfortable on my hands as well and probably wore them as much as my regular gloves. I finished the ride with a serious callous on both palms.
I can’t say that my feet suffered, but the numbness I experienced after the AZT returned on day 3. The blister on my left foot was pretty prominent at the half way point. I layer of Gorilla tape helped and I knew nothing worse could happen to it, but it prevented me from descending in a heels down position. This caused a bit of stress on my left calf, but for some reason, I didn’t really care and it didn’t really slow me down on the descents. It couldn’t have been that bad because my calf never really hurt when hiking/pushing or when stomping on the pedals.
My “competitive” days are in the past and I’ve done my best to bury or at least suppress my ego over the past few years. I’ve got no secrets and would hope that others thinking of doing a bikepacking race or who have failed to finish something like the AZT 300 or the CTR can glean some beta from me that will help them be successful. Bikepacking adventures require an enormous amount of time and effort. To me, failing to finish or accomplish a reasonable goal is unacceptable. The great thing about bikepacking is that scenarios and options are constantly changing. Success depends on being flexible and making quick and wise decisions. It’s not like that bullshit world cup crap where a dab in one turn can mean the difference between finishing all the laps or being pulled on your third of 8 laps. You’ve got lots of time. Utilizing it all in a wise and patient manner will bring you to a great finish with a great experience under your belt.
Holy Crap!!! What an amazing adventure! Since many people have been asking me a lot of questions about my adventure, this post is pretty detailed. Sorry if it’s long on words and a bit short on pics. I traveled light the entire summer and only carried my phone. Luckily it has a sweet panorama feature to it that makes the landscape views a bit better.
If you’ve followed my blog, you know that I started my main prep for the Colorado Trail Race by doing the Arizona Trail 300. While my intentions of doing the CTR on my single speed were set in stone, for some reason I did the AZT on my geared bike. This meant having to make myself different bags for each bike. About a week before leaving town for the summer, I finally finished up my kit for the single speed. I’ll create a different post that addresses my equipment in detail. For this post I’ll focus on the ride/experience.
My awesome teaching job allows me to leave the hot box for just over 2 months straight. After attending the funeral of a former student (yeah….big bummer and not a great way to start out the summer), the family loaded up and headed north. We always make our first stop at Water Canyon outside of Socorro, NM. I had a great ride up there on some little used trails. Bear shit every where. Jen dropped me off at UNM for a week while I had to get certified to teach AP Physics. Needless to say, I was chomping at the bit to hit some trails after that week. So the family regrouped and we headed to Salida.
In Salida I did some big rides in the heat (100 degrees on the section south of Princeton Hot Springs). Eventually I parted with the family and headed from our camp at the bottom of Marshall Pass on the CT to Lake City. That was my first single speed ride of the year. About 116 miles and over 50 of that was on flattish dirt roads. Ugghh. I got to test out my rain gear and the waterproofness of everything else I had. I had a great ride and camped pretty much on the trail just south of Hwy 114. Then it was on to Crested Butte where I put in some more good day rides. After 2 weeks in the Butte, we headed to Leadville where Jen was to participate in the Silver Rush 50. I got in another over nighter looping from Leadville on the pave to Copper, then the CT over to Hwy 24 and back to Leadville.
So no major “training” other than 2 over-nighters and a few big rides. Most of my big day rides were done on the SS fully loaded with all the gear I was planning to carry in the race. No sessions of “spin-ups” or threshold intervals or tempo bullshit. No heart rate monitor, no “race” foods, not even any stretching/yoga. I just rode my bike at a comfortable pace and tried to have as much fun as possible.
My start did not coincide with the race start. On our way back from Laramie to the Front Range, our dog Luna was not doing very well so we took her in to an emergency clinic. She was having massive kidney failure. It freaked us out and we paid $1500 to leave her there overnight only to figure out later that night that she was done and no way we could afford to take a gamble on keeping her in the hospital for multiple days of treatment that might not work. She kept “telling” us she was ready to leave us but we either ignored it or refused to acknowledge the signs. Instead of starting with the big crew on Monday, we went back to the animal hospital to put our dog to rest. Only 8 years with us, but she’d been with us for every summer we spent on the road traveling to races and having great adventures. Needless to say, we mourned the rest of the day in our camp spot at Chatwick Lake State Park.
I was ready to ride as not doing so would have been pretty foolish. I spent many hours prepping for this thing. Most of that time was getting my gear dialed in. While carrying a bit of guilt and remorse about having to put Luna to sleep forever, I felt that the worst thing I could do was let that stop me from doing what was planned. I attached Luna’s registration tag to my bar bag to remind me of the times she joined me for trail rides. I chuckled a bit when I headed up Waterton Canyon and read the sign that said “NO DOGS”. She was with me the entire time…..the only ride on which she was ever able to keep up with me.
With pain in my heart, I pedaled with a purpose and soon I was on wet single track. Lots of climbing was in store for the first day and my goal was Hwy 9 near Breckenridge which would put me at about 100 miles for the day. I soon realized that I would be walking A LOT. No biggie. I knew it would be that way and it was one reason why I decided to do it on a single speed. If I was going to be pushing my bike a lot, why push one with a bunch of gears and shifter thingy stuff on it?
My first day followed a big storm and I ended up riding through what looked like a real race course with lots of tire tracks and quite a bit of mud. Once again, no big deal. Being on a single meant minimal worries in adverse conditions. I paced myself but moved with a purpose. I let myself float down the descents. My bike felt super stable loaded with all the gear and I’d venture to say I descended as fast or faster than I do on my full suspension bike. Sometimes I’d reflect back to times I rode with Luna. One time was on a descent and the bike flowed down the swoopy trail. I honestly felt like I wasn’t even on my bike and I was upside down making loops on a roller coaster.
The day heated up and I found myself in some really dry terrain with lots of decomposed granite. Much like home only much smoother. Eventually I found myself in Bailey where I stopped to refill with water. I had not scouted anything east of Georgia Pass and did no research in regards to food stores/restaurants in the tiny little town. I had plenty of food to get me to Leadville where I had a USPS mail drop waiting for me with 4 MRE entrees and heaters as well as other food. So I headed on up the road eventually stopping on the side of the dirt road portion out of Bailey to heat up an MRE and get some calories in me. I was rifling through my energy bars which was probably an indicator that I was riding too fast. After my lunch I backed off on the pace and cruised up to the top of Kenosha Pass. A few feet up the trail I ate another snack and realized I was almost out of water. I went back into the campground to the pump to fill up and then headed up to Georgia Pass. I topped out on GP to the giant “Trail Magic” cooler where I partook of a Coke and packed another 2 sodas into my bag since I had gone through most of my energy bars. I was a bit worried about making it to Leadville with the food I was carrying. After starting the descent there was another stash of “Trail Magic” from which I took a couple of tortillas. At the bottom of the descent I passed a rider from Houston (Raul??) who seemed to be suffering from the altitude. He said he had a buddy up the trail a ways and was just looking for the lowest point possible to put down for the night. I gave him words of encouragement and tried to keep him jazzed up about the trail experience that lay ahead, but I’m pretty sure he dropped. After passing him I stopped for more food near a spot that my family has camped at for years and contemplated the good times we always had there with our wonderful mutt. I pumped some water into my water bladder and Dave Pickett-Heaps caught me. He started about an hour behind me. We headed up the trail and he asked if I was riding all night. Uh…hell no brother. My goal was 6 days with 6 hours of sleep a night. We got nailed by a sleet storm when we caught the other guy from Houston who was putting on way too many clothes for a storm that I was sure was only going to last a couple minutes. I left the Houstonite and DPH as he seemed to be struggling in the wet conditions and I made it past the dredge to a flat area above the Tiger Run RV park where I put down for the night. I slept in the bag and the bivy, but was a bit too warm most of the night. I probably slept for about 5 hours with almost 6 hours of non-riding time in that location. About 95 miles for day one. I was asleep well before midnight.
After awaking well before my alarm, I changed out of my sleep gear, rearranged snacks and so forth in my bags, and was quickly packed and was on the trail in about 15 minutes. I was able to cross HWY 9 well before the rush hour traffic (Summit County is way to crowded for me) and headed up to the top of the 10 Mile mentally preparing myself for a long day of hike-a-bike. Near the top of Wheeler I passed Wendy Skean and her son. They were in great spirits….the first people I passed who seemed to be having a really good time. I passed someone else on the descent into Copper who was walking some sweet DH.