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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.
Today we had two rattlesnake encounters today on our 5 hours SS adventure around the Franklins. Our first one was this little western diamondback just south of Bowen’s Ranch. Jen almost ran over it and it didn’t move until I got my camera out and went back to take pictures. After I snapped these pics and put away my camera, we looked up and there was a very bummed out hawk flapping at us. It’s funny how a bird like that can communicate his displeasure. I felt bad. Sorry I disturbed the balance.