Just some thoughts and experiences from a mountain bike endurance racer who likes to ride and race his single speed mountain bike a long long way on remote single track in the mountains and desert.

Friday, April 18, 2014

2014 Arizona Trail Race, 300 miles (AZT300)

Although I’ve wanted to do the Arizona Trail 300 ( AZT300 ) race for a long time I didn’t fully commit to it until about 3 weeks prior to the start date.  Most of the winter I worked and skied on the weekends with some riding in between so I wasn’t sure of my fitness.  It was a mild winter down low with the trails sporadically ridable so I was able to get some weekday rides in when the trails were dry.  I also made some desert trips for bigger rides throughout the winter so it wasn’t like I was “off the couch”.  Also, hiking in ski boots for good powder isn’t exactly easy either and I think it benefited me on the hike-a-bike sections.   I finally decided to throw my hat in the ring after feeling pretty good on a 9 hour White Rim 100 mile ride.

This plan apparently paid off!  I finished in just over 2 ½ days (2:12:50) http://www.topofusion.com/azt/results.php .  The race was 300 miles and 40,000 feet of climbing.  I was the fastest single speeder and finished 4th overall. 

Bike and Gear:  My bike and equipment setup was minimal.  Just the necessities that matched my race plan and emergency gear.  I think this is where my experience from the Colorado Trail Race paid off.  I used about the same setup as I did in the Colorado Trail Race except I didn’t bring a cooker this time.  My plan was to ride almost the entire time so I didn’t bring a sleeping bag, bivy or tent and elected instead to carry a lightweight emergency blanket which saved weight.  I rode my singlespeed with 32x22 gearing which I felt worked out well although it resulted in a lot of hike-a-bike.  My tire choice was the Schwalbe Nobby Nic with snakeskin and had no issues.  In my research prior to the race there were racers with a lot of tire issues and after seeing the trails first hand I can see why.  There are tons of jagged, sharp rocks which are the perfect size to slash a sidewall.  I was prepared with needle, thread and Stans but the tires performed great! 

Water: I had 200oz of water capacity (half on the bike and the other half in my Osprey pack) which I filled completely at a majority of the water stops.  I never ran out and never got water from questionable sources but I had tablets just in case (no water filter however).  Kentucky camp is a critical spot to top off water even though it is not far after the previous source.

Food:  This is where I had my stops and calories planned but decided to get whatever sounded good at each stop instead of a strict plan.  It could be the best food for me but if it doesn’t sound good and I don’t eat it the food doesn’t do me any good.  I had enough capacity for 7000 calories and I filled it up at both of my two food stop which were Sonoita and Oracle (This included calories from energy drinks that I poured into my Osprey hydration pack).  My plan was to graze and not eat big portions after my CTR experience.  The Sonoita store had minimal choices but I think if I had stopped there on the way to the start and took a closer look when I wasn’t rushed my stop during the race would have been much faster and I would have got more desirable food.  I went to the Oracle market for my section food stop which had a good supply and some pre made stuff.

Race plan:  Prior to the race I looked at a variety of blogs and times for previous finishers.  I typically like to ride through the night with none or minimal rest so I modeled my timing and plan after other racers that had that similar approach in the past.  I wanted to go lightweight so I didn’t carry any more than I really needed.  No luxuries!  Also, I wanted to avoid towns as much as possible since they have a way of sucking time.  No mail stops either.  Prior to starting the race I resolved that I wasn’t going to stop at any of the few restaurants available throughout the race when passing through towns and I stuck to it. 

The Race:  I felt good the night before with no anxiety but I couldn’t wait to get started.  Up to the start you can second guess your choices for gear and setup a thousand times but after the start all you can think about is racing.  

After a quick speech from Scott we rolled off immediately down a rocky hill where racers who didn’t fully check out their gear setup in advance would probably be stopping frequently to reevaluate their setup.

The first section through Canelo pass was technical and had a lot of hike-a-bike.  Especially for anyone with a singlespeed.  I was careful not to go too hard at the beginning and just rolled at a nice steady pace that I felt I could maintain for a long time.  I felt good through to Sonoita.  The front bottom of my feet were hurting a little from all the hike-a-bike.  This is where I realized some hiking in my bike shoes instead of rigid ski boots would have been good preparation.

In Sonoita I stopped at the gas station/store and picked up enough food that I thought could get me through to Oracle.

After a climb on a graded road the next section at Kentucky Camp was awesome!  I definitely want to come back and check this out again.  I had topped off all 200oz of my water in Sonoita but I chose to top it off again at Kentucky Camp which was absolutely necessary.  In hindsight I might have just got 100oz or less at Sonoita but I wasn’t sure of the situation at Kentucky Camp so I lugged all that water up the hill with me just in case.

I had my one and only crash after Kentucky Camp.  On a technical downhill I flipped over the bars but both myself and my bike were unscathed.  It got dark on me somewhere between Kentucky Camp and I-10.  This section was very rocky and slower in the dark.  In the daylight it might be a different story but I seemed to really slow down through there.  After coming out of mountains I was rewarded with a nice gradual downhill that offered the perfect break after the previous section. 

The section after I-10 to Colossal Cave started out at an easy grade then slowly got steeper but was pretty ridable and flowed well.  This is where I saw one of two snakes.  I practically rode over the tail of a diamond back but it didn’t even move.  I elected to pass up La Selvilla campground since I had enough water to get to the next stop.

I got on the pavement and pedaled to Saguaro National Park where I topped off every water container I had.  It was still dark and I knew the next section was going to be hot and I wanted to make it up as much as possible in the dark to avoid the heat.  After a very sandy section of trail and a variety of miscellaneous roads I made it to Redington Road and started the big climb up.  The route eventually splits off onto an extremely rocky 4-wheel driver trail that is difficult to ride up or down in the dark.  It seemed like there were some ridable lines that would be more visible in the daylight but in the dark all I could do was walk big sections. 

After what seemed like an endless amount of rock obstacles the old road became more ridable and the sun came out.  Then the route went back on singletrack which was pretty nice but did have some hike-a-bike sections as it steadily climbed.  I passed up the West Spring water source without getting anything and that is where the climb got nasty!  I pushed, carried and hoisted my bike up the side of this mountain.  It was brutal getting the weight of my bike and gear up some of the rock ledges and my only consolation was that my setup was lighter than some other racers.  The downhill on the other side was at least a little ridable but there were definitely sections that I hiked down.

The route then crossed the Mount Lemmon Hwy where there was some additional singletrack and hike-a-bike climbing.  The highway is visible almost the entire time on this section so watching road bikers easily motor up the paved road made the climb that much more difficult.

Eventually the trail emptied out onto a graded road that led to the Mount Lemmon Hwy.  Getting on pavement and being able to pedal continuously was a nice change although my gearing was a little hard for the climb.  I’ve never seen so many road bikers as on this section.  I did actually pass one but the rest were going by me.  I got the impression most of them did not comprehend what I was out there doing and the majority didn’t even say anything to me.  At least one knew about the race.  The climb seemed to have not top.  I stopped at the Palisade campground and topped off my water near Summerhaven. 

After climbing from under 2700’ to over 8000’ we were rewarded with the Oracle Ridge trail.  In this section and the following section where it rejoins the AZ trail you bomb down the hill at less than 2 miles an hour walking over boulders while endlessly hitting your calves and shins on your pedals because there was not enough room to down-hike with a gap between you and your bike. To top it off there was a brutal wind.  This was defiantly my lowest point!  I was ready to blaze into Oracle and reprimand them for having their name on something so unpleasant and how they could even call it a trail.  The rocky downhill eventually appeared to have some recent trail maintenance toward the bottom that made riding much easier.  However, the recent trail improvements appeared to be designed and constructed by anti-mountain bikers (Or just incompetent people).  There were square water bars used in spots that obviously did not need drainage features but created dangerous situations in corners and were not easily ridable uphill.  After that section I was thinking of demanding my donation back from the Arizona Trail Association because I didn’t want it to fund this type of poor trail construction.  This section emptied out into a parking lot then crossed a paved road.  This is where I got a little confused and took the paved road into Oracle thinking it was Hwy 77 at first.  This ended up being more miles to get into Oracle then back to the same point than the actual Hwy 77.  The positive side was I made it to the Oracle Market before it closed and I might not have if I’d gone the original way I intended.

In Oracle I stocked up on what I thought was enough food to get me through to the end.  I took the road back to where I had exited the trail.  The sun went down somewhere before I got to Hwy 77.  The next Antelope Peak section had endless climbs and drops.  The trail seemed routed through the very bottom of every wash to the tip top of every little peak which made for a lot of hike-a-bike.

After riding for about 40 hours straight I was starting to get goofy.  I was running into rocks, not steering straight and I felt it was really slowing me down.  My mind was also playing tricks on me.  I stopped to rest for the first time during the race where I laid in a wash shivering for about an hour worried about snakes and scorpions.  Even though I really didn’t get any sleep I did feel much better.  I got up, checked my stuff for scorpions and put on everything warm I had which wasn’t much.  At Beehive I got some water to get me through to the next source.  The sun came up between Beehive and Antelope Peak.  It started to heat up right at dawn and I stripped off any warm layers I had on.  At the Freeman Cache I topped off all my water containers.  Not long after I started down the extremely fun singletrack on the boulders section.  It was nice to be pedaling continuously again after a night of frequent hike-a-biking.  The Ripseys section was awesome as well except for the sandy wash section.  The Ripsey ridgeline is definitely something I would like to come back and do again.  I was glad to see it in the daylight!  The majority of the climb was ridable.  It was hot and the climbing seemed endless but the views at the top were very rewarding.  The downhill was a blast and the remaining section to the Gila River was very ridable.

I topped off my water around Kelvin.  It was very hot and my feet were killing me.  A quick soak in the river felt great!  I had ridden this upcoming last section through to Picketpost before and I was feeling good except for my feet.  I could see the light at the end of the tunnel!  Somehow when it seems like I’m close to finishing I can muster up strength to power through when my legs should be noodles.  From the Gila River I was riding just about every climb I had on a previous ride and this climb is huge!  I saw 4 Gila monsters in a one mile stretch on the climb.  First I through dirt on one in an effort to get it off the trail which was moderately effective and eventually worked.  On the next three I just yelled at each of them to get off the trail and that was much more successful.  It was really windy which made the climbing harder but it also cooled me down a bit.  It was HOT! 

I really wanted to get through most of this section in the light because I knew the ending was technical and would be slow in the dark.  I made it to the top of the big Martinez Canyon climb just as the sun went down.  At the top of the next climb I saw eyes looking down on me from the top of the cliffs but I just kept pedaling. 

The remaining section went very slow in the dark.  My feet were really killing me now.  Even coasting down hills really hurt if I had to stand up.  I started clipping out and standing on my pedals moto style for the downhills.  It was difficult to figure out where I was.  There were a few landmarks that I was looking for on the trail to orient myself but I completely missed one of them and the other what much further along than I thought.  I was having some troubles steering in the technical sections and felt like I was riding a little out of control.  It was hard to contain myself since it seemed like the end was so near.

This last stretch seemed to be taking forever compared to when I had ridden it before.  Finally I rolled into the parking lot.  I was ready to be done!  The only people around were a couple who were photographing the race, big Dave, Laura and a drunk cowboy sleeping on a bench next to his horse and dogs.  It was a great feeling completing the race.  After a bit of rehashing the race with my new friends I loaded up my stuff and headed to Phoenix for some food.  First I hit a Carl’s Jr and got a burger then at the next exit there was an In-n-out where I stopped and got another burger.  I thought Carl’s Jr was better but maybe that’s because it was first…  After riding a mountain bike for 2 ½ days then getting into a truck and driving I felt like I was going 100 miles an hour.  Then I looked down and I was doing 45 on the highway…

Tough race!  But what an adventure and a great way to see southern Arizona! 

Getting ready to start
Bike Setup
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