Arizona Trail Race 2016 – Photos

My trail race writeup is here:

Arizona Trail Race 2016 Recap

Pre-race gear check
Pre-race gear check
Historic El Rancho in Gallup, NM on Route 66
Historic El Rancho in Gallup, NM on Route 66
Crossing state lines in the early hours
Crossing state lines in the early hours
The Homegrown MTB shuttle that brought us down to Parker Canyon Lake.
The Homegrown MTB shuttle that brought us down to Parker Canyon Lake. The Tundra was with us too.
Sunset at Parker Canyon Lake the night before race day
Sunset at Parker Canyon Lake the night before race day
My morning view on race day
My morning view on race day
Scott Morris giving his annual pre-race shakedown at the starting area
Scott Morris (race organizer) giving his annual pre-race shakedown at the starting area. And yes, that guy is wearing a green tutu.
One of the many, many gates that must be closed on the trail
One of the many, many gates that must be opened and closed on the trail. They always seemed to crop up at wrong time on the trail – like just when you started making good ground!
I love these iron trail signs on the gates
I love these iron trail signs on the gates
My first picture of a cactus, there would be many more!
My first picture of a cactus, there would be many more!
After watching a racer in front ride through here, I let the guy behind me go so I could snap this shot.
After watching a racer in front ride through here, I let the guy behind me go so I could snap this shot.
Love these cacti in bloom
Love these cacti in bloom
The long, swaying grasses were hypnotic in the Canelo Hills
The long, swaying grasses were hypnotic in the Canelo Hills
You know you are in border country when...
You know you are in border country when…
Many gates, and each one seemed to have a different latch system
Many gates, and each one seemed to have a different latch system
Santa Rita road north of Sonotia, AZ. The winds were whipping
Santa Rita road north of Sonotia, AZ. The winds were whipping
Another gate, cool blue sign here
Another gate, cool blue sign here
Now these latches get tricky in the dark
Now these latches get tricky in the dark
The lights of Tucson
The lights of Tucson
How the heck does this one work?
How the heck does this one work?
The tunnel under I-10 - the graffiti didn't help the creepy factor
The tunnel under I-10 – the graffiti didn’t help the creepy factor
My porta potty castle for the night
My porta potty castle for the night
Cacti
Cacti
Wouldn't be a bikepacking race without carrying an armload of junk out of a Circle K
Wouldn’t be a bikepacking race without carrying an armload of junk out of a Circle K
My favorite shot from the race. Maurico Doro from Sardinia, Italy
My favorite shot from the race. Maurico Doro from Sardinia, Italy
I always have to snap a shadow shot
I always have to snap a shadow shot
High on Mt. Lemmon at sundown as the lights of Tucson come alive
High on Mt. Lemmon at sundown as the lights of Tucson come alive
Mt Lemmon road and Tucson
Mt Lemmon road and Tucson
A nightjar (I think this is a common poorwill) on Oracle Ridge
A nightjar (I think this is a common poorwill) on Oracle Ridge
The morning after my crash, not in a good frame of mind
The morning after my crash, not in a good frame of mind
I really dig these 'gateways' on the trail. Nothing like that on the Colorado Trail
I really dig these ‘gateways’ on the trail. Nothing like that on the Colorado Trail
The Tiger Mine TH water cache. Thank you, mysterious water cacher
The Tiger Mine TH water cache. Thank you, mysterious water cacher
A young Saguaro beginning to rise
A young Saguaro beginning to rise
I just love these Saguaros. They fall somewhere in between majestic and ridiculous!
I just love these Saguaros. They fall somewhere in between majestic and ridiculous!
Just classic southern Arizona landscape here
Just classic southern Arizona landscape here
A huge, dry wash. There must be significant flow here during wet periods.
A huge, dry wash. There must be significant flow here during wet periods.
Down in the wash
Down in the wash
Beehive well. Cue the good the bad the ugly music
Beehive well. Cue the good the bad the ugly music
Not sure what kind of snake, but its big and I almost ran over it
Not sure what kind of snake, but its big and I almost ran over it
Cats Claw cacti - love the way they catch the sunlight
Cats Claw cacti – love the way they catch the sunlight
At least I know where I'm headed
At least I know where I’m headed
More Cats Claw, deceptively 'soft' looking in the late day light.
More Cats Claw, deceptively ‘soft’ looking in the late day light.
Southern AZ sunset from high atop the Ripsey Wash climb - spectacular
Southern AZ sunset from high atop the Ripsey Wash climb – spectacular
Tired of this long slog up Alamo Canyon
Tired of this long slog up Alamo Canyon
Early morning light
Early morning light
Look at all those Saguaros! And a good view of the trail as it carries on...and up
Look at all those Saguaros! And a good view the trail as it carries on…and up
Alamo Canyon
Alamo Canyon
This is big country up here
This is big country up here
Early morning sun after a long, arduous climb
Early morning sun after a long, arduous climb
My second fall near the finish, and yes I am basically sitting in a Prickly Pear.
My second fall near the finish, and yes I am basically sitting in a Prickly Pear.
Another view of the crash site
Another view of the crash site
300 miles - completed!
300 miles – completed!
My friend Mauricio and I at the finish of the 300, as he prepared to carry on
My friend Mauricio and I at the finish of the 300, as he prepared to carry on
The Four Corners Monument
The Four Corners Monument
Spectacular northeastern AZ countryside in the vast Navajo Nation
Spectacular northeastern AZ countryside in the vast Navajo Nation

Arizona Trail Race 2016 – Recap

  It’s 9pm and I’m standing outside the Bigelow Trailhead bathrooms filling my water bottles at the spigot when a convulsive racking of shivering hits me as sudden as a thunderclap out of a clear, summer sky. I can barely keep my teeth from chattering. With nowhere else to go, I seek the bathroom and find that the concrete walls of the Forest Service bathroom have retained the days heat and it is deliciously warm inside. I quickly bring all my gear and bike in and prepare for the long night of riding ahead.

  I couldn’t keep from sweating up the long, arduous climb of Mt. Lemmon, and now nightfall and the 6000 additional feet of elevation I’ve gained, has given me a wicked chill. I put on warm socks, a vest, rain gear, skull cap, eat some food and make quick dashes outside to fill my remaining bottles. I hit the road.

  There is still some road climbing and I attain the high point at approximately 8000 feet – a significant moment since the climb starts outside Tuscon around 2,800 feet and almost 40 miles distant. There is no sign of Mauricio, with whom I had been sharing the better part of the Mt. Lemmon climb all day. After a chilling descent in the high altitude cold, I arrive at the Mt. Lemmon Fire District where I turn onto the Oracle Control Road. I fly down this road and quickly realize I’ve missed the AZT turnoff, so I have to turn around and climb some more. Honest mistake, but deeply aggravating after this laborious day.

  So starts my traverse of Oracle Ridge: a trail I assumed would be mostly down, since it’s the northernmost arm of the Mt. Lemmon massif. It just seemed like it couldn’t do anything but go down. But it doesn’t. It contours ever so slightly uphill just below the ridge line, and it’s overgrown to a ridiculous degree and strewn with massive boulders. So not only are you being constantly hung up on the scrubby pine and tenacious oak, but you have to lift your bike up and over boulders – and of course there is cacti mingled in everywhere. And there are these mysterious birds that sit motionless on the trail until I practically run them down, and then they fly off in a burst of flight – only to land a short way down the trail.

  I‘m now thoroughly exhausted and bitterly disappointed with this trail – I curse loudly and often into the dark night sky. Finally my exhaustion gets the better of me, and shortly after mounting my bike for a short downhill that looks smooth enough to ride I start to fall off the downhill side of the trail. The worst kind of fall. I make a violent motion to try and fall uphill, but it only partially works, and I fall awkwardly over the front of the bike as it stops cold in the sharp boulders. I land painfully on my left palm, and shockingly my helmet smashes into a rock on the ground. I sit up quickly, and just breathe. It’s now 2am, I wonder how I didn’t smash my face into the rocks, or break my glasses, or my helmet mounted light. I turn my attention to my palm, and taking my glove off see a nasty cut. I can barely touch my palm, and I can’t make a fist at all. I sit there in the dark wondering how I am going to ride another 100 miles of this trail with a painfully bruised left palm…much less get off this confounded Oracle Ridge.

Pre-Race – Thursday, April 14

  The Homegrown MTB shuttle finally pulls into the Parker Canyon Lake AZT trailhead parking area after a long day of driving into headwinds. The vistas south into Mexico are alluring: golden grass in the late day sun on rounded, mellow hillocks. The other racers scatter and set up their lonely bivy sacks helter-skelter. Tom Wolf and I set up ours near each other, and Tom is debating his choice of bringing a sleeping bag, since it’s always a topic of discussion amongst bikepackers. To bring one, and be comfy, but carry more weight? Or not bring one, have less weight, but be cold at night? Toughy. Tom is considering leaving his bag with the shuttle company. I tell him, ‘don’t do anything impulsive now’. I don’t tell him that I expect a long, cold night since I know my setup is meager and only intended for short nights in camp during the race. The shuttle then departs to bring the 750 racers to their starting area closer to the border. Us 300 racers mingle for a while and chat. I spend time with Tom, and Brad Mattingly whom I rode with in the Dixie 200 last year. I meet Scott Morris, race organizer and one of the founding members of this style of racing. I meet Pete Basigner, record setter in the Alaskan Iditarod, and all around Alaskan bikepacking aficionado. There are many others here who have left their mark within this community one way or another, and it’s special to be toeing the line with them. Someone is cooking bacon-wrapped Jalapeno poppers on a camp grill and is passing them out. Fancy. With the sun down, and a heavy few days coming my way, I crawl into my bivy…and, as expected, spend the night tossing and turning trying to stay warm.

Race Day 1 – Friday, April 15 8am

  As the sun came up on Race Day, the jitters began. I woke up early enough to give myself time to prepare: mentally, and physically. I took a short walk south towards the borderlands to warm up and soaked in the sweeping views. At this point I remember thinking how I hadn’t put fresh slime into my tubes, and that the last time I slimed the tubes was almost a year ago and that surely most of the slime would have dried up and that I couldn’t believe I had overlooked such a crucial piece – since every plant and rock down there is sharp. I debated swapping the tubes for the spares I had with fresh slime, but decided that was too much work to do too soon before the start. I worried constantly about punctures, and pinch flats. I took a short walk down the actual AZT and upon returning to the start area commented to Beth S. from Crested Butte about how ridiculously rough it was right off the bat. She agreed and we both made promises to take it easy on the start. Finally, Scott called all the racers in for the annual pre-race send off. He went over the brief rules: self-supported, don’t break the law, follow the entire route. And then, just like that, without much fanfare, we hit the trail. I let the fast guys go, and waited for an opening and then slid into line. Tom Wolf followed behind. The race had begun!

  The first 30 miles of the course follow the AZT through the Canelo Hills. It’s an area with a reputation for quickly dispensing with unwary racers. It’s hot, dusty, dry, full of very loose, sharp rock and has many short, steep climbs – and of course, many cacti. I came prepared to take it easy, and actually found a few really nice sections throughout. Tom dropped off behind. I remember Neil B. (overall winner of the 300 and 750) catching up to me, and while letting him by I remember thinking, ‘man, he’s young!’ I rode carefully, worried about flats and dehydration. And after 5.5 hours, I popped out of the Canelos onto Harshaw Road and literally hollered with joy. The most worrisome section was behind me, I had 30 miles down, and felt fantastic. There was a stiff headwind though (which was something people had been forecasting at the start).

  I passed through the first resupply town called Patagonia, and didn’t stop. I gained Highway 82, and the headwind from before became a tailwind, and we were flying down that highway towards Sonoita. The racers I caught up to at the Sonoita Mercantile were all giddy from the tailwinds. At the mercantile, I ate a bunch of fried chicken and potato chips, had a Red Bull and bought a sandwich and a can of espresso for later. Tom caught up as I was refilling my water bottles out front, and I told him I’d catch him later.

  Now things got ugly. The tailwinds from before – which were extremely strong and due to the large cold front that pushed through and settled over Albuquerque (called an Albuquerque Low), producing almost 3 feet of snow back home in Bailey – turned into headwinds as we turned west onto Santa Rita road toward the Santa Rita mountains and Kentucky Camp. This gravel road headed due west, and directly into the winds. I think a lot of the racers that pulled out due to allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems can probably attribute the start of their problems to this turnoff. They were so strong that I was just barely crawling along. I watched a racer in front of me – Mike B. I think – somehow tackle these winds and gain ground on me…and I couldn’t believe how he was doing it. It seemed to take an eternity to get back to the AZT. The next section of trail to Kentucky Camp was great fun, and followed an old pipeline that had been constructed in the early 1920’s to bring in water for a hydraulic gold mining operation. The pipeline construction cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the promised gold was never found. At the location of the old camp are some restored historic buildings and a reliable spigot with good water.

  Several racers were gathered here at Kentucky Camp, watering up: Mike Haas, Tracey Petervary, Mauricio Doro, Tom Wolf, Brad Mattingly and others. I introduced myself to Tracey, since she and her husband Jay (JayP) are legendary in the bikepacking world. She lives in Victor, Idaho and we talked of Jackson Hole for a bit. I also talked a bit with Mauricio from Sardinia, Italy. At the starting area earlier that morning, before the race had started, he had wandered over to me as I was still laying in my bivy and clearly wanted to inspect my sleeping ‘system’. So I demonstrated how I didn’t have a sleeping bag, but that I would put on my warm layers before climbing into the bivy. I thought it very ‘italian’ of him to come over and inquire like that while I was still technically sleeping! He said, ‘Americans are the BEST bikepackers!’ Touche, Mauricio!

  I decided to leave Kentucky Camp quickly and to try and gain some ground on this big crowd of racers. Mauricio left first, and I followed shortly after him, Brad was next. He caught up briefly and we talked about those nasty headwinds and the gusty wind overall and whether it would ever die down, since by now in the race it was about 630pm. At a steep climb in the gravel road, he drifted off behind and I never saw him again in the race.

  The next few hours of riding featured lots more climbing and descending through the accordion-like ridges of the Santa Rita mountains. It was tiring after an exhilarating day and the wind was still gusting strongly. It was starting to grate on my nerves. The sun was gone, stars were out, and yet the wind would not relent. I spent a bit of time with Mike Haas walking up some climbs, mostly we walked in silence, probably a bit content to have some company on this first night out. As the trail finally wound down out of the Santa Rita’s it hits a fantastic descent toward the Las Cienegas passage, and I had a blast quickly cruising through cacti on buttery smooth trail. I was gunning for the La Sevilla picnic area, 106 miles from the start…but as the night wore on, I realized I wasn’t going to get there so I set my sites on the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead instead, a few miles past I-10. The long, dank tunnel under I-10 was terrifically creepy during the wee hours.

  As I approached the trailhead, I was beginning to think there might be a bathroom I could sleep in and thus get out of the wind. But as I pedaled around the trailhead area in the dark, I wasn’t seeing one. Then I spied the handicap-accessible porta-potty and it dawned on me that I might fit in there. My bivy fit just perfectly corner to corner on the floor. I stashed my bike behind it, amongst the bushes. Settling down inside, the relief from being out of that gusty wind – which I could hear outside – was immense. A shot of Tincup whiskey calmed my nerves and put me right to sleep. At some point around 3am I heard footsteps on the gravel outside and held my breath, must have been another racer.

Race Day 2 – Saturday, April 16

  Day 2 dawned clear and cold. By 6am I got back on the trail and bade farewell to my cozy accommodations for the night, chuckling to myself. There is not an experienced bikepacking racer out there who has not spent a night in a bathroom at some point, in some race. I made it to the La Sevilla picnic area pretty quickly and some of the crew from Kentucky Camp the day before caught up to me as I was refilling water: Tracey, Mike, Tom. Mauricio had bedded down earlier in the night, and woken early, thus passing me as I slept. The spigot at La Sevilla – drilled into a rock – was difficult to find, and I almost made Mike look for it as he pulled up, thus gaining myself some time – but I was only joking. I leave first again. There is some climbing to get out of the picnic area, and then a spectacular section of trail that must see a lot of day riders out of Tucson that leads to Hope Camp and the long road detour on the outskirts of the city. A few people on this stretch cheer me along (they must know of the race). It’s always a great feeling to know that some people out there are actually watching these races!

  I stick with my plan of refueling in Tucson, however I plan on getting enough food to see me through the rest of the course – two days worth. This was not my original plan – in which I would detour into Oracle on Day 3 to refuel. However, that is an 8 mile total detour off course, and my timing into Oracle was not looking good. Thus the change in strategy. It worked out very well. Leaving the Circle K in Tucson, I saw Tracey and Tom heading towards it and realized then that I gained good ground on them, and I don’t end up seeing either of them again in the race.

  At this point in the race the long climb up to the top of Mt. Lemmon begins, and it’s a doozy. You start on nice pave out of Tucson on Reddington road, but it quickly turns to gravel and it quickly ramps up in grade. Switchbacks ensue, and with my gearing (1X10 with a 30-tooth ring) it was a grind. I caught up to Mauricio at this point and we climbed together for a while. There was another 750 rider with us, but I didn’t catch his name and he droped off behind. M and I leapfrogged constantly up this climb. Reddington Road leads to these nasty jeep trails, and in the heat of mid-day it was a dry, tortuous climb. Finally, after 11 miles or so you get to the Italian Trap trailhead and have another 11 miles of uphill trail which leads to the 14 mile stretch of paved road to the summit. Epic. Having M to share the climb (and suffering) with was nice and he and I got to a fantastic viewpoint off Mt. Lemmon as night descended. We stopped and got some pictures of the lights of far off Tucson and then continued climbing up the road into the dark. Lots of cars were still on the road, and they must have wondered about us. After what seemed an eternity of climbing I arrived at the Bigelow Trailhead where I had been planning to stop and get water. I expected to see M there, but he was gone. Turns out, he went into Summerhaven to get food, but everything was closed. He should have known that – and I began to wonder if he was low on food. It also turns out that because of his detour, I was now ahead of him. For the next several hours I think he is ahead, and it disheartens me that I’m getting left behind in the dark and cold. In this frame of mind, I crashed on Oracle Ridge.

  It is too late, and too dark, and I’m too tired to deal with first aid, so I just put my glove back on – the process of which hurts like hell – and try my best to continue slogging along Oracle Ridge. I can’t hold the bars properly with my left hand, so forward motion is awkward and I favor my right hand heavily. I finally reach a point in which I start losing elevation, and the trail is less overgrown and I can actually get back on the bike. But I have to hold the bars with 3 fingers and my palm elevated off the bars. I continue dropping down, and I can feel it getting slightly warmer. My sites for tonight had been set on the Tiger Mine Trailhead near Highway 83 outside Oracle, but I am not going to make it that far so I think I’ll just bed down at the next available place. And as I think that, I start seeing racers in their bivvies just off the trail. One guy was so zonked, his feet are actually sticking out into the trail. Another racer has a small fire going in an alcohol burning stove, the flame is close to his head and I spend the next hour trying to figure out its purpose. My hand is throbbing, my throat hurts from all the wind and dust yesterday, and as I stop to readjust my hand I see lights coming down behind me. My first thought is annoyance, which is weird. And as the lights approach, I realize it is M, and a huge relief settles on me to see my old friend (as I think of him now!) I croak out a few words about how I’m going to sleep as soon as possible, my voice scares me…it sounds awful. He pedals away into the night. At the next flat space, I throw down my bike and struggle to open my bags and get my gear out for sleeping, since my left hand can’t pinch or hold anything. I do manage a bit of first aid: a large gob of antibiotic on my filthy hand, a large bandaid and some hockey tape around my hand. I start scheming about how I am going to get back to my car from Oracle, and how I’ll have to scratch since I can’t possibly ride another 100 miles on this hand. I go to sleep, unsettled.

Race Day 3 – Sunday, April 17

  When I wake up – or arise from the foggy, half-conscious state that suffices for sleep out here – I’m a bit motionless for a minute or two. Then I realize that all I can do is move forward. That always seems to be the only recipe for success in these races. As long as you are moving forward, you are succeeding.  Hitchhiking to my car, or trying to find a ride from Oracle to Picketpost is out of the question, and I don’t want to quit this thing. So I groggily, and gingerly, repack gear and set out in all my warm layers, since it is still quite cold. Shortly, I arrive at the American Flag trailhead, and get into my day riding kit. I redress my hand, eat some food and begin to realize that I just might be able to ride out on this hand. It’s sore and bruised and bloody, but amazingly I can hold the bars relatively well.

  I am happy to see my friend M at the Tiger Mine water cache, where he is filling up his water. We comment on the rough day yesterday on Mt. Lemmon, and the toll it took. I show him my nasty bruise, and he gives me a classic Italian expression of surprise, while muttering, ‘Mamma mia’. In fact, he had said that many times yesterday on our climb up Mt. Lemmon and when I saw him in the wee hours earlier this morning. It seems the perfect expression for our struggles!

  He leaves while I am still refilling water bottles and eating my breakfast (a Hostess apple pie, and a can of espresso). It’s worth noting that these water caches are simple steel boxes full of gallon jugs that people lug out here. Spending their own money, putting the wear and tear on their vehicles to get here, they are people that any thru-hiker or biker could not do without on this trail. I was lucky to put some faces to these trail angels at the Freeman Road cache. A mother and her daughter were literally stuffing the steel box full of gallon jugs. Needless to say, I thanked them profusely, and felt this strange bond with them in that fleeting moment. Without that water, I’d have been dry and parched in the endless desert north of Oracle in no time. They were like life-givers!

  The trail north of Oracle is actually great fun, and far easier going than the previous day. Thanks to the cold front that swept through on Friday, temperatures are a much more bearable (70’s instead of typical 90’s). This is a godsend that I don’t think I quite realize at the time. In an effort to actually get water at a spring, as opposed to the caches, I try for the Beehive Well. It takes me a while to get there, my waypoint is off on my GPS, and I start worrying that I’ve missed it. But coming around a bend and beginning a short descent on the trail, I see the well and it is right out of the wild west. A tall, old windmill sits next to a wooden corral, and a large water tank sits off to the side. Something about the lay of the land, the Saguaro cactus, and this old settlement is so strikingly western that I get the chills. I find myself whistling the theme song to ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. The water is nasty, and too low in the tank for me to reach it over the edge. I teeter on logs and rocks to try and get closer, but I just can’t reach. Spending too much time for nothing, I decide to keep going in an effort to get to the Freeman cache before I run dry. The landscape through here is magical, almost ‘seussical’. The bizarre shapes of the diverse cacti; the dry, rounded, ocher hills; the fluffy white clouds; the arching blue sky. It all adds up to a landscape I’ve just never experienced before. And the trail is great. I’m on the Boulders section, and flying. Covering good ground in good time is one of the best feelings in a bikepacking race – mostly because so many of these miles are a battle!

Having past the aforementioned Freeman cache earlier, my next water will be at Kelvin near the Gila river. I haven’t seen Mauricio all day, and the day is quickly disappearing. But before reaching the Gila there is a large climb, aptly and simply named, ‘the big one’ in the ATA Guidebook. It is a daunting climb, considering you can see most of it before you descend into the large wash before it. But it goes quickly and I reach the ridge line, where there is some great singletrack on top, just at sundown. It’s a great vantage on the dying of the day. Southern AZ sunsets are beauties. I begin the long descent to Kelvin, and this is where every mile until the end (about 40 miles distant) takes longer than I expect. Descending, I spy M’s lights far down in the valley – my first sighting of him since the water cache this morning. And I know I’m making good time if he is still in reach.

Darkness comes on the descent toward Kelvin, and I flip on my lights and swap my smoke lenses for the clear ones on my sunglasses. I catch M, and the first thing he asks me, is if there is food in Kelvin, and again I am surprised at his lack of knowledge on these resupplies. There are no services in Kelvin, and I wonder if he is starting to worry about food – since he has 50 tough miles to get to his next resupply in Queen Valley (he is doing the 750). He obviously didn’t detour into Oracle for supplies. I head out first and make it to the road and bridge over the Gila. Half way across the bridge I shine my light down onto the river to check its flow, and to see if I can get to it – which it doesn’t look like I can. A jeep passes by, with doors off, and soft top removed. Two guys drinking canned beer drive by staring me down. What the hell is that guy doing? – is exactly what their look says! I cross the bridge, turn left to follow the Gila River portion of the trail and spy an ok looking pool of water in a tributary coming into the Gila. As I am filling up a bottle I hear a zipper go, and realize there is a tent very near by. An Italian guy emerges (I had heard of the Italian couple backpacking the trail from a thru-hiker I passed earlier, and I remember thinking, ‘what’s with all the Italians down here?’). He comes out and I apologize for disturbing them saying I am just trying to get some water. He explains that the pizza delivery guy brought them an extra gallon of water that they can’t carry (pizza delivery guy?, I’m thinking). So he offers it up, and it looks much better than the muddy pool I am leaning over. So I take his offer just as M pulls up. I say, ‘Hey, Mauricio, one of your countrymen here!’ They discourse in Italian for a while, and then I hear M ask me if I want any pizza. I say no, because I want to hit the trail and I have food. And I realize the poor guy is hungry. Apparently, there is a pizza place in Kelvin that will deliver to the bridge over the river. It is too late for M though, and he pedals off without fanfare. Dejectedly it seems. I thank the guy for the water and head off into the night.

This next section really threw me. I was expecting a nice trail along the river, but never bothered to research it closely enough. Well, it is a tough section along the river, because it doesn’t really follow the river, but climbs up to the heads of gully’s and then comes back down…and it does this over and over again. It was grueling in the dark, and my lack of knowledge of the terrain was bothering me as I couldn’t really foresee the next twist or turn. I kept expecting it to eventually drop down to the river. I was hoping to push through the night, and finish this race before 8am the next morning, thereby getting a sub 3-day finish. But those hopes were dashed along the Gila. I pass M at around 10pm and he is bedding down. I tell him, presumptuously, that I am going to push through the night. After 2 hours, I had had it. However, the wolf spider eyes catching my flashlight beams were pretty entertaining. They seemed to be everywhere. I was too tired to care about them when I laid down in my bivy. I set my alarm for 4am.

Race Day 4 – Monday, April 18

Dawn on day 4 is still two hours in my future. Waking in these cold, lonely camps is getting tough…especially this time in the dark. But I will myself up, and get moving. My hand still hurts, but it seems my body as adapted to it, and I can ride fairly well. That being said, I am doing a lot of walking now. I wonder if I will ever make it to the turn north toward Alamo Canyon and Picketpost beyond. The finish is now only 21 miles away, only 6 of which I assume is climbing, but I end up being very wrong about that. Continuing on in the dark seems like an extension of last night, and I felt lousy last night, so I feel that way now. I will the sun up. Finally, I get to the turn and start climbing out of the Gila River valley. And I see the sky brighten ever so slightly. Come on sun! Alamo Canyon is actually spectacular, and far more grand than I had expected. Which of course means it is a hard fought climb. Up and up and up I go. But dawn has arrived, therefore a new day and I feel better for it. Near the top I spy a young couple from Grand Junction, CO camped at the top with their bikes and gear. They are doing a 2 day loop or something in the area. I feel gritty, and haggard in their presence. I seem to notice how especially clean all their gear is, and when I pulled up the girl was brushing her teeth and I remember I’ve forgotten to do that the last two nights. I bid them well and carry on. There are so many false summits on the way up through Alamo, that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I topped out, but I did and knew the last big obstacle was out of the way.

The next 10 miles are a bit of blur. I remember constantly scheming about when I would get to the finish, and calculating the finish time in my head. But that last 10 miles didn’t come easy, and with only 2 of them left, I crash – like a fool – off the downhill side of the trail…again. This time I really do fall off the downhill side into the sharp rocks. The bike lands on top of me and we roll together down the slope and come to rest – with my leg twisted painfully under the saddle – in none other than a prickly pear cactus. I do believe a large expletive aimed at myself escaped me here, and I look around in embarrassment to make sure no one was nearby. The movements required to extricate myself and bike just embed more cactus spikes everywhere. One glove is toast, covered in spikes. I just take it off and shove it in my pack. I climb back up to the trail and begin picking out spikes and inspecting my bike. For sure there must be a puncture this time, but the bike is fine. One trusty steed, my Salsa El Mariachi. All cares about finishing time now are past, and I slowly and once again, gingerly, finish the last two miles of trail.

Done! But the end of a bikepacking race is always a little more melancholy and painful than it is exciting and exhilarating. I feel completely drained, there is no one present. I ride to my car, drop the bike and stand there in the 85 degree heat with the sun beating down mercilessly and I can’t decide what to do. My legs feel weak. Finally, it dawns on me to get the keys out of my pack and start the car and get the A/C on. So I do that. Then I look at my gear. Ugh. I get my change of clothes from the car, hobble to the bathroom and change. I come back to the car, climb in on the passenger side, since the sun is shining in the drivers side, and lay my head back. I feel like I’m floating, seriously. I pass out hard for a half hour and feel much better. And when I exit the car, I see my buon amico M pull in. First thing he asks is about food, so I offer up what I have, and another guy who has shown up now (a friend of Tracey’s waiting for her to finish) gives him a blueberry bagel. I also pay it forward for all the water caches and give M 3 liters of water from my stash in the car. We snap some photos, and I wish him the best of luck. Watching him pedal off, I appreciate his speed during the 300 considering he has 450 miles to go. I learn later that he is 53 years old!

Post-Race

People always ask, ‘where is the fun part?’ And the fact is, these races aren’t really ‘fun’. That is not the word I would use. I might use something like adventurous, or challenging, or rewarding. There are fun parts for sure: riding under a full moon seeing other racers lights strung out in front and behind, wolfing down fried chicken with other racers at resupplies, day riders cheering for you, fast descents on buttery smooth singletrack. But I think more than fun, these races are rare chances to live simply, to rely on nothing but yourself, to live in the moment, to be present in The Present – no past, no future. Just you and the trail and the myriad logistical choices you have to make here and now.

As the race fades away, and settles deeper into memory, I start seeing it as a whole and not separate pieces. And I realize that the challenges posed along the way, the adventures had, and the choices made all form a distinct event that stands out starkly from my day to day life. Life is complicated! For me, the chance to live simply, and to challenge myself in some of the worlds most remarkable landscapes and to become entangled within them, and thus, one with them, is reason enough to pedal another mile.

Velorution Valkyrie 2016

01_roadtrip
Roadtrip to Durango on 285 dropping off Kenosha Pass here into South Park.
01a_tacos
Good local Mex in Durango
01b_mancos
Heading north of Mancos, Colorado toward Mancos State Park with views of the La Plata Mtns.
01c_night_ride
Test ride out from the campsite the night before the race.

01ca_night_ride 01cb_camp

01d_camp_night
I had forgotten what I loved about winter camping…shoveling!
DCIM100GOPRO
And the race is on…
DCIM100GOPRO
Struggling early – but hey, at least I’m ahead of someone!

3_trailhead

DCIM100GOPRO

1a_high_point
High point of the route, near 10,800′. Good views of the La Platas.
5_racer
Looking the other way from the high point into Utah.
6_nick
Cruising the flats above Lost Canyon Creek.

7_la_platas

8_racer_ahead
This guy finished a few minutes ahead of me, I think I pulled in 11th out of 15 or so.
9_heading_home
Heading home over Wolf Creek Pass…in the dark…eesh
9a_south_fork
I grabbed a cabin for the night in South Fork and then headed home.

9b_center 9c_san_luis_valley 9d_sangre_de_christos

14ers – Huron, Belford, Oxford, Missouri

September 11-13, 2015

Huron summited on 9/11/15
Belford, Oxford & Missouri summited on 9/12/15
Sunrise - Clear Creek basin
Sunrise in the Clear Creek Basin
Browns Peak ridge
Browns Peak ridge – south of Huron Summit
Huron - North Ridge
Climbing Huron Peak’s North Ridge – those climbers are at approx. 13,900 feet
View north from Huron summit
View north from Huron Summit – tall peak in the middle is La Plata
Huron summit
Huron Peak summit! 14,003 feet – this one just barely makes it to the ’14er’ category
Lake Ann - Harrison Flat
A view of the Continental Divide. Lake Ann is the lake to the left, with Lake Ann Pass directly above it (the Continental Divide Trail and the Colorado Trail both go over that pass). Harrison Flat is the area to the right, with the two small lakes. Taylor Park Reservoir is west of the Divide.
Continental Divide - unnamed lake
An unnamed lake on the descent from Huron. The Continental Divide is in the background.
La Plata peak view
Another view north to La Plata peak on the way down from Huron Peak.
Winfield - 1880s mining town
The old 1880s mining town of Winfield which, during its heyday, had 1500 people living in it and a church that never held a service (I don’t know the story behind that – must be good though).
Base camp - Missouri Gulch
My base camp high up in Missouri Gulch from which I climbed Belford (the peak to the right) and Oxford and Missouri (not seen in this pic).
Belford - summit
Mt. Belford – 14,197′
Oxford - summit
Mt. Oxford – 14,153′
Missouri ridge - Class 3 climbing
Some tricky scrambling on the ridge line to Missouri Mountain.
Missouri ridge - looking northwest
Looking northwest from the Missouri ridge line.
Last pitch - Missouri Mtn ridge to summit
The last pitch to the summit of Missouri on the ridge line.
Missouri - summit
Missouri Mountain – 14,067′

The Mountains Revenge 2015

1_startGetting jitters at the start

2_goatCan you find the Mountain Goat? He was waiting for me at the top of this climb and then slowly walked away up this slope.

3_radical_hillApproaching the top of Radical Hill.

3_up

4_radical_hill2Scott S. is in this picture somewhere…to give it some scale!

5_glacier_peakSaints John Road coming down from Radical Hill with a neat sunset behind!

6_bathroomStopping in the 24hr bathroom at the Keystone base area sometime around 1am. There was a beer fest at Keystone and there were still some drunkards stumbling around, so I brought my bike right into the bathroom with me!

7_morningSunrise! Finally! 8.5 hours of night riding and climbing later it felt nice to see the sun again. Shirey left me in the dust on the nasty Garibaldi Gulch descent, so I was on my own here – but I caught him again on Galena Ditch.

8_kenHere’s Ken at the race check-in/check-out basecamp.

8_keystone_gulchPretty view of Keystone Gulch on Sunday morning.

9_keystone_gulch2

10_montezumaMontezuma, CO. Basecamp of the old Montezuma’s Revenge race held in the 80’s and 90’s.

11_montezuma2

12_beers

Gotta have some beers after!

Dixie 200 – 2015

This is a great, adventurous, rugged, remote route. It has a great variety of trails and roads. Some trails that are never used (the Grandview) and which therefore require some good route finding skills, and other trails that are regularly used like Thunder Mountain. The roads vary greatly from almost completely lost and overgrown cattle trails to paved highways. I love that variety. There are a couple places to resupply or get a cold drink – but they can be finicky with their hours, so this adds to the challenge. I carried 2 days of food from the start and never worried.

I do consider myself extremely lucky (and am very thankful for an understanding and supportive family!) to be able to see this beautiful country of ours in such an intimate way: riding its trails, sleeping on its ground, passing through its nights unseen with my lights blazing, the moon and stars shining down on me, drinking water from its streams, powering through its terrain with my legs and lungs (It is getting harder and harder in today’s world to live such a simple life as the one I get on these long bike rides) And I get no support, so that at the end of the ride I feel I have accomplished something true and pure and feel stronger and more alive for it.

Get Out There. Push Your Limits. Do Fun Shit! :-)

The race started outside the town of Parowan, in southwestern Utah. The ‘Mother Town of Southern Utah’, whatever that means.

p1

Racers getting ready early on the morning of race day. p2

At 7am sharp the group rolls out onto Second Left Hand Canyon for the long, 11 mile climb up to the Sidney Peaks Trail
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Me, and fellow racer Scott S. behind (for the last time during the race!), on the first singletrack of the day.p3

The race route follows some less than defined trails, and here is a good example…nothing more than a couple tire tracks in the grass to follow. Several racers missed this turn.p4

The route follows many OHV (off highway vehicle) routes. This one through the Red Desert was especially scenic.p5

58 year old Rick Miller and I, on another section of ‘no trail’! Thanks for being an inspiration Rick! The guy is strong, and steady and finished almost 9 hours faster than me – with 19 years on me taboot. Awesome! p6

There was A LOT of this on the route. Dismount, schlep the bike over the tree, remount, ride 100 feet, dismount, repeat!p7

Our first view of the Markagunt Plateau stretching away to the horizon. The Virgin River Rim trail follows the edge of the plateau.p8

One of the many, scenic viewpoints along the Virgin River Rim trailp9

The Pink Cliffs south of the VRRTp10

More Pink Cliffs viewpoints – don’t slip!p11

Way off in the distance is the Paunsaugant (Pawn-sah-gunt) Plateau – just barely visible.p12

Food break at Tod’s Country Store. The grill closed at 7pm, I got there at 7:10pm…no burger for me. That hurt! p13

Who is that riding his bike out there with the cattle? I love riding at this time of day, about 830pm, sundown. I picture everyone in their homes cooking dinner, or watching TV, or putting their kids to bed, or getting home from work, etc. I think very few of us get the time, or take the time, to enjoy the magical hours of dawn and dusk. It’s a fleeting time of day that goes so quick…and I always feel very lucky to be out under the big skies, in touch with that special time of day.p14

I catch back up with Tom Wolf, an 8 year Army Vet and overseas contractor from Aztec, NM, who left before me from the Country Store. That Red Bull I drank really did give me wings! We chat for a bit (I’m surprised to learn that after 8 years in Iraq and Afghanistan he hates this desert heat!), and then I pull ahead. He will end up passing me at 12:30am in the dark, I’ll see his lights go flashing by my camp. And then I don’t see him again, I ended up passing him the next night…but never saw him camped just off the road.p15

There goes the sun on Day 1.

p15a

Jupiter, Venus and a Crescent Moon! Spectacular vantage point above the Sunset Cliffs on the Grandview Trail at midnight. This is what bikepacking races are all about.p17

This tree had to be 8 feet in diameter! Thing was a monster. I just stopped in front of it and laughed…and then got to work climbing!p18

Beautiful vantage point of these cliffs from the Crawford Pass Trail.p19a

The Tropic Spigot, perhaps the single greatest moment I’ve ever had on a mountain bike :-) I was down to the dregs of my water, which was warm and full of sediment from the last stream I crossed. It had to be mid to high 90’s, and then this spigot appeared, drilled into solid rock, and cold and sweet and delicious!p19b

AC/DC ‘Thunder Struck’ would have been just perfect for this ride.p20

Another unspeakably beautiful sunset ride on Thunder Mountain.p21

p21a

At 2am on some OHV route in between Highway 89 and Panguitch Lake. I really don’t remember much from this section, it was dark, I couldn’t get a feel for the lay of the land. It was cold, I remember that. After the searing heat of the day, I was impressed by the cold. I rode for another hour before climbing into my bivy on the side of the road for a couple hours of sleep.p22a

The next morning found me once again struggling through dead fall – this time going UNDER the tree! Has the forest service around here never heard of a chainsaw and a work crew! Perhaps these trails really don’t get any use. Needless to say, 100 feet up the trail was another downed tree, and then 100 feet beyond that, and beyond that…A nice Fathers Day brunch with the family might have been a touch more enjoyable! :-)p22b

Still some snow left up high. This is the high point of the route, the Sidney Peaks Trail at near 11,000 feet.p23

A beautiful, magical section of the Dark Hollow Trail – which, due to its name, I was not expecting to be so airy, and bright!p24

After 215 miles (not sure where that extra mileage came from), I finished the route in 2 days, 3 hours with the 3rd fastest time (8 guys finished, 15 started). 92 miles on Day 1, 105 miles on Day 2, 18 miles on Day 3. It was so hot here at the finish and no shade anywhere, that I just packed everything in a hurry and jumped in my car and left…and then realized I was exhausted and stopped on the side of the road and napped in the car! p24a

Georgia Pass & Mt. Guiyot

Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass to Mt. Guiyot summit

Mtn bike to Georgia Pass from Kenosha on the Colorado Trail, then summited Mt. Guiyot, back to the bike to change back into cycling shoes while the Mountain Goats came to say hi, then back to Kenosha. 30 miles on the bike, 3 to the summit.

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