Things didn’t work out as planned this year, they never do. Never! In 2016 everyone around me was healthy and I taped out of the AZT300 due to an illness. Jump to 2017, I’m healthy and everyone around me is sick.
On one hand, planning, workouts, sponsorships came together perfectly, and then there was chaos falling apart in the opposite direction.
It takes me back to my chemotherapy treatment days. For every victory out there, there was something kicking you in the nuts trying to break you.
Every decision had a bad effect on someone.
My family was not going to make the trip to Arizona so I offered up a seat to my aunt Tish. She jumped onboard and me, my mom and my aunt took off west.
Balmorhea, Texas to Sonoita, Arizona. We made one pit stop in El Paso, TX to pickup a new set of grips. Thanks, Crazy Cat Cyclery. You have a nice shop.
As a small business owner, you have to complete all the to-dos before getting on a bike and riding off into the wilderness. My last to-do was a big law video production. To get this one completed I found myself in a parking lot 35miles west of my cozy bed at 3:30 am. Not having internet sucked. By 4:30 the edit was complete and uploaded, everything had been checked off the list and it was time for rest.
Prep day Thursday
The first day to have all the bags loaded up. A small amount of anxiety knowing that day 1 and the Canelos are calling. At the Xanadu guest ranch, I had a great talk with Don, a road tour rider from Nebraska. Don spent the last part of March traveling Arizona by bicycle. He and his riding buddy were quite the inspiration.
Packing bike bags is a problem without a perfect answer. You must keep heavy stuff down low, items needed quick need to be close, and bedding gear tends to be fluffy and bulky. So if you pack for weight alone you will not have quick access to the things you need. If you pack for quick items you might have a lopsided bike. If you pack your pack… blah blah blah, I will figure it out as I go was the plan.
There were fires causing a detour in the route up Mt Lemmon. I was bummed hearing this because I wanted to trudge through the suck that came with taking off to Redintton Road and climbing the mountain.
Friday – Race day Goal – No rest till Kentucky Camp
My mom had brought Cinnamon Rice Chex as a special breakfast treat. Thanks, mom!
We packed up and made the drive from Sonoita, AZ to Parker Canyon Lake. I wasn’t the last person to show up, but I was cutting it really close. Tish didn’t make it out of the truck to wish me off. My mom, Becky, took a few photos and wished me well. After the standard prep talk from Scott, the pack is off.
I give my last goodbyes and head off into the Canelo Hills. This year starting on time afforded me the opportunity to ride with a lot of different riders. Casper from Denmark and I seemed to play tag all through the east hills. I didn’t seem to have weak lungs like I did in this section of the ride last year.
A few miles in I learn that my bag test the day before was not through enough. I was questioned with a group of riders about a missing orange bag. Yes, I was the owner of the lost orange bag. I really didn’t believe the rider when they said someone had it and was bringing it up the trail. I had just put my bike down and was ready to head back down the trail when I saw Jeff Hanson and his wife coming up to greet me with my handlebar bag. I was grateful.
Riding in a group had its benefits and drawbacks. I had plenty of water and knew a water hole was getting close. I wanted to be sure to always keep 1 liter of water until I made it to the next refuel stop. So I missed a spot I used last year and found a new spot to fill up a jug. So I found a small pool of suspect water. This water was not flowing so I used my tabs to treat it before loading it into my hydration pack and sending it through my Sawyer mini. I chose to put the Sawyer inline this year so I had immediate access to water. On my 2016 ride, there were too many times where the 35 min tablet wait was a pain to deal with. The Sawyer allowed me to scoop my bladder into a pool of water, hook up my water line and start to drink. This would also work as a gravity filter. I could just hang my bag in a tree and let it drop into my bottles.
By mid-day, I kept passing riders hiding in bushes. I couldn’t blame them. It was hot on the trail. Last year I hit Patagonia 5 minutes after the stores closed. This could not happen this year. The Canelo west trailhead hosted 4 or 5 resting riders. one rider asked me something like “How’s it feel to kick the Canelos in the ass?” I let him know it was the other way around.
Canelos west meant fewer riders yet an easier ride despite the gusty winds. You get out on the trail and feel all alone. There might be riders out there but you don’t see or hear anything. Around 5 I hopped off trail to take care of some bush business.
If you are ever feeling lonely or need to see someone just stop for a 2 off the trail… someone will show up.
Down Under Tank 03-035a (Mile 18) was my next water stop. I had a mission this year. I missed the cement damn with the pipe that feed off the bottom Trap Tank. It was a minor victory, but I was glad I found it. Very nice and cold water off the bottom of the stock tank. As I was topping off I met a fellow Texas rider named Don Schwieters (750). He quickly earned my respect for being a Tour Divide 2016 finisher with the time of 29:07:58. Congrats on that achievement Sir. Don’s AZTR750 time was 13:08:25. Congratulation on that achievement also.
Evaporative Cooling – My best friend in the desert
If I was stopping for water I would fill up to capacity and then work on cooling off my body. My hometown is so humid I never get to take advantage of the body’s natural ability to cool itself. On the trail I got into a routine of taking off my long sleeve shirt, soaking it in water and putting it back on. I would also wet my hair to enjoy the cooling effect. This helped me lower my body temp so I could push on in the heat of the afternoon.
The Canellos – Translation – what bicycle tire nightmares are made of.
Mile 20.5 – sidewall gash – Orange Seal to the rescue. This was larger than my cut from last year. Stan’s couldn’t seal that one, so I knew a tube was in my near future. Orange Seal, do your thing to my front tire, please. I really didn’t want to use up a spare tube and loose my sealant setup. I pulled my front wheel and placed it where the cut was face down in the dirt. I was hoping the dirt from the outside and the sealant from the inside would make a bond. It did and I was back on the trail. I strolled off trail to a mine opening and waited for the fix to work.
It worked! After pumping a bit more air in I was back on the trail. It wasn’t long before my slacker riding got me in trouble. It was just a little sidewall rub but it was at the perfect spot to rub off my dirt seal. Once again, off the bike yanking a front wheel out of the forks while pulling for a superglue pack. Waiting for the glue to set I kept placing bets in my head of how long this might last.
The ride to Patagonia was pleasant. I was a bit surprised when the trail ran out and I was on the black top. All this happening when the sun was still up. Wow.
The women with the white dress on?
As I was on the blacktop heading into town I saw a greenhouse farm and then looked up to see an angelic woman walking in my direction. This same scene was repeated a 1/2 mile later. So if someone knows where the ladies in all white are going please let me know. It was intriguing to me.
In Patagonia, mom and aunt were ringing a bell and cheering me on. Well, my mom was, my aunt didn’t seem herself. Noy at all.
Once in town, hit up the Velvet Elvis for a large hot plate of spicy spaghetti.
Next door, the Mercantile had a few rides hanging out cursing the Conelos, but today it was not the Conelos that was the problem but the heat.`As riders would come to the store I would hop up from the restaurant and go trade war stories. I was hoping my 2016 riding buddy Steve would show up.
My sidewall gash was letting air out of my tire but I chose to air it up and ride to Sonoita, Arizona. Becky and Tish were staying another night at the Xanadu Guest Ranch and I knew it was an option for good rest. During my 12 mile ride to Sonoita, I had made a change of plans. Sleep 3 hours at the ranch and then head out to Kentucky Camp. I made the ranch 3 hours earlier than I did the year before.
I walk into the room and quickly notice it feels like an inferno. Tish was shivering and could not get warm. Mom pulled me to the side and said she had booked Tish on the first flight to Texas the next morning. The tried to get into a clinic but couldn’t get an appointment.
Overall I was feeling good at this point. I grabbed a shower and put on my camp clothes. It was bedtime. Around 2 am someone is waking me up. What the hell? This is a bed for one. It was Tish. She wasn’t talking to clear and when I asked if she was climbing into my bed she just mumbled and made herself at home. Long story short Becky was alarmed and a few moments later we called 911 thinking Tish was having a stroke. It freaked me out so it was back in the truck and we headed off to the hospital in Sierra Vista.
I was taxed with the job of calling loved ones sharing the bad news.
Well, what about your race? They all asked.
To hell with the race, that old trail will always be there. I can come and ride it another time.
We made it to the hospital. The doctors ran some test, rehydrated and boosted up her potassium levels.
After a few hours, she started to make complete sentences again. They ran a culture but would not have results for a few days so they let her go. She didn’t seem perfect, but she didn’t stroke out so I felt like continuing my effort on the AZT. Day 1’s sidewall gash had grown a stalactite overnight. I noticed when I started riding and something was ticking the fork on every rotation.
We traveled back to Xanadu so I could get back on the bike. A quick stop for a food order at The Chuckwagon and I was off into the wind. Despite the stroke scare, the trip to the hospital, and really slow food service, I was still ahead of the game by 3 hours.
It was a repeat of last year. I was on the road to Santa Rosa Mountains driving right into the wind. I had a good feeling knowing there was a great stretch of singletrack coming up. Not tail, but honest to goodness track you can ride your bike on. From Sonoita to Kentucky Camp there is a lot of water. I stopped off at the same tank I visited last year. Good news is I was 3+ hours ahead of last year’s schedule.
I made it to Kentucky Camp and was hot. I went ahead and made camp behind the old building. I got some food and bedded down to get a little rest. It wasn’t long and a couple who was through riding the Arizona Trail wanted to chat. So we talked for awhile and I let them know about the microwave in the building. Yes, there is a microwave to heat water in the Kentucky Camp building. This was a blessing. So after a few Camp meals and some coffee, a headed off into the sunset. When I left the camp a text came in from Steve saying he was 3 hours away.
Sometime after 8 p.m. I tore the plug out of my sidewall. I knew it was going to be a long night so I put in a tube. Every mile I Road got me closer to the bike shops in Tucson. It was a long night with a beautiful moon. Oftentimes I could turn off all lamps and just hike the bike with no light other than the moon. There were sometimes I thought I was going to be run over by deer that I would startle out of the bush.
This was the section that Steve and I tackled last year overnight. I kept on hearing him say in the back of my head there are only three little humps and we are over this big hill. Well, I counted three humps all night long. Somewhere around 2 I finally hit some single track. This cooled me down quite a bit. I kept on with my meal plan of eating something every 15 minutes. At some point, it began to be a struggle. Just the mental capacity and discipline of stopping and eating was not fun.
Must have been after 3am when my camp was set and I was in bed. I went to bed happy because I had made my goal and hit Twin Lakes.
I missed the exit for twin lakes and had to backtrack to the road and make my way there. It was 3ish if I remember it correctly. I showed up with at least a 1L of water so I went thru the process of putting on all my layers but my 2nd pair of long johns, ripping open a pair of hot hands, blowing up an air mattress, slipping it into the bivy and then slipping me into my sleeping bag liner. I stopped moving and the cool of the night hit at the same time. Note to future ryders: Hot air rises, cold air drops. This is good to know because if you are sleeping in a valley or close to the water the cold air is coming for you. Twin Lakes has been a great goal the last two years, but I will not sleep there again.
April 9 – Day Goal – Tucson Hotel
I’m not sure if I set an alarm or not. I do know that if I had not prepared my camp stove right outside my bivy, I’m not sure if I would have made it out before 10 am. The Colossal Cave was my next item to check off the map. I wanted to get there before the heat of the day. The plan was to rest in the heat of the day and buzz into Tucson around sunset.
I knew there was a lot of fun riding ahead and was very optimistic for the day. I had no idea of the magic that lies ahead. The trail takes a few detours to run underground. The first is 83 and the 2nd is interstate 10. At 83 I stopped for a breakfast of Pink Salmon. There were clouds in the air that had me checking the weather radar often.
At Gabe Zimmerman, some sweet soul had a poster and two styrofoam coolers sitting trailside. You could see empty glass coke bottles sitting next to one. As I walked over to open these white treasure chest I could not hold back tears. You read trail reports and hear about trail angels and their magic, but this was my first experience. Thank you, whoever you are.
After the angel refuel stop, I was soon battling horse traffic on the Arizona Trail. Thou shall not spook the horses, but come on with the horse shit people. I ran into a pair of riders and they let me know the clouds were connected with the fires on Mt Lemmon. But no worries because the trails were open.
Came off the trail and hit up IHOP and then crashed hard. Overnight I had laid out baby food packets and made sure to inhale one or two each time I got up for a bathroom break.