Over the next year I became obsessed with the idea of this race. I was always thinking about it, I was daydreaming if I could do it. I wanted to, but am I strong enough for that? Fist step was to get clearance from my number one supporter, my wife. I asked her and she said "yes, honey" go for it. 30 seconds later I was online ordering gear. Oh the gear, hours and hours went into the research here. I will explore more into this later. The prep that goes into something like is quite maniacal. I read every blog, story, article and whatever else I could find about this event. The ATA website was also great research and provided me with tons of info about water, etc.
So, I was going to do this. Now began the real deal. I had to learn how to bikepack, get the gear, understand how to navigate through 300 miles of unknown terrain, find water and food and pedal for as long as could day in day out over the course of this race. I started to delve in to the bikepacking culture and befriended a seasoned pro and 300 and 750 finisher John Schilling. John and I went skiing this year and I picked his brain about the entire race the 3 hours we were in the car. He had so much knowledge. He invited me on a bikepack trip that he does called the "Queens Ransom" trip in March of 2017. I met other knowledgeable and seasoned riders like Nancy and Jeff, Mike, Aruynas and Josh. Jason Hanson a teammate of mine at Two Wheel Jones also gave me a ton of info. I was hooked, I love backpacking and riding my bike and this blended them both and allowed you to get into remote wilderness with it all. COOL! That was the intro into self supported bikepacking now lets get into the event of the Arizona Trail Race 2017.
April 6th, 2017 -My wife drove me to meet Jalene, whom I had luckily found and was heading down to the start at Parker Canyon Lake about 15 miles from the border of Mexico to cheer on her friends. She was originally planning to start but a recent injury sidelined her. Jalene is awesome and her husband George finished last year, they rock! Whew, first obstacle completed -get to the start. We drove down, made a recommended stop at Seis Kitchen. Very good burrito. As we approached Parker Canyon the pit in my stomach grew and the full butterfly effect of a pre-race had begun. I got the bike unloaded and began to mingle and say hello to other riders and we even celebrated John Schilling's birthday with some chocolate cake. Jason and Jennifer brought puppies to the fest, the puppies were cute for sure. We enjoyed a camp fire and I met really great people getting ready to race. It was late and I was ready to sleep and get into this race so I sprawled out my pad and sleeping bag and tossed and turned all night, so much for a full nights sleep.
|Parker Canyon Lake Sunset|
Day 1 ~ April 7th, 2017 - The start. It is finally here, holy crap what did I get myself into I thought. So pumped to do this. I prepped my gear one last time, pre-hydrated and ate as much as I could that morning. I knew the Canelo's were going to be rough, I have heard the first 30 miles will break bikes, spirits and your attempt to finish. I was determined to beat the Canelo's. So as 8am neared Scott Morris, race organizer gave a heartfelt speech to all of us 65ish riders embarking on this journey. He asked for moment of silence for the two recently lost cyclists. That was a peaceful minute before the heartbeat increased. After that, he said good luck and we were off. I luckily entered early into the pack and was 4th or 5th rider out. Feeling good. Bike was sturdy, mind was at ease and I was ready to ride my bike- for a long time. BAM, first mistake, I turned off route and half of the field went by. Oh well, its a long ride and besides I wasn't setting out to beat anyone other than myself and what I knew what was to come. The first 15 -20 miles through the Canelo's were awful as advertised. Loose, ridiculous steep terrain which involved lots of Hike-a-bike(HAB). I ran into John and Mike my buddies from the first bikepack trip in this section. Oh well, only way through it, is through it. After that the trail became more rideable and I was having a blast as those 10-15 miles were quick going. I rode with several different people during that stretched and enjoyed the various conversations. I think I made it out of the Canelos and arrived in Patagonia at 1:30pm. I found the Velvet Elvis pizza and ordered an entire pie and ice cold coca cola to wash it down. I had lunch with Igor and shared our stories of the first bit. Igor wasn't racing the trail but along for the ride to Tuscon as he needed to get back to work. A couple eating nearby was enthralled in what we were doing, they had about 50 questions. I ate all but two slices which I packed in backpack for dinner that night. On wards, needed to get as far as possible on day 1. The next 15 miles were road miles which were a welcome to the bike and my legs. I passed Sonoita and decided to skip it as I had topped off my water and would be able to make Kentucky camp without needing anything from the market in town. More dirt roads ahead of me and nice singletrack leading in to Kentucky Camp. When I arrived there, a few riders were already gulping water and enjoying snacks. I ran in to Marcus, Mike, Jeff(750 rider) and Jason(750 rider). All were in good spirits. I stocked up on water and ate my mixture of almond and nut butter. Saw a few of the fast riders go by me here such as the El Freako riders. I pushed out of Kentucky camp and my goal was 100 miles that day. I was at roughly 60 miles so I needed to get the move on. Soon, nightfall came and I leapfrogged with Nancy and Jeff a bit through this section. I pushed until my eyes would not stay open and it was midnight. 85 miles, I pulled over found a little two track trail and laid out my sleeping kit and ate my pizza. Out like a light, slept awesome.
|Start of the AZTR 300|
Day 2 - April 8th, 2017 - Woke to riders, Justin and Jason cruising by happily chatting away which woke me up, thanks guys! It was 5:30am. Drank a bunch of water, ate various snacks and felt great. Ready to roll. On the way to Sahuarita road I passed a few riders sprawled out along side of the trail. Next stop, Tucson where I could refuel and grab real food. The ride through this section was amazing. The sun was coming up, the air still brisk and I really felt good. I enjoyed that mornings ride as it was smooth, generally downhill and fast.
|My trusty TREK|
|Favorite section near Tucson|
I stopped at La Posta Quemada ranch in hopes of a breakfast burrito but to no avail, at least I was able to top of on water. I ran into Steven(750 rider) here and he asked to follow me as he was feeling rough. We rode for a while but I continued through several gates and fun sections to Tucson. Finally the road appeared and I knew I was close to the edge of Tucson. Food, I was hungry at this point. I came across a farmers market with a food truck. The food truck guy was from NY and had a no nonsense attitude, think "no soup for you guy" and that was pretty similar. I ordered the best sandwich, El Cubano, I have ever eaten and an Italian sausage for the ride to come. I ran into Greg(300 rider) and Will, a last year 300 finisher enjoying the farmers market. Steven got to the truck as I was leaving, he was very happy to see food. I pushed off and rode to the Safeway store for provisions and refill on water. Here I grabbed premade sandwiches and pickles. I ran into Jeff(750), Joe(300), Justin and Jason(750) at the store. Everyone was dreading the Reddington rd. climb. I wanted to get that out of the way ASAP so no time to talk, off I went. Luckily, Reddington rd. had a tail wind but this road is steep and involved lots of HAB. In all, it wasn't that bad. Lots of gunfire and offroaders in this area. I joined Keith here and we rode all the way to the Molino HAB section. I filtered water at a pond before the Molino section as I was running out and the next stop for water was Summerhaven. It was not too bad. The water clear and so I filled up a bladder. Darkness arrived, so lights came out. Keith stopped at the base of the infamous Molino HAB. It is basically a wall where you have to lift the bike up steep ledges while trying hard not to fall backwards to your death. I bashed my knee a few times here. I might have yelled here too. While I was climbing this section I saw the headlights of other riders behind me about to do the same awful thing I was doing. I felt bad for them. After reaching the top, you have to go down the same type of stuff. So, there I was HAB downhill. Oh well, at this point I just wanted off and onto the road that climbs Mt.Lemmon. I made it and I read a sign that said Summerhaven 21 miles, oh goodie I said that will fly by. It was roughly 8pm and I thought I could pedal at about 6 mph up this road. I will be in Summerhaven by 11pm. That was quickly dismissed as I realized this road was steep and my legs were at the end of their limits so I pushed my bike several miles up this road. As I was walking a ran into a trail angel and resupplied my water situation, even though I didn't really need it - it was reassuring to have more water. One of the coolest things I saw that night was a fire on the other mountain ridge burning in the night sky. I could see the fire glowing and was hoping that it would get under control and not too much damage inflicted. I pedaled, HAB and ate my sandwiches along the way under the cooling temps as my elevation gained. I reached a sign that said Summerhaven 8 miles and it was 11;30pm, I called it a night as I had zero energy left and was falling asleep as I walked. 87 miles down. I found a fallen tree and set up my sleeping kit next to it to block the wind, it was cold up at 8,000 feet. I put on every item of clothing I had. Stayed warm but was woken by a skunk inches from my face -eeek- I ducked back into bag and wished him away. He meandered off, thank you!
Day 3 - April 9th, 2017- 5am, rise ans shine- umm, burr. Can I just lay here, nope its go time. Oracle ridge awaits you and I have heard how much fun it is. NOT. Quick pack up and bolt, no food as it was too cold to eat up on that mountain. Must find sunshine. I pedaled the remaining 3 miles up and then surprisingly the last 5 miles were somewhat downhill to Summerhaven. Mike(750) caught up to me here as we finished the road section of Mt.Lemmon. On the way up all kinds of fire crews were heading up to fight the fire I saw at night. We skipped the actually stop at Summerhaven because it was early and we weren't sure it would be open at 6am. We did get a front seat view of the helicopter dipping the bucket into the water reservoir to fight the ridge fire. Into the one of the worst HAB sections of the Arizona Trail 300 we went, Oracle Ridge notoriously famous for ending the voyage. It helped having a few of us go through it together, Mike and I ran into Evan and the three of us made our way down, which seemed like up, Oracle Ridge. It was like walking through brush that was constantly smacking you in the face while you scraped your knees, ankles and calves on rocks and sticks. It took awhile but we made it out alive. The saving grace was the cloudy skies that morning. We flew down the fire roads to a winding single-track that led us into a little cabin called High Jinks Ranch This was Buffalo Bill Cody's hangout in the 20's. Another cool find in the middle of nowhere. We got water here and kept pushing through the winding, never ending section until Oracle. Once out on the pavement I was happily envisioning my next meal(s). On the way to Oracle I saw Justin and Jason(750) flying down the road with grins from ear to ear. You could tell they were restocked and happy. I rolled into Oracle and found Mike and Evan eating at the Oracle Patio Cafe. I was stoked to eat. I ordered and ate two sandwiches, two sides and two cokes. YEA buddy! I also ordered a sandwich to go. Thanked the wonderful staff and went to Circle K in town to stock up on eats to get me to the finish which was 90 miles away through more rugged country. Filled up on water and wished Mike and Evan a safe journey and away I went. Passed other anxious riders awaiting food on the way back to the trail, just like the riders before I. All was well. I entered into the wilderness section north of Oracle called the Black Hills. My first mechanical hit me here, my front tire had lost air. I opened my fix kit and refilled the front tire with Stans tire sealant and off I went. Mike passed me and this is where I ran into Alexis as well. This was a great stretch of trail, the sun was setting on my last night and the air was cooling down. Life was good, except this is where I got the guilty feelings for doing this adventure while I left my family at home. This feeling lasted a while, most of the remaining night ride. I would leapfrog with Joe(300) that night on off. We both made it to Freeman and camped near the cache that night. Another great day on the trail, 66 miles behind me and only 65 more to go. I was ready to finish this thing. Homesick was setting in.
|Mike and Evan trail side snack on Oracle ridge|
|A ride able and picturesque Oracle Rdge|
|Looking back at Mt Lemmon|
|Beautiful AZ trail|
|At High Jinks with Mike - photo courtesy of Mike D.|
Day 4 - April 10th, 2017 - I set my only alarm this day and woke up at 5am sharp. Quickly packed up and happily found my headphones that I hid on myself, to my joy the music was invigorating and livened up myself. I leapfrogged with Alexis all through the Tortilla Mountains. I felt really strong and hammered the pedals knowing I would be home soon. I enjoyed the mountains and at one peak I looked back and could see Mt. Lemmon off in the distance. That feeling was quite unique, knowing that I just went through all of the landscape. On I pushed to a Kelvin and the Gila River. Just before the river at a trail head a trail angel dropped ice cold cokes and Gatorade and all sorts of sugary snacks. I chugged a coke and a rice crispy treat and Alexis rolled up and was glowing with that view in front of her. Goodies! I talked with a thru hiker that was enjoying potato chips, I think his trail name was Tracer or something like that. He was a nice guy, kudos for walking that whole trail. Dang! I moved along and refilled water at the utility yard in Kelvin. I knew the Gila stretch and the long climb up Martinez canyon was going to be brutal and it was mid day and hot. I trudged along the Gila and came on Rob Bauer who is doing amazing trail work and chatted with him for a few. He told me about the people ahead of me. Justin, Jason, Mike, Jeff, etc and I thanked him for the amazing things he is doing out there for the trail. I made it to the river bottom but accidentally took a wrong turn and got lost for an hour, UGH. That was really frustrating. Finally made it to the rivers edge and Alexis was cooling her feet off in the river. What an idea, I immediately followed suit. There was another thru hiker down there filtering water, he was from the Netherlands and I enjoyed speaking to him. He liked the solitude of hiking. He hadn't been in a town in over 30 days he said, they just amaze me. Alexis took off and I knew that was my bell to leave as well. I packed up put my shoes back on and began the hike up the canyon. This was brutal, super hot, I was tired and just wanted to be done. It went on forever. This section is steep yet so beautiful at the same time. I hurried as I knew my wife was going to be at PicketPost trail head and I didn't want her to wait. So I sort of jogged uphill with my bike and by this point my left hip was absolutely killing me. Downed last of my Ibuprofen and set my sights on getting up and over this canyon. Finally, the peak was reached. They say the last 14 miles is all downhill from there and I have ridden this section several times so I knew that wasn't such the case. This is a rugged section with sharp zigzags and climbs up and over washes. It was no short feat. This part unraveled me a touch, plus I slipped and fell hard on a rock on my left hip..seriously, two miles before I finish and I have to limp in. As I drew closer to PicketPost I could feel it, I was almost there! Got closer and i saw headlights from the nearby highway 60, yes!! As i came into the viewing range of the trail-head I heard people shouting and flashing lights. I did not know what the heck was going on, but as I finally reached the near end I heard those voices cheering me on. It lifted me so high, it was crazy. I never felt so good. As I reached the finish I saw my wife Yolonda, John, Arturo and Alexis cheering me on. This was the highlight of the adventure. Ice cold drinks and pickles were handed to me and hugs were given, high fives were smacked and finisher pics were taken! This was glory. This is what I read about two years ago. This was the end, or just the beginning :) 300 Arizona trail miles done.
I finished at 3 days 13 hours. My goal was 3.5 days so I was right on time. I was very impressed by all the riders I met and the new friends I made. I am very grateful to my loving, supportive and wonderful wife Yolonda and my kids Josh, Cam, Lily and Avery for allowing to me live this adventure. Thanks to all who shared in this story.
|Rolling up to the finish!|
|What a ride. PicketPost trail head at the finish.|