Part of the thrill for these events is in the planning stages. You go over all the possible scenarios in your head, trying to plan for them. What to take? What to leave at home? How am I getting to the start line? What are the store hours/locations off route? Blah, blah, blah. I put together a massive checklist and a couple days before the start I was ready. It also helps to have a detail oriented riding friend, Ray, who gathered up tons of info and slapped it into a spreadsheet!! Ray also contacted a local shuttle company, Gnar Gnar Tours, who delivered 11 of us from the Picketpost finish down to the start at Parker Canyon Lake. It was super affordable, covered bike enclosure (we could leave our bags, etc attached) and none of us had to drive 4+ hours prior to the race.
I loaded up my bike and put it on the scale: 44.5lbs. I was pleased with that, last year it was around 52lbs. I was able to leave a few things home this year: no tent, no air mattress, no long underwear, no dual bottles on the forks and a fresh haircut to name a few!
|My setup: Voodoo Dambala 29er.|
|Our deluxe shuttle ready to roll.|
Our destination was Parker Canyon Lake a few miles north of the Mexican border. The last couple of miles of route 83 get fairly primitive and our shuttle driver, Phil, commented how this was the gnarliest the gnar-gnar van had experienced!! We unloaded, Phil took off and I quickly set up camp for the night. My lumber covering tyvek, courtesy of Lowe's, as ground cover & sleeping bag, done. I managed to actually get a bit of sleep. I would've gotten more, but after trying to hydrate myself for the race all I ended up doing was getting up to pee every 2 hours!!
|The start of the adventure.|
|One of the 750 riders, Cjell Money rolling through, quite the character.|
|Parker Canyon Lake.|
|The man with the master plan, Scott Morris, reminding us that he did not design the trail over Oracle Ridge.|
|Ray & Steve listening in.|
Day 1:Into the Canelo Hills we go. The first 30 miles of the route really sets the pace. It's tough going especially the first 15 miles through the east hills, ride some, hike some, repeat. Beautiful scenery though. It was a pleasant morning, light winds which did help on the HAB sections.
|Steepness is rarely captured by a photo.|
|Beautiful rolling hills help ease the pain!|
|I caught up to Steve, who was battling stomach issues, here he takes a break at Canelo Pass Rd.|
|Into the West half of the Canelo's a bit more forgiving.|
|Home on the range.|
|I could ride trails like this for days!!|
|A unique cliff formation for this part of AZ.|
|Ahh, exiting the Canelo's, time for pavement into Patagonia.|
On my way up the final bit of pavement I saw another rider ahead, JC, and caught up to him pretty quickly. We had hung out a bit in Patagonia, but he skipped the Sonoita stop and kept rolling. He had a nice cut on his forehead from a branch going in between his helmet slots! He mentioned how much harder it was for him this year over last. I pushed onto the jeep road connectors making my way towards Gardner Canyon and some sweet AZT singletrack.
|I made it about 1/2 way to Gardner Canyon before digging out my lights.|
I pulled over to hook up my lights before it became too dark. I started getting everything ready, digging in my pack I couldn't find my helmet light. Hmmm, I could've swore I put it in the top compartment. Nope. Framebag?? Nope. Seatbag? Nuthin. Ok, starting to panic a bit, this will surely put a damper on things, especially this VERY moment since I was smack in the middle of a 7 mile no camping zone!! Maybe I could ride with my camp light on?? I dug that out, then decided I better dig through everything entirely before I resort to plan B. I pulled everything out of my backpack, then my framebag, then by seatbag...THERE it is!!! Whew! I had wrapped it in soft packing material and stuffed it inside my cooking mug, duh! I put it there to protect it. Heartrate back to normal, I resumed getting ready for cool night riding as JC rode by.
|Yep, it's that part of the country.|
I made it to Kentucky Camp a little after 9pm and found Jeff in the back by the free-standing sink. We chatted for a bit, he took off and I grabbed a snack & topped off a bottle. There were only a handful of racers crashed out for the night, maybe 5 or 6 total. I wasn't tired and wanted to get well past Kentucky Camp before calling it a night.
Night riding is really relaxing to me, out in the middle of nowhere, only a few sounds here and there. It's just you, the trail and the sky. I ground out the next few miles of jeep road, crested the high point of the Kentucky Camp area and picked my way through more miles of singletrack before reaching Box Canyon Rd.. This is the spot where the AZT Jamboree and the AES Kentucky Camp courses overlap. My GPS had just indicated a 'batteries low' warning, so I took that as a sign to stop for the night. It was midnight, 15 hours of ride time on Day 1. I'll take that. I found a clearing just past the gate and settled in for the night. Of course no sooner do I get into my sleeping bag I hear some cattle not too far away. Great. How close are they? Are they moving? They seemed far enough away and weren't getting any more loud, so I stayed put. I dozed off soon enough only waking a couple times during the night, once to a raucous bunch of coyotes howling for a few minutes. I was awake for a bit just after the moon set and stared in amazement at the sight of the Milky Way. Living just outside the big city, you sometimes forget it's there. Remarkable.
|Campsite for Day 1.|
Day 2:I was up at the first light of day, made some cold oatmeal (really not bad at all) and had some OJ. I packed everything up and was on the trail at 6:30a.
|Mt. Wrightson from camp and the gate by Box Canyon Rd.|
During one of my countless dismounts I snagged my shorts & ripped them pretty good, drat! Gorilla tape to the rescue!! Keep pushing, my goal for the day was to get as close as I could to Molino Basin up on the flanks of Mt. Lemmon, but that would mean an 80 mile day.
|Crossing Helvitia Rd.|
|Ahh, there it is. Death Mud Ridge from last year!! Dry, warm & ridable this year.|
|My closest encounter with cattle.|
I came to that glorious spot in the route where the hills give way to a steady stream of flowy downhill singletrack bliss. Free miles I call them, minimal effort, just let the trail flow.
|One of the final crests before the downhill fun.|
|I seem to always take a photo here, first real glimpse of what's to come. Mt. Lemmon!!|
|Met a local Tucson rider out training for the Whiskey Off-Road here. Sadly, no aid-station was present like the Jamboree!!|
|Crossing under Rte. 83.|
|Another fast section down to I-10|
|3 Bridges area. Just past the trailhead, I added a touch of rubber cement to the puncture and added some air, good to go.|
|La Posta Quemada.|
|Hey look, another bikepacker! Guess where he's from? That's right, Alaska.|
|I used the water here to freshen up a bit and to cool down, but the faucet was loaded with bees!!|
|This trail begs for speed, doesn't it?|
|Leaving the new section via jeep road.|
|The oasis that is the Rincon Market!! I left here with 200+ oz of water heading over to the Rincon Mtns.|
|I rolled past the east side of Saguaro Nat'l Park.|
|This intersection had special meaning, this was the spot last year where Chris and I turned left and headed into Tucson for a hotel. This year, I turned right and made my way over to Redington Rd.|
|The shadows grow long and the mountains loom large.|
|This is a connector trail??|
|I was able to mash out the paved portion of the climb and when I hit dirt I stopped to put on my lights. I was treated to a wonderful sunset over Tucson.|
|The start of the dirt climbing.|
|The pitch relaxed every now & then. I was thankful for that!!|
Up at the top of the climb it was now dark as I turned onto a series of rugged 4x4 jeep roads. This area was crazy. So wide in spots I wasn't sure if I was on the road or just a clearing. Super rutted and loose I ended up HAB'ing a ton of FR4417 both up & down. It was really tough for me to find good lines to ride. This section was particularly frustrating because I was expecting to ride more freely up here. An hour or so passed and I finally made it to a more friendly 4x4 road, then onto the AZT. It was now around 11pm and the route twisted in every direction, sometimes the lights of Tucson were to my left, then the right. It was difficult to gauge a good sense of direction up there.
|Picture doesn't do it justice, but it was rugged.|
Ride totals: 78.4 miles, 9066' in 18hrs.
Day 3:I woke in the pre-dawn and began packing up immediately. I ate a nice breakfast and was rolling away from camp at 6:30a once again.
|Second nights campsite.|
|Josiah looking small in the vast valley.|
|There were a few cool bike ramps along the way.|
|Before long the trail turned upwards, the higher it went the steeper it became.|
|He was a small guy by Gila Monster standards, but I didn't care.|
|Scott in full push mode.|
|As we're lying on the ground, Scott walks up and pulls out a Staples 'Easy' button and nails it, 'That was easy!' It sure lightened the mood as we all laughed like school kids. That thing isn't light either!!|
Shortly into the climb I came by the Bug Springs trail and a few riders were standing on the opposite side of the road. One of them yelled out my name, hey Schilling!! Go get it!! I'm still not sure if I knew them or not, or they were just avid SPOT stalkers checking out the race. Either way it was cool. (*edit: I have been informed it was my friend Joe C. from Tucson!! Thanks for the shout-out Joe!)
|It's not a steep grade, just keeps going & going.|
|Windy Point vista area, getting closer.|
|Spotted this fella across the road.|
|Mt. Lemmon is super popular with the road biking scene and I was consistantly passed time & time again!|
|Hard to believe we climb all the way up here, just to go all the way down there.|
|Palisades Ranger Station very near the high point of the climb.|
|In Summerhaven Scott and I met up once more and grabbed some burgers here.|
We left the Sawmill Run for the General Store, but it was closed and had been all weekend to the wonder of the locals. Not sure what was going on there, but I'm glad I wasn't counting on the store for necessary re-supply. We went back to Sawmill Run to top off water & grab some ice before heading over to the now legendary Oracle Ridge trail.
I had heard the stories of the 'Traverse-O-Death', saw the pictures of all the downed trees, the narrow trail, overgrowth and high penalty for failure should you misstep off the trail. No worries, we had a little bit of daylight left!!
|We saw the sign & instantly overshot the trail heading down the control road a few hundred feet before realizing our mistake.|
|How could we miss THIS!! Start the HAB.|
|Tons of fire damage remains, Scott 'almost' rides it!!|
|A stark landscape up top, some walking, some riding.|
|Traverse-O-Death time! 2 miles of HAB fun, what to do? Remove a pedal & save a shin!!|
|There were a few tricky obstacles.|
|Throw in some overgrowth too.|
|Now add it some stellar views.|
|A simply stunning senset over a growing Century Plant stalk and it really wasn't all that bad. We exited the T-O-D before dark and began the mostly ridable jeep road down the mountain.|
|There were small reminders of Mingus Mtn. thrown in, but overall I think I had mentally prepared myself for the worse.|
|Scott crossing the famous American Flag AZT sign.|
Ride totals: 49.69 miles, 9184' in 18hrs.
Day 4:Again up at the first crack of light, we began rounding our stuff up. I went to fire up my GPS and it was dead, nothing. Drat. No more batteries for my external charger either. Time to fire up the GPS on the phone and use my Strava app to at least record the track over to Circle K where I could get more batteries.
|Yet another campsite, my last of the 300.|
|The Sun getting ready to shower us in warm temps.|
|The marvels of the modern day convenience store.|
|The people love their town!|
Scott left the Circle K about 15 minutes ahead of me. Back on course the weight of the pack started to settle down and I got used to it. I just love my Osprey Talon 22!!
|Tiger Mine trailhead, Antelope Peak on the horizon under the AZT sign.|
|Desert Mariposa Lily.|
|My second Gila Monster in two days!! Scott was right, he called it the day before saying I'd see another one!!|
|Still looking fresh, Antelope Peak fixated on the horizon.|
|This pretty much sums it all up. For more clarification see Rule #5. (Also, note the little black dot on the GPS' elevation profile, that's me)|
|Cholla forest at the gasline bypass.|
|Cairn marking the start of the descent into Bloodsucker / Camp Grant Washes.|
|A mini-Ripsey ridgeline.|
|Beautiful singletrack through here.|
|Down in the wash I passed by a snoozing Sharon & Michael.|
|Too much effort to try & pedal through it.|
|Sonoran desert shade tree: Saguaro Cactus!!|
|Finally, Antelope Peak is near!!|
|Starting to put Antelope Peak in the rear-view mirror.|
|The water cache still had plenty left, most of the bottom layer was full.|
|I had to grab the one with Seron's message on it!!|
|I just love this gate, self-closing counter weighted out in the middle of nowhere.|
|My first view of the Gila River Canyons, the final obstacle of the route.|
|One of my last views of Mt. Lemmon on my trek north.|
|Exiting the Boulders section onto a drab powerline portion for a few miles.|
|Mr. Rattlesnake obliged and reared up for me. Thanks.|
|The last rays on Monday.|
|The 'Big Hill' looming, I'd be HAB'ing that sucker.|
Not 20 feet from where I was going to stop my rear tire nipped a medium sized rock and flung it into my rear wheel snapping a spoke!! Gah!! My wheels don't have many spokes to begin with and I have 3 different lengths to contend with as well. I found my resting spot, dug into my pack and pulled out my two spare spokes, genius right? Wrong. I had the two 'other' sizes, not the one I needed. In addition, the broken spoke was on the drive side and I wouldn't have been able to remove the cassette to replace it anyway. Plan B: Gorilla Tape & zip-ties coupled with a slight adjustment in the seating of the wheel. Bingo.
|Not the most impressive MacGyver fix, but it worked.|
Looking down into the abyss of darkness I spotted an LED over near Kelvin. I figured it must be Scott, since I hadn't seen him all day. I also knew I wouldn't catch him, unless he stopped. It was quite a sight actually. I was hitting my stride descending in the dark when I came across a nice Camelbak bottle in the trail, I thought it may have been the one Scott found earlier in the day. I picked it up and noticed it was almost full, so I opened it up and took a swig! Cool water!! Awesome. I immediately opened a packet of Recoverite and made a drink - that really helped a ton!!
|Another creature of the night, this Centipede was wicked!! At least 10" long & 3/4" wide.|
|Kelvin Trailhead at the stroke of midnight.|
|Arizona Trail completed at the top of the climb back in December 2011.|
The bike checked out ok, but the front tire had a slow leak. I had to stop every 15 minutes or so to give it some air. After about 4-5 stops it finally seated itself and seemed good to go. I had also burped the rear tire at some point and had to pump that up as well on a different occasion. It too seemed fine, but time was slipping away. It was now 4am and I was still over a mile from the turn.
I started to feel the tug of the sleep monster creeping in, so I popped some more caffeine gummies. I took a 5 minute break after the moon set to enjoy the Milky Way one last time. I even spotted a meteor or two. Is this a dream? Part of me just wanted to stare in awe until daybreak, but I knew the anvil of the sun would be upon me soon enough. Keep pedaling.
I recall looking down at my GPS and seeing it pegged at 4:44am when I heard a voice call out. (I would later find out it was Jeff Z) Here's my recollection of our conversation as I slowly rode by.
Jeff: Who's there?
Jeff: Did you ride all night from Oracle?
Jeff; You're a fucking animal.
Me: I guess (or some other mumbling)
Sorry Jeff, I was pretty zoned out of it by then. I had that slight bonking feeling, but couldn't eat. I just kept drinking. At least I could get a little CarboRocket down. I HAB'd up the first steep jeep road section, then rode the next bit all the way to the second heinously steep/loose jeep road. I dragged myself up to the top where the giant spire of Picketpost was becoming visible in the early morning daybreak.
|Must. Keep. Climbing. Beat. The. Sun.|
|First rays of light.|
|Upper saddle gained.|
|It was difficult to enjoy the beauty of Martinez Canyon on this morning.|
|The last climb staring at me, mocking me, so what if I HAB it.|
|View from the 10-mile overlook.|
|First glimpse of Picketpost Mtn.|
|The last gate I'd have to open/close.|
|I won't miss the tall grass, it jabs at your feet, clings to your socks and frankly can hurt.|
|Flowers from start to finish.|
|Crossing Telegraph Canyon Rd (FR4) about 7 1/2 miles to go!|
|A rare action shot, thanks to Scott B.|
|Finish line getting closer.|
|Scott B enjoying some rippin' singletrack.|
Mercifully, I dipped into the final wash 100 yards from the finish, there it is...the end!! I made it. I freakin' made it!!! Exhilaration meet total exhaustion, I was completely shattered.
|The final few yards, digging hard.|
|There it is. AZT300 finisher.|
|Scott Jones was still hanging around after finishing at 9:04am!! I had to pose with the 'Easy' button!!|
FINISH:AZT300 full route totals according to Topofusion & Trackleaders:
Official time: 4 Days 1 Hour 56 Minutes
Ride totals: 296.16 miles, 42,671' of climbing.
|Elevation profile for the route.|
While it is a tough route, it is truly a remarkable route both good & bad, you'll never forget either. Even after all the suffering I have to thank Scott Morris for thinking up such a challenge, it is a true test of one's will power.
Once again thanks to my wife, K, for all the support in my crazy obsession. Thanks also to all my friends & co-workers who gave me words of encouragement, I needed every bit of it!!
**Edit: the 2013 results are posted here, if you want some more AZTR stoke, click on the linked names for more stories from the event. Some truly inspiring efforts thrown down this year.**
Until the next challenge, ride on.
Believe it or not I have MORE pictures, see them here: