I made it down to the start area with 20 minutes to spare. The place was bustling with riders getting checked in and dialing in their setups for the days ride. The long course riders took off at 9a with Chad masterfully handling the crowd and giving me a shove in the right direction.
|Chad reminding everyone to close the gates!!|
I kept a solid pace going up the initial climbs and could hear someone on my wheel most of the way. He was content to follow me along until I sputtered a bit near the top of the longer climb. We rejoined at the top and made introductions after he recognized my bike! I've been getting that a lot lately. I had only known him by his Strava handle: VEGAN Bastard, but now I had a real name to go by, Brian. Cool cat & quite the powerful mountain goat of a climber. We cruised down the amber waves of grain towards Box Canyon where we met up with Rhino.
|Rhino & Rudy (on a fat bike) riding into a postcard.|
Not sure if that near mishap caused us to back off a little bit, but the next thing I knew some girl came flying by all of us powering through on the big ring. I later found out it was Cassi, legend of the AZT300 last year. She was hauling, but I think ran into some navigational issues later in the race.
We were approaching the turnoff for Kentucky Camp and a local photographer, Chuck Hill, was out taking race photos. He snapped a good one of me.
|Thanks for the photo Chuck.|
|A hint of autumn as Mt. Wrightson approaches.|
'Gathering of sandwiches, Mountain Dew, farts, laughs, a fart story, a snot rocket story, bananas, PB&J's, crashes, crashees and general yahoos! Super fun'
Yeah, just a few knuckleheads out enjoying a day on the trails.
|Shannon joining the fun.|
|Don't stand downwind of Brian at rest stops!|
One by one the riders departed. I followed suit chasing Shannon down into Gardner Canyon. I bid adios to the others at the bottom as I was now at the passage 4 junction. I noted the time and began a short climb up to a saddle.
|Vintage AZT signs.|
The trail drops over the other side for a bit then levels out for the mile+ to the Wilderness boundary. This section of trail was fantastic. Great riding surface tucked into the hillside among the boulders & trees. A couple of deer made an appearance up above too. It was a really cool detour that took 40 minutes, but I didn't mind. It meant I wouldn't see another rider until the finish.
|Backside of the saddle.|
|Huachuca Mtns. & Passage 1 off on the horizon.|
|End of the line for the bike. Canelo Hills in the background.|
|Lichen covered fin.|
|Felt like an extension of the Flume trail a few miles to the north.|
|Back on route at Tunnel Spring.|
The back half of the ride was fairly uneventful, which isn't a bad thing. I felt really good, only stopping for a couple of snack breaks and all the gates. Of course there were the obligatory HAB sections, but none of them were too long.
|Cool tidbits of information trailside.|
|Rolling back near Kentucky Camp.|
|Love this spot!! High point of the short course.|
|Even the roads ride like singletrack.|
|Almost done, lots of downhill coming my way.|
There were still plenty of people hanging out when I wrapped things up, just short of 7 hours after my 40 minute detour. Such a great day to be out on the AZT. Thanks again to AES for putting together such a stellar route.
A half dozen or so of us camped out afterwards and were treated to a dazzling display of stars in the southern Arizona sky. We were swapping stories around the campfire, when someone noticed a rather peculiar light hovering off in the distance. We all gazed at it trying to figure out what it was as a spherical dist cloud grew around it.
|Looked like a helicopter of some sort at first. Photo by Shannon.|
|The sphere of dust taking a greenish glow. Photo by Shannon.|
|Green lights beginning to show near the bottom center. Photo by Shannon.|