4.15.2016

AZTR750: Mexico to Utah

Belief. Commitment. Planning. These are a few of the attributes necessary in order to complete a ride such as the Arizona Trail Race, AZTR750 (300). If you're not 100% ALL IN, you'll be OUT before you know it. Even in perfect conditions this event will test everything you've ever known about riding and suffering on/off the bike. How you deal with it determines whether or not you finish.

There's more to it than that, but in the end if you don't truly believe you can reach Stateline Campground on the Utah border, you probably shouldn't line up at the border fence of Mexico. It's really that simple.
South to North along the Arizona Trail. Unsupported. Go.
For more background on the event go here: Arizona Trail Race

I was lining up for the full meal deal 750 mile version. A fractured wrist last spring put a delay on my attempt by a year, but in the end I think that worked out for the best. I had completed the 300 mile version back in 2013 in just over 4 days. In the back of my mind I was hoping to crack the 4 day mark on the 300 as we overlap that portion of the route. My only other goal was to finish the 750. Period.

Prologue Hike

It was the Wednesday before the start (Friday @7:00am) and I received a call from Seron, my longtime riding buddy, who was going to drive me down to the start the next day. I could tell something was up by his tone, he warned me of a nasty sore throat he had caught and I should probably consider Plan B. Plan B didn't exist, so I quickly got to the Facebook to see if anyone was free. K had a bunch of things going on at work, so it didn't look like she could take me down. After an hour or so and no offers, K made a call to her boss to see if she could rearrange a few things. He agreed and my stress level dropped considerably.

Thursday morning came and we were out of the house by 9am. We made the obligatory stop at Seis Kitchen in Tucson to kick things off right. We arrived at Parker Canyon Lake early in the afternoon, where Scott and Eszter were relaxing by the 300 start. EZ wasn't feeling too well either, so she kept her distance. We chatted for a bit, then made our way down to Montezuma Pass.

Passage 1 of the AZT is part of the Coronado National Monument and then turns into the Miller Peak Wilderness where bikes aren't allowed, so the ride doesn't start on AZT dirt. I wanted my journey to start at the official beginning of the trail, so K & I hiked south to the obelisk marking the terminus.
Heading south to the border.
Trying not to get overwhelmed by that 800 number.
The Mexico side offered a better picture!
I was really glad K made it work, she'd also be waiting in Utah if all went well.
This short 3.8 mile round-trip hike completed Passage 1 for me.
Time to say goodbye as I rode off towards the starting area a few miles away.
I was curious to see how many others would be camping out at the start. Scott had mentioned we should probably camp a mile or so up the road from the border. There were only a couple others down there when I arrived and we easily relocated to a nice spot up the road.

A few minutes later more riders approached. They joined us just before a shuttle van full of riders poured out to fill in our campsite. In the end, we had over 20 people on our slice of dirt. The stories began to fly almost immediately, tales of the Tour Divide from a bunch of riders, the Colorado Trail Race, etc. Most of the people camping were very experienced in long distance bikepacking events. I began to wonder if I was in over my head.
A golden hour shot along the Mexican border.
More riders approaching!!
Brett was clearly the most amped up for the ride, declaring he felt like he had slammed 8 Red Bulls!! He was in from Madison, WI and carrying a SLR film camera!! He was going around taking headshots of all the participants. I can't wait to see his photos as our path crossed a few times during the first half of the ride.

As night fell we all joked how the border patrol was keeping a keen eye on our location. We could see the surveillance vehicle parked up on the Pass. Then we saw an LED making its way down the mountainside. It seemed to be taking longer than we expected to arrive, but when it did we all realized why. It was Jack Mahler...on his 29er unicycle!! He was attempting the 750 as well and was getting peppered with all kinds of questions. He was hoping for a 21-30 day finish. He had a calm demeanor about himself, confident he could pull it off. It's amazing to me what some people can do. **Jack finished the ride in: 23 days 1 hour 49 minutes!!**
Jack's unicycle setup. Small seatbag, most of his items are in his backpack.
 A couple of notes about my gear setup. I opted to skip shipping anything to myself at the Grand Canyon post office. Instead I swapped out my clipless pedals in favor of flats, left my cycling shoes at home and rode in some Salomon Speedcross 3's. I strapped a pair of hiking poles to my larger Osprey Stratos 36 pack for the Canyon trek. I also opted to leave a sleeping pad at home. I was planning on riding until exhaustion each night anyway, so I only had a $5 foil car sun shade as a 'pad'. All of my electronics were going to be powered off my dynamo hub: GPS, cache battery, helmet light and cell phone. The weather was looking favorable so I also left my rain gear at home, only carrying an emergency rain parka.

I slept surprisingly well in spite of the building anticipation of the start.

The Start & Canelo Hills

A little before 7am we all departed camp and made our way down to the fence. Normally there's a group shot at the start, but there were almost 40 entrants this year and we couldn't get everyone close enough for a shot. Here's a four shot sequence of the lineup:




Scott had asked me if I'd say a few words to the riders before the starting gun. It was now 6:55a, better get my speech going!! As soon as I wished everyone good luck it was 7am, let's GO!!
And so it began, slightly uphill to start.
Early action shot!! Photo by Kurt.
Slowly the caravan of shuttle vehicles made their way past us. It was a very relaxed start and I was able to talk to a few friends over the first couple of miles who I knew would leave me in the dust shortly. I was also amazed by how many riders knew who I was because of my bike, the now infamous green Voodoo. I do tend to take a bunch of pictures of it while out on rides, but this was getting ridiculous!! It was nice, however, to put a few names to screen names from over the years.

We were about two miles in when we topped out on the initial climb, I looked around and only saw two riders just ahead of me. The field spread out quickly, which I preferred. I was going to ride MY ride, no one else's.
Looking south into Mexico across the San Rafael Valley along Montezuma Pass rd.
14 miles of dirt road until we reach the AZT.
Matt from Flagstaff.
A few miles into the ride and I see a rider zooming towards me in a bright pink/orange jersey, it appeared he missed the start time and was frantically trying to catch up!! Bummer.

The dirt road miles were ticking off quickly. Luckily for me there were a couple of riders just ahead who found the turn onto AZT singletrack - I may have blown right by it!! Here we were, on the trail we'd call home for the next week and a half or so.
The first AZT blaze means only one thing...
...the first AZT Hike-a-bike (HAB) wasn't far behind!! Jason, Ron & Matt assuming the position.
We rolled into Parker Canyon Lake around 8:30a, the 300 racers had departed at 8:00a, so I missed seeing some of my fast friends. There was still quite a crowd hanging around cheering the 750 riders through. I needed a snack, so I took a short break.
Returning the close-up favor to Brett.
Myself, RIley & Brett not in a huge hurry. Kurt gave the Voodoo a quick blessing for safe passage along its journey. Photo by Eszter.
Arriving at Parker Canyon Lake. Photo by Jalene.
Sometime later that morning Jack enters the Canelos. Photo by Eszter.
The Canelo Hills start off fast on what is affectionately known as Gear Check Hill. It's bumpy enough that if your stuff isn't secured quite right, you'll either hear it or lose it!! It's also been notorious for slicing a tire right out of the gate. I made it through without incident and began to wind my way through the hills.

I was beginning to experience a bit of neck discomfort, something I've never had on a ride. I thought it may be the extra weight from my helmet light, so I took it off. Neck improved and I never had an issue with it the rest of the way.
Riley on a stretch of trail overlooking Parker Canyon Lake.
The Canelo Hills are known to dole out some damage to both bike & psyche. I don't mind them, they're tough, but scenic and the HAB sections really aren't all that long. I was cruising along and went to make a step-up move over some rocks, but came up short. As soon as I went to move forward I felt my rear wheel rubbing the frame. Uh oh. Maybe the skewer got knocked loose? Nope. The tire was firmly up against the frame. I reset the skewer, but each time the wheel settled in the dropouts, it would rub the frame. Something was clearly wrong, perhaps bent? Was my ride over already? Brett & Riley had stopped to see what was going on, none of us could quite figure out the issue. I ended up flipping the bike upside down and loosened the sliders. I tried the skewer again and the tire lined up ok, tightened the sliders and I was on my way once again. I'm still not sure exactly what went wrong, but it was cool now.

Well, it was cool for about 10 minutes. All of a sudden I couldn't down shift into my granny ring. The front derailleur was jammed. Great. I couldn't see any obstruction and all my cables were fine, it just wouldn't go. I kept on moving and a few miles down the trail I thought, maybe there's a really small pebble or something lodged up in there preventing the shifter from working. Sure enough, that's exactly what it was!! As soon as I removed the small stone, click-click, all was well...again. 

I then came upon my first 300 rider, a fella from Texas who was in good spirits, but I could tell he was hurting already. I was a little surprised how many 300 riders I caught up to so early in the Canelos.
A large gathering at the top of one of the longer HAB's. Brett was handing out apple slices & summer sausage - what a guy!! Eijai arrived a bit later and proclaimed that he rode some of the trail so far!!
Plenty of big views too.
Somewhere in here that backwards rider from the start came flying up behind me, passed by me like I was standing still. I thought, 'Damn', that guy is fast, I won't be seeing him again. Then again, this is the AZT.

Somewhere on one of the rougher HAB sections I snagged my plush sleeping pad, i.e. car visor, on a jagged rock. I heard it tear immediately. The Canelo Hills were out to get me, it wasn't going to happen. A nice chunk of pad was now gone, but it was still plenty good for what I needed.
Riley sharing some laughs with a 300 rider.
The wind had been picking up all morning, but wasn't an issue in the hills. In fact, it felt pretty nice. I crossed over Canelo Pass rd signaling the end of the tougher side of the hills. I was looking forward to the west hills in passage 3. At the top of the first pass however, the wind was so strong it almost knocked me down as I tried to open/close the gate at the top!! The wind was easily gusting to 50mph, I had to get off the saddle.
Canelo Pass rd.
Hard closing this gate in the gale force winds.
As soon as I dropped down from the saddle the wind eased up and the riding was primo. Eventually, I met up with Riley again and we'd share most of passage 3 together while passing a few more 300 riders.
There goes Jerry, passing me AGAIN!!
Somewhere early on in the Canelos West I looked down and saw my GPS had locked up. WTH?!? Never had that happen before. Of course, this ride would bring out all the anomalies. I did a hard reset, re-loaded the course and fired it back up. All seemed fine, but my data was zeroed out, not a huge deal, but it did throw me off a bit causing me to perform basic math skills while riding.
A few riders filtering water from a cattle trough, I'll pass.
Found Amanda in HAB mode, we had been emailing each other prior to the race as she had a few questions before her first AZT300 attempt.
Barely two miles after my GPS froze, it locked up again!! Hmmm, what's going on with this thing. I've been using it for years without issue, been running it off the dynamo hub for over a year without a hitch, but today, today of all days it's going to act like a punk. I figured it may have been due to the device being topped out at 100% power to start, but I was still giving it juice. Maybe that was causing the issue? I unplugged the GPS from the hub and ran it off the internal battery for the rest of the day. No more lock ups.
Plenty of stellar singletrack in the Canelo Hills West.
Riley and I stoked to be done with the first real hurdle of the ride. Caught up to my friend, George, for a minute on the roll into town.
I wasn't going to stop in Patagonia, but it was warm and cold drinks were calling. I also did a quick drink swap in Sonoita.
The fierce winds were about to give us a boost, a mighty fine tailwind on the 12 mile pavement link between Patagonia & Sonoita.
The turn onto Santa Rita rd wasn't as forgiving, blasted by headwinds for the next 4-5 miles.
 I caught up with Amanda on Santa Rita rd and we rode together for a bit. I switched over to night mode, popping in my clear lenses on my sunglasses was a welcomed simple change. I love riding the Flume trail at night and so far in my three AZT race attempts it has been dark each time. At first I thought there were a bunch of riders camped out near the start of the Flume trail off Gardner Canyon, but upon further inspection it seemed like a circle of happy hippies dancing the night away.

The miles went by quickly and I arrived at Kentucky Camp in short order. I topped off water, had a snack and chatted with a fellow rider who was calling it quits for the day there. I still had a few hours of riding to do, I wanted to be beyond Box Canyon rd.
I signed most of the AZT ledgers along the way.
It was already hard to believe I had gone almost 80 miles from the border.
Sometime after midnight I made camp at Helvitia Rd. Day 1 in the books and I felt great.

Tucson

Riders started going by my trailside camp sometime around 4am. Almost all of them would ride by, then dismount for a short HAB into the first turn of Las Colinas. I later found out that Shannon had camped on the other side of Helvitia rd and was one of the early morning riders I heard mumbling about the HAB!! Like most mornings on the ride, I didn't get going until daybreak, leaving camp sometime before 7am.
One of the bigger climbs in Las Colinas, only a few short HAB sections beyond this, then the magic green gate signaling the end of the rough stuff and start of miles of fast riding.
Ran into my buddy, Carlos, near Twin Tanks out for a morning spin. Photo by Carlos.
Love this section, gives a real good look at Mt. Lemmon.
The desert was filled with color and the aroma of spring.
I crossed under Hwy 83 and almost immediately was met by Sarah Jansen, riding towards me asking if I saw a GPS on the trail. I hadn't, but she was certain it was very close to the culvert. I rode on, but about a mile later I thought I really should have stopped to help her find it. **I saw her at Safeway in Tucson and she did locate it.
My first course detour, stayed true to the AZT and dropped down under three bridges to Ciengas Creek. Sarah must have passed by me when I was down here since I never saw her on the trail into Tucson..
Eijai caught up to me while I was taking a few minutes under the train tressel. We would ride together for a bit, leapfrog one another and eventually I got in front of him coming into Tucson. He was about to enter the Special Forces and this would be his last bike ride for 6 years!! Best of luck to you Eijai.

During one of the technical sections coming into La Posta Quemada Ranch I went to power up a few rocks, but didn't quite have the line choice dialed. I put my foot down only to find nothing there...down goes Johnny!! Good thing I had that large pack on, it served as a crash pad. No harm to me or the bike during this mishap. Ride on.
Took a nice break in the shade at La Sevilla Campground.
Super fun, smooth, twisty singletrack near Pistol Hill rd. (These are the final miles of the annual AZT Jamboree route)
After exiting the AZT for a Wilderness detour, a bunch of paved miles peeled away passing by Saguaro National Park. The old resupply spot at the Rincon Market was gone since its now permanently closed, so the next food stop was at the freshly re-opened Safeway a couple miles off-route.
As I rode down Broadway rd I started to organize all my cravings to help speed up my shopping trip. I spotted a couple of riders coming my way on the opposite side of the street. It was Shannon and her new riding friend, Kathi!! I crossed over to chat with them and mentioned to Shannon that I was about to send her a text to 'slow the eff down!! She was riding like her hair was on fire' They were both in good spirits and they departed towards Redington as I continued on to my resupply at Safeway.
Shannon & Kathi all smiles heading back on route.
There were a few riders getting set to depart Safeway when I arrived, one of them was Sarah, who I last saw looking for her GPS near hwy83. We'd cross paths later in the ride. A 300 rider was kind enough to hang out and watch my bike as I stocked up at the store. I gobbled down some lunch, grabbed a footlong from Subway for dinner that night and headed back out.

So far I was exactly where I wanted to be, ahead of my 2013 pacing. I passed by the Coronado NF sign with the sun still high in the sky, last time I was putting on lights at that spot. My immediate goal was to get through as much of the evil jeep road chunk off Redington as possible before nightfall. Mission accomplished.
So much brightness!!
The jeep road extravaganza was by far my low point mentally in 2013, this go-round it didn't phase me one bit, ok one bit - when my GPS locked up again!! Another reset and all was good. As the sun dipped below the horizon I was clicking off the miles at a respectable pace. I arrived back on the AZT under the cover of darkness intent on reaching Molino Campground at the very least.
Jeep road moguls by the Rincon Mtns.
13.0 to Molino and a more formidable 650 to the Utah line.
The trail through here is really fun, starts out a bit chunky with some HAB, but after reaching the apex of the climb it's miles of grin inducing fun. I noticed my forks were losing air pressure during the day and had bottomed out on a few of the water bar drops. Believe it or not, I packed my shock pump!! I gave it a shot and things seemed back to normal.

The miles went by and I noticed a few riders already camped out for the night near the Milagrosa split, then higher up on the flanks of the Molino HAB. I too was ready to lie down for the night, but there was no way I was waking up to the gnarly push up Molino. I had to get it done tonight. So, up I went. As soon as the pitch became too steep the non-drive pedal came off in hopes of saving my shin & calf from unnecessary abuse. The HAB pushed on as I grew more & more tired. On a few occasions I stopped, leaned over my handlebars and closed my eyes for a couple of minutes. I practically dozed off standing up!! Before long I crested the top, rode most of the way down to the campground and found some luxury trailside accommodations a little ways up the trail.
A small flat clearing is all you need.

Mt. Lemmon / Oracle Ridge

Once again the biker traffic began to pass by me around 4am. I got stirring a bit early on this morning and as I readied myself for the day, Shannon & Kathi came riding up. I passed by them the previous night before Molino. They were on the lookout for a water crossing, but nothing was flowing on our way up towards Prison Camp.
Some riding, some walking on the two miles up to Prison Camp.
I rejoined the girls for a bit as we began the 17 mile paved slog up the Mt. Lemmon Hwy towards Summerhaven. I figured I had enough water to make it to Palisades, near the top, but I wanted to get going while it was still cool out.
Passed by yet another roadie on the climb. They were all very cool, some knew about the event, most said hello or gave a thumbs up as they rode past. Good vibes all the way up.
Short break at Windy Point.
Mt. Wrightson about to disappear from view.
Bug Spring scar.
Water refill at Palisades while a SAG wagon broke out the foam rollers for the roadie crew. I must've seen that car at least a dozen times driving up/down the highway checking on the riders. It made me smile.
3rd highest point on the route next to Humphrey's Peak & the North Rim.
This thing didn't stand a chance at Sawmill Run in Summerhaven.
I spotted Shannon & Kathi once more as I rode down to the market, they were headed out to Oracle Ridge and I had a feeling we'd meet up again on that gem.

I was in need of a new toothbrush, my portable one snapped in half the previous night and I figured I'd also look for a new car visor to replace my now tattered one. No luck on the visor, but I was topped off on fuel for the ride down to Oracle.
Oracle Ridge trailhead from the helipad. Interesting fire break on the mountain.
Goal: Get down through American Flag before dark.
Trailhead & the first bit of HAB.
Rob Bauer of Coaster Culture fame has been doing some great work on the trail up here. First 3 miles or so were mostly rideable. Thanks Rob!!
Down the knife's edge. 
Look closely, I think I spy a couple of HAB'ers.
Plenty of color along the trail corridor.
When the pedal comes off, there's about to be a lot of walking.
Embrace it, Oracle Ridge is fun!! Photo by Shannon.
Shannon getting her money's worth.
Biosphere 2 down below and off in the distance, the Gila River Canyons.
Ride, push, ride, push and it's still a long ways down to go.
Like to surf? Ride the wave of rock.
The majority of the HAB was now behind me, both pedals back on the bike!! The jeep road isn't much better, but you can ride if your nerves allow. The upper portion is steep, loose and ultra sketchy. I somehow guided my wheels through the chaos for a clean run down, only walking a short 50 foot section of watermelon sized rocks.

A bit farther down the mountain the grade eases up slightly and the road surface gets much better. I was now flying and feeling good about my time on Oracle Ridge. I came to another chunky section and happened to glance down at my GPS: 'Off Route'. NOOOO!!!!! I locked up both brakes immediately and came skidding to a halt. I was afraid to look at the GPS. How far down the mountain off route did I go? I zoomed out a couple of times, still no pink line on the screen. Then a couple more times...there's the track!! I estimated I only overshot the turn by about a half mile or so. That's a half mile or so of additional HAB. Yay me.

A couple of 4x4's came down the road as I was pushing back up. They looked at me in wonder, why would anyone be pushing their bike up the mountain when they could be 4-wheeling it down!! Back on route, I found the ranch gate I was supposed to go through. I forgot about this singletrack section probably because the last time I rode through here it was dark. Yet, somehow I zoned out and missed the giant AZT rocks pointing the way.
Turn here dummy.
Not the most obvious gate when flying downhill. Gotta pay attention to the GPS.
I thought for sure Shannon & Kathi passed by me during my error, but I never did see them on the trail. I passed a thru hiker setting up camp and he didn't see anyone either.

Golden Hour took hold on the mountain as I hit the lower flanks outside of Oracle. What a sight.
Still plenty of elevation to lose.
Finally, some really good singletrack.
Steepness is often hard to convey in pictures, here's an instance where that hill was extremely difficult to walk up!!
Cody Trail, woohoo!
American Flag ranch before sunset!!
Another iconic AZT trailhead.
Nightfall came as I was about halfway through the Oracle State Park section. There was one bit of confusion with the route here. There was an intersection that had the AZT sign going to the right, but our track stayed straight. I debated which way to go, but ultimately stuck with the track. This took me onto the Powerline trail, it kinda sucked. It rejoined the AZT signed portion just as it was going under SR77. I later learned the Powerline trail used to be the official AZT, but it's since been re-routed. Perhaps a course update is needed as well. I guess it depends on how good the re-route is.

To my surprise, I had a visitor at the SR77 trailhead.
Cassi came out to say hi, thanks a bunch Cassi it was great to see you. She showed incredible grit & determination during last year's 300; finishing that beast on her first attempt.
She mentioned to me that most places in Oracle close at 9pm. It was a bit after 8pm and I had a few uphill miles of pavement to ride before I could eat. Better get moving. I was hoping for Mexican fare, but I spotted a few bikes at the Oracle Inn & Steakhouse. I stopped and found Shannon, Kathi and another rider chowing down. I joined in just before final call. Perfect.

Originally, I had planned to resupply in Oracle & head back out perhaps riding until 11pm or midnight. It was now 9:30 and I still needed a store. The chatter around the dinner table eventually led all of us to get rooms for the night. Chalet Village is cheap and right down the road. Shower, bed and I was passed out in no time.

Tiger Mine to Picketpost

I heard the girls outside shortly after 5am. I was on my way to Circle K around 6:30am. Nothing says American breakfast like a sausage wrapped in a blueberry pancake ...on a stick!! It was good!! Some chocolate milk, OJ, donuts and a banana and I was fueled up for the morning. My pack was bursting with all kinds of goodies, this was a long haul until the next resupply some 105 desert miles later.
Tiger Mine TH: Gateway to remote desert riding. The bump on the horizon below the sign is Antelope Peak, about 23 trail miles away and close to the Freeman rd public water cache.
I dropped in and by the second or third drainage I heard some riders up ahead. I soon caught up to them, it was Brett and a couple of 300 riders, Clint & Erik. I felt bad because I thought Erik was Riley for a few hours - they both had green shirts on!! It was nice having some company on this remote stretch of trail. I think we all took turns in the lead at some point.
This qualifies as 'crowded' for this section of trail. Clint, Erik & Brett pushing.
Just about ready to begin our descent into Bloodsucker Wash.
Momentum halting gate, Brett is back there on the ridge...a tiny spec if you can see him.
Brett all smiles by Bloodsucker Wash.
We started the jeep road climb out of the wash area and a few miles up spotted a couple of riders hanging out. It was Jerry & Katie!! They came out for a day spin and to hand out high-fives to the riders. It was great to see them, but that's a tough out-n-back ride in warm conditions.
Myself, Katie & Brett on a lonely dirt road. Photo by Jerry.
Beehive Well, no water for this guy.
I really like this variant of cholla flower.
The ever elusive Antelope Peak finally getting close.
Brett navigating through the cholla forest.
I was feeling great, riding strong and the segment from Tiger Mine to Freeman rd seemed to go by rather quickly. A first for me. As we neared Freeman rd we started hearing some whooping & hollering as a few people had gathered at the trailhead. It was Dejay & Adam (who had already finished the 300!!). We took a nice long break under the new shade structure while Erik broke out some toons on his phone. It was a very relaxing vibe while Dejay snapped a ton of pics. Brett was so excited to eat his chicken fingers & fries he was almost in tears!!
Looking & feeling relaxed.
Thank you Arizona Trail Association!!
Adam back from zombieland.
Through the eyes of the Voodoo. Photo by Dejay.
That rear wheel behaved itself from the Canelos on. Photo by Dejay.
Relax, cool down, eat, top off water. Check. Photo by Dejay.
That's one happy camper!! Photo by Dejay.
Brett was carrying some serious cargo. Photo by Dejay.
One of the funnier moments came when the topic of the Tour Divide came up, Dejay calmly noted 'This isn't the Tour Divide'. Almost in unison the group nodded and chuckled at the astute observation. Well said.

A couple of riders were rolling into Freeman as I was heading out, one of them was wearing a bright pink/orange jersey!! Could it be that fast backward rider from day 1??

The Boulders segment went by in a blur, knocked it out in about an hour. By the time I reached the powerline jeep road I was in front of my morning riding buddies.
Starting to get a better view of the Gila River Canyons.
Mt. Lemmon fading into the distance as Clint & Erik work yet another AZT gate.
Clint & Erik wrapping up the Boulders segment.
The 'green' gate marking the beginning of the Ripsey Wash descent. The sun set on me here in 2013. I was hours ahead of that time now.
The Big Hill dead center.
The Big Hill wasn't so bad, now atop Ripsey ridge. Took a break to soak it all in. Then I heard tires crunching the Earth. 
It was the pink/orange jersey guy, Paul, another 750 rider who was from London. We chatted briefly and I told him how I didn't think I'd see him again after he blazed past me in the Canelo's. He mentioned how he thought he may have gone out too fast. This time I really wouldn't see Paul again, but he was never too far in front of me.
See? That's not an easy to forget jersey!!
Paul on the Ripsey ridgeline.
It was time to press on. The downhill was a blast per usual, but this time I stuck 12/13 switchbacks on the switchback attack section!! Stoke was high!! I dropped in to the Kelvin trailhead and the sun was still shining. I took a short break and topped off on water for the push to Picketpost. A 300 rider, Cedric, came riding up looking rather spent. I reminded him that he was almost done, not sure if that helped him or not.

I started the trek along the river and made it almost up to the brass cap before I needed to use my lights. It was a pleasant night out and I was still feeling good. I really wanted to ride into Picketpost before 7am, I had almost 12 hours to make it there.
Down on the mellow descent into Kelvin.
Cedric coming into Kelvin.
I was very pleased it wasn't midnight here like last time.
Dirt on fire in the late evening glow.
Didn't have to filter from the Gila either.
AZT Golden Spike - Dec. 16th, 2011 marks the official completion.
The river section typically drags on for me, but not on this night. I reached the climb away from the river at 11pm and was hoping to reach the saddle around 1am. I was all set to grab a snack at the big AZT map at the top of the first jeep road climb, but Brad was camped out next to the boulders up there and I didn't want to keep him awake I pressed on a bit farther up the canyon.

I took in a bunch of calories, but just couldn't get going on this stretch of trail, walking a ton. By the time I reached the top of the second steep jeep road near the spire it was already 1am!! It took me 2 hours to cover a little over 2 miles. Ugh. I was now battling the sleep monster too. I decided I needed to rest. I set my phone alarm for 1 hour and leaned against my pack next to the trail. Eyes were closed, but I never dozed off. Next thing I knew the alarm went off and by 2:15am I was pedaling up the canyon.

It was still slow going and I didn't reach the saddle until sometime around 3:30am. I was feeling it, hitting that proverbial wall. Martinez was a slog and by the time I crested the final 'big' climb with 10 notoriously 'downhill' miles to go it was around 5:30am. I still thought 7am was doable, but I had to hurry. So I did. The miles seemed to tick off slowly, 9 to go at the final gate, 7 1/2 at Telegraph Canyon rd., 5 1/2 at the final overlook, etc.
Crossing Telegraph Canyon rd before the first rays of light.
What an incredible sight, 4 miles out & 30 minutes left!
My next goal: Superstition Mountains.
I really thought I could make it in by 7, right up until I had 2 minutes remaining, but was a little over a mile out. I rode into the parking lot at 7:05am, just over 4 days after the 750 start, but taking note that I didn't reach Parker Canyon Lake and the start of the 300 until 8:35am, I did get my sub-4-day 300 finish at 3:22:30. Todd had also just finished his 300 ride, we met last year when I was greeting finishers at Picketpost. We chatted a bit and hung out with Cedric's wife as she waited for him to come in.
This is what bright light and a bit of sleep deprivation looks like. Going on 25+ hours of no sleep.
It was already getting warm, forecast was calling for a hot one near Phoenix. I had to get some shuteye, so I found a nice shady area and rolled out my sleeping bag. It felt good to lay down, but again I could never fall asleep. Why? To many effin' flies!! Where were they coming from? Arizona isn't exactly known as a fly safe haven, but on this morning it seemed like there were always 10 flies buzzing around me. Two hours later I relented and got up, packed up my things and started thinking about Queen Valley and a nice big breakfast.

Gold Canyon

My memory from Picketpost is a bit fuzzy, but I think Dave Wicks, 750 rider, had crashed out in the parking lot after finishing the 300 hours before me. We both departed the trailhead at the same time, but I couldn't keep pace with him.

Almost immediately after resuming my ride my front brakes started to squeal. I thought I may have a slightly bent rotor, so I manually flexed it a little and the noise seemed to go away...for about 5 minutes. This routine repeated over the next hour on Hewitt Station rd, getting more & more annoying as the miles went by. I couldn't quite get it to seat right, even loosened the calipers once to see if that was the issue. Nope. Whatever, I'll tune it out I thought.
Dave Wicks on his singlespeed. I wish I could have hung out with this guy some more.
I arrived at the Fitz Stop convenience store in Queen Valley where Dave was already munching down. Dave came over from Australia to do this crazy ride and wasn't afraid to grab a beer or two when he could. My kind of rider. I asked him if he was going to do the optional singletrack through Gold Canyon. He said no, and I wished him well as he departed ahead of me. I knew I wouldn't see him again either.

During this time my grand plans for a big diner breakfast were thwarted, summer hours began meaning the diner was CLOSED on Tuesdays. Drat. Well, there is this tasty microwave cheeseburger?!? Eh, no. The cashier mentioned the golf resort next door had a limited menu. So, I opted to at least check it out. Guess what? It was taco Tuesday at the golf resort!! I'll take 3 and a Coke. Wow, did that hit that spot. Rejuvenated and resupplied I took off towards the optional route of the course. I kinda had to do it, since I was the one prodding Scott to add it to the course.
It was the simple things that brought the biggest smiles.
I started on the optional jeep road section and now my rotor was squealing at a rather uncomfortable decibel. I had to figure this darn thing out. The first shade spot I found I nabbed it. I ended up moving the brake caliper out and away from the rotor, it seemed the culprit was the outer edge of the rotor decided after 300 miles of riding to start being an annoyance. My first few pedal strokes of silence were skeptical, it kept quiet and I was relieved to not have to deal with the obnoxious noise any longer.
It was getting warm as the afternoon went on, but not uncomfortable.
Must be near a water source.
Less than 5 minutes of HAB total on the jeep road section, time for some trails.
Saguaros starting to bloom.
This 50 foot section was the most tech on the entire trail section.
Action shot!!
Michelle came out to cheer me on and ride for a bit since she lives practically on the trails. Thanks!!
I arrived at the Basha's Shopping Center and De La Cruz Mexican Grille for a late lunch, early dinner. Refueled and resupplied once more I was back out to tackle option No.2: Jacob Crosscut trail. I knew this was going to be tough if I wasn't on my technical A-game. I wasn't. It started off with a mile HAB, all the trail work I had been doing recently couldn't be seen at all. It was like ALL the rocks were back on the trail tread. What a waste. At the top of the HAB the trail generally gets more rideable, but it's tough going. It was super slow and the sun was dropping fast.
I think this portion can wait until a trail crew fixes the mess.
The Superstitions put on one heck of a show!!
I was about halfway through the Crosscut boulderfest when I kicked a prickly pear cactus with my right foot. Dang, that hurt. A spine went through my sock & shoe into my pinky toe. Off came the footwear to pluck out the needle. I wasn't back on my bike more than two minutes when I punted another prickly pear with my left foot!! WTH!! Same scenario. To say I was getting frustrated by my inability to navigate this trail and get off of it was a gross understatement. There may have been an audible obscenity or two mumbled.
I knew I wasn't getting off the Crosscut trail before dark, how about at least the technical section?
A bit blurry, but the full moon does the trick over the Supes.
It was sometime around 8pm when I finally said good riddance to the Jacob Crosscut trail. I was now on pavement for a bunch a miles through Canyon Lake and Tortilla Flat as I transitioned to the Apache Trail, AZ88. I was putting my tail light on and the darn thing wouldn't illuminate. I checked the batteries and they were totally corroded, oops. Tossed it in the first trashcan I found. The miles flew by and I arrived at a deserted Tortilla Flat around 9:30pm. I recalled from my Chain of Lakes ride that there was a vending machine here. $3 later, I had a cold RC cola & Mug rootbeer in my hands.
Tortilla Flat
I was getting tired, but knew there was a big climb leading out of Tortilla Flat to a scenic overlook. I needed to get that done before lying down for the night. I settled into a steady pace and tried to not look at the GPS. The climb initially is straight and seemingly endless. I grew more tired as I pedaled. Late on a Tuesday there wasn't going to be much, if any traffic so I rode in the middle on the double yellow lines. I would close my eyes, count off 10 pedal strokes, open up and see if I drifted any. I repeated this a few times and it seemed to revive me somewhat. I took one short break, the road turned to dirt, the wind kicked up and I reached the top at 11pm.

Now where am I going to sleep? The restrooms were locked. I found a spot just off the parking lot on a small downslope where I couldn't easily be seen if anyone pulled in. It was windy up there, but it hardly mattered. I was now going on 42 hours of no sleep.

As soon as I settled in I saw an LED approaching, it was Brett!! He said he had been chasing my lights for the past couple of hours. He was still awake and decided to push on up the Apache Trail, but not before giving me a parting gift: a McD's breakfast burrito!! This guy is awesome. It would also be the last time I'd see Brett on the ride.

I was about to doze off when another LED came up the hill. This time it was Riley. I yelled to get his attention as he scoured the parking lot but he had his headphones in. By the time I shone my cell phone his way, he was gone. Next thing I knew the sun was coming up.

Tonto Basin

A great night's sleep does wonders, even if you're using a tattered car shade as a sleeping pad. I knew the Apache Trail had some climbing, but I also knew I put the longest one behind me the night before. It was shaping up to be a glorious morning, it ended up being a real highlight of the ride.
As far as I know nobody pulled into the overlook parking area while I camped.
Heading down Fish Creek hiill.
Fish Creek hill is a one lane nightmare for RV's & boat towing vehicles, somebody usually has to back up to let the other pass.
Apache Trail stretched out below.
Surrounded by rugged beauty the entire way.
Apache Lake with the Four Peaks poking up on the left.
 I had stopped for an early break at the top of a climb. A few minutes later I heard some fierce coughing as a rider came into view near the top, it was Riley. Many riders had suffered from breathing issues early on, myself included, but I was usually ok after hacking out some junk early in the morning. I improved the farther north I went, perhaps too much dust down south. Riley and I would end up riding the rest of the Apache Trail together until he pulled away near the dam.
One of the closest areas to the lake.
The dirt gives way to pavement near Roosevelt Dam.
 Riley had asked me how far the next resupply point on route was, some 11 miles or so up AZ188. He figured he could easily make it to Butcher Hook. I was getting low on food & water as the temps inched upward, so I opted to go slightly off route to the Roosevelt Lake Marina to see what they had.
Crossing off another checkpoint: Roosevelt Lake.
Much to my surprise the marina was well stocked and practically a convenience store. I loaded up.
The marina is a floating barge.
This will get me down the road.
A little GPS humor, seeing my location in the middle of a lake.
While eating my two bowls of cereal I starting chatting with three hikers who were also stocking up on supplies. All three were thru-hiking the AZT, one young guy going solo and the other two were hiking as part of the Warrior Hike initiative. David and Jordan were about halfway and feeling great. It was Jordan's first backpacking trip and that blew me away to think this was the route he was breaking in on. Upon my return home I found out there was a writeup in the current AZT newsletter about David and Jordan on their Warrior Hike. Check it out here. (Scroll down to page 3 for their story)
One of these doesn't belong.
Glass-like surface in the harbor.
From any angle the Roosevelt bridge is spectacular.
While we only rode the official AZT over the bridge, this is the junction of passages 19 & 20. Both include large sections of Wilderness and only a few miles of passage 20 are worth doing on a bike.
I developed a slight addiction at the marina, discovering Arizona Iced Tea's Arnold Palmer's lemonade. I've had a Palmer before, but never bought one. It really hit the spot on a warm afternoon. Another cool discovery I made was with my gear. I filled both water bottles with ice and the lemonade, but put one of them up front in my feedbag. I didn't realize just how much insulation those provide. Three hours later in near 90º temps, the bottle in the feedbag still had plenty of ice!! Such a relief.

The 30 some miles of AZ188 went by without issue except for another adjustment of my brake caliper. A quick stop at Butcher Hook for more drinks and to get out of the sun for a bit was nice. I also was able to use an outdoor outlet to top off some electronics. This was the only portion of the ride that I could charge my cache battery from the hub. I need to maintain at least 11.5 mph to charge that hog. That wasn't happening on the trail. The battery was a bit overkill, but I'm glad I had it.
A local cowboy was telling me I could get a room a mile down the road, I mentioned that I still had about 10 hours of riding left in me for the day. I don't think he fully understood what the ride was about.
Wide smooth shoulders and a view of Mt. Ord.
Another friendly place, loaded up on ice and another Palmer!!
Extra large size too!!
'Murica!!
That's as close to car headlights as I want to get.
At Jake's Corner the route veers back onto dirt roads for a seldom used connector over to Rye. Rye Creek was still flowing as I rode over. I was motoring along when I saw someone up ahead. At first I thought it was a local out for a ride, who else would be out here? Another 750 rider, that's who. It was Sarah Jansen and she was walking her bike on a slight uphill. As I approached I thought maybe she had bonked or something, but as I rode next to her she was in good spirits. I asked her what was going on and she pointed down at her bike. Oh no!! The crank arm had sheared off!! She originally scratched from the race, then reconsidered after getting new parts sent to the bike shop in Payson. She just had to get there...some 30 miles away!! Talk about grit. She could coast any downhills, but there weren't many between here and there.
Sarah easily winning the 'tough as nails' award.
I learned she had some family in San Tan Valley, not far from my house. Hopefully we'll get out for a ride sometime soon. She would be the last 750 rider I would encounter the rest of the way, some 400 miles from Utah.

A few miles up the road I was greeted by a fella called the Biking Viking and he was offering a pocket shot of whiskey. Say what?
Huh, you don't say.
The Biking Viking handing out a little pick-me-up before some HAB action.
It was mid-afternoon as I rode through Rye, I really wanted to get to Pine that night, but it was a solid 5 hour push from Payson and I was still a few hours from there. I called That Brewery in Pine to inquire about the availability of a cabin, but was informed it had just rented out for the night. I opted to make it a bit of an early night and booked a room at Motel 6 in Payson from the side of the trail. That Kayak app is pretty sweet.
It's billed as a town, but there are no services other than a cell signal.
All Bikes is a thing of the past after a fire a few years ago.
Making the climb to Payson via dirt roads.
Some steeper than others.
Rolled into Payson around 8pm. Now in the pine trees for the remainder of the ride. It seemed like the transition zone from desert to alpine was a mere 3-4 miles.
Priorities. I made a beeline to Alfonso's Mexican for dinner & breakfast burrito, then backtracked to check in to Motel 6.
I checked into the room, plugged in my helmet light & cache battery, took a hot shower and chowed down on dinner. I was all set to crash out, moving all my stuff onto the floor. As I started to settle into bed, something wasn't quite right. The mattress felt wet?!? Soaked actually. As I ran my hand over the bed the entire middle section was drenched as were the comforter, blanket & sheet!! Ahh, crap. My water bladder leaked, not just a little bit of water, but all 90 oz. I was too tired to bother to ask for a room change. I rounded up all the towels, soaked up what I could then spread them out over the bed and fell asleep within minutes. Slept great. Valuable lesson learned here kids, don't put your hydration pack on the bed!!

Highline

I got rolling the next morning around 7:30am. I was hoping to gain the top of the Mogollon Rim for my next camp, but that meant getting to Pine and completing the Highline trail. Both sections are rugged, tough and have plenty of HAB.
A nice warm-up through a side neighborhood.
The first 10 miles or so are well maintained and fast!!
Crossing the East Verde River.
Gorgeous vista towards the Mazatzal Mountains.
Cresting the first sustained HAB effort, the Mogollon Rim comes into view.
There were a few cool sections tucked between HAB's.
Bombs away!! Down through a secluded neighborhood, across a dry creekbed, then up, Up, UP!!
At first it was just steep & loose.
Then the vegetation took over. This went on for about 2 miles.
Arriving at Oak Spring. I was still good on water and only a few miles from Pine.
The junction with Oak Spring was significant in the ride. I was now back on the AZT, passage 26. From this point on I'd be on the Arizona Trail all the way to Utah!! I shook my head in disbelief. I think the enormity of the ride hit me a little bit. I was on the middle step, so-to-speak, of attaining the high country.
But first there would be plenty of pushing up steep switchbacks.
Eventually, the rocky terrain gave way to a few miles of pristine singletrack.
At last, the Pine trailhead.
I didn't arrive in Pine until 2pm, much later than I had hoped for. I debated for a moment or two about my plans to grab a beer at That Brewery. Screw it, I wanted one. A thick cheeseburger and Arizona Trail Ale sure hit the spot!!
Yum!!
Very biker friendly too.
It's also the closest food/drink option to the Pine trailhead.
As I was getting set to leave the bartender asked if I had signed the AZT ledger. I hadn't, so she brought me a pen and also asked if I had checked out the hiker box. What's that? I asked. It's a collection box of all sorts of items that thru hikers/bikers donate or use. I took a peek inside and noticed a small foldable piece of foam padding. I thought it would be perfect to place under my hip when sleeping since my car visor wasn't the most plush of pads.

I shot over to the grocery store and loaded up on what I hoped would be enough calories to get me to Mormon Lake the next day. I began my Highline trek sometime around 3:30pm, which meant a bunch of it would be done under darkness.
The full Highline trail is 50 miles, we'd be on the far west 18 miles of it. The rough stuff.
A short well contoured reroute brought me here. Those 2 miles between the Donahue trail & Red Rock spring were, um, 'lung busting'.
One of the nicer sections.
My right calf paid the price from all the pedal strikes. I could only take the pedal off every so often.
Stop the presses, what's this? That looks divine!!
Water at Red Rock spring.
Just after the spring, the trail became, dare I say 'fun'?!?
I'd be cresting the rim somewhere over yonder.
I made really good time getting to the Geronimo trailhead.
The ensuing climb had been reworked over the past couple of years and I was able to ride most of it. That was a big relief, but near the top of the climb the sun set.
A Highline blaze and a cool silhouette.
Probably the neatest wildlife encounter on the entire ride, 5" centipede.
 The trail degraded and I was forced to walk...a lot. The miles went by really slow. It seemed each time I tried to ride it wouldn't last but a few pedal strokes. It was a bit frustrating knowing I wasn't covering much ground as the night wore on.

At one point my helmet light went dark. I had it powered too high by mistake and the battery drained down. I swapped it out for my hiking light. At first I wrapped it around my helemt, but that wasn't too stable. I figured I wasn't riding a whole bunch so a switched out my helmet in favor of my baseball cap.

I kept waiting for the trail to get better. When we hiked it a couple of years ago I had made a mental note that I thought the trail was decent between Geronimo & Washington Park. I guess I was wrong. I filled up on water at one of the creek crossings and made the push over to Washington Park. I was really beat and had already decided to make camp there as it would be a tad warmer down below anyway.
Arriving in Washington Park close to midnight.
My new hip pad worked great and once again my strategy of riding until exhaustion provided a sound night's sleep.

My trend continued the next morning as I got moving around 7am. I had a 2.25 mile grunt straight up the rim staring me in the face. I was able to ride most of the way to the Tunnel trail split. That's where things got stoopid steep and rocky, but also very scenic.I started to take notice that my feet were slipping more often during HAB efforts. I began to wonder if my shoes were going to make it to Utah.
The trail starts on a drab powerline access.
Then splits off here, but there were no AZT markers much to the chagrin of a couple of hikers.
Keep pushing.
The trail is cut out of solid rock.
Near the top the Tunnel trail merges back onto the Powerline.
Hallelujah!! FR300 & the High Country attained!!

(not so) Happy Jack

I was elated to be up on the rim and was joined by a couple of section hikers whose camp I passed during the night. We chatted about the trail and shared a few stories of our time out before they continued on. I broke out my breakfast burrito in celebration, but only ate half as I wanted the rest for the next morning.
One of the best preserved historic cabins in the area. The AZT shares three miles with the Fred Haught trail, part of the Cabin Loop system.
Forested riding brings another trail obstacle; deadfall or blowdown. There weren't too many downed trees through here thankfully.
The trail zigzags across this drainage a few times before splitting away. Water was plentiful this time of year.
This downed tree shared the scars of the riders before me.
It was a beautiful morning with some fantastic trail to lift the spirits.
The big hurdle of passage 28, the HAB out of Blue Ridge Reservoir. This was the first time I've seen water at this location. I timed the HAB, 27 minutes. Not too bad as my fastest time is around 20. I was glad to put it behind me.
Railing pristine singletrack.
I needed to make a decision. Do I try and push on towards Mormon Lake, probably missing the store hours today and having to go downhill off-route for resupply in the morning OR go a bit farther off-route now on mostly level dirt/pavement for guaranteed supplies? I chose the latter and took off towards Clint's Well at the first major forest road crossing after the HAB. It ended up being 7 miles away, a bit farther than I had recalled, but I grabbed a nice meal at the Long Valley Cafe. The lunch rush was all but over so I was able to grab the one small table that had access to an outlet.

Once again I stocked up on gas station fare before making my way back to the route.
Who is this 'Jack' character anyway?
Showing my progress on the map. It was sobering to see I was only 1/2 way up the state after so much riding. At least the rest of the route took a more direct northerly path.
Back on route. It's quite possible that I have a picture of my bike leaning against each one of these giant metal AZT signs!!
Plenty of good trail on Blue Ridge.
My first glimpse at Humphrey's Peak just outside of Flagstaff. (left of center)
I descended the chunky downhill into Blue Ridge campground, it's a good thing I wasn't relying on water here as the faucets had not been turned on for the season. There is a ranger station nearby for water though.

I finished Blue Ridge, crossed AZ87 onto passage 29, Happy Jack, and almost immediately found myself off course?!? I was looking for the singletrack turnoff to the right, but there was no signage. I found what appeared to be the trail, but it was obvious no one wanted you there any longer. Rocks, branches and any other debris lying around were tossed onto the trail corridor. The track had me riding there, so I proceeded as the pink line told me. 100 yards later I came to the signed trail, and saw a newly minted singletrack coming in from the right. Must be a new reroute. I rode the new trail backwards out of curiosity to see where it crossed 87 and how it tied into Blue Ridge. The new trail was signed and even had the fancy new metal gates by the road. The tread wasn't exactly cut into the ground quite yet, but it did lead me back to the large AZT sign at the pullout. This new section simply cuts out a few hundred yards of forest road. The AZT app hadn't even been updated for it yet.
The first 5 miles or so of Happy Jack are pretty nice.
Then the shitshow begins.
I had bikepacked this section a couple of years ago and recalled the area in the photo above, but somehow wiped clean from my memory were the subsequent 30 miles of lava rock strewn jeep road. At first I was able to crank out some quick miles dodging the protruding rocks. As the sun went down this became a bit more problematic. It was mostly 'level-ish' riding but was taking a toll on me. I desperately wanted to reach Lake Mary rd as a camp location. In the darkness it became easier to walk along the rugged jeep roads, but time was ticking and I wasn't really getting anywhere. I was getting tired of rocks and beginning to go down a dark mental road I didn't want to be on. My lack of efficient forward progress was evident. I almost called it a night about 10 miles south of Lake Mary rd. near Bargaman Park, but I convinced myself to keep going. I kept telling myself that the trail improved near Lake Mary road, it was giving me hope for a good finish on the day.
Waning daylight over a typical Happy Jack scene.
I passed by Holly's campsite around 10:30pm. She was doing the 750 southbound. Only the second rider, first female, to do so. I was bummed I didn't get to say 'hi'. Holly ended up finishing her endeavor, Congrats!!

The trail never really improved and I finally reached the trailhead, semi-defeated on the day. I knew I'd hit a low point mentally somewhere on route, but was intrigued by where it happened. Hold it together and get to camp. I was expecting a cold night out, but it wasn't too bad as the trees blocked most of the wind. My bivy would stay packed another night.

Flagstaff

I killed off the rest of the breakfast burrito and got things ready for the day's ride. I went to plug in my GPS charging cable and the USB end wouldn't go into the converter!! Gah! The connector was broken, unusable. WTH?!? I was dumbfounded as to how it happened, I was using it as I rolled into camp the previous night. No crashes. The good news: my next stop was Flagstaff and I could surely find a new cable there and my GPS was almost fully charged. By knocking out those final 10 miles the night before, I set myself up for a relatively short day into Flagstaff, a mere 40 miles away. This was fine by me as I now needed to stop by REI. My shopping list was growing, I now needed a new pair of shoes. The HAB efforts of Happy Jack, Highline and the approach to Pine destroyed the soles. Yet another lesson learned: don't buy Chinese knock-offs for an ultra mountain biking event!! I did a small bit of housekeeping as well, swapping out my SPOT batteries. I was still on the initial set, but now beginning my 9th day of riding. These were the only batteries I carried.
Camping location near Lake Mary rd.
All along I had planned to get a hotel room in Flagstaff to recharge for the final push to Utah. I was still holding close to what I thought my ride schedule would be, still thinking I could finish around 11 days & change.

As I returned to trail riding I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of good trail. Waiting...waiting...the rocks wouldn't let up and I was getting close to Mormon Lake. I knew the trail was great near the lake, but exactly where I wasn't sure.
Closing in on Flagstaff.
I didn't have a ton of water remaining, there were a few gallons cached near my campsite at the AZT sign, but those were all earmarked for hikers. I had heard about a spring a few miles away that was barely a quarter mile off-route on the way to Mormon Lake. It also had its own trail leading down to the lake, so I figured if the spring was a bust I could at least scout a new-to-me trail in the area. I made a deal with myself, I'd drop down to Mormon Lake for known supplies if I couldn't find water at the spring, otherwise I'd fill up at the spring and push on towards Flagstaff.
What is this? Looks like good trail to me.
I was on a small slice of AZT that I had never been on due to forest thinning projects over the years. Ever so slowly the rocks began to fade, but in true AZT form as soon as the trail got going there was a gate to navigate through. Ahh, the gates of the AZT. I could make a coffee table book out of the sheer variety of mechanisms used to close them. They're a necessary evil for bike riders. The most annoying to me are the barbed wire variety that are strung way too tight. Nothing like using all your remaining energy at times to undue a barbed wire loop over a wooden post.
I wasn't sure how easy the trail would be to find, it wasn't difficult at all!!
The spring was well marked too, although it's not the big metal tank.
A steady clear flow from the side of a hill did the trick.
I was perched next to the spring filling my water filter as the trees swayed in the wind. There was an aspen grove next to me about 100 feet away. The trees were banging off one another until I heard a crack, crack, CRACK!! Down came a large aspen to a thunderous roar. From that point forward, I became more aware of the trees nearby, especially during windy spells. I topped off my water and was back on the AZT in no time. Near the north end of Mormon Lake the trail really got good. THIS was the trail I remembered!! It contoured the side of Mormon Mtn. after passing through Double Springs campground and its funky colored creek.
I assume a very high mineral content turns the water a cloudy gray.
Another AZT sign at Double Springs.
While I was immensely enjoying the trail, I also knew I was closing in on Anderson Mesa. It's a 10 mile or so stretch of trail known for post-holing by cattle, lava rocks embedded in the clay and virtually impassable when wet. While it is practically level riding, it's slow going and speeds usually hover in the 5-6 mph range. The only thing about Anderson Mesa I was looking forward to was putting it in my rear-view mirror.
A cool bit of history the trail passes through.
Believe it or not, that's not the AZT, rather the remains of the railroad grade. Crazy, I know. The trail through here is fast, flowy & smooth!!
Marshall Lake signals the end of Anderson Mesa.
I stopped to take a break near the Horse Lake trailhead at the beginning of Anderson Mesa, leaning against a tree on the non-windy side. A few minutes later I heard someone approaching from behind me, it was Jeff & Nancy!! A couple of friendly faces and good friends both on & off the bike. They may not be the brightest though, choosing to ride this section of trail with me in heavy winds, but it was surely appreciated.
The first section follows jeep road while we battled a nasty crosswind.
Humphrey's Peak coming into focus.
I was starting to drag a little during the afternoon. Photo by Jeff.
Typical scene on the singletrack portion. This was better than normal as the post-holing was non-existent.
My tired legs felt like walking, Nancy's felt like riding. Photo by Jeff.
243 miles to go!! Photo by Jeff. 
Every so often the trail was actually nice!! Whoa.
Lake Mary overlook.
I'm still amazed to say this, but Anderson Mesa wasn't too bad. Heavy crosswinds almost blew us off the jeep roads and there were a few spots of headwind, but the trail was the best I've ever seen it in spite of the rocks. Happy Jack was worse.
We banged out the remaining miles into Flagstaff and met up at REI. Time to get some shopping done.
I love this little alcove meadow, so serene.
Fisher Point, the sight of my very first AZT ride way back in the mid-90's.
The AZT teams up with FUTS (Flagstaff Urban Trail System) and is well signed through town.
Rio de Flag. DO NOT DRINK!! Signed everywhere as the trail goes under I-40.
What's left of my soles. They couldn't even sell them at their garage sale! I forgot to yank my Superfeet insoles and the shoes were disposed of by the time I called back the next morning. Drat.
I inquired about a charging cable, but they don't carry cables by their lonesome. We then began looking at a tail light replacement, not really for the rest of this ride, but in general. The clerk suggested a USB powered one when I mentioned I had a dynamo hub. Almost simultaneously we popped open the box and viola! Same cable I needed for the GPS. Score.

I grabbed a pair of Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking shoes. I had them before and really liked them, but how much time does one need to break in a pair of shoes prior to hiking the Grand Canyon?

I took off and checked into a cheap hotel near downtown, a bit more off-route than most riders would opt for, but there were a few places I wanted to check out while in town. At the hotel I was told there was only a room upstairs. Not too thrilled about it, but it's a bed & shower. The stairwell was really narrow and steep and of course made a 180º turn. And the hallway light was burned out making it pitch black at the top of the stairs. I fumbled for my helmet light and saw three doors, rooms 112 & 118 and what appeared to be a fire exit with no signage. I was looking for room 117. Huh? Back down the stairs I went. I told the clerk about the light and while she walked with me asked If I was taking my bike in the room. Duh, of course!! She insisted that I didn't dirty up the room with it - it was pretty darn clean I might add. Then she decided she'd swap some things around and give me a bottom floor room. Thank you!

All checked in, I was ready for pizza. First things first, an Oatmeal Stout from Beaver Street Brewery was on order, then we made our way over to Fratelli's for a Chicago Deep Dish. I know what I'm eating for lunch on the trail tomorrow.

I slept fantastic that night, ready for a big push the next day.

Babbitt Ranch

I think it was closer to 7:30am before I got on the road. It was chilly, but otherwise fine. I'm not really a coffee drinker, but as I rode through downtown back to the route a place caught my eye. Macy's European Coffee House Bakery.
Signs, signs, everywhere a sign.
One Macy's special: Espresso w/steamed hot chocolate and a blueberry cheesecake scone and I was good to go.
I made a quick stop at Fry's to load up on calories & drinks. Then another stop, inspired by Brett, at McD's for 3 breakfast burritos for the next morning.

There's been a small reroute of the AZT at the Buffalo Park entrance, I stuck to the trail around the main park entrance and found a nice plaque honoring the late Dale Shewalter, the Father of the AZT. Pretty cool.
Yes, Thank You, Dale.
I wanted a pic in front of Buffalo Park, so I rode over and ran into Artec who had tracked me down to say 'hi' and wish me luck as he had just got off work.
Photo by Artec.
Easy start towards Shultz Creek.
4.1 miles of undulating trail to Shultz, some HAB, but mostly good trail.
Fun bits on Rocky Ridge.
I had another friend come out and join me for a spin since he lives about a block away!! Photo by James.
It was James and his wife. Funny because I didn't notice his Voodoo jersey until I looked at the pictures!! D'oh! Oddly enough, we've known each other for a few years, have done numerous events together, but this was our first ride where we actually rode together. Strange.
After crossing Snowbowl rd. the climbing began in earnest as did the downed trees. About 8-10 on the way up to Aspen Corner.
At the Aspen Corner split near Alfa Fia tank. Photo by James.
Riding off into the sunset so-to-speak. Photo by James.
I absolutely love this section of AZT, all the way from Shultz Creek to about 6 miles north of FR418. It's right up there with the Gila River Canyons in my book, too bad there were so many downed trees between Bismarck Lake & FR418. There were about 12-18 down over that stretch, some difficult to navigate around.
Alfa Fia tank.
About as close as you'll get to the peaks from the trail.
I'm used to seeing the grass green up here.
Dang! 610 miles complete!!
A few small patches of snow on the north slopes were fun.
Kendrick Peak.
That's the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on the far horizon.
Tons of blowdown in this aspen grove, but signs of recent clearing were evident.
189 to Utah!
This guy was huge.
Snack break at FR418.
More fantastic trail heading north.
I'd be able to see Humphrey's Peak all day as it became smaller & smaller.
The track almost looks like the dirt road on the GPS, but the trail parallels it closely for a few miles.
I came upon a couple of thru hikers near Missouri Bill Hill.
About to drop down to the wide open spaces of Babbitt Ranch.
I wondered what the winds had in store for me.
A new cache box in the bushes to begin Babbitt Ranch. I topped off here since water is scarce until Tusayan.
Taking pictures while riding in a 30 mph tailwind can be dicey!
It seemed like only minutes ago that I was surrounded by trees.
Goathead soup. Thanks to a dumb 100 yard section of triple track the AZT uses. It only cuts off a corner of two intersecting jeep roads. This is why fresh sealant is a must. I had no issues as a result. Using a homebrew mix as well.
That's not the trail, just a cool pic. Still on dirt roads.
Bzzzzzzzzz.
Typical terrain along Babbitt. The winds weren't much of a factor since they were predominantly coming out of the south.
Welcome or in my case: Thanks for visiting!!
I made it to the Nat'l Forest boundary right at sunset with a goal of reaching Grandview for a camping location.
Not Russell tank. There was clear water in the trough next to it though.
10 miles to Grandview and I was getting tired.
Sure thing, I've got that part down.
The final miles to Grandview drug on, I was whooped after keeping a steady pace going most of the day. I was beginning to doze off while I was riding, not to the point of crashing, but taking long, slow blinks of my eyes. My legs felt heavy and my progress slowed to a grind. I needed to make camp. I relented and found a spot about 5 miles south of Grandview.

I had checked the forecast when I was in Flagstaff - 50% chance of rain/snow showers it said, beginning tomorrow. Hmmmm. Maybe I'd get lucky?

South Rim

It was overcast when I woke up, no precipitation so that was a plus. It was another night of great sleep and I still didn't have to use my bivy. The last miles to Grandview peeled off quickly and I was really looking forward to the fast smooth trail into Tusayan.
Peering off the Coconino Rim a small glimpse of the Canyon can be seen.
Dark clouds were closing in.
Last sign I would see for Utah, a mere 124 miles away.
Grandview Lookout tower. Unique view into the gorge from up top, but I wasn't climbing that today.
Now we're getting somewhere.
A big patch of deadfall messing with the trail flow and my attempt to outride the storm.
Fog?? No. Those are snow flurries beginning to fall.
They kept falling and increasing to a light snow. The tacky trail surface began to stick as I began to fear the dreaded influx of death mud. Ride faster so it can't stick!!
Fresh trax.
The snow relented, I made it through without much clinging to the Voodoo. I was thankful it was snow and not rain, plus it really wasn't all that cold hovering around 40º.

I came to this weird area on the trail where the track and the AZT app had me going straight, veering off the perfectly good forest road I was on, into a field where nothing existed on the ground. I mean nothing. Sure, there were bushes and such, but no sign of a trail or signage. I stuck with the track bushwhacking through the field until it dropped me right back on the pristine dirt road about 200 yards from where I departed it. I rode back to where I split off just so I could document it!! So dumb.
Trail is straight ahead. I swear. At least that's where the route goes.
I was really hoping I wouldn't have a come to Jesus moment on this ride. You know when all hope is lost and you seriously doubt your ability to make it out in one piece. Instead, I saw him in the flesh or something like that.

I was a few miles out from Tusayan bundled up head to toe in dreary 40º temps when I spotted someone walking ahead of me. As I approached I'm thinking out loud, 'Does that dude have a shirt on?' I ride up next to him, startle him a bit - so definitely not Jesus, he would have known I was behind him. This dude, in his mid-20's, tall, lanky, long brown hair and beard is wearing nothing but knee length basketball shorts with a light shirt draped over his shoulder. Oh, and he's barefoot. Effin' barefoot!! No backpack, no water, no shoes, hat, etc. Miles away from town. I've seen some strange shit while out and about, but this was right up there. 'How's it going, man?' He asks. Just out for a ride I replied. I really should have snapped a photo, but I suppose I was too shocked that someone was out like that in these conditions.
Little bit of mud as I pass by Tusayan.
I didn't bother to stop in Tusayan, I was good on supplies for the short spin up to the Grand Canyon Village. On my list of to-do's was to stay on the AZT all the way to the South Kaibab trailhead so I was done with the riding portion of the route before I went into the village. Then I needed to check on availability of a camping permit for Cottonwood campground down in the Canyon. I really wanted to pace myself through the Canyon as I had no idea how my body was going to react to what I was about to put it through. If I couldn't secure a permit, I was going to make the full push, but I really didn't want to. I also needed plenty of calories for the hike and a good meal beforehand.
Grand Canyon Nat'l Park boundary.
According to the elevation profile on my GPS there seems to be a downhill coming. Also, as you can see, the GPS hadn't reset in over 560 miles, but shortly after this it did for the last time.
End of the line for a while. I simply have to hike over there ^^^
Neat display inside the Visitor Center.
I was able to secure a camping permit for Cottonwood without any resistance for the following night. It was almost too easy. Afterwards, I had a nice meal at the Maswik Lodge next door.
Wanna carry a bike for me?? I think he's shaking his head - NO!!
It was a bit after 1pm when I arrived at the South Kaibab trail. It was then when I decided to take a 1/2 rest day and get a camping site at Mather campground that night and go for the hike in the morning. By the time I took care of most of my chores it was around 4pm and the weather was kind of crappy.

Over at Mather I asked about a group site for AZT thru hikers/bikers. The lady behind the glass was relatively new and didn't know what I was referring to, but her trainer chimed in and said they did and there was space available. $6 got me in. As I gave her my information the guy says 'Schilling? Weren't you here last year? I recognize that bike.' Are you freakin' serious I thought. The park employees at the Grand Canyon Nat'l friggin' Park know the Voodoo?? Jeez. he came out of the booth and was checking out the rig, convinced he remembered me. Thing is, that was two years ago!! I don't think my name was on the group camp site we reserved last April. Too funny.
Finally broke out the bivy, only because there was still a chance of snow overnight.
I played tourist the rest of the afternoon. Snow showers move in.
Phantom Ranch is the trees in the center, then the trail will follow the canyon angling to the right up & out.
The popular Mather overlook.
I gave my Mom a call to let her know all was going well. She doesn't do the computer thing, so no trackleaders for her. She only knew I was out on a border to border bike ride.

I settled into my bivy early and like every other night slept great. I woke a few hours later to find clear skies!! But when I woke a second time near daybreak a light snow was falling and I forgot to place my shoes back under my backpack. I quickly shook out the little dusting of snow and dozed off again. My bivy was really cozy and I just didn't feel like packing up quite yet. By 8:30am I had to get moving!!

Grand Canyon Bike Portage

Looks cold, yet it stayed around 40º.
I packed up quickly and headed over to Market Plaza for a good breakfast. I filled a small basket with over $50 of stuff from the grocery store. Bars of all variety, Peanut M&M's, Nutter Butters, Pringles, Corn Nuts, Trail mix, Red Bull (I never drink this stuff, but downed 3 during the ride), Mountain Dew, all the essentials. The drinks were extra weight, but I planned to drink most of them on the way down or at camp. They wouldn't be making the trek up the steep side for sure. I looked at my stash of goodies and thought I bought way too much crap. Yet, it all fit easily into my framebag which would be strapped to my chest for easy access.

During my ride to the trailhead on the greenbelt, I'd often get a sneak peak into the canyon. It was shaping up to be a marvelous day. Somewhere along this spin my nerves ratcheted up a bit, a bit of apprehension snuck in. Can I really pull this off? Will my legs carry me through? I was concerned about my knees holding up with the extra load. I fared ok during our rim to rim hike months earlier and I had been stretching routinely. I just hoped I didn't have a repeat to those first few long hikes a year ago when my knees practically shut down. My anxious thoughts quickly dissipated as I rode up to the trailhead, it was now time to get prepped for the trek. I had no time for that other nonsense.
Each time I visit the Grand Canyon I'm in awe. The South Kaibab trail comes in from the right on the sloped ridge, then tucks behind the butte in the middle to the right and finally out to the Tipoff on the plateau to the butte's left.
The Voodoo ready for disassembly.
It must have been a combination of the so-so weather, time of year and a Tuesday, but there weren't many people milling about the trailhead. A group of older folks had just topped out on their hike as I began rigging my setup. A pair of Park Rangers stopped by as they were getting ready for a week's deployment down at the bottom. They asked about the event and were stoked to see another person hauling a bike across the ditch. I thought that was cool.

I took my time getting everything dialed in. I was ready. It was a bit after 10:30am, a little later than I would have liked, but whatever. I put on the pack and took a few steps....crap. I mounted the damn thing too low and the bars were hitting my leg!! Off it came, tore it all down and mounted it a second time. This time at the proper height.
Down the rabbit hole I go.
Of course as soon as I began my descent I had to navigate around two families with young children. Normally not a big deal, but one family wasn't exactly paying much attention to their 4-5 year olds as they bobbed and weaved uncomfortably close to me. The parents knew I was there, yet didn't tell their kids to watch out or let me pass easily. Finally, after a switchback or two they came to their senses and all stepped aside. Other than that, everyone else I encountered the entire way was super cool.
The South Kaibab trail is littered with waterbars. Watch your step!
I had to take a restroom break at the first stop, thanks a lot morning coffee!! There wasn't a good place to put the pack back on and I stumbled a bit to find my balance while trying to adjust my shoulder straps. It was quite difficult and I took note. Don't take the pack off if you don't have to, it's way too hard to stand up if it isn't raised a bit. Of course the coffee kept giving all morning. Jeez. I only put about one liter of water in my pack for the hike down. It was cool and I don't tend to drink much when hiking downhill.
Cedar Ridge. I'm sure glad the fella snapping the pic didn't mind taking a few action shots. This is one of my favorites.
Here's the butte from the other picture.
I had to take a few selfie's because the trail was virtually empty at times.
I love the canyon on partly cloudy days.
Checking off the landmarks. So far so good.
First view of the Colorado River.
The mule train lead shouting out 'Monster' to the rear guide. Must be the code word for nutjob hiking a bike through the canyon.
The last checkpoint before the Black Bridge. Now entering the Inner Gorge.
Feeling good, knees holding up. I could go for about 20 minutes or so, then look for a rock to lean on releasing the weight off my shoulders for a few minutes. My setup was weighing somewhere in the 65lb range.
One of my favorite sections.
Getting close to the bottom.
My other favorite shot. I leap frogged with a couple over the final few miles, then yelled down to them from the bridge to see if they would take my picture. The guy warned me that he liked photography, snap away I said. Most of the pics were static poses, but as I walked towards him to get my phone he snapped this one. Thanks!! I didn't see them again.
5 hours in and on my last sip of water, I arrive at Phantom Ranch.
A welcome sight indeed.
I was ready for an extended break. 7 miles in the books and I felt ok. As I strolled into the center of camp a group of hikers were sitting around enjoying the area, all at once they began to clap and cheer as they saw what I was doing. It gave me chills. Every person I passed said something along the lines of: Badass, Damn!, Are you going to ride it at the bottom?, Whoa!, Dude, that's nuts, You're crazy, Can I take your picture - my friends won't believe me, etc. The facial expressions were priceless. Switching from normal conversation to utter disbelief. My encounters with the other trail users were great entertainment.

I needed water and was craving a lemonade from the Phantom Ranch canteen. Unfortunately, they close in the afternoon from 4-8pm. I thought they were open until 5 and I got there at 4:05pm. I was really bummed, I also wanted to mail out a few postcards and stamp my passport book - yes, I lugged it the entire way!! (I did get it stamped at the South Rim).

I unloaded the pack by the water fountain and began to take care of what I needed to do. There were some folks playing cards at a nearby picnic table. They started asking me a few questions about what I was doing and before I knew it offered up some Jameson whiskey. I'll be right over. They were from Buckeye, AZ and one of them had their young daughter along. I hung out for a bit, but needed to get moving. I didn't want to arrive at Cottonwood too late. That was still 7 miles away on a relatively gentle uphill gaining 2000' over that span.
Great group and plenty of spirits to share.
As I went to stand up with my pack I almost fell over as I got caught on a strap, but one the fellas from the card table was there to catch me. He offered all kinds of stuff, food, drink, even cash!! I told him I was fine, but then thought he could do me a favor. I typed a few addresses down and he offered to mail out my postcards when the canteen re-opened that night. I was extremely thankful and hit the trail. **A few days after returning home, I received a postcard from Phantom Ranch, thanks again!!**

I was weaving through the cabins on the north side of camp when a guy asked me if I had anything wrong with my bike? That's an odd question I thought. I said 'no' and he retorted with 'Then why are you behind Sarah?' Boom!! Called out on the hike!! My only comeback was 'Because she's tougher than me!!' I had been getting reports from the hikers about them seeing Sarah earlier in the day. I think she started hiking down about 3 hours ahead of me, but didn't stop to camp. Like I said, tougher than me.
There it is: 6.4 until camp, then 7 more to the top.
The view didn't change much, constantly surrounded by massive canyon walls.
The rushing water of Bright Angel Creek was soothing to listen to.
Somewhere along this stretch I felt hotspots developing on both feet. I took a bit too long to address them because I didn't want to deal with the pack removal. By the time I relented, blisters had formed. One on the inside of each heel and one under the ball of my left foot.

 A bit later I had rocks get in each shoe about a mile apart. That was challenging. Removing my shoe, putting it back on & tying it all without removing my pack. Glad I only had to do that twice.

I have to give a shout out to the AZT app developers. It was very handy to know exactly where I was on the trail at times and how much further I needed to go. I used it often in the canyon and it was spot on.

During one rest break, I had 2.3 miles left until Cottonwood. I was propped up against a rock enjoying the solitude and incredible views of the lights up on the South Rim. They looked so far away. I took my phone out of airplane mode and was stunned to see 4G reception. So, I posted a picture to the Facebook and sent K a text to let her know how I was doing. Rest break complete, I was ready to make the push into camp.
I was so thankful to have that camping permit. I needed to get horizontal. It was now 10:30pm. 11 1/2 hours after dropping in.
I found an empty site, set out my sleeping bag quickly and to say I slept well would be a gross understatement. I barely recall getting into the bag, next thing I knew it was getting light out.

I tried to get moving a bit earlier, but as soon as I stood up I thought I had big problems. I could barely walk around the picnic table in camp. Staring up at the vast canyon walls knowing that's where I had to get to gave me concern.
Well formed blisters would grow another 50% in size.
My oasis for the night.
It was fairly easy to put it on here.
 I loaded up with 2L of water, balanced the pack on the picnic table bench and lifted it into position. I was amazed that the extra weight I was now shouldering actually made my feet feel better. Marginally, but better. It gave me a renewed sense of confidence that I could complete the task at hand. After all, no one else was going to do it for me. HTFU!!!
A long view back to the South Rim.
This would be a great place to hang out for a few hours.
Crossing the creek for the last time.
I had a few groups of rim-to-rim-to-rim people pass by me early on, again they were all amazed at what I was doing and I was equally amazed at what they were doing!! It was funny to have a guy come jogging towards me, clearly in a 'zone' and then stop dead in his tracks to give a high five.

A couple of ladies from Scottsdale went by me asking a few questions and then they said they'd see me in a bit after they turned around.
Manzanita rest area was empty.

Roaring Spring.
At least now I can see the top layer.
Lots of steps. I was diligent to never use the same leg more than twice in a row. The trekking poles were indispensable as well.
I found this particular encounter with a couple of hikers quite amusing. Two young 20-something-year-old girls were coming down the trail, zigzagging on the switchbacks ahead. At first I couldn't see them, just heard them chatting away. When I finally made eye contact they were still a few turns up the trail, I was trying to gauge if I wanted to find a rest spot first or make it past this section of trail. They kept chatting away, then as I approached, the girl in the lead looked up and saw me walking towards her. They both stopped in their tracks, became silent in mid-sentence, only uttering 'damn'. I nodded, they passed by and resumed their conversation.
I only lightly brushed the canyon walls on a couple of occasions, never knocking me off balance. Most of my snags were from low hanging branches in the valley.
The trail is plenty wide enough for the awkward load.
The Scottsdale ladies snapped this one on their return trip, asking me to at least look tired!! Trust me, I was spent. They said they were thinking about the effort required ever since seeing me in the morning. I was managing, only a few more miles to go.
Supai Tunnel. Another checkpoint ticked off. The water was turned off here.
Amazing view down the canyon.
Humphrey's Peak aglow some 80+ miles away.
The mules must really like that sign.
Aspens!! I'm almost there!!
The final straightaway to the top. The sense of relief was palpable. Yet, I had to stop once from here to there to rest.
 It began to lightly flurry as I finished off the hike. I didn't care. I was done walking, I made it to the North Freakin' Rim!!! I quickly changed over the bike and put on layers. I needed to get out of there.
3:30pm, 7+ hours after leaving Cottonwood, it's over.
See those dumpsters in the parking lot? Took me over 5 minutes to walk there. Legs were trashed.

Jacob Lake

I didn't even consider taking the trail at the North Rim trailhead. I wanted out of there and quick. I could tell the weather was turning for the worse. As you can see, the ground was fairly clear, only large snow piles were around here & there. The sign on the right in the above photo is a spring fed water source that typically is turned off when the North Rim is closed, as it was now. However, the water was on, so I topped off with 2L. Even though I was hurrying as best I could it took an hour to get rolling. The first unanticipated hurdle? Getting on the bike!! It's tough to swing your leg over a seatbag & seat when you can only lift your foot about six inches off the ground. I had to tip the bike over and quickly get my right leg over the seatbag. I couldn't do that with my left leg at all.

The snow began to pick up intensity a bit. Ok, this should be a relatively easy 41 mile paved ride down to Jacob Lake I thought. But first the road climbs up to 9100' on an agonizingly slow climb. I just wanted to ride as fast as possible.
At least the slightly warm temps kept the roads free from sticking snow. I could deal with wet pavement.
A few miles down the road, the snow is beginning to stick where the AZT crosses AZ67.
A special thank you is in order to Josh, my co-worker, who gave me this emergency poncho right before I left town. I didn't bring any rain gear as the 10-day forecast looked great. It was!! This was day 12.
Really started to come down as I passed through the park gates.
In my case, leaving.
I was approaching De Motte campground, closed this time of year, the North Rim Country Store & gas station across the road was also closed for the season. I almost didn't pull in, but I knew the gas station had an overhang to give me some shelter while I ate a snack. I pulled into the driveway and noticed a car parked by the pumps. It looked like it had been there a while and didn't think much of it. The place was still boarded up from winter with a giant 'CLOSED' spray painted on the wood. It reminded me of WallyWorld in National Lampoon's: Vacation.

I was about to lean my bike against the wall when the door opened! A lady came out and asked if I wanted to come inside. Uh, yes!! She asked if I was doing that Arizona Trail thing, again I said yes and she mentioned how a couple of days earlier a guy rode in, also in bad conditions, and pulled out of the race right there!! I knew who she was referring to and mentioned that he had done the race before and I guess he didn't need to finish this one in horrible conditions. I did. No way I was scratching now.

She then asked if I wanted a hot drink: tea, hot chocolate...'that would be outstanding' I told her. She then went to town microwaving me a mug of hot cocoa. Was I dreaming? The past 10 minutes were surreal. I used the bathroom, chatted some more with her and her husband. They were about to open for the season in two weeks. They were surprised by the snow as well and had planned to get some electrical work done over the weekend. I noticed they had a nice patch collection in a glass cabinet by the door. I like to collect patches from my travels (I bought a couple on the South Rim!). They didn't have one with the store name, as they were getting those made this year. Instead, I picked up a classic Smokey the Bear patch. She then hurried into the back room to grab some stickers for me, a cool 2016 oval logo'd rim-to-rim sticker. Hey, I just did that!! Then she showed off a similar t-shirt. I told her if she found an XL in maroon I'd buy it. A couple minutes later one surfaced and I was stocking up on souvenirs!! I mentioned how I bet they didn't think they'd make a sale today. They concurred 'Not a chance'. They were going to let me stay the night if I wanted to, but I needed to get to Jacob Lake and a warm bed & shower. While it was a bit hard to leave the comfort of the store in favor of 26 miles into a now driving snowstorm, it had to be done. Crosswinds be damned.
Stop by the North Rim Country Store and say hi to Tyler & Betsy. Thank you for your unexpected hospitality.
An appropriate license plate in the store.
I settled into the storm which was now coming at me sideways. The road was still only wet and temps continued to hover around 40º. The hardest part was keeping my eyes open due to the pelting snow slipping under my glasses. For the most part I was comfortable, core was warm, hands and feet were a bit cold but nothing intolerable. Just. Keep. Pedaling.

The riding was fast and easy, hardly any hills going north from the store. A little over two hours later I was at the Jacob Lake Inn beginning to dry out.

That's over an inch of accumulated snow on my front end.
I spread all my stuff out in the room, showered, ate and crashed out.

Easy Spin to the Finish?

I was in no rush at all to get going. Yes, I was ready to be done, but I didn't have the urge to rise at the crack of dawn to do so. First, I wanted a good breakfast and maybe let some of the snow melt as the sun was now shining. The forecast didn't look too bad for the day and I told K that it would take about 5 hours for me to finish once I got going. A stop at the Jacob Lake Inn isn't complete without grabbing something from the bakery. No problem. All loaded up, I took off for the trail around 10:30am.
It's like the storm never happened, right? Not so fast.
The parking lot was mostly clear, but otherwise it was a winter wonderland all around. I was curious to know what the AZT surface was like. Seron and I had rode from Jacob Lake to Stateline a couple years ago in a rain storm and I didn't recall having any issues other than worrying about the drive out on House Rock Valley rd.
Cool signage at the end of passage 41.
I see the trail!!
For the most part the trail was visible, only short sections were covered, but easily ridden.
Snow melting as I drop in elevation.
Just about in the clear...
...and then the hail came. WTF?? Pea-sized hail pelting my helmet and ringing my bell on the handlebars. Comical.
So much hail, everything turned white again.
I exited the fun swoopy canyon section leaving the thick forest of the Kaibab behind. I did see my one required Kaibab squirrel!! No visit to the Kaibab Plateau is complete without seeing one.
Onto the flats as the hail finally slowed to a halt....
..in a seemingly instant later, I was ground to a halt as well.
18 miles to go.18. At first I was praying I could keep pedaling, that lasted about 30 seconds. No, no, NO!!! It just figures. I ride all this way in near perfect conditions until the South Rim and then the muse that is the AZT decided it wasn't going to let me off that easy. This was the final straw, the ultimate test of will. Would I finally crack? Well, I may have lobbed some obscenities while I attempted to push my bike through the sticky goop loaded with pine needles. It was truly awful stuff. Legendary. I felt sorry for the ol' Voodoo, we've been through so much and now this?!? All I could do was move forward, scrape off what I could to get the wheels rotating and repeat 10 feet down the trail.
I was in a world of shit and couldn't see the end.
 Of course I was now too far from Jacob Lake to garner a cell signal. I kept trying in hopes of letting K know of my dilemma. Then on my fourth attempt: 3G!! I shot her a text and hoped I wouldn't be spending another night out. I did know the terrain got better, but where? My bike was utterly trashed. I even tried sliding it when the wheels stopped moving only to have my feet slide the other way. It was almost hopeless. I kept at it and about an hour later finally cleared the crap.

I was now on rockier terrain so I took a few extra minutes to get as much muck off the bike as I could. Wheels spun, brakes worked a bit, forks had a little life in them and somehow the drivetrain functioned, but in a higher gear than I would've liked. Just. Keep. Pedaling.
I think that section scarred me for life.
Finally at the forest boundary.
The fourth open field similar to the death mud section, but only the first was horrible.
The Enchanted Forest of passage 42.
I was approaching Winter rd. marking the start of the final passage, No. 43 Buckskin Mountain, some 11 or so odd miles to go. I dumped out onto the road just as a pickup truck pulled over next to the AZT sign. It was bizarre enough to see anyone out there, talk about middle of nowhere, but there were two mountain bikes in the bed of the truck. I leaned my bike against the AZT sign for, you guessed it, a photo, when a guy & girl hopped out. They had planned to ride the Rainbow Rim trail on the North Rim, but the inclement weather turned them away. They told me how they spotted a mountain lion a few miles back on the road. Then asked what I was doing. They were both floored by the concept and the woman asked me how many days I had left. Only a couple hours I told her, almost not believing my own words. I turned back towards the guy and his arms were outstretched grasping two beers, 'which one do you want? Bud or Sierra Nevada?' I'll take the Sierra IPA, thanks! A quick toast, I slammed the beer and gave him the can. They hopped in their truck and drove off. What did I just witness? The mountain biking beer truck? Such a remote random act of pure awesomeness. I was so amped up to finish I almost forgot my bike was in total shambles.
Start of passage 43.
Vegetation beginning to change as the ground becomes more orange.
The final passage has a few uphills thrown in. My ability to HAB was feeble at best and I was stuck or so I thought, in too high a gear. I took a chance and tried the shifter, click. It downshifted fine. Click, click. I dropped into low gear and all was well. How the hell is this thing working!!! I didn't care, I could pedal more and walk less.
The red & orange cliffs offer a tease.
Slowly they become more prominent.
Finish line almost in sight.
The Vermilion Cliffs are truly breathtaking.
I could see the turnoff to Stateline CG, in that instant a rush of emotion enveloped me. I got a little choked up thinking about everything involved that led me to this point. The obstacles overcome, the effort required to push on when I didn't want to, the tough training rides, the unwavering support of family & friends. It was finally here when I knew I was actually going to finish this thing.
Quickly dropping out of the trees on the final series of curved switchbacks, just don't do anything stupid!!
One final meadow and small hill, of course requiring a dismount!!
Rounding the final bend I saw K snapping some pics. That was it, done.
So great to have my #1 fan at the finish!! (and the start!!)
I actually had a rather large cheering section at Stateline. This group of hikers from Oregon had seen a few riders finish over the past couple of days and were able to relay my final SPOT postings to K since Verizon wasn't picking up a signal.
It was hard to believe it was over. 13 days, 9 hours, 44 minutes.
Saved my last Yuengling can for a proper occasion. 
Driving home on House Rock Valley rd.
Magnet board at work following my progress. I would later give a 1 1/2 hour presentation over lunch about the ride. My co-workers were really into it. 
Two days later the Voodoo was about to get cleaned.
My route: 832 miles & 83,000'+ of elevation gain. The bonus miles were the off-route resupply detours.
I cannot express enough the gratitude for the overwhelming support I received from family, friends, co-workers, others racers and complete strangers both on the trail and online. A sincere Thank You to each and every one of you.

Notes

  • No flats the entire way, didn't have to add air either.(Maxxis Ardent 3C EXO 2.4F, 2.2R)
  • It never did rain on me, snow, hail, mud & wind were plenty.
  • Temperatures never really dipped below 40º anywhere.
  • 4 hotel stays, 8 nights sleeping on the ground.
  • Biggest push without sleep: 42 hours, 160 miles & 22,000' of gain from Oracle to Fish Creek Hill overlook
  • 18 1/2 hours to cross the Grand Canyon not counting my time at Cottonwood.
  • I lost 7lbs during the ride, burning roughly 58,000 calories (Taken from GPS, nothing scientific!)
  • I wore every article of clothing I took, yet didn't wish I had anything more including rain gear.
  • Filtered water twice: Highline trail & Navajo Spring.
  • Total food bill for the ride was $368.74
  • HAB: There was a lot!! Data analysis shows 58 miles over 37 hours of pushing.
I've already been asked: 'Would you do it again?' Yes. Not to go faster, just because it was such an incredible experience. I guess a little faster would be nice. :)

What's next? I'm making plans to do the Colorado Trail Race in 2017. 550 miles from Durango to Denver. Unsupported. Same format.

I collect license plates as a side hobby, so I thought I'd get a nice personalized one as a souvenir for the remainder of 2016.
Perhaps AZTR832?? Nah, I'll go with the official title.
A few weeks after the ride we (the riders) received an email from the ATA letting us know that our ride from Mexico to Utah qualified as completing the Arizona Trail even though we detoured around Wilderness areas. By filling out a trail completion form we were allowed to get a real reward for our efforts. A super cool, locally designed copper plated belt buckle!! We'd also get our names on the list of trail finishers. I do plan on going back and completing the final miles of trail through the Wilderness as time allows. I only have 130 miles to hike.
Photo courtesy of the Arizona Trail Association.

Thank you's

-K: For sort of understanding my obsession with these silly ideas. Your support means everything to me. Thank you for being there at the start & finish when it was all over.
-Sandi & Gary: For custom stitching my framebag, that thing is solid!! And for constantly contributing to my never ending bike fund!! The new shorts were perfect.
-Scott Morris: 5 years ago I never thought I'd ever use a SPOT tracker. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I could do something like this. It's people like you who push others to go farther than they ever thought possible and I sincerely thank you for that.
-All my close riding friends, especially the ones who come out on my 'exploratory' rides, knowing full well that we will hit some tough areas that question our sanity. You know who you are!!
-Shawn: For being willing to fabricate 3D printed parts for my bike. GPS mount & fork mount for my light. Plus a super slick AZT headtube badge. The time you put in to do this did not go unnoticed. Thank you.

Full photo album (over 700 pics!!)


Route on Strava: