January 28, 2017

AZT: Oracle Rumble

The Oracle Rumble is a trail running event in its inaugural year offering participants 4 distances to choose from: 10k, Half Marathon, 50k and a whopping 50 mile option. It's part of the ever popular trail running series put on by the Arizona Trail Association and local sponsors. The Rumble was filled to capacity in its first year!! The sport has really taken off.

Shannon asked if I'd be interested in helping out with gate duty during the event. Sure, why not. We get to ride the AZT and cheer on the runners. Of course after I committed to helping out, Shannon informed me that we'd be riding south from Freeman rd to Tiger Mine TH and the race started at 7am!! My two previous rides on this section going southbound were no picnic. I was pretty cooked during an AES APC event after doing a big ride the day before and my last time was during the AES Gila100 when I had to sleep on the trail when all 3 of my lights failed!! Good times. I was curious to see what I thought of this section with fresh legs and a lighter bike.

We had a couple of friends doing the event as well. Eszter made a last minute call and signed up for the 50k and Holly was all in for the 50 miler. Totally nuts on both accounts if you ask me. I also had a co-worker friend, Rob, who would be section hiking this passage northbound. Seems like we had friends all over the trail.

The alarm chirped at 3:00a, then again at 3:10. I relented at 3:20 and got moving. Coffee in hand, I made the hour and a half drive south to meet Shannon at Tiger Mine by 5:30a. We had to set up a shuttle for our little point-to-point ride. It was 22º when we left Tiger Mine, yikes!!

The drive around to Freeman rd is mostly on graded dirt roads, but Willow Springs road took a ton of storm damage from recent rains. There were a few instances where barricades were placed in the road warning of deep cross ruts. A couple were really deep & wide and I was careful to not wreck the bikes on the rear rack. It took over an hour to get to our start point and we didn't get pedaling until 6:55a. It was now a balmy 28º, but we were prepared for it.
Desert dwellers a bit out of our element.
Holly & Josh were at Freeman rd, we wished Holly well and hoped to see her out on course. We'd also cross paths with Josh as he rode the opposite direction after dropping his car at Tiger Mine. he was kind enough to then drive my car back around at the end of the day. Win-win.

Our late start meant we really didn't need our lights for more than 5 minutes, which was fine. It was cool riding through the Antelope Peak cholla forest in the pre-dawn light. The few short climbs kept us warm enough, but we were ready for the sun to be up.
Ahh, there it is!! Photo by Shannon.
Fiery glow on Antelope Peak. Photo by Shannon.
Time to break out the sunglasses. Photo by Shannon.
It should also be noted that Shannon was riding a new-to-her bike, Kaitlyn's old ride, but the front brakes were being warrantied and not due in until Monday. So, she went straight out of the #loco handbook and did the ride sans front brakes. That's why she's the VP of #locorides. It also helped that my brakes were making all kind noise, some sort of switchback mating call?? We dubbed it the audible braking alert system. If she heard my brakes screaming, she knew to begin to slow down ahead of time. Worked pretty well except for one turn where Shannon slowly rolled off the trail on a turn!!
Looking back to the north and a snow covered Pinal Peak. Also a good place to stop and remove a chollaball that had flown up and stuck to my derriere!
Good mornin' Antelope Peak.
A snowy Mt. Lemmon still far off in the distance. Plenty of trail markers and flagging for the runners to follow.

We reached Beehive Well in good time. The first aid station was here and the volunteers informed us that the race had started about 45 minutes late for a variety of reasons. We began to wonder if or when we'd be caught by the lead runners.
Race volunteering along the AZT is hard work, lots of manual labor. Photo by Shannon.
I took note of our total ride time when we reached Bloodsucker Wash, 1:50. Just under two hours and with a 10 minute chat at the aid station. It took me three hours in the dark during the Gila100!!

I hadn't exactly been looking forward to the 5+ mile climb out of Bloodsucker. I walked so much of it the last two times through. I expected more of the same. We took note of the time and began creeping up the hillside in pedal mode.

We were about a mile up and still pedaling!! This really surprised me. I guess it's true, fresh legs and a lighter bike make a difference!! We stopped for a snack break then resumed riding.
If you see a chollaball on the trail, don't kick it. They fight back. Photo by Shannon.
Continuing the climb. It was right about here when the lead runner passed us by. She was flyin'.
Mountainview aid station. A true desert oasis.
We were at the aid station long enough to see the next wave of fast runners come through, but a solid 15+ minutes behind the leader.

The aid station was absolutely stocked full of goodies. First there was a huge pile of runner's drop bags, then three tables loaded with a variety of drinks - Coke, Mountain Dew, Water, Electrolytes, etc. Then the food choices, oh my. Burritos, PB&J, potatoes, all kinds of fresh fruit, pretzels, pickles, gummy bears, Twizzlers, M&M's and so much more. We hung out for 15 minutes or so, then made our way up the trail.

The climbing continued, yet we were still pedaling!! There really wasn't much HAB at all.
Nearing the top, Mt. Lemmon makes a grand appearance.
How could this be? I was enjoying the heck out of this climb!! Photo by Shannon.
As runners tracked us down, we'd pull off the trail and give them space before following suit. Photo by Shannon.

Again, we made it to the gate signaling the end of the Bloodsucker climb in under two hours and that was with an extended stop at the aid station and a snack break beforehand. I think we trimmed over an hour off my Gila100 time.

It had turned into a beautiful day, incredibly clear, crisp air felt great. It was a perfect time to find a trailside spot to soak up the views and down some hot chocolate!!
Cheers to Team Loco!!
...and cheers to the AZT!! Photo by Shannon.

Super gnar catclaw of the Black Hills. This stuff is wicked.
A few moments after our hot chocolate break we had friends coming at us in both directions!! Eszter had literally run us down from behind. She was looking great and had a partner along for a while.
Semi-decent running to a 4th place finish in the 50k!! Yowzers!!
We then crossed paths with Rob on his trek northbound during an overnight segment hike. He's closing in on completing the entire Arizona Trail. Over 600 miles done!! Way to go Rob!!
Still bundled up for the final 8 or so miles. Photo by Rob.

The trail through here is really fun, lots of twists and turns over small undulating hills. As soon as it met up with the old gasline route we ran into Josh heading north to Freeman rd.

We began seeing a steady stream of runners, most in good spirits, but a few were struggling, yet pushing on. We offered as much encouragement as we could and I think it was appreciated by the smiles we got back.

What's this? Two bikers perched on a hillside up ahead. Katie & Jerry came out for a spin and to ride with us over the final miles to Tiger Mine. This section is tough. A series of 5 or 6 drainages that tend to suck the life out of you. They weren't too bad today, sure some HAB was had, but not nearly to the extend I've done in the past. Once again, fresh legs win!!
Shannon's friend, Damion, was out taking race photos and caught us in action too!! Photo by Damion.
I think this was right after I caught a rock and went OTB on a switchback! Oof. Photo by Damion.
Grind, grind, grind. Photo by Damion.
The obligatory HAB snap. Katie & Jerry in form.
Jerry topping out at Tiger Mine TH.
Unobstructed view from under the AZT sign. Antelope Peak is the little speck on the left horizon, snow on Pinal Peak to the right.
Fun cast of characters to finish the ride out.
Another well stocked aid station. Only 4 1/2 miles to go for the 50k runners from here, still another 21 miles for the 50 mile gang.

Just as we were getting set to head over to the finish area, Holly came up the hill to the aid station. She was in good spirits and looking strong. Shannon and I rode by her for the next mile down to the AZ77 culvert. Such an incredible effort!! She finished 3rd, 7th overall. Simply amazing!!
Holly in action, Congrats!!
Over at the finish area, Eszter had just wrapped up the 50k and was looking a little wobbly. :)

It was cool seeing the runners cross the line to huge cheers and high fives from family & friends. The Oracle Rumble had a great vibe. If you're into trail running, give the Arizona Trail Running Series a serious look.

I hung out for a couple of hours and then Josh arrived with my car and it was time to go. Such a fun day out enjoying the AZT with great friends.

Route flyover


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