December 15, 2012

Wet, Muddy & DNF'ing the AES McDowell 60

50% chance of showers with highs in the 50's for Phoenix. No big deal, right? So it'll sprinkle on & off during the day, should be a nice change of pace for us arid desert dwellers.

The event had been max'd out at 74 participants for weeks, with people dropping out / being added, etc. By race morning the brooding skies overhead had reduced the number of entrants down to about 30. I was really looking forward to some wet riding conditions, I have the gear, might as well use it. The group rolled out shortly after 7:30a and I took my usual place near the back of the pack. I started out ok going up the first pitch towards the Paradise turnoff, but by the time I started to climb up Quartz I could feel my legs just weren't waking up. I had been riding right behind Nancy, but soon watched her mash her singlespeed up the steeper grades and pull away from me. Right then and there I knew it was going to be a long day.

I accepted it, wasn't about to quit this early on, found my slow pace and kept moving. My sunglasses, really not needed, began to fog up, making it more difficult to pick my lines. I was struggling. Stopped twice going up Cardiac, then a few times on the lower portions of Sunrise.
Looking small as I descend Sunrise. Photo by Seron
Seron caught up to me & we rode together for a stretch, laughing as well rode up the paved streets of Hidden Hills.

Before I knew it the jeep road section was over and I was feeling a bit better, but soon the Sonoran Trail would be upon me. I've had some bad luck on this trail, breaking my finger a couple years ago crashing into a metal post.
Start of the Sonoran Trail.
For some reason I didn't swap out my outer wear. I was riding in my water resistant layer, but now the rain began to pick up and I left my waterproof shell in my pack. Dope. To both Seron and my delight, the beginning of the Sonoran Trail has seen some trail work!! The entire first set of switchbacks, going down & up the other side, were ridable!! We cleaned all of it, holy cow, could this be?? I was about to take back everything I ever said about this trail when my Garmin died. Really? The ghosts of Sonoran Trail past were making a presence. We were only 2 1/2 hours into the race, I even had a plastic bag wrapped around it for water protection. I plugged in my external charger armed with 4 fresh batteries....nada. It only wanted to charge the unit, not run it off the AA's. Great. Wait a second, I have my phone, loaded with the Strava app! I started the app while my Garmin charged, thereby not losing my recorded track for the day, sweet.
That's the Sonoran Trail I know, HAB. Photo by Seron.
This delay surely put me in last place, oh well, wasn't the first time. Soon the old Sonoran Trail showed it's ugly head. I was about to hit the last set of HAB switchbacks, took my left foot out of my pedal, stepped down and nothing was there. BAM, down goes Johnny! I just kind of laughed while laying on my water pack thinking 'why can't I get through this trail without crashing?' Before long I was at the high point & ready for the fast swooping downhill to the Dixie Mine Trail.

I kept getting glimpses of Seron and two other riders between us, but I knew I wouldn't be catching anyone going up Prospector on this day. The trail was now becoming saturated, my legs grew tired once more and plenty of HAB ensued. I wasn't too happy about walking so much as I knew I could ride this section, I've done it before in HOT conditions, but not on this day. I briefly pondered making the left turn at the top of Prospector to head down Bell Pass & back to the car, but I saw Seron and the two others not even flinch at the notion. I pressed on. Down Bell, to Windmill, Coachwhip and Dixie Mine.

It was now time for the fast portion of the course!! Unfortunately, my front derailleur began acting up, first intermittently, then almost every pedal stroke. My chain did not want to stay on the middle ring, kept wanting to slide down to the small ring. I attempted to adjust the cable, but it wouldn't stay. Up at the Dixie Mine junction I resigned to putting it in the small ring and plod along. It figures, finally on the fast part of the route and I can't get my bike to go faster than 9mph sustained!!

It was now a steady rain, the trail was flowing, puddles everywhere. I was soaked, but not cold since I kept moving. At one point on Pemberton Trail I almost crashed because the mud puddle was a lot deeper than I was expecting, that would have sucked. A short while later I came to the service road that connects the main park trails to the competitive loops. I had never been on this connector so I switched off the Strava app on the phone & resumed my course on the Garmin.
The McDowell's were socked in all day. Photo by Seron.
I connected in with the Long Loop and poked my way around, I was now looking forward to the comp loop parking lot where I could wash my bike for the last 20+ miles. Somewhere on the last few miles of the Long Loop I heard a familiar noise, click, click, click. Crap. I forgot about my twisted rear brake spring from the Picketpost ride!! It was now veering it's ugly head and when I went in to fix it, it snapped off completely!! Awesome, no rear brakes for the duration, in wet conditions with a gnarly 28 switchback descent looming on Tom's Thumb. Oh well, I can do this.

I rolled into the comp loop parking lot around 1:30 or so, stopped at the picnic table next to the pump track & rinsed off my bike a bit. I started to get a snack out when Seron came riding up, 'I'm done, getting a ride back to the car, do you want a lift?' Hmmmm, I hadn't really thought about pulling the plug, but a ride was on the way. I was riding painfully slow, my bike was telling me to throw in the towel and the darkest storm clouds were anchored in atop Tom's Thumb. I guess I didn't need a ton of coaxing that day. I called it quits 33 miles in. We went up to the real bike wash station to clean off Team Voodoo and wait for our ride.

A rare sight for a Phoenix area mountain bike ride.
Clean Voodoos after a day in the mud.
While we waited, we took turns huddling around the hand drier in the shelter of the trailhead restroom. It was nice to feel my fingers again. We heard someone out at the wash station, it was Caroline, who both of us thought was way ahead. She had some tire issues and was now too contemplating the remainder of the route. I knew she could finish the route, after all it was her idea to ride a tandem mountain bike on the Tour Divide this year!! Tough as nails. The real question was if she wanted to push through the roughest part of the course in miserable conditions. In the end, she opted to go around Tom's Thumb, wise choice, but still rode back to the start.

The final results show only 1/3 of the starters finished the course. Some days the course wins out. Hopefully next year's event will have slightly better riding conditions and my bike doesn't start falling apart!!

This truth still holds: DFL>DNF>DNS  (That's Dead effin' Last, Did Not Finish, Did Not Start for those scoring at home)

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