February 2, 2013

AES - Antelope Peak Challenge 65

The alarm went off early, only 4 1/2 hours of sleep following my ride in the McDowell's, but I had to get up & get moving. I volunteered to round up the crew at the start for the APC 65 down at the newly constructed Tiger Mine Trailhead near Oracle. Steve and I hit the road shortly after 6a and made it to the party with a little time to spare. A few more riders trickled in, but half of the vehicles parked there were waiting for the finishers of the monstrous Gila100 (replacing the APC 115). I knew I wasn't ready for that beast, besides I had some payback in order for the 65 anyway. No way I'm getting disoriented on the Old Pueblo course this year!! It also helps that this year the course would be ridden in a CW fashion, still doing the 15 mile relatively flat neutral start. This would mean there would be daylight for the OP course and the Painter Boy Trail.
This year, the AZT sign marked the finish line for the 65 & Gila100. Antelope Peak on the horizon.
I got everyone signed in and we were rolling at 8:09a. We were cruising along hwy77 for a few miles, two of the guys crept off the front, then Steve passed by me, that opened the flood gates and I was quickly in the back unable to match pace. I didn't fall too far behind when we made the turn onto Willow Springs Rd, but after a few undulations it became apparent that I was in for a long hard day. My legs were already feeling heavy!! I guess that McDowell ride wasn't the wisest of ride choices, but oh well, suck it up!!

Steve dropped back and mentioned that in our haste to get going he forgot to load the track onto his GPS! I convinced him to hang back with me until we cleared the Painter Boy section as there are a few vague areas before getting dumped back onto Willow Springs Rd. We reached the Willow Springs Arch & staging area and there were quite a few vehicles present as riders were out pre-riding the 24hr Old Pueblo course. We gave the AES riders the choice to go either way at this point up to Painter Boy, similar distance, but most people pre-ride the course in a CCW race direction.
Near the end of our neutral rollout.
Our start on the Old Pueblo course.
I made my way slowly up towards Painter Boy, easily found the turnoff and began the winding primitive singletrack. I really like the Painter Boy singletrack, it twists & turns, is narrow, has short ups/downs, a little tech thrown in and you have to pay attention to stay on route. It's kind of a throwback trail, meandering through the vast desert foothills. After a few miles the fun really begins, first the trail just sort of stops, but there is a slight clearing on the right...with a barbed wire fence...that you have to crawl under....with your bike. Caroline, Steve and I were now hanging together through the obstacle course. Now the trail becomes a bit more faint, trail sense heightens and you are led to a old 4x4 road for a bit. Next, the trail sharply turns to the right and heads into what appears to be a field of bramble, but if you are careful to watch your GPS, a vague route does exist through these perils.
Photo from last year heading into the bramble area, see that trail straight ahead?
The last obstacle to navigate is another barbed wire fence, this time where the trail meets the fence is a large support pole, turn right and go down the fenceline about 100 feet keeping an eye out for the one strand of barbed wire that is clipped...hoist your machine over the fence....now climb through....head back up to the pole and follow the sandy wash for a 100 yards.
Last year Scott marked the way with police tape, very helpful.
Thankfully the sand wasn't too deep.
On the right a trail emerges, follow it out to Willow Springs Rd, wasn't that fun!?!? Steve and Caroline begin to pull away from me on the dirt road and after a few undulations of the road they were gone. I would ride the last 38 miles solo, similar to last year when Seron's rear derailleur imploded. I settled into a comfortable pace making my way to Freeman Rd.
Antelope Peak getting very close.
I crested a hill on Freeman Rd and spotted the AZT marker on the right, drat! I blew right past the Freeman Rd water cache! A quick about-face and I was able to top off my water bottles with the ample supply of water dropped by fellow AZT enthusiasts. A huge thank you to those who donate water and time to this magnificent trail.
AZT @Freeman Rd water cache & new trailhead.
I knew the next chunk of trail was mostly downhill into Bloodsucker Wash. I dodged at least half a dozen chollaball minefields on the flanks of Antelope Peak. While a bit dangerous, cholla forests are one of the most scenic aspects of desert riding.
Passing by Antelope Peak.
I forgot how many short uphill stints there were leading down to Bloodsucker Wash and on tired legs that meant one thing....more HAB. I arrived down in the wash around 2pm and relaxed against a carved out embankment enjoying the tranquility and more snacks. I knew what lie ahead, a lot of climbing, roughly 1400' over 6 miles on loose terrain.
Snack & rest time in Bloodsucker Wash.
At 2:30 it was time to get moving. I'm certain I HAB'd 90% of the initial 2 mile climb, my legs had nothing left, time to dig deep and get through this. Ride when I can, HAB the rest, just get to the top. The miles ticked off slowly at first, but the climb subsides for a bit in the middle and I was able to ride a bit. I considered these 'free' miles as I wasn't hiking!!
Still on the initial 2 mile grade, Antelope Peak starting to disappear high above the wash.
I had made good progress approaching the top when all of a sudden I heard someone coming up the hill, it was Kurt!! The leader in the Gila100. As he approached I told him 'I was expecting him'. He stopped for a quick chat asking how I was doing, 'on fumes' I replied, but otherwise ok. He wasn't even breathing hard, but we did agree that this section of trail is one of the tougher spots on either route. He was determined to finish before sunset, I was too, but knew all my HAB would prevent that.
82 miles into the Gila100 and Kurt is rockin'.
I sat and watched him in awe just destroy the upper portion of that climb. I gathered myself and made the final push to the summit after 1hr 45 minutes I made it to the top - whew. I caught one last glimpse of Kurt zipping through the fast rolling terrain ahead, then he was gone.
Top of the Bloodsucker Wash climb.
A fast section of trail awaits, Mt. Lemmon looms large.
Antelope Peak now a speck on the horizon as the golden hour approaches.
I tried to keep the speed up where I could, I wanted to knock off a couple of the final drainage repeats, 6 in total, before darkness settled in. The gasline bypass segment ended and the end was near, the only thing remaining were the 6 drainages. I was about 1/2 way up the 4th one when I pulled over to put on my light and add layers. I soon heard another rider approaching, Aaron was cruisin' and asked how much more until the end. I thought there were still 5 miles, but Aaron insisted there were only 2, 'it has to be 2, my GPS is at 91 miles, I think the route is 93!!' I told him I hoped he was right, I'd gladly exchange 3 miles at this point.
Aaron reluctantly had to use his light.
Aaron quickly disappeared and I got moving again. Drainage 4 complete, 5 complete, start the HAB up No. 6. I looked back and I saw another light off in the distance, another Gila100 rider? Ok, let's get to the finish without getting passed by again. Mercifully the grade lessened and I rode out the rest, up the final two switchbacks to the AZT sign and a few congratulatory whoops & hollers! I was done, I mean I was DONE.
The image of a whooped rider. Photo by Caroline.
I stood there for a moment collecting myself. That was hard, but I made it DFL in the 65 and all. I'll take it. Even with all my struggles during the day I still beat my time on this course from last year by over an hour, granted I didn't get dis-oriented on the Old Pueblo course this time.

That final light I saw? Max rolled into a 3rd place finish in the Gila, followed by Chad, Tom, Ray, Mark and Jeff. Perhaps next year I'll keep my January miles up and attempt the Gila, who knows.

That was a tough two days on the bike. No mechanicals or flats either, hard to believe. One final stat I found amusing:

January 2013:  80 miles & 8,100 feet of elevation gain
February 1st & 2nd:  124 miles & 13,500 feet of elevation gain. No wonder I was whooped.

Congrats to all the finishers for both the 65 & especially the Gila100.

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