April 22, 2013

AZT 300: Sweet Redemption

Entering into the Arizona Trail 300 race this year I simply had two goals: Finish & Have Fun. Period. I took an extra day off of work, just-in-case something silly happened out there where I needed more time than I thought. I had no doubt that I would finish this year, none. That can't be emphasized enough, since so much of this route is a mental game. I think everyone going in knows it'll be tough physically, but are you prepared for the unexpected, the tougher trail conditions and the seemingly endless hike-a-bike (HAB) sections? There were two instances where I could possibly see myself not making it to Picketpost, a major mechanical issue with the bike, i.e. broken frame or a safety concern either from a crash, dehydration, etc.

Part of the thrill for these events is in the planning stages. You go over all the possible scenarios in your head, trying to plan for them. What to take? What to leave at home? How am I getting to the start line? What are the store hours/locations off route? Blah, blah, blah. I put together a massive checklist and a couple days before the start I was ready. It also helps to have a detail oriented riding friend, Ray, who gathered up tons of info and slapped it into a spreadsheet!! Ray also contacted a local shuttle company, Gnar Gnar Tours, who delivered 11 of us from the Picketpost finish down to the start at Parker Canyon Lake. It was super affordable, covered bike enclosure (we could leave our bags, etc attached) and none of us had to drive 4+ hours prior to the race.

I loaded up my bike and put it on the scale: 44.5lbs. I was pleased with that, last year it was around 52lbs. I was able to leave a few things home this year: no tent, no air mattress, no long underwear, no dual bottles on the forks and a fresh haircut to name a few!
My setup: Voodoo Dambala 29er.
The time had come to put 2012's attempt to rest. We met out at Picketpost on Thursday evening, everyone was buzzing, you could feel the excitement in the air.
Our deluxe shuttle ready to roll.
 On our way south we stopped in Tucson for some grub at 1702 pizza, thanks Chad for the recomendation!

Our destination was Parker Canyon Lake a few miles north of the Mexican border. The last couple of miles of route 83 get fairly primitive and our shuttle driver, Phil, commented how this was the gnarliest the gnar-gnar van had experienced!! We unloaded, Phil took off and I quickly set up camp for the night. My lumber covering tyvek, courtesy of Lowe's, as ground cover & sleeping bag, done. I managed to actually get a bit of sleep. I would've gotten more, but  after trying to hydrate myself for the race all I ended up doing was getting up to pee every 2 hours!!
The start of the adventure.
One of the 750 riders, Cjell Money rolling through, quite the character.
It's nice camping out at the start, no last minute rush to get there, just pack up your bike and get set for the 9am departure.
Parker Canyon Lake.
The man with the master plan, Scott Morris, reminding us that he did not design the trail over Oracle Ridge.
Ray & Steve listening in.
SPOT tracker: ON, GPS: ON, track loaded: 36%......36%.....9am comes & goes as do all the racers....36%....WTF?!?! Now? Really? Two more minutes and finally the track gets un-stuck and finishes loading: 100%!! It's go time. As I pass by Scott, he says "bringing up the rear Mr. Schilling?", of course Scott, that's what I do, trailsweeper!!

Day 1:

Into the Canelo Hills we go. The first 30 miles of the route really sets the pace. It's tough going especially the first 15 miles through the east hills, ride some, hike some, repeat. Beautiful scenery though. It was a pleasant morning, light winds which did help on the HAB sections.
Steepness is rarely captured by a photo.
I met two cool riders from Alaska, Sharon & Michael, while HAB'ing the various hills. We'd end up leap-frogging each other over the entire race, many times without each other knowing it.
Beautiful rolling hills help ease the pain!
I caught up to Steve, who was battling stomach issues, here he takes a break at Canelo Pass Rd.
Into the West half of the Canelo's a bit more forgiving.
Home on the range.
I could ride trails like this for days!!
A unique cliff formation for this part of AZ.
Ahh, exiting the Canelo's, time for pavement into Patagonia.
My original plan was to exit the Canelo Hills, hit pavement and get on the horn to Velvet Elvis Pizza in Patagonia for a to-go order. Plans change. My cell coverage sucks, to be blunt, so I wasn't making any phone calls - not even IN Patagonia. I skipped on the pizza idea, opting only for a quick stop at the market for drinks then to push on up the road to Sonoita some 12 miles away for food. As I approached the turn in Sonoita I spotted Sharon & Michael heading out, I hadn't seen them in over 20 miles.
Action shot!!
In Sonoita I ran into Jeff, one of our shuttle riders, who was waiting on delivery of a new rear tire. His tire had a catastrophic failure, the bead separated from the tire while riding into Sonoita...on pavement! It just so happens that I was running the exact same tire, a GEAX Saguaro!! I hope I don't suffer a similar fate. I grabbed a bite to eat and some food for the next morning. I took off with the sun still hovering above and was happy about that since last year I was putting my lights on while in Sonoita.

On my way up the final bit of pavement I saw another rider ahead, JC, and caught up to him pretty quickly. We had hung out a bit in Patagonia, but he skipped the Sonoita stop and kept rolling. He had a nice cut on his forehead from a branch going in between his helmet slots! He mentioned how much harder it was for him this year over last. I pushed onto the jeep road connectors making my way towards Gardner Canyon and some sweet AZT singletrack.
I made it about 1/2 way to Gardner Canyon before digging out my lights.
On the jeep roads I spotted another rider, this time he was heading TOWARDS me. It's Bob!! What's up, Bob? I'm done, was his reply. Knee issues were a major concern for him and he feared permanent damage if he continued. He's a super fit/strong rider too, bummed to see him drop out so early. He'll be back.

I pulled over to hook up my lights before it became too dark. I started getting everything ready, digging in my pack I couldn't find my helmet light. Hmmm, I could've swore I put it in the top compartment. Nope. Framebag?? Nope. Seatbag? Nuthin. Ok, starting to panic a bit, this will surely put a damper on things, especially this VERY moment since I was smack in the middle of a 7 mile no camping zone!! Maybe I could ride with my camp light on?? I dug that out, then decided I better dig through everything entirely before I resort to plan B. I pulled everything out of my backpack, then my framebag, then by seatbag...THERE it is!!! Whew! I had wrapped it in soft packing material and stuffed it inside my cooking mug, duh! I put it there to protect it. Heartrate back to normal, I resumed getting ready for cool night riding as JC rode by.
Yep, it's that part of the country.
JC and I stuck together for the next few miles over the remaining jeep roads into Gardner Canyon. Jeff managed to fix his rear tire and passed by both of us before too long. Look, there it is, the AZT turnoff, time for some sick Flume Trail...in the dark!! Yeehaw!!

I made it to Kentucky Camp a little after 9pm and found Jeff in the back by the free-standing sink. We chatted for a bit, he took off and I grabbed a snack & topped off a bottle. There were only a handful of racers crashed out for the night, maybe 5 or 6 total. I wasn't tired and wanted to get well past Kentucky Camp before calling it a night.

Night riding is really relaxing to me, out in the middle of nowhere, only a few sounds here and there. It's just you, the trail and the sky. I ground out the next few miles of jeep road, crested the high point of the Kentucky Camp area and picked my way through more miles of singletrack before reaching Box Canyon Rd.. This is the spot where the AZT Jamboree and the AES Kentucky Camp courses overlap. My GPS had just indicated a 'batteries low' warning, so I took that as a sign to stop for the night. It was midnight, 15 hours of ride time on Day 1. I'll take that. I found a clearing just past the gate and settled in for the night. Of course no sooner do I get into my sleeping bag I hear some cattle not too far away. Great. How close are they? Are they moving? They seemed far enough away and weren't getting any more loud, so I stayed put. I dozed off soon enough only waking a couple times during the night, once to a raucous bunch of coyotes howling for a few minutes. I was awake for a bit just after the moon set and stared in amazement at the sight of the Milky Way. Living just outside the big city, you sometimes forget it's there. Remarkable.
Campsite for Day 1.
Ride totals: 67.32 miles, 8200' in 15hrs.

Day 2:

I was up at the first light of day, made some cold oatmeal (really not bad at all) and had some OJ. I packed everything up and was on the trail at 6:30a.
Mt. Wrightson from camp and the gate by Box Canyon Rd.
The next few miles of trail are just fantastic, hilly grasslands with an overall downhill trend. A real good way to start a long day. I crossed Helvitia Rd near Rosemont JCT and saw a rider, another fella from Alaska! I think his name was Jeff, but I could be delirious. We were both shedding layers early in the morning, so I knew I had to get through the rest of the upcoming hills quick.

During one of my countless dismounts I snagged my shorts & ripped them pretty good, drat! Gorilla tape to the rescue!! Keep pushing, my goal for the day was to get as close as I could to Molino Basin up on the flanks of Mt. Lemmon, but that would mean an 80 mile day.
Crossing Helvitia Rd.
Ahh, there it is. Death Mud Ridge from last year!! Dry, warm & ridable this year.
My closest encounter with cattle.
There's a section of trail through these parts that has a fair amount of larger rocks scattered about surrounded by a forest of prickly pear cactus. It was this section when I somehow decided it would be wise to ride more of the tech features instead of simply dismounting to get up & over. Well, I should've done the latter as I didn't quite make it up one particular rock, unclipped my right foot and stepped into a prickly pear with momentum carrying me into more! I instantly began hopping through 3 or 4 full grown cacti attempting to avoid all nastiness, which I 'mostly' did. I gingerly made my way back up to the trail and removed about 30 cactus spines from various parts of my body. Press on.

I came to that glorious spot in the route where the hills give way to a steady stream of flowy downhill singletrack bliss. Free miles I call them, minimal effort, just let the trail flow.
One of the final crests before the downhill fun.
I seem to always take a photo here, first real glimpse of what's to come. Mt. Lemmon!!
Met a local Tucson rider out training for the Whiskey Off-Road here. Sadly, no aid-station was present like the Jamboree!!
Crossing under Rte. 83.
Another fast section down to I-10
Cacti blooms!!
I was now making really good time and thoughts began to creep in about stopping for a burrito at La Posta Quemada Ranch a few miles down the trail. Mmmmm. As I'm cruising down towards the I-10 culvert I go over a nondescript rock in the trail....psssssss. What the??? Nooo. Front tire puncture and Stan's sealant is spraying everywhere!! I stop to check it out, a super small hole right smack in the center of the tread. Why isn't this thing sealing?? I recall Ray mentioning high tire pressure causing the Stan's to not work instantly, so I let the tire go down some more while pooling the area with sealant. A minute or two later it stops leaking. The tire is low, but still marginally ridable. So I take it easy knowing there's a covered table at an upcoming trailhead only 2 miles ahead. I'll mess with it some more there.
I-10 culvert.
3 Bridges area. Just past the trailhead, I added a touch of rubber cement to the puncture and added some air, good to go.
I met up with a couple of locals out for a spin, when they pulled over to let me by they asked if I was headed to Superior? Yep, they wished me luck as I pressed on towards my burrito. Almost everyone I met on the trail knew of the race, it was really cool to hear the words of encouragement. Shortly thereafter I crested a saddle and there it was, La Posta & my burrito!! I made quick work of the downhill into the ranch and even passed up a free offer for some Pringles from a mom & son out on a picnic date.
La Posta Quemada.
Hey look, another bikepacker! Guess where he's from? That's right, Alaska.
I ordered a bean & cheese burrito, Pepsi & Gatorade, ahhhh. That really hit the spot. I shared a table with another fella from Alaska, Leonard. He said he was calling it quits and waiting for a ride. Bummer. He thought he went out too hard the first day, didn't recover and the trail was just too much for his current condition. I wished him well, and made my way back on route heading over towards La Selvilla Campground. I also took note that the GPS now read 100 miles almost on the dot. 1/3 of the way there!
I used the water here to freshen up a bit and to cool down, but the faucet was loaded with bees!!
Leaving the campground I was excited to ride some AZT newly accessible to mountain bikes over towards Hope Camp. The trail around the mountain to Pistol Hill is really flowy and it doesn't let up! A few miles later I crossed X-9 Ranch road where the course turned off the prior year. More swooping trail followed, wow, this was fun riding!!
This trail begs for speed, doesn't it?
Hope Camp.
Leaving the new section via jeep road.
The oasis that is the Rincon Market!! I left here with 200+ oz of water heading over to the Rincon Mtns.
I rolled past the east side of Saguaro Nat'l Park.
This intersection had special meaning, this was the spot last year where Chris and I turned left and headed into Tucson for a hotel. This year, I turned right and made my way over to Redington Rd.
The shadows grow long and the mountains loom large.
This is a connector trail??
I was kindly warned of some novice horseback riders up ahead, and fortunately they had just crossed an intersection where I would be able to safely pass on the road. The tour guide informed me that another rider was only 10 minutes up the road. Who could that be? I made my way down to the next turnoff where I found Ron, a Scottish guy residing in the pacific northwest. He was rockin' a belt drive singlespeed and asked if I ran into the pizza lady? Huh? He said some lady drove up to him and asked if he wanted a slice of pizza, he didn't turn it down!! I was bummed I missed her. We chatted some more while cruising over towards the Redington Rd climb. I've heard some things about the steepness of the climb, so I was a bit anxious to get going on it. Ron said he just hoped to keep me in his sights since that SS would be tough on the steep incline.
I was able to mash out the paved portion of the climb and when I hit dirt I stopped to put on my lights. I was treated to a wonderful sunset over Tucson.
The start of the dirt climbing.
The pitch relaxed every now & then. I was thankful for that!!
Even after my 15 minute stop for lights, I never did see Ron again. I assumed he had to HAB up Redington, not fun. The road was a bit more traveled then I would have thought. At one point a jeep full of 20-somethings came hauling down the road, I stopped to let them by but the driver locked up the wheels skidding to a stop next to me. While everyone in the vehicle was whoopin' & hollerin' a giant dust cloud enveloped me, at the same time the driver asked me if I was ok? Showing my displeasure with the dust I said I was fine, then he realized what he'd done and apologized for the dust-ball and took off.

Up at the top of the climb it was now dark as I turned onto a series of rugged 4x4 jeep roads. This area was crazy. So wide in spots I wasn't sure if I was on the road or just a clearing. Super rutted and loose I ended up HAB'ing a ton of FR4417 both up & down. It was really tough for me to find good lines to ride. This section was particularly frustrating because I was expecting to ride more freely up here. An hour or so passed and I finally made it to a more friendly 4x4 road, then onto the AZT. It was now around 11pm and the route twisted in every direction, sometimes the lights of Tucson were to my left, then the right. It was difficult to gauge a good sense of direction up there.
Picture doesn't do it justice, but it was rugged.
At the start of the AZT there was a sign, 12.5 miles to Molino Basin. Could I make it there? I just wanted to get close. I made it to the top of the second to last climb around midnight and called it a night. I had just passed two separate campsites with bikepacking gear. Not sure who it was, but I thought one setup could've be Sharon & Michael. I found a nice clearing and fell asleep quickly after my 18 hour day.

Ride totals: 78.4 miles, 9066' in 18hrs.

Day 3:

I woke in the pre-dawn and began packing up immediately. I ate a nice breakfast and was rolling away from camp at 6:30a once again.
Second nights campsite.
I wasn't riding more than 5 minutes when I came upon Josiah, he and Mark had been camped only a couple hundred yards down from me. Mark had taken off early around 3:30a, but Josiah had a rough night of stomach issues and was contemplating scratching from the race. I invited him to ride at my slower pace and he gladly accepted. We continued our trek over towards Molino Basin.
Josiah looking small in the vast valley.
There were a few cool bike ramps along the way.
Before long the trail turned upwards, the higher it went the steeper it became.
I've now resided in the desert southwest since August 1991 and have been out mountain biking the trails of Arizona since 1994. That's a ton of trail time & miles. I had yet to ever spot a Gila Monster in the wild, until this day!! What a thrill!!
He was a small guy by Gila Monster standards, but I didn't care.
Josiah had pushed on up the mountain while I took pictures and took a short break. A few minutes later another rider, errrr HAB'er, came up the trail. It was Scott Jones, another PNW'er down to enjoy some AZ sun & trail. We continued our grueling push up towards the saddle that would lead us down to Molino Basin. It was then that I caught 3 riders coming down the trail with relative ease. Hey, look, it's Krista Park crushing the downhill scene!! No thanks, that trail is wicked, I'll just continue my slog up the mountain.
Scott in full push mode.
Glorious shade!!
I never did notice the turnoff for the famed La Milagrosa Trail, all the HAB must have made me dizzy. We finally crested the saddle and quickly arrived at the Molino Campground. Josiah was lying on the shaded concrete so I joined in for a few minutes.
As we're lying on the ground, Scott walks up and pulls out a Staples 'Easy' button and nails it, 'That was easy!' It sure lightened the mood as we all laughed like school kids. That thing isn't light either!!
There is no water at the Molino Campground, so Scott went back up the trail a bit to find a reported spring or water pools for filtering, Josiah and I started the 2 mile ride up the final dirt stretch of AZT before hitting the paved Catalina Hwy ascent to Summerhaven.

Snack time.
Near the Prison Camp trailhead I was lectured by a park ranger for getting too close to a set of historic stairs. No signage signifying anything, so I simply apologized and moved on. I was getting set to grab a quick snack under the cover of shade when a group of downhillers finished up a ride down Bug Springs Trail. They were all stoked from their white-knuckle descent and one the guys offered to buy the Yuengling jersey off my back!! No deal. They did offer me a beer when they found out where I was riding to, but I reluctantly declined that as well. I did manage to score a half bag of ice!! So precious. I topped off my bladders then gave the rest to Josiah who now decided he didn't have the climb up Mt. Lemmon in him after his night long battle with his stomach. I pushed out of Prison Camp to begin a 14 mile climb up Mt. Lemmon to over 8000'.

Shortly into the climb I came by the Bug Springs trail and a few riders were standing on the opposite side of the road. One of them yelled out my name, hey Schilling!! Go get it!! I'm still not sure if I knew them or not, or they were just avid SPOT stalkers checking out the race. Either way it was cool. (*edit: I have been informed it was my friend Joe C. from Tucson!! Thanks for the shout-out Joe!)
It's not a steep grade, just keeps going & going.
 A few miles into the climb I heard someone yelling at me to STOP!! Huh? I looked back and saw a road biker coming up behind me, but there was a couple outside a car just ahead too. The biker yelled again and I slowed down to see if he was in fact yelling at me. It turns out it was a friend of mine who had ridden down to Tucson the day before, then rode up Lemmon earlier in the day. Brian just wanted to say 'hi' and wish me luck, then he handed over a pile of gummy chews & GU's!! Thanks buddy.

Windy Point vista area, getting closer.
I stopped at Windy Point to take a break & another young couple from Prescott came over to check out my ride. I forget their names, but they were super nice and gave me some cold water & a granola bar. Trail angels, love them!! They had also reported seeing Jeff & Nancy up the road about 45 minutes prior.
Spotted this fella across the road.
Mt. Lemmon is super popular with the road biking scene and I was consistantly passed time & time again!
Hard to believe we climb all the way up here, just to go all the way down there.
Palisades Ranger Station very near the high point of the climb.
Ironically, on the way up Mt. Lemmon there's a stretch of downhill before Summerhaven where I clocked my fastest speed of the race at over 38 mph!! Kinda sketchy on a loaded mountain bike.
In Summerhaven Scott and I met up once more and grabbed some burgers here.
I think the topic of food came up when Scott and I were waiting for our burgers to arrive. He mentioned how he was riding along the trail & spotted a gummy bear on the trail, stopped, noticed it was a 'fresh' one and proceeded to eat it!! Classic. Now he was craving gummy bears!! It just goes to show what level bikepackers will go to in order to satisfy a craving.

 We left the Sawmill Run for the General Store, but it was closed and had been all weekend to the wonder of the locals. Not sure what was going on there, but I'm glad I wasn't counting on the store for necessary re-supply. We went back to Sawmill Run to top off water & grab some ice before heading over to the now legendary Oracle Ridge trail.

I had heard the stories of the 'Traverse-O-Death', saw the pictures of all the downed trees, the narrow trail, overgrowth and high penalty for failure should you misstep off the trail. No worries, we had a little bit of daylight left!!
We saw the sign & instantly overshot the trail heading down the control road a few hundred feet before realizing our mistake.
How could we miss THIS!! Start the HAB.
Tons of fire damage remains, Scott 'almost' rides it!!
A stark landscape up top, some walking, some riding.
Traverse-O-Death time! 2 miles of HAB fun, what to do? Remove a pedal & save a shin!!
There were a few tricky obstacles.
Throw in some overgrowth too.
Now add it some stellar views.
A simply stunning senset over a growing Century Plant stalk and it really wasn't all that bad. We exited the T-O-D before dark and began the mostly ridable jeep road down the mountain.
There were small reminders of Mingus Mtn. thrown in, but overall I think I had mentally prepared myself for the worse.
The grade finally began to let up signaling the end of the monstrous descent down from 8000'. There were a few short ├╝ber steep, think 25% grade, grunts up 4x4 road which were difficult to walk up. We turned onto some rippin' singletrack on our way towards Oracle State Park. It seemed to go on and on as I was getting close to the spot where I've ridden before signaling 'known' trail all the way to the finish. We finally crossed a dirt road I recognized and followed the water-barred trail down to the American Flag trailhead.
Scott crossing the famous American Flag AZT sign.
We were now in Oracle State Park, I was getting hungry & tired after another 18 hours on the bike. What to do? Push on to Circle K at a late hour or just call it a night and re-supply in the morning? We both wrestled with this idea over the next few miles. By the time the Kannally Ranch came into view we both decided to call it a night sometime around midnight. A quick bite to eat satisfied my hunger and I was soon off to sleep. I woke briefly during the wee hours of the morning to a magnificent view of the Milky Way once more, this doesn't get old.

Ride totals: 49.69 miles, 9184' in 18hrs.

Day 4:

Again up at the first crack of light, we began rounding our stuff up. I went to fire up my GPS and it was dead, nothing. Drat. No more batteries for my external charger either. Time to fire up the GPS on the phone and use my Strava app to at least record the track over to Circle K where I could get more batteries.
Yet another campsite, my last of the 300.
The Sun getting ready to shower us in warm temps.
Scott was ready, so he took off about 15 minutes ahead of me. I finished packing up and headed out to grab a convenience store breakfast/lunch/dinner and more. On my ride over to Circle K, Sharon & Michael passed me heading out towards the route at Tiger Mine Rd, it was good to see them and know I wasn't too far behind. I also met up with yet another Alaskan rider, Tony. Unfortunately, he was dropping out in Oracle after missing a turn coming down Oracle Ridge he went way off route and would be relegated to a 'Did Not Finish' status (DNF). I felt bad for him as we were now approaching the final stretch to Picketpost.
The marvels of the modern day convenience store.
The people love their town!
I loaded up on food, trying to calculate how much I would need for the final 93 miles over the harsh desert landscape. I picked up a gallon + 33oz bottle of water, but when I opened the gallon, it was mostly frozen!! Doh! The clerk was kind enough to let me swap it out for a warm one & use the ice machine to top off my bladders. I misjudged how much water to buy as I didn't really have the capacity for the extra 33oz bottle, but it did manage to fit inside my pack albeit snugly. Needless to say, my pack was now heavy. I was carrying 233oz + 21oz bottle of electrolyte in my pack + 21oz bottle of CarboRocket on my bike!

Scott left the Circle K about 15 minutes ahead of me. Back on course the weight of the pack started to settle down and I got used to it. I just love my Osprey Talon 22!!
Tiger Mine trailhead, Antelope Peak on the horizon under the AZT sign.
Desert Mariposa Lily.
The beginning of the Antelope Peak segment has a series of large drainages that the trail snakes its way through. I was coming down the second or third one when all of a sudden a plump Gila Monster waddled onto the trail right in front on me!! Simultaneously, I was filled with awe and oh shit, I'm going to run this guy over!! I jammed on my brakes and rode out a nose wheelie within inches of hitting this colorful fella. Whew! That was close.
My second Gila Monster in two days!! Scott was right, he called it the day before saying I'd see another one!!
Still looking fresh, Antelope Peak fixated on the horizon.
This pretty much sums it all up. For more clarification see Rule #5. (Also, note the little black dot on the GPS' elevation profile, that's me)
I always seem to forget how taxing this section of trail can be with all the ups & downs. It was getting warm and I constantly had to keep my mouth moist. I few times I let it get too dry and almost dry-heaved when I attempted to get water out of my hose. At least my water was still cool & I had plenty. As the trail wound around I kept tabs on upcoming landmarks, i.e. personal checkpoints if you will. Something to keep my mind busy. Climb to the gate marking the descent into Bloodsucker Wash, descend 5+ miles into Bloodsucker, etc.
Cholla forest at the gasline bypass.
Cairn marking the start of the descent into Bloodsucker / Camp Grant Washes.
A mini-Ripsey ridgeline.
Beautiful singletrack through here.

Down in the wash I passed by a snoozing Sharon & Michael.
On the banks of Bloodsucker Wash I took cover in some needed shade for lunch. Next up was the long steady rise to the Freeman Rd water cache. At least the beginning climbs are on jeep roads at a friendly grade. Soon I was at Beehive Well, full of water, but I didn't need any.
Beehive Well.
Too much effort to try & pedal through it.
Sonoran desert shade tree: Saguaro Cactus!!
Finally, Antelope Peak is near!!
I worked my way around the flanks of Antelope Peak and had the good fortune of having a trail mostly clear of chollaballs through the dense cholla cacti forest. I had a sense of relief when I popped out on the dirt road that would lead me to Freeman Rd. I was hopeful that the water cache was still well stocked as I had been chugging water the past couple of hours. I was almost afraid to look at my water levels!
Starting to put Antelope Peak in the rear-view mirror.
The water cache still had plenty left, most of the bottom layer was full.
I had to grab the one with Seron's message on it!!
Loaded back up with 230+ oz of water and a quick snack I rolled out onto the super fun Boulders section. I was feeling good, it was about 5pm and I wanted to try to get down into Ripsey Wash before dark. I put the hammer down on the next 12 miles knocking them out quickly.
I just love this gate, self-closing counter weighted out in the middle of nowhere.
My first view of the Gila River Canyons, the final obstacle of the route.
One of my last views of Mt. Lemmon on my trek north.

Exiting the Boulders section onto a drab powerline portion for a few miles.
I made the turn off the powerline onto the Ripsey singletrack, still daylight, still feeling good although I was starting to get a bit hungry. My plan was to ride all the way into the finish as long as I felt good, I didn't want to be down by the Gila River during daylight having to climb some 2000' out with the sun on me. I had to keep moving. I always seem to forget how long this stretch of trail is, from the powerline to the gate that leads you down into Ripsey Wash. It just kept going, going and the sun was getting lower, lower. I came around a corner and a nice big rattlesnake was crossing the jeep road. I was beginning to wonder if I'd even see a snake on this ride. He clearly didn't want me closer than 15 feet as his rattle was going almost instantly  I was off the bike and wanted a good rattlesnake pose!!
Mr. Rattlesnake obliged and reared up for me. Thanks.
I made it to the gate just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. I took this time to change over to night riding mode and have something to eat. My food choices were getting a little limited, my stomach was borderline iffy, but it seemed settled enough so I downed some tuna salad, jerky and an awesome chocolate chip cookie. I mixed up some grape GU Roctane, that stuff is tasty....if you like grape drink anyway. All that seemed to do the trick. I listened to the cattle bellowing nearby and started down into Ripsey Wash, now under the cover of darkness.
The last rays on Monday.

The 'Big Hill' looming, I'd be HAB'ing that sucker.
I was still shooting for a 9am finish, but I had to get up to Ripsey ridge in a timely fashion to pull it off. Down in the wash, I was dumbfounded by how many times I lost the trail!! I've been through here a bunch of times, sure it can be a bit tricky in the daylight, but sections seemed totally unrecognizable to me?!?! The area did seem to be a bit overgrown since our last ride down here about a month prior. More on/off/on the bike ensued. Eventually, I had enough and just walked it out to the main wash area, up to the gate and up the initial incline. How many miles have I HAB'd so far I wondered? 20? 30? It was a ton I knew that much. Slowly I made my way to the top of the Big Hill, the trail leveled off a bit so I rode up to the ridge where I was going to take a 15 minute chill session to enjoy the quiet darkness.

Not 20 feet from where I was going to stop my rear tire nipped a medium sized rock and flung it into my rear wheel snapping a spoke!! Gah!! My wheels don't have many spokes to begin with and I have 3 different lengths to contend with as well. I found my resting spot, dug into my pack and pulled out my two spare spokes, genius right? Wrong. I had the two 'other' sizes, not the one I needed. In addition, the broken spoke was on the drive side and I wouldn't have been able to remove the cassette to replace it anyway. Plan B: Gorilla Tape & zip-ties coupled with a slight adjustment in the seating of the wheel. Bingo.
Not the most impressive MacGyver fix, but it worked.
So much for my peace & quiet up on Ripsey Ridge, now I was more reluctant to go faster on the long downhill into Kelvin. I was also starting to get hungry again, but just couldn't find anything to eat, so I pushed on.

Looking down into the abyss of darkness I spotted an LED over near Kelvin. I figured it must be Scott, since I hadn't seen him all day. I also knew I wouldn't catch him, unless he stopped. It was quite a sight actually. I was hitting my stride descending in the dark when I came across a nice Camelbak bottle in the trail, I thought it may have been the one Scott found earlier in the day. I picked it up and noticed it was almost full, so I opened it up and took a swig! Cool water!! Awesome. I immediately opened a packet of Recoverite and made a drink - that really helped a ton!!
Another creature of the night, this Centipede was wicked!! At least 10" long & 3/4" wide.
It was about midnight when I rolled through the Kelvin trailhead, I rummaged for some kind of snack as I was feeling a little jittery. I resorted to more GU's & gummies. They helped for a bit.
Kelvin Trailhead at the stroke of midnight.
I crossed over the Gila River bridge and started up the newly returned singletrack on the backside of Dale's Demoralizer. It was a really nice climb as was the subsequent downhill.
Arizona Trail completed at the top of the climb back in December 2011.
I started counting off the short climbs I had to do along the river. 3 to go, then 2, ok this should be the last one until some sandy jeep roads, yep. I'm not delirious yet!! I kept rolling along the banks of the river heading west towards the mighty climb out. I was about 4 miles to the turn north, it was 3am and I was still feeling ok. I began to run the numbers, I want to be at the turn by 3:30, I need to go 8.0 mph over this section. I should be able to do that, it's not a tough section. There are these flat fast spots under the trees with 'real dirt' and they are blazin' fast. I came to one of these areas, but failed to notice the trail had a deep soft shoulder on the left, right where my front tire went!! Zoooommm!! The bike just dropped away out of my hands off the trail!! I go flying over the bars, but by some infinite wisdom, I wasn't clipped in at the time and landed on my feet!!! Holy shit that was close!! Ok, dude, slow down, it's not that important.

The bike checked out ok, but the front tire had a slow leak. I had to stop every 15 minutes or so to give it some air. After about 4-5 stops it finally seated itself and seemed good to go. I had also burped the rear tire at some point and had to pump that up as well on a different occasion. It too seemed fine, but time was slipping away. It was now 4am and I was still over a mile from the turn.

I started to feel the tug of the sleep monster creeping in, so I popped some more caffeine gummies. I took a 5 minute break after the moon set to enjoy the Milky Way one last time. I even spotted a meteor or two. Is this a dream? Part of me just wanted to stare in awe until daybreak, but I knew the anvil of the sun would be upon me soon enough. Keep pedaling.

I recall looking down at my GPS and seeing it pegged at 4:44am when I heard a voice call out. (I would later find out it was Jeff Z) Here's my recollection of our conversation as I slowly rode by.

Jeff: Who's there?
Me: John
Jeff: Schilling??
Me: Yeah.
Jeff: Did you ride all night from Oracle?
Me; Yeah.
Jeff; You're a fucking animal.
Me: I guess (or some other mumbling)

Sorry Jeff, I was pretty zoned out of it by then. I had that slight bonking feeling, but couldn't eat. I just kept drinking. At least I could get a little CarboRocket down. I HAB'd up the first steep jeep road section, then rode the next bit all the way to the second heinously steep/loose jeep road. I dragged myself up to the top  where the giant spire of Picketpost was becoming visible in the early morning daybreak.
Must. Keep. Climbing. Beat. The. Sun.
Somewhere during this next section I found a rhythm. I was hoping to reach the upper saddle of the climb around the two hour mark, leaving me at least two hours to reach the finish before 9am. I kept having this internal battle, I can make it before 9...there's no way I can do it...if I have two hours I can do this!! I kept the pedals cranking up, up, up, then it occurred to me - this is what Scott, Kurt, Aaron, Chad and those other powerhouse climbers must feel. Ride so much that eventually your legs go numb, they don't burn, you can just keep mashing!! I thought - WOW!! This is great!! It rejuvenated me, granted I still couldn't clean the real steep stuff but i think I rode almost 80% of that climb out of the river. It was 7:01a when I crested the saddle. I quickly gave my tires one last shot of air and started into Martinez Canyon.
First rays of light.
Upper saddle gained.
Almost as soon as I started the short traversing in Martinez I could feel my legs getting heavier by the second, I was fading fast. There were still 14.5 miles to go, the last 10 were mostly downhill. I just needed to get there to give myself a chance. At the first climb in Martinez it became very evident I had absolutely nothing left, this was going to be a struggle, a mighty one at that. I kept peeking over my shoulder expecting those camped at the river to come up from behind, at this point I didn't want to get passed. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath and get a hold of myself just to put one foot in front of the other. The trail was in surprisingly poor shape, as erosion is beginning to hit some of the steeper spots.
It was difficult to enjoy the beauty of Martinez Canyon on this morning.
I kept slogging along at a snails pace finally reaching the gate marking the end of Martinez Canyon. 2 1/2 miles took me 1 1/2 hours. A sub-4 day finish was out of the question, but I was good with that. I gave it everything I had, now I just needed to finish. There was one more substantial climb left.
The last climb staring at me, mocking me, so what if I HAB it.
I crested the climb with 10 miles to go. Mostly downhill and my first view of Picketpost Mtn which we left for Parker Canyon Lake some 4 1/2 days earlier. It was a sense of relief that the end was near, but even in my sad physical state I wanted to savor the moment.
View from the 10-mile overlook.
First glimpse of Picketpost Mtn.
The last gate I'd have to open/close.
I won't miss the tall grass, it jabs at your feet, clings to your socks and frankly can hurt.
Flowers from start to finish.
Crossing Telegraph Canyon Rd (FR4) about 7 1/2 miles to go!
I made one more HAB push over the saddle past FR4 and started winding down the trail. I came up on a biker tucked into a sharp turn in the shade. 'Hey, what's up?', 'Nice job', he said. 'Thanks, man', I didn't even recognize that it was a co-worker of mine out to see me in to the finish!! Yet another Scott, Scott B. It was cool to see him out there checking out some new-to-him trail. He hasn't been riding much lately and I was a bit surprised to see him that far out since it's mostly uphill from the parking lot. I turned down his offer of a burrito, against the rules and I couldn't have kept it down anyway.
A rare action shot, thanks to Scott B.
Finish line getting closer.
Scott B enjoying some rippin' singletrack.
I was flying down a few sections of trail, a couple of times I had to think hard about where exactly I was in relation to the finish. Am I 4 miles away?? 5?? just keep pedaling. I held up for Scott B at one point to give him the camera for a finishing shot only to find out he wrecked pretty hard onto his shoulder. Dang dude, you're bleeding and cut up more than I am!! He mentioned a couple of times how whooped he felt, but I didn't say a word!! At this point I couldn't get to the end quick enough. These were the longest 10 miles of my life, just kept going and going. I was cursing every slight rise in the trail. Even attempting to find a line through some boulders was a major challenge. I couldn't believe how many small rises were in the trail over the last couple of miles.

Mercifully, I dipped into the final wash 100 yards from the finish, there it is...the end!! I made it. I freakin' made it!!! Exhilaration meet total exhaustion, I was completely shattered.
The final few yards, digging hard.
There it is. AZT300 finisher.
Scott Jones was still hanging around after finishing at 9:04am!! I had to pose with the 'Easy' button!!
Ride totals: 101.28 miles, 16188' in 28hrs.


AZT300 full route totals according to Topofusion & Trackleaders:

Official time: 4 Days 1 Hour 56 Minutes
Ride totals: 296.16 miles, 42,671' of climbing.

About 20 minutes after I finished Jeff & Nancy came rolling in, it was so good to see them cross the line!! Singlespeeders too!! Mucho kudos to the both of you, Nancy being the first female SS to cross the 300 line. Cheers to that. A few hours later Sharon & Michael finished up as well.

While it is a tough route, it is truly a remarkable route both good & bad, you'll never forget either. Even after all the suffering I have to thank Scott Morris for thinking up such a challenge, it is a true test of one's will power.

Once again thanks to my wife, K, for all the support in my crazy obsession. Thanks also to all my friends & co-workers who gave me words of encouragement, I needed every bit of it!!

**Edit: the 2013 results are posted here, if you want some more AZTR stoke, click on the linked names for more stories from the event. Some truly inspiring efforts thrown down this year.**

Until the next challenge, ride on.

Believe it or not I have MORE pictures, see them here:

Here's a detailed elevation profile of the AZT300 route:
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  1. Truly a great write-up, man! I was choked up at the end describing your finish. What a journey. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  2. ah so thats what Martinez Canyon looks like!! hehe

  3. Thanks Phil, you have to add this one to your 'list'!! Neil, you'll just have to make a return trip to check it out for yourself, it is truly an amazing place!! You had a blazin' fast time even with the fork issues!! Well done.

  4. "I turned down his offer of a burrito, against the rules and I couldn't have kept it down anyway." - My favorite quote of the entire write-up.

    Great job out there amigo. Thanks for capturing some excellent shots of your journey and taking the time to share your experience.

    Mark A.

  5. Fucking animal is right. I feel like a lightweight after I read these write ups!

  6. Awesome effort by you as well, Mark. I can't believe we were camped only a few hundred feet from each other on the second night!!

  7. Dang it John! I was just going to go to bed and I saw your post on mtbr and had to check this out. Now not only am I still up at midnight but I can't stop thinking about doing this ride. Great job man! Very inspiring and wonderful photos and story.

    Chris Dunn

  8. Great write up John.

    "spotted a gummy bear on the trail, stopped, noticed it was a 'fresh' one and proceeded to eat it!! Classic. Now he was craving gummy bears!! It just goes to show what level bikepackers will go to in order to satisfy a craving."

    I loved that bit. It reminds me of a conversation I was having with Jason Michalak about the virtues of sleeping in a public toilet. Not the sort of thing you'd normally think of as 'luxury' but by bikepacking standards, it's 5 star.

  9. Chris, sorry about that!! Start planning & go for it, you can do it!!
    Ross, thanks for the compliments. Bikepackers are a strange breed, sleeping in an outhouse seems normal to me. You had a nice ride going this year, sorry you had to cut the 750 short. I'm sure you'll be back to tackle that beast next year!

  10. great report! cool seeing some of the different spots i cussed from everyones reports.

  11. Great ride. Congrats! Thanks for taking us along.



  12. That centipede is CRAZY! I enjoyed the recap.

  13. Hey John. I'm stalking your blog. This write-up was awesome. Inspiring. I read last yrs too. My HR is through the roof reading it. I'm excitedly nervous for my 1st attempt this yr. Way to go on finishing this time! - Cassi M.

  14. Thanks Cassi!! You've been training/planning for this the right way, no doubt you'll roll into Picketpost an AZT300 finisher!!