November 2, 2013

AES: Pulverized to DNF

My DNF fate was sealed on Wed before the race, little did I know a 3/4 mile trail run (I never trail run!) down South Mountain would leave my quads in shambles the two days leading up to the 81 mile Picketpost Pulverizer. I'm really not making any excuses, but I was ready for this ride, wanted this ride.

The alarm blared at 3am on Sat, my quads felt much better than the day before, so I thought I could get away with it. Start riding, get the blood flowing and the remaining lactic acid would disappear!!

Ray and I arrived at the start line at the same time, began piling up our gear and talking about what lie ahead. I was telling him how my 100oz of water would easily get me to Superior, where we could all get more water/food if needed, then I'd filter more down at the Gila shit, I forgot my filter!!! I was so careful the night before, checking everything off the list, loading the car, etc. Yet somehow the single most important kit item was neglected. Ray kindly gave me some treatment tablets to help put my mind at ease. Five or the six riders gathered up for a photo op, thanks to Caroline who was camping out prior to racing the Punisher (50 mile) course.
Myself, Ray, Mike, Neil & Hunter (Aaron not pictured). Photo by Caroline.
We left the trailhead at 5:05a for the 2 mile neutral rollout on the Arizona Trail (AZT) singletrack. The trail turns left and crosses the railroad tracks, but we would hop on FR8 where the official timer started.

Ray and I chatted a bit more about my water situation. He offered to leave his filter down by the river for me to use since he'd be there well ahead of me. We picked a known location and he sped off into the night. I also realized that by accepting his filter I could be relegated as a non-finisher in the official stats, but that was of no concern. **For anyone wondering, AES races are self-supported and self-regulated, so any re-supply/support must me made to all riders, i.e. convenience store on route**

I was spinning in a low gear tying to get the legs going, but even that was hard pedaling. I came up to the FR650 split and it looked like lights shimmering straight ahead. Did someone blow by the turn? I was back by my lonesome in the darkness enjoying the calm before daybreak. A few miles up the road my legs were still not waking up, I was having difficulty staying on my line and spun out on multiple occasions. It was getting really frustrating. By now it was a little after 6am and I was already contemplating calling it quits. These rides are more mental than physical and I was not in a good place, still mystified about my water filter snafu and my inability to ride a straight line.

I was a little ways past the second AZT crossing, the first glimpse of daylight was beginning to show when Aaron came riding up behind me!! Whoa, did you miss the turn back there? He did and we ended up leap-frogging each other all the way up Montana Mtn. The wind really picked up the higher we climbed. Not only was I having trouble keeping a line, it was difficult to stay on the road!! Crosswinds, headwinds and tailwinds all the way up led to my mental focus becoming more blurry. Near the saddle of the climb I looked back to see where Aaron was and caught the coolest shooting star streaking over Picketpost Mtn far below!! It was one of the highlights of the ride.
Sunrise over Picketpost Mtn near the saddle on FR650.
I stopped for a quick snack at the saddle while Aaron pushed on. It was right here where I knew I didn't have an 81 mile day in my legs. I still felt like they were spinning in concrete, so I sent Ray a text telling him to NOT leave his filter - hoping he'd check his phone. Then Mike came riding up!! He missed the turn too, but I was certain the others were ahead as I saw their lights dancing up the mountain earlier, already a couple miles ahead.

Mike caught and passed me on the upper forest road and 3 1/2 hours after starting I finally hit the AZT turnoff at the top of Montana Mtn.
Top of Montana Mtn, Superstition Mtns in the background.
By now the 50 milers were an hour into their race, could I hold the fast riders off?? As soon as I dropped onto the singletrack I could tell the catclaw was cleared!! Thanks to another AZ forum user who came up after our trail work day to lend a hand. The descent was fun, a bit loose here and there, but most of the switchbacks were rideable. I eventually caught back up to Mike who was changing out a tube. He said he was ok, but was now re-evaluating a full 81 mile ride on tubes.

By the end of the main downhill my triceps, wrists & fingers were sore!! That's one long downhill and a ton of braking for me. I navigated through a rough patch of trail where our two clearing efforts missed, but then dumped onto the 4 mile stretch that was catclaw FREE!!

I found Aaron standing on the side of the trail, he had taken a spill coming off the upper mountain and said he hit his ribs pretty good. He could breathe fine, but was going to call it quits and take the AZT back to the trailhead. We rode the next 10 miles or so within sight of each other. I bid him farewell back at the railroad tracks. I decided I'd at least slog my way through the 50 mile course when in reality I should have joined Aaron and bee-lined it to the trailhead.

The 4 miles of the Legends of Superior Trail (L.O.S.T.) seemed to drag on. Probably because I was now preoccupied with eating the pizza I brought. I made my way over to the medical clinic where a bench and hose bib awaited. It was 12:15pm. I sat there for a good 30 minutes chowing down, just relaxing, when I saw the first 50 miler go riding by! I sent K a text to let her know I was cutting my ride short, then got moving. 14 miles remained, but 5 of the next 7 were tough, rugged miles.

On Telegraph Canyon rd I worked my way up the first HAB section to find 15 target shooting enthusiasts out for a day of blasting ammo into a rock quarry. Thankfully they were all re-loading when I rode through. I crested the next hill then I heard the rat-tat-tat of semi-autos firing away. Ah, the great outdoors!!

My fuel levels from lunch quickly drained and I found myself walking almost anything that resembled an uphill. It was official, my legs were dead. No power. Nothing. I counted down the agonizingly slow miles until the AZT turnoff. I was about 2 miles away when Bart came speeding up behind me, he was currently running in 2nd place on the 50. We chatted for a short bit, then cheered him on as he spun out of sight.

Fifteen minutes later I was riding on a rare smooth(er) section of FR4 when my chain started jumping around violently and ground to a halt. What the???
Yeah, that'll stop you in your tracks!!
 I was on a wide jeep road, where the hell did I ride through that?? I stood there gaping at the tangled mess for a minute before removing my rear wheel. I thought about burning the stuff off if it was too difficult to remove by hand. I found a nice rock bench in the shade and 20 minutes later I was free.

Mercifully I reached the AZT turnoff, 7 miles to go, mostly downhill. I figured I be getting passed by a bunch of the 50 milers now, but only Carlos tracked me down on the final stretch. I think I found a second wind on that magnificent piece of trail, it's hard not to be amped on that!!

The final 7 miles went by fairly smooth, a bit more walking than I'm used to, but that was the rule on this day. I crossed the line at 3:51pm, good for a 10hr 26min effort on the 50 mile course. I was wiped out.
When would the others cross the line? Ray was aiming for a sunset finish, which meant around 6pm.
The fading light casts a warm glow on Picketpost Mtn.
A few more 50 milers finished shortly after me. We changed and began the post-race festivities. I had to answer the question: Why are you here? In the end, I'll take that DNF. Still a 50 mile ride on a warm November day in Arizona is tough to beat..
Hanging with Mr. AES and the early 50 finishers.
Randy & Derek finishing the Punisher.
The riders slowly trickled in, then at 5:27pm, Hunter rolled in finishing the 81 miler before sunset!! Super strong effort. About 30 minutes later Neil crossed the line, leaving Ray as the lone long course rider. Darkness fell with a few riders still out on course and we hoped everyone out there had lights. Ray willed his body/bike across the finish line shortly after 8pm, you can read about his ride here. He never did check his phone, so I had a recon mission the next day to retrieve his filter.

A couple of the first-timers had welcoming crews out there to cheer them in, it was a really fun environment. I enjoyed watching people finish and discovering new limits. Arturo proudly took home the DFL honors, I knew he could get it done!!

As tough as these routes were, the general response was very positive. I'm glad people enjoyed their suffering out there!! Final results can be viewed here.

For a more detailed description of the entire 81 mile route with tons of pics, there are four separate ride reports:
Upper section: Montana Mtn.
Middle section: Whitford Canyon
Lower 50: L.O.S.T./FR4
Lower 81: Box Canyon/Martinez Canyon/AZT

Filter Rescue

On Sunday I gladly slept in, then made my way east towards Florence. I took my bike just in case the dirt road down to Cochran became too sketchy for my car. 14 miles of dirt road later I arrived down at the Gila River a few hundred yards from the AZT. I was pleasantly surprised how well the road drove, easy to follow and only very minor washboarding.

I had been wanting to check out this side of the Gila for a while now, so this side trip was two-fold. Check the condition of Cochran rd, hopefully view the coke ovens and find an easy crossing at the Gila River.
Coke ovens near Cochran.
Glad I brought the telephoto lens.
I wasn't sure what to expect when crossing the Gila, the water is chocolate brown so depth was in question. I armed myself with river shoes & swim trunks - just in case I stepped in deep....but the water was only ankle deep! I wandered over to the spot where the access roads turns north and found the cairn Ray had constructed. Mission complete on all fronts.
Nicely done Ray!
Back at the car I now had a 1hr 40min drive back home. Time to start planning for a multi-day ride down near the Gila!!
Near Cochran.
Large area for camping too.
Close as I could get without bushwacking & crossing the Gila.
Picketpost spire.

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