January 25, 2014

AES: Gila 100 DNF

It wasn't supposed to go like this. I was planning on riding the AES Antelope Peak Challenge 65 on Sat. Almost a full year had gone by since I witnessed a few riders stagger across the finish line for the inaugural Gila 100. I had no interest in riding the AZT in that direction. Then last week Mark posted up looking for interest in people camping out at the finish. I thought, hmmm, maybe I could have Mark bring me back to Picketpost on Sunday morning for my car. Why am I suddenly contemplating this ride?? Mark ended up having school responsibilities, so my 'plan' was nixed, back to the APC. I was happy with that.

Little did I know that Mark passed along my intentions to Jeff / Nancy, they would be camping out Sat. night and could offer me a ride back to Picketpost on Sun. Let the self-destruction commence. So, it was back on. Am I really entertaining this ride?? I had a lot to prep, so I made good use of my time in the days leading up to the 5am start on Sat.
Gila 100 elevation profile, am I sure about this??
Nancy was kind enough to meet me during the week so I could drop off a change of clothes & some post-ride snacks. I actually did some maintenance on my bike, I tend to neglect it after big rides....so tired.

3:15a came quickly on Sat., but I was ready & hit the road before 4a. Hunter was the only one at Picketpost when I arrived, we chatted a bit and readied ourselves for the long day ahead.
Myself & Eszter making final adjustments. Photo by Evan.
The shuttle arrived shortly thereafter and barely 10 minutes later the group was off into the darkness. I followed Eszter onto the trail with Erik right behind me. About a mile in Eszter asks if I want to 'get by', uh no, that's not happening. I know my place, near the back of the field and that's fine by me. Barely one mile later I found myself going OTB through a small rock garden. At least it was slow-motion and I could easily catch myself, but at that point I insisted that Erik moved ahead of me. I'm not sure if my equilibrium was off-kilter or what, but those couple of hours in the dark were a struggle to simply stay on the trail!! I repeatedly rode off the trail, not crash inducing, but I did have to stop. I began having this internal discussion, 'What's your deal? Stay on the effin' trail!!'

Carlos soon passed by me and I watched those 3 meander up the trail for the next mile or so. Around the 4 mile mark was the last time I clearly saw anyone in front of me. I may have caught a glimpse of someone crossing FR4, but when I approached that point there were a group of lights off to the right of the trail. Instinctively I rode towards the lights thinking it was a rider or two, but it was a camp of through-hikers stirring in the early morning and they quickly re-directed me back on route!

Daybreak came as I topped out on the 10 mile overlook. I scanned the small valley below for lights, but saw nothing. As I descended I noticed how much better the tread has become through this area compared to the first couple of times I rode it years ago. The lights went off during the ensuing climb to Martinez Canyon.

I'd venture to say that Martinez Canyon and the subsequent descent to the Gila River hold a very special place for anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience it. Amazing geology, the grand scale, endless views, it's such a privilege to ride here. Thank you Arizona Trail.
Daybreak over Martinez Canyon.
Early morning rays of light flood the Gila Valley below.
 Thankfully the daylight brought about a better bike handling skillset. I was feeling good, taking it all in, enjoying the solitude in the desert canyons.

I tried to keep some checkpoints of sorts throughout the day. I wanted to be in Kelvin before noon and I was ahead of pace. The bumbling through the darkness slowed my progress a bit, but that was over now. Next up: 16 miles of great singletrack, mostly anyway, along the Gila River.
The first real view of the Gila River.
Nice spot to take a quick snack break.
I was cruising along counting down the river climbs towards Kelvin when a rider appeared coming from the east. Just a solo rider out enjoying his first time on the AZT down here and he was loving it. We chatted for a minute or two and he mentioned there were a couple of riders not too far ahead. That's good, I thought, I guess I'm not going as slow as I thought!!
One of the obligatory viewpoints near Kelvin.
I was really surprised to see a few random poppies already blooming...it's January!! They typically don't show themselves until March, but it was wet back in October and now it exceptionally warm & dry.
The AZT Golden Spike viewpoint.
The final downhill into Kelvin was littered with poppies, it was surreal. I pulled off-route by a quarter mile to a trailer court where they generously allow AZT travelers the use of a water hose. It was now 11:45a.

I broke out my 2lb burrito again and attempted to make more of a dent into it. It was nice to sit down on a bench for a bit, but I had to get moving. I topped off my water and was on my way shortly after noon.

The next section was the only piece of the route I had not been on in this direction. We typically ride the Ripsey segment south-to-north because of the big downhill finish. Well, that means there's a big uphill start from here!! The two mile connector of AZT from the Gila crossing up to the Florence-Kelvin highway was a real drag. Steep in sections and lots of loose kitty litter crushed granite over hardpack made for some real slippery riding conditions. I still had yet to clean a single uphill switchback on the day!! Not a one. This would continue for whatever reason.

I was quickly becoming more and more drained going up the Ripsey approach. This is the part of the climb I thought I'd be able to ride cleanly, not so much. Maybe I stopped too long in Kelvin? My legs were now heavy and I didn't have much at all on those climbs. I even thought about turning around to head down to Kelvin. Maybe I should just do an out-n-back to Picketpost?? What was I thinking!! It was definitely one of those inevitable down moments in a ride of this magnitude when you question your ability to finish what you started. I pushed on.

I reached the lower gate, then the short rocky drainage that signaled the beginning of the switchback attack ascent of ├╝ber steepness. Yet somehow, I was happy to be on it. I walked a ton, but rode here and there, only slightly faster than pushing. Each step brought me closer to the top. Soon the views were grand and the terrain looked and felt like Ripsey!! I'm getting close!
Near the bottom of the big grunt up Ripsey, long way to go.
At least I had these views to catch my breath.
It was now early afternoon and I couldn't help but think 'where was everyone?'. By everyone, I mean, the day riders, it was such a beautiful day and no one except our handful of riders were out enjoying this slice of Arizona!! Not five minutes from attaining the ridgeline a solo rider came down the trail. Finally, at least one other person was out on Ripsey today. Even though the switchback attack section was now behind me, there was still more climbing to do. The trail undulated a few times then at long last dumped me onto the famous ridgeline Ripsey is known for.
I had crested the mound in the distance, but my bike insisted on looking back at it!!
For the first time I was going to ride down 'The Big Hill'. I still struggled with the upper switchbacks, not totally out of my bike handling funk from earlier. The good news about riding this direction? The deep sands of Ripsey wash were rideable in the slightly downhill direction!!

I wasn't looking forward to riding up and out of the wash, last time I was here a few months ago it was heavily overgrown with catclaw & the trail surface was in poor shape. Much to my surprise, I was able to ride a considerable amount and nary a scratch! My short-term goal however, was reaching the gate at the top of the wash exit, that would signal the end of the Ripsey climbing segment.
A look back at The Big Hill.
This piece of trail really needs some work to repair a developed chasm.
Never been so happy to see a ranch gate, but I could have swore it was green?!?
It had taken me the better part of the afternoon to cover 11 miles, it was now 4:35p. I was whooped and my left knee was beginning to show signs of fatigue, but I knew I had some much easier miles approaching leading into the Freeman Rd trailhead. This was the next and last water cache, a good place for a meal as well. I originally hoped to be there around sunset, but I was up against it now with barely 1 1/2 hours of daylight remaining. No biggie really, just keep pedaling.

I covered the ensuing dirt road, singletrack and powerline portions in good time, I really needed that section - it lifted my spirit. I entered the singletrack of the Boulders segment and knocked out a mile before relenting in favor of my nighttime setup. I was about 9 miles away from Freeman Rd.
Last rays of light over the Boulders segment.
Darkness settled in and I resumed my trek south. I could feel my knee slightly ache with each pedal stroke. What's this? I haven't had knee issues before when doing these events although there have been a random ride or two where things didn't feel so good towards the end of a long day. I wasn't all too concerned.

From this point on, a whirlwind of events unfolded. From my viewpoint I rounded a corner and saw a couple of LED's off to the side of the trail... there were bikes! There were two riders, one was lying on the ground in a fetal position and indicated he was being air-lifted out!! He appeared to be suffering from severe cramping and couldn't keep food down. They had been there over an hour waiting for the heli to arrive. The other rider told me his truck was parked at Freeman Rd and asked if I was going to continue on or did I want a lift to Tiger Mine trailhead (finish line). I declined and went on my way after 5-10 minutes or so.

I arrived at Freeman Rd around 7:45p and the downed rider had already been dropped off at the truck. He seemed to be doing much better, which I was very glad to see, but kinda questioned the need for a heli ride out. I began to eat some pizza as I prepared to head back out. Soon thereafter the other rider showed up and began packing up the truck asking once more if I wanted a lift to Tiger Mine rd. I declined again as they finished loading up the truck.

I was walking around trying to get my knee loose and I realized it was both the front and now back of my knee bothering me. Perhaps I should make the call and take the lift? I thought about what lie ahead on the trail: a nasty loose downhill HAB into Beehive Well, then the monstrous HAB/climb out of Bloodsucker Wash and the ending with 6 steep drainage crossings. I made the wise decision and opted for the truck ride back to Tiger Mine rd, it was tough to call it, but it was the right call. It was now 8p and I would have been looking at a possible 2-3am finish. My bike was running fine, I had plenty of water/food, but feared my knee would be a hindrance and didn't want to jeopardize it.

**In the days following the ride, I noticed a bruise on the back of my left knee most likely caused by my early ride OTB. I'm thinking that's what led to my issues later in the ride**

Back in Oracle we stopped for some food and I tried to let Jeff know of my whereabouts, but they had already started to drive up to Freeman rd to check on me!! A little while later we all me up at Tiger Mine TH and opted to drive back to the big city that night. We missed seeing Eszter finish the ride by a few minutes, the first female finisher of the Gila 100!! We also learned that another rider was still out on course roughly 7 miles from the finish, but had contacted the Sheriff after running short on water/food. He ended up being found and was ok, but these two incidents sparked a worthy conversation re: the need for outside assistance. Eszter provides some wonderful incite into self-supported vs self-reliant events.

This was the toughest one-day event I've participated in. I went through many highs & lows during my time on the trail. I wanted to quit, I wanted to take a nap, I just wanted to be done at the finish line, but it wasn't meant to be this year. So, I guess I'll be back for another attempt next year!! Hopefully a little more fit both in riding fitness and core fitness for the extensive HAB sessions.

January 18, 2014

AZT #20 - Four Peaks

I'm nearing the end of my goal to ride all the bike-legal miles of the Arizona Trail, only a few partial passages remain. The recent swath of perfect January desert weather had my eyes drifting towards a barbell loop of passages 19 & 20 near Roosevelt Lake. I sent up the bat signal to some like-minded friends who scoff at the notion of hike-a-bike (HAB) in search of sweet singletrack and adventure. Jeff & Nancy were the only ones to take the bait, as the others had scheduling conflicts.

While the start/finish area isn't all that far, as the crow flies, it's 20+ miles of twisting dirt road or an extra 30 miles of pavement to reach Roosevelt Dam. I opted for the more scenic, Apache Trail (AZ88), route on dirt, naturally.
A few days removed from a full moon, it sets over the early morning glow.
 We met around 8a, gathered our things - well, most of our things as I forgot my water bottle of electrolytes in the car and my squeezable baby food at home (yes, baby food!! Banana-Mango to be exact, it's incredible!!).

The gist of the ride was going to be passage 20 (Four Peaks) first, roughly 20 miles on pavement/dirt rd/AZT. We would stop back at the cars for re-fueling before tackling passage 19 (Superstition Wilderness), another 24 miles of dirt rd/AZT.

We hit the pavement portion of AZ188 first, crossing the impressive Roosevelt bridge.
Nice to have a wide bike lane here.
The calm waters of Roosevelt Lake.
Roosevelt Dam.
We turned onto FR429 and started climbing. The road was in really good condition and there were just enough rollers to give you a break all the way up to the Mills Ridge trailhead.
Nancy and I climbing away. Photo by Jeff.
I Had to shed some layers. Photo by Jeff.
Four Peaks looking mighty impressive from the north side.
FR429 ends in a dirt cul-de-sac where it intercepts the AZT.
Jeff & Nancy ready to continue upward.
Four Peaks trail, 'looks rideable from here'. (Don't they all?)
Eh, not so much. Photo by Jeff.
Still pushing.... Photo by Jeff.
But some sections were really nice. Photo by Jeff.
Others required more pushing. Photo by Jeff.
The Four Peaks trail was about 50% HAB going up, but we wanted to reach the Wilderness boundary, then turn around back to Mills Ridge. There was one downhill stretch going up where we decided to ditch the bikes in favor of a faster less painful arrival to the WB. It was a wise decision. The trail was in descent shape, probably would have been a hoot to descend, but it would have been a tiring slog and we still had plenty of unknown trail ahead of us.
Wilderness reached, hopefully in my lifetime bikes will be allowed on at least some Wilderness trails.
On our way back down I turned around to snap this one, shows the downhill rideable section & the small canyon where we ditched the bikes before hiking to the WB. Four Peaks are poking above the saddle. This would be a more logical turnaround point in the future or simply head down the AZT at Mills Ridge.
Another look back at where we were, WB is somewhere in the upper right, the AZT can be spotted coming out of the canyon in the lower left and near the top of the larger mound on the left.
Sure was a fun descent.
Some steepness & exposure to keep things interesting.
Back at Mills Ridge. Photo by Jeff.
AZT continues onto the Vineyard trail, a super fun ridgeline.
Nice view of the upcoming ridge.
We were pleasantly surprised by how good this section was.
Lifezone change? End of the line for Saguaros at 3200'.
The trail progressively became more technical.
We popped out onto a jeep road for a few hundred yards, peeling back onto singletrack halfway up a climb. From here the trail climbed a lightly technical bit, but followed the contours of the terrain very well. The ride-ability of the trail soon became non-existent. The HAB ensued and it quickly ascended to near legendary status. I had flashbacks of Mingus Mtn for a brief moment, images of this danced in my head....
Day 1 from the Coconino250, Mingus Mtn HAB.
Nancy enjoying the HAB. Photo by Jeff.
I'm enjoying the HAB. Photo by Jeff.
That's the trail. Photo by Jeff.
Even Jeff enjoys the HAB, HAB or the views probably suck.
Eventually we made our way up to the saddle where riding our bikes would resume.
The lower water levels of Roosevelt Lake reveal a series of small islands.
Four Peaks....or is it Five??
Roosevelt Lake getting bluer as the day goes on.
This view of Apache Lake & Apache Trail stopped us in our tracks.
Nancy riding into a postcard.
The trail passes right by a microwave reflector.
Another show stopper, high above where we left our cars. (The small parking lot between the bridge & dam)
Everyone's favorite, downhill HAB.
Finishing off the loop.
Another 8.3 miles of AZT under my tires, bringing my total to 569 miles covered.
Jeff with the obligatory AZT sign photo.
Back at the overlook parking lot.
The route for the day.
Somewhere near the end of the ride we made the wise decision to skip the passage 19 loop. I was pretty whooped, still shaking the effects of my sinus infection from earlier in the week. The 20 miles we did ride took us 6 hours at touring pace, no way we were going to add another 24 miles of unknown terrain and make it back before dark. It's so beautiful around there, I want to see the terrain I'm riding through. We'll plan another outing to take on that segment.

For more on this ride, check out Jeff perspective.