April 12, 2014

AZT: Boulders-Ripsey

364 days. Freeman rd trailhead. Almost 1 year to the day, same location. That's how long it had been for my good riding buddy, Seron, since he's had a taste of the Arizona Trail. He went under the knife, errrr bone saw last year, then a second surgery on an ailing ACL in Dec. He's 'mostly' been on the sidelines chomping at the bit to get out there again. Who could blame him, it would practically kill me to be down for a year. But he did it, got through PT, started commuting to work on the canals, then mixed in some light trail rides. We made it out for a couple local rides which were fun, but something was missing. Remoteness. Adventure. Grade A HAB. In short the AZT.

The annual AZTR300/750 had just started on Friday and temps were way above normal. We knew the riders that would make it to Freeman rd would be much appreciative of a fully stocked water cache, so Seron, Arturo and I opted for a big lollipop ride on the Boulders/Ripsey segments of the AZT. This would be the final stamp of approval for Seron's knee and Arturo's first time to sample the 'Best ridgeline in Arizona!!'

We got going a bit later than planned, but who cares, we all have lights and this was a pleasure cruise. First we had to ghetto rig Arturo's car/bike hitch so it wouldn't scrape the ground!! We dropped 20 gallons of water at the cache filling up the metal box. It was good to see others had contributed as well, the racers are going to be happy here!!
Plenty of clearance!!
That ought to do it.
We headed out looking forward to ripping down the fast Boulders segment. There's a short piece of powerline road akin the 'The Bitches' on the 24hr course when I thought I saw a large tree root in my way. I was on the downhill side, cruising pretty good, uh, that's no tree root.....SNAKE!!! My only option was to bunnyhop it. I cleared it, then stopped to warn Seron of the trail hazard. By now our friend had coiled up a bit, but wasn't too upset as he only lightly rattled. He was a fine specimen, by far the largest rattler I had ever seen. Apparently well fed in these parts.
Easily 5' long and thick. Love those eyes!!
We left our slithering friend behind, time to rail some singletrack!!
The boulders come & go quickly. (old pic.)
The cloud cover was a real blessing throughout the day.
Hedgehog cactus showing off.
Seron diving in & out of cacti-lined washes.
I warned Arturo about missing turns through here!!!
Arturo dropping into Ripsey Wash.
Seron casting his gaze upon the 'Big Hill'.
It's official, he's back.
Arturo on the lower approach.
The first few switchbacks aren't steep, just filled with rubble. Arturo making a solid effort here.
Can any of us clean an upper switchback today? Photo by Seron.
A resounding NO. I was close on 3 of them!! Photo by Seron.
Seron reaching the top
Arturo on the final pitch.
Feeding the soul on Ripsey Ridge. Photo by Seron.
It's been 3 years since he's stared down that view!!
Arturo soaking it all in.
Yeah, it's kinda like that. Photo by Seron.
Hey Arturo, see that long climb out there? That's the Florence-Kelvin Hwy!! Photo by Seron.
UFO sighting!!
More ridgeline riding!!
Expansive views along the knife's edge.
Seron begins the switchback attack section.
Our downhill destination at the Kelvin trailhead can be seen far below.
Lunch break.
Down at the Kelvin trailhead we topped off our bottles, ate lunch and peeked in on Trackleaders!! Where were the leaders? Onto the Antelope Peak section of AZT heading our way!! I thought we may see one or two racers on our return, we'll check on them later.

Next for us was the 4 1/2 mile graded climb up the F-K Hwy. I don't really mind it, find a comfortable gear & settle in. I was feeling good so I kept a steady middle ring pace. We re-grouped at the top and checked out a slight variation to previous routes on Red Cloud rd. In exchange for a powerline rd & bushwacking a vague 2-track we stayed on the F-K Hwy through some fast rollers to a semi-sandy jeep road down to Ripsey Ranch. It was a nice change and the sandy sections were never too long.
Top of the F-K Hwy climb.
Seron: That felt so good!!!
Arturo: What a suckfest!!! It's all in your perspective!
Team Voodoo survives a mechanical free ride!!
Almost full moon rising over Ripsey Ranch.
One final push through the sand into Ripsey Ranch.
The eerie creaks of the windmill would haunt anyone's sleep out here.
The half-dead remnants of the stately Ripsey Ranch cottonwood.
We chilled and had a snack then checked Trackleaders again to see how close Kurt was. Dang! He just passed the Freeman water cache, we need to get going. I grabbed the car keys from Arturo as he took off ahead of Seron and I. We finished getting our lights together and were about to head out when Seron's mom called for a chat!! A few minutes later we were on our way up the jeep road towards the AZT.

I saw Arturo just up ahead and when I caught up to him he said we already missed Kurt!! Bummer. I wanted to see how he was doing some 36 hours into the AZT300. Arturo passed along a quip from him that I found rather amusing, Kurt said 'The course is fast this year!', I think that has a lot to do with the rider!! Especially considering the toll the heat took on many racers during day1. For a ride recap from Kurt's perspective, check out his report.

I was now out in front, Seron and I both had cold beverages back at the car, so there was some added motivation to finish up!!

I figured we'd run into Neil & Aaron along the way. As the miles ticked off I kept re-calculating Kurt's lead over Neil, 5 miles turned to 10 then possibly 15 when I finally saw a dancing LED approaching about 2 miles from Freeman rd. It was Neil. I pulled over & turned off my light as he approached, I'm sure he wasn't expecting to see any 'day' riders out this late. I figured he'd be a bit foggy as I introduced myself. He sounded pretty whooped, but was determined to finish without much downtime. He mentioned how he was glad the sun was down as it was playing tricks on his mind!! It was a beautiful night to be out riding the AZT. As we were wrapping up our chat I saw a brilliant streak of sparks light up the sky behind Neil, it looked like someone was shooting off fireworks!! Turns out it was a meteorite and both Seron & Arturo witnessed the show as well, too cool. I wished Neil the best and he was gone. Here's are his thoughts from the AZT300.

I crossed over the wooden bridge just before the Freeman water cache and saw another LED at the box, it was Aaron. He too was a bit out of it going on no sleep for 36+ hours. After I introduced myself he thought I was a photographer!! Nah, just out for a ride & wishing you fellas good luck!! I estimated Neil to be about 5 miles ahead by now. Seron rolled up just as Aaron was getting set to leave, he had a pre-race goal of completing the course under 48 hours!! Could he do it? I wasn't so sure, but he's an incredibly strong rider, but could he muster enough in his current state? The short answer: YES!!

** All three of them broke the previous record for completing the 300 mile route!! Absolutely amazing efforts all around. Kurt: 45:07, Aaron: 48:00, Neil: 49:20 (hh:mm).
Arturo finishing up after a chain suck mishap with 2 miles to go! Photo by Seron.
Seron and I were relaxing in the warm car waiting for Arturo to come in when Seron mentioned how we made it through a whole ride without a mechanical!! It was pretty amazing actually, considering our recent history, but I noted that Arturo hadn't come in yet!! I'm speculating here, but I figure about the moment those words were uttered that's when Arturo's chain skipped a cog and was sucked into his rear wheel!! Took him about 20 minutes trailside to sort things out, but he made it in!!

This was such a fun day out on the trail. It's really an amazing route, more people should do it. I'm glad Arturo was finally able to put tires on the Ripsey segment he's heard so much about. Of course it was great to have my Burrito Brother back out in the wilds, time to put some real exploratory rides together for the summer!!

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