January 24, 2015

AES: Gila 100

There's been a recurring theme here lately. Attempt a really, really difficult ride - FAIL. Come back determined the following year and conquer it. It happened on my S.Mtn Sawtooth70, Pickepost Pulverizer, AZT300 and now this: AES: Gila 100.

First off, the Gila 100 is a point-to-point ride exclusively on the Arizona Trail, AZT, from Picketpost trailhead south to Tiger Mine trailhead. Ok, so it's not exactly 100 miles, but the Gila 93 just doesn't have the same ring to it. Besides, based on what I learned, it feels like 150 miles.

My shuttle logistics started last month when Rick ran into Arturo and I up on our Highline adventure inquiring about dropping a vehicle for this event. We met up Friday evening down in Oracle, then bolted north for hopefully a good nights rest. That didn't really happen as I tossed & turned most of the night. 3:00a came way too quick and we arrived at Picketpost just after 4:30a for the 5a start.

Ten brave riders toed the line for this monster, 9 were present as Neil took off 2 hours earlier. Chad was generous enough to drive a few riders north and return the vehicle to Tiger Mine. The fast guys took off, then the three stragglers followed suit a couple minutes later.

It wasn't cold to start, but it sure was windy!! The forecast was calling for a stiff easterly breeze all day and it held true. Luckily for us the first 21 miles are mostly southbound (as is the entire route) with a considerable amount of climbing. The wind really helped to regulate my body temp early on.

I really wanted to conserve energy early on, ride safe (read: don't crash like last year!) and get to daylight. Rick caught up to me about four miles into the ride. I then watched his light gradually pull away from me. I last saw Rick about the 10 mile mark as daybreak began to take hold.

I flipped off my lights at the 10 mile overlook and descended into the small valley below. I came to the second minor wash crossing and saw a large gray rock on the right, I figured I'd just ride up & over it. NOT!! It was a tiered angle wedge and I was carrying too much speed without enough time to avoid it. I rammed the upper lip hard sending my chest into my handlebars as I slowly went to the ground. That was close. No damage done. Bike was fine, I was fine. Onto Martinez Canyon.
First rays of light over Martinez Canyon.
I was excited to see what trail work had recently been done through here as it was a mess during the Pulverizer back in November. Everything that was eroded had been taking care of. I even managed to clean a few switchbacks for the first time.

I was feeling good, enjoying the views on the long descent to the river when Jason caught up to me. It was somewhere around mile 17, maybe 8a? He was going at a pretty good clip and soon was out of sight as I made the final approach to the Gila.
Dale's Butte aglow.
I was pleased with my progress so far, less than 4 hours to the river. I wanted to be in Kelvin before noon. I made a quick pizza stop at a nice river overlook when a Blackhawk came whizzing down the canyon barely 50 feet above the river!! What a sight! I was now on the eastbound portion of the route, in direct aim of the wind. The next 16 miles were mostly into a headwind with the trail undulating along the river.
Pizza break!
It must have been an hour later when I saw a rider coming my way. It was Jason!! He asked me if I was going the wrong way?!?! Huh? Uh, no, but you're going the wrong way!! He clearly looked a bit puzzled by his position, but perhaps he got turned around on one of the jeep road crossings. We straightened things out and rode nearby for a few miles before he finally pulled out of sight for good. I'd say it was around 10:30a when I last saw Jason.

I was on top of the final climb along the river and noticed some early season poppies had sprung up. It's should be a fantastic wildflower season in the desert this year. I can't wait to ride down here in March!! I made it to Kelvin just after 11:30a, skipped the trailer court water hose & river filter in favor of continuing on up to the Kelvin trailhead water cache for lunch.
Crossing the muddy Gila River.
I was more than ready for a burrito (tuna, black beans, barley, avocado & guacamole and lettuce topped with key lime juice! Yum!!) before the strenuous and looming ascent up Ripsey. I'll admit, I took a long break, about 30 minutes. Water topped off, burrito & Mtn. Dew devoured, I was ready to improve on my effort up Ripsey from last year when the wheels kind of came off.
The goal? The distant peak just right of center. A long ways up.
The lower portion of the climb went by fairly easy. I arrived at the gate essentially marking the beginning of the steep push up the switchback attack section. I vowed to at least attempt to ride some of it this year. I did. I actually cleaned a few switchbacks going up on the lower bit, but then things became really steep and loose. I simply don't have the necessary power to ride that stuff. HAB ensued. This would become a more frequent theme as the ride wore on.
A quick break on the way up.
Still have to climb that ridge.
I finished off the steep section on foot. From there the climb gives in a bit, offering some short downhill sections as reward. There were still a few bits of HAB, but it was mostly rideable. The big drawback was the higher I went, the windier it became. So much so, that by the time I could see the famed Ripsey ridgeline I was in the throws of a 20mph crosswind!! It definitely took concentration to stay on the trail up there. It was still worth it. One of the best desert views anywhere.
Backside of Ripsey ridge, the Big Hill & Mt. Lemmon in the distance.
One last good view of the Gila River Canyons.
The postcard ridgeline shot that everyone knows.
Starting the descent into Ripsey wash.
The upper switchbacks on The Big Hill have been getting the best of me, well, forever. I was determined to clean at least one of them on the descent!! I'm happy to say I was able to negotiate 2 of 6 successfully, thought I was going to get 4 of them, but noooo.

I was flying down the sandy wash at the bottom so much that I blew by the turnoff!! The sand was packed down, almost like it had been dredged for use. No complaints.here.

My attention soon turned to reaching the gate at the top of the wash segment. It signals the end of Ripsey and the beginning of some generally fast, easy spinning through the Boulders into the Freeman rd. trailhead.
One of the many wash crossings climbing up & out of Ripsey wash.
I was really hoping to reach the gate by 4p. That would give me at least two hours to get to Freeman rd. before dark, some 17 miles away. I reached the gate at 3:50p - win!!
A very welcomed sight. (The Big Hill is center, looks bald)
As soon as I turned onto the jeep roads the wind hit once again. 6-7 mph was all I seemed to muster. It was work. I slowly ticked off the miles, but as they ticked down the sun fell low on the horizon. I knew I wasn't going to make Freeman rd by dark. Instead, I made it to the gravity gate by the boulders where I transitioned back to night riding mode.
Is it me or does that rock look like the backside of an elephant?
Sunsets are always better from the trail.
A couple a fast moving day hikers passed through while I was putting on my lights, We chatted a bit about the trail and the route I was doing. They said the last rider passed by them around 4:30p, I'm guessing it was Jason. It seemed like I only gave the hikers a five minute head start down the trail, but it took a while to catch up to them, they were really hoofin' it.

The nighttime sky began to fill with stars and only a sliver of moon was visible. It's a dark place out there, only the glow of Tucson & Phoenix seem to break up the complete emptiness.

I arrived at Freeman rd. just after 7p, ready to devour another burrito & Mtn. Dew. Gotta lug some luxuries around!! 14 hours in, 66 miles down with 27 to go over very unforgiving terrain. My legs were really feeling the effects from the wind. The Boulders segment failed to rejuvenate me like last year. Deep down I was wishing the ride was over. I had a slight inkling of calling it quits. Should I give Chad a call & get picked up? No way. I have to finish this. The Voodoo was riding great, I had plenty of food, water, etc. Just push through this mental block and get moving south on the trail.

I was finishing up my meal and getting steadily colder by the minute as the wind was relentless. I did begin to wonder if I'd be warm enough. Legs had been covered all day, I had my wool base layer under my jersey & thankfully my wind jacket. The area around Freeman rd. is rather exposed and I knew the trail would drop down into the hilly valleys almost immediately.

Time to go...but wait, here come the hikers!! I could see their LED's not too far off. They soon approached and asked how I was doing and if I needed anything. I did ask for one favor, to sit in their truck for a few minutes with the heater on! That really helped and as I readied myself for the trail, the guy says to me, 'I have a bike rack if there's anywhere I can take you.' Was this a sign? By then my mind had been set, FINISH. I thanked him for the offer and headed off towards the faint outline of Antelope Peak. It was now 8p. **Program note: the next few daytime pics were taken a few years ago!!**
Antelope Peak surrounded by the extra prickly desert.
By now my GPS's internal battery had died, this was expected since it typically lasts around 14 hours or so. I began running my auxiliary power, which is really nice for night riding as the backlight stays illuminated. I also was running both my handlebar & helmet lights on low power, still plenty bright, but my overall night vision isn't the greatest.

The first few miles were really nice, swooping through the infamous cholla forest with nary a chollaball on the trail. A special thank you to all the people who came out for the trailwork event the weekend prior, it was much appreciated.

I had barely been back on the trail for an hour when I lost my external power, batteries were dead!! Wtf?!?! They were brand new except for a couple hours of use at the end of the McBrown 100. I had absolutely no reason to think I couldn't get a full nights ride out of this set of batteries. FAIL. I was now without a GPS, no track to follow or elevation profile to assist my wandering thoughts. The good news, the entire route is on the AZT and is marked...for the most part. But this area is seldom used and obviously it was dark. I overshot a few turns here and there and began walking more uphills as the night went along.

My first real trail miss was down at Beehive Well. I knew the route dumped into a sandy wash and followed it near a windmill and water tank. I was expecting to clearly see the turn onto a jeep road that climbs away from the ranch, but I must've been a bit too far to the outside of the wash and overshot the turn by a quarter mile. The GPS had enough juice to power up, display the course so I could see which direction I needed to go, then I powered it off for any later occurrences. There would be many.
I was riding down the wash behind the windmill, missing the turn into the clearing.
I was now up on a series of fast jeep roads that led down into Bloodsucker Wash. I had planned on a pizza break in the wash, but the downhill kept going on and on. The temperature started to plummet as well. By the time I neared the wash it was a solid 15º colder than a mile before, no pizza break down here!! Plus, I missed another turn into the wash crossing and had to consult the GPS once more.

The ensuing climb out of Bloodsucker was a concern of mine as I knew I'd be walking most of it. How long would it take? I took a peek at my phone and was surprised to see it took me almost 3 hours to reach the wash from Freeman rd. - it's only 11 miles!! I didn't think I HAB'd all that much, but perhaps I did.
Bloodsucker Wash.
It was 10:50p when I started pushing up Bloodsucker. My first goal was to get to a warmer location and grab some pizza! The snack was much needed and I switched out my helmet light in favor of my camping light for conservation. I was in full HAB mode now anyway, but I realized almost immediately that the camping light wasn't going to cut it through here. The 'trail' looks just like the rest of the desert, loose and rocky. It was very difficult in low light to distinguish the AZT from the surrounding terrain. Helmet light went back on.
1/2 way gate. Kinda glad I couldn't see the upcoming ridge climb.
About two miles up the terrain begins to show signs of mercy. I was riding again!! While still generally ascending there are a few downhills mixed in similar to the Ripsey climb. I couldn't wait to arrive at the upper gate.
Some fine trail near the top.
One final push to the gate.
The end of Bloodsucker!! Antelope Peak now far to the north.
I checked my phone at the gate: 2a!! Roughly 11 more miles to go, but the next 5 or 6 should go by quickly I thought. Wrong. I had a little bit of HAB mixed in to begin with, then as the trail got really good I kept blowing by turns. The tread was vague in certain areas and I'd ride for a hundred feet or so before realizing I was no longer on the trail!! Part of this was the lack of tire tracks or the well trampled cattle paths. The GPS was consulted on a few more instances and one time I started going back north on the AZT!! I quickly realized my error when the lights of Oracle turned and were going behind me.

I have to admit, through all this I held it together really well. Training for solo endurance in April!! The desert was eerily quiet out there, the wind had died down considerably, I wasn't cold, still had a burrito & plenty of water. I thought if I get too turned around out here I'll just lie down and wait for sunrise to finish. Each time I was able to regain my bearings and keep moving towards the finish line. I was surprised by the lack of wildlife out there. I only heard one pack of coyotes yipping near Antelope Peak, then came near three cattle sometime around 3a. That was it.

All my route blunders were eating time, I was actually looking forward to reaching the six drainage crossings that lead into Tiger Mine. I think I was on the second one when I felt the need for the third burrito, always the right decision. My handlebar light had finally started to konk out and I checked my helmet light and it was showing a red indicator. Hmmm, not much life left. I swapped out for the camping light once more while I ate.
One, in a series of up & down crossings.
 I tried to pick up my pace after eating, i.e. walk faster. I felt ok considering I had been awake now for over 24 hours. Ride down, hike up, ride down, hike up...then my helmet light began to strobe. I waited until it became really annoying, then flipped my handlebar light back on until it died for good. I was on my way up drainage 4 of 6 when the helmet light also went kaput. It was now 5:15a and I swapped out for my camping light once more...no bueno. It wouldn't turn on!! Again, wtf?!? New set of batteries too. I tried taking them out and rearranging positions, but it just wouldn't fire up. I did recall it being flaky one time in the past, oh well. I kind of welcomed the break, but when I checked my phone I was less than 3 miles from the end!!

I stopped on the trail, made myself as comfortable as I could and hunkered down until daybreak. I was hoping to catch a little nap at the least, but I began to shiver in the 40º weather. It was cold, especially now since I wasn't moving, yet somehow I did manage to doze off for a few minutes. Next thing I knew it was 6:30a and I could begin to make out the rocks on the trail. Guess what? My camping light decided to start working!! Stupid light. I gathered up my things and began HAB'ing out.
Did not expect to see a second sunrise on this ride.
 The last couple of miles were still slow going, but I finally rounded a corner and could see the AZT sign at Tiger Mine!! Almost there.
Finish line almost in sight. A bit of snow up on Mt. Lemmon.
At long last, the end!!
I rode up the final series of switchbacks and crossed the line at 8:11a, over 27 hours later. Jeebus. I still can't believe it took me that long. I really thought I could finish around midnight going into this. It just goes to show how difficult this route really is and how strong some of the other riders are. Amazing effort by those select few.

Rick was camped out next to his truck and it's a good thing he was driving us back to Picketpost. I passed out barely five minutes into the return trip. Rick finished at 12:30a and Jason at 12:51a, well done gents. I'm not sure I have a desire to try this one again, once may have been enough. I'm sure the pain & suffering will subside over time and I may just be dumb enough to give it another crack.

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