April 3, 2015

AZTR Sidelines

It was early evening on Wednesday April 1st, K and I were making dinner and I noted how I should've been finalizing all my gear for an AZTR750 at that very moment. I think it was then when it fully sank in that I wasn't participating. It bummed me out, but only for a few moments. I still had a nice 5 day weekend coming up, the race was still going on and I had plenty of friends to cheer on from the sidelines. I also offered to take one of them, Arturo, down to the start of the 300. I figured if I wasn't lining up myself, I might as well help out.
776 miles along the AZT from Mexico to Utah.
Mark was also doing the same. Life events got in the way for him, but he too made the most of things and drove another friend, Josiah, down to the border for his 750 attempt. Mark and I then hatched a plan, along with Mike, to hike the elusive AZT Passage 1 after the riders departed on Friday morning. That's for the next post though.

Earlier in the week I saw a post from another rider, Garrett, from Colorado looking for a lift down to the 300 start. I had the room, barely, so I offered to pick him up from the finish line out at Picketpost around noon on Thursday. We swung by Arturo's and we pointed the car south. A quick stop at Scott's in Tucson to drop off his pack he lent me and to see if he had a spare fork that was compatible with mine. Super generous and much appreciated!!

Another rider, Adam, was there picking up his SPOT for the event. Cool dude with a really dialed in cockpit on his bike.
Talk about having a plan!!
Eszter soon arrived back from the airport with Alexis, who was ready to better her 2014 time in the 300. We hung around for a little bit, then made our way over to the much ballyhooed Seis Kitchen. One thing I've learned in the short time I've known Eszter, if she ooh's and ahh's about an eating establishment, you better get your butt there. This was no exception. Not only were the Seis style burritos off the charts, the horchata was the best I've had. Love that stuff.
Both Arturo & Garrett took one for the road!!
Now where were we...that's right, heading south to Parker Canyon Lake!! We made good time getting down to Sonoita right around nightfall.
One of the early supply stops along the AZT route.
The final 30 miles down to the lake are slow going. SR83 turns primitive as it wends its way around a multitude of ranches. Eventually the road markings disappear and the last mile to the trailhead is a mildly rugged dirt road.

There were plenty of others already camped out. I met up with Holly & Josh, who I'd be shuttling down to Montezuma Pass in the morning so they could hike Passage 1 northbound. By the time we crashed out for the night, there were at least 20 people camped out.

I was up early the next morning as I wanted to drop off Holly & Josh and meet up with Mark & Mike down at Montezuma Pass. We'd be leaving my car there and hopefully returning back to Parker Canyon Lake before the 300 riders departed at 9am. Busy morning!!

Ray was also up early as he was going to get a head start on the group. I waited until he got going before I began driving all over.
Arturo all snuggled up on race day.
Ray all set to go. Read his ride report.
Holly, Josh & I loaded up my car and took off for Montezuma Pass. I wasn't sure how long it would take since it was my first time going past Parker Canyon Lake. The road was maintained rather well by the border patrol and only two small water crossings over the 14 miles proved innocent.
Early morning rays from the pass looking east.
The trailhead parking area is top notch.
Border scanning in the background.
Another one of southern Arizona's sky islands.
Looking northwest back towards Parker Canyon Lake.
The border lies less than 2 miles from here and somewhere down there the 750 riders were heading north!
Josh & Holly ready to tackle passage 1. First up an out-n-back hike to the border fence 1.5 miles away.
I gathered up all my hiking gear, changed & snapped some pics while I waited for Mark & Mike to arrive. A few minutes later we were barreling down the mountainside back to the 300 start.

We came up on two of the 750 riders as we neared PCL, we didn't have much time to spare before the 9am start. I was hoping I didn't miss two of my buddies from the Seattle area who were doing the 750. I had planned on sharing some good HAB stories with those fellas this year!

The trailhead was now bustling with excitement as the 40+ riders were milling about. I spotted Scott Jones near the trail and went over to wish him luck. Almost immediately he started fumbling through his pack for something...
Aha! There it is, the Easy button had made its return!
Ron Thomson soon came over and I was really glad to see these two guys. Scott took off ahead of the 300 mass start and I lost Ron before I could snap a pic of him & his setup.

It was now time to get things going. Scott herded everyone near the trail and gave them some final thoughts. There was even an appearance from Matt Nelson, the Director of the AZT, wishing the riders well. Very cool to see the show of support from the guiding forces of the AZT. I hope anyone who rides even a little bit of the AZT fully appreciates the efforts required to provide such an outlet for mountain biking.
Bob, healthy and all smiles for this go-round.
Arturo ready to dive into the Canelo Hills.
The slowest Kurt moved the entire race!
Carlos & Hunter ready to go.
The always cheery Alexis.
Good looking group assembled.
Scott with some final words.
I wandered down the trail a few hundred feet for some early action shots. 9am came and they were off!!
Kurt taking the holeshot, not sure if he ever gave that position up.
At least my front wheel made the ride!! Hunter taking flight.
Tucson local, Neil, powering the singlespeed.
Kaitlyn with a determined look out of the gate.
Another Durango, CO rider, Michael.
Alexis sporting her hunter friendly bike & outfit.
Carlos with his battering ram.
Mike out for a ride down to the lake (not really).
Chain of riders disappearing into the Canelo Hills.
Arturo takes off onto new-to-him terrain.
One of the last riders to leave the trailhead area.
The official AZT wagon!
And just like that all was quiet at the trailhead. Mark, Mike & I gathered our stuff and began our southbound hike on passage 1.

It was a tough hike for me. I waited in the car for the guys to finish their out-n-back hike down to the border. While I waited I pulled up the race on trackleaders to check on the days progress, but my phone was almost dead and my charger was in Mark's truck. I saw Ray's dot near Sahaurita rd a few miles south of I-10 with Kurt hot on his tail. It was around 8pm and most riders were still chugging along. I also saw Arturo's dot moving towards Sonoita. All was well with my friends.

We departed Montezuma Pass around 8:30 and began the slow drive back into Tucson. We would be camping out again, but this time up Redington rd where the AZT crosses. It took us 4 hours to get to our campsite!! My Juke isn't exactly a 4x4 monster, but it was able to handle Redington at a snails pace. Mark managed to wriggle his truck up a small hill and we set up camp shortly before 1am.

I was whooped, could barely walk around camp after the hike and was ready to crawl into my tent without eating. Then Mark says, 'How about those BBQ chicken legs I promised?' Hell yeah! So, there we were, firing up the charcoal grill and cracking a few brews at 1:30a!

A few minutes later I see an LED pop up near the top of the Redington climb!! It's gotta be Kurt we all assumed. We watched the light appear, disappear and slowly move to the left as he negotiated the rugged jeep roads of the area. Meanwhile our BBQ chicken was incredible! Sometime shortly after 2a the light grew near, then dipped behind the hill below our campsite. We went down to the trail and greeted Kurt, who undoubtedly was surprised to see us out there at that time of night. He was on a great pace, close to his record setting pace of the previous year, and feeling ok. There was a huge gap to the next rider, but we didn't know how much since it had been hours from the last update. Kurt took off into the night and we finally crashed out too.
Old style trail marking.
The next morning I was only going to be a shuttle driver as Mark & Mike were going to hike passage 9 south to north finishing back at camp. It was a long hike under normal conditions, there was no way I could have done that after the passage 1 hike. As we were slowly waking up four more riders passed by on the AZT, we assumed they were the next closest group to Kurt, now some 5 hours ahead.

My phone was now fully charged and I saw I had a couple of texts. One from Arturo and one from Ray. I sent Arturo a reply only to find out he called off his attempt in Sonoita. Ray left me a voicemail asking if I was still around to pick him up in Tucson, but thankfully I missed his call and the next message I got from him was that he was climbing Redington rd. Back in the game!

We checked on Josiah's whereabouts and saw he was in Tucson getting resupply at the Safeway. It was practically on our way to the Alta Loma TH, so we cruised over there to see how things were going. He was with two other 750 riders, Dylan & Robert. We all commented to him about how sunburned he was getting and how he'd pay the price later if he didn't slap on a thick layer of sunblock. They all joked how they were waiting for the two leaders to drop out so they could compete for the win!

We left after a few minutes and came upon Adam & Alexis readjusting some gear on the side of the road. Adam's fancy cockpit was holding up well, but his GPS had died. Cue sheets the rest of the way for him. Alexis was looking a bit tired, but on a fantastic pace over last year. We passed a few more riders along the way and saw the lead female, Alice, of the 750 roll through the Alta Loma TH. I dropped the guys off and eventually made my way home later in the day.

Over the next couple of days the riders crossed the finish line for the 300 out at Picketpost. I was stoked to see so many of my friends finish (their dots anyway). I would've gone out there to give Ray a high five for getting it done, but he decided he wanted it done quickly and wrapped it up at 4:26a.
Subtle reminder for the 750 rides.
I had been keeping a close eye on Scott Jones' progress, living vicariously through him so-to-speak. Back in 2013, Scott and I rode very similar pacing and he was almost on an exact timeline this go-round. I thought his ride would be a fair barometer for me. Last time, he missed a sub 4-day finish by mere minutes and he was close again this year. I looked at the photo I took of him departing Parker Canyon Lake on Friday morning - 8:50a. There was some confusion as he rolled the final miles into Picketpost as his SPOT didn't update for almost an hour slightly skewing his time. I knew a sub 4-day 300 was a mini goal of his, why not ask him myself? Scott was still hanging out in Superior after I got off work so I took a drive out towards Picketpost to see if I'd run into him. I didn't. So I went over to the trailhead to watch a couple other riders roll in.
Happened to see Gunther on his way towards Gold Canyon.
Todd D. finishing up the 300.
750 legend, Mark C. on his 4th consecutive 750, 5th overall.
Mark's 'fully loaded' bike! Looks like he's out for a day ride.
While I was talking with Mark, Scott rolled into the trailhead ready to continue northbound. I asked him what time he arrived in the morning - 8:36a. He was very happy to learn he made the 4 day cutoff by a whopping 14 minutes! He departed and after some more chatter with Mark, I too made my way home.
Another 300 finisher, Matt? He was not carrying a SPOT tracker.
While most of the 750 riders were heading into northern AZ a fine duel at the back was forming between Ron, John F. & Rich. Another Tucson local, Cassi, was making her 300 debut and after a couple of tough days on the route with minimal progress she was now in trailsweeper position.

Early on Thursday I saw a post on the forum from John F.about losing his phone on the trail just before Picketpost. He knew Rich was behind him and hoped he picked it up. I sent Rich a FB message asking if he found it - he did! I posted Rich's number on the forum in hopes John F would see it and sure enough they were able to meet up in Superior a couple hours later.

Meanwhile Cassi was making a strong push towards the finish. I had some free time and leftover pizza, so I went out to greet her on a well earned 300 finish. Congrats Cassi, that was one gutsy ride.
AZT 300 finisher!! Well done Cassi.
John F. was there too, getting ready to camp out for the night before heading north. He thanked me profusely for taking the effort to reunite him to his phone. I told him to repay me by finishing the ride.
I thought that would be it for the rider sightings, but I did have a Grand Canyon hike scheduled for the following weekend. I figured all the riders would be through the Canyon by then. Most were, but a few cold nights delayed John F. & Rich enough that I thought I may see them on the South Rim.

We got ready for our hike Sat. morning, heading down the South Kaibab trail - same as the AZT. John F. was still in Tusayan, he started his hike down a few hours after us and we missed him. Rich was arriving in Tusayan that afternoon and as luck would have it, he missed the Post Office closing time. So he'd have to wait until Monday to start his hike.

He decided to knock out the 6 miles or so of AZT up to the S. Kaibab TH on Sunday morning, right around the time I was getting ready to head home. I met up with him on the rim road near the trailhead and we chatted about his journey thus far.
Little guy on a big ride.
Checking in.
I was glad I had the opportunity to meet him, only digital friends prior. Great guy and he finished the route on Tuesday.

For more ride recaps check the results page.
For racer call-ins, give mtbcast a listen.

Next time you're up at the Grand Canyon, stop in the gateway town of Tusayan a few miles south of the entry statrion and check out the courtyard of the IMAX building. There's a huge AZT exhibit and video showcasing the trail.
Each number represents a passage along the AZT, 43 in total.
A very cool wall to wall display of the trail's diversity.
Scott & Chad had quite a few photo credits on the walls.
I really think Scott is responsible for Oracle Ridge, he gets the photo cred here.
Larger than life AZ mural.
While it was fun watching my friends push their limits this year, I'd much rather be out there with them. Here's hoping to a healthy return in 2016.

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