April 8, 2017

AZT300 - Humble Pie

I'm sitting here at home looking at Trackleaders and watching as a large group of my friends start their way down Oracle Ridge. Most riders despise this section of the route, yet here I am, wishing I was up there with them. Instead, I'm back at home taking in fluids and processing what went wrong out there and how to correct it.

This year's event was going to be something special. I was so looking forward to it. I knew almost half of the field personally, just a big group ride with friends!! It also happened to fall one day after my birthday which was cool.
Loaded & ready to roll at a svelte 39 lbs. (8 lbs lighter than last year)
My cliff notes version of the 300 jotted on the elevation profile. *Posters, etc. are available via Redbubble
Our good friend, Ray, wasn't riding this year and offered to take myself, Jeff (750) and Nancy down to the start. I had planned to ride home from the finish out at Picketpost, but needed a lift over there. Bev came to the rescue at the last minute. A bunch of other riders were there loading up a shuttle service van as we departed south.
A bit of a junkshow, but it worked quite nicely.
Of course we timed our Seis Kitchen stop for peak lunch hour traffic: high noon. We didn't mind the wait since we had left early enough. Lunch hit the spot and we grabbed some bakery items next door. Onward to Parker Canyon Lake!!

There were only a few cars at the trailhead when we arrived. Jeff secured his SPOT and Ray whisked him off to the 750 start down on the border.
Looks like a good place to sleep for the night.
Cars began to arrive as did the first shuttle van full of riders. Now it's a party!! A Birthday party!! The Hanson's were kind enough to not only bring a chocolate cake for all to share, but a blanket full of week old puppies for everyone to oogle over. It was a rather festive atmosphere and was a blast catching up with friends, new & old, both local and afar. The AZT reunion tour!!
Imagine all the tales those bikes will tell in a few days.
Such a fun evening, took a lot of the race anxiety out of the equation.

Twilight over Parker Canyon Lake.
I settled in for the night, making things as comfortable as I could since Ray offered to take a few items back north. I used a sleeping pad at the start for the first time and it helped, but it wouldn't be making the ride. My strategy, which has worked well in year's past, was to ride until utterly exhausted, lie down and sleep like a rock.

The 8am start is a nice change from 9am. Early enough to enjoy the cool morning air, but not late enough where you have tons of idle time to kill. I was ready to go or so I thought when Scott corralled the riders for his pre-ride speech. There was also a moment of silence for two cycling legends recently lost.
Master of ceremonies.
Part of the crowd, rearing to ride.

It's go time!! The fast riders bolted to the front and I wanted to be near the front of the mid-pack to hopefully avoid any early logjam in the Canelos. I pushed off and I couldn't feel my front brake lever!?! WTH?? It got looped under my handlebar bag!! A quick re-adjustment and I was off, closer to the back of the mid-pack. Oh well.

Ray and I took guesses on how many sliced sidewalls the Canelos would dole out this year. I just hoped I wasn't one of them. We thought around 6 for the 99 riders who would roll through. I safely made it down gear-check hill and fell in line with a few riders on the early rollers. There has been some recent trailwork done and the improvements were noticeable. Could the Canelos actually be more rideable?? In short, no, not really.

A couple miles in we crossed a creek and a bunch of us veered off course, GPS's alarming, we all looked down at once noticing our mistake for following the wheel in front. It was quite comical as it seemed there was a pile up of 20 riders or so. Soon after, the trail tilted towards the sky and the first HAB was upon us. Almost immediately I could tell I wasn't on my A-game. Sluggish. Not a great feeling for what lie ahead. I pulled over a few times over the ensuing miles, watching friend after friend pass me by. Oof. This was going to be hard work getting to Canelo Pass rd. I had a goal of 6 hours to Patagonia, 30 miles from the start and was already beginning to doubt if I could pull it off.
The Canelos are tough, but they sure are beautiful.
It was warm and breezy, not blazing hot, but I was feeling it. I grew more tired as the miles ticked slowly by. I passed at least 3 riders with torn sidewalls, halfway to quota. Then a couple of guys broke derailleurs, yikes!

I was sucking down water and CarboRocket, but it didn't seem to help. Power was fading as the HAB's grew longer.
Only 12 miles into the day and I'm cooked. Taking shade breaks on the HAB, still 3 miles to the pass.
Finally, almost 3 hours on the dot I came to Canelo Pass rd. I stopped for a snack break and a few moments later was passed by the front riders of the 750.
Huge relief to reach Canelo Pass rd.
I knew the west side of the Canelos rode much better than the east and I still hoped I could make my 6 hour goal into Patagonia.
El Freako & Dan in HAB mode on the Canelo West section.
I watched the three 750 riders leave me in the dust on the ensuing descent. The next bunch of miles are really good and they went by quickly. One of my AZT buddies, Todd, caught up to me and we rode the next few miles together talking about how crappy we both felt to start the race. Todd was nursing a chest cold to boot. We both had goals of completing the ride in 3 1/2 days, but things better start improving for that to happen.
Todd showing how much of a drop there is leading into this wash.
As we neared the end of the Canelos, there were a few more HAB's. I had to stop and sit in the shade. I was feeling light headed and hadn't taken a leak all morning. I forced myself and the dark gold confirmed what I already knew - major dehydration. It's not like I hadn't been drinking, I had. I just think I was already behind before the ride started.

Todd disappeared from sight as did more riders who came & went. I just needed to get out of the hills and into town. I was spent. To my surprise I dumped out onto Harshaw road right at 6 hours. Twenty minutes later I arrived at the general store and picked up a few cold drinks and sat down to eat some pizza. It ended up being my fastest time in four tries to reach Patagonia, not sure how that happened as I felt I wasn't pushing myself one bit on any of the Canelo sections. I think I just stopped less overall, and the new bike rides faster.
Justin Smith (750) enjoying Velvet Elvis pizza.
I found Todd at the general store as he loaded up for a push to Tucson. A few other riders came in all looking wiped out. I ended up taking a 40 minute break and it really helped. I left shortly after Justin, but couldn't match his speed on the road climb to Sonoita.

The relatively easy spin to Sonoita started to get me back in a groove, but it was still warm and I figured another chocolate milk wouldn't hurt. In fact, it was great!! During a 30 minute break I had thoughts about not continuing, but I wasn't about to quit before sleeping on it. I quickly re-adjusted my expectations for the ride and got back after it.
I took a few moments to soak it all in along Santa Rita rd.
My original hope was to reach Kentucky Camp in daylight, I had yet to do this on any attempt. I realized it was still early and I had an outside chance to make it after all that went wrong in the morning. I picked up my bike and sped into the hills with a renewed focus.

Barely a few miles up the road I came across Dave Wicks, riding towards me, uh oh. He took a spill and slammed his already ailing knee. He said he was finally calling it off after a week+ of misadventure. You see, Dave, was attempting to be the first rider to do the 750 from Utah to Mexico, then turn around and head back to Utah. Nuts. His southbound attempt was cut short due to a multitude of weather issues and now his northbound run was ending due to a crash. Such a drag considering he flew in from Australia to do this.

I motored on and finally rode the Flume trail in daylight during this race!! So much fun. The light was beginning to fade and I knew I wasn't going to make Kentucky Camp before nightfall, but I wasn't too far off either. I'll take it.
These cows would NOT get off the trail. I rode behind them for a while!!
HAB action shot!! Photo by Igor.
I met up with Igor for a few miles as the sun dipped out of sight.

I dropped into the small valley where Kentucky Camp is located and the temps felt 15º colder, downright chilly!! I sat down for a good refueling as a few more riders rolled in. Some were calling it a night while a couple of us chatted about how much farther we wanted to get. It was barely 8p and I figured I had at least another four hours in me.

My legs had finally joined in the ride. I was feeling good and knew I'd reach my night 1 camping spot from a year ago. I'd reassess there.

I was a few miles north of Kentucky Camp, back on singletrack and started seeing other riders camped out along the trail. I'd pass two, then two more, another, etc. I felt bad because my brakes were now squealing like a pig!! Front brakes were high pitched and the rear were more of a loud vibration. Sorry if I woke anyone up that night!!

I recognized a few friends sleeping trailside around 11pm. I hadn't seen them since early in the Canelos. I reached Helvitia rd just after 11p, sight of last year's camp. I pulled off the trail to grab a snack, then watched another rider's light dance down the hillside towards me. It was another 750 rider and we'd play leapfrog over the next 7 miles.

While I snacked my helmet light died. WTH? I must've had it on the wrong power setting, draining the battery much quicker than anticipated. Oh well. I futzed around a bit, but managed to attach my camping headlamp to my helmet. I really like having both helmet and fork mounted lights for night riding.

My body was tired, but I wasn't sleepy as I rode into the meat of Las Colinas and its punchy hills. I thought I may just reach my original day 1 goal of getting through this section. Slowly, each climb went by and it seemed like I was near the magic green gate before long. In actuality, it was long, about 1:30a when I opened the gate. It didn't matter, I was through Las Colinas and I knew exactly where I wanted to make camp for the night. I just hoped no one else had the same idea.

Two miles later I found my grassy meadow and set up camp. It was 2am. 82 miles knocked out and I was very pleased with my rally from the morning. I set myself up for a good morning. Fast, downhill trending trail most of the way into Tucson. I was hoping to beat the brunt of the 88º forecast on the climb up Redington. But first, I needed zzz's. They came instantly.

Day 2:

I woke to lightening skies around 6am, but wasn't ready to get moving. I dozed off for another solid 20 minutes when Jeff Z rolled by. Nancy wasn't far behind and then Joe P came up. I started getting ready to move. A quick water inventory had me staring at 1L of water to get me to La Selvilla CG, some 20 miles away. I thought I'd be fine, it's relatively easy trail remember? I could already feel the heat of the early morning sun reminding me it was going to be toasty. Then I began to sneeze. A lot. I wondered if I was allergic to the tall grass I camped in. My sinuses were now stuffed up, great. I pushed off from camp around 7am.

Twin Tanks came & went, as did the twists and turns leading to a short U-shaped climb unveiling the first real clear look at Mt. Lemmon. I always take a picture here. Look. It's below:
Mt. Lemmon and long downhill plunge into the desert.
I was still trying to wake up, going through the motions as I crossed Sahaurita rd. There were some day riders getting ready to hit the trail, I just wanted to keep covering ground. Not five minutes later I began a rapid succession of sneezes while twisting through prickly pear infested trail!! Jeezus, I'm gonna hit one of these if I can't see the trail!! My abdomen cramped something fierce on the last sneeze. So much so, I had to stop and stretch it out. 10 minutes later it finally relented. I felt worked, wondering if that's how the morning was going to go.
Might as well snap a pic when at the mercy of cramps.
Each passing rise in the trail was work. The miles were coming slower than expected. On my way down to I-10 my buddy, Mike, caught up to me. I was surprised to see him, he's a much stronger rider than I am, but I must've passed him in the night. It was good chatting with him and helped pass a few miles. I stopped and took a long break in the shade of the train trestle at 3 bridges while Mike rode on. I was spent. I called K and gave her an update and mentioned she should probably be on standby to come get me.
Brett Stepanik lifting the mood at 3 bridges.
 A few riders went by, then my bud, Brett, from last year's 750 burrito fame came through. This guy is awesome. No matter how down you are, he'll get you in a good mood. We caught up a bit, then he took off and I got ready to get moving towards my water resupply.

I had the mental lift I needed, but my legs didn't respond. More walking. A few minutes later, another friend caught me. Chris was also in the same boat, struggling with the heat. We decided we needed burritos...and fast. The La Posta Quemada ranch was coming up and I had stopped there back in '13.
Chris carving the downhill towards the ranch.
There were a few other riders milling about the parking area. It's a bit confusing down there where to go, but memory served me right, up the short paved hill to the right. There were a couple of people walking around outside as I rode up...
CLOSED. Are you effin' kidding me?!? Utterly demoralized.
This fluffy fella made himself right at home.

I counted 10 riders at one point, all looking dejected. It was a bit after 10 am on a Saturday. The gift shop wasn't even open. They lost some business that day for sure. The only good thing? I was able to get water. The shade was nice too, but I could've gotten both at La Selvilla only another couple miles down the trail. Now I had to make an extra climb back to the AZT. Ugh.

On my way over to the campground I had some neat sightings. First, a gigantic Gila Monster was sitting right next to the trail. My tire missing it by inches!! I scrambled to get a picture, but he scurried off into the brush and I mostly captured twigs, leaves and dirt. Drat.

Barely five minutes later I rounded a corner to find a deer standing in the trail in absolute shock that a bike rider would be coming at it. It flinched right, then left, hesitated....better move fella or I'm going to hit ya!! It darted into the trees at the last possible second where another was waiting. I know we have deer in the desert, but each time I see them they seem so out of place.

A few moments later I dropped into the campground and decided I wanted more shade and a snack. I was really dragging ass. I reassessed my situation, no power, low energy, it was hot, I had forgotten my water filter at home and was now concerned I couldn't carry enough to safely get up the flanks of Mt. Lemmon. Then there's the long paved climb too. The obstacles seemed so daunting in my current state. Just like that, it was over. I made the call to K to head south and pick me up. I still had about 20 miles to ride to reach Safeway.

There were a couple of youth groups setup at the campground for horseback rides. I kept staring at the coolers on the picnic table wondering what cold beverage was in there. I finally relented and asked if they could spare anything cold. They were happy to oblige and ice water never tasted so good. It was about that time when Mike & Marcus rolled in, two friends from the PHX area attempting their first 300. They were in good spirits and I didn't want to bring them down with my woes. The three of us left the campground together and I watched them soon disappear from view.
Mike & Marcus pulling away after the campground.
I knew the trail was about to get really good, so I tried to enjoy it and I did all the way to Hope Camp. I took another long shade break before the jeep road out to Alta Loma.
Flowing creek near Hope Camp.
I could've taken a nap here.

I walked both hills on the ensuing jeep road leading to the trailhead. Then walked some more on the paved road leading to the Old Spanish Trail. I sat down on the side of Alta Loma  rd and called K again checking on her whereabouts. I was going to have her get me on route if she was nearby. I didn't want to pedal the final road miles to Safeway, especially not into a headwind.

She was still far off, so I crawled down the road. I ran into a Tucson friend, Will, in my sorry state and he mentioned there was a spigot at the upcoming Farmer's Market. I could at least swap out warm water for cold. I wanted to gag each time I took a sip, twice pulling over because I thought I was going to lose my lunch.

Up on the Old Spanish Trail. I watched truck after truck whiz by me and wondered why none of them were stopping to see if I needed a lift. I thought I should start riding with my thumb out and get a hitch, but never did.

A few minutes later a red convertible drove by with a guy yelling my name and waving, I raised my arm and kept going. I didn't recognize him and blew it off as a dot watcher. Then I thought, 'maybe I do know him and if so, why doesn't he turn around?'

The Farmer's Market came into view and as I looked back to see if the coast was clear to cross the road, Dave Wicks appeared!! I thought you scratched from the race back in Sonoita, I told him. He shrugged and said he was feeling a bit better and had the time, so why not get back on the trail? I was glad to see him back at it. Right about then, the convertible pulls in and then I see who's driving, it's Bob, my friend from Tempe!! He has family on the east side of Tucson and was cruising around in his Uncle's car cheering on the riders. Bob rode a fast 300 a couple years ago. He asked if I wanted something cold to drink, 'Hell yeah, I do!!' I told him my race was over and he thought I was joking. I had to tell him three times!! I'm done. Then I asked him, 'Do you think we could get my bike in the car?' 'Sure do' he replied. A quick pad placement and the bike practically fit all the way into the trunk!!
If you're gonna bail, make it memorable.
GPS off. Race over. Bob dropped me off at Safeway while K made her way across town. I chatted with Jakob from Denmark who was doing the 750 for a bit, then he readied himself for the Lemmon assault. A few minutes later, K arrived and home we went.
There would be no Picketpost finish pose this year.
Looking back the biggest error I made was lack of pre-race hydration. I was behind the 8-ball before the ride started. Couple that with the tough terrain in the heat and you're gonna pay. I'm sure the couple of beers at the trailhead didn't help either!! Or the big Sedona AES ride 6 days prior. Every little bit adds up and a ride like the 300 shows no mercy to anyone, anytime.

I'll be back, but for now I turned into a race cheerleader for my friends who were still out there battling the conditions.

Route flyover:

Here are some images from the days after my exit.
Rhino scratching out a postcard to Grandma Helga.
Jeff 'El Freako' Hemperly (750) leaving Picketpost.
Justin Smith (750) always in a good mood.
Now it's the cactus' turn to show off.
Last minute course change due to private property after the ride started!! We had used this routing for years without issue. Gah!!
Mike DeBernardo (750) at Picketpost with a busted iPhone.
Full moon rising over Picketpost Mtn.
Alexis Ault finishing another 300 much to her surprise this year. She also has the best call-ins on MTBCast!!

Jason Shearer (750) ready for some downtime.
Curtis Barrett smoked his first 300!!
Caught up with my good riding bud, Jeff Z (750), out on his new favorite trail: Jacob Crosscut.
Just because golden hour out here is rad.

That's a wrap for me, but the 750 riders are currently marching towards Utah, as of 4.14.17. Follow along at Trackleaders.com/aztr17

The riders in northern Arizona will be dealing with some snow instead of the heat.
FR418. Photo by Justin.
Best of luck to all still out there on the wonderfully brutal Arizona Trail.

I had a bunch of requests to make my elevation cue sheet into a poster. Below is a sample image of the 300 & 750 versions. These images can also be made into mugs & stickers.
Direct link

Direct link
High rez screen saver images can be found on Payhip.

I also made an AZT300 & 750 logo along with t-shirts with a route graphic on the back. These can be found at my Zazzle account. *Shirts are available in many different fabric blends, choose what you like best. Custom text may also be added for no extra charge. For example: 2018 Finisher.
Logo for front of t-shirt
Full route graphic.

Morning inspiration.

Thanks for looking!!


  1. You're still a rockstar in my book.....and 2 things come to mind when I read this. (a) You mentioned your fellow AZT racer Brett who always seems to be able to make your mood better......YOURE that guy for me (and probably others too).....can make a rough day waaay better. Also (b) too funny.....wondering what those kids had in their coolers......primal thirst! Schilling...you rock! May you get back out there and conquer your next goals and may your pee never be dark gold again! Much respect buddy! <3

    1. Aww, thanks Chica you're the best!! As long as there's Sour Patch Kids in the gastank, all is well!!

  2. No other words except... John,
    you are the man!

  3. Bummer, it sure was hot out there. Nice ride and report!

  4. an Inspiration! I need to set the 300 as next year's goal. Thank you for the report.