March 15, 2021

AZT300 '21: Oracle Iditaridge

 The Arizona Trail Race is a 300 (or 800) mile self-supported timed effort along the Arizona National Scenic Trail when at all possible - bikes are not allowed in federally mandated Wilderness areas so some bypasses are necessary.

Stickers & Finisher patches may be ordered here.

I was on a date with redemption for the 300. The past four years went like this: 2017 (DNF), 2018 (DNS), 2019 (DNS) & 2020 (DNF). The non-start years were due to injury. So, I set my sights on spring 2021. I had been doing a steady dose of bikepacking rides throughout winter in preparation: Maricopa Trail+, Fool's Loop & Nothing. I was ready. The Grand Depart is now in the fall, but I like the 300 in the spring and I could choose my own dates with favorable weather conditions. Gotta stack the deck in your favor when you can, the ride is tough enough. I set my sights on mid-March (the 11th specifically) and waited for the 10-day forecast to come into play.

The forecast started to focus...a cooling trend and mostly sunny skies!! Hell yeah. It had bumped into the mid-80's here in Phoenix recently, but my race window was shaping up to be mid-60's to low-70's during the day & low-40's at night. Talk about perfect. I think it was five days prior to launch and I arrived at work chatting with a co-worker who was bummed about an incoming storm near Kingman as he was planning a camping trip. I thought to myself, that sucks, but at least it sounds like the storm may be tracking through northern I double checked my notable towns along the way. Summerhaven in particular on Friday & Saturday, was now calling for rain & snow showers!! Drat.  So much for stacking the deck in my favor. As the days dwindled the forecast held steady, but pushed back a half day. Snow showers weren't all that intimidating really since they were only calling for 1-2" and we had ridden Oracle Ridge before with 3-4" of snow and it was quite fun. I was more bummed about having to carry more crap: bivy, lobster mitts, waterproof socks, rain pants/jacket and thermal top. All of which were going to stay home before the forecast change.

Once again I'd be riding a demo bike from Binary Bicycles, an SSP (Sit, Stand & Push) It's a Ti 29er with a 130mm fork, 2.6" tires, a mix of bags including Rogue Panda & dynamo hub to power my electronics. I had three goals for the 300: 1) Finish 2) Have Fun!! 3) Finish in 3d 12h, lowering my previous best by 10 hours.

Weighed in at 46lbs. I also carried a 25L Osprey Escapist backpack.

Wendi & Andrew graciously offered to host me again before the start. K drove me south after she was guaranteed a play date with Elvis, Wendi's mischievous cat!! Shannon & Beto joined for dinner and it officially became a #locorides board meeting. Perhaps that should've been my first clue on how the ride was going to go!!

It was quite the feast, compliments to the chef: Andrew!! Photo by Beto.
We were stirring before 5a for the hour+ drive over to Parker Canyon Lake. It was chilly, low-30's, but nice. Winds were expected to pickup later in the day.
Driving over Montezuma Pass, sunrise illuminates the border with Mexico below.
We arrived at Parker Canyon Lake a few minutes after 7a. I rounded up my gear and got everything finalized for the rollout. It was just before 7:30a, so I waited a few minutes to make it an even time departing on the half hour.
AZT300 Start line, rearing to go!!

The first few miles lull you into a sense of easy riding.

The hills getting closer.

This is such a cool cactus, easy to spot too as it's just beyond one of the many gates.

Really nice three mile re-route between the two major hike-a-bike efforts in the Canelo Hills East.

Looking generally north, I'd be riding close to Mt. Wrightson soon, then Mt. Lemmon in the upcoming days. PeakFinder app.

Clearing Canelo Pass Rd. is a major mental hurdle as the riding in the West Passage becomes generally easier.

Topping out on the first climb of Passage 3.

I love this section, fast & big views.

Hooray!! The thick catclaw had been trimmed way back. Nary a scratch!!

Water was available if needed, which I didn't.

Local resident guarding their turf. I did see 6 deer on the morning, but that was it.

Red Bank Well.
I was making my usual progress through the Canelo Hills: Slow & steady. The winds were picking up, but coming out of the SW, so mostly a crosswind and it felt kinda nice. It had finally warmed up enough to shed some layers and grab a snack before taking on the new singletrack section.

The start of the new singletrack, nice fancy sign too. Back in November this short connection wasn't built yet. This time I'd have a complete trail and gates, no fence hopping!!

Shiny new AZT supergate.

I was stoked to clean the one big climb, then get rewarded with this view of Mt. Wrightson.

This addition to the Canelo Hills is quite the game changer.

The re-route currently ends after going under SR82. The next project is underway and hopefully will be completed and added to the route in the next 2 years.
It's now only a 4 mile paved ride up SR82 to Hog Canyon, bypassing both Patagonia & Sonoita. While those were convenient re-supply points, they aren't necessary and I knew with the trail re-routes cutting some miles from the route and not stopping in town, I would probably save 2 hours getting to Kentucky Camp.

Entering Hog Canyon, sign the register!!

A few mellow miles of riding to begin with.

Then a short steep section near the middle. Took me about 20 minutes to get through with a mix of riding and walking.

Nearing Gardner Canyon, the water was flowing.

Love these old skool signs in Gardner Canyon.

Flume trail in daylight!! What a concept. It was 4:40p when I reached the AZT.

How about making a biker glide effortlessly uphill??

I was coming into this particular area, hoping it wasn't a sloppy mess as there is a seep right at a gate. Would you look at this!! Freshly cobbled trail and no muck to trudge through, once again the ATA delivering a better trail experience. Thank you!!
The miles leading to Kentucky Camp are so good.

Wide open rip here.

These bushes looked frosted.

How about that, Kentucky Camp in daylight for a change. It was 5:40p.
I rode around the backside of the building pictured and there were four hikers eating dinner. I shared one of the picnic tables with a young couple who were bailing on their hike the next morning. The other two were heading to Utah. I downed some quick calories, topped off water and noticed there was an electrical outlet next to the outdoor sink. Never saw that before. Noted.

It was around 6p when I got rolling again and I hoped I could crest the next high point before flipping on my lights.

Leaving Kentucky Camp, some 79 miles north of the Mexico border now.

Looking SE towards the Whetstone Mtns.

I started the morning at the base of the distant Huachuca Mtns.

The Santa Rita foothills near Ophir Gulch are something else late in the day.
I made it to the singletrack high point after Kentucky Camp before needing lights. My next goal was to begin Las Colinas before 9p. I reached it at 8:40p and downed some more calories. The ups & downs of Las Colinas are always slow going for me, especially at night. I'm always extra cautious and walk more than I would during the day, yet I still put the bike down a couple of times, thankfully landing on my feet each time. I reached the infamous Magic Green Gate at 11p on the dot. I wasn't tired and knew I could knock out a bunch of the upcoming easy miles before calling it a night.

Thru hikers marking the official AZT miles, I was around mile 71 here.

My GPS began to go haywire around the Sahaurita Rd. & SR83 underpass. It had me off-route, bouncing all over the place, yet I was right on the same trail I've always been on for the past several years.
It was now going on 1a and I was beginning to wind down. I knew I could easily make it to the I-10 underpass or Gabe Z. trailhead, but then I heard a train whistle. I-10 would be noisy, Gabe Z. was right by Three Bridges with the train rumbling all night, so I opted to cut it a bit short and find a spot between SR83 and the Old Sonoita Hwy. I found a nice open flat spot a bit off the trail, perfect. 82 miles done on Day 1, I was happy with that.

 My little desert oasis.
I was ready to roll by 7:30a or so. I was getting all my stuff sorted and just about to get where's my cell phone pouch? I use that so I can keep my phone clipped to my upper buckle on my backpack, makes taking pics while I pedal so much easier & efficient. I scoured the area and couldn't find it. WTH? I know I had it when I arrived because I had to get my phone out of it to charge it at camp. Everything else was exactly where I left it and it wasn't windy at all during the night. I accepted the fact it was gone, perhaps a critter came into camp and swiped it. I was dead to the world and didn't hear anything during the night. Oh well, it's an $8 item that I can easily re-order, just makes taking pics a bit more of a chore since I'd now have my phone in my riding shorts cargo pocket.

I-10 underpass, coolest looking one around.

Buffed out singletrack next to Davidson Canyon leading to the Gabe Z. trailhead. Hmmm, looks stormy up top...

What is THIS?? Trail angel 2-liter bottles of Coke?? Yes, please. Good thing I was carrying my collapsible AZT cup!!

Dropping down the zigzags to La Posta Quemada Ranch.
I took a short snack break at La Selvilla CG and got back after it. I was feeling good and knew there were miles of fun, fast trail right around the corner. I made short work getting through Pistol Hill, crossing X-9 Ranch Rd. and on towards Saguaro Nat'l Park. Such a fun few miles to ride through. Lots of thru hikers along this stretch too.

Approaching Hope Camp.

After passing a caravan of equestrians, I reached the Loma Alta trailhead. Time for some road riding around Rincon Peak & the Saguaro Wilderness to the outskirts of Tucson.

Met a friendly face at the Loma Alta trailhead, my buddy, Dave, came out to see how it was going. Chatted for a few minutes, then I was off to get lunch!! Photo by Dave.

Rocking K Market, so glad this place has re-opened. On route and plenty of food options.
I was walking around inside and noticed some menus sitting on a few tables, I inquired about food and was told the kitchen was open!! Chicken quesadillas coming right up!! I found an outlet out on the patio to top off some electronics while I ate & shopped.

5 Star bikepacking fare.
I think I dropped almost $50 on the essentials: lunch, poptarts, frozen tamales, Coke, etc. You know, the good stuff. I hit the road around 1p and was pretty stoked knowing I could get through the upcoming 4x4 extravaganza before dark.

I made the quick pitstop to the visitor center to top off water...and buy a patch!! 

Great addition to my patch collection on our coffee table.

I love this singletrack connection off Broadway Rd.

There's a ride around to the far left, but I stayed down in the small canyon. Cool stuff.

A short bit of pavement early on the Redington Rd. portion. The dirt climbing looms ahead.

I think the steepest part is this lower paved bit, still plenty rideable though.

Old skool Nat'l Forest sign. Neat.

It doesn't take long to get a bird's eye view of Tucson.

The stoic Rincon Mountains.

Ahh yes, the 4x4 extravaganza!! Keeps you on point. Including some downhill hike-a-bike for this guy.

Chiva Tank. I was well stocked on water.

I know when it flattens out here, the AZT isn't far away.

Back on the AZT and a welcome back gift of tequila. Yeah, I took a shot.

13.0 miles to Molino Basin. I was liking my chances of arriving early enough to push on farther.

150 mile mark of the full AZT.

Getting set to cross Redington Rd.

Sunset over the Catalina foothills.

I made it over the high point of the area before dark, my reward was this high traverse.

Ahhh, the rugged Molino hike-a-bike. Took about an hour to get up & over.

Down near Molino Basin around 9:30p
The trail up to Prison Camp is no joke either, took a little over an hour to arrive. I did enjoy the new slice of AZT that I added to enter the area on the far west side. It was a good time to break out my now thawed tamale & Red Bull. It was now flurrying under starry skies. I couldn't tell where it was coming from, but the flakes kept coming.

After dinner I put on my rain gear and bundled up. I wasn't tired and wanted to at least knock out of few miles of the Catalina Hwy climb before calling it a night. Again, the forecast was for 1-2" of snow up in Summerhaven tonight. I thought it would be raining down here near 5000', but it was the frozen variety. My plan was to ride up about 4 1/2 miles to the Green Mtn. trailhead and see if the restrooms were open. If they were, I'd crash out there. If they were locked, I'd have to make a decision to either camp there or push on up the mountain for a really long night to the Summerhaven Community Center.

The snow continued to fall but wasn't sticking anywhere, really wasn't thinking about it at all. Sometime around midnight a car pulled up alongside me, rolled down the passenger window, and a couple of guys rocking out on a Friday night began yelling at me: Yo!! What are YOU doing?!?! You're effin' nuts, man!!! Keep going!! Woooooo!!!!! I had to chuckle as I cranked away, seemed normal to me to be out riding.

A bit later I arrived at the Green Mtn. trailhead and the doors were unlocked!! Hooray!! Queue the Montana Hilton jokes, but the place was spotless, didn't stink, was sheltered from the wind & snow. Perfect. I backed the bike into the space & began to spread out my sleep system. I went to swap out my helmet light for my camping light, but couldn't find it. Hmmm, I always put it in the top pouch of my backpack. I know I had it the first's gone. Freaking critter stole that too. Dammit.

In hindsight, I should've opened my bivy and used that as an additional barrier between the cold concrete and my sleeping bag. I really didn't sleep a wink that night, lying there shivering for 5+ hours. I figured if I consciously did the shivering it wasn't as bad, it was more like a heat generator, so that's what I did for most of the night, with my eyes closed.

Sometime around 4:30a nature called, but I couldn't use the toilet in my 'room' since I had all my stuff strewn about, I opened the door to go use the women's side and my mouth must've dropped open when I saw 6" of fresh snow outside and more falling. Hmmm, this ought to be interesting. I took care of business and went back to lie down a bit longer. I could hear the snowplows going up & down the highway and decided I should get moving. At least the road should be fairly clear. I put on everything I had, wool base layer, long underwear, riding clothes, puffy jacket and rain gear. I broke out my waterproof socks & lobster mitt gloves along with my balaclava. Time to climb.

My 5-Star accommodations for the night.

This was the view I woke to. A tad daunting.

Once again the winds were whipping, but again out of the SW, so mostly a tailwind or cross-tailwind thank you very much.
I think it was somewhere past Windy Point Vista when the Summerhaven Fire Department drove up next to me in a red pickup. I thought for a split second they may advise me to turn around since I assumed the road had been closed to traffic. He rolled down the passenger window and asked if I was doing ok. I gave him a thumbs up and he hollered back: Hell yeah!! Keep it up!! And off he went. That lifted my spirits.
Hehe, the bear fister sign!!

The plows kept the road fairly clear, but man, get out of their way as they flew by me doing 50+mph!! Good thing I could hear them coming and they often honked their horn for the turns, I quickly moved to the opposite side of the road!!

Somewhere along here a law enforcement truck came towards me. He too slowed down, rolled down his window and wanted to inform me that 12" of snow had fallen in Summerhaven. I told him I had everything I needed and he too gave me a shout of encouragement to keep going.
I was going to check the spigot at the Bigelow TH, but it was way back in deep snow. Nope. Instead I had a roadside snack.

Tipping over the 8,000' elevation mark.
I knew a big downhill was coming, the road had a bit of snow on it, but still hadn't froze, so traction wasn't really an issue. However, I made sure to play it safe and kept my speed down. Last time I bikepacked this section I topped out over 40mph. Not today.

After the downhill, the route takes a left to the Sunset trail. I saw the entry was plowed, but could see snowbanks over 6 feet high at the end. I knew no one had been hiking it and there's a sketchy downhill boulder hopping section I didn't feel comfortable attempting solo on a day like this. So, I enacted an on-the-fly snow detour into Summerhaven.

It was closing in on 10:30a and I figured I earned a burger & brew at the Sawmill Run Grill in town. I made a quick beeline to the heated community center where I not only found a bunch of thru hikers who had crashed out here the night before, but the water fountains were turned off. Drat. I asked the hikers if they were heading out to Oracle Ridge and they confirmed. Great, I said, give me some good tracks to follow. They were flabbergasted that I rode up the mountain in a snow storm and would be following them out on the ridge. One young fella in particular caught my attention after his girlfriend mentioned he hikes in sandals. In this weather? Yep. Regular old flip-flops & bare feet. I was simply in awe. He was wrapping his bare feet in some covering, then putting plastic bags around them and then the flip-flops. Why not just put on shoes? Was this another Jesus sighting on the AZT??? I don't know, but I forgot to snap a picture just like last time!!

I also found out the Sawmill Run Grill would not be opening since the town was essentially closed. Darn it. I was told the general store was open so I made my way down the road. I found an outlet outside to top off some electronics while I shopped away. I was met inside the door by Leanne, who asked if I was 'John'? Uh, yeah, that's me. 'Oh, I'm friends with Max Morris and he said you'd be by and if anyone could do this, you could' Leanne answered. While I laughed it off she offered up a complimentary hot chocolate. Yes, please!! I did my shopping, dropping another $40 or so on bikepacking fare. I figured I had enough food to finish the ride, so no detour to Oracle would be necessary. I topped up on water and was good to go.

At the Control Rd. split, that's a LOT of snow!! And far down the slope too.

There 'may' have been a split second I thought about taking the Control Rd. down, then I saw it wasn't plowed. I tried riding through it, but started sliding all over the place. Total junkshow.

The snow was deep enough on the Control Rd. that I didn't need a prop for the photo.

There was a little clearing at the Oracle Ridge trailhead, but you can see only postholing on the trail going up the initial climb.

I was nice and cozy in the gusting winds. Time to face the task at hand.
Those first 100' up that first pitch set the tone. It was arduous at best. I thought to myself, this is going to take everything I have to get through this. I was not deterred. Onward. I hoped the level & downhill portions would go easier and I would drop low enough that the snow level would decrease enough so I could ride.

This is a classic Oracle Ridge shot on a non-snow day, incredible view today!!
I quickly fell into a process: Keep the bike in the hiker tracks as best I could, made pushing it a little easier. I almost always have to walk on the left side of the bike, it's one of those things. I feel like a bumbling idiot when trying to hike-a-bike on the right side even on simpler terrain. That meant I'd be walking along the knife's edge, half in the hiker tracks, half on the sideslope. I was very deliberate in my footsteps since I couldn't see the buried rocks...and there are many!! I fell down a few times early on when I didn't notice angled rocks below the snow. There were a few downed trees across the trail too. Most were fairly small, but a few were larger and lying a bit higher off the ground. I had to lift the bike almost over my head to hop those trees. On the uphill sections, I couldn't simply roll the bike through the snow. I had to lift the front end and lurch it forward, roll it a short bit and repeat. Over and over and over get the point. My upper body workout was off to a roaring start!!

Absolutely jaw dropping views in every direction. I tried to remind myself of this often.

Some sections were more treacherous to traverse than others. Take your time, precision was key.
I wanted to take a fair amount of pictures while up there because it could be a once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing, but my phone froze in the cold and shut down.

My water line on my bladder would freeze if I didn't keep sipping water. My Gatorade in my bottle was a nice slushy mix. I made sure to keep using both to keep them from freezing solid.

After a while, I decided to plug my phone directly into my cache battery to warm it up so I could snap more pics. Glad I did.

Another classic shot along the Ridge.
Cutting across one of the many windblown areas where the footprints were wiped clean akin to a shaken Etch-A-Sketch. The drifts were waist deep and required a bit of momentum to get body & bike through. Every once in a while the bike would really drag, like death mud, but snow. Then I'd notice the wheels had froze in place. A fist bump or two did the trick and got them spinning again. There was an ice fender on my front tire too!! Crazy.

On my GPS, I kept toggling to the elevation profile screen to see when I'd be coming to a steep drop. The sooner I get down, the sooner the snow is gone.

Another thin sideslope section. At least the typical encroaching vegetation wasn't really an issue. The Bighorn Fire from last June took care of that.

I had dropped over 1000' feet, still lots of deep powder.

Huge views down to the desert below. The snowline is still a longs ways off.
The hours were ticking by, it was now late afternoon and I finally reached the jeep road section. I had slim hopes of maybe riding this, but it wasn't to be. Still 8" of snow. Lots still below me too. This was going to take all day. I was now resigned to that fact. Keep walking. Speaking of which, while my feet were buried in snow all day, they were extremely comfortable. Sealskinz Waterproof socks FTW!! Those and my riding/hiking shoes: Salomon X-Ultras plus my Marmot rain pants kept everything cozy all day.

The not rideable jeep road section.

Back on singletrack after the often easy to miss old gate, now a much easier to spot AZT super gate.
This was about the time I began to get a bit frustrated with the whole scenario. It was getting late, probably going on 6p, I knew I was on a section of trail that is actually good to ride. I had dropped something like 2000' since Summerhaven, yet there was still 6-8" of snow!! When is it going to end? Each time I pulled up the elevation profile, I'd see a downhill, and would be staring at an uphill!?! Uphills were a struggle by this time. My arms and shoulders were worked over. Lift, push, lift, push...keep moving.

A nuclear sunset poked beneath the clouds.

Ugh, another uphill.

Hard to not take a moment to soak in the views.
Darkness fell, I was still pushing through snow, but was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just a bit more. The final downward pitch of singletrack began to reveal some bare Earth. I still couldn't ride because every ten feet or so would be a two foot high snowdrift!! The singletrack finally popped out on the jeep road that would lead to the Cody trail.

Finally!! On the semi-clear jeep road. It was saturated, but not super muddy. I could ride on/off while I linked to the Cody trail.
It ended up being 10 miles of hike-a-bike through the snow and 8 hours to get it done. And done I was, but I wanted to knock out the trail through Oracle State Park before calling it a night. 

At the Cody split, the trail was clear, while the adjacent ground was still covered in white. The Cody trail is mostly downhill into American Flag Ranch, but the caveat: there are over 100 waterbars, both natural & man-made. I was in no mood for this. My hands/wrist were worked over and I didn't want the abuse right now. It was a slow roll on the Cody trail, often dismounting for larger waterbar drops. There were still a few sections of trail I had to walk through deep snow. Plus, when I could ride, my rear brakes were squealing so loud. I felt bad if anyone was trying to camp near the trail. I thought, wow, that's really annoying!! Then my front brakes joined the party. Oh my. It was so obnoxious for a few miles. Sorry to anyone within earshot of that mess. Eventually, the brakes settled in and became quiet again.

Down at the High Jinks Ranch split. I was good on water, so I stayed on route.

Hallelujah!! American Flag Ranch and NO SNOW!! Just some remnants on my bike.
I shed some layers for the fun trail through Oracle State Park. Of course about an hour later it began to rain. Lightly at first, then a bit more steadily. It was enough that I needed my rain jacket back on. A few miles later I began scanning the area for a camping spot.

I didn't find anything I liked before popping out in the wash next to SR77 where the AZT goes under. There was plenty of traffic on the road, kinda noisy, but I was so tired I didn't care. This will do. I found a spot within a stone's throw of the cache box under a tree. I set up my bivy and was about to get out of my now wet outer layer and get horizontal to sleep when it began to rain...mixed with snow!! Are you kidding me? The bivy is too small to change inside. Again, I could see stars above me, where was this precipitation coming from?!? I walked over to the underpass to get out of it. It was a little after 11p. I called home to chat with K and tell her about my day. I had checked the local radar and saw a fast moving single storm cell overhead. This should pass by quickly I thought. I hung up with K and stood there waiting for the snow to stop. It was getting chilly, so I did some jumping jacks to generate heat. By 11:30p the snow had finally relented and I could get into dry clothes. I didn't even need my little foam pad on this night since the ground was so soft. The cars & trucks were still zooming by up on 77, but after 5 minutes I was out and never heard a thing all night.

Sunday dawned and I thought I got going fairly early, but when I looked at my phone it read: 8:30a!! Holy moly, get moving!! It was a new day, void of snow. It would be a different void today, a long desert void towards Picketpost. It's some of my favorite trail anywhere...all of it. Simply amazing terrain.
AZT trail mile 200!!

Tiger Mine trailhead near Oracle, gateway to the void. The distant peak on the horizon under the Arizona Trail banner is Antelope Peak. It's a main focus of the next 25 miles or so.

This gate marks the completion of the five big drainage crossings coming out of Tiger Mine.

Plenty of locals out on the trail today. Quite a few thru hikers too.

Cholla forest near the gas-line bypass.

Looking back at Mt. Lemmon. I couldn't believe I had been up there the previous day slogging through the snow.

Fun mini ridgeline descent.

Looking east towards the Galiuro Mountains.

Mt. Lemmon & surrounding peaks. PeakFinder app.

This short uphill was part of the 5 mile descent to Camp Grant/Bloodsucker Wash. Antelope Peak slowly getting closer.

Down in Camp Grant/Bloodsucker Wash. Good place for lunch as there are plenty of trees on the opposite bank.

Dropping down to Beehive Well & Putnam Wash.

Met a fellow bikepacker out touring the route, Sean. Cool dude and we shared a few miles later on.

Sean returns the photo favor at Beehive Well.

Finally closing in on Antelope Peak, that means Freeman Rd. is near and the start of the fast Boulders segment.

I'm always in awe at how quickly a mountain range you were on becomes distant. Mt. Lemmon looks like a three day ride away from here!!

What is this?? The Binary Bicycles brass came out to ride some miles. Nice jersey, George. It was new trail for Jalene too, that's always great to see.

Massive Cholla forest as you come around Antelope Peak. Lots of cholla balls in the trail thanks to the windy conditions.

Now on the north side of Antelope Peak, time to put it in the rearview mirror.
A trail angel was camped at Freeman Rd. and offered up a fresh bowl of minestrone soup with crackers. I couldn't pass it up or the ice cold Coke. In return, I gave the trail angel one of my thawed tamales. The first one I ate coming down Oracle Ridge and while it was tasty, it didn't really sit well with me. I didn't want a repeat, so it had to go.

George, Jalene & Sean all rolled in, it was a party at Freeman Rd!! As I started out, there were three other bikepackers from Tucson over by the cache box. They were touring the route southbound from Picketpost to Tucson. I gave them some intel on the snow situation and they altered their route around Mt. Lemmon instead of up & over. That would not have been wise.

I was hoping to get well into the Ripsey segment before dark, but first the fast Boulders segment.

The famous self-closing gate. Still a very cool sight.

What is this?? Snacks? <-- Thataway.

Someone had stashed a trail magic box for thru hikers. Cool little alcove next to the trail.

Had to grab a shot of Elephant Butt Rock or Mushroom Rock. What do you see?

Gila River Canyons beginning to come into view.
I looked at my phone to see what time it was after taking this picture and it showed 6:30p?? I thought the sun was still too high in the sky for it to be 6:30...then it dawned on me. Daylight savings time had kicked in overnight. While we don't observe it here in Arizona, thank goodness, my phone had been on airplane mode all day. Once a signal was acquired, the time adjusted. 5:30p. Cool, I still have over an hour of daylight. And this morning it wasn't 8:30a when I looked at the time, it was 7:30a!! Right on my schedule.

Another new slice of trail for the AZTR. This view and upcoming downhill was worth the short climb.

And the sunset didn't suck either.
I was able to get through the short powerline section and the following singletrack portion before needing my lights. 

This ride turned #loco long ago.
I was getting set to drop into Ripsey Wash when I could see a camping light up on Ripsey ridge. I figured I'd be spooking someone in about an hour or so!! The trail down through the wash is a hoot, it's really come into its own over the years. In the early years this section was a heavyweight fight with catclaw every time. Nary a scratch these days.

I gained the ridge around 9p. The winds had finally ceased, the sky was clear and only a handful of lights could be seen, none of which were the camping light I had seen earlier. It was peaceful, quiet, and serene up there. I love that area, one of my favorites along the entire AZT, day or night.

Arriving at the Kelvin trailhead.

AZT brass cap, commemorating the completion of the trail on Dec. 16, 2011. Hard to believe this will be the 10 year anniversary. Dec. 30, 2011 a group of us did quite possibly the first Picketpost to Kelvin thru ride. Interesting to see the pics of the freshly cut trail.
I wanted to get a ways along the Gila River before calling it a night, setting up a shorter day to wrap things up. I managed to get 6 miles west of Kelvin finding a nice flat spot near the trail around 1a.

I woke around 5:30a, right at the first hint of daybreak. I felt surprisingly rested and awake, so I began packing up for an early departure. I was leaving camp before sunrise, a rarity for me, it was 6:20a and a mere 30 miles remained. However, those are not 30 easy miles and I knew it. Slow & steady, enjoy the ride, that was my mantra for the day.

Daybreak over the Gila River.

The early rays felt great on this cool morning.

Looking north towards the White Canyon Wilderness.

One of the flat sections down by the Gila. No river access for these 16 miles along the river.

Squeezing through the notch.

I reached the turn to head north and begin the climb out of the river valley.
It's a 7 mile grind over 2000' of gain. If you think you need water, NOW is the time to access the Gila River. Go left, OFF the AZT at the turn, then stay right under the canopy of trees for a few hundred feet. There will be an obvious clearing to easily get to the river. It's 21 miles to Picketpost from here and it's a lot of work.
Top of the first jeep road climb, beginning of singletrack. Chatted with some hikers here for a bit who were section hiking the trail.

The second, steeper, jeep road climb comes into view.

Dale's Butte. Named unofficially for now, after Dale Shewalter, the Father of the AZT.
I was starting to feel the fatigue of the ride. My hands/wrist were tired, my left Achilles was making itself known, but not an issue. I was ready to be done. I checked my phone and had good cell coverage here. I sent K a text asking if she didn't mind picking me up at Picketpost. I would be in no condition to ride home as planned, plus, I didn't want to get home too late on a Monday night.

Great climbing grades follow the butte.

Non-stop views all the way up.

Our lack of rain in October & November meant virtually no wildflowers this year. I only saw a handful.

Wonderful contouring over the mid-section of the climb.

Fantastic overlook about one mile below the summit saddle.

The top coming into view!! Aiming for the low point in the saddle.

Saddle attained!! It was now noon.
I checked the phone again, K had confirmed my earlier message. She asked when I thought I'd be done. I thought about it, how I was riding and the remaining terrain. I told her I thought I'd be done around 4p.
Mt. Lemmon now a distant memory.

Entering Martinez Canyon. Another favorite area of mine along the AZT.

Labeled view to the south.

Rugged AF.

Cutting across the saddle before turning into Martinez Canyon.

Look close, follow the trail along the canyon wall, then zigzag down, before traversing the remaining bit. A true masterpiece that we get to ride.

Here's another one, what do you see? I always see a squirrel looking out into the canyon.

Up on the right side of the rounded hill, you can see the ATA rain collector.

Looking back into Martinez Canyon as I exit.

Rain collector is behind you on the 2-track here. 12 miles to go, I had a bit over 1L of water so I skipped the collector. It's mostly downhill and was still cool outside.

Cresting the final significant climb of the ride. Picketpost Mtn. peeking into view. 10 mostly downhill miles to go!!

Snowy Pinal Peak to the east near Globe.

The final gate on the 300!!

Lots of mental checkpoints along the way, here crossing Telegraph Canyon Rd. aka FS4.

More sublime singletrack.

The view coming into the 5 ultra tight switchbacks - cleaned 'em all!!

Managed to find one small poppy willing to open on this cool mostly overcast day.

Great view of Picketpost Mtn. with about 4 miles to go.

Don't let anyone tell you the final miles are all easy. Rocks lurk at every turn.
I began to hear a buzzing sound as I neared the final mile. A day rider I had seen earlier had caught up and passed me. I then put two & two together, someone was flying a drone out here. I wondered if it was someone I knew out to see me finish. I was excited to see K and put a wrap on this thing. As I rounded a corner dropping into the final wash crossing I spotted George!! He was snapping pics as I rode by. I crested the final hill to see K and Arturo, piloting the drone!! Here's the drone footage.

Coming into the final wash. Photo by George.

Arturo's sign that I somehow didn't see!!

Cresting the final rise in the trail. Photo by George.

Stoked to be done!! Photo by K.

That's a wrap. AZT300 No. 3 in the books. 4d 8h 30m, finished at 4p on the dot too.

Classic finish shot of Picketpost Mtn.
I came up with a new name for the SSP, no longer the Sit, Stand & Push, rather: Sun, Snow & Picketpost!! I loved the 130mm travel on the front end. The bike handled the route flawlessly. The pilot had some errors, but got 'er done. While I came up short on my 3d 12h goal, I did finish and had a blast out there. The finishing time really was insignificant in the end, I'm more proud of this effort overall. It was also a real treat to not really break a sweat on the entire ride, except when I needed to shed layers. What a rare concept for this ride.

Thanks again to everyone who followed along and sent well wishes, especially up in the snow!! Once again my No. 1 Fan: K, came through in spades. Love you!! Huge Thanks to George & Jalene for once again providing an awesome bike to ride, the SSP delivered in every way. I'm already looking forward to another 300 run in the relatively near future, perhaps after the Temporal Gulch project is completed.

Route flyover via (adjust playback speed, zoom, pan, expand stats, *fast forward through nightly camp spots)

AZTR posters, etc can be found on Redbubble