Now after several weeks of eating, sleeping, pavement and fun unloaded trail riding I still can't wrap my head around this course ...
It actually starts feeling unreal.
What a beast and what an incredible experience.
Scott, thanks for making it happen and Tim, thanks for your basecamp support and all the info you provided online and in person during the prerace discussions!
Many times I failed to tour it at a „relaxed” pace as planed - it just isn't part of the game or the route ... and I found myself pushing long days and the last days I definitely raced (within the limits of a mere mortal human being
Sorry that it took me so long writing these few lines, but being a lazy writer plus an fidely touchscreen keypad that drives me nuts took its toll
Here a short summary of my days:
1: late start at the border at 11:15 after riding there from the 300 start. Turning around already thinking „this is hard, another two hours in this heat on this boring road”. (the locals would call this temperatures balmy, and later i would have long forgotten what just riding along feels like)
Soon after passing the TH at parker canyon lake I noticed having lost my mobile and I didn't had a clue where.
I decided going back with the nose on the ground. Beeing on first name terms with 269 soda cans and two hours later I found it directly behind a cattle guard and the border patrol had been so kind driving around it
At 3pm at parker creek I was very tempted calling it a day and stay there overnight. But after a long break I decided to still head out into the Canelo hills. I was rewarded with beautyfull evening light bathing the countless hills.
With the last light I selected a sheltered valley as my first bivy spot under the arizonian stars. The wind that would bring the snow to the fast guys was already picking up.
2: I got up with the sun and enjoyed the rolling through the hills - the weather was fortunately still good and I arrived in Patagonia half an hour before Velvet Elvis opened. But the wait was worth it! My stomach hadn't been to happy about the sudden exertion in the heat and had been complaining a lot about my trail food.
A big salad and a slice of pizza is the better fuel and I consequently wrapped a second slice for later.
The ride into the Santa Rita mountains was a true patagonian experience (the „real” one). Walking the bike on flat terrain into the drizzeling headwind while the mud started to accumulate everywhere...
With the Gardener Creek everything got better; beautifull trails and the wind had calmed down. I rode into the dark just behind Kentucky camp where I put down the bivy a foot next to the trail.
3: Brrrr, what a shivering night. I woke before the alarm and sunrise brushing ice from the mosquito net hood of the bivybag.
After packing I spent 20 minutes jogging up the trails to get some life back into my feet.
But the rest of the day my only concern was getting to close to the desert vegetation when speeding through the turns of never ending dream trails.
Tucson provided two foot long sandwiches I strapped down on my rack (think compressed flat bread).
With nightfall I made camp in the rocky section before chiva tank. During the night I woke to the whirring sound of a freewheel and saw a headlamp gliding with apparently no effort through this maze of steep rocks. ScottM I think ...
4: In one of the many ordinary gravel trail sections with no stone big enough to call it a rock I hear the sudden escape of a lot compressed air. The moment I come to a stop my rear tire is completely flat and milk is leaking out of an half inch gash in the side wall.
Some searching turned up one stone wih a chipped edge that had left a razor sharp and pointy tip. Somehow i must have turned it in a way that it sliced through the tire when I rolled over it.
I never had a side wall defect before and I was staring at it for several minutes. With all the thorns poking out of the rubber I was reluctant to give up the tubeless system, but without one of this bend needles i had no choice but to break the seal of the bead. I put a regular patch on the inside, sewed it and put some superglue to the thread on the outside. And I still didn't want to put a tube into it. I took my pump and started pumping like crazy and on the third try the miracle happened and it seated!
Later I bought a CO2 cartridge ...
The patch is still holding up fine and this would be my only defect.
At west spring i met Beto and we filled up our water bottles. Even though he had already decided to roll back to Tucson it impressed me that he got that far with all his luggage on the back - I wouldn't last 5 miles this way.
The trail from the Molino picnic area parallel to the Catalina Highway in the afternoon heat was a miserable torture - or just adequate preparation for the days to come.
The nice people from the Summerheaven store depicted quite nice how Kurt had shown up Saturday morning in the snowstorm shivering for half an hour in front of their heating unit
and gave me valuable nutrition tips and the first of many frozen burritos.
5: I hiked Oracle ridge well rested in the morning. What traverse of death? ... I swore about the lousy brake pad eating downhill. And all this rocks. (yes i know there is this "s" technology)
A long break in Oracle meant heat riding later. Or crawling. I had to push up my bike even the tiniest hill. (ah yes this other "s" technology)
Surprisingly my energy returned with the setting sun and i decided to try some nightriding. I just had a small Petzl head lamp, but it was good enough and I flew through the night till the batteries were empty.
6: In the morning I discovered that only half a mile further KC, JC and Aleck had made camp. I passed them when they were rolling out of their sleeping bags. I didn't wait because I was already fearing the heat and pushed on.
Just before Kelvin I had my first rattle snake encounter that was cheering me on at the side of the trail.
And then a real river after all this superdry desert days. The Gila Valley is just awesome. And maybe I should have stayed under one of the many trees till nightfall and then ascend to Superior. But visions of cool Coke were calling and i started climbing out of the valley in the full heat of the afternoon. Halfway up I was realy exhausted and started to worry seriously. But somehow I managed to drag me up to the plateau and had already resigned to collapse at Trough Spring. But then the sun disappeared and the energy returned.
In Superior I had my first trail angel experience. A woman worried about my safety with my flimsy taillight riding at night. I assured her that I just wanted to grab some food at the already visible gas station. There must have been a yearning tone in my voice ...
and she produced a gigantic sandwich out of here car „that would be far better than anything I could get there”. She was right.
The only motel I ran across didn't accept guests after 8pm. So I went back to the TH.
Unfortunately I only half woke when KC, JC and Aleck arrived and couldn't make myself get up and greet and congratulate.
7: Pavement day with a few gravel hours at night to somewhere close to Roosevelt Lake and a few relaxing icecream burger hours at Canyon Lake.
8: In Payson I decided to have a short day and get a bed and shower in a hotel.
In hindsight a wise decision. Most likely I would have collapsed on the trail to Pine.
9: My energy level was very low and I decided to get a real recovery day and only ride the handfull miles to Pine I thought were mostly easy forest roads. Which is sort of right ... By the time I got to Pine I was scared (not to say panicking ...) of the „some of the hardest miles of the AZT” from the cue sheets. The trail to Pine didn't get any adjectives ...
In Pine I met Sirena from the AZT association who was running the Trail Day event this day in Pine. She was happy to still get one racer this day and helped me a lot by linking me with the nice folks from the Rim Grill for wonderfull fuel and a shower.
Out of the fear of the Highline Trail I decided to take advantage of the cooler evening and hiked a few hours to Webber Creek. And had my two most memorable crashes of the whole trip. The first occured on one of the few rideable 30feet sections. The scrubs to the side had overgrown the trail that the ground was hardly visible. I missed a small stone and my weight was a little bit to the front and my arms not expecting it. They buckled, I went over the bar bringing the bike up behind my and finally getting burried under it. It trapped me perfectly because it got well entangled with all the lining scrubs. After several contortions I could unbuckle the backpack and wiggle on the ground to freedom
Fortunately no real harm was done and i even giggled about this perfect slapstick stunt.
The second time I slammed my bike full force into a downed tree when i stumpled having it lifted to chest hight. I was fearing the worst, but only the bike computer had exploded to several pieces and the hose of my rear brake was squished and most likely only saved by the steelflex.
10: I learned something about a new level of exhaustion. After finally dragging myself up to the Mogollon Rim I couldn't drag myself beyond Clear Creek. My food supplies weren't prepared for this, but at this time I didn't care.
11: One Cliff bar brought me to Mormon Lake in time before the only shop closed which is by the way realy miserabley equipped for starving cyclists. Only diet coke, diet pepsi, diet sprite ... Urgh.
12: Real bike riding! Hurah!
And after Flagstaff fun trails! Did I miss a turn?
After several days crawling and dragging myself along the energy is finally returning and I ride well into the night. And enjoy it.
13: A few miles before Russel Tank I meet for the first time a AZT750 racer. Mark had had some serious mechanical trouble after the Mogollon Rim and was now fighting with desintegrating tires. It was amazing and impressive to see the speed and technique he had with duct tape and superglue.
I suspect there had been more gorilla tape than rubber on his wheels by the time he crossed the border.
The weather starts to look dubious and a real cowboy says something about a storm with possible rain for the evening.
One look at the red dirt and the fear from the inmobilising gue it might transform into definitely helped riding to the south rim ...
14: At 5am I was ready to drop into the canyon, the bike strapped to the now flimsy feeling backpack.
I knew only theoreticaly about the big abyss that was waiting under a black blanket of nothingness and I felt quite anxious during the first steps. Soon the twilight started to reveal the first ridges and contours and this walk down turned into one of the most memorable days. The rays of the rising sun filtered through the storm clouds that were still growing. At this time I was glad about the shade they offered.
Down at the river I thought „that wasn't that hard”, at Cottenwood Camp I had had my share and when I finally staggered out the last steps at the north rim I was glad there weren't any witnesses of my distorted face. I just sat down and stared at the bike for ten minutes. By that time a drizzle had started and the icy wind quickly took any warmth I had still left of the climb.
I had decided to ride as far as possible during the evening/night to finish the AZT in the early morning. But my wishfull thinking was nothing to the cold. I couldn't get warm on the bike even wearing the down vest. Soon I felt the ugly danger of hypothermia creeping into my bones. When is cold to cold? I realized that Jacob Lake was out of reach and i wrapped myself into my tarp in a dense group of firs next to the road.
15: I felt like a camel smelling the water. I just wanted to get to the state line and Page for food and rest.
Getting on and off the bike required a lot of wincing and my top tube was definitely to high
I started at the Mexican border at 11:15. With the time of the day and a good trail I began to hope for a personal sub 14 time. Somehow racing hard for a specific time when you are among the touring ranks feels silly ... None the less I began racing as hard as I still could and blasted down the final hills through the most beautiful wildflowers to reach the state line at 11:13
And then I arrived in Paradise. Les was waiting for Jill at the campground and he offered me Nutella bagles, homemade gingerbread cookies and a cool coke. Heaven!
Jill had her historic finish a little later in the afternoon. She was smarter than me and had waited out the storm in a yurt at the rim. How she walked on her duct taped feet through the canyon is realy beyond my imagination.
They gave me a ride to Page and we had a gigantic dinner at a Mexican Restaurant
Thanks for this perect finish!