My first AES APC115 is now complete (as of 6:30PM Saturday) and about all I can say is, “holy crap…what a beatdown”. But I’ll elaborate…since you’re here…
Twelve of us assembled yesterday morning and started this sufferfest a few minutes after 5AM. We proceeded back down the dirt road then up the highway towards Oracle. A bit east of Oracle as we hit Tiger Mine Road, the race “officially” began with some of the faster geared guys able to take advantage of the slight downhill to where the AZ Trail started. We hit the trail and that’s when things got interesting. That section of the AZT was described to me as “raw” and “cactusy”….sure enough, the trail made its way in and out of about 5 washes where the decent was narrow and sketchy, and the ascent up the other side was loose and steep…which btw equals hike-a-bike for me on the SS and definitely didn’t want to burn those precious matches so early in a huge ride. I was at this point in 6th place with Chad B. just up ahead. With his gears and skills, there was no way I was going to close the gap so keeping it constant was my goal.
Finally, we reached the new section of trail that bypasses the gasline…having never ridden the gasline, I was told it was aweful however the new trail definitely has it’s challenges. At this point, I could see Chad and finally caught him (and Neil) thanks in part to a navigate error on their part just prior to the super sketchy and rocky decent into Grant wash. (as an aside, these rides not only test your mental and physical strength, but route finding skills as well…a few miscues there really chews up time).
Exiting Grant wash, I was in front of Chad now trying to hang with Neil. It was the last I’d see of Chad the entire day although with his mad techy climbing skills, I expected to see him behind me at any time. I couldn’t keep Neil’s pace but was able to keep him within sight all the way to the water cache at Freeman road, at about the 43 mile point.
At that point, the 3 leaders(Kurt, ?, Max) except Neil had climbed Antelope Peak for the bonus time and were just rolling into the water cache. Neil left that was the last I’d see of him. I got back on the bike and left just before Max and continued north. Shortly Max was on my wheel and we continued to make our way through the Boulders section of the AZT. We stayed somewhat together up until about Rispey wash were I lost him.
This was probably my first real mental lowpoint of the ride – the trail follows the wash at this point, and it was just soft enough that I felt every pedal stroke took 300% more effort than it should. I could also see the switchbacks heading up Ripsey knowing that’s where I’d be heading. So, I bailed off the bike figuring walking would help me conserve energy. I proceeded to walk and ride (mostly walk) the entire climb up Rispey which is about an 800ft ascent, much of it very loose and rocky. At this point, I thought Chad would catch me since I felt like my pace had slowed so much. Finally reaching the top, I rolled along the ridge catching the views as I could. I spotted Mt. Lemmon WAY off to the south which just several hours prior seemed within reach…then it hit me…I am WAY out here…
The decent down the north side of Ripsey is scary…loose, narrow, rocky, and steep. At this point, I didn’t want to risk a fall so I rode the switchbacks that seemed getable and unclipped a foot for the others. Finally hitting the Florence-Kelvin highway was a mental charge…I knew the miles now would come easier being a well graded dirt road. Man was I wrong. After a short descent, you hit the low point in elevation in the ride in the Gila River valley. This was my pit of despair…I started climbing the 6% grade, head down just so the false summits wouldn’t work on my head. Finally about half way up, my feet hurting and energy low, I knew it was time for the silver bullet… jumped off the bike, reached into my pack and downed a caffeine energy shot, a few chunks of beef jerkey, and put on the ipod. Wow, did that help. Back on the bike I felt like a new man.
I finally reached the AZT and hence finished the upper loop – this helped… however, I was running short on water and knew I probably had 1-2 hours back to the cache. I made the mistake of underhydrating on the first 40 miles, tried to make up for it on the next 40 and now was really thirsty and only ½ bottle left. Uggh…major low point #2. I just kept telling myself that it was going to be fine, and if I had to ride 30 minutes without water, I wouldn’t die. I came upon some hikers that were just finishing their 20 mile hike and one says to me, “would you like some water?”. What? Really? I graciously accepted their offering, said my thanks multiple times and got back on the bike. This was HUGE. No more did I have to worry about water, my body felt good so I was able to pick up the pace a bit back south on the AZT to the cache.
At the cache, I grabbed a bit more water figuring it was about a 2 hour ride back. In a few miles, I came up on Max who I’d last seen before Ripsey. He had ran out of water and then making it to the cache, drank until almost throwing up. We then road together the rest of the way back. Race wise, he’d climbed Antelope peak so with that time advantage on his side, there was no sense trying to lose him.
All in all, it was a LONG day on the bike, my longest to date, but a key part of my AZT300 preparations. It taught me several things, one of which being that a trail is not a trail… In other words, the AZT is a rugged trail. Not build to MTB trail standards like BCT. It’s technically challenging, loose, rough, steep, narrow, thorny, non-existent in places. Without a GPS, you’d be SOL. Without some tough tires with sealant, you’d REALLY be SOL. If BCT were like doing curls, riding the AZT is like doing squats…full body workout.
Until Chad posts the final results, I believe I placed 5th out of the 12 that started. (EDIT: 10 started and Chad hiked Antelope Peak and thus with that bonus took 5th...so 6th out of 10) I hoped for better, but the 4 individuals ahead of me are truly worthy AZT veterans. So, I’ll take my 13:30 time and
6th place and be very happy. It was a real
test… I’d like to think I’d have felt
stronger if I hadn’t caught a cold 3 weeks prior, but such is life…you just
have to “roll with it”.
Thanks to Chad for organizing these rides – they are always a great gathering of like-minded people that just like to ride their bikes…a long way!