Sometime back in summer, I mentioned to John and Jeff that we needed a replacement for the AES BCT race. John had done some riding out at Picket Post exploring the AZT north of the highway, so I had mentioned that maybe we could cook up a couple loops, short and long to incorporate some of that trail as well as the great stuff south of Picket Post. John delivered…and did a ton of work putting together GPX tracks and scouting the area with Jeff and Nancy a few times to identify water sources and connector trails. So, thankfully, WE HAD A RACE; the Picket Post Punisher!
The morning of 11/2, 6 of us idiots gathered shortly before 5AM for the long loop…81 miles of fun. We rolled out of the parking lot a few minutes after 5AM and made our way north, under Hwy 60, to the formal start point. There, with few words said, we began the grind north up Montana Mountain. Hunter and Neil led the charge and I slotted in a distant 3rd. At several points in the climb, I got within about 100 yards of Neil, but resigned to the fact that he was faster and chasing him would just burn those precious matches I’d need later in the day. From that point mid-climb, I’d never see any of them, in front or behind me other than Neil’s lights a few switchbacks up.
The climb was tough…windy, and always seeming to be in your face. I walked several of the steeper sections to conserve energy. At what I thought was the peak, the road began to descend but unfortunately there was still ample climbing left. At the AZT turnoff, I stopped to eat and took in the incredible views. At this point, Picket Post Mountain was incredibly far away to the south and I knew the Gila River, my furthest point south was even another 20 miles trail beyond that. So, I got after it, descending the sketchy, narrow switchbacks of the AZT off the mountain. Literally, I felt as though I cheated death on a few of them with plenty of carnage awaiting should you crash. Finally, the trail turned flatter and followed a drainage out till it crossed the road we’d climbed. There I saw several of the 50 milers as they ground their way up the mountain. Continuing down the rough and rubly singletrack, I finally reached the LOST trail and took that over to the med clinic to refill water. There, I filled up on some nasty, plastic garden hose like water (I really should have tasted it then removed the hose from the spigot).
South from Superior, and up FR4, I passed by some dudes unloading their automatic weapons into the hillside, then along the slow, crappy road to the junction with the AZT. This was decision point; I’d made it here by a few minutes before noon, and figured if I didn’t fall completely apart, I should be able to finish by 6pm. (I was so wrong). So I continued, generally west along FR4 and finally south towards the river. This entire section was simply brutal. The ups were super tough and steep; the downs where techy, steep and took every bit of attention and strength to avoid a crash. Just before the Gila River, you make a final, sketchy rubly descent down a 4wd road covered in baby heads that wants you off your bike in a bad way…no way baby, at this point, I almost to the Gila and back to trail I know.
At the river, I attempted to access the water and fell in up to both knees. Shit. Gotta find a better spot. John had told me just before the trail turned north was better access. Sure enough, at the rocky bank I used my Sawyer filter to filter a few quarts of water…good tasting water too…
It was 3pm on the nose, as I HAB’d up the first rocky section of jeep road to the singletrack. At this point, I was totally blasted, stomach a mess, and hardly able to get any food down. I set small goals for myself; get to the next ridge, once there, get to the next one. I was literally walking almost anything with an upward slope. Finally, while in the canyon section, I got a bit of a 2nd wind and just kept telling myself, “you got this, you got this”. (as if I had a choice!). I stopped, put on my lights and my clear glasses and continued the grind out of the canyon.
Mentally, I knew once I got to this point, it was generally level or downhill so I rode more, powering up the small inclines. Night riding for me isn’t something I do much except on these long trail races or bikepacking, but once you find that comfort zone, it’s actually quite enjoyable. The trail was covered with this small spiders that had a very shiny spot, almost like a diamond. I stopped a few times in amazement to look at them and used that thought to distract myself. The night hawks along the trail are also a weird AZ thing. The damn things sit on the trail and take flight when you are nearly on top of them. I walked up on one and was amazed with such large eyes(and probably great night vision) they don’t take off sooner.
Finally, I was nearing the end…and thank God. I rolled into the trail head at 8pm and was greeted by Jeff, Nancy, John, Chad, Neil and some of the other finishers. Not feeling very well at all, I walked to the truck and laid in the passenger seat. Finally, I decided to make the drive home…probably the longest 1 hour drive of my life.
Turns out, of the 6 that started the 81 miler, only 3 of us finished...
Looking back on that day, it truly ranked up there as one of my top three toughest days on a bike. Both physically and mentally, this course beat me down. It beat me down bad. It made me dig deep and question why I put myself through these sufferfests. Riding bikes is fun…lots of fun. Suffering like a dog, not so much.
…and to think this was my idea.
Anyway, thanks again to all who did it and special thanks to John for turning my race idea into reality. It was his gpx wizardry and scouting trips that gave life to the idea.