Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bye Bye Monkey...

A little over 24 hours after my AZT300 finish, I feel like I’d better tell my story before all the detail that makes it colorful fade away. As most know, this was my 3rd attempt at this race and as they say, 3rd time is definitely a charm. So much disappointment in 2012/2013 due to variables outside my control as well as variables in my control. This year, full of anger, I battled those variables, one by one and in a few cases, with a well placed phone call for emotional support(or in some cases tough love) and emerged victorious. So, buckle up as I tell of my Cage Match Fight To The Death with the “Monkey”.
This year, anger meter pegged...but still had doubts!

As you might imagine, the real race starts months and months before showing up at the starting line. My training this go around was different than prior years, with much more intensity, but fewer long rides. It wasn’t entirely by design however…I had plans to do some long rides and an overnight out on the course, but some mental and mechanical snafu’s got in the way. I ended up a bit stressed by this, but tried to convince myself that given a choice, intense training is better anyways. I mean heck, my 5-packs-o-suffering up Shaw Butte have to have done some good right?

Along with the physical prep, comes that mental prep…this is where I struggle. I literally, was never 100% committed… My head was not where it should be and the one overnight prep ride which was the prescription for my “illness” was cut short by not carrying a spare set of brake pads. …and worse yet, I preach to people about being mechanically prepared, doing preventative maintenance and being able to deal with issues trailside. Obviously, I needed to listen to myself…I was embarrassed and really disappointed in myself.

None-the-less, I was still “In” more than “Out” so I proceed to get stuff ready and prepare my “date” for a 4 day journey. Due to prior experiences, I carried WAY too much tire fix-it stuff(3 tubes, CO2, patches, glue, needle, thread, etc) but figured “better safe than sorry”…
The SS Carbon Niner, with a 34T oval and 22t cog, ready to go

On Thursday afternoon, several of us met at the Picket Post Trailhead where Manny from Sunday Cycles helped us load our bike and selves into the Sunday Cycles van for a trip to Parker Canyon Lake. Manny was towing a U-Haul trailer with essentially nothing but a few ratcheting tie-downs. When we arrived at PCL, we opened the trailer to basically find a pile of entangled bikes. …holy crap, “THIS IS NOT GOOD” I thought standing there in disbelief. We slowly and carefully untangled the mess of carbon and metal and everyone checked their rig. Surprisingly, aside from a few marks, everyone’s bike was still functional. The funny thing is that in the back of my mind, I was hoping my bike was messed up…it would have been the excuse I needed to bail.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:30AM and began to ready myself. John Schilling, Arturo Codina, and Bob Monahan woke up and saw me off on my early start (I decided starting early would allow me to take advantage of the cool temps even though I was officially listed as an Individual Time Trial).
Ready to rock and roll!  (pic from John S)

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling.... (pic from John S)

As I left, John’s last words were something to the effect of, “just back off the pace…” since he knows I tend to go too hard out of the gate. So that I did, and without a mass start, it was easy since I wasn’t either chasing someone or trying to pull away from someone. About half way through the Canelo’s, the first problem came up…my right heel was beginning to feel hot even though I had pre-taped them with Leukotape. I knew this issue alone could be a show-stopper so I immediately dealt with it by applying another layer of tape…it worked! Whew, problem #1 solved. On I went.

I finished with the Canelo’s arriving in Patagonia in exactly 5 hours…I thought to myself, “Aren’t you backing off the pace?” But dismissed the thought since I intentionally walked many sections I’d typically ride. Onward to Sonoita, I stopped for some supplies and had a nice chat with a roadie couple touring the US from San Diego to Minneapolis. He was asking me 100 questions about my rig…when I told him I was in a race, his eyes got real big and the questions stopped…lol.

At about 7:30PM, my neck was starting to hurt. I was 88 miles in and past where I had gotten in prior years. So instead of pushing too hard, I layed out my sleep stuff for the night. As I did, Kurt Refsnider rolled past saying “Howdy!”. I laughed at the fact that he made up a 2:45 time gap on me in 13 hours…the dude is FAST.

At about 11:30pm, my friend Josiah Morgan rolls by and the only reason I knew it was him was his very characteristic laugh. So I got up, packed up and hit the trail. As I made my way into Tucson, I stopped along the Old Spanish Trail to put more clothes on (It was COLD), and take a caffeine pill. The road miles were literally putting me to sleep.

I arrived at Safeway with my neck hurting and was ready to call it quits. I talked to my wife and like most would do, was ready to come get me. Then I decided to give Coach Ziemski (he’s not actually a coach) and he gave me what could be described as verbal ass-kicking. A few Ibuprofen and some water and I was off, at least to give it a shot. At the end of Broadway Rd in east Tucson, I called my wife again and told her I was going ride for another hour to see how I felt. If I ran across John Schilling (who was camped up Reddington Rd) I was going to see if he could give me a ride. Near the top of the Reddington climb, I called my wife back and told her I was going to continue and that I’d evaluate how I felt in Molino Basin. As the miles went by, I gained momentum. The neck pain had reduced (Problem #2 solved) and I was IN.

I reached the bottom of the Molino Hike-a-bike (HAB) and caught Kaitlyn. We chatted for a bit then I asked to pass her. If there’s one thing I can do fast is HAB! After descending into Molino Basin, I continued on the trail to Prison Camp where I see a guy riding towards me whooping and hollering…I was like, “WTF is up with that guy…why is he so happy?”… Turns out it was Max Morris, clearly the happiest and nicest guy on the planet. That lifted my spirits significantly. I asked him, “How’s the rest of the trail to Prison Camp?”. He said, “Oh, it’s about to suck pretty bad..”. Thanks Max…kudo’s for honesty!
Pic from Mad Max
After Prison Camp, I started the climb to Summerhaven via the Catalina Highway. Although roadie miles are often thought of as “easy miles”…these aren’t. I stopped a few times at a wide spot in the road, laid down in a shady spot and had interesting conversations with myself.

Finally I reached summerhaven at about 4:00PM and sat down at the Sawmill Restaurant. I pounded down a Pastrami Ruben, order of fries, and about 3 cokes. Wow, almost instantly I was new man. I had gone into the visitor center restroom and was considering sleeping there (it was spacious, and WARM) but after a few texts to Coach Ziemski, I did the math and realized that a sub-3 day finish would only be possible if I continued down Oracle Ridge.
It didn't stand a chance...

So off I went… I hit the trail and was like, “WTF?”….I have to go uphill?!?!?
I continued and could not believe how rugged this trail is….I’d describe it as “Ruggedly Punishing”.  My goal was to get down to 5kft so I wouldn’t freeze for the night but it seemed to take FOREVER. This trail (not really a trail IMHO) was work…overgrown, rocky, you name it… finally the worse was nearly over (or at least I thought) then I was confronted with a 2-track hill in front of me that was literally 30+% grade…Seriously? Very carefully I made my way up since any misstep would cause me to slide to the bottom and most likely with less skin.

As I hit the Cody trail, I was on a roll, feeling good and hitting all the moves. I arrived at Hwy 83 at about 11:30PM where I decided to sleep for a bit. At about 3:45AM, Kaitlyn rolled by which motivated me to get up. I rolled into Oracle where I waited a few minutes for the Circle K to open. I bought what I though was WAY too much food but didn’t want to run out for the last 95 miles w/o any convenient resupply options. I packed up and left the circle K at about 5:20AM. At Tiger Mine TH, I was feeling strong and mentally juiced. The air was crisp, the flowers were colorful and I knew all of this trail. It was a euphoric feeling!

Problem #3 came up; a loose saddle. I busted out the tools and fixed that thing immediately. Figured riding another 80 or so miles w/o a saddle might be uncomfortable.

Just south of Antelope Peak, I caught Kaitlyn again, as she was HABing up a short section of switchbacks. Feeling good, I passed her and made my way to the Freeman Road water cache. I watered up, chatted a bit with Kaitlyn and some hikers, then proceeded to do the Boulders section.

The Boulders went fast then I arrived in Ripsey wash. For anyone curious, I now can tell you what Hell looks like...I didn't see the devil, but his house is deep sand surrounded by canyon walls that focus the sun. (Note: I am not a Sun Devil, but an Arizona Wildcat… we don’t like this shit) I kept looking up expecting to see a magnifying glass trying to explode me like an ant. I pressed on up the Big Hill (Ripsey) where lo and behold, my head did explode. Finally I made it to the north end of Ripsey and I carefully made my way down the series of switchbacks.

I arrived at the Wilson Trailer Park, completely blasted and mentally drained. As I sat down on the park bench, an elderly gentlemen walked up with a can in his hand and said, “Hey, how you doing? Want a cold Pepsi?”. To which I responded, “No, I’m a Coke drinker…”…. Lol…That Pepsi represented life in a cylindrical aluminum vessel…holy crap. I went from rock bottom to ready to rock and roll. I watered up and prepared for the last 36 mile push.

My plan was to at least get to the bottom of the big climb and sleep. That would leave just 20 miles of hard trail ahead…and very dangerous trail that I didn’t want to attempt cross-eyed.

As I made my way west along the river, both of my pedals became extremely hard to unclip from. Uh-oh, I’m gonna need to unclip easy on what was left. So, problem #4 confronted me…why did my pedals (both of them) become so hard to function? So I pulled out my chain lube and squirted a few drops on each…viola! Problem solved….turned out that the very fine silty dust along the Gila did a number on them.

I reached the bottom of the climb at about 8:30PM, filtered some water from the river, ate a bunch and laid down. I did the math and figured to have a sub 3 day finish (meaning finish no later than 6:15AM Monday) I needed to leave by midnight. That would give me some buffer in case of an issue.  At 10:45PM, the game of the Tortoise and Hare continued with Kaitlyn…the sound of her tires on the gravel woke me up so I popped up, packed my stuff and was moving at 11:11PM. My legs felt amazing…I climbed like a possessed maniac. I ended up catching Kaitlyn again on the climb in the lower canyon where she was going to take a nap. We chatted for a few minutes then I pressed on.

As I made my way along the narrow exposed trail, my sense of balance began to suffer….I scared myself really good a few times until problem #5 confronted me…what happened to my balance and steering precision?. I was cold! So I put on more clothes to make myself intentionally warm. Problem #5 solved!

As I climbed(and descended) though Martinez Canyon, I took it really carefully not wanting to die(major exposure with a very high penalty for failure). I HAB’d a lot of stuff I’d usually ride. Occasionally, I came upon night hawks sitting on the trail. These little red-eyed birds sit in the middle of the trail, always 90 degrees to the trail direction and will not fly until your tire nearly crushes them… it provided a few good laughs just when I needed it.

Finally, I rolled into the Picket Post TH at 4:26AM. I layed my bike down by my truck them immediately broke out in tears. I could not believe that after so much preparation, so much prior year disappointment, that I’d completed the AZT300. It was emotionally overwhelming. After a few minutes, Kurt walked up, we talked a bit, then I got cold and headed home.

Later than day after a nap, Birthday Boy John Schilling came by with celebratory brews…yes, the 400lb monkey was off my back! I could not feel any better!

The Monkey is gone... (pic from John S)

Some lessons I learned from this experience that will hopefully help others be successful…
1. Problem solving is EVERYTHING. Attack each thing immediately as it comes up…don’t let it become a real problem that eventually festers in your head.
2. Find an asshole friend and get their phone number. Call them when you want to quit.
3. Cold water is not only good, but easy to drink…I bought a bag of ice at every chance I had and packed my bladder and insulated bottles with it. I fashioned a bladder insulator that was not only light, but kept me drinking cold water 5+ hours.

My Homebrew Bladder Koozi

Finally, I do need to thank my wife for all her support and my good friends Jeff Ziemski and John Schilling for their mental encouragement. A shout out to Scott Morris too for creating this crazy event and giving us nut jobs something to do with our time.

Two dirty compression socks and tired feet

That white shirt and (used to be white) arm warmers.

Leukotape is a lifesaver...thanks for the tip Arturo!


  1. ^^Hilarious, John! Not even an Atta boy - just straight to the point. The long, very sharp point. :)
    Awesome job, Ray! When I saw your Spot jump way off the front I got a bit uh "concerned", but you kept it together and threw that bitch monkey to the ground - somewhere deep in the bottom of Martinez Canyon, I hope! Way to ride angry. - Zort

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  3. Awesome story, awesome ride Ray. It's a good thing you are really good at solving problems! Glad you finished! I was watching your progress online and cheering for you from my couch!

  4. Amazing ride Ray, and a nice write-up. Remind me never to try that

  5. Zort, I can't blow sunshine his way too much, gotta keep him hungry for more!! There were plenty of atta-boys and beer drinking afterwards!!

  6. Great Job Ray! Thanks for writing up your story too. You definitely owe JZ beer for life for keeping you out there.

  7. Awesome Ray! So stoked to see that you conquered this beast!

  8. That was a fairly intense bike trip, with moments of suspense and tension sprinkled throughout the whole thing. The neck pain was a cause for alarm, but it was good that you were able to suppress it and continue on with the race. Still, maybe you can have that checked again, to see if there are lingering causes for concern. Anyway, congratulations for finishing, and I hope you continue to join these events in the future. Cheers!

    Jacqueline Hodges @ Dr. Koziol

  9. Do you drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi?
    ANSWER THE POLL and you could get a prepaid VISA gift card!