Monday, May 6, 2013

AZTR 300 rewind
There are multiple stages involved to attempt such a task. At some point you think to yourself "I think a mountain bike ride across Arizona sounds like fun" for me at least, there was a ton of prep work. Starting with the physical - I road 150/200 miles a week for a few months leading up to the start time. Then there is the research - almost every night I would read something before bed. I would read gear reviews, bike set up, blogs about previous attempts, whatever I could find on the subject. Mental prep - yes mental prep is important. Convincing yourself "I got this" is a very important part of the process.  A positive and confident brain can over come some bad situations.  Bike prep - I had to make some changes to my current "light weight" set up. To Bikepack, is to carry everything with you, sleep system, food, water, clothing, tools, and other stuff. Because of the added weight, I swapped out some carbon fiber parts for some stronger aluminum parts. When it was close to go time, I strapped on the bags, added some weight and did a few trial runs to be sure everything was going to work. Logistics - Houston, Phoenix, Mexico, bicycle, start line, finish line, no car, extra baggage. 

The adventure starts early in the morning. I fly to Phoenix, catch a cab to a local bike shop and build my bike in the parking lot. I prearranged leaving some things at "Landis cycles" (great shop & staff). I spent a few hours riding around making adjustments, having lunch and becoming very nervous. At 3pm Ray Hemmele picked me up at the shop and we headed to the finish line. The finish is at "Picket Post Trail Head" a nice parking area where riders can leave their car. Ray hired a shuttle company to take 11 racers and bikes to the start line and drop us off. It was good to meet other people doing this thing, some had a score to settle from previous attempts, some (like me) were first timers, and some had completed this in the past. There were a lot of good stories and discussions about strategy. In Tucson, we stopped for Pizza and beer. It was a good move, pizza for the gut, beer for the brain. We arrived at the start area in a very remote location close to the Mexico border. Everyone gets out of the van, gets their bikes out of the trailer, and finds some ground to call home for a few hours. It was really dark and windy. As I was going to sleep all I could think about was... Wow, I'm basically in Mexico with a bike and have to get to Phoenix, on a trail... what the hell have I got myself into.

At dawn I was looking around from my sleeping bag. It was windy and cold. I could see Jeff and Nancy were just about ready to roll. They already had a Spot Tracker and wanted to get an early start. I rolled around in my bag for a while trying to get some more sleep. 9 am start couldn't get here fast enough. As more racers started moving around, getting ready some of the 750 group rolled in. It was getting close to "go time". A lady came over and asked if I was Holt... "yes, I am" it was Sheila Blank. Sheila and I had exchanged emails earlier in the month. We had never meet, but knew that both of us were doing this race. We are both from Texas and wanted to meet to say hello and of course good luck. 
At 9 a.m., after some words of wisdom from Scott Morris - the creator of this event... GO 

The Canelo Hills - Canelo East was first, it started quick and fun, slowly becoming a little steeper. The grade was not unrideable, just loose to the point you would loose traction and have to hike to the top. I found myself in a good spot riding/pushing with some people from the shuttle. After a few hours of this; things stretched out a bit. I was trading back and forth with Josiah, at this point I didn't remember his name but we would end up riding together a lot each day. Canelo West had more rideable trails, there were some long & fun stretches. Josiah and I continued to go back and forth, He would climb away from me and I would pass him on the downhills. As we were getting closer to Patagonia, there was a real fun gradual downhill through knee high grass. As I was getting toward the bottom it became off camber and I was railing a little to fast... slam, I was down. The first real crash. I didn't realize it until I got to Patagonia but I lost my hand pump.  After a few minutes of riding I realized I had a rear wheel issue; a broken spoke nipple. Good thing the spoke is still useable, I just need a new nipple. 

Patagonia - I went to a semi bike shop/book store. The folks there were super nice and did everything they could to help. I was able to purchase a used old hand pump - better than nothing! The man said he had an old wheel at his home and that I could rob a nipple from it. I went to the market to refresh, and get some much needed food and drink. The man was going to bring the wheel to me at the market. I visited with some riders as I refueled. After a few minutes he was there. I got my parts, returned the wheel to the shop, and was ready to ride. I decided to keep the nipple in my bag and deal with the repair later. I justified this move by the fact I had a fair amount of riding West Canelo in this condition. I did have a wobble where the nipple was damaged, causing the tire to rub a little in granny gear but I pressed on. Next was the road section up to the town of Sonoita. It's up hill with a headwind, about 12-15 miles. In this one stop light town, there was another market. I stopped again, there were more riders hanging out in the shade.        
At the Sonoita market I saw Josiah, he had been there for a while and was ready to roll out. I spent a good amount of time in Patagonia and was tired from the road ride. At this point I had more saddle time in one day than ever before. I saw another guy from the shuttle, Josiah’s friend, Mark.  He was dealing with a sliced sidewall. Gorilla tape & super glue was the fix. I purchased some food,  a frozen burrito for later, peanuts, candy bar, Vienna sausage, and my favorite – coconut water. After a good sit down I got moving again. After riding solo for a good way a rider caught me, it was Mark. At the time we hadn't really talked much, some small talk on the shuttle. We would end up being each others company for the majority of the race. As we got to the "Flume Trail" trailhead a group of 3 riders caught up to us. Mark needed a nature break and said he would catch up. I followed the group who was hauling butt through some very sweet single track. They gaped me a little and I slowed up a bit to let Mark catch up. The trail turned to a double track and started dropping. I was digging the fast descent so much it took a while to realize I was off course… a few bonus miles, the shitty part was turning around looking up hill knowing I needed to go back. At Kentucky Camp Mark was there, wondering why he didn’t catch up me. I had planned to sleep at Kentucky Camp thinking that would be good mileage for day one. It was getting dark, Mark said he was going on. I asked if he minded me tagging along? He said "no come on". We made some changes, lights, clothing and ate some food. Riding through the dark we passed riders bivvied for the night. At the top of a small climb there was a guy sitting  just off trail, it was Josiah. I said “Hey, you’re the guy I was riding with this morning”. The three of us went on for couple more hours. 
We made camp after about 14 hours and 80miles.

My internal clock made me awake early. It was cold and difficult to get moving. I grabbed the frozen burrito (now thawed) from my backpack and stayed in my sleeping bag while I ate. I put my shoes inside the sleeping bag, beside my thighs, hoping my body heat would warm them up. As I got motivated, organizing my crap load of gear, Mark and Josiah were coming to life. We chatted for a bit while they had some food and I packed. I need a early start, I planed to go off course in Tucson to find a bike shop and repair my back wheel.
I was off at the crack of dawn, riding solo, bundled up in cold weather gear. After an hour or so riding some great single track I hit a hike a bike section, up the trail a little were two guys stopped. They were shedding their cold gear, so I stopped and did the same. They were from Alaska, I had seen them in Patagonia but wasn't really paying attention because of my wheel problem. We talked for a few minutes, nice guys. What a difference to leave the frozen wilderness to ride the sun baked desert. I spent the next half a day riding some of the best, fast, big ring single track. There was a lot of locals riding this area... I know why, its sweet. They were all hip to the AZT race, as I would approach they would move over, clap, cheer, and give words of encouragement. I was blown away by this, it really got me pumped up. I passed three different groups of locals, they all had the same reaction. After many hours in the sweet stuff, a local single speeder passed me, I asked where Clossel Cave was, he replied "you are way past it" shit, I'm running out of water. He said I was close to a trail head with a water spigot. Just up the trail he stopped in a parking area and pointed out a spigot hidden in a rock...aww. I would have never found this.  We talked for a bit as I topped off my water and cooled off.  I pressed on, solo again. 

After some climbing out of the parking area, and a little bit of HAB, I was back to fast single track. Again a group of locals (going the opposite way) went by super excited to give me props on my journey.
I finally made it to pavement, this meant Tucson was close. The half way point, bike shop, food and something to drink other than water. Looking up the road, it was rolling hills to the horizon. Near the end of this stretch a MTBer pulled up beside me “ you know, there are thousands of riders who would love to be in your shoes right now” we laughed together and chatted for about a  mile.

I had to go off course to find a bike shop, thanks to Google maps I was in luck. Upon arrival the shop guy said that another AZT racer just left. He had a completely destroyed the front shock and just bought a new Fox fork off the shelf. It made my broken spoke seem kind of lame. The shop guy took over and offered me ice cream from the freezer…. What? That’s awesome. They are next door to Dairy Queen and have stocked up on the Blizzard mess up orders.   $35 bucks, a completely reworked back wheel and a break from the mid day sun, I was back in action. On the way out of town I hit Sonic, why not… large cherry limeade and a hot dog.
Now fat and happy it was time to make up some lost time. Some BS miles, a stupid loose bottom ditch,  then the biggest climb so far. Redington Pass, it’s an unpaved road with a bunch of switchbacks. I lost count, trust me it’s a beast of a climb. This area is the “modern” wild west, lol, big time rock crawlers, guns, redneck style, my kind of fun. I am happy to say, I cleaned the whole thing, slow but no dabs.  On the way up I could see other AZT racers. At the top I found Jeff, Nancy ( I cannot imagine doing this on a single speed) and Josiah. Josiah was feeling very bad and not looking good. He said that Mark was just up the way a bit. As we crested, things got fun for a while. Downhill bombing. The double track became a boulder section for extreme 4X4s, it was fun to pick a line through here. Things leveled out and I found Mark chilling on the side of the trail waiting on the others. I chilled too. It was a chance to get out of riding position! It was apparent Josiah wasn’t doing well, he wanted to press on but I could tell his time was fading. After some miles we were at a little HAB section when Mark made a scream…. Snake. It was the first rattler sighting. Being close to dark, the heat of the day was gone and the snake was slow and not bothered by us, he worked his way off the trail and we went on our way.
Josiah was done for the day, really done, stomach issues, sick, exhausted. Mark backtracked to be sure his friend wasn’t in worse condition than just sick. Nancy, Jeff and myself continued on. Some good single track riding for about an hour then we had to light up.  I had a small gap on Jeff and Nancy but, we were close enough to stay in touch if needed. Next up was the Molino HAB. I didn’t really know what this was going to turn into, I just know there was a campground close and that was my goal.  It’s dark and the trail becomes unrideable.  I can see a light (AZT racer) far “UP” the trail… Really??? I have to go UP there??? Are you kidding??? I was asking myself all kind of stupid questions. This HAB took an easy hour. I had to lift my heavy bike up and over lots of ledges & large rocks.  Dropping onto the other side I came across the rider with the light I could see up trail, he was looking for the stream, our water source… its all dry! Jeff was counting on this and had run out of water, he was not happy. We moved on,  into the campground area where I had planned to sleep. There was a group of people,  still awake who offered us water, we tried to give them money but they wouldn’t have it. Trail magic?  Trail angels? Whatever you want to call it.  They saved us for the night. Jeff and Nance went off to find a camp spot. I located a sidewalk… yep sidewalk, its flat and no pointy rocks. Food, Drink, Sleep in that order.
One long freaking day – 18+ hours.

MT Lemmon


I was awakened by a AZT racer coming through in the dark, I looked at my GPS for the time...4am. I packed up and got a early start, rolling about 4:45. I knew what was coming... MT Lemming, a paved highway climb to the top, 8500 feet. I had a short single track ride to the highway. This was good to get the blood flowing. I started in the middle ring and never looked back. On the way up there were other riders already grinding it out. I was passed once. I stopped to shed the cold gear and put on some sunscreen. While on the side of the road a guy stopped with me and did the same (Jason ? from TN). We chatted for a minute, he told me this is the hardest multi day he has ever done. "Colorado Trail Race is easier, just saying" I moved on. At a known water stop close to the top, a couple riders were stopped, they yelled at me "Holt, there is water here". I stopped in the road and yelled back "gona keep going". There is a downhill section past this point, its fast from here to the turn off just before Summerheaven. There is a fire station on the corner at the turn off. The firemen were kind enough to let me top off my water, they were curious about the race. 

Oracle Ridge. What a poor excuse for a "goat trail" hours of HAB, over grown, exposed ridge line, high altitude, down trees, boulders, off camber, thorns on everything.... then it happened, a real crash. I was trying to ride some shit I should have been walking. I lost momentum and stalled. It happened so fast there was nothing I could do. I went over the bad side, the drop off side, I fell about 10/12 feet. When the dust settled I was on my back with my head pointing downhill and the bike on top of me. I was on a thorny bush with my arms locked up because of my backpack. It took a good 30 minutes to get out of this F-up. I managed to get my pack loose and gather up my things. I  throw everything up to the trail, now I have to get a heavy ass bike up to the trail. After what seemed like forever I got things together and got back going. At the time I didn't realize there is a big problem with my brakes. Eventually single track becomes double track and turns into the craziest down hill on loose grapefruit size rocks, its hard to keep a line. Another missed trail, again the downhill got me. I looked at the GPS... where is my purple line? more bonus miles, but this time I caught it pretty quick. Back on track I get to jam for a few hours on some good single track. This is nice but, went on and on and on. I get to pavement, this is sweet, I know that the town of Oracle is close. But wait a minute, now on a smooth surface I can tell there is some major drag on my rear wheel. I stop and reset the brake caliper and try go.  I found a shade tree and went to work. 30 - 45 minutes later I get it to roll better. 

Oracle Ridge

As I was getting back on the bike a racer is coming up the road... its Mark, he was chasing me all day. It was good to have someone to talk with. When we rolled up to Oracle Market there was a few riders there taking it easy. We got a tip that there is a good Mexican restaurant a few miles up the road. There was no debate, we were off to get some good eats. After dinner we went back to the market to load up on food and drink for the trail. I did another round of brake repair and it hit me... the crash on the ridge. The rotor must have hit a rock. I do my best to bend it back and just make things work. After a long day, the amount of time spent in this town was worth it. Everyone used this place as a recharge spot. Jeff and Nancy pull in as we were getting ready to hit the trail. We chatted with them for a minute, before they road off to find dinner. We were packed and ready to roll when Josiah rides up...What? He is just touring around now. Super cool to see him riding. After talking with him we head out to hit the trail. At the trailhead its getting dark so we light up. The plan was to get a few hours of night riding in before sleep. Fun, fun, fun.  Not too cold, not too hot, just right, for a few hours of fun. We found a good spot to stop a little after midnight.
A 19 hour dayMonday

Woke up in Blood Sucker Wash, predawn, with the goal of getting an early start. This was going to be a hottest day. All day would be exposed to the sun and this part of the trail system has limited water options. The first challenge is to get to Freeman Water Cache. This is a public water cache that hikers/bikers use to stash water. It's not a sure thing, but we got lucky as there was plenty of unopened gallon jugs.  I didn't feel guilty to take a 1/2 gallon, enough to get me to Kelvin. It's important to be courteous to the riders behind, and leave them some resupply. Next up, the boulders section. In the middle of nowhere, dump truck size boulders all piled up.  The trail is fast rolling single track with sweeping turns all the way to the horizon. In places it is important to have a GPS as the trail kind of disappeared then reappear. At Ripsey Wash, the lack of trail is very loose and theres no wind. The air was stale and very hot. As I was walking, I was thinking... this is the perfect place for snakes. I didn't see one but, I know they like this place. Out of the wash there is some sketchy single track leading to the "Ripsey Climb". Just looking at this beast is intimidating. The turns are very tight, the trail is a little loose and theres pokey plant life everywhere. On an unpacked bike it could be OK, but swinging a 45 lb. bike around steep tight turns is difficult. Mostly ride to the turn, dab, dab,dab, repeat. At the top is a sweet reward... miles of ridge line fun followed by some jamming downhill, more switchbacks, and good trail all the way to the Gila River. On the way down we saw Fred on the side of the trail trying to get some shade. He was out, his back tire was shredded, there was 5 big patches of missing tread. 
Mark suggested we go to the finnish to beat the heat of another day in the sun. The final section is full sun and the days are getting hotter. I'm all in! 
At the Gila River is the small community of Kelvin. Its off course a bit, and there is a mobile home park with water and shade. This is a known water source for anyone doing the AZT. There is a great shade tree with a park bench and water faucet. Because we wanted to knock this out with one final push, we took a long break. We drink lots of water, eat some food, and got out the ground pads to take a mid day nap in the. We had been here for a few hours when some racers pulled in, Its Jeff and Nancy. We all sat around telling stories avoiding the sun. Nancy saw a big bobcat on the trail...very cool! As the heat of the day was settling it was time to get going. We all rolled out together and estimated the finish at 7- 8 hours. Jeff and Nancy planed to go for a few hours; bivvy for the night and finish bright and early. Mark and I were on a mission to finish no matter what. 


Back on route we start climbing a dirt road.... snake! A rattler in the middle of the road, and he was pissed. All we could do is wait and watch as he slowly worked his way off the road. Not once did he take his eyes off of us, what a remarkable animal. Back to grinding and the road becomes single track. I am a little bummed to only have a few hours of daylight to enjoy this incredible trail. I must come back! With darkness you would think it would cool off... nope, I guess the canyon holds heat. The first half of this section follows the river then turns away and goes up. Time to climb and do some HAB. This goes on, and on, and on into the late night. We can see a light way up the canyon, thinking its a racer; we push a little harder. After a while we get close; its a lady hiking alone. As we pass my light gets dim, the batteries are going. A little way up the trail I have to stop, I'm out of "bike light" batteries, now what? We rig a bright flashlight by Gorilla taping it to my helmet light, not pretty but, it works. By this time the lady has passed us and moved on. We get going again, Mark is about 15 yards in front of me and yells, its another rattler but we cant see it, just hear it. After some panic time, we cross paths with the lady again, she tells us about the snake. she said "it wouldn't move... I was throwing rocks at it... I poked at it with my umbrella" basically she pissed it off just in time for Mark and I to ride through, Joy! This was around midnight, we were tired and ready to be done but had two more peeks to cross. Things got worse for me, I was making stupid mistakes, even had a stupid crash. Mark was on the move, he was focused and going for the finish. My light got week again, and I had to put in a new battery. On the move again we were close to the finish. Only a few miles of downhill to go!!!
At the finish we were greeted by dozens of cheering fans and Champaign - hahaha - no one, just a few empty cars in the parking lot. We got out the sleeping gear and crashed out till morning. 
A 21 hour day with a short mid day nap

Notes - 
finish time - 3 days 17 hours 43 minuets (Spot tracker)
milage - 314.2 (Garmin)
moving avg - 6.2 mh (Garmin)
max speed - 33 mh (Garmin)

no flats
one broke spoke 
one bent rotor 
5 rattlers

1 comment:

  1. Holt, super impressed & proud of you. What a journey! Thanks for sharing! Are there any more pics??

    Great job. And happy birthday. :)