Riding with Lee this weekend, we were talking about (surprise) the Arizona Trail. I told him that I thought the trip we did together in 2005 was the trip I am the most proud of. It had such a great feel to it. There was so little information back then — about the trail, about bikepacking setups, about carrying bikes across big canyons. We pioneered some pretty nutty routes, ran goofy ultralight setups before the days of seatbags, and rode portions of the AZT that few people have since.
The trip had such consuming buildup/preparation, level of excitement and level of uncertainty. Lee was the perfect partner and though we had our disagreements along the way, we kept it together and made it to the Utah border. The friendship between us, and the cast of characters we met along the way, were priceless.
Things are a lot more known now. GPX files abound, water sources are well documented, seat bags and other gear make bikepacking lighter and more feasible. The truly nutty sections (and wilderness detours) are known, and excluded. And most importantly, the knowledge that it has been done, can be done, and should be done is huge.
2005 time trial setup – photo by Hawkeye
Following the trip with Lee, I time trialed Andrea Lankford’s (much easier) version of the Arizona Trail. The route was known, and my experience hiking the canyon and on the rest of the trail made the endeavor less filled with uncertainty. But, but, but, I was racing, and really had no idea what I was doing. This was before the AZT 300, the Colorado Trail Race, and the Divide race had only been run once — with six participants. How hard could I push myself? How long should I sleep? How long will it take? Will my legs fail me climbing out of the canyon? I had very little idea.
I commented to Lee that while I was bubbling with excitement to race the AZT this year, it doesn’t quite hold the same level of intrigue and raw adventure that our trip did. I have some level of confidence that I can do what I’m setting out to do. Though I would never pretend that I “know what I’m doing”, and many elements are always left to chance, I have a much better idea of how to race, survive and thrive on the AZT than I did eight years ago.
I know that Kurt scorched the route in just over seven days. That knowledge is huge. A lot would have to go right for me to be close to that, but I believe I can do it.
So, what’s the point? That those that go first are the hard core, and everyone else has it easy? No, not at all. I see no reason to lament that things are coming together, knowledge is out there, and we are thus able to push ourselves harder and further. We are given such an amazing gift — our bodies — and seeing what they really can (and can’t) do is one of the most interesting aspects of life. With bikepacking I feel like we’ve only begun to explore what can be done. There are still a lot of unknowns to going ‘fast.’
It’s fun to think about what the AZTR 750 record will be in 10 years. What will be considered a fast time on the CTR in 2025?
I’ll look back and wish I only had to do 7 days and 5 hours to the Utah border in order to feel like I really pushed the limits of what I can do.
Those that went first had it easy, from some perspectives! I rode the easy version of the AZT in 7 days, and considered many (of my) limits pushed. Now I’ve got to do a much harder version in just as much time. Gulp.
No matter how many GPS points you have, how many times you’ve ridden the trails, how many photos of every intersection there are on the web, or how strong you are both mentally and physically, it’s not easy out there. There are always elements of chaos, things left to chance. Things get out of control, you wish you were not on a bicycle baking in the middle of Arizona. You question the sanity of the choices that led you to where you are. Or at least I do.
How cold will it get tonight? Do I have enough food? Why does my knee hurt all the sudden? Will my brakes still work on the next big descent? Should I stop and sleep some? Where? Why? Why am I talking to myself?!
There are plenty of unknowns, for even the most ‘seasoned’ veteran. That’s adventure, that’s bikepacking.
It also doesn’t matter if you are going for a ‘record’ or not. Pushing limits is personal. You take your current state and see what you can do with it. It’s kind of interesting that from this perspective, training doesn’t really matter. You can take the challenge as seeing what you can do with what you’ve got.
And then there are just so many reasons to be out there, regardless of pushing any limits and seeing ‘what you can do.’
For me, just being outside and on a bicycle is one of the most real things I’ve yet found in this universe. I always consider it time well spent.
Life, and the desert especially, is so unique that every moment is unique, and special. The vegetation will never look like this again, the angle of the sun will never hit the hills and illuminate the clouds like this again. Admire the beauty for what it is, fleeting and impossible to completely understand or capture.
The cool breeze. The stillness of the mornings. The vibrance of the setting sun. The challenge of the rocks. The reflective moon light. The biting of the cold. Alive.
As my good friend Tim McCabe (and AZT-thru rider before me!) is fond of saying, “I live for this shit.”
ice cream stop during Cyclovia – oh yeah!
Or maybe it’s just about the ice cream. Cookie ice cream sandwiches, and ridiculous amounts of recovery ice cream are definitely a big part of the AZT plan!