(thanks to Chad for the photo)
10 riders started this year's AZT 300.
Surprise entrants included Mike Curiak
and Pete Basigner.
Mike wove an elaborate deceptive web in the days before the race. If you had asked me to estimate the chance of him showing up for the AZT 300, ever
, I'd have given a percentage less than one.
But here he was, and it caused a brain short circuit. Score one for him.
The 300 is a race, in theory. And I knew that Mike was done racing. But I thought
I knew he'd never show up for the 300, too. Yet here we were, 2 hours into the rocks and fall lines of Canelo east. He was right behind me, and riding hard.
MC's return to racing?! Pete has never said he's done racing.
(again thanks to Chad)
More brain misfires. Canelo east causes its own set of brain core dumps, just by nature of the trail, so it was all taken in stride. But every few minutes I'd think about it and laugh out loud.
Chad, Mike and I ended up in the lead, descending to Canelo Pass with gusto. Pace seemed pretty reasonable to me, but I was feeling pretty terrible. Big headache (I almost never get a headache riding) and just general lack of power. Not great signs, but I didn't care and my goal was to not get too amped up at the start. Feeling poor made that goal easy.
Mike and I got to Patagonia as Chad was leaving. When I saw Mike sit down and lean back I knew he was touring, not racing. I was tired, so I went along with it, but it was too early to say I wasn't going to race.
Heading off to climb Salero road it was toasty, but my headache dissipated and the inevitable fatigue of the Canelo hills started to weaken. I saw a snake (the only one of all 300 miles!), felt the sun on a few tailwind climbs, and was feeling pretty good.
I made a rock arrow at the "hidden" turn off Bull Springs. Then I stopped for a minute to see if Mike and Pete would catch up. There was a little less than an hour of usable light left, and I began to question how far I'd push on through the night.
Mike and Pete didn't show after some time. Neither did anyone else. Part of the appeal of racing this year was the promise of a strong field. With Jefe and Plesko out it seemed less likely this was going to happen. I watched it not happen from the rock arrow. By the time Mike and Pete's lights descended towards me, I had decided to tour it with them.
Night riding Elephant Head was a blast, especially with friends. We stopped quite a bit, as I wondered where everyone else was. The visuals on the Alamo fire, at night, were pretty impressive.
We camped just before the singletrack around Elephant Head itself, and I said I'd be disappointed if no one passed us during the night.
Fred did. Awesome.
We woke up to a warm morning, challenging ourselves on the Elephant Head trail. Fun stuff.
At Bernie's Oak Tree singletrack I had a tubeless incident. Very slow flat change, but Mike and Pete helped me get the tire resealed without a tube. The lesson - use more stans than super juice. Super juice with some parts stans didn't want to seal my tire.
Swecoville was somewhat nasty, and it was hot, but it leads to what seems like endless singletrack. The cienega corridor.
Fred was waiting at Colossal Cave. So were burritos and ice cream. Ah, the life of a bike tourist.
The ranch cat set the mood for the day
It's a shame the next 10 miles of trail are so fun to ride. I got a kick out of "showing" the guys this awesome piece of trail. It rode better than ever. Fast, drifting corners, rocketing across washes, dodging saguaros.
In Tucson my house was calling, as it always does. After a night of fitful sleep in my bag I always start to think about being inside. I was also thinking about Paula, off in Boston, readying to race. My calls didn't reach her and I thought about being able to "watch" the race online in the morning.
But my friends had come a long way to ride my route, and once we hit Redington I knew I was where I belonged. It was a great night to be out.
I was dogging, though, making the guys wait for me at every turn. Any kind of heavy exertion caused me to get dizzy, and I was sleepy. Not sure what was going on, but by the time it started passing we were looking for a spot to camp. Good by me.
The next day was full of classic Tucson riding. Despite a little tiredness and the weight of the camping gear, I found the trails as fun as ever. Power was lacking over Molino; I mostly watched Mike challenging the moves I wanted to challenge. He was eating it up.
Descending, I followed him around the staircase switchback, which I'd never ridden before. Touring with a 5" travel bike has its advantages. I'm seeing them clearly.
It sure wasn't slowing Mike down. He gobbled up the challenges climbing towards Prison Camp. Bubbling with energy he rode more singletrack to the back of Prison Camp, long-cutting the course. He was giving serious thought to climbing Bugs rather than the highway.
But instead we rolled out onto the highway and he out-climbed all of us. I matched his pace for a while but eventually settled into a more comfortable rhythm, moseying up the mountain. Great day for a climb and I didn't feel glacially slow as I did during the '06 race.
Wonderful contrasting warm sunlight with cool shadows and a delicious breeze.
Fred rallied to skip Summerhaven, and it was a good decision. On to the battle ground: Oracle Ridge.
It was in better shape than I've seen it since the '03 and '04 fires. At least 45 minutes faster than in previous years.
But still pretty slow...
I think I was the only one enjoying it, on any level. Many levels for me - views, burned moonscape, challenging trail, AZT, and the sheer wickedness of the trail.
Everyone else was kinda scratching their heads.
"You've only received one death threat from this race!?"
Previously I had been spending energy wondering what everyone would think of a particular section of trail. But on Oracle ridge there was no point. I was just going to smile and laugh at the (inevitable) comments and jabs. The trail is what it is.
I'd like to think I wouldn't be whining were I in their shoes, but I seriously doubt it. On a day ride where you're looking for adventure the trail can fit that bill. At mile 200 in a 300 mile epic, it's a little hard to imagine any bill that it fits.
But I liked it. It was great to see it well brushed out and as rideable as ever. Nearing Rice Peak the brushing ended and it was business as usual for Oracle Ridge--slow bike maneuvering without a place to even set your bike down. Soon enough we were holding on for dear life descending impossibly rocky roads behind Rice Peak.
"That's my favorite way to lose elevation."
Good trail picks up after the Peppersauce road, but it's short lived. The challenge meter skyrockets on these descents. But not in a way that most people would call "fun."
Pete's trying not to smile
A challenge is a challenge.
Cody Trail provides relief, but still has a bit of nuttiness. Into the state park the real sigh of relief comes -- slow exhales and grinning on flowing trail.
The powerline sucks, and one of the revelations on this trip was that I could eliminate it, take riders into Oracle more directly on singletrack, AND add a water source. 2009 AZT 300, new and improved.
Our first big meal of the trip was Pizza in Oracle, and it was a spectacle of gluttony. In between mouthfuls of food I called around to find a roof to stay under. It had been a big weekend in Oracle, so everyone was full or unwilling to clean rooms.
Triangle L hooked us up with the foreman's house for $50. Good sleep, fun hanging out at the house.
Now it was time for the final push (last 100 miles). I've ridden Antelope Peak and the Boulders a number of times this year, so I wasn't super psyched on it.
Until I got there. Good riding, fun challenges, divine breezes and an entirely new batch of wildflowers (not to mention hedgehog purple power explosions).
The Boulders was just as fun as I remembered.
The descent to the Gila wasn't. Without the tailwind the 'flow' was lost, but I wouldn't call it bad.
Cool view of Area 52 in front of South Butte
Shade at 1900'
At the Gila Mike and Pete could smell fries from McDonald's in Florence. I didn't know which road was best, or where the Mickey D's was, and Fred was rallying for continuing.
A few minutes later we were approaching Box and I think everyone was glad to not be on the dusty road to town, or sitting in Mickey D's.
I enjoyed being at the box with daylight. Not only for the visuals but also the lack of suffering. Quite an enjoyable ride. We filtered water (thanks Fred!) that was running down Box.
After a couple hours pushing through the dark Pete and Mike decided to call it a night. Fred and I pushed over the Orphan Boy climb, enjoying moonlight views of the Picketpost battleship.
The "trail" in Alamo canyon was / is quite a chore, but we walked on and were rewarded with ~3 miles of swoopy singletrack leading directly to Fred's van. 12:18am finish, and surely not the last AZT 300 rider to finish late at night.
It was interesting to be back at the Box, Orphan Boy and Alamo under much more controlled circumstances than when I raced hard in '06. I felt like superman in the dark, and I swear Orphan Boy was twice as long in '06. Funny what 24 hours of resting (mixed in there) will do for your mental and physical state.
Thanks to Fred and the crew for the ride back to Tucson. Also thanks to Tim's wife Janine for the shuttle to Parker Lake at the start. I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun 'touring' the route without Mike, Pete and Fred as company. We had a good and rare thing going for a few days there.
I'm pretty happy to have completed my second AZT 300 -- an accomplishment no matter how fast it's done. Seeing it from the "touring" perspective gave me some more insight into the route, and I have some changes to debate (and some cues to update!).
Thanks for reading along. See you next year?