Last weekend I raced Arizona Trail Race 300. For me it wasn’t as much a race as a personal adventure. No woman had ever finished it before. It was big, tough and intimidating and finishing looked to be a huge personal challenge. Finishing AZT is no gimme.
The short story is I had the race of my life, absolutely loved it and not only achieved my #1 goal of finishing but was the first racer across the finish line to take the overall win in 3 days, 4 hours and 5 minutes. It was always about me and myself and doing the best I could at any given time on the course to ensure I finished. Every decision I made out there was based on the goal to finish, not the goal to win. This year on AZT the conditions were tougher than ever. We had the highest attrition rate in the history of the event with 22 starters, 4 finishers and 18 DNF’s. Finishing turned out to be a winning strategy this year.
Now for the blow-by-blow long version:
In true Dave and Lynda fashion we were late to the start!! We arrived in time to see everyone else start and wave them off – oops. We got a ride to the start with Kurt and Caroline. Kurt somehow cruised out with the main group on time! Being a 2 time winner and course record holder he clearly had it together. I was feeling super nervous, not all that together and a little crazy before the start. My head was buzzing…did I have everything I needed…did I have too much stuff…all these little bits and pieces…did I really need waterproof pants…should I take my knife…do I have the track on my gps…is my head still attached…will my legs work…are my fingers really broken… I’d crashed hard 11 days prior and thought I might have 2 broken fingers on my right hand. I hadn’t had them x-rayed as I really wanted to do AZT…they didn’t work quite right…
(After the race I went to the Dr, nothing was broken but 2 fingers, right middle and pinkie, were dislocated, which explains why they were not working. They were ok riding for the most part. The hard part was stuffing my sleeping bag in a tight little bag).
Pic is of me checking over everything before we start and leave the “safe” parking lot. My full set up details are on Bikepacking.net
DH was ready to start before me. He waited for me and humored my pre-race frenetics. He has seen it 100 times and says the success of my race is directly proportional to how wound up I am before the start!! He smiles and pats my shoulder and says I’ll be fine.
We rolled out together 18 mins late. It was perfect for me to start behind the main group so I had space to calm down and get in my ride groove.
I let DH ride on ahead and took about 30 very mellow minutes to get a feel for riding with the weight on my bike, calm my nerves and settle down into my happy place. I passed DH sitting under a tree with Marshall. Marshall looked flushed and hot. Not good so early in… I thought DH was just visiting with Marshall but later found out that was the start of his DNF causing blisters. Marshall pulled out with the start of heat stroke not long after. It was hot!!
I’d pre-ridden the Canello Hills with bigger gears and less fitness in December so they seemed much easier this time around. I started to catch and pass racers. I asked peoples names. I wanted to know who everyone was as I expected to be riding for 3-4 days with them, seeing them again and maybe camping with them. It was fun to check out all the bike set-ups as I went by.
Patagonia seemed to come up in a flash and I filled up my 29oz bottle with coke and ice for the ride in to Sonoita…mmm that was a treat after the heat in the Canello Hills. Before Sonoita at mile 43 my period started…bleh…what timing…stupid girl parts…I had to take extra time at Sonoita to change into my spare shorts, wash my old pair, wash me, buy tampons etc. I was annoyed to have another thing to manage while I was trying to keep it all as simple as possible. It was nice so early in the race to have a clean pair of shorts and a clean me tho!! Eric Foster was taking what looked to be a siesta in the shade outside the store. I was back on the road asap with another 29oz of ice cold coke in my bottle.
Next up was some easy cruising up to the Kentucky Camp mile 60 water refill spot where I visited with Brad Mattingly. The race seemed very social up to this point and I enjoyed meeting and chatting with folks. I filled up my 100 oz bladder, stuffed it in my pack and ripped the tube off the bladder. The water spurted out of the bladder and soaked everything. No tragedy as I was still at the sink to get more water and it was hot enough to dry everything out quickly. It was a big red flag for me. I had better be careful with that. If I spill water away from a water source in this heat it would be a costly mistake. It was a lesson I paid attention to.
I cruised off out of Kentucky Camp with Brad sure I’d be seeing lots more of him on course. I wondered where DH was. I was sure he would have caught and passed me by now. We had both planned to be independent for this race and ride together lots if it worked out and we were really lucky. DH is my favorite person to ride with.
After dark I passed where the 2011 course rejoined the old course above Box Canyon, climbed to the high point and stopped for dinner. Sweet n sour pork n rice…mmm. I sat for a while looking back on the course hoping to see DH’s lights coming but never did so trucked on. Sometime later I started to see a set of lights catching me and was excited it was DH. I didn’t stop but did slow down a little, just a little…The lights never did catch me but disappeared. I looked forward.
Under the I-10 culvert I got chilly enough to put on arm warmers, knee warmers and my jacket. I coasted down towards Three Bridges. There was a car there with lights on and people inside. I looked at my watch 12:26am. That’s weird I thought. It looked like some kids partying late at night and I had to ride right passed them…red alert…As I got nearer someone ran out of the car towards me screaming….WTF…turns out it was Deanna Adams and her mom cheering for racers :-) ha, ha…I scare easy…they took some photos, gave me a couple of bananas and waved me off.
My goal was to ride until 1:30am or stop at La Sevilla picnic area for the night – whichever came first. When I got to La Sevilla it was a party zone! I backtracked up the course a little ways to a nice flat spot I’d seen and camped out there.
Next morning was a refuel in Tucson and haul up Reddington Rd with rallying jeeps, motos and semi automatic guns firing off – just my scene. I hammered out of the saddle as fast as I could to get out of the redneck zone. The next 7 hours were hot and hard. The hike-a-bike up over Molino was a bitch. I struggled getting my heavy bike up some of the ledges. I was relieved to cross the Catalina Hwy only to be faced with another stretch of hike-a-bike that I had expected to be rideable. I got grumpy and started calling it Arizona hoof race.
Once on the pavement it got much easier and I spun up to Oracle Ridge. I had expected Oracle Ridge to be really hard. Everyone says it is hard and part of it is called the Traverse of Death. It was hard but not as hard as Molino hike-a-bike had been earlier in the day. I reckon it was the heat factor as Molino was late afternoon in full sun and Oracle Ridge was in the dark.
I bivvied up earlier than the night before because I knew the next day was forecast to be the hottest of all and we were headed for the lower Gila desert terrain. I wanted to bank some rest. I bivvied right next to the trail so if DH came down he would see me. I was still wondering where he was. I didn’t carry a cell phone so had no coms. During the night a rider came by. It was Brad Kee. I asked if he had seen DH and was told about some ugly looking blisters. Brad thought DH would have had to quit by now….hmph… Brad motored on and I went back to sleep. That was the last time I saw another racer on course.
The next morning I zoomed down into Oracle, ate so much at the store I was burping it up and headed out to the big hot desert oven for the day with as much water as I could carry. I had Elete Tablytes with me. The label says take up to 12 Tablytes per day as needed – I needed a lot more than that!!! They were great.
Today was all about heat management. I moved slowly so my head didn’t boil, hiked rideable hills, drank lots and chowed on Tablytes. In the heat of the day I had no power. It was like riding in molasses or like a man on the moon in a space suit, or like you see these guys at the top of Mount Everest!! I had all these visuals. I moved in slow motion and sang silly shark songs to my gummy sharks. 30 miles took me a never ending 7 hours!!
I started studying the ground on the gasline and could make out only one set of tracks. No way I thought – there were a bunch of guys in front of me. I knew for sure Brad was in front of me as I had seen him the night before and the gal at the Oracle store said he left an hour before I did. I double checked I was on course – all good.
The gasline road in the heat of the day was a place humans shouldn’t have been that day on bikes – nutty hot. On the way down Bloodsucker wash with a tailwind I started hallucinating there were spiders crawling on the back of my hands…intense…I felt ok and was sure I was hydrated…just a little warped…. Wow this was right on the edge. I’d asked for some intense living and here it was for me.
There was a big tank of green water at Beehive Well with a thousand bees buzzing over it. I dipped my arm coolers in it and threw water over my head and got out of the bee zone asap. I was glad I had enough water and didn’t have to drink from Beehive Well – plentiful but not appealing. My warped head feeling left after I cooled off at Beehive well and the spiders went home. The tracks in front of me were weaving around on the road. I wondered if I was doing that too?? I got off my bike and looked back and my tracks were straight – uh oh I thought…
A little while later I struggle to open and close a tight barbed wire gate on the road and ride on. Then I see I am off course and the gps route drops off the jeep road to the right. I go back bugged I am going to have to fight with the gate again but the gps track drops down before the gate (about mile 214). There is no trail visible and I wonder where to go. I zoom in my GPS and am right on top the gps route. I was aware my head was still too hot and my brain was processing slowly – things were not adding up. A little confused I push off the road into the untracked desert staying on top of the gps line. A trail slowly appears and improves. As the trail improves I feel confident I am going the right way. Without a gps I would never have found that turn. It was tricky. A short while later I become aware there are no tire tracks on the trail! I look at my watch and it is 4:14pm. Oh no Brad I say, you only had one more hour until it cools off. I was watching and biding my time until 5pm when I thought the intense heat would abate some. Post race I found out these were Joe’s tracks as I passed Brad earlier without knowing while he was riding some bonus miles off route.
I rode what felt like 3/4 of the way around Antelope Peak. It was soft desert trail with no tire tracks…no tire tracks…I felt vulnerable out there with no tire tracks in front of me. I was still moving in molasses…so slow. I kept saying to myself, it doesn’t matter how slow you go you just have to finish. I was moving in slow motion. I was a deep sea diver.
I reach the water cache and notice tire tracks again. They confuse me but I don’t pay them much attention. I rest, eat, water up and roll onto the Boulders section. Finally it had cooled off. The molasses had gone and my legs felt rockstar. I felt like I was flying through the Boulders after the slow motion day of molasses. Big fun. Whoohoo!! There were no tire tracks again.
The sun set and simultaneously the moon rose. I had a moment when there was exactly half a sun on the west horizon and half a moon on the east horizon. The low sun was deep orange and turned the air an orange/pink color and the full moon coming up was pure white and the biggest horizon moon I had ever seen. I stopped and absorbed that magical moment and breathed deep and slow like I could ingest it. The next 30 mins of twilight riding were effortless and fast and I flew.
We (me, my bike and my imagination) flew through the night Ripsey – Gila River – Hwy 177 – Battle Axe Rd -Artisian Well – Walnut Canyon with the full moon echoing off cliffs and canyons. At 3:30am feeling a bit loopy I decided to lie down and sleep until dawn.
I’d been hoarding my last sweet n’ sour pork n’ rice and it made a delicious breakfast. Fueling up was a good thing as the Martinez canyons were complete ass kickers, one after another steep and bumpy. Box Canyon was kind and mild after the Martinez canyons.
The AZT300 ends with an 8 mile single track descent. I wanted to relish it so I stopped at the top to freshen up, ate some, drank some, relaxed some, lubed my chain and took a long break, about 45 mins I think (which drove my BlueDot watching and waiting DH batty!!). The last 8 miles were a screaming blast…giddy…euphoric…I was finishing AZT!!! Wow! Awesome!!! I was psyched.
DH was there at the end of the trail. My one man cheering squad and the man who is the most important to me in the world was there for me, to share my finish. Having DH cheering at the finish was the icing on a very big cake for me. I was giddy with glee and he laughed at my craziness while I told him all my race stories in a tangled endorphin hazed blurb. I was so amped it took me a while to be able to sit down and at least 3 days to metabolize my endorphins!!
DH took some pics of me finishing but it was so hot out there his camera overheated and lost the pics! It was blazing hot out there. He put his camera in the cooler and got pics later while I was still giddy.
I probably ate about 3,ooo calories worth of these sharks. That might have been why my tongue swelled up post race…
I’m tired now. But still thinking what might be next ;-)