Dave, Matt, and I lined up this past Friday for our first AZT300.
We’d left several inches of snow behind in Idyllwild Thursday morning, pondering the eastward travel of the storm system that passed through Southern California… would it visit us again in Arizona?
We made final preps at Matt & Katie’s house. I knowingly broke a cardinal rule of bike racing- installing new gear the night before a race- and installed new cleats on new shoes. My shiny shoes provided Dave with fodder for incessant jokes.
We enjoyed a private screening of Ride The Divide before bed.
Friday Morning- Race Start
Mary and Alexander shuttled us out to the start and wished us well. Snow was falling, accumulating. Dave and I told one another we’d have a distinct advantage now; being strong SoCal mountain men accustomed to snow.
Alexander and I enjoyed some exceptionally good “talk” time in the car before I hit the trail. This stayed with me a while.
The trail was cold and wet, muddy, with a few inches of white stuff. I followed the tracks of other racers and did my best to keep my feet dry. I hadn’t packed any cold weather gear but figured the storm would pass before too long.
Matt and I got separated from Dave a few times before Patagonia, and ultimately decided to press on to town and reevaluate there. We did our best to keep the group in front of us in our sights and arrived at the general store in high spirits and sunny weather. A number of racers ahead of us had virtually invaded the store, getting supplies and drying their clothes. Matt and I sat in front of the store for what seemed an eternity in race time, and prepared to hit the trail. Dave rolled up, told us he’d crashed and had been set back a while. We told him we’d press on to the Smithsonian Visitor’s Center and meet him there. It was the last time we saw him in the race.
Matt and I headed out with Eric, also from SoCal. We encountered a very friendly horse on the road leading out of town. Enchanting experiences this were one of my reasons for entering this race.
Matt was being bothered by an injury in his hip, and had to stop a few times to figure out his pain management. Eric proceeded. The mountains ahead grew huge in our foreground, storm clouds circled above as the sun set just to the west of us.
We were determined to make the Smithsonian Visitor’s Center; our next major water source and a good jump off point for a strong push to Tucson/ Reddington Rd the following day. Ocotillos stood like spindly skeletons in the moonlight along the trail.
We arrived at camp around 10pm and exchanged hellos with the other racers on site. We were proud of ourselves and excitedly prepared our dinner feast and got to bed.
1 AM- Lights in camp, the sound of freewheels. We thought it was Dave for a moment, but quickly realized that three or four of the racers in camp with us were getting out on the trail, pedaling out into darkness. I was impressed, but enjoyed some more rest.
5 AM- US Border Patrol, rude awakening. Apparently the racers ahead of us had triggered some infra-red cameras in the area. The BP officer asked me if we’d run across any aliens in the night. In my stupor, I chuckled “no” and imagined little green men running alongside us on the singletrack.
Matt and I were the last to leave camp. We topped off on water and hit the trail, leaving a note of encouragement behind in the dirt for Dave.
Rough, rocky trail put a smile on our face as we took in the sunrise over Elephant Head. Good quality AZT singletrack brought us to Madera Canyon, where we brewed some coffee and made a call in to MTBcast. I left several more notes of encouragement for Dave along the road climbing up to the next stretch of AZT singletrack. We rode hard and put away miles.
Matt’s hip continued to bother him. I pushed my heavy singlespeed up several climbs, just to coast down the backside. We continued moving at a decent pace, but we were slowing.
While stopped for a break, we discussed how nice it would be if we saw Lee Blackwell. Within five minutes, Lee was on the scene. Ask & ye shall receive.
Lee was a like a cool drink of water on a hot day- we upped our pace quite a bit, and Matt’s discomfort seemed to melt away. We rode strong and hard almost all the way to I-10, sometimes spinning out my 29x19T gear. I had my race legs; the kind that seem to do no wrong when the going gets tough. I imagined myself riding up Lemmon the next day.
We came into Tucson just after dark. I’d compiled a short grocery list in my head for the Safeway. I was tired and loopy, but knew I’d be fine by morning given enough fluids and carbohydrates. We got sandwiches and found a campsite near town. To my surprise, Dave had pulled out after some navigation errors and had been picked up. He waited for us in Tucson ready to join us for a night of camping and possibly a day of riding.
1 AM- Matt pulls out of the race. Hard moments for all.
I became even more determined to finish and reviewed my maps and cues for the big day ahead on Mt. Lemmon, devised a strategy for water and resupply. I slept well for several hours, indulged in a pleasant slumber as the sun came up and waited for Lee’s first move before I unzipped the sleeping bag.
We were up and rolling in less than a half hour. We hit the Reddington climb at a moderate pace. I prepared to bump the throttles up and noticed a major mechanical issue- a real show stopper. I returned to town to find ways to stay in the race within the parameters of the rulebook. Luck was not in the cards for me. I pulled the plug after a few hours of phone calls.
In the time off the trail, my hunger for this beast has grown stronger, to the point of preoccupation at times. I’ll be back next year for sure.