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Adventures on a bike; sometimes on foot

2013 AZTR 300: Day 2

Right, where was I?

Oh, that’s right. I was in the middle of the desert all on my own.

The alarm went off at 5am and I packed up my stuff as dawn began to break along the horizon. I was feeling pretty good after nearly 7 hours sleep and felt fresh and ready to go again. It took about 15 minutes to get everything back on the bike, eat some food and start pedalling for the day hopeful that the trail would remain as fun as the stuff I had been riding the night before.

Thankfully, it remained pretty good and I soon passed under the I-10 and continued enjoying the early morning before the sun got too hot and I cooked.

Early morning pre-sunrise - Finger over lens to convey sense of fatigue

Somewhere near La Posta Quemada RanchI bumped into Jason from Tenessee again. I hadn’t seen him since Sonoita when he rode away from me on the road section and I had expected him to be a long, long way up the road by now. It turns out we must have camped within a mile or so from each other, so we spent 15 or 20 minutes riding together before we drifted apart again.

The descent into Hope camp was one of my favourite parts of the whole trail. It was FAST. Not because it was remotely steep, i’d guess it dropped at about 1% gradient, but because it was so smooth and flowy. The whole section was lined with angry looking prickly pear just waiting for you to overcook a corner. By the looks of the carnage (bits of pear all over the trail), it found it’s mark on more than one occasion on tired riders the night before. I was having a blast on this part of the trail and didn’t want it to finish although I was starting to look forward to finding a resupply point as I was growing very tired of those horrid brownie bar things that were all I had left. They were so dry and tasteless that you had to eat them along with a mouthful of water just so you could swallow them. One of the pitfalls of doing this sort of thing in a foreign country – exactly what do i want when i walk into a shop?

Around this point was the first time I had really seen any Saguaro cacti. They are quite impressive. With long limbs poking out at odd angles, they often become quite anthropmorphic. One particular example had me laughing hard enough to need to stop and take a photo. Particularly since birds had made nesting holes in just the right places to give ‘him’ a face. I decided I would call him ‘the gentleman’. The things that take your mind off the suffering in the desert hey?

Popping out onto the first section of asphalt near Rincon shops revealed an amarda of horse floats with riders milling about all along the roadside. Not wanting to spook the horses, there was nothing I could do but get off and walk for about a mile and exchange greetings with riders, some asking where I had come from and looking completely perplexed when I said ‘the border’.

Soon enough i was rolling along the main road towards Tuscon when I noticed a few bikes leaning against a fence at a service station. Hang on a minute, that’s Rincon market! Somehow I had totally forgotten of its existence and was preparing myself for an off route excursion into Tuscon to get food yet here was an oasis right in front of me. Oh hell yeah!

I wandered inside and made an impressive pile of junk on the counter as I bought so much food. A spare burrito, a burger for breakfast, lots of gatorade and god knows what else. Rincon market was a bit of a party place at this point as there were about 5 or 6 riders hanging out, including Max Morris who I hadn’t seen since the start line and I assumed would be halfway up Reddington by now. Dave mentioned that the owner had called the police on some racers who bivvy’d on the stores’ front porch overnight waiting for her to open in the morning, which seemed odd since they were just waiting to hand her $50.00 notes. Tip for future racers, sleep a bit further out of town.

We sat, ate, filled bladders and then I rolled out on my own. There were couple of sneaky horse trails to contend with through town and I had to walk several times as tour groups rode past along the road. I even managed to badly spook a group who were on a side road as I was riding along the main road. They were about 30 m along the side road  and riding towards me and the first I knew about them being there was when I heard a horse buck into cactus with a woman clinging on for dear life. There wasn’t much I could do about it, I was just riding along a suburban asphalt road minding my own business and they were in a blind spot, but I sure hoped the rider and horse had managed to stay out of the spines.

Halfway up Reddington looking back towards Tucson

I continued along staring at the mountain in front of me and feeling rather intimidated. “That’s a big arse hill” I thought to myself as I neared the base of it and it was about 9 or 10 am as I started the climb up reddington. It was quite the grovel. The road was heavily wash boarded and it climbed at about 10% for several miles without letup. All the while the sun beating down on me and rednecks in 4×4’s throwing dust as they drove to the top of the hill. Presumably to shoot at cacti judging by the carnage amongst the saguaro on either side of the road. Yep, that’s what I would do with my Sunday morning. Drive the top of a hill to shoot plants… hmmmm

Anyway, the trail eventual turned off the main drag and straight onto a exceptionally chunky 4×4 trail. The sort of trail where guys with heavily modified trucks spend hours winching themselves up and over all manner of boulders. It was hard going. It was all descending and it was hair raising. The trail must have been 50 feet wide in places with a thousand different line chocies.  I walked the odd bit where I picked a bad line and found myself staring at 4 foot drops into baby heads. Safety first was my moto here.

I bumped into a guy working on the underside of his Jeep who said there was someone only 5 minutes ahead of me and I figured it must have been Ray as I had seen him just ahead along the switchbacks as I was grovelling up Reddington. He was crushing it on his SS while I was spinning in the granny ring. Hats off to him for how he rode that section- it was tough going.

The never ending cattle gates eventually claimed me as their victim. Since my bike was so heavy to lift off the ground, I took to trying to close the gates (which never operated the same way twice) with my bike balanced against me. This particular gate was being difficult so I grabbed the rear wheel between my knees with the bike behind me while I faced the gate. Obviously that was never going to work and the bike toppled right into a particularly thorny tree. I cursed, close the gate and rode off only to have a stick that kept hitting the front fork. On closer inspection, a thorn was right through the sidewall of the tyre. Nice move Ross. Thankfully it sealed straight away when I pulled it out but a new rule had been established. Always lay the bike down in the middle of the trail when operating gates.

I can’t really recall to much of the next section although the GPS trace says I was there.  I know we meandered along fireroads through a couple of basins and then eventually we picked up some really good single track. There were a couple of water tanks and a small stream however in all of them, the water looked pretty bad and I didn’t trust it enough to just use tablets in it. I really really should have brought my water filter. So I passed them up and reached a fairly HAB intensive part of the trail as we pushed up La Millagrossa. As we pushed higher and higher, I kept trying to figure out where the pass was that we would go through? As far as I could tell, there were cliffs all around and it didn’t seem like there was going to be an easy way.

I passed Ray who was fighting with a sidewall cut in his tyre. He’d already had a few goes at keeping it going and had he needed to perform more surgery. I asked if there was anything he needed but he had everything in hand. I’d witnessed Ray bombing some of the hills and knew he could chuck a bike around so I bid him farewell with “I’ll see you when you bomb past me”. I didn’t see him again. I believe tyre issues took him out of the race at Molino Basin.

Get off and push

If you look along the ridge in the foreground, you can see single track that we just 'rode' up

My infamous little man made of stone waving from up on the ridgeline. Either use your imagination or go ride this section with no water and you'll see him

Then I heard some hooting from wayyyyyy above me and looked up to just be able to make out a lone rider standing ontop of a pile of rocks waving his arms. I could vaugely make out a red colour to the jersey and spent the next 5 minutes trying to figure out who it was. “Hang on, that was Max!”. I can’t be doing too badly if Max is only just up the road. That was accompanied by, “How the hell am I going to get all the way up there?”

The climb up La Millagrossa would definitely be better ridden in the other direction. It was pretty much a 1000 foot HAB. There were some rideable switchbacked sections, but mostly it was just hard work. I was running low on water and relieved because I knew there was water available at the Molino camp/visitors centre. When I reached the bottom I set about looking for the spigot. I looked and looked and then it became evident that I had it all wrong and there was no spigot to be found. I’d goofed on my course notes. Oh shit. There were people camping all around and I desperately wanted to ask them for water but the rules were pretty clear on ‘begging’ so I kept my mouth shut despite my better judgement.

I got a bit flustered, made a bad nav choice and set about climbing up Lemmon on the road. I rode about a mile up the hill on the road and looked down and realised I was off course. Double shit. There was nothing for it but to turn around and ride back down the hill and figure out where I had gone wrong. I eventually figured out where I had missed the AZT turnoff and rode through until I got to the small stream. I looked at the water that was lying stagnant in the pool and noted the oily sheen across the top. It wasn’t looking good. I wandered upstream a few hundred meters and didn’t find anything that looked any better and figured I was probably going to make myself sick If I tried drinking that. I knew I had a dribble of water left in my camelback so it was going to have to do.

The problem being that I needed to climb the better part of 4000-4500 feet to reach the next place that had water and it was about 3pm in the afternoon which meant it was way too hot – probably mid 30’s C. It wasn’t long before I sucked my camel back dry on the HAB up the AZT and I knew I was in trouble. From somewhere or other I had decided it was only about 10 miles from Molino to Summerhaven so I figured I would tough it out and see how I went. WRONG. It’s closer to 19 miles and that’s a hell of a long way without any water up a big climb. Unsurprisingly, this is where the photos of day 2 end.

I stopped at Prison Camp to ask the ranger if there was any water about and all I got was a face full of attitude. She was a nasty piece of work and I rode off wishing all manner of cacupuncture would befall her. My spirts were soon lifted though as a couple of ladies drove by in a car and asked if I was riding the AZTR? “Keep it up, Max Morris is only just up the road”.

I started making my way up the Lemon Road climb and I’m sure it would have been spectacular if I was in any other state of mind but I was about as low as it gets. My body was shutting down on me and I could barely think straight. I was seriously looking at stagnant bottles of soda fermenting in the sun amongst the rubbish on the side of the road and thinking about drinking them. It was bad. I was slowly clicking through gears, pedalling more and more softly as I tried to keep it moving. From somewhere It came to me that I was bonking badly but without any water, there was no way I could eat food as my bone dry mouth had no chance of being able to swallow.

I’d managed to climb about 1500 feet and then i noted a streambed far off the right hand side of the road in a ravine. It was dry but judging by the lush trees growing in it, it was my best chance for water. I kept riding, wobbling all over the road and eventually located a puddle at the bottom. The only problem was that it was down a 5 m high cliff. Feeling wobbly on my feet, I had to chance it and somehow managed to find a way to climb down to the water. I had lots of green stuff floating around in it and a bunch of bugs swimming in it, but I chucked the bladder in and filled it with about 1 litre of water and chucked in a double dose of aquatabs. Why i only took 1 L i have no idea, I should have filled the full 3L bladder. I clawed my way back up to my bike resting next to the armco and checked the time knowing I needed to leave the tabs for an hour to work.

25 minutes later i cracked. I stopped on the side of the road and drank and ate a packet of skittles and starred into space. An AZT racer came motoring past. He was crushing it. I was impressed. He nodded and kept on climbing. A second rider came past and we did the same. Feeling some life slowly coming back into me, i hopped back on and resumed the punishment. Near windy point, i bumped into the second rider – Luke Jay from Colarado. We rode together for the best part of 45 minutes. I knew I was holding him up as he was freewheeling while I was still labouring at the pedals but just holding a conversation and riding with someone gave me something else to focus on and i was making much better time. With about 1000 feet left to climb, we parted ways as Luke surged up the road in search of Corey, his riding buddy who had motored past me earlier. I’d gone through all the water and was now dry as a bone again. Why did I only take 1L again?

The sun was now set and it was getting cold up high on the hill. I stopped and put on arm warmers but didn’t dare to stop for long as I knew i’d get cold fast. Eventually the climb topped out and there was a short descent or two. The wind cut through me and I was shaking violently when I saw Max’s red blinky light at a restaurant at Summerhaven. I pulled up, wobbled around as i tried to get off the bike and staggered inside.

The waitress smiled at me and sat me with Max amongst the other racers all looking very sorry for themselves. There was a good vibe amongst everyone though and the waitress asked what I wanted. All I could say was ‘a bucket of water’. I sat there staring at the menu but it didn’t make any sense to me. Eventually i just picked the thing off the top of the menu which was some kind of pulled pork sandwhich and drank and drank and drank. Despite being inside a warm restaraunt, I couldn’t stop shaking. I knew what was going on, whenever i get dehydrated I can’t regulate my body temp and the results are nasty. I drank more and went outside and gathered every bit of warm clothing I had and put them on, then went back inside for dinner.

I couldn’t really eat because my hands wouldn’t hang onto the food. I just sort of threw it around me like toddler at the dinner table. It was ridiculous. Eventually i managed to drink enough to get myself warm again and started to feel better. The restaurant had kept the kitchen open to feed us and despite their protests that we could stay as long as we liked, we all felt the need to make a move an let them head home for the night.

In truth, with food and water, I wasn’t feeling so bad and despite feeling busted, I wasn’t actually that sleepy so i felt like I could keep going further for the  night since it was only about 9pm. The problem with that was Oracle ridge. A 4000 foot HAB descent that i had heard bad reports about. It wasn’t really the sort of place I wanted to be ‘riding’ in the dark. Max felt the same about it and i trusted his experience since this was his 4th or 5th AZTR. He and I made the decision to lay up at the start of the single track and wait for daylight. Others pushed on trying to get off the ridgeline and out of the freezing wind to try and find somwhere warmer to stop for the night.

Max and I pulled up amongst some concrete barriers in an old quarry and hid from the wind. I left on all my warm clothes and slept in my 40 degree bag plus my SOL bivvy. Keeping the wind out was key. I didn’t trust that my inflatable pillow was going to stay put overnight and not blow off the side of the mountain so I found some duct tape in my bag and taped it to my neo-air. I was warm, I had the remainder of dinner in a box for breakfast and I had water. Not to mention I had managed to hang out with Max for a while who’s infectious attitude had rubbed off and left me feeling lucky to be sleeping on a freezing ridge line at 8500 feet. Life was good.

Responses (2) to “2013 AZTR 300: Day 2”

  1. Dave says:

    Great write up Ross.
    It is amazing how little things that we take for granted, like food and navigation, in a foreign country can become major issues. The local riders sound like they are super strong as well. Acclimatised perhaps?
    Looking forward to the rest of your story.

    • RossC says:

      Anyone who has ridden that route before has a huge tactical advantage that helps you know how much to buy and when. Add in that they are strong riders and you can see why they are so fast. As for Aaron Gulley and Eszter, well, they are faster than my mind can accommodate.

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