Sometimes no matter how many people I talk to or how much research i've done before an adventure I still don't quit know what I've gotten myself into until it begins. The AZTR was an adventure that I had been doing research, prepping and training for for months. I got on the plane feeling like I was ready to take on the trail ahead of me but that all changed the night before the race at the Mexico border.
This east coast mountain man wasn't use to the terrain and harsh demands of the Arizona desert. I had trained hard and been meticulous with what I though was the right set up and strategy to do well in the AZTR750. I arrived in Tucson with my game face on and ready to start crushing some miles. After catching a ride to Sierra Vista I dropped into M&M Cycling where Mike, Martin & Stephen helped me get my bike dialed in for the race. Im so appreciative for these guys helping me keep my mind at ease and helping me get my bike dialed in the day before the race.
I got dropped off at the border the night before the race just before sundown in an field of tall desert grass and the border fence in the background. Surrounded by 10,000 foot mountains the border fence seemed like a technicality that wasn't nearly as sufficient an obstacle as Miller Peak and the Canelos. The night was filled with excitement from new riders and stories from the veterans. There was a fun mix of locals, internationals and first time adventurers. Congregating in small circles conversations broke into rider introductions and resumes. Finally the big question was thrown out...How many days are ya'll shooting for. There was a pause, then I spoke out with the words that would haunt me "7 days". One of the veteran riders quickly asked me if I knew what I was getting myself into. I came to AZ to try and win and give the race my best which up until this moment I truly believed that if I gave it my best 7 days was possible. After a little more banter with the fellow riders and a hop over the border fence to take a quick trip to Mexico to unload some water before heading off to sleep. More riders continued to flow in throughout the night waking me for short moments but being on east coast time falling back asleep was no problem.
The morning of the race I had sat my alarm for 6am but my internal clock had me wide awake at 5am. I laid there watching more racers show up as I had breakfast and hydrated in my tent. I was the only one sleeping in a tent which made reality start to set in that I might not be set up proper for the task at hand. It was unbelievable how light and efficient some of the riders were packed. I thought to myself that there is no way they have what they need. The variation of bikes was all over the board from single speed full rigid bikes to full suspension geared bikes. As we got set for the mass start I fumbled with my GPS which I have still to master. 2 minutes! Then we were off! I wanted to pace off of the first of the pack so I caught up to the lead group. We cut through thick loose dirt roads for the first few miles.
Around 5 miles me not being use to the desert dirt I came around a switch back and got my first wreck of the race out of the way. I quickly hopped up and repositioned my handle bars and took off riding hoping no one saw that. I had blood streaming down my left shin and my right shoulder as I road past the crowd of supports wielding cowbells at the Parker Canyon Lake parking area. The next 35 miles were a big eye opener for what was to come. The Canelos showed me what this race was all about. Push up a canyon, descend down the other side. The AZT was rough, rugged and steep trail walled with varieties of cactus. The Canelos made me realize that I should have either been on a bigger tire of a full suspension bike if I wanted to push a fast pace and survive the descents. I had gone through all but one bottle of water and had to ration it for the last 10 miles as my mouth remained dry and craving hydration. My poor food choice was 5 PB bagel sandwiches which due to the heat and dry mouth were almost impossible to choke down.
I pushed on thinking that this has to be the worst and that if I get through this I can recover in the next town. Patagonia was an oasis when I finally made it out of the Canelos. My thoughts had already started going to a bad place when I slow rolled into town to find many of the racers rehydrating in the shade of the local market. I topped off all of my water and scarfed down as many calories as I could. One by one everyone rolled out, even races that had gotten to town after me. The next 15 miles would be paved road and dirt roads which gave me a little more time to recover and absorb everything that I and just consumed. A few miles before the route would turn back into AZT single track trail my GPS started to glitch then it completely shut down. I had a back up GPS App(Gaia) on my phone that I would use for the rest of the race but this meant that I had to constantly take my phone out and make sure I was on route which was very time and battery consuming. I missed a turn and after 2miles of descending down ATV roads I check my phone to realize that I had missed the turn. I lost it for a bit in that desert. Annoyed, tired and beaten up I had to pushed back out to get back on trail. Luckily there was some trial magic a few miles away that offered a cold beer and laughs to rebound my spirits. Just a bit further was the next water source where I met a veteran racer who was having a meal and refilling his water. We talked for a bit and he kept it real for me. The worst wasn't over. The first 65 miles were just a glimpse of what the rest of the race would look like. He told me of some of the down hill that I had coming up that would take longer to get down than to get up. We chatted for a bit longer and I decide to see what I had left in the tank for the first day.
Nightfall had set in and I continued to crank out miles which after a long climb mellowed out to a series of rolling tall grass high deserts with fast swooping single track. This section was my favorite of the ride. The moon was almost full and made the grass turn to silver waves as I sped through. With the cool air and being fueled up I kept cranking through the night. I was now even passing some of the leaders who had stopped to get some rest, most of them had done so at cattle gates so that they would be woken up when another rider came through. Well played! I then found amusement in the headlights that were emerging through out the mountain side from riders get up to try and track down the rider who had just passed them, me. My right knee had started giving me some pain so I stuck to a deal that I had made with myself and set my sleeping bag and pad to take a few hours rest before taking back off. One by one the riders that I had passed would catch up and repass me as I rested.