Mary Reynolds on the trail
The AZT 300 had been penciled in on my calendar. An appointment with fate looming there, taunting with the joyful promise of seeing the wild places once again, visiting some familiar favorite scenes along that 300 mile route. Taunting me with recollections of fatigue and self induced pain. Mary Reynolds called me to go out and take a look at the route. She was going to give it a try for the first time. I looked at the threads on Bikepacking.net and read of the enthusiastic plans of this year's contingent of racers.
I went out with Mary on a pre ride, we did a little night riding on the course. The ride got me thinking more but I still had not made a commitment to race. A day before the race I suddenly felt inspired.
Fernando Paz offered me a ride to the start, another good omen.
I woke up nauseous. Fernando arrived on time, I puked, then I was ready sit in the pickup while Fernando drove me out to Parker Lake. My feeling sick had put us behind schedule. When we arrived the racers had left 5 minutes before. The Spot tracker which Scott had saved for me was ready. I loaded the batteries shivering in the snow, still feeling a little queasy. I bid Fernando and others goodbye, clipped in and rode off into the snowy forest.
The fresh cool air invigorated me. The silence of the forest was profound.
I caught up with some of the racers. Chatted with some, and later Mary and Tim and I rode together for a few hours.
Arrival in Patagonia was welcomed. Pizza awaited. Some of the faster riders were departing as we rode up. I went to the store to get food to last till Tucson. Tuna in foil, tortillas, cheese, candy.
climbing Salero Road enjoying the sunset I rode into the night.
Found the perfect place to camp and later Tim showed up and we stayed in that nice place till dawn. I had hoped Mary would ride till she found us but I did not see her.
A big climb ensued which warmed me up, then the descent to Whipple visitor center, exhilarating and on to the Elephant Head Mountain Bike trail where the Ocotillos and flowers were in bloom. I had just enough water to make it to Proctor where there is a faucet. I'd lost Tim since he had gone for water at Whipples.
I rode for hours up Box Canyon and onto the new section of AZ trail where Brendan and Matt came into view.
The pace seemed to quicken after they became aware of my approach. Nothing like a little competition to get things going! We then proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon riding that great stretch of trail into the Rincon Valley. When darkness came we rode Spanish Trail right into Tucson directly to the Subway for a footlong club. Wow did that hit the spot!
We camped outside Tucson. In the night Matt's aching hip got the better of him. He was in great pain. A night rescue ensued thanks to cell phones and a willing spouse.
Next crisis was on Reddington Pass. Brenden announced with anguish that his frame had cracked. After some discussion Brenden went back down and I continued on alone.
The next big surprise was some trail magic. I hear bells and see a sign, welcoming the AZ trail racers! I accepted a Coke from these trail angels .
Dave See was waiting on Bellota Trail for Brendan. We had a relaxed lunch. I unpacked and spread out my sleeping gear to dry in the warm sun. Thanks for those great cranberry's Dave! They were just the ticket!
The big climb over to the Catalina Highway wore me out. Later the the long climb up to Summerhaven brought on those familiar feelings of extreme fatigue. It is a familiar feeling, is not very fun but I also know that it doesn't usually stop me. Just keep going and enjoy the views. I arrived at Summerhaven at dark and it was cold. I did not think I would have a good night camping in those temperatures. Everything was closed in Summerhaven. No warm cafe meal was going to happen here. A lone figure was walking down the road, Dorothy her name was, after a moment she offered me her extra cabin
She said, " go on up there, make yourself at home, I'll see you in the morning" No name , no suspicion , no doubt, it was so cool! I made a fire and ate my tuna and camped on the hearth not wanting to mess up a bed or cause any work for her after I left. Thanks Dorothy! I probably finished the 300 because of your hospitality!
After that great restful night I was ready for Oracle Ridge and Oracle Ridge was ready for me. Downed timber had been prepared for me and lot's of rocks! High quality Hike-A-Bike!
Oracle came by late afternoon. Time to feed and buy feed for the next and last leg. Next stop for food would be at the end and I was not sure how many days that might be. Oracle Market was a great stop and I headed out with belly full of canned corn and pinto beans, a pound of roast beef in my pack, packages of tuna and tortillas.
Antelope Peak was on my mind. On the way out of town I met Tim rolling in. I thought about hanging out with him but I was ready to roll with daylight slipping so after a call to Scott and Joan on the cell phone I headed north to Antelope Peak. I know this remote trail well so I was ready to see it in the moonlight and the body was still willing as the mind. Just short of Bloodsucker wash I began to feel a genuine sleep call so I found a nice spot and and layed out my kit and had a little roast beef wrapped in tortilla and went to sleep!
Next day Antelope still needed to be passed and it is quite a circuitous piece of trail to get there. Good trail though. Here's the Antelope. It is visible for miles so arrival at it always seems like celebration.
Next was Freeman Road and the water cache. Thanks Jonesy for stocking that water for us
Then the boulders ....
A self portrait.....
A nap hideaway in the afternoon heat...
Then the Gila river and the diversion dam where I crossed.
I always like crossing the Gila river. It is where property descriptions in Arizona begin. " starting at the Gila and Salt River meridian" begins every property legal description. The Gila is also where Mexico began prior to the Gadsden Purchase. the Gila also used to flow freely and the Pima indians farmed. Phoenix diverted the water and Johnny Cash wrote a song about Ira Hayes. He was the Pima indian who raised the flag at Iwo Jima in WW2. Ira did not fare well after the war and the man in black describes it in great detail in the song. Crossing the Gila also means great forward progress for Lee Blackwell AZT 300 racer. Box Canyon was next.
Box was a lovely respite from the afternoon sun. This is a wild playground, motor city for the Phoenix dwellers on the weekends. All the fancy rigs are brought out and parties and general mayhem ensue. Ahh for me though late in the day during the week, one lone land cruiser went by and that was it. I even pumped water to top off my supply for I was not done yet. The Great Orphan Butte was coming and I knew what I was in for.
Box canyon topped out, Weavers needle appeared in the distance, the sun set and the lights of Coolidge, and the valley appeared. My legs felt strong, the heat had moderated. I put my ears on and Creedence and Rhonstadt, Neil and the Bealtles kept me company as my body and bike worked in perfect harmony to ascend that road. I topped out and in the rising moon there was Picketpost Mountain looming above an abyss not yet lit by the moon. I made a cell call and determined that my loving wife Joan was en route to the trails end at the foot of Picketpost Mountain. I descended into the dark abysss with my LED lights beaming brightly. I knew this trail is a tricker though. It appears to descend but in fact has a lot of little trick up hill sections. The climb had exhuasted me so I decided to sit down and have proper dinner though I was so close to the end. The renewed calories served me well on that tedious descent.
There was a light, a stately saguaro lit in the surrounding darkness. I knew this could be only one thing. Joan had hiked up the trail to greet me and was shining her light on this saguaro to make a grand finale for Lee Blackwell confirmed AZT racer. I'd attempted this race twice in previous years. 3rd time was the charm.