Ride Out The Door

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bedrock Ambassador Brett Davis shares the experience of just getting away from it all for a while. Enjoy!

The goal was simple: Maximize the little time I had to take in the splendor of a Colorado fall. With an unexpected two-day break from a very intense and extended period of work, my mind and body were ready for an adventure without any responsibility to others. This was going to be a solo trip. Given my limited time, any amount of driving to get to a trailhead was out of the question. After a quick perusal of a local map, a plan was hatched.


This sojourn was going to be perfect for an old friend of mine. In 2011 I rode the length of the Great Divide on a custom Salsa Cycles Ti Fargo. After 2800 miles of flowy single track, rough two-track, punchy gravel, and smooth pavement, this bike was like a well-worn in pair of hiking boots. It was my trusty steed that I had confidence in to carry me safely through any environment. At the conclusion of our grand ride, the Fargo would continue to serve me well as we took on other multi-day bike packing adventures. Over the years though, with the progression of new technologies and innovations in the cycling industry, my ti friend was retired to the role of a commuter bike with only occasional forays onto gravel or easy single track. It spent more time hanging in the garage than it did feeling the ebb and flow of its wheels across the landscape. It was time to change that.


The pack was easy as my body immediately went into auto pilot…on went my Bedrock frame bag; next came the Coconino seat bag; the Entrada handlebar bag was secured to my drop bars by the ever-versatile pocket; and lastly, the Dakota tank bag found its place full of snacks onto my top tube. Within an hour, the Fargo was loaded and ready for the adventure ahead. With a simple twist of a key and the ensuing click of a deadbolt, my responsibilities and cares of everyday life were locked away. As I swung my leg over the Fargo, I relished the feeling of freedom that came like a torrent as soon as my house key was removed from the lock. It was going to be a special 48 hours.


The first ten miles quickly flew by on the quiet country road as my old friend and I got reacquainted. My chamois found its old grooves in the well-loved Brooks saddle. My hands found an old familiarity with the aging bar tape on the drop bars. My body easily returned to a riding position of comfort that was born out of countless hours in the saddle. The bike and I melded back into adventure partners. Looking down at the haggard sticker on the chain stay, I smiled thinking, Yes, I am an adventure cyclist once again.


Turning off of the pavement, I set my sights on the myriad of colors above, each pedal stroke propelling me further into Fall. Grasping the bars with a light touch, I pushed the cranks over reveling in the feel of my heart pumping oxygen to my hard-working muscles. I climbed ever upward, stopping whenever I felt the urge to shoot a photo or just take in the stillness around me. I needed this. We needed this.


At the top of the climb I found what I had been seeking. My mountain road was engulfed by autumn’s golden light. I was riding into the daydream I had been visualizing for weeks as I toiled away at my profession. The colors were beginning to peak. The aspens shimmered in gold as a light breeze caressed the mountainsides. The vibrant red and orange scrub oak provided a stark contrast against the cobalt blue sky. Clicking shutter after shutter, I struggled to capture nature’s beauty, knowing that my processed photos would pale in comparison to what I was currently witnessing.

My camp was in a high mountain meadow overlooking the expanse of the Southern San Juan mountains. As the last rays of the day faded into the western horizon and the surrounding colors were extinguished for the night, the lone bugle of an elk echoed across the dark sky. He too seemed to mourn the ever-shortening days. If only for a few more rays of light to be able to absorb more of fall’s beauty. But such is the way of the changing seasons. With the plunge into darkness, the temperature began to drop. It was time to retreat into the embrace of my down tomb. With consciousness fading, I discerned the faint hoot of an owl awakening for the evening hunt. Good luck Mr. Owl. It won’t be long before these mountains will be dormant under a blanket of white. Old man winter is coming.

I lingered at my camp the next morning waiting for the warmth of the sun to melt away the evening’s hard frost. The sound of something plodding through the wilting grasses awoke me to action as I looked over to find a skunk heading into camp. It was time to get on with the day and let the creatures of the land get to their business, their work hours were dwindling with each passing day.

Turning south I pointed the Fargo towards home. During this time of year, the sun begins its migration to the southern horizon as it strains to take its place high overhead. With its brightness in my face, my rocky double track slowly fell away to a single ribbon of dust perched along a steep hill side. The Fargo demonstrated its versatility, as fully loaded it absorbed the ruggedness of the terrain. Without a suspension fork I bounced towards home on the rigid frame. My familiarity with my old friend, allowed me to be in control and press the pace. I rode in a kaleidoscope of color punctuated by the charred remnants of the once proud ponderosa pines. Fall seemed to fly by in a blur.

Descending the final paved miles to the house, I reflected upon my escape from the busyness of life. I had accomplished my goal of riding right out of my front door and into a season that I had been watching transform from the confines of my office. Though it was a quick get-a-way, the intimate exposure to this profound season of change, would be enough to sustain me through the next extended period of work. With gratitude, I unlocked my front door and as if on command, my phone began to ring. It was time to get to work.

Bedrock Bags
Behind the Lens


Bedrock Ambassador Brett Davis gives a whole new meaning to "bikepacking".  Photo: Mike Curiak

Editor's note:  Most of these images (unless otherwise credited) were taken by Bedrock Bags Ambassador, Brett Davis, on a recent trip to Alaska to duplicate a route pioneered 30 years ago that led to the term “Hell Biking” - and, perhaps, was one of the first true bikepacking trips. At the very least, it was a cutting-edge endeavor and well before its time regarding the use of bikes in the late 1980’s. We asked Brett to share the words behind his images…

Olympus OMD-EM1, M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro Lens—ISO 200, F14, 1/200 sec
The goal was simple: to get from the end of the road in Nabesna, AK to the beginning of the road (or ending, depending upon your perspective) in McCarthy, AK utilizing bikes and a single pack raft. If one looks at a map, this goal thirty years ago looks to be preposterous as it goes through the heart of the wild and remote Wrangell St. Elias mountain range—over 20,000 square miles of mountain wilderness void of all roads. The route was pioneered in 1988 by Alaska hard men: Roman Dial, Carl Tobin, and Jon Underwood. At the time, these visionaries were the first of their kind to attempt such an audacious goal with bikes. Sure, you could hike it, but ride bikes through this terrain?! Crazy! Consequently, the young guns pulled it off with their victory chronicled in the magazine, Mountain Bike (http://packrafting.blogspot.com/2009/08/hellbiking-lives.html). Since then, the route has only been attempted and repeated by a handful of hardy souls. Eric Parson and Dylan Kentch persevered through ice, snow, rain, and cold weather to successfully arrive in McCarthy during the June of 2009. A couple of Spaniards suffered through the perils of the route during the summer of 2016. In tribute to our friends (the route originators), myself and three other adventurers, who are known to never shy away from the absurd suffer fest, decided to duplicate the route in true pioneer style: four bikes and one pack raft. This first image was taken on the morning of our first full day on the route as we began to negotiate the endless braids of the Nabesna River. Upon starting at the at the end of a gravel road the previous night, we had ridden and bushwhacked to the first crux of the route—which was to cross this broad river and make our way downstream to Cooper Creek. Essentially, these initial wades set the tone for what would be the norm in the ensuing days, as we crossed every waterway we encountered hundreds of times. Some crossings were simple affairs that could be ridden across. Others were potentially treacherous and would involve the inflation of our single pack raft to ferry both bikes and bodies across the swift and deep currents. Needless to say, we had our close calls and plenty of days where none of us could feel our cold feet, as with each entrance into the glacial melt our feet would go instantly numb, compromising our ability to find secure footing on a river bed of ever moving cobbles. It was a delicate dance to arrive safely on the other side of the braid.

Brett keeping his feet.  Photo: Mike Curiak

Olympus OMD-EM1, M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro Lens—ISO 200, F8, 1/800 sec
Upon intersecting Cooper Creek, we rode its cobbles upstream to its headwaters and Blue Lake. Once past its stunning turquoise waters we began an alpine descent towards Notch Creek. The game trail single track that we descended was some of the best riding that we had encountered thus far. I believe John rated it an 11+ out of 10. It rivaled any alpine single track we would find in our own back yard on the Colorado Trail. Absolutely sick! Once at Notch Creek we resumed our cobble riding as we headed down stream to the Chisana River. After picking up and following an old ATV trail through a marshland and forest, our smooth riding and wet pushing came to an end as the trail plunged deeply into an ice choked river. The Chisana was still partially frozen from its winter hibernation. For the past couple of summers my crew has traveled to the land of the midnight sun to attempt similar wild objectives. Learning from these previous experiences where the weather in late July and early August can be fickle, we decided to move our time frame upwards into June and take advantage of what the locals said would be more stable weather patterns. As with everything in life, there is a tradeoff…earlier in the summer = more stable weather, but could possibly mean higher water due to the spring melt off, as well as, the potential for residual pack ice. We had already encountered the high water affect and now we had come to a partially thawed river. Upon watching our trail disappear into a mass of glacial melt flowing quickly downstream, we scanned up and down for our options. Looking upstream towards the glacier we saw ice…rideable ice. Finding a game trail paralleling the river we made our way upstream and onto the ice. The surface was solid and our big tires took us across the river plain. Eventually, however, all good things come to an end and we had to unfurl the pack raft and begin the ferry process. It was sweet while it lasted though…

Olympus OMD-EM1, M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro Lens—ISO 200, F5.6, 1/400 sec
Occasionally, as adventure cyclists, we encounter our biking equivalent of nirvana. A place where the work to get there is justified and all of the sore muscles from hard exertion are forgotten. A place where the views are indescribable and the riding is what can only be experienced in our dreams. It’s a place that our mind creates in its deepest corners and consequently, we spend our lives seeking, like a dog chases his uncatchable tail. I lived this dream on day three. After crossing the Chisana, we began making our way up yet another river bed. Geohenda Creek, like Cooper and Notch Creeks, was negotiable by bikes. I am not sure how Roman and the boys did in 1988 on their 26 inch, 1.9” tires, but modern day fat bikes had little trouble riding the bruiser boulders and cobbles of this massive drainage. Up and up we pedaled, ticking off the miles slowly but surely. This type of riding isn’t for everyone. It is a full body affair…before you lies a sea of cobbles from 6 inches to 12 inches in diameter. You scan ahead and pick your line, taking your first pedal strokes with purpose and fortitude to stay on line. Within seconds though, your front tire careens off a cobble and changes your planned trajectory. You are now free styling. Going with the flow. All plans are abandoned with only a mindset to maintain forward motion remaining. Frustration can come easily, but a willingness to relax and succumb to the whims of the terrain can keep such feelings at bay. Only then can forward progress on the bike rather than off the bike be made. When the Geohenda was but a trickle, nirvana was realized. A faint trail of alpine single track began to materialize. It was heavenly. Before me, the ribbon snaked its way across tundra and tussocks flowing towards a massive skyline dominated by a 16,000’ glaciated peak. The riding was smooth and effortless as we pedaled into each camera frame. The early evening light only added to the etherealness of the landscape. We had found 11++ riding for sure.

Olympus OMD-EM1, M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro Lens—ISO 200, F11, 1/125 sec
The most feared portion of this route is the mountain goat trails out of the Chitistone Gorge. There is no riding to be had here. The antithesis of riding nirvana. The trails wind through loose cliff bands of rock. The exposure was daunting at times forcing pinpoint focus on shuffling one foot forward after another on a twelve-inch wide path. A rough, slow and unstoppable tumble into an abyss is the outcome of a misstep to the left. To the right is a steep hillside of ever shifting rock and earth in constant transition. It is treacherous. Two days before we tackled this formidable challenge, we negotiated our way along the lateral moraine of the Russell Glacier. Intimidating and unnerving with mud slides upon ice. Over Skolai pass and then the Chitistone pass we post holed through deep snow. Only by following the tracks of a lone grizzly bear were we able to find our way in the misty and wet landscape of nothingness. The rain gave no sign of abating. With all of us on the verge of hypothermia, the walking came to an end a mile before the gorge began. At midnight we quickly set up our shelters and exchanged wet clothes for warm sleeping bags. Relief at last. At 4 AM I was startled awake by Mike shouting to shake off the mid. The world had gone suddenly quiet. The day’s companion of rain had faded into the atmosphere only to be replaced by the acoustics of falling snow. Our world was blanketed in a layer of white. Not good. Throughout the rest of the early morning, the snow continued to fall. Ten inches in total. With each wet flake our indoor space was encroached upon. With a crack of our kayak paddle, which was used as our lone tent pole, the heavy, wet snow made its presence known. We weren’t going anywhere for a while. At 7 AM I emerged from our cocoon to dig out our shelters. The landscape had radically changed over the dusk hours with point release avalanches dominating every steep face surrounding us. We were lucky that only ten inches had fallen. A more substantial snow would have put us in the direct firing line of several different avalanche paths. Having been warned of the perils of this portion of the route, we chose to stay put until the snow melted. To attempt the exposed trails ahead would have been a fool’s errand, most likely ending in a mortal disaster. The only option was to lay prone, conserving both energy and food, until the conditions safely warranted passage around the gorge. This would take 36 hours of waiting. Please note the cyclist on the steep hillside in the foreground. Mike was just beginning yet another highly exposed and loose section of hike-a-bike.

Brett makes his way along the goat trails.  Photo: Mike Curiak.

Olympus OMD-EM1, M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm F2.8 Pro Lens—ISO 200, F7.1, 1/2000 sec
A day before our departure to Anchorage, a conference call took place with myself, Mike and Steve. The central topic was how many pack rafts to bring on the trip. Should everyone have their own craft or should we save significant weight and potentially increase our ability to move fast by carrying only one raft just for the deep river channel crossings? Forward movement on the route by water would be compromised, but we would possibly move quicker through both the hike and rideable terrain because of our lighter kits. Roman and Co. had used one raft. Eric and Dylan each had rafts and foreshadowed that we would be kicking ourselves for only bringing one craft—especially in the final days of the route when we had reached the Nizina River. The final outcome of our call was to do the route in true pioneer style and bring only one raft. This was a decision we would live to question during the final two days of the route. Once past the lofty trails of the sure-footed mountain goats we thrashed and bashed through a steep hillside of alder to regain the Chitistone River. Watching Mike huck his bike into a tree as he scrambled down a short cliff, I could only hope that our two-wheeled machines would last long enough to get us to McCarthy. Turning down stream, we began the slow descent towards the Nizina. Good riding was interrupted by hour or longer bushwhacking tortures. The mosquitos were plentiful and thirsty. These full body efforts in the bush only seemed to ramp up the suffer factor and were mentally challenging to push through. The going was slow, but possible. My mantra was simply, keep moving forward by any means. It didn’t have to be pretty. At 5 PM we came to the Nizina and a sandy expanse of river channels and braids. We had been told that we would have to do at least one mandatory raft crossing, but after that it would be smooth sailing to a road that would deliver us to McCarthy. Turning west, we made our way towards an obvious constriction in the river corridor. There, we figured, would be our mandatory crossing. Way shy of our destination however, the pack raft was removed from Doom’s back and inflated. For the next seven hours or so, we would engage in a dance with the river…wade with the bikes until too deep; retreat; inflate raft; ferry. Finally, at 2 AM, we called it quits for the day, all of us cold and exhausted from
fighting to cover a mere two miles. Under a deep dusk, we consumed our final meals of the trip. We were officially out of food except for the scraps of a snack or two. As I drifted off for a couple of hours of shut eye, I imagined each of us in our own pack rafts bobbing down the river channels to McCarthy. We would have been there a day ago. The above shot was taken the following morning as we were forced to inflate yet again after having been shut down by fast and deep currents. Consequently, a few hours later, we hungrily and happily rolled into McCarthy just in time to eat and then drive back to Anchorage to catch flights home that evening. Talk about cutting it close to the wire. 

You can follow Brett and see more photos from this adventure and others on his Instagram (@brettrdavis) or his website: www.thelessoncollective.com.

Bedrock Bags
Dana's AZT, Part 2

Editor's note:  Dana Ernst (no relation to Joey) is one of our Bedrock Ambassadors - he's out there using our gear all the time, including on events like the Arizona Trail Race.  In his spare time (ha!), he's a professor at Northern Arizona University.  Given his busy schedule, we're lucky to get such an in-depth race report.  Read on for the 2018 AZT blow-by-blow, Part 2... easiest to read by clicking on the title to open a new page.

...I think in general, Dion is a slightly better rider than I am.  He’s certainly better at descending than me. However, when we had last seen each other on Thursday evening, I think I was riding slightly stronger than him.  That’s what I unconsciously remembered and I was looking forward to some slow miles.  But now it's Friday evening and Dion is feeling fantastic.  About 30 minutes after leaving Tiger Mine I realized that there was no way I could keep the pace up and I was starting to feel awful. I told Dion to feel free to drop me, but he stuck by me.  He slowed it down a bit, but shortly thereafter, the wheels completely came up off the bus.  I started getting super dizzy and my vision was totally messed up.  My sense of balance was out of whack and I was having a hard time keeping my bike upright.  Dion was pretty far in front of me and I was getting really worried.  I had never felt that way and the thought of being alone in the dark in the middle of nowhere (with no tent or sleeping bag!) was pretty f*&^$g stressful. 

I decided I would try to lay down at the top of the next hill.  When I pulled over the top, Dion was there waiting.  I collapsed into the dirt and laid there.  Dion was futzing around with gear and debating what to do.  Meanwhile, the sky was spinning for me and I couldn’t really get up.  15-20 minutes go by and I start to feel way better. I get up and we ride pretty slowly for maybe an hour and then another dizzy spell hits me, but this time it is worse.  I tell Dion to leave me behind and hope that sleeping for a couple hours does the trick.

So there I am just laying in the dirt in my puffy.  Not really my thing!  I was so tired that all the fears of the scary shit that lurks in the dark didn’t matter.  I fell asleep instantly.  30 minutes later I was startled awake by a coyote yip that sounded like it was right next to me.  Now I’m wide awake!  Another yip.  And another.  From 3 sides of me!  I jump to my feet and shine my light and count four of them circling me about 50 yards away. I threw rocks at them, yelled, and jumped onto my bike.  I was convinced they ignored me and just let me pedal away, but reflecting now, I have no reason to believe they didn’t follow me for a bit.

After the coyote incident I’m feeling quite a bit better, but I have no “go” juice. I am riding really slowly and walking pretty much everything that goes uphill.  I’m shattered and alone in the dark in the desert.  I’m fighting to keep moving, fighting fear, and fighting the sleep monsters.  I convince myself to try to ride to Freeman Road.  At some point, I fell asleep while pushing my bike up a hill.  I have no idea if I fell asleep for 2 seconds or several minutes.  I startled myself awake and then couldn’t decide which way I was supposed to go.  I was staring at my GPS for what seemed to be an eternity, trying to figure out which way to go.  My mind was mush and nothing made any sense.  Eventually I decided that I should just keep riding in the direction that my bike was facing.

I made it to within about 3 miles of the Freeman Road cache when I started to hallucinate. For about 5 minutes I saw women in 50’s style clothes and kids wandering in the desert as if each cactus was a rack of clothes. So weird!  The apparitions were completely silent.  At that point, I decided to sit down for a minute.  45 minutes later I woke up. I hopped on my bike and rode the last few miles to Freeman Road (roughly mile 223).  Dion was there sleeping and I woke him up when I arrived.  Somehow he had only been there for 2 hours.  The last few hours seemed like an eternity.  I collapsed in the dirt and slept for about 30 minutes before I started shivering pretty intensely.

Dion and I got up around 5:30am (I think), gathered up our stuff, and pushed off for Kelvin.  Within 5 minutes, I felt absolutely fantastic as if it was a fresh start.   It seems impossible that I could go from feeling so crappy to feeling so good.  We were flying! Thankfully we made it to the bottom of the “Big Hill” before it got to hot.  We dispensed with the hike-a-bike with ease and then descended Ripsey Ridge.  I almost never enjoy descending, but I was loving the Ripsey descent.  

When we reached Kelvin, we pedaled to the water spigot at the ADOT yard (roughly mile 251).  There was some shade and the water was cold.  Life was good.  We decided to chill for a bit and ordered some pizza and soda from Old Time Pizza.  As we waited for the pizza to arrive, we started to realize how hot it was.  Both of us were feeling sorry for anyone that was out on the section we had just ridden.  Hiking up the Big Hill in the heat would be soul crushing.  The pizza arrived and we devoured all but a couple slices, which we wrapped in tin foil and saved for later.  

Rested and recharged, we departed Kelvin and entered the Gila Canyon section of the AZT. Our plan was to ease into things and then speed up, but we started slow and got slower.  It was hot!  According to my Garmin, it was 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit in Gila Canyon. This pretty much crippled Dion and me.  It took us 5.5 hours to go the 15 miles from Kelvin to the base of the final big climb. We basically slithered from shady spot to shady spot, often stopping for 15-20 minutes at a time.  We tried to be extremely conservative with our efforts. Being out in that kind of heat is dangerous, especially given the state we were in.  Before the final big climb, we cooled off in the Gila River and then waited quite a little while before starting the final push. We were hoping for some shade before climbing up Picketpost Mountain. I had saved a Coke that I ordered with the pizza. I had been looking forward to drinking it for hours and decided now was as good a time as any.  Unfortunately, it was more like warm bath water than a refreshing cold beverage.  Oh well.  I also finished off the rest of the pizza I had been saving. 

Dion and I were on pace to finish in under 2.5 days when we arrived in Kelvin, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us with how we timed the heat. We only had 21 miles to go.  At this point, I think both of us were just going to be happy to finish and any concerns about our time or placing were absent.

We were pretty spent from the heat when we started up the climb out of Gila Canyon.  I had descended that section once before during the Gila 100 race, so I thought I had some sense of what was in store.  However, reality and my memory didn’t line up.  It got dark on us a couple miles before the “top”.  We turned on our lights and continued on our way.  I was anxious to reach the high point and then rip the descent to the finish.  Ha! Not long after turning on my lights, my Sinewave Beacon dimmed quickly and then turned off.  I was walking and pushing my bike at the time.  I stopped and fiddled with the wires, flipped the on/off switch a few times, but nothing happened.  I picked my front tire up and spun the wheel to see if dynamo would power the light.  Yep, that worked.  Shit, my cache battery was toast.  It should have been charging all day, but apparently that didn’t happen.  It appears that my cache battery never recharged during the whole race.  If that’s the case, my cache battery (with help from the dynamo when I was going fast enough) powered my handlebar light for two full nights.  A little testing post-race with the help of Sinewave revealed that my cable and battery combo was the culprit.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do adequate testing before the race.  After the race, I swapped out my cache battery and replaced the cable I was using.  I’ve used the Beacon a few times since then and everything works great.

I wasn’t in panic mode yet since the light would work as long as I was rolling fast enough.  And I still had my headlamp…or so I thought.  As I was pushing my bike, I realized my headlamp was extremely dim.  The night before I swapped the batteries in my BD Storm headlamp.  I was carrying lithium batteries as a back-up because that’s what the Spot requires.  Unbeknownst to me, the lithium batteries and my headlamp don’t cooperate.  I seem to burn through the lithium batteries in the matter of a few hours.  This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, but it’s the first time that I figured out why it was likely happening.  I haven’t been able to confirm that this is a documented issue, but I’m confident the batteries are an issue for my headlamp.  

The lack of light was a bit of a bummer at this point, but I definitely had enough for hike-a-biking.  Besides, soon we would hit the top, and then we would be descending fast enough for the dynamo to power my Beacon and I would have bright light all the way to the finish.  Right?  Nope.  

We hit a high point and both of us assumed it was the top.  We descended a bit (with bright light!), but then soon dismounted and started walking back uphill.  We hit another high point.  Ah, this must be the top.  Descend a bit, then back up hill.  This happened a few more times.  Descend a bit.  Hike up a bit.  Dion and I wondered if we were going in circles or experiencing groundhog day.  I was pretty discouraged at this point and on the verge of having an emotional meltdown.  At one point, we looked down and saw a light.  Fuck, was someone gaining on us?  This spurred us to move a little faster, which maybe lasted 5 minutes.  Back to snail pace, I kept looking around for the light, expecting whoever it was to catch us at any moment.  After the fact, I’m confident it wasn’t another racer as the next rider to reach Picketpost after Dion and me was Dustin Eroh nearly 3 hours after us.  In fact, I’m not even sure the light was behind us.  We were so turned around up there in the dark, it’s possible the light was in front of us. 

Somewhere near the top, my heels started screaming at me when I was pushing my bike.  I figured I had blisters, but there was no sense stopping to address the issue with how close we were to the finish.  I’ve never had blisters before and was shocked at how painful they were.

Eventually, we really did reach the high point and “down” we went.  Dion was flying and I was desperately trying to keep up.  When I was going fast, my Beacon was throwing plenty of light.  The problem is that every time I slowed down, the light would dim so much, it was extremely hard to see. The frequent change from really bright to essentially non-existent was very hard on the eyes. Every time I’d get to a switchback, I’d slow down so much, I more or less couldn’t see where I was going. I crashed multiple times. I’m guessing I lost over an hour on the descent to the finish due to the lack of light. 

I couldn’t believe how long the descent from the top took.  As close as we were to the finish, I was feeling like I was never going to make it there.  I was having trouble believing that I had ridden my single speed up what I was currently trying to ride down. Of course, it wasn’t all downhill as I was hoping.  There were also plenty of short uphills, which I mostly walked.  A couple miles before the finish, I tried to power up a short technical section but my cranks came to an abrupt stop.  It felt like classic chain suck, but when I dismounted, I was surprised to see that my chain was jammed across three or four cogs of my rear cassette.  That was a new one for me and it took me a few minutes to pull it off.  I gingerly remounted and was relieved that things seemed to be working fine.  I assumed Dion was long gone, but was thankful to see him a few minutes later.  My chain stuffed itself across my cassette a couple more times and each time it took a little longer to unjam.  

After 2 days, 15 hours, and 13 seconds, Dion and I rolled into Picketpost.  We were the 4th and 5th riders to reach Picketpost and tied for 3rd place in the AZT300.  Neil Beltchenko won the AZT300 with a blistering fast time of 1:23:13.  It appears Neil is only the second person to ever finish under 48 hours.  Kaitlyn Boyle set a new women’s course record with a time of 2:02:57.  Well done Kaitlyn!  Kurt Refsnider’s split time from Parker Lake to Picketpost was 2:04:55.  Kurt went on to set a new course record for the AZT750.  Nice job Kurt!  



When Dion and I reached the finish, it was pitch black and eerily quite. I felt like I should stop for a moment and take in what I had just accomplished, but instincts took over.  Where’s the food?  Shit, I didn’t have any food…or water. I rolled over to my car and fumbled around looking for my car key while Dion rode to the other end of the parking lot looking for his wife.  After dropping all my stuff at my car, I wandered over to where Dion and his wife were hanging out.  Dion’s wife brought me some Wendy’s!  We laid in the dirt wedging some fries, chicken sandwiches, and giant Cokes.  So good. After chilling out for a little while, Dion and his wife departed. Thankfully they left me a bottle of water since I had none of my own.  Note to self: always leave food and water for after races and bikepacking trips.  

I bumbled around at my car for a bit while pondering what to do.  My son was playing in a soccer tournament in Prescott the following morning, so I decided I would try to catch a few hours of sleep and then drive to the morning game.  It took me forever to get changed.  I was a total space cadet.  It felt great to get out of my cycling shoes.  Within a few minutes my feet were super swollen. I was about to set up my tent that John Schilling had delivered from the start to my car (thanks again John!), but then realized that Bill’s truck was parked next to my car.  I blew up my sleeping pad, grabbed my sleeping bag, and crawled into the bed of the truck.  I elevated my swollen feet,  stared up at the stars ,and slowly drifted off to sleep.

A couple hours later I was awoken as Dustin Eroh rolled into Picketpost.  I sat up in the truck and congratulated him on his progress.  We chatted a little as he sat up camp next to the truck.  I’m sure I was a muttering fool.  He sounded surprisingly fresh.  Dustin would go on to finish second in the AZT750.

I woke up before the sun came up and hobbled out of Bill’s truck.  I could barely walk.  My feet were completely f*&^$d. There’s no way I could have put my shoes back on.  I was shocked at how massive the blisters on my heels were, but it was the swelling in my feet that was causing all the pain.  I had similar swelling at the end of the CTR.  I need to figure out this swelling thing.  I might have to try compression socks.  I was an absolute zombie driving to my son’s soccer game.  I made it there in time for kick off and cheered on my son’s team.  It was nice to be with family and friends.

Closing Thoughts

  1. Gratitude: I’m extremely grateful to have the opportunity to experience these types of adventures. It wouldn’t be possible without support from my wife and family. Events like the AZT300, the lead up to them, and sometimes the recovery afterwards are taxing on family, too. Thanks Jen, I love you!  Also, thanks to the dudes at Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution and Bedrock Bags for the support. I’m also indebted to Mike Vanderberg for helping out with an abbreviated training plan. I had foot surgery in December and wasn’t able to start training until the middle of January. My early training was slowed due to a recurring saddle sore turned staph infection. In reality, I packed all of my training into 8 weeks. Thanks to Scott Morris for organizing this crazy event. 
  2. Companionship: I had a blast riding with Dion. I hope we can share some adventures in the future.
  3. Feeling proud: I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished. Squeezing in time to train when you work 50+ hours per week isn’t easy. Balancing work, family life, and play isn’t easy. I’m 43 years old and I’ve had two surgeries in the past year and a half (lower back and left foot). Also, I don’t think I’m really that good of a bike rider.  But I do have an abundance of “try hard”.
  4. Room for improvement: There are lots of little things that I can improve upon, but one thing that stands out is my descending.  I’m awful.  A huge part of the problem is that I don’t really like going fast. I’ve always been conservative when descending, but since my back surgery, I’m definitely overly cautious.  I really need to work on riding switchbacks.  I bet I could take an hour off my AZT300 time just by riding all of the switchbacks faster.
  5. Animals: I saw 3 rattle snakes (2 of which seemed to be mating along the trail in Gila Canyon), 2 scorpions, 1 gila monster, 4 coyotes, hundreds of wolf spiders (their eyes twinkle at night), and mountain lion tracks on top of cycling shoe prints. Whoever was using Speedplay pedals may have had a mountain lion following them in Gila Canyon! I was hoping to see a desert tortoise, but that didn’t happen.
  6. Community: I think the bikepacking community is awesome and I’m proud to be a part of it.
  7. AZT750: I have massive respect for every rider attempting the 750. I’m happy with how my race in the 300 went, but given the state of my feet, I’m not sure I could not have finished the 750. I’ll admit that bums me out a bit, but it’s irrelevant.  Someday I’d like to do the 750, but I’m not sure it’ll ever happen since I just can’t miss that many days of work in the middle of the semester.  Missing one day for the 300 was already a problem.

Gear List

Here’s a more-or-less complete list of the stuff that I took with me:

  • Clothes:
    • Bike hat
    • Buff
    • Bibs
    • Wool Rapha shirt 
    • Wool long sleeve base layer
    • Socks
    • Knee warmers
    • Gloves
    • Cycling shoes
    • Helmet
    • Puffy jacket
    • Insulated pants
  • Osprey Syncro 10 backpack
  • Two 3-liter bladders
  • Sinewave Beacon Light
  • Garmin GPS
  • Spot Tracker
  • Black Diamond Storm headlamp (strapped to helmet)
  • Batteries for Spot and headlamp
  • Sunglasses
  • MSR Trailshot and Aquatabs
  • Dude wipes
  • Minimal first aid kit
  • Lighter
  • DZ Nuts
  • Sunscreen
  • Money, drivers license, credit car
  • Repair stuff:
    • Spokes
    • Nipples
    • Pump
    • CO2
    • Tubes w/ sealant
    • Patch kit
    • Tire boot
    • Sealant
    • Valve core remover
    • Valve core
    • Leatherman
    • Chain link
    • Lube
    • Rag
    • Zip ties
    • Gorilla tape
    • Curved needle and nylon thread
    • Brake pads
    • Cleats and bolts
    • Superglue
    • Shifter cable
    • Multi tool
    • Derailleur hanger
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Dana's AZT, Part 1

Editor's note:  Dana Ernst (no relation to Joey) is one of our Bedrock Ambassadors - he's out there using our gear all the time, including on events like the Arizona Trail Race.  In his spare time (ha!), he's a professor at Northern Arizona University.  Given his busy schedule, we're lucky to get such an in-depth race report.  Read on for the 2018 AZT blow-by-blow... easiest to read by clicking on the title to open a new page.

Last year I dropped out of the Colorado Trail Race with roughly 50 miles remaining.  I was in a group of four (me, Justin DuBois, Brad Ells, and Max Morris) and up until an hour before dropping out, I assumed that the four of us would finish together. I was even fantasizing about finishing in under 6 days. Given the weather, the fact that I had back surgery 4 months earlier, and the fact that this was my first bikepacking race (actually, to be more precise, it was really my first serious bikepacking experience since I had only done a single overnighter before the event), I was feeling damn proud of sitting tied for third place in one of the premier ultra cycling events.  My feet were completely f*&#$d and I couldn’t really walk without holding onto my bike. But being only half of a day from being done, I figured I’d crawl to the finish if I had to. I was doing okay with the constant barrage of rain until suddenly I wasn’t.  Despite being wet for much of the previous 5 days, I hadn’t been that cold (with the exception of descending the dirt road on the La Garita Wilderness detour).  However, while riding toward Wellington Lake in the pouring rain, my core temperature dropped dangerously low.  I knew I was in trouble.  There was no shelter nearby, all my clothes were soaked, and my sleeping bag was soaked. I deliberated for a short period of time and reluctantly made the decision to throw in the towel. Meanwhile, Brad and Max decided to drop out.  Justin opted to press on and ended up finishing in third place in just over 6 days. As Brad, Max, and I pedaled back towards the highway in the hopes of getting picked up, I knew I made the right decision and it is one I would make again.

I live in Flagstaff, AZ and the Arizona Trail passes within a quarter of a mile of my house.  I’ve ridden sections of the AZT near Flagstaff countless times. However, being a college professor, the timing of the Arizona Trail Race prevented me from ever giving it any serious consideration. Sometime around Christmas, I let thoughts of squeezing in the AZT300 during a busy semester creep in.  My main motivation at the time for wanting to do the race was to get at least one bikepacking race under my belt before making another go at the CTR. I rationalized that it was okay to miss a day of classes in order to do the event.  Full disclosure: I got in “trouble” for missing that day of work. As a professor in the state of Arizona, I don’t get personal days. This year’s run at the AZT300 might have been my one and only attempt, unless I’m able to do it while on sabbatical or can squeeze in an ITT between semesters. 

Despite being comfortable with my decision to drop out of last year’s CTR, it was important to me that I do my best to go the distance on the AZT300.  Finishing was my top priority.  However, I’ll admit that I was also interested in going as fast as possible.  In the back of my mind, I was shooting for top five and to finish in under 2.5 days.  The first hiccup in my plan was that I had foot surgery (in part from damage during the CTR) in late December and wasn’t able to start riding again until the middle of January. I would have roughly 11 weeks to go from zero to AZT300.  Most of my riding was on the trainer in the garage, but I did manage to squeeze in a lap on the Fool’s Loop in late February. The second hiccup was that I tweaked my right shoulder in a bizarre crash while riding on Mount Lemmon during Spring Break. My crash was 2 weeks before the AZT300 and my shoulder hurt bad enough (in fact, it’s still bothering me) that I thought it might prevent me from making the start of the race.  With a little bit of rest and a magical steroid injection, I decided that it felt good enough to give the race a go.  It’s possible this was a stubborn and foolish decision, but thankfully, it worked out.

In the weeks leading up to the AZT300, I spent lots of time pondering things like nutrition, my sleep strategy, and my race strategy.  I decided to carry most of my calories from the start and to supplement with other food along the way as opportunities presented themselves.  I started with 12,000 calories.  Of this, 6000 calories was Tailwind and the rest was an assortment of Trailbutter, Lara Bars, Sticky Bars, Scratch Gummies, and Honey Stinger Gummies.  I also purchased a couple cans of Red Bull and a few cans of Coke along the way. I had a burger in Summerhaven and shared a pizza with Dion in Kelvin.  I finished with half a packet of Trailbutter.  I had no stomach issues whatsoever. If I ever do the event again, I’d likely increase the amount of Tailwind I brought.

One of the things that caused me the most anxiety was whether to bring a sleep system or not. A couple days before the race started, I committed myself to trying to do the entire race without sleeping. This made the decision about whether to bring things like a tent and sleeping bag easy!  The only things I brought just in case I had to hunker down for a bit was a puffy Patagonia jacket and some light insulated pants.

My strategy going into the race was to pace myself early on, especially in the Canelo Hills,  and then to just keep moving. I committed myself to not getting caught up with trying to keep up with folks that were hammering from the start.  There are two types of people that hammer early in these long races: those rare people that can hammer the whole race and those that blow up after a few hours.  I know that I am not the first type, especially given my abbreviated training period, and I definitely didn’t want to be one of the second type.

My bike and gear weighed over 50 lbs at the start of last year’s CTR (not including water).  For the AZT300, my bike and gear weighed only 39 lbs (not including water).  All of my bike bags are made by Bedrock Bags. I used a custom frame bag for my Salsa Spearfish, Black Dragon seat bag, Vishnu handlebar bag, custom Dakota top tube bag, and Tapeats bag. My Bedrock Bags set-up was rock solid and fit all of my gear perfectly. (Gear list coming in Part 2.) I was really pleased with how everything functioned and all of the bags held up to the abuse of the AZ Trail, which included constant gnashing from catclaw and all the other sharp, prickly stuff the desert has to offer. 

The plan was to carry everything on my bike except water, which would go in my Osprey backpack.  I had capacity for 6 liters. There were a few times (my memory is fuzzy now) that I carried all 6 liters. One of those times was leaving Kelvin. The only time I ran out of water was an hour or two before the finish.  

Even though I live in AZ, one of the cruxes of the race is sorting out the logistics of getting to the start and getting home from the finish.  My buddy Bill Akens, who also lives in Flagstaff and was doing the AZT300, arranged a shuttle with a dude named Steve to take us from the finish at the Picketpost Trailhead to the start at Parker Lake Reservoir.  Bill and I drove separately from Flagstaff to Picketpost on Wednesday afternoon.  We would leave our vehicles at the finish.  We left the trailhead at Picketpost around 5pm and after a stop at In-n-Out Burger in Tucson, we slithered our way through the windy road to Parker Lake, arriving at around 10pm. There were bodies strewn around the trailhead fast asleep.  We said goodbye to Steve, our shuttle driver, and thanked him for his kindness.  Since I wasn’t planning on sleeping for the next two nights, I was extremely anxious about how late it was and desperately wanted to get to sleep.  Being anxious about getting to sleep usually isn’t effective for falling asleep!  

Since I wasn’t carrying stuff to camp during the race, but wanted to camp the night before the race, I needed to find someone to take my camp gear from the start to my car at Picketpost.  John Schilling to the rescue! Feeling a major sense of urgency to get to sleep, I had a temper tantrum when trying to set up my tent.  My fancy tent requires that it be staked out, but the ground at the trailhead was like concrete.  All I wanted to do was get to bed! After cursing up a storm (which I was extremely embarrassed about later),  I ended up just crawling in my tent as if it was a big sleeping bag.  I know I dozed off a few times, but my heightened anxiety about the race, desire to sleep, and frustration with my tent, pretty much kept me up all night.  Not a great way to start a race in which I would try to skip two nights of sleep!

I finally fell asleep shortly before the sun came up, but it didn’t last long because Bill woke me up to tell me there was a UFO watching us.  It took me a while to figure out what he was pointing at, but it turned out to be a hot air ballon tethered to the ground that has a surveillance camera attached to it to keep an eye on the US-Mexico border.  Despite going to bed grumpy and not getting enough sleep, I woke up in an excellent mood and was super excited to start the adventure.

I was an AZT 300 rookie and had only ridden the last 90 miles of the course before (but in the opposite direction). I tried to plan and be familiar with the course as much as possible, but no amount of planning is ever enough. There were a few things that I seemed to have dialed, but a couple of things I overlooked. First, it didn’t occur to me to bring all the water I needed for the start to the start. Thankfully another racer had lots of extra water in his truck.  I could have gone to the lake to get water at the campground, but that would have been a hassle just before the start. Second, I didn’t leave any food or water in my car at the finish.  That was totally dumb.

 Ready to rumble...

Ready to rumble...

About 30 minutes before the start of the race, I was more or less ready to go.  I took the time to walk around the trailhead and meet as many people as I could.  I was surprised how few people seemed to be at the start, but within 15 minutes of go time, several trucks showed up.  I started to have that feeling that I think most people have before the start of the race, “Dang, all these people look wicked fast.  Maybe I should recalibrate by goals.”  I reminded myself that my number one priority was finishing and that I could check in on my goals later in the race. The long term plan was to have fun and push myself.  My short term goal was to not blow up in the Canelo Hills.

After a brief speech by Scott Morris from the back of someone’s pickup truck and a moment of silence for a rider that passed away earlier this year, the race was off at 8 am sharp.  I filed into roughly tenth position as we rolled into the singletrack and I was pleasantly surprised that the pace was relatively tame.  The moderate pace lasted a few miles and then someone decided it was time to up the tempo.  I kept my cool and didn’t give in to temptation.  I walked nearly all of the steep hills.  I noticed that Kaitlyn Boyle was a couple riders in front of me.  Every time there was a steep uphill, she elegantly dismounted and walked. There was no wasted effort and she smoothly maintained forward progress. It was awesome to watch her moderate her efforts. Meanwhile all the dudes around her were grunting and mashing pedals to ride up the short steep climbs of the Canelos. Occasionally, a dude would pass her, only to get passed back a few minutes later. I was both entertained and frustrated with their behavior. Kaitlyn set the perfect example for me to mimic on day 1.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up on the descents and eventually, Kaitlyn rode away from me.  Descending is my major weakness and Kaitlyn descends like a rocket!

Not surprisingly, most of the dudes that were mashing pedals fell behind and I never saw them again.  Several miles before exiting the Canelo Hills and reaching the town of Patagonia, I was riding with Dion Clark from Calgary, Canada.  Dion and I were maintaining a similar pace and quickly settled into riding together.  We chatted about life, family, and kids and also spent a fair bit of time hootin’ and hollerin’ about how awesome it was to be out in the desert.



When we reached the town of Patagonia (roughly mile 30), I stopped to grab some water and a Red Bull while Dion adjusted his air pressure.  It’s kind of funny that I grabbed a Red Bull because I’m pretty sure I had never had one before.  There was another rider at the store in Patagonia when we arrived and he departed shortly after we arrived.  I think his name was Chad.  Dion and I assumed he was racing, but it appears that he wasn’t using a Spot tracker.  After a few minutes, we were rolling again.  Dion got on the front and set a fast tempo on the pavement towards Sonoita.  A couple miles down the road we caught and passed Chad.  We would see him a couple more times later that day, but eventually we passed him for the last time and never saw him again.

We rolled into Sonoita (roughly mile 42) and stopped at the Sonoita Mercantile to refuel.  Kaitlyn was wrapping up her resupply when we arrived.  We exchanged a few quick words and she was off.  That was the last time I saw her during the race.  I topped off on water and grabbed a coke while Dion grabbed some calories.  A few riders arrived as we were packing up.  A couple of them looked fresher than I was feeling and I expected that they might get in front of me.  However, I wouldn’t see any of them again during the race.  At this point in the race, it’s still feeling a bit like a race, but at least for me, it wouldn’t be long before the thought of racing was more-or-less off my mind.  

Shortly after leaving Sonoita and getting back on the dirt, Dion and I passed a bikepacker coming the other way.  I didn’t recognize him at the time, but it was Richard May of Moustache Cycles in Flagstaff.  The next section seemed to take no time at all and we were having a blast.  We topped off with water at Kentucky Camp (roughly mile 60) and we were off again.  I think it was shortly after leaving Kentucky Camp when we passed Chris Kuzdas,  Chris was doing an ITT and started the day before us.  I met Chris last year at the Cove Classic (part of the Arizona Endurance Series) and it was cool to bump into him out there.

The next several hours are a bit of a blur.  At times the miles were passing quickly and effortlessly. And at other times, I was struggling to keep up with Dion.  I think we passed Chad for the final time just before it got dark.    At this point, the only riders in front of us were Kaitlyn Boyle, Neal Beltchenko, and Kurt Refsnider.  Kurt was doing the AZT 750 and started 14 miles behind us and an hour earlier.  Kurt was the only AZT750 rider that I saw during the race.  I kept hoping that Max Morris would catch up, but it never happened.  In fact, the only other racer that I saw for the remainder of the race was Dion.

My new Sinewave Beacon was doing an excellent job of lighting the way in the dark.  I was running the Beacon off of a cache battery.  The plan was to recharge the battery during the day using my dynamo.  I wouldn’t realize until my third evening that something in my system didn’t work out as planned.  In the meantime, I was loving my Beacon.

The Santa Rita's seemed to go on forever. It was amazing how dark the desert was.  Every now and then we would catch a glimpse of the lights in Tucson.  Eventually, we crested a hill and had a nice view of Tucson.  Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the Sahuarita Road/Hwy83 water cache (roughly mile 88) and were greeted by an older couple. The husband was a bikepacker that was setting up for the night and they were excited to see us and give us splits to the riders ahead and behind of us. I think Max Morris wasn’t too far behind us at this point. 

When we reached the entrance to Saguaro National Park (roughly mile 118), Dion and I parted ways.  Dion needed to detour into Tucson to get food, but since I was carrying all of my calories for the whole race, all I needed was water.  We weren’t sure if we would see each other again.  I was feeling really good, but wasn’t exactly looking forward to riding the rest of the night by myself.  As Dion headed towards Tucson, I took the bike path a short ways into Saguaro National Park and filled up 6 liters of water (which is really heavy by the way).  As far as I knew, the next guaranteed water source was 50 miles away and most of the way up Mount Lemmon at the Bigelow Trailhead. It turns out that I would pass at least two places that I could have filtered water and a cache of water.

A few miles after filling up with water, I started climbing up Redington Road.  I could see some car lights way up the road, which gave me a sense of how long I would be climbing.  I probably should have held back a little, but I was feeling pretty dang good but also a little anxious about riding alone in the dark. Prior to the race, I was dreading this section.  However, I was in the zone thoroughly enjoying myself.  I was hoping the feeling would last forever.

After climbing for a few miles and gaining some significant elevation, the route turns off of Redington Road onto a much rougher dirt road.  I’m not really sure how long the next section was, but the blissful state I was in was soon replaced with frustration and anxiety.  I would have had trouble riding this section during the day, but riding it at night really kicked my ass.  The road was a series of deep ruts and rock steps.  I was on and off my bike every couple minutes and when I was pedaling, I felt like I was going at a snail’s pace.  Numerous times I had to stop and look around so that I could figure out which way to go.  The riding was hard, but I was also using up a lot of energy getting frustrated.  At some point, my mind decided it was time to start worrying about mountain lions and other scary things that lurk in the dark.  I stopped having fun for a little while.

Right around the time that I thought I might lose it emotionally, I came upon an unexpected water cache.  I think it was near where the route rejoins Redington Road (roughly mile 143).  (If the route changes to stay on Rediington Road instead of taking the detour that kicked my ass, I probably wouldn’t object.)  I figured it was best not to pass up on the water, so I topped off to 5 liters.  The previous section took its toll on me, so I decided that it might be a good idea to take a rest and maybe catch an hour of sleep.  I put on my puffy jacket and laid down next to my bike.  I tried to sleep, but I just laid there for roughly 30 minutes.  If I wasn’t going to sleep, I might as well get back on the saddle and continue on my way.

Within a few minutes, I was back on the AZ Trail proper and happy to be on singletrack again. The short break did me good.  I was cruising again and in good spirits.  Soon enough I was on a section of trail that I had ridden just a couple weeks earlier.  It felt good to be on familiar ground and I knew the sun would be coming up shortly.  

Soon enough I was able to turn off my lights and ride using the pre-dawn light.  At this point, I was thrilled with my progress and ahead of where I thought I might be.  I was stoked that I was going to be able to climb up Mount Lemmon while the temperatures were cool.  

Eventually, I made it to the hike-a-bike section that headed into Molino Basin.  I had cruised up this section during Spring Break.  However, this time I had to do it fully loaded and after riding for nearly 24 straight hours.  I definitely didn’t set any speed records, but the HAB wasn’t too bad.  On the other hand, my descent into Molino Basin was less than stellar.  I lacked the confidence to bomb the technical sections and had to dismount numerous times.  

After crossing over the Mount Lemmon Highway, I entered the Molino Basin Campground (roughly mile 154), which is where I camped with my family two weeks earlier.  I had ridden the upcoming section of trail a few times.  In fact, it’s where I had my crash and hurt my shoulder.  As fate would have it, I rolled my rear tire and burped quite a bit of air out about 100 yards from where I crashed.  I didn’t panic and stepped off to see how much air my tire had lost.  It felt pretty low, so I grabbed my pump and put some more air in.  A few minutes later, I thought my tire felt low again, so I stopped to check.  Sure enough I was losing air.  Ruh-roh!  Now I was panicking a little.  I pumped it up again, adding extra this time.  I was able to make it to the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground (aka Prison Camp) before I stopped to check it again.  Doh!  Low again!  I pumped it back up and verified that my valve stem wasn’t the culprit and that I didn’t have any obvious holes.  I had some Stan’s leaking out the interface with the rim, so my best guess was that the tire wasn’t seated all the way after rolling it off the rim.

I was trying to stay positive and not have a panic attack.  Maybe I should have stopped to assess the situation further, but I decided to just keep pressing on and see how things progressed.  After Gordon Hirabayashi Campground, the route follows the Mount Lemmon Highway all the way to Summerhaven. I made it a few miles up the road before having to put more air in my tire.  Around the same time, the foot that I had surgery on a few months ago starting to scream at me.  I tried to ignore it, but the pain ramped up quickly.  I pulled over at the Bug Springs Trailhead and took my shoe off hoping to get some relief.  Thankfully, the pain eased up almost immediately.  I was riding strong, but the stress of my rear tire and fear that my foot was going to bother me the rest of the race was wearing me out.  I laid down on the pavement for a few minutes and gave myself a pep talk.  After a few minutes, I was itching to get moving again.  I pumped up my tire extra firm, put my shoe on, and started up the road again.  Other than blisters I would get later in the race, my foot never bothered me again.  I think I stopped once more to put air in my tire, but it never gave me trouble after that.

I pulled over a Windy Point (roughly mile 163) to take a picture and a gentleman walked over to me to chat about the race.  He was dot stalking and knew my name.  He told me that Kurt was only an hour in front of me.  I was a bit blown away by this and it energized me to know that I wasn’t that far behind the leaders.  I think the distance between me and them grew for the remainder of the race, but I didn’t know that would happen at the time.

The rest of the ride up Mount Lemmon was smooth sailing.  I’ve ridden up Mount Lemmon numerous times and it was comforting to be on familiar ground.  I had plenty of water when I reached the Bigelow Trailhead, so I pressed on to Summerhaven.  I was looking forward to some real food. I try to eat vegan as often as possible, but I was definitely craving a burger and a Coke!

I rolled into Summerhaven (roughly mile 173) and parked my bike outside the Sawmill Run Restaurant.  I took a seat on their patio where I could see my bike and looked over the menu.  When I arrived I was feeling great and elated with my progress.  However, that quickly turned to frustration as it took forever for a server to come over to my table.  I pride myself on being patient, but it’s a bit funny how one’s mood and attitude can change in an instant during these types of events.  I was tired and hungry.  For hours, the thought of racing wasn’t on my mind, but now that I was sitting there waiting, I was stressing out about riders gaining on me.  Eventually, I put in my order and after a rather long wait, my food arrived.  Thankfully, after getting some calories in my body, my attitude improved.

After lunch, I topped off on water at the Summerhaven Visitor’s Center and pedaled toward Oracle Ridge.  The upcoming section was one I wasn’t looking forward to.  I had never ridden Oracle Ridge before, but I had heard enough about it to know I might not like it.  According to folks that have ridden it numerous times, it is better now than it used to be.  I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but what I do know is that it kicked my ass.  I’m sure there are people that can ride sections of it, but I pretty much walked the whole thing.  Hike-a-bike up and hike-a-bike down. It was hot and my progress was slow.  For me, it was the least enjoyable section of the whole course.  If I never ride Oracle Ridge again, that would be fine with me.

By the time I reached the outskirts of Oracle State Park, I was pretty cooked.  I had anticipated the next several miles being uneventful and passing quickly, but I was moving so slow and walking lots of sections that I normally would have been able to ride.  I was a bit of a zombie until I made it to the water cache at the bridge a couple miles before the Tiger Mine Trailhead.  At this point, it was cooling off and I was looking forward to reaching Tiger Mine.  In my mind, Tiger Mine was a bit of a milestone.  From there, it is roughly 100 miles to the end.  I had previously ridden those miles in the reverse direction during the Gila 100 in 2015. 


I reached the Tiger Mine Trailhead (roughly mile 196) a couple hours before nightfall and decided I needed a rest.  I was shattered and not looking forward to riding alone in the dark.  It was windy and a bit chilly, so I put on my puffy jacket and laid down in the dirt.  I knew I needed to eat, but it required a bit of effort to get the food down.  I had good cell reception, so I checked TrackLeaders, posted a couple messages on Facebook, and called my family.  It looked like Dion was roughly an hour behind me.  Given how I was feeling, I knew he would likely catch me if I continued on my way.  I had really enjoyed his company the previous day and definitely wasn’t in the racing mood.  So, I decided to wait for Dion in the hopes that resting for a bit would hit the reset button for me.  

I knew I was a little f*&#$d up at the time, but after all the miles and lack of sleep, it sort of felt “normal”. It seemed like no time at all before Dion arrived and my spirits were lifted.  As I packed up my stuff, we chatted briefly about the experiences we each had since last seeing each other.  We left Tiger Mine while there was still some light left, but it wasn’t long before the lights came on... (to be continued... the wheels come off the bus for Dana, temporarily, in Part 2.)

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