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.