Last time I rode the Arizona Trail was back in 2010. Life has changed a whole lot since then, priorities have shifted tremendously, free time/training windows are almost all eaten up by everyday life, and I am now a week away from being 48, how did that all happen?! My goodness I have reflected on all these changes and it is so wild how much life can go another direction, and as much I as sometimes miss big solo adventures, I am on the ultimate family adventure! The Arizona Trail has changed a bunch too, lots of new trail replacing older erroded trails and roads, less pavement, less resupply, and much more use. Regardless of all my worries and I had more than enough, I was excited to see it all.
Going into this ride was such a roller coaster. The past year hasn’t been easy, I pent up a good bit of stress during this time and with life being so busy it has been hard to get outside enough to deal with those energies. All that anxiety just waits for something to come along, to attach itself too, add it’s weight and complexity and general ugliness. I also hatched the idea for a AZT 300 ride only 4 weeks out from my start date, giving myself a shit ton of work to do in short time, while ramping up my riding a touch and continuing to work, dad, husband. Oh Yeah I love being busy, right, now I was running! The little extra riding was tweaking my left knee a bit. My guts have been a complete mess for months, eating has been a chore and some normally ok foods were just not possible. I was only getting in 30 mile rides as my biggest milage, and intervals seemed extra painful. So many nights I would feel all this anxious weight descend onto me, smothering my breathing and laboring my thoughts. It may sound overly dramatic, but it is crazy what stress can do to you, these past weeks have been exhaustingly full of all this worry. Still I got my stuff together and headed south!
I arrived at Picketpost the night before my start to camp, ride, and meet up for a photo shoot the next day. The sun was scorching hot, adding to my stress. Luckily being in the desert and getting things finalized, instead of just thinking about it, was much more productive in nature. That afternoon I headed into Tucson to meet up with Eddie, drop my car at his house and get a ride to Parker Canyon Lake. Got there just as the sun was setting, Julie and Bruce were there headed to sleep for Julie’s early morning start. They offered to lend me a sleeping bag and pad so I could just be dropped off and start with my streamlined, no sleeping bag kit. I got set up in the sanded tall grass among the cow pies, set my alarm for 1:20AM and tossed and turned for a five hours or so. (I will come back to this, but people can be the best and I am going to try and make more of a thing of it in the future)
I hit the Arizona Trail at 2:04AM on 3/30. My head still felt full and heavy. But there is nothing like throwing a leg over a bike to get me going in the right direction, even if that means riding the Canelos in the dark! I wasn’t trying to start off fast, as that rarely works out for me, but every time I looked at the splits I couldn’t help but notice I was crawling. Then I noticed my Etrex wasn’t auto scrolling and I kept losing the track, I paused for a few seconds too many times to try and fix it, but could not remember how to remedy! I was a bit frustrated. Then I missed a turn at SR82. I stayed on a new section of AZT for a good mile or two before realizing that I was way off. I can not describe how mad I was wasting time, energy, light, water and food! I tried so hard to calm down as I turned around to get back on track. Then a hour later I did it again, totally went the wrong way for a good bit, maybe another 1.5 miles or so, before realizing. This time I got so mad, so frustrated. I felt like totally screwed up my timing for water, food, my whole trip. I beat myself up unrelentlessly and hard for over an hour. I just couldn’t believe I did such a silly, preventable mistake. Not sure exactly what opened up, but I started processing all this wound up energy pushing me to be so upset. I started to see the roots tracing back to things, how it was tying into my own brain, my own life, my everyday actions and reactions. Holy Smokes, I was starting to really digest this stuff.
By the time I hit La Sevilla I was in a pretty damn good mood. I had come around to see how lucky I was to be right there, right then. That I was just gonna ride my bike, not stop much, not blow up, just ride and be, let go of the expectations of others and myself. When Timon rolled up I wasn’t upset that he was that much faster, or that I messed up so bad that he caught me, I was simply amazed at his riding and stoked to see what another human could do. That alone is a huge milestone for me. I have worked so hard to be able to ride these rides, that sometimes I am envious of those who seem to glide thru, feels so liberating to let go of that.
I spent the rest of the first day riding along when it felt good and hoping off to hike Anytime it didn’t feel good. Yes I walked a lot. At times it is very hard to not berate yourself over walking so much with your bike along side you, but I swear it works. I made the Rocking K with time to spare, but once getting my food reorganized I didn’t end up needing much so just some bonus gummy worms, cold drinks and rice crispy! Then Reddington, and back to the AZT. Then Lemmon. Dang what a mountain, so long of a climb, such a neat ascent with the lights of Tucson slowly getting lower and lower, the trees getting bigger, the air cooler with every turn.
After Lemmon, the gnarly little Sunset Trail takes you into Summerhaven and then up next, Oracle Ridge! For those who have ridden or hiked the AZT I will spare you the nitty gritty details of the route, but for those who have not experienced it, holy smokes there is a bit of everything out there. Smooth buttery flowing trails that are effortless even on a loaded bike, to Oracle Ridge; a chunky, loose, washed out, burned out, down tree covered mess of a trail; and of course just about everything in between. All part of the journey, all integral to the process. I started Oracle Ridge with lights and finished down in the desert back in the full heat of the desert sun, freaking amazing!
Up next is a huge chunk of Sonoran desert all the way to the end at Picketpost Trailhead, some 80+ miles later. Turns out there is a ridiculous amount of new trail out in this section, I don’t know the break down, but this section is mostly sinewy, wash crossing, ridge climbing and dropping trail. Swirling along on sweet trail under the raging hot sun for hours made me really feel disorientated as to where the actual hell I was going! Yet I let the trail roll me along like the tide, while constantly checking my GPS, and drinking water water water. It was a pretty good day and I was keeping on the pedals so miles were melting behind me. In fact I noticed I was catching up to some splits I taped on my bike to give me motivation. This made me give those pedals a bit more gas, made me stay on the bike a bit more before hopping off.
At the Gila River, I had made up a bunch of time on those splits. Somehow I was flying. I was half convinced I was doing bad math, even so I still used this to push a bit harder. It hurt deep inside my legs like never before in my life, I swear it was agony, but it also felt amazingly satisfying. On the huge climb out of there I still walked a bunch, but I forced myself to stay on as much as I could. Even with such a hard effort your own dot on the GPS barely moves, is difficult to absorb that you are crushing yourself, but the finish was still so far out! My eyes were getting blurry from 44 hours of no sleep and my head fuzzy from all day in that sun. So I stopped, laid on the trail, set my alarm for 10 minutes and closed my eyes. I fell right asleep. I swear I dreamed the whole 9 minutes, woke up right before my alarm, got up and got moving. My eyes were good, my legs a tiny slice better, my head, ah no matter, just go.
Up an up that climb goes, turn after turn, ridge after ridge, at times in the dark it felt like eternity, but when I looked at the time I was still moving good. The finish at Picketpost is great bit of trail, but you never really feel like you are on a final downhill to the finish! Instead rolling along the whole time till you suddenly you are in the parking lot and it hits you that you did it! Holy Smokes I really did it! After my terrible first morning and all the awful anxiety leading up, I ended up exceeding my own goal for the ride. I can not describe how incredible, empowering, and satisfying that feels. I really doubted I still had what it took to ride the AZT like that. Excited to see how this energy carries into other rides in the future!
>Few details for anyone interested: First Ultra without a chamois pad. Yep didn’t even take one, was great without. I usually have a lot of butt issues even when I have had lots more miles on my tush, my butt was much happier this time. My gearing was 30×21 with 29×2.6 tires, was about right. No mechanicals of note, just tightening a couple bolts. I rode a prototype Why Cycles El Jefe, the bike is so sweet, has my name on it and is fast AF!!!
>I am so grateful for the opportunity and all the support. Huge thanks to my family for the time and to Eddie, Tony, Julie and Bruce for all the help before the start and after. A massive thanks to the folks at Why Cycles and Revel Bikes, for getting behind me when no one else was interested in what I was doing, I can not thank them enough. I am blessed with great peeps in my life!
>Also Huge thanks the Arizona Trail Association for the amazing work they are doing down there. I will be sure to up my support for that organization, if you plan a trip on the AZT, please consider the same.
>Finally, I have some big plans brewing. I want to try and share more of this amazing bit of what we can do with these bodies and minds that we are gifted. My life has been changed time and time again by my experiences outside in the mountains and deserts and I am feeling compelled to share this with others, especially those that might not be able to pull it off. Much more details coming as this takes shape. If anyone out there is interested in helping out, there will be opportunities soon.
It sounds like you had a great ride and I love reading about your cycling adventures! Something to consider, yoga can help alleviate some of the stress response you get at times and can also help your conditioning. I know we are in different time zones, but I do teach virtual classes 4 times per week and Wednesdays are donation based. https://blueinatl.wixsite.com/deskdwellingyogi/services
Very cool article! Glad you had a kick ass ride and shared your experiences on the trail with us