Zen On Dirt

AZT: Part I

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Sometimes I wonder why I do the things I do.  I race my bike for days on end with minimal sleep, recovery takes absolutely forever during which I tend to be moody, sore, and not really the finest specimen of human being.  Heading into the AZT, I had a moment of reservation: Is this going to be worth it?

But afterwards, sitting in the Tucson sun and reflecting on my ride, I was reminded why I do these things.  These events, races, rides, these are my works of art.  These are my forms of self-expression.  These are my forms of love and life crack.  Sometimes things don’t quite come together as planned, like ITI (which may have been deemed a success by outside observers, but really was a poorly executed junk-show from my perspective), and then sometimes I look back at a ride and say: That was so beautifully put together, it was art.

AZT was art.

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Listening to Scott’s startline motivational speech.  ‘My ears are always burning when people get on Oracle Ridge.’

It had the potential to be a junk show, and I knew it.  The night before I’d left Tucson after Spring Break, I’d discovered a small crack in the seat tube of my frame. Not a big deal had I not been leaving in six hours, and had my seat post not been stuck in the frame.  Luckily, Scott had offered to take care of it, and with the help of Lee, cut the old seat post out, and then had Lee fix the frame.  The new seat post arrived two days before the race.  I arrived the night before, luckily being able to fly standby on an earlier flight, arriving a little after 9 pm instead of well after 11 pm.   The bike was quickly loaded and head-to-pillow touchdown was achieved before my original flight would have even landed.

Things were looking promising.  The start line was a social scene.  Faces put to Facebook profiles, eyeing of different setups, sharing of last minute snacks, bites of burrito from Chad, peanut butter cups from J-Bake.  Before I knew it, it was time to go.  It was time for one last hug from Scott and then off down Gear Check Hill and into the Canelos.

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Bellies full of food after Sonoita, starting the climb towards Kentucky camp.  

I was immediately struck by how excited I was to see different parts of the course again.  The Canelos had been the scene of a glorious Bikepackarita with Scott over Spring Break and it was scene after scene of ‘This is where we watched the moonrise!’ and ‘This is where we watched the sun set!’ and ‘This is where we camped!’ and ‘This is where we thanked the Universe for letting us be so lucky!’

I ended up riding with a handful of people through the Hills and entertained myself by trying to actually remember names and kits.  There was Eric, and Blake, and Neil from Crested Butte, and a handful of others I met as we rode the rocks and hills.  I couldn’t stop grinning.  I rolled straight through Patagonia, dreaming about the chocolate peanut butter pie that we’d had there and settled in for the 12 mile paved stretch to Sonoita, determined to chase down Ray on his single speed and green knee high socks who I could just see on the horizon.

Sonoita came quickly and I pulled in just as a group of boys were leaving.  Moobs!  Chadly!  I went into the store and found myself baffled.  How much food do I need again? 24 hours worth-ish? How much is that?  ‘I hope I have enough food,’ I mentioned to someone as I was leaving with my $36 worth of goodies, including an ice cream sandwich.  ‘Where are you trying to make it to?’ he asked.  ‘Oh, I don’t know.  Rincon store maybe (74 miles away), Summerhaven maybe (130 miles away), Oracle maybe (151 miles away).’  Commitment right there.

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MOOBS!

Kentucky Camp came next, the site of Scott and I’s day ride that we snuck in before Chad’s wedding over Spring Break.  It was a short and sweet ride where we’d parked next to a camper playing Dracula music and then after the ride hightailed it back to Tucson to get Scott all dressed up in a suit and tie and me in a dress to pretend to be presentable for an afternoon.  This time around, I found myself riding with Ross Cairns from Oz who was racing the 750. We’d met in Oz a few years back and he kindly told me that my creaking bike reminded him of Chad’s creaking bike.  A while later,  I found Moobs in front of me for a while and were gate buddies, sharing the burden of opening and closing the 1.2 million gates on route.  Darkness fell, lights came on, magic ensued.  The next many miles of trail was most fun riding I’ve ever done and with the wide open desert scape, people’s lights were visible for miles ahead and miles behind.  The trail twisted and turned, dove in and out of washes, climbed small vistas, and afforded giant views of the Tucson cityscape.  I found Chadly eating on the side of the trail.  I saw Dave Wilson futzing with a flat tire.  I soon found myself at the parking lot where Jj, Jen and I had started our ice cream ride to Colossal Caves.

Girls ride!  I giggled my way along the fun trail, thinking about all the goofy things that we’d talked about on the ride back in March.  I thought about Hagen the cat at Colossal Caves, of finishing the ride and heading straight to Mi Ranchito for tacos, and then going back for more tacos when the boys finished their ride.

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Golden hour post Kentucky Camp.  

The riding was smooth and easy and the LaSavilla campground appeared quickly.  I looked at my watch: 11:30 pm.  ‘Do you know where the water spigot is?’  It was Moobs again.  ‘Ummm…no, but I have a waypoint for it.’  I zoomed in on the GPS and we backtracked through the campground, following the GPS like a waterwand.  ‘Scott said there was a spigot coming out of a rock, and that there may be a hose by the gazebo.’  A-ha!  Water found.  ‘I couldn’t find it anywhere,’ Moobs admitted, ‘but I knew that you’d know where it was, so I just waited.’

‘There are advantages to dating the race director.’

We rolled out with Aaron Boatman, a train of three rolling through the twists and turns of the desert through the new Hope Pass singletrack section.  ‘This seems way longer,’ Aaron admitted.  ‘It adds four miles between LaSavilla and the Rincon Store,’ I confirmed.  But man, it was a fun four miles and I was sad to see the singletrack end.  I rolled by the Rincon Store at 1:30 and did the math, if I stopped, I could get my 2.5 hours of sleep, half hour of camp fiddle-farting, and they’d be almost open for breakfast. Not worth the time for a warm breakfast.  I rolled straight by the store, watching Aaron turn in and looking back to see Moobs nowhere in sight.  I pedaled the next four miles to the Saguaro State Park Visitors Center, rolling in at 2 am.  Perfect, I thought, and went down for two hours of sleep.  Scott would be proud of this sleeping spot.

I was moving again by 4:30, giddy, and highly skeptical of my sleeping setup of an emergency bivy and a car shade for a pad.  I’d woken up soaked, and while I was still warm, comfortable wasn’t exactly a way I’d describe myself.

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Sunrise from Reddington, looking back on Tucson.

Then, it was time for Reddington, Shiva Falls, and the AZT to Milagrosa, Scott and I’s second ride in December.   Date 1.b, if you will.  I was so nervous then, and so high on life crack, a fact that became abundantly clear as the never-ending steep rollers continued without relief.  ‘How did I not think this was hard four months ago?  Oh yeah, I was chasing a cute boy around, being madly in love with everything desert!’

I’d braced myself for the worst for the Molino Hike-a-bike but in all honesty, spent the entire hike up in awe that people could actually ride down it.  I then proceeded to walk my bike down the other side.  Oh, Arizona trails and rocks.

Dumping down into the campground, I smiled at the site of the final ride of Spring Break, 90 minutes of tempo riding up Mt. Lemmon, followed by a descent of Bugs and Prison Camp.  Prison Camp was the site of my downhill mojo first starting to make its reappearance after a winter of snow riding.  Scott claimed it was mostly rideable up, but Scott is a special one, I’d known that one from the start.  Still, he was mostly right, and each familiar corner made me smile and several rubbly sections left me scratching my head, ‘Rideable?  My ass.’

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First direct rays of sun at the top of Reddington.  The rest of the day was character-building.

Back on the highway, I climbed past the point where I had looked back and seen Scott gaining on me during the tempo ride after giving me a significant head start, then the place he came blowing by me, the upper Bug Springs trailhead, on to where we’d stopped for Easter candy on the way down, where my 90 interval had ended, where Scott had finally descended back down to after his, and then finally Palisade for water.   Lemmon was flying, well, as much as it could fly under a pair of 2.35 Rampages.

I continued up, laughing gleefully as the road turned downwards.  Unexpected downhills are the best!  Then the end of the road was the Oracle Ridge turn off.  It was two in the afternoon; I was six hours ahead of Lynda’s record pace.  I coasted off the pavement, knowing something special loomed.  Scott said six hours for Oracle Ridge.  How could it possibly take me six hours to ride 20 miles with a 4,000 foot net elevation loss?  Scott’s a special one, I should have remembered that.

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7 thoughts on “AZT: Part I

  1. “Futzing” with a flat tire!!!???? I had that thing stitched in 5 minutes and it held for 100 miles. I handled that thing like a BOSS! I ended up futzing with it just before the Freeman Cache. Uggg. I kept that bitch tubeless until the finish.

  2. E, you sound happy.

    I’ve ridden maybe 15 miles of the AZT. Super to get the scoop on your ride and “see” some more of it. Nice job Dave sewing up a tire and going tubeless. I would have never had the patience. You should have an instructional Youtube video.

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