Friday, April 10, 2015

AZT300 2015

On Thursday April, 2nd 2015 I rode the shuttle that Ray set up from the Picket Post trailhead to the starting line of the Arizona Trail 300 race at Parker Canyon Lake in Southern Arizona. This spot is about 10 miles, as the crow flies, from the Arizona/Mexico border. I Set up my bag and bivy in nearly the same spot that I did during my attempt at this race in 2013.

I never should have shown up in 2013. I rode my brains out in the months prior to the race in 2013, but neglected the other things needed for me to be in good riding shape like flexibility and lower body strength. I was putting in gym time, but it was really just the vanity muscle exercises like bench press, crunches, arm curls, etc. Pretty much the same stuff I was doing in college. That routine really does nothing to help riding bikes.

During a 2013 training ride of the four peaks and Apache trail dirt road route in February 2013, the knee pain started. I kept riding after that, but would stretch a bit after the rides thinking it would help. Then during another training ride between Tiger Mine and Freeman road my knee pain was so bad that I walked the last few miles of road home. That ride was about three weeks from the start of the race and I convinced myself that a couple weeks of rest and trying to rebuild flexibility would fix it and I would be good to go. That was dumb. I DNF-ed the 2013 AZT300 on the dirt roads before Kentucky camp. My knee pain was severe. I rode back to Sonoita, called my uncle Jack and he picked me up at the steakhouse there. It was bullheaded of me to have gone, but all the planning and talking about the race in the months prior made me blind to the reality that I had an injury in my knee and crazy hip/knee imbalances.

I let the race pass by in 2014 without putting too much thought into it. I had convinced myself that I was just not built to ride mountain bikes for more than 50 miles at a time. In the back of my mind I knew I could, though. I just didn’t want to do the work it would take to get where I needed to be. I had gotten some physical therapy after the 2013 race learned the fundamentals of what I could do to fix things, but I didn’t make the leap of connecting what they taught me in PT to what I did in the gym. It was also a crazy busy year. Michelle and I were both adjusting to changes at our jobs and we were focused on our boys. It was an awesome year for us as a family, but bike races were not a priority. I mainly just rode with friends and on my own for fun. I was going to the gym less, but still going regularly.

Sometime in the middle of 2014 I decided that it was time to stop being a dumb-ass and get my act together to make another attempt at the AZT300 in 2015. A lot of the motivation came from blogs that people wrote about their experiences. I think a lot about what motivates people at my job, and it bothered me that I let my desire to complete the ride in 2013 fade away.  Motivation is a fascinating thing.

There are lots of things that motivate me, but influence and admiration of others had a big part in my planning and execution of the AZT300 this year. My brother John and my wife Michelle were on my mind as I was thinking of what it would take to complete this ride.

One thing my John taught me was to not be enamored with the obvious. He always seemed to have a specific reason for the things he appreciated as a teenager, especially in music. He taught me that you can’t just like a song because it sounds nice; there needs to be a reason that it stands out. The connection here is in motivational cliches. Some might connect to a motivational cliche like “don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution.” I generally balk at cliches like these, because they are usually used without enough context for them to make any sense to the person needing motivation. With riding a mountain bike it applies very simply, however. If there is a rock on the trail you look beyond it so you know where you will end up when avoiding it. If your knee is jacked up you look to where you can go if you take the steps to correct it. Be more than someone who attempts a long, hard ride, be someone who did all the prep work. There is a reason that it can be completed. it’s not innate. Don’t look for the obvious reasons that someone achieves a challenge like: he’s/she’s a natural, she/he doesn’t have kids, he/she has alien DNA. Look for the details of how the achievement happened.

I’m lucky that I love riding bikes. It makes it easy for me to get the base miles in and start at a pretty strong point when deciding to do big rides. The most impressive motivational stories to me, however, are those that start at a true beginning point. My wife Michelle has always been active and strong, but never had any clear physical goals other than being healthy and happy. She started going to a Crossfit gym and has gotten really strong and has learned lots of new exercises and the proper technique. Over the last year and a half I watched her go from not being able to do a pull-up at all to doing five in a row. That is an incredible gain in strength and coordination. I copied some of the things she was doing at her gym and got a couple of pointers on my form which helped a ton. I felt weak hip flexor muscles develop and my flexibility was getting great. I was also showing up to some AES rides and feeling pretty strong and had no knee pain. It became clear to me that I was back in range to attempt the AZT 300 in 2015. Michelle’s crossfit experience and her drive to accomplish things is an enormous influence on me. Part of my drive to complete the race was also to impress her. I’m still kinda like the teenager she knew when we were in Jr. high and high school together.

Here are some details of how I was able to complete the AZT300 in 2015. I can only hope this helps people like the writings of John Schilling, Ray Hemelle, James Folkes, Holt Harlan, Scott Morris have helped me. I definitely would not have tried this ride without the information these folks shared on their blogs. If you’re reading this for preparation for a first attempt take these points with a grain of salt. Be sure to go out there and ride your own ride. Don’t listen to my bullshit. Listen beyond it. The rest of this post will be bullet points, because that’s what it was like for me out there.

Day one:  Parker Canyon Lake to just above Scholfield Canyon in the Santa Ritas, 73.65 miles, 9872 feet. 12 hours, 40 minutes

  • Don’t let people tell you the Canelo hills are the toughest part of the ride. They are rugged and nasty, but also beautiful and different. If you can ride the Canelos and feel good after it while sitting in Patagonia or Sonita you should continue on.
  • I really should have ridden further, but wanted a few hours of sleep and found a nice flat spot near the trail.
  • I woke up before the lunar eclipse and was treated to the entirety of the blood mood while descending to I-10. Every 10 minutes or so I’d look over my shoulder to check it out.
  • The sink and picnic tables behind the Kentucky Camp house were a great place to check in with other riders and relax a bit. Ride beyond that point for at least 10 miles on the first day, however.

Day two: Scholefield Canyon to  Prison Camp on Mt Lemmon, 87.47 miles, 11168 feet. 16 hours, 57 minutes

  • I screwed this section up and lost lots of time. I slept at Prison camp and was stopped there for close to 10 hours. I was creeped out at the prospect of sleeping up on Lemmon and did not bring a cold weather sleeping bag.
  • There was running water in a creek across the trail just beyond Molino. Water is not a guarantee here so I was happy, but I wish it was dry. I may have pushed up to Palisades since the spigot was on. That may have led to a sub three-day finish for me. I did enjoy the long comfortable sleep, however. Maybe that helped in the long run.
  • climbing Mt Lemmon with a gear loaded MTB kind of sucks, but what are you going to do?
  • Stop whining about the HAB leading from La Milagrosa turn off to the saddle above Molino Basin. It’s not that long. Focus beyond that HAB. It’s talked about way too much IMO.

Day three: Prison Camp to just beyond Ripsey Ranch, 84.85 miles, 13909 feet. 17 hours, 41 minutes.

  • I was not strong going up Lemmon. Not sure why. Something was making me nervous about going up there. I knew I was rolling away from the comfortable bailout option I have at my aunt and uncle's at Tanque Verde and Bear Canyon roads.
  • When I got to Oracle Ridge I snapped out of it and moved way faster than I expected to. It was beautiful up there. A truly unique experience.
  • I rode with Matt from the bottom of Oracle Ridge to town where we had a huge meal at the Oracle Inn and resupplied at Circle K. Matt was a big help to me. He told me that I was riding strong, looked fresh and that I should push way past the Freeman Rd Cache. He really gave me the extra nudge to do what I knew I could.
  • I had a nice break at the Freeman Cache and caught up with some other riders.I stayed a bit longer than necessary, but it was nice to chat with people and talk about our paces.
  • I remember cruising through the Boulders Section and riding pretty strong. I got a bonking feeling and it was getting pretty late so I decided to sleep a bit in a clearing just beyond Ripsey Ranch.
  • I was rudely awakened about an hour later surrounded by cows. I got spooked, yelled, they took off, and I knew I was not getting back to sleep. That scared the crap out of me. I kept thinking that I could have gotten trampled.

Day four: Ripsey camp to Picket Post, 50.63 miles, 9323 feet. 12 hours, 38 minutes

  • After the free range cattle incident I packed up and rode up Ripsey Ridgeline and descended it in the dark. I was kind of in a funk and riding very slow and sloppy. I crashed on the descent and took a handlebar into my inner thigh and got the bars all tangled up. Luckily no hoses or cables were torn out. I did have to bend a rotor back and align my front brake caliper and re-attach my light to my helmet.
  • When I got to the Kelvin trailhead it was still dark, so I decided to sleep a bit more. I just got out my bag and pad and curled up for an hour or so. I woke up feeling better. When the sun came up two riders from Montana rolled into the trailhead. We chatted about the night before while we ate some breakfast. We rode together for a bit.
  • The river ramble was sandy and tedious. it went on longer than I was expecting, and the turn up into the canyon took a long time to reach. I was getting tired and did not have any rhythm. I was starting to feel tightness and pain in my thigh from my crash.
  • about an hour later it became too painful to stand and pedal. That sucked That’s my M.O. for when I’m tired. When I’m feeling out of juice I can squeeze lots more miles hammering while out of the saddle. It's my favorite way to end a long ride, but it was not an option this time
  • completely shelled and with my bruised thigh throbbing I saw my first Gila Monster. He was a chubster too. I’ve wanted to see one in the wild for years and keep missing them. That was a cool outcome of the slow pace.
  • I was hurting and tired, but noticed that there was a tail wind helping me out. Then at around 15 miles to go three people who were watching the race were hanging out on the trail just to cheer people on. That was excellent. It was cool that they knew who I was and where I was in the race.
  • Finally I limped my way into the Picket Post Trailhead. There was one other rider there and a couple others milling around. I was happy and really excited to call Michelle. I had a fleeting thought about what it would be like to keep riding to Utah. Maybe one day...

This was a very satisfying accomplishment. The evening of my finish Michelle got my good buddy Brian Cherry to come by and we enjoyed Chinese carry out and fancy beer. They were following the Spot updates pretty closely and had some pretty funny text exchanges. It’s also worthy to note that Brian’s consistency with keeping our single speed Papago happy hour rides going has been a great help to keeping me motivated and fit. These short, high intensity rides definitely upped my game this year. They have also upped his game too. Brian has made really impressive gains in his strength and fitness this year.  

Big thanks to Michelle for supporting my bike efforts. I’m lucky to have a wife that gets how important this is to me and my sanity. Michelle supports me with no complaints at all.  I’m grateful. Michelle, you’re the best!

Scroll down for the 2015 AZT300 results

This is my only photo from the ride



  1. Enjoyed the writeup, Bob, thanks. Especially the motivations and mental background part. Not a lot of people talk about that. How cool to find inspiration in your wife's crossfit successes. Congrats again on finishing the 300 beast.

  2. Believe it or not, I didn't mind the lack of pictures!! :) Fantastic ride, Bob and a very insightful perspective on what we love. Congrats!!

  3. Congrats thanks for sharing this story, I'm inspired!

  4. Congrats thanks for sharing this story, I'm inspired!

  5. Awesome write-up! And congratulations on the huge accomplishment!

  6. Amazing! A huge congratulations on finishing!

  7. Bob - way to rip that last section from Oracle to PP. I wasn't surprised at all when I saw the time. That huge meal at the Oracle Inn did me right as well, though I couldn't muster the kind of finish you threw down. Great riding with you.