After many many times boxing up a bike, Ive become a master but alas colour schemes were never my forte. This is the start of my AZTR 750 attempt. Actually, it really started last year when I had to scratch due to respiratory issues near Kelvin Bridge.
This seemed to sum up my AZTR, ask for a whiskey on the plane and they try to put you to sleep. Its a fine line when you hand out free whiskey, I'm not sleeping while they are pouring.
The reception person took great pains to highlight the word 'chit' sounded like 'shit'. Immensely pleased with herself that I too found this amusing.
Another rebuild of my bike in an airport.
Heading south to Sierra Vista. That front tyre lasted the distance, I am still running it at the moment, a month after the race.
I've no idea what you would do with this but I'm confident it would suffice no matter the purpose you found for it.
You see that this is becoming a theme.
The start line. We rocked up with 15 mins to get ready. Here, Sara is putting the final touches to her set up. Sara is one of the most determined riders I have ever met.
This is the last photo I took until I was heading out of Roosevelt. Next time the phone will be more accessible. I missed many opportunities to get some great images of the scenery and the people I rode with. In other respects, it was nice to ride without having to stop at every corner to take a photo.
Back to taking photos. This is on the way to Roosevelt Lake. A long section of sealed road from Apache Junction. The flats were a little slow with a single speed but I come into my own on the hills and single track. I think the sealed road ended here.
Jakes Corner. It was not necessary to stop here but a cold drink for later on was nice to have.
Having sewn a tyre on Reddington Road it finally gave out here. It seemed a nice spot to sit in the sun and sort out a means to carry on between boots, sealant, tubes, valves, pancakes and french toast.
87 Cycles in Payson was fantastic. New shoes, new tyre, and a cold drink. I unashamedly spread my kit out on his store floor.
Payson was a time suck for me. I spent about an hour too long here and when I finally left town the blood noses started.
I've no idea why I took a selfie here, but I guess it was a convenient time having come through another gate and selecting something new to listen to.
The Highline Trail. Loads of water on the first half that was cold and fresh. Some H.A.B and some great trail.
Again on the Highline Trail. The trail goes through so many types of country that keeps you entertained as to what is coming up next.
I was not expecting this but it was not surprising.
Not as rideable as I had hoped but just another track determined to keep the daily average distance to a minimum.
For a self supported race I've many people to thank. Firstly, my brother who inadvertently pulled me out of a slump at a point where I need encouragement the most with a very simple but pertinent email. I did not have the luxury of being able to talk to family and friends when ever I came into tower range but free wifi enabled messages of encouragement via email. I wasn't' lucky enough to have family and friends cheer me along the side of the road but then again since it was not encouraged I'd have enough intelligence not to publicize it.
The main source of encouragement came from chatting with other riders. It seemed regardless of strengths, weaknesses, kit, age, ability, I seemed to be surrounded by the same 4-5 riders through out the 300 section. Thank you to those riders, having someone commiserate with, share the joy or a concrete step while resupplying, breakfast, a meal by a river, a three am monologue while you got ready, a piece of chocolate on a shitty HAB in the dark, a laugh at someone else's expense, chatting while we rode, an intrusion to a quiet moment, holding a gate open, the basic extension of friendship from old friends and new.
Up to Picket Post I rode a little with different racers.
I met Tom last year where we both had breathing issues forcing a scratch to be etched by our names. This year Tom had to bail on Reddington Road. An intelligent decision as it would be hard place after that to be rescued from. His scratch was my gain as I purchased his pump off him as mine had broken while fixing my ripped tyre. Tom, if you are reading this, I have organised with Joey at Velorution to get you a new pump. Go see Joey and get a new pump.
After Picket Post it was noticeably quieter and fewer interactions with other riders was had. It made those interactions all the more important. Grumpy Dave and Brett, Sarah, Riley, and Rod were the only others out there around me.
Grumpy Dave who acquired this nickname on day two when he came across me sewing a tyre - he was mighty pissed at an altercation with a 4x4. It popped out when talking to someone else and it stuck. Sorry Dave, but you were mighty grumpy at that point. The weather was so miserable from the North Rim Dave quit 40 miles from the end. It was startling news when he told me in Jacob Lake cafe.I'm still a little speechless and confused. We were so close to the end, it was all down hill and descending out of the snow line into warmer temps.
Brett, who I met on TD last year. Him and that camera. Last year he wanted a photo at the start line but claiming to have a face like a well smacked arse, I declined. This year I relented and let him click away. We rode together coming into Tusayan and sat on a gravel road and ate burritos I ate burritos, I cant comment on what Brett ate, I was not paying that much attention.
Rod. Id been crossing paths with Rod since the start, not really talking that much as he is not a talker at first meetings. Rod and I hiked out of the Grand Canyon together. As together as you can get. He would take off and have a rest and I would catch up and he would take off again. The last 7 miles was brutal but as long as the feet kept landing in front of each other you would make the top. It was getting cold on the north rim and putting my bike together was not going to happen until I'd slept a bit. I took off a little before Rod and since my top speed was 18km/hr he soon caught up and would race past, drop the bike and try to get a photo of me riding in the blizzard. It was rather comical as his gloves were not letting him take a photo. I wasn't stopping since I was very cold and a little worried about the decreasing temps and increasing wind and snow fall. Rod would race past again and try for the photo. He got one in the end but again I wasn't stopping to have a look. I had to make Jacob Lake or bivvy up somewhere. In the end I pulled out my sleeping bag and bivvy, stuffed one in the other and used it like a big mitten. I so wish I had a photo of the worlds biggest and most expensive mitten riding down the road in a snow blizzard. It worked great.
Todd came across me at the trail head above Kelvin Bridge last year while I was trying to cough up a lung. We chatted a while and he limped off into the night to deal with his own injuries to finish the 300. I don't know how he managed to finish but he did. This year I run into Todd in the Canelos. We chat for a while and then single speed and gears soon separate to find thier own rhythms. I meet Todd again on Reddington Road, and again on the way to the Molino HAB. We all slept (by now we'd hooked up with Grumpy and Beth) at the toll booth below Molino Campground ready to tackle the Lemon in the morning. There is water here too. Todd gets up early. We hear him get up but not leave. We assume he went back to sleep but it was us who went back to sleep. I get up at 5 and get ready to go then go back to bed. Too cold for me. The three of us get up later and attack the lemon in our own time. I catch Todd on the final climb to Sumerhaven and he's having knee issues. We ride and chat. He heads to Oracle and I head to Sumerhaven. I'm a little early as the Sawmill Inn does not open til 10. I clean out my bags of old food and m&m's that died 100 miles back.
I eat breakfast with Beth and Grumpy Dave. Not grumpy this morning but leaves little room for contributing to the conversation.
We head out to Oracle ridge. Im not going to continually comment on how hard this race is. Its hard, really hard, but everyone before me has made it, so can I. Just keep moving forward. The track is part fun, part HAB, part gravel, part scary, part shitty.
Beth, I met her in Sonoita at the garage. I see Beth again on day 2 at the Purple port-a-loo heading towards the I10. We chat a little and take off in our own times to get to the next water supply point. For me that was La Savilla picnic area. We criss corss paths during the day. Every stop I'm surrounded by the same people. From Oracle we head out to Tigermiln Road. I manage a mult-coloured yawn along here due to a gas station hot dog with chili, chocolate milk and strawberry milk. I was very close to hurling all over my gps and handle bar bag but managed to turn my head in time and get my knee out of the way to loose $10 worth of food. The relief was palpable at having not thrown up on my bags, that would have not been fun to sit behind when the sun came out and heated it up to a horrific stench.
I had a power issues and only have a hub driven handle bar light. This means I have to ride 10 or so metres before I get light. Not a great issue if the track is straight and there is nothing to run into. Its more problematic if there are those bloody cactus that attach themselves to you. We spent 10-15 minutes picking the spikes out of my left side. It is not comfortable. It ffffing hurts. Thanks Beth. We head on for a bit and I pull over and pull out the bag. Beth carrys on into the night.
The next morning I catch up with Beth and Todd on the way to Beehive Well, we regroup at Freeman cache, again at the trail head above Kelvin Bridge and then along the river a few times. We head up from the river on that shitty section of the three canyons. After the first canyon my shoes have hobbled me and I'm in pain, crippling pain. Every time I kick a rock I swear and the foul mood I'm in is not fun. In a narrow section of track I lean my bike against the cliff and lie down while Beths lights disappear into the night. I watch her light work its way down the canyon and then start to climb again. Running shoes!!!!! I stuffed my feet into my runners and the comfort is better than a big feather bed cover (at that moment in time) and I am literally running up the trail to catch up with Beth. I'm excited to be back in the game. I can finish the 300 tonight. I catch Beth while she puts more layers on and we then head to Picket Post. We ride and regroup at slow points and we separate again.
That last section of trail is not fun at night for the first time. It will not finish!!! You just want it to finish and you find yourself getting angry. You see that big bloody rock in the moon light but can not see where the car park could be. On and off the bike, rocks, nice trail, climbing, rocks, it just keeps coming. It would be better in day light so you could see where you were and were going. I should have ridden faster and slept less for that to have been possible. I finally finish. A quick hi five with Beth and she loads her bike into a waiting car and heads to Superior. I pull out my bag and sleep in a car parking bay. Its early morning and Ive done the 300 under 4 days. I'm stoked but knowing there are still 450 miles to go sucks you back down to reality pretty quickly.
I wake coughing. Badly. A rattle in my chest is kinda scary. I cough for half and hour thinking this could be the end. Its hard to breath. I crawl out of my bag and head to the toilet. Best not to stand a couple of feet away from the bike for a piss this close to civilisation. Heading to the toilet I see someone standing shirtless with two other people picking cactus spikes out of him. Todd!!! He ran into a cactus about an hour before the finish. Thats an image I will remember for a while. You can not un-see those sort of things. I'm coughing pretty hard and their looks are not of encouragement, more concern. Luckily I'm in the presence of doctors. I get a couple of pills to sort out my chest. Thank you thank you thank you. I'm back in. Thats a fairly flippant paragraph but this cough was/is a race ender and the events were somewhat more involved.
I ride to Queens Valley and purchase some toe clippers and attack the toe nail that was giving me grief the night before. I'm sitting there with a chatty old fella telling me about his Vietnam experiences, agent orange and some other horrific battle stories when I cut my toe nail and a teaspoon of yellow liquid squirts out from under my toenail. He recoils and says, 'that cant be good'. I did warn him I was about to do it. (I get the feeling he did it for my benefit as this would have been the least of his problems while he served but it made me feel better anyway). The relief was immeasurable, but the future possible issues were concerning.
Brake pads take an absolute thrashing. Two sets were stashed away in the spare parts kit. At the start my pads were 4 months old but still plenty of pad left. Over half. It was coming into Morman lake in those trails with all those bloody boulders making riding less than fun it occurred to me maybe, just maybe, its the lack of brakes thats stopping me stopping. You can become a little dense sometimes and it takes a little longer to figure out what some of the clinks, clunks, tics, taps and scrapes your bike makes. The most notable annoying one was the strap on my feed bag has a plastic end which when not stowed away taps the frame at irregular intervals. It took a while to find this and its no longer is attached to the feed bag, I have some mending to do. By this time my hands were toasted. I could grip the handle bar grips like my life depended on it but anything smaller than my grips and I was stuffed. A multi tool was well out of my grasp and I had no manual dexterity to pick up the small parts of the brakes. Perseverance - it surprised me too that I had this much to get the task completed. It took just under an hour to change two sets of pads and the difference was obvious. This is a different definition of the cycling term of being 'on the rivet'. 'Using the rivet 'maybe a better term.
There was some talk there could be a reroute due to fire activity coming into Flagstaff. This was the extent of the fire activity luckily as I was in no mood to find an alternative route around a fire.
Flagstaff was shock to the system. Too much traffic, too many people, just too much in general. My bike needed some love so I headed to Absolute Bikes and while the boys were having a beer I managed to get my bike attended to. Thank you sooooooo for attending to my bike and the beer for the road. I'd decided to motel it here and go to Frys at 6 am. The Western Hills Motel was a good option as there were no stairs, cheap, and a Mexican restaurant attached. I don’t know how you make money on $9 nachos when the plate is the size of a bathtub. I ordered two burritos to go for lunch the next day and went back to my room. With everything on charge that could be charged I fell asleep trying to take my shoes off. I woke with my shoes on at 5. Check emails, repack all my kit, check under the bed and head to Frys. Frys for me is a time suck. I can wander around these stores quite happily for a good period of time. I buy too much food, and try to fit it on the bike. Alas, like every other supermarket shop I have to eat a load of food as not to waste it and I feel a little ill on the way up to Buffalo Park.
Humphrys Peak. This mountain can be seem for quite sometime. It feels like 30 miles are ridden to get off the bloody thing. Upon reaching the high point a fun run down the trail was anticipated but too many downed trees ruined a good flow. Still it was good to be going down hill for a change.
I must have stopped here for some reason, food? equipment issue? tired? I can not remember. Every where you turn, Humphrys bloody Peak. Ive been riding all bloody morning and there is still is!!!!
Tusayan 15 miles, great.!The temp dropped significantly and I had all my clothes on. Unfortunately, I forgot to do up my saddle bag and lost a pump and my carrying harness for the Canyon. Ooohh bugger!! This is going to be interesting. It was great system and comfortable. No pump was an issue too. I push on to Tusayan and hope like hell I can sort something out.
I sort something out. I have a 4m section of webbing I hoop through the bottom bracket and seat clamp then tie off on the head set. Wheels on the bike, backpack on my front and saddle bags like saddle bags over my shoulder. It hurts like hell right from the get go. I did have a photo of me smiling but the colours of the canyon were not as vivid. Rod hoofed it down the canyon an hour before me and he was looking happy. On the way down I tripped and fell on my face and the bike came off over my head. The other tourists were not impressed with my language. This surprised me a little as I was not close to anyone but they gave me a scornful look.
The last 4 miles I have to change my set up as the webbing is cutting into me and I'm starting to bleed. I get my spare tube out and hook it around the head set and seat clamp and carry my bike like a satchel on one shoulder and both wheels tied together on the other shoulder. Much more comfortable and I push on to the top like that.
Its a long way down.
A very long way down.
The bottom. Only up now.
Cottonwood Camp in the Canyon. Looking less than enthusiastic mainly due to the fact the enthusiasm has gone.
Photo: Rod Dagneau.
Then the snow started and became heavier the closer I got to Jacobs Lake.
Photo: Rod Dagneau.
From the North Rim to Jacob Lake we had Blizzards and dropping temperatures. I was getting seriously worried. I live in 25-35 degrees Celsius at sea level. This was a challenge to say the least.
I arrive at the cafe in Jacob Lake with all my clothes on. ALL my clothes. A bivvy bag and a sleeping bag were being used as a big mitten. Shaking off the snow I settle into a corner bar seat and order a lot of food and coffee while the snow dumps outside. So close to the end, so so close. I remember back to the tour divide in 2014 when Calvin and I sit in Ovando and decide whether to carry on into the rain and impending snow on the pass to Lincoln, we decide to wait it out having both been hypodermic [edit: hypothermic] coming from Sealy Lake. This was a poor decision as there was no snow, there was no weather worth worrying about. That year I would have climbed into the weather, this year I'm dropping down out of it. It can only get warmer and stop snowing. Determined not to make the same mistake twice I head out with 3 sides of hash browns and a breakfast burrito in my bag and the mandatory red bull and m & m’s. The riding is sensational. The road to the trail head was fast and dry. I smiled the whole way. The single track was another joyful surprise. Apart from lacking any back brakes and the obvious incidents that accompany a quick ride along great single track, I come out unscathed. The undulating finish was not tricky but I was still nursing the new tyre I got in Payson as the sidewalls were rubbish. It was scuffed and showing some scary signs of wear.
I was the last one to the finish on the 10th day. I sat and waited for other riders to turn up in hope of a ride out. I thought a 24 hour wait before I start riding to Knab or Page would be enough. In the mean time I meet a couple from Aspen who were a baker and a chef. What luck. My finishing meal was pork chops and fresh veges, beer, cider and whiskey. I was pissed as a newt when I finally stumbled into my sleeping bag and slept on a picnic table. Happy.
Riley, Brett and Paul finish the next day. Riely had promised the others a ride. I figured I was going to have to ride out. Reily said we’d get all four bikes in the boot and we did!!! The best game of tetris I have ever played. Then we crammed into the car and headed for Flagstaff.
Four grown men attired in various disheveled cycling attire and smelling less than is desirable walk into a bar. Walking is a loose term of what we did. The hike through the Canyon ruins you like you would not believe. After those 21 miles with your bike of your back it is very hard to walk, your hips and legs fail to fire in a normal manner. We looked like 4 geriatric gentlemen who crawled out from under some bridge. Surprisingly, you can still ride like there are no issues.
I got a ride to Phoenix with Riley and Maesyn and got put up for the night. Another big thank you.
Riley and I went hunting out a bike box so I can put my bike on the plane and then find some new clothes for me. I throw away all my travel clothes at the start and get new ones at the end. This takes 10 mins in the store. Gotta love Old Navy and its consistent sizing. I get to go to my first rodeo too. Beer, BBQ and smores. Great time had. Another thank you.
World of Beer. Enough said.
So much more happened in this race, many other people did I meet but a line has to be drawn at some point.
As I mentioned at the start, for a self supported race I've a lot of people to thank. Physically, this a very testing race. Mentally, I found it even tougher so the support I received meant a lot:
Nick and Mel - so much gratitude is extended to you both I really don't know how or where to start,
Callum and Hillary - the right words at the right time,
Dad, Bid - nothing better than getting news from home, keeps you going,
Sara D - a huge thank you for getting me to the start and everything you helped me with,
Sarah J - thanks for breakfast and a chance to talk, conversations get a bit sparse after Picket Post,
Todd - mate, I can not wait to ride with you next year on the 750. Yes, this is calling you out to the 750, start training.
Adam - helping with medical attention and breakfast with your family,
Grumpy Dave - the nickname is tongue 'n' cheek, dont' stress about it, you had some great info about the course I feel I may have been cheating by listening to you,
Beth - it was great riding with you, so calm and strong, a great presence to be around in some trying conditions, apologies about the language every time I kicked a rock with those gawd awful shoes,
Rod - we passed each other daily but did not really talk until the Canyon, thanks for the company, it took my mind off the suffering up all those switch backs,
Mike - great chatting with you into Tuscon,
Loyd and Caroline - this a huge thank you. These two people drove across the state to give Sara D and I a lift to the start. Two days out of their life's to get us to the start. Taking care of us and ensuring we were set for the start. Legendary, thank you,
The two woman in the 4x4 on Reddington Rd - I broke my pump and they had an air compressor for the last few bar to seat the bead, cold root beer and a laugh,
The owner of Big Dads Pizza - for the offer to sleep on the porch of her pizza store,
Brett - the hugger, sometimes its just what you need,
Reilly and Maesyn - treated me like long lost friend and took me in at the end of the race and made sure I had everything I needed to get home - its hard to thank people enough for this generosity,
Those that emailed through their support,
No thanks for those that didn't,
Absolute Bikes Flagstaff - looked after my bike, I got there on a redbull high so I could have been a little chatty and sense was not being made,
The front desk person who got me a REALLY good deal at a hotel - I doubt she will read this but it was a really good deal and helped me out when the temps were dropping fast,
87 Bicycles in Payson - I spread all my kit out over your floor and took over a corner of the shop,
No thanks to the grumpy person at Walgreen's prescription counter in Payson who was just downright rude to the point of obnoxious (you cant win them all),
Tom - the pump was a good one but alas I lost it coming into Tusayan but go see Joey!!
The cop in Payson,
Those that shouted me beer in the bars I seemed to call into a little too frequently - Bars have great take away potatoes, gotta have a beer while you wait,
The trail angels at the State line campground (I'm so sorry to have forgotten your names), man, you two can cook!!!!