A week before the start of the Arizona Trail 300, I found myself in Fruita with a group of girlfriends, camping, riding trails, having a merry good time. My race bike was in Tucson, I had an flight down to the desert arriving 11 pm the night before the race, I had a good idea of what 40% of the course looked like from pre-riding, but the rest was a black box. My friend commented on how calm I was about the whole situation, that most people would be fretting a week out from a 300 mile race through the desert, but I was more than content to lounge in the sun and not really worry about it.
This wasn’t my first rodeo.
Being not my first experience with a race that I expected to take on the order of three days, I watched the boys shoot off the start line into the Canelo Hills, 30 miles of trail notorious for ripping sidewalls and breaking bikes. I nearly broke my bike and my body trying to ride a switchback in front of two guys, purely out of trying to show off. It was a good wake up call that the trail really doesn’t care how good you want to make it look. The afternoon went quickly with a resupply in Sonoita and then onto the grasslands of southern Arizona. I imagine Africa is like this. I’d also imagine that night riding under half a moon in Africa would be slightly more frightening than night riding here. In Africa, I’d be scared of lions and tigers and rhinos. Here, I would have been concerned about illegal immigrant traffic, had the trail not been filled with lights in front and behind me from fellow racers.
It was magical.
I rode until a respectable 2 am where I found myself a sleeping spot with indoor bathrooms with flushable toilets, water, and a dark and secluded place to sleep. I slept in an emergency bivy with my shorts on. It was sub-comfortable.
Two hours later, I was up and moving towards Mt. Lemmon, the massive mountain between myself and the next opportunity to get food and water. There were some dirt roads, there was a big climb up Reddington, there was some spectacular trail, there was a long hike-a-bike up, there was a long hike-a-bike down, and then there was the Mt. Lemmon highway, where on a Saturday morning, I got passed by enough roadies to crush my ego.
But finally, I made it to the top and I turned off onto Oracle Ridge which is such an overgrown piece of trail, I didn’t even see any footprints on it aside from the racers in front of me. It made three miles seem like an eternity, because really three miles of hike-a-bike is an eternity, and then the trail descended 4,000 feet, most of which I also walked down. It was a gloriously miserable way to lose elevation.
Night fell and I made it into Oracle, the final resupply of the route. I stopped at the Circle K, ate The Bomb burrito (don’t look at the ingredients list), another breakfast burrito, and a soda and loaded up with enough food to make it the next 100 miles to the finish. Supplies included Little Debbie Apple Pies, breakfast burritos, cashews, and fruit snacks. Nutritious and delicious, especially the Apple Pies.
I left Oracle and got back on the trail. In the dark, it felt like I was riding around in circles on the plains by Antelope Peak. Down into a wash, back up. Back down, back up. It was maddening. And then there was some delightful riding. When 2 am rolled around again, I was almost sad to stop, but after I found myself a nice sandy wash, it felt good to go horizontal for a couple of hours. I tried sleeping without my shorts on this time…it was possibly more uncomfortable than sleeping with them on. The jury is still out.
Dawn came quickly after I started riding again. Antelope Peak passed, I cruised by the water cache. I hooted and hollered down the Boulders section of the trail. I climbed up Ripsey and walked my bike down the two dozen switchbacks on the other side, all of which I am told are rideable, and rolled into the small town of Kelvin under the scorching noon heat. I filled up on water, chatted with some local residents who thought it odd that a girl would wander around the area by herself, and then took off down the Gila river where I promptly boiled my brains. It was that hot.
Thankfully, the sun started to lose elevation in the sky just as the trail started to gain elevation into the Gila mountains and I was treated to sunset on a high ridge. Pure magic.
And then it was all downhill to the finish, except for the uphill parts, which there were far more of than I remembered. My headlamp battery died with two miles to go, which served as a good reminder to stop and enjoy the night as I swapped batteries. The moon was high, the canyon quiet. I savored the moment, and then I hauled my butt to the finish.
2 days. 13 hours. 10 minutes. It was as clean and as fast of a run as I could have possibly hoped for.