Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Arizona Trail 750 Mile Mountain Bike Race / Tale from the Trail

This is a brief recap of my experience racing the Arizona Trail 750 Mile Mountain Race.

The Arizona Trail 750 is a self supported, wilderness mountain biking race held on a portion of the cross state Arizona Trail. The race follows the trail as closely as possible from Mexico to Utah covering some 750 miles of varied terrain (elevations range from 1600 to 9100 ft). The trail surface is primarily singletrack, but the race will detour on dirt and pavement to bypass wilderness areas the trail passes through.
This is not an organized or sanctioned event in any way. It's simply a group of friends out to ride their bikes on the same route at the same time. We'll probably compare times afterwards, but more importantly, we'll compare experiences -- the highs and lows the trail and mountains offered us. 
All we provide is a route, a suggested start time(*) and tabulation of results. Period. There is no race organization, no checkpoints, no support system, nothing. You are completely on your own, just as you would be if you chose to ride the Arizona Trail, or any other trail, on any other day. 
(*) Anyone is welcome to ride the route at any time. We provide a suggested start date if you want others to ride with/against. ITTs (individual time trials) are encouraged and will be ranked with that year's results. 
If you want to be included in the "results" you need to follow the rules of self-supported travel set on the rules page. This means things like support crews and water caches are not allowed. This is done in order to ensure a level playing field.

Thursday Day before the start
Just making my way to Tuscon with best-friend Rich Schulenberg (Schulee) and new friend Beto Avelar (from Ensenada, Mexico) was a journey in itself.  Within the past 24 hours our entire shuttle, carpool plan had vanished due to ever changing plans and our group shortened from 5 racers to 3.  We decided to meet Beto at a gas station in Ehrenberg off the 10 FWY at the California, Arizona border about 4PM and began our 4+hr drive to Tuscon where we, last minute, asked Scott Morris (race promoter) if we could crash on his floor and make a ton of noise working on bikes til past midnight, oddly he said sure.  By the time we arrived at Scott’s we secured one of my ex-girlfriends (amazingly still talks to me) to drive us to the border in Beto’s car and then park it at Scott’s house. 

Friday Day 1
Slept like crap as Schulee and Beto snored super loud all night.  Woke up at 445AM and Angela was already at the house ready to go as she had a 10hour drive back to Big Bear that day.  In the last minutes before we left I threw a personal bag in Angela’s car to make some more room in Beto’s car not recognizing it contained my SPOT (transponder tracking device) and all my GPS bicycle mounts.  I didn’t recognize this til we were at the dirt access road were Angela helped us get ready snapped a picture or two and waved good riddens.  So here we are nearly 8AM, 90 minutes late for the mass start that took place at 630AM but we are here and its beautiful lets ride.  Less than 5 miles in we were stripping gear and I could foresee a warm day.  We lost Beto around mile 5 as he was packed super heavy and I knew he wasn’t going to be able to hold pace with us but dam did he try.  At Patagonia Lake I ran in to Scott Morris and he armed me with IRIS his personal SPOT and took this pic of us for the obituaries and we were off.  

Having lived in AZ for the past 10 years and ridden nearly every popular cycling destination I had high hopes of being able to maintain, at the very least, a 7-8mph pace.  LOL.  Having never pre-ridden any sections below Flagstaff I didn’t understand the terrain I was up against.  I underestimated the speed and terrain tremendously.  Some situations had very little to no rhythm at all and getting and maintaining speed was next to impossible without dismounting the bike and running next to it which is obviously not sustainable.  Reaching Patagonia around mile 46 I was out of water and knew my game plan needed to change.  Ate a huge meal at Velvet Elvis Italian food and grabbed some drinks from market next door and Schulee and I were off.
Hit the HWY to take advantage of the tail wind up to dirt road then single track to Kentucky Camp.  Very fast fun sections  Ended up putting in about 90 miles the first day hit the sack just after midnight.  First experience sleeping in a BIVY was a damp one.  As I didn't know that the condensation would sneak in that much. 

Saturday Day 2

Woke up freezing with moisture all inside my sleeping bag and it was only 5AM.  I could tell there was a storm brewing as clouds and sprinkles were coming down.  Sadly the AZT led us right in to the thick of the shit storm.   We pushed through and then diverted to Collosal Cave (horse stable) and stayed by the fire place from about 915AM til about 2PM.  Ate like kings and rested up with Eric Foster and a few other riders that passed through.  The sky cleared up enough for us to push forward, the three of us left and headed for a gas station along the HWY where I met other AZT racers Jill Hueckman and Eric Lord.  Eric had a broken shifter and was out of the race.  Rumors of 20 degree temps and 8" of fresh snow were rampant.
As Eric was about to leave i asked him if he wanted to sell any of his warm weather gear as i was only prepared for warmer temps.  He kindly gave me his polartec sweater and said don't sweat it.  Schulee was not in for the cold so he diverted around Oracle Ridge and we were supposed to hook up the following day and ride together to Superior.  After talking with Jill I realized she was doing the 750 too so we hooked up and headed out about 5PM towards the goal of Mt. Lemmon base campground.  About 730PM ended up breaking away and rolling solo.  Jill is an awesome person but i just wanted to roll a faster pace, nothing personal.  Awesome fast night riding single track once we got off the rocky jeep roads.  Saw a fire with a large group of racers Eric, Brad, Big Dave and a few others about a mile below the campground.  Decided to crash with this group and head out about 4AM.

Sunday Day 3

Woke up about 5AM (dam slept in) and hit the trail, tons of hike-a-bike and a super techy descent put me at the campground where I was able to get some H20 and start my accent to Summerhaven.  Little bit of single track then about 16 miles of HWY climbing up to 8800FT.  Froze my ass off and sought refuge with Big Dave at some sandwich grill off the HWY.  
Oracle ridge started with a bunch of snow passage then some really fun wet, sloshy, steep descents.  I cant explain to you in words how crazy this section was.  I knew that by riding it Dave and I were gonna gap everyone by hours behind us.  I followed Big Dave as best I could but he was super fast and the best I could do was keep him in sight.  Ended up following Dave all the way in to The Ranch just outside the town of  Oracle.  Was able to check my phone and read a text from Schulee that said he was pushing on without me and he would meet me in Superior.  Good luck.  

Cleaned up our bikes and replenished our water.  Dave wanted to go in to town but i was confident with about 1500 calories of food I could make it to Superior and ride through the night then just eat there.  This was a huge rookie mistake.  Dave opted for Oracle, I napped for about an hour and then was woke by a Donkey at the fence about 5PM and decided to start the journey towards the water cash about 40 miles away.  I made it til about 1130AM when the trails all seemed to look the same.  There were so many game and cow trails in this area that it was hard to decide which was the correct route.  The various cactus really kept you from just pushing through.  I called it a night after about a 90 minute circle.  

Monday Day 4

Woke up about 330AM and went back to it.  Trail went from poorly recognizable singletrack to huge dirt access roads.  Watched the sun come up and was pushing hard to the water cash. The water cash is an AZT users stash and is open to anyone to use its contents.  I for some reason didn't notice that it also had food.  Another rookie mistake.    The trail from the water cash towards the mountain range before the Gila River was so much fun.  Finally some trails I could really haul ass on.  Made it through some really fun technical sections leading in to the Gila River basin.  I knew i was close to something i saw a few hikers along the trail taking pics of all the blooming flowers.  Grabbed a water fill and a cold Ginger Ale from a trailer park just off route past the Gila Bridge.  I was hoping for some fun downhill fast sections along the Gila but sadly my drivetrain was acting up real bad and every time i went to crank out of the saddle it would mis-shift and derail.  Super annoying spent lots of time messing with it in the hot AZ sun.  Tried everything i could and realized i had two good gears that I could rely on so i stuck to them.  As the heat got more and more intense I made a plan to get in the river and cool down for a bit.  So i parked the bike and hiked down to the river edge about 1PM and it felt great.  Made my way back on the trail and my bike started giving me more and more grief.  I decided to slow my roll and took shade under various places as the heat of the day got super intense.  About this time i realized that not going in to the town of Oracle for food was a big mistake.  In racing terms i was starting to bonk.  
I had about 600 calories of food left and decided to take refuge from the sun and wait for it to set and then continue after sunset.  My slow pace had allowed Brad and Matt to catch up to me.  We chatted for a bit and i tried to talk them in to hiding from the sun and hitting it after dark.  
They were determined so they pushed on.  I laid in the shade til about 4PM then my mind said hell I need to get out of here.  Packed my stuff and hit the trail.  Caught back up to them in about 30 minutes.  We were all exhausted and need to get off this dam trail.  The trail hooked north towards the superstition mountains and a lil sign of hope was able to be seen.  This section of trail was fun but i was lightheaded, and seeing stars so it was more survival then anything.  I asked Brad to keep an eye on me just in case, cause I was "bonking hard."  No worries bro, here's a Power Gel.  Super nice guys.  About this time i was barely starting to get the hang of my GPS and using the zoom features to predict distances, back light so I don't have to push buttons etc etc.  While following Brad and Matt there was a lot of tight switch backs and sections that dived in and out of sandy ravens.  This is where my drive train issues were most obvious.  I dived in to a raven went to pedal and the entire chain locked up and i went rolling down the embankment.  Gosh dammit!!  WTF... I got back up and moved up, crashing is more and more prevalent when your weak and tired, just got to focus and move on its part of the game.  About 15 minutes later i realized my GPS was gone.  I panicked.  Turned around and began looking for it without telling Brad or Matt.  After a few seconds my mind shifted and it went from find GPS to don't loose Brad or Matt your out of water, food in unfamiliar terrain and you don't know where how far the trailhead is and the sun is setting.  So i ditched recovering my GPS and hauled major ass to catch and follow them.  When I  caught Brad I told him what happened and he waited for me a few times to make sure i was ok as we made our way out to the Picket Post trailhead (TH) in about an hour.  Arriving at the TH at about 6PM i was incredibly discouraged.  
My bike needed attention, I lost my GPS, I made a stupid tactical decision of not getting food.  At this time in the race i was telling everyone i was calling it quits.  Big Dave was at the finish with his family and RV.  He was super cool gave us all some snacks and water.  He even tried to help me with my bike, but i was incredibly short with him as i was super frustrated.  Told everyone it was fun and i started my 6 mile ride to Superior to grab food and a motel.  As i engulfed a huge Los Hermanos Carne Asada burritto and checked my facebook I realized the overwhelming support i was getting from friends back home and all over the country.  I went from quitting to making a plan to finish what i started.  I will finish this race no matter the cost.  Grabbed a room at  the only motel in town and started searching the internet for bike repair shops and places i could purchase a GPS, computers i could use to download my GPS file, print off new cues sheets (original ones got wet in rain), tools i could use, everything.  By 1am I had a plan A, B and C.

Tuesday Day 5
Woke up at 6AM and was ready to start my plan.  Heard some bikers come in last night a couple rooms down so i thought they might have some tools i could use.  I determined by inspecting the bike i needed a new middle chain ring, chain and cassette.  My front middle ring was actually torn, the small one appeared ok but hell if your changing one might as well do both.  The rear cassette had a ton of play in it and there were bent rings all the way done, pretty rare for an XTR cassette in my opinion but it been put through hell. I met my neighbors about 7AM, they were from Vegas and riding the AZT also but not racing it.  They had an entire Park Tool kit they said i was welcomed to, and my eyes lit up.  Ok come on PHX wake up i need some bike parts.  I called numerous bike shops and finally got one to accept my CC over the phone.  Landis Cyclery created an order and set it aside for a courier to pick up.  Also had Paula from REI set aside a GPS order.  Some $600 dollars later my gear was ready for pickup.  Motel owner let me download my GPS info and also print new ques sheets.  Things were starting to come together.  By 9AM parts were on there way to me and things were looking good.  Now the sad part.  The rules state no support crews.  And i was obviously getting support.  Got items from courier and even talked him in to giving Pawel Kudela a ride back to PHX.  By 130PM bike was repaired and I was ready to get back on the trail where i left off.  
I couldn't let the fact go that i was about to leave a $250 dollar GPS in the desert without attempting to find it.  I rode backwards on the trail passing racer Dave Goldberg and sharing a quick conversation with him.  It took me about 2 hours of searching but i did the impossible.  I found my GPS.  Battery still full and working just like i left it.  Holy crap things are meant to be.  By 330PM I was hauling ass on the road to Apache Junction (AP JX).  In hindsight now that I've ridden the road to AP JX I could of made it there with the messed up drivetrain.  I had no idea that there was such a flat easy section in to AP JX.  But i wouldn't of had my GPS and well everything works out for a reason,  I was now in 5th place as David, Matt, Brad and Kurt Sandiforth were ahead of me,  Kurt at this time was 100miles ahead of me.  I pushed on through the night all the way up to Roosevelt Lake.

Wednesday Day 6
Yesterdays section of pavement and fireroads really showed me how poorly i prepared for this race.  I thought of this as an adventure and wanted things to be introduced to me as i came upon them verus planned. I had very little to no landmark or goal strategy up to this point.  While making my way towards Tonto I stopped in and had breakfast at a lil diner and began to write my plan to catch Kurt.  If it was even possible.  I made mileage goals and rest goals to get me to the ditch by Saturday.  This section was super fast HWY miles averaging over 18mph.  Made up 50 Miles on Kurt this day.  Made sure to take in lots of calories and never run dry.  I was heavy moving up towards Payson.  I also had started to develop a horrible saddle rash from cranking so hard on the bike.
I entered Payson about 130PM with the goal of bars, chomps, chain oil and a new saddle for the rest of my ride.  I pulled in to Paysons Hike Bike & Run and met Phil Ryder and Mick Wolf who were high fiving me and telling me I could catch the leader kick ass.  Got some parts but couldn't find a good seat.  Phil gave me his personal seat off his bike and it felt like butter all the way.  Super stoked I headed out to get to Pine by sundown.  The ride to Pine was decent, fire roads mainly in the beginning til i got close to the city it has some single track.  Oh wait it had some crappy section of Oak Creek that was mainly hike-a-bike.  Crashed here a ton of times because it was on and off the bike rideable for 20ft then crappy for 20 feet.  This was a precursor for the Mongollion Rim that i didn't know about.  
Rode off route to Ponderosa Market and then ate an amazing dinner at some restaurant right as you got to town.  My plan was to sleep til 11PM then ride through the night had to get to above the rim by sunlight.  Slept in a grass field til my alarm went off.  Loaded up and hit Phil's Trail towards the AZT Mongollion Rim.  This section was the absolute pits.  17.5miles took me over 7 hours to accomplish.  I was sending Scott text messages of how shitty this section was.  Heres a video.

Thursday Day 7 

Slept for about 4 hours and yes I finally making it a top of the Mongollion Rim, things brightened up for a bit but the trail was hard to follow and some sections to steep to ride.
By this time my knees were starting to bother me more so i had started a fast walk up hills and riding only flats and down slopes.  Checking Livetracker i could see Brad and Matt were less than 40 miles in front of me and Kurt was still in Flagg.  I figured everyone was really beat.  I made sure to stay up on my supplements which were starting to run low as i only planned for 8 days of racing.   On top of the rim I got lost on a fireroad that i thought would intersect the AZT again and once i realized my GPS zoom was at 3 mile zoom not 0.3mile i was screwed.  Got cliffed out and it cost me a ton of energy and about 90 minutes of back tracking on a now empty stomach.  Made it to Moqui Park and then to the HWY.  I was sitting on the side of the HWY using my phone GPS for better idea of what was around me when a truck slowed down and asked if i was ok.  Said i sure could use some food he said hop in the back and we can drop you off at Happy Jack down the road.  Cant give you a ride back though.  No worries lets do this.
Boom grabbed a ton of food made friends with the waitress who ended up giving me a ride back Moqui where i continued on the AZT.  I couldn't recall if this was exactly legal but in my thoughts i was only gaining nutrition, loosing time and my distance never changed.  Trail magic?  The next section up to Mormon lake was a combo of Fireroads and new singletrack.  Super fast little elevation changes.  Averaged just under 10mph all the way to Mormon Lake.  Arriving at Mormon Lake I was hoping to grab some snacks, sadly everything was shit down.  I did find an unopened 20oz Pepsi, plenty of water and an ass hole kid doing donuts in a field with his parents yellow Hummer.  I put my hand out as they were passing me on the road and the lil shit tried to swerve at me as he hit the accelerator.  I was hoping he would roll it or get stuck in one of the mud puddles but god protects idiots and fools.  After laying by the ice machine (it was warm) for an hour or so, eating the last of my food, texting my supporters and my coach I pushed hard towards Lake Mary and Flagstaff.  I was within 20 miles of Brad and Matt and less than 70 to Kurt.  Goal was to reach it by 7AM.  No sleep tonight.  This section continued to be fast.  I was praying for no peanut butter mud.  It was chilly and my mind was playing tricks as it does with sleep deprivation. 

Friday Day 8
Reached Flag by morning and started to get a grip of myself.  I got some food, and put my head down on a table for about an hour.  Ate about 5000 calories of breakfast and then went to walmart to replace my SPOT batteries.  I had been having issues using Alkaline batteries in my equip as they died so fast.  Note to other races if you ask to buy batteries and then sell you ones out of a basket and they arent sealed in packaging they probably suck.  After wally's went to USPS and picked up my drop box which was full of bars, supplements, candy, shoes, trekking poles, sunscreen, change of clothes, light batteries and i forgot extra socks.   Shipped home all my extra and used stuff including the new GPS unit as i continued to use my original one that i went back and found.  Sending some phone messages Scott told me I passed Brad and Matt last night but i never remember seeing them.

I got there phone numbers and texted them both so we could ride together.  I was bored of riding solo and was just happy to see other racers if i could.  Getting back on the AZT through Buffalo Park right at the beginning of Oldham Trail I see Brad sitting on a rock and Matt dealing with a broken wheel.  I was like holy shit i found you guys.  Talked for a few minutes than started the Schultz to Snow Bowl section together.  After about 3 hours of riding together they went to back track a route off of the Fort Valley section.  I told them it was ok and it would intersect these all meet up to the new section of AZT.  This was probably the only section of AZT i was familiar with.  So this is where i lost them.  They went back about 1/4mile and i went on. The trail gained lots of speed and by the time the day of riding was over it was 1AM and I was at Russel Tank some 35 miles to South Rim where Kurt appeared to be holding over.

Saturday Day 8

I dumped the tank starting at 430AM and hitting it hard all the S. Rim where i missed Kurt by less than 90 minutes as he began his descent in to the big ditch.  I started the hike at 1PM and  I was sure i was gonna catch him.  It was hot and his pace had slowed down a ton, something must be wrong.  Making my way to the bottom of the canyon i was gathering information along the way.  I didn't preplan any water stops for this section as i figured there would be plenty.  Made my way to Phantom Ranch where i refilled and paid like $6 for a cup of lemonade WOW.  Gathered my thoughts tightened up my rig and i was off headed to Cottonwood Campground.  It was super hot and hiding in the shade and using little effort was my goal. I kept asking hikers along the way if they'd seen anyone else packing a bike and i constantly got "NO's."
Did i pass him?  Or is he speeding up?  How valid is my info.?  Arriving at Cottonwood I make some friends and start to setup to grab a catnap for 2 hours then hit the hike at night so i don't have to stress about the heat so much.  When all of a sudden i see this.  He was walking right by the campsite.  I was like hey Kurt where you going? He was like holy crap man i haven't seen another racer in 7 days, where did you come from?  Ive been chasing you for 4 days.  Kurt said he had been alone at the front for so long he had started to relax, sleeping in and resorting back to his touring ways.  
Kurt is a lifestyle cyclist he has ridden in over 35 different countries, crossed the US three times coast to coast and ridden different portions of the AZT 3 times.  He is no slouch on a bike thats for sure.  Where i had been using technology of my smartphone to plan my attack he never had that option and was truly bikepacking in solitude the way it was meant to be.  We chatted for a bit and planned to head towards the finish together.  Quick 2 hour power nap and we were off hiking up towards North Rim with our 50+lb packs.  We cleared the canyon in less than 13 hours (including a 2hour nap and multiple breaks as the packs were dam heavy).  Not to shabby.  We ended up sleeping in the restrooms at the top of the North Rim to stay out of the 30 degree temps and 20mph winds.  The entire North Rim was closed til May and the only thing open was this restroom.  Surprisingly cozy and really clean.  Kind of felt like a prison cell but with a window.  

Sunday Day 9
We slept from about 2AM to 530AM and our goal was to find water then ride down the HWY on the snow route to Jacobs Lake some 41miles away just in time for breakfast.  I woke up and my knee was killing me.  I tried to keep pace but Kurt left me in the dust and I arrived about 15minutes after him at Jacob Lake Restaurant.  Finally we got cell phone reception and I could contact everyone and let them know I made it out of the canyon.  Looking at my GPS I figured we had about 25 miles of track slowly working downhill to the finish.  Kurt had ridden the route before and we knew this section was every man for himself.  I had to break in to my pain relievers for this last section as i had a 90 minute handicap on Kurt and he was definitely capable of using it.  We rode our asses off down the single track all the way in to Utah.  We finished the race on Sunday just about 3PM some 9 Days 7 Hours.  The most amazing feeling of accomplishment from adversity.  I still cant believe its over and that it was real.  Throughout this race some of my friends from Lake Havasu City, AZ decided to drive all the way to the border some 6 hours from home to see me as i finished the race.  It was incredible to get that kind of recognition from your peers as i usually don't really even talk about what i do for adventure as it is so different from most normals in this area.  

Kurt is a super cool guy and our passion for this race brought us together.  I truly believe if Kurt had access to the same information i did he would have seen me coming and never looked back finishing this race 2 days earlier.  This race is more about the journey then stats, awards, T-Shirts, prizes or even the rules, but i also agree that the integrity of the race must be kept.  I was in a situation where i made decisions with the knowledge I had that went against the ethics of the rules and i knew it and i must pay the penalty for that.  I think riding as hard as I did to finish my initial goal cant go unnoticed and would rather see a time penalty then a full DQ but honestly i wont frown or look down either way.  With the knowledge i have now im confident this course can be done in 7 days with the right weather.  

Scott thank you for this adventure and to all the racers i met and raced with thanks for the joining me in the journey.

Ill take the friendship over the victory anyday
Aaron Boatman


  1. Nice first post for a blog. Your adventure was borderline calamity. Awesome!

  2. That was one heck of an adventure...and a well written blog. Nice work Aaron!

  3. Congratulations for finishing your AZT750 adventure!
    I'm curious what kind of socks did you wear? Are these recovery socks?

    1. They were 2XU Calf Compression. More for stickers, bushes and sun than anything else. Sorry I just saw that you asked a question.

  4. An absolutely outstanding effort and story. Good job!

  5. Wow...so impressive! Sounds like an awesome adventure..glad you were able to do it. Congrats!

  6. Hey Aaron, fantastic post. Nicely written with great photos. If I could, I'd send a brief e-mail instead of this petty comment, but I thought I'd share:
    photo on Flickr

    Brief acquaintance at the Canyon, if you remember! And my apologies for the not-so impressive shot. I just HAD to show my friends at home that such amazing dedication exists. Keep on rockin'.

  7. Thanks everyone for the support and photos. Cant wait to share the next adventure.

  8. Aaron, GREAT write-up, and now a MUST-DO on my bucket list. Maybe after I get the second shop opened in Gold Canyon and have a few more employees, I can make the time. You describe some sections perfectly! It is such a variable trail, forgiving one minute, and a ruthless gear crusher the next. But scenic? Holy smokes, a beautiful trail system!

    We were really honored that you dropped by the shop, and I'd be lying if I didn't say how stoked I was that you put in the time that you did, as my seat was right there with you! And that, of course, seals it. If my seat can finish it, then so, too, can I. You're an inspiration, heck, all of you are. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us, and look forward to sharing the ride with you one of these days!


    Hike, Bike & Run, Payson, AZ

  9. For english we are reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and we are doing dialectical journals for every chapter. I need help locating one good quote from each chapter, then I need to have an analysis for the quote. Can anyone help with some quotes, or know of any great websites that have quotes from specific chapters? Anything and everything will be greatly appreciated. Thank You.

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  10. Awesome trip!!
    Do you know of any trails that are good for a weekend mountain biking riding/camping trip in AZ? I was thinking of something up north around flagstaff or Sedona and coming down south to phoenix or tucson? Been wanting to do something like this for a while….

    1. Run the AZT backwards, also a trail called Black Canyon and another called the Coconino 250 you should look up.

  11. That is a great story and a great adventure. So impressive. I am just now mustering up some courage to ride Utah to Sedona (my home). That might be all I have, but we'll see. Your story is an inspiration, thanks, Glenn Slattery