I rode 35 miles, with about 35 feet of vert, and I'm jelly-legged with throbbing knees from mashing on the pedals. Fatbike lore has not yet caught up to the reality that the surface of floating-ground matters. A lot. A whole lot. I had no idea momentum would be nonexistent, or that I wouldn't stop pedaling for 5 hours except for beer breaks. Traversing Tucson through its massive network of washes, adventuring new routes on the new Fatbike, and visiting the places I used to love running and blading with Tsaina was a grand idea. Except for going uphill both ways.
We would go from the north east side of town, south west along the Tanque Verde Wash, into the Rillito River, then finally south through the Santa Cruz to downtown.
Rhino and I dropped our cars at the finish early Sunday and stretched our legs riding 5 miles back to the shuttle pickup. Coupled with some bonhomie the night before on Tucson's 4th Avenue, I was in a great mood for the start with some new friends.
Dejay, our inspired host, loading the shuttle bus to the start
inaugural roster. There were two rules -you had to stop at 3 separate bars and get a receipt, and if you returned with a live coyote you won. A race, this was not, but since my fatbike training regimen largely involved being really drunk in Mexico, I figure it would play to my strengths. Struggles in the sand and beer stops kept most of us mostly together. Having company while suffering through demoralizing lack of forward progress made the day a whole lot better. and I looked hawt in my DH jersey.
an awkward summit
er, not so fast. Minutes into the ride we began a 1.5 hour slog through loose sand, pockmarked sand, rocked-out sand. 'Lines' were made by horses, and dreadful to follow. Open spaces were expanses of beach, and the only hardpack was through tenacious desert vegetation growing as willfully as it could until the next year's monsoon. I gave up following tracks and relied on my own intuition, no one had a clue where to aim.
After 30 minutes, most of us stopped looking for lines and surrendered to finding surfaces. The eventual 'winner' strapped on shin guards at the start, while i arrogantly snickered at his worry for crashing on a zero-slope route. Understanding came to me a few miles later when i resigned my shins to itching for a week so I could maintain 6mph. I was thankful for long sleeves.
I pulled more twigs out of my drivetrain in 2 hours than I have in several years, and arrived home to find my seemingly-inpenetrable fatbike tire flat. The only surprise was that it lasted all day.
I didn't get the type of headspace I thought would be waiting in the washes, and typical of a long ride. There was no place to check your brain. Instead I stressed being so low that Tucson's mountains gave me no sense of direction. I stressed the possibility that the wash would be blocked at any time. I stressed the 20 yards in front of me constantly. How quickly would this patch of packed sand give out? When would a palo verde force me to make a gratuitous navigational correction? Is the effort to go 50 yards left worth the payoff of 200 yards of clear ground? Strava will barf at a track of this race, it looks like a sailboat tacking upwind.
After an hour, I was surprised to find we'd actually gone 6 miles, and i started to connect with the wash. See what was unfolding, minimize the damage. I pounded on the pedals and appreciated having other riders near me to take turns leading. Everyone had their come-to-jesus moment with the terrain, a fact recollected after the ride at Sky Bar, and speed picked up to a zealous 7mph.
I relaxed a little, and passed the time with a project: Crap the Good People of Tucson Have Dumped in the River!
A stand of trees loomed familiar even 12 years later, which meant we were crossing my old put-in at Craycroft Road, near the Tanque Verde and Rillito merge. I recalled there being several miles of crispy hardpack heading west. It brought our speed into double-digits, and for the first time I started thinking I might be able to finish. There was no way I could take another 4 hours like the first 2 with my legs feeling dead already.
Mile 14: SAG stop of fans and DrunkCyclist official support staff, bearing liquor and magic.
Two jello shots, and a beer and whiskey at the first checkpoint a mile later adjusted my attitude. The pack split up, some lingering at the bar and some racing onward. I was blissfully buzzed and alone with the wash.
seriously, what the **** is it with the shopping carts? I kept hoping to find a car, but only another 45 shopping carts.
There was a 2nd checkpoint 30 min after the first, but i skipped it in favor of a freshy an hour later near mile 20 at the 3rd and final checkpoint. This redneck rape-den made the bar in 48hrs look chic.
I rolled along the path above the wash, refusing to backtrack 100 yards east to the put-in I came out of, savoring the emotional boost I got from just a few minutes of smooth rolling. After almost a mile realizing there would be no break in the guardrail. I gave up and downclimbed the culvert with my bike to get back into the wash. It was almost as much effort as the same stretch in the wash would have been. Another meaningless navigational correction, so I voted it didn't count for cheating the route, ate the rest of my special jolly rancher, and surged on with a clear conscience for another 5 miles. The terrain mostly cooperated by providing enough clearing and packed sand to keep my speed at about 8.5, and my instincts for the wash continued to sharpen. I repeatedly came on tracks from some of the other riders at many of the transitions and strategic points where hardpack gave way to overgrowth or a slight island fell away into rock fields or loose sand. It reminded me a lot of snowboarding through the trees. Following tracks was misleading early in the ride, but now i got some positive reinforcement seeing we were all picking the same lines. There were a few ledges where retention walls ran perpendicular to the wash, and I felt so good I tried to jump them, but couldnt get anywhere near enough speed to make the risk worth taking. No sandbox gnar today.
Nearing I-10, the wash looked like a jungle, and I'd heard there were pools of water to circumvent. My quads and knees were pulsating. Fatigue and anxiety suddenly throttled me, and I ejected up onto the multi-use path where I knew the surface streets would get me across the interstate. Theme of the day repeats, easy navigation turned into a fruitless 1.5 miles north until the road finally crossed back under the freeway. And freeway crossing on a bike are always a grand time. Spinning legs and changing temperature put my biology into freefall, heart rate uneven, punchdrunk with cadence and momentum, and full-on psychological rebellion over going back into the mess of retention basins and dense groundcover I was so gloriously bypassing. KABOOM! that implosion happened fast, and I rode the multi-use path for about 3 miles.
I overtook Rhino, who had snapped his axel and was limping along with his wheels rattling in the dropouts. Feeling guilty over DQing, I salvaged some honor by rolling back into the wash for another 4-5 miles. I was feeling revived, craning my neck to the left to see the highway signs, and thought I would have enough to finish. Then again, boom, I cracked seeing my hardpack transition into another 50 yard rock field. I HAD TO GET OUT OF THE WASH! And nearly debrided my knees and blew up my heart rate scaling the culvert wall with my bike. At the top I could see the 'official' exit a half-mile onward, and limping down the path on the other side was Rhino - wheel still falling out of his frame. That's fatbike pace, yo.
Happy crowds collapses at Sky Bar.
Some more cool pics at the Sandbox Showdown FB page.
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