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  1. #1
    Scott in Tucson
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    AZT 300 Report (long, pics)

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/P4140007.JPG>
    The group at the start. L to R: Cliff Walker, Rudi Nadler, Scott Morris, Kevin Gillest, Eric Lashinsky, Lee Blackwell
    </center>

    I led out the first bit of singletrack at 9:03 am. Immediately the trail turns to a slow, rocky descent. I call it "gear check hill" because anything not fastened to your bike will surely fall off. I don't know if it was the 29er or just my nerves, but I stayed in the lead even though I hadn't intended to take it so early.

    Immediately after gear check hill is "welcome to hike-a-bike" hill. Fall line trails, you've gotta love them. I made some stupid comment to Eric and Kevin behind me about "you didn't think your were going to be able to ride your bike did you?"

    Excellent singletrack continues from there. Everything on my bike felt perfect. With no warmup I found myself perfectly comfortable and "on." Gear distribution between person and bike, tire choice, pressure -- everything seemed just right.

    Everything, that is, except my body. I'm usually not overly anxious before races. Sometimes my stomach turns over but it has always gone away as soon as the race starts. Not this time. This is the first race I've organized myself, so there was added pressure. People came from out of state and I was worried about what they thought, if they'd drop out, if they'd be OK. On top of that, of course, I was racing in the race. It was a little more than I could handle and the result was a sour stomach. I knew it was completely psychologically induced, at least.

    An hour later I had still not covered 4 miles and occasionally I could see someone descending the last hill as I was climbing the next one. After mile 4 I never saw anyone again.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07074.JPG>
    AZT in the Canleo Hills
    </center>

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07076.JPG>
    More AZT in the Canleo Hills
    </center>

    White thorn is the overgrowth of choice on the Canelo Hills. Two options are available while walking through it: 1) use your bike as a shield or 2) sacrifice your body to protect your bike. It was always #2 for me. A flat so early in the race could spell doom and legs are much better than slime at self-sealing.

    I rode as best I could through the junipers and oaks of the Canelo Hills. Food would not go down easily, but water would. I kept hydrating and flying down the trail. Flying is a relative term here, of course. After nearly six hours of hard effort I emerged on Harshaw road, having completed a whopping 29 miles of trail.

    I realized early on that it was going to be impossible to keep the kind of "slow" pace that a race of this length calls for. There simply is no way to push your bike up a steep, rocky slope without raising your heart rate and breathing to "unacceptable" levels. So instead I accepted that level of effort and allowed myself to reach it on the bike as well. I rode a lot in granny gear and loved every minute of it. Granny in front and 1,2 and 3 in the rear were the order of the day.

    I spent about 5 minutes in Patagonia, refueling food and water, before rolling out to climb the Salero Road. Salero is rare on this route in that it's relatively smooth. I used the time to catch up on eating and drinking. A big problem on the AZT 300, compared to other multi-day events I've done, is that you can't do things like eat food, apply sunscreen or pick your nose while on the bike. A hand off the handlebars can be dangerous and you can forget riding no-hands.

    Winds had been gusting to 30+ mph since the afternoon began. In the Canelo Hills, on 4 mph singletrack, even a head wind is of no consequence. It can be a good thing since it keeps you cool. But on Salero road it's a little different. Lucky for me, the weather gods smiled. For the next 8 hours it seemed that no matter which way I turned I generally had the wind at my back.

    Someone once said, "when conditions are good, go fast." So I did exactly that. The sun was still up and I had a nuclear tail wind shoving me down the route. I let it fly.

    It can't be all fun and tail winds, of course. I got plastered by a handful of dust storms, turned directly in my face. I'd close my eyes, look away and brace for impact. Every piece of exposed skin burned, but the good thing about the human body is that when the majority of your body suddenly hurts, it gets overwhelmed and doesn't deliver pain messages. For a second or two, that is.

    At the national forest boundary I said goodbye to good trail conditions and proceeded onto the rock strewn road known as Bull Springs. I have made the mistake of underestimating this road in the past. Not this time. I knew I'd be on it for a few hours. I knew I'd hike up more than a few hills. And I knew my descending had to be spot on.

    It was. I flashed through it and emerged three hours ahead of schedule.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07088.JPG>
    Target practice on Bull Springs 4x4 road
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    I rolled effortlessly through the Devil's Cashbox and Agua Caliente as the evening's lightshow took center stage.

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    Evening light on Mt. Hopkins
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    Elephant Head and Little Elephant Head
    </center>

    Awesome. But with the good comes the bad. The sun would not come up for more than ten hours. On previous events I would fear and loathe the coming darkness. This time I (tried to) embrace it. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself. Or so I told myself.

    I crossed the saddle above Little Elephant Head on singletrack with my last minutes of twilight. Lights came on as I descended the stupid-rocky switchbacks. I had an hour before the moon would rise to a usable level. And I had an hour of technical singletrack to negotiate. I really surprised myself by what I was able to ride without expending much energy. I guess that's called flow.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07099-crop.jpg>
    Sunset on Elephant Head trail
    </center>

    Climbing continued on Proctor Road, where some folks were camping. For whatever reason a few people came running out to cheer hysterically in Spanish as I rode by. I guess they knew I was up to something nutty and needed encouragement.

    At Madera Canyon I sat down after 12 hours on the bike. I filled up on water, stretched and watched the moon rising to light the towering cliffs of Elephant Head. I became more aware of my surroundings under the cool white light. The night had energy. I hopped back up and continued riding.

    30 mph, downhill on pavement with the continuing nuclear tailwind. Yee-haw.

    Next up was Box Canyon with my moon shadow as a constant companion. Let's go, shadow.

    High above me the wind howled and screamed through the trees. It was eerie, but it muffled sound of the birds, rabbits, javelinas and other critters that would move whenever I get near (and consequently scare the crap out of me). So it was kind of a good thing. Part of the anxiety of approaching this race was due to the solo night riding. I still don't have much experience with it, and it continues to be a challenge, but I was determined to face my fears and push through it.

    I returned to the AZT off Box Canyon, for a few tiring miles before once again hitting pavement on Highway 83. Fortunately it's mostly downhill and I only got passed by two late night drivers.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07103.JPG>
    Lee's AZT gate at Old Sonoita Highway. One less fence to crawl under. Thanks Lee!
    </center>

    Now it was time to begin a section of the Arizona Trail I'm intimately familiar with. I helped layout and build it. Or at least I thought I was familiar with it. I still managed to go off trail in a few places and spend some time scratching my head. Everything changes at night.

    I crossed under I-10 in a culvert with fresh coyote prints in the sand. Then I found myself walking aimlessly through the desert trying to link back up with the rest of the trail. I've been here before! Why can't I find anything?! Again, darkness changes everything.

    I noticed that bushwhacking in the dark, through the desert, is not easy. Even hike a bike is hard. It's hard to keep tires away from cactus.

    After riding to Three Bridges I decided it was time for a break. I didn't need to sleep, but the sour stomach had caused some problems on the other end, so it was time to take care of that. I pulled out my pad, but not my bag, and laid down for about a half hour. One train came by and rustled my senses back. The next one pulled me to full awareness. I packed up and headed back down the trail around 3 am.

    More brand spanking new AZT followed. Some of it very nice, very easy to ride. On other sections I slammed my pedals into my shins, dabbed, stepped on cactus and generally fumbled around. Each fence that I had to stop for, lift my bike over and get down on my knees to duck under was an insult. I should have pushed the AZT crews to move with the gate installation. Eventually I just resorted to walking rather than burning mental energy trying to ride.

    At the top of the saddle I looked down on Posta Quemada Ranch, quiet as a mouse. Curse me, I couldn't find the horse trail that drops down. Apparently the connection wasn't as easy as I thought it was. Again I wandered around through the desert trying to find any semblance of a trail.

    After a few miles of roads through the park where trail has yet to be built I rejoined the AZT for some sweet riding. This section has special significance to me and I'll always enjoy riding it. It made a nice night ride.

    Coming around into the Rincon valley I noticed light beginning above the mountains. The sun is coming already?

    I carved turns and blasted down the valley as I gradually became more aware of my surroundings in the increasing light. The rhythm was only broken by stops to add layers. For whatever reason, I couldn't stay warm and eventually all my clothes came out. What is it, December all the sudden? This could only be good, because I had a long, hot climb in front of me during the day.

    I had my lights off for about an hour before I started to crash mentally. I let my defenses down since I thought the sunlight would energize. It didn't. I crawled up a few hills on Cmno Doretea barely able to keep my eyes open. For the next hour, on Old Spanish Trail, I fought a mental battle with myself. "You're not tired." "You're fine." "Keep it together, man."

    It got me to Tucson. I filled the void in my stomach with a ball of grease courtesy of Mickey D's. Paula and her Mother were there to watch me ride on toward Redington Pass. They followed along, taking pictures. I almost told them to leave me alone, but it was amusing to see how far they'd follow me. I kept thinking, "oh, they'll turn around and go home now." But they didn't, and I kept laughing every time they drove by to take a photo. Dedicated fans.

    <center>
    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC01462-crop.jpg>
    Leaving Tucson
    </center>

    As Redington turned to dirt they left me to begin what was to be a very long day of climbing. Sitting at 2500 feet I knew I'd climb to 8000 before the day was done. There would be more than a few downhills interspersed in there. It was almost overwhelming to realize how much work I had in front of me. But I pedaled onwards anyway.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC01469-crop.jpg>
    Contemplating the climb ahead
    </center>

    As I hit singletrack near Italian Trap my mental state slowly deteriorated. I have ridden these trails so many times and knowing them well served a curse. I knew each rough spot, each hike-a-bike, and began to groan at each of them. I wasn't having any fun. I felt like caching in my chips and riding home. The rest of the day just seemed so impossibly hard. I literally could not see myself reaching the top of Mt. Lemmon. I just couldn't visualize it. I couldn't do it. Yet, physically I felt fine. My legs never complained and no injures or other problems had surfaced.

    At the high point of the singletrack, roughly 5000 feet, I stopped under a tiny bit of shade. There was dried cow **** everywhere, but I didn't care. It was shade and I had a hunch my declining mental state was from the lack of sleep (even though I wasn't the least bit sleepy). It had been close to 30 hours of near continuous riding. I laid back, closed my eyes and allowed my brain to shut off. First it flew around between random subjects, occasionally settling on the impossibility of the task ahead. Then, it just calmed down.

    I got up 2 minutes before my 15 minute alarm went off. I remounted and continued down a really fun ridgeline descent (I stopped here for a reason). But I still wasn't enjoying it.

    About a half hour later, in the middle of a clearing a technical spot I caught myself thinking "Yes!" It was my first positive thought in some time. I didn't want to get too excited too soon, but I had a hunch the power nap had worked.

    Crossing Bellota Ranch road I started looking forward to the upcoming sections of trail. I was back in business. I rallied around turns, pulled my front tire to launch of ledges and water bars -- just generally having a good time. My mp3 played nintendo tunes by the Minibosses and The Advantage (go ahead, laugh). I ran into a AZT thru-hiker, which is always a boost in energy because I'm in awe at what they're able to do. He didn't want to talk much and neither did I, but the few words we exchanged were great.

    Boss music of Contra segued to Megaman 2 medley, rockin' along the trail.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07107.JPG>
    AZT on the Bellota Trail
    </center>

    I began the portage over Molino saddle in the heat of the day, but each breeze was a gift. It could have been much hotter and I still had plenty of fluids. The trail isn't rideable, but at least it's clear of brush. The descent was a real rib tickler, though all the rough riding was beginning to take a toll on my hands.

    I crossed the Catalina Highway and muttered a curse at myself for taking the route up the Prison Camp trail, when the highway goes to the same place. I wanted to start the big climb and I knew taking the trail burned some serious time, not to mention the fact that it has several hike-a-bike sections. "There will be plenty of time to climb pavement," I told myself.

    A shuttle monkey came down as I walked up some switchbacks. He asked, "is the trail hard the other way?" "What do you think?"

    At last I reached the pavement with (I thought) just enough time to hit summerhaven before the store closed. I had been fighting off perpetual bonk the entire day and used the promise of a microwave pizza at the top as motivation to keep my pace steady.

    Steady, but slow. I struggled to keep my speed near 5 mph for the next 3 hours. It's frustrating to go this slow on a road that I can rock unloaded and fresh. But it was a nice day, and I never tire of climbing into the pine trees.

    I made it to Summerhaven five minutes before the store closed. It was nearly dark and I knew all day that I could not make it through the night without some real sleep. While checking out I asked if there was anyone in town that rented out rooms. To my surprise, there was a couple that rebuilt a cabin and rents out two rooms in the basement. I rolled across the street with several frozen items in hand.

    I ate the pizza and started on the frozen burrito before I was totally overwhelmed with exhaustion. I couldn't eat another bite without feeling like I was going to puke. So I set my alarm and crashed.

    Summerhaven was deserted and spooky as I stepped out into the cold night. I walked for the first ten minutes while my knees and other joints limbered up.

    I created the Arizona Trail 300 with the goal of challenging mountain biking in mind. I say mountain biking in the loosest sense of the word, of course. In riding Oracle Ridge in the dark I found supreme challenge. I did ride some portions (perhaps against better judgment) and I've got to admit it was fun. But the trail is in such bad shape that it seems all but abandoned. By the 10th log jam I had regretted including the trail in the race. I knew exactly how long this would go on for.

    Five miles down I realized I was averaging less than 2 mph. I didn't remember it being this slow. It was still dark.

    After more "character building" miles I finally emerged on the 4x4 road along the ridge. The day was dawning and the view made the suffering almost worthwhile.

    <center>
    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07120.JPG>
    Sunlight bends around the earth to light my way on Oracle Ridge
    </center>

    What follows is some of the most challenging descending anywhere. Unfortunately my fork had decided to lose pressure and now even though the trail was rideable, I couldn't ride it. I figured I could trust it to make it 300 miles, so I didn't bring my (heavier) hand pump that doubles as a shock pump. I pulled out the lighter pump and was not surprised when it wouldn't fit into the valve. I should have checked this out before the race, but it's impossible to prepare for every eventuality.

    I came up with an idea or two about taking the cap off and using licorice and other candy to form a seal. But I thought it just might work with the rubber ring and enough pressure from my hands. It was a big gamble. If it didn't work I could lose the 30 PSI I had in there and be stuck with a completely flat fork. But if it did work I'd be about twice as fast descending, be able to ride a lot more (remember I had been walking for most of the last 4 hours) and my sore hands would be spared much abuse.

    I took the gamble. I dropped my pack and all my gear, situated the bike perfectly and approached it as though I was performing surgery. With a delicate and firm touch I gave it a few pumps of air, hearing air escaping in the meantime. It worked! I was back ready to ride.

    What followed was some gloriously technical and brutal descending. I cleaned some sections that I've balked at unloaded and fresh. I was so sick of dismounting and portaging. The grin on my face grew.

    After some hike-a-bikes along the ridge I finally turned off to begin descending the Cody Trail. The next three hours of riding were nothing but a blast and seriously made up for all the nastiness on Oracle Ridge. The AZT through the state park features some really good, really rideable stuff.

    At the culvert under Highway 77 Ray was waiting, camera in hand. He was expected Kevin and Eric, but I told him the Catalina Mountains would not go so quickly.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07132.JPG>
    Ray, race spectator
    </center>

    I turned left to ride off route into Oracle. This was the last chance to resupply on both food and water before the end, some 100 miles away. I was too early to catch hot food at the market--it wasn't even open. I left Circle K with over two gallons of water and a full complement of junk food.

    For the rest of the day it was just me, the cows and the jack rabbits. The AZT travels through the Black Hills, around the shoulder of Antelope Peak and then down a sloping valley to the Gila River. It's a very remote, waterless stretch. It also features some of my favorite miles of AZT. It's pretty amazing to see fresh, perfectly cut trail benches out in the middle of nowhere. Generally the riding is slow, but rideable. Then you start the gasline.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07134.JPG>
    Cows, cactus, and hard to follow trail
    </center>

    Can you say rollers? Trending uphill, then downhill, then uphill again, but always in rapid fire, steep as hell fashion. You have to be fully committed to most of the downhills, because there's no bailing out or stopping once you start.

    After watching cows all day my mind had developed a fairly accurate algorithm for predicting their behavior. I had just committed to a gasline descent when I noticed three cows laying at the bottom. My mind predicted a 80% chance of them running in front of me just as I reached them. I couldn't slow down, I couldn't turn, I just shouted, "NOOOOO!!!" as I prepared to slide out and sideswipe one.

    Lucky for me, my algorithm was off, or my shouting worked. They got up but waited until after I passed to run.

    <center>
    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07135-crop.jpg>
    The gasline stretches to infinity, antelope peak still a long way off
    </center>

    I crossed Freeman Road to begin the Boulders segment of the trail. Built by mountain bike racers in Phoenix, you can actually maintain some speed on it. I had the added benefit of recent tire tracks to follow, showing me the way through sandy washes that would normally cause a stop and search process.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07139-crop.jpg>
    Saguaros
    </center>

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07141-crop.jpg>
    Cholla forest
    </center>

    The sun neared the horizon as I finished the Boulders segment. I was now racing to finish the descent to the Gila before darkness fell. I rode steady, chasing jack rabbits down the trail. These were some of the fastest miles of the race.

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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07146-crop.jpg>
    Sunset on the Gila River descent
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    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07148-crop.jpg>
    Boulders on the Gila descent
    </center>


    I made the most of the daylight, but I was not fast enough. I burned an hour trying to find my way through the maze of ATV trails on the south side of the Gila. When I finally found the crossing point I stopped to reason out what I was going to do.

    I was 20 miles from the finish, and did not want or need to sleep. I wanted to finish. But what was ahead were not only some very hard miles, but also some miles I did not want to ride during the dark. Box Canyon is dark and foreboding during the day, and a friend had recently been attacked by a fox in Alamo Canyon (on the AZT) just weeks before.

    I could sleep an hour or two to recharge, but the sun would not come up for far too long. I got to riding.

    Something about being trapped in a slot canyon (sometimes not 5 feet wide), with no avenue of escape, was hard to deal with mentally. A moderately sized javelina (wild pig) came darting out of a bush, making my heart race until I realized what it was.

    I tried to keep hysteria at bay. A few times I shined my head lamp at the cliffs to see the patterns the light would make. Each time I saw glowing yellow eyes watching me from above. I didn't know what the eyes were, but they were not the eyes of a small animal. So I stopped looking up.

    I kept riding and felt better when I walked my bike out of the box, moon rising over my shoulder. Another monster climb stood between me and the finish. I had long passed the point of recovering out of the hole I had dug for myself. I alternated riding and walking as I stuffed my mouth full of whatever food I could find in my bag. Finally I settled on a regiment of a mouthful of beef jerky every five minutes. I had bought the "peppered" variety since it sounded good at the time. Each mouthful burned my lips and tongue. I think it was keeping me awake, keeping me alive.

    Every time I stopped I noticed I could barely stand and the stars spun around me, dizzy. I was in no shape, but so desperate to finish that I kept going. It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I choked and coughed up beef jerky, falling to the ground. "I'm finished." Better get out the sleeping bag and call it.

    "I've got a darkness that I have to feed."

    The sleeping bag didn't come out. I attained the ridge and sat down. Six miles to go, mostly downhill. I knew it would take me at least 2 hours to cover it. Probably more in this state. I didn't trust myself to actually ride any of the trail and I remembered it (from years ago) as extremely steep and technical. Riding would get me there faster and with less suffering. I called on a lifetime of obsessive mountain biking experience to get me down that trail. My fork was again flat, my nerves and senses shot. But I rode anyway. My mind sharpened, stimulated by the challenge. I was amazed at what I was able to do.

    Once in Alamo Canyon proper I rode what I could, but I also did a lot of walking. It's too loose, too rocky and too slow. I walked by a flat spot and thought, "this is probably where Tim had his fight with the fox."

    I begged the trail to take me out of the wash. And it did, but only in hike-a-bike style. Then it would descend and I'd be back in the boulders and sand.

    I had bounced back from the shutdown my body was experiencing climbing out of the Box. I cranked out the last couple granny gear climbs, then flew down a couple slickrock sections approaching the parking lot. I scanned for the tail lights of a car, reflecting. Before I could find them I heard cheering and screaming. It was Paula and her Mom, Sher -- ready to pick me up, even at 2 AM.

    <center>
    <img src=http://www.topofusion.com/azt/azt300/DSC07153.JPG>
    </center>

    Thanks:

    Paula and Sher. Awesome psychological support and for picking my carcass of the trail at 2am. You guys rock.

    Mike Curiak -- where would I be without his example?

    Amy for the last minute ride to the start line.

    All participants in the race -- for trying something new and giving it your best.
    Last edited by Krein; 04-20-2006 at 09:26 PM.

  2. #2
    Time to go farther
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    Wow great ride and great report.
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  3. #3
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    Good job!

    Ahhh, I've been waiting for this report. Very nice Scott.

    I like "Ray, race spectator."

    Support is so important even if it is via thoughts and prayers and not actual physical assistance, kudos to all that helped you in that way, especially the 2am crew!

    Night riding can be fun!! I hope you grow to enjoy it more, seems like you might be overcoming some fears there. Of course hunting for the trail at night can be frustrating because you're right, everything changes in the dark.

    An inspiring and wonderful achievement - thanks for sharing!

    Ed E

  4. #4
    Occidental Tourist
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    dbl post
    This is just need to know information: Am i supposed to enjoy the irony or pity the sincerity?

  5. #5
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    great write-up scott. i'm glad i didn't know about the fox attack as i too climbed out of box cyn last night in the dark. freakish. you have a great way of capturing the joys, frustrations and mild insanity that long rides bring. awesome!
    This is just need to know information: Am i supposed to enjoy the irony or pity the sincerity?

  6. #6
    Wandering not Lost
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    inspiring in a masochistic sense

  7. #7
    Beware of Doggerel
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    wow

    Wow great write up and fantastic race. I loved the stuff about solo night riding. There is really something scary/wonderful/primal about moving through the night alone on your own power near your fatigue limit. I really want to do this race in the future, but I need to get a little desert experience in first. I have none. I am just in awe of traveling through an area with no water. I live in AK and water is a non-issue, it is everywhere year round. Dealing with the lack of water and heat for a multi-day race is really amazing to me. I think most people can ride without food, or rest (for a bit), but if you mess up and get yourself dehydrated it will stop you. Amazing ride and great pics.

    Adam
    I wanna say I'm sorry for stuff I haven't done yet, things will shortly get completely out of hand --T.M.G.

  8. #8
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    Good job!

    A great writeup, as usual, Scott!! It is fitting karma that you won the first edition of your creation! I'll be signing up for the race next year - IFF that new full-body clone I have on order arrives in time....

  9. #9
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    Dang man, great write-up. As an east coast rider, it's always a total shock to read about coyotes, cacti and the conspicuous lack of pine straw on the trail...I have The Advantage rocking in my MP3 player on just about every long distance ride I do... If you like Nintendo bands, check out "Contraband" (they have a video on YouTube)...

  10. #10
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    very cool

    That was a fantastic RR. I've only felt that way a few times myself but never for that long. How's your character now?

    I just read another post about a 5 day trip on the AZT. The trail must be something else to foment such a following of folk.

    Congratulations on your journey/race/epic.

    John

  11. #11
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    Simply awe-inspiring

    You are a strong human being,
    Much, Much respect here

    Reading this just motivated me to stop worrying about every little stupid detail and just do what the way of life tells us to: ride as far and fast as our bodies let us, and have fun in the end!
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  12. #12
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    Awesome job, Scott. Excellent vicarious adventure. While I enjoy sleep deprivation and bleeding out my eyes as much as the next guy, I enjoyed it much more when it was you doing the suffering...

    Thanks for sharing. See you in a few weeks.

    MC

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