Arizona Trail Race 750 | The Abusive Boyfriend

Hiking the Grand Canyon with my bike and gear strapped to my back.

Hiking the Grand Canyon with my bike and gear strapped to my back.

Finishing time: 10 days & 15.5 hours

4th place out of 18 racers

The Arizona Trail Race 750 starts at the Mexican border, follows the Arizona Trail (AZT), and ends at the Utah border. The route is 750+ miles long and has about 100,000 ft of climbing. It’s mostly single track that winds through the desert, climbs through the mountains, and, towards the end, crosses the Grand Canyon.

In short, the ride was like an abusive boyfriend. Not just to me – to everyone. Two riders went to the hospital to have deeply embedded cactus needles surgically removed. Many succumb to gastrointestinal problems due to heat and hard riding conditions. Lots of bikes and tires were bashed and torn from the rocky trail causing numerous people to scratch. The attrition rate was particularly high this year at 66% for the AZT 750. And I went off route so many times because I ran out of food or needed repairs that I added an extra 45 “bonus” miles.

I did the 300 race last year, so I knew that the first part of the route was tough. But hey, I guess I like to flirt with the bad boys and I thought that I could handle the longer version.

Hah! With hotter temperatures this year, I ran out of water several times. My body and bike took a lot of abuse during the fist leg of the race, so, at about half-way, I had to retreat off-route to a bike shop in Apache Junction.

I could hear the AZT laughing at me saying: “Where are you going? Don’t leave me. That bike shop just sells beach cruisers. They ain’t going to help you.” Luckily, the owner was an adept mechanic and happened to have all of the parts that I needed. All fixed up, I reluctantly headed back to the route.

But then, the AZT changed it’s tune. It seemed to apologize for it’s extremely abusive nature and gave me about a days worth of riding on smooth pavement and dirt roads. By the time I reached the mountain town of Pine, I was lulled into thinking that the rest of the ride would be better. Had the AZT really changed? Was the misery over?

The next day, when I reached the Highline trail, it was basically like the AZT had suddenly come back home drunk again and went right back to it’s abusive ways. The tough riding/pushing conditions slowed me down and I had to retreat 8 miles off-route again because I ran out of food before I could reach the next resupply at Mormon Lake. As a bonus, the night-time temperatures started dropping below freezing, making it uncomfortable to ride late into the night or get an early start on the day.

By the time I reached Flagstaff, my body and bike were so beat that I was ready to just start “touring” the route rather than racing it. And I did slow down a bit and sleep in longer.

When I reached the south rim of the Grand Canyon, I purchased some hiking poles and strapped my bike and all of my gear to my back. The novelty of hiking down and up the other side of the canyon gave me a boost of energy. I stepped into the canyon around 4:30pm and hiked through the night. With only a few 20-minute breaks, I reached the top of the north rim the next morning around 9:30am (17 hours later).

Even though the last stretch to the finish covered a lot of paved road, it was no picnic. I was battling strong headwinds and fighting through my lack of sleep. During the final 10 miles, my right quad called it quits on me and started emitting a strong, shooting pain just above my knee. I ended up walking most of the uphills and did the best I could on the downhills. The hydraulics on my front brake were no longer working, so I went sliding off the trail and into the brush/cactus a number of times as I descended switchbacks.

My parents were parked right at the trailhead in the state line campground and I rolled up to their van at 10pm. I was so happy to be done with AZT. We all marveled at the swelling in my legs as I stiffly walk around the car loading my things.

As we drove off, I could hear the AZT saying: “Oh come on! I wasn’t that bad. You know you’re going to miss me. You’ll be back!”

Photo Diary

Recommended Gear

  • Osprey Stratos Backpack – my back never felt hot or sweaty and I really didn’t feel the weight of my sleep kit on my back. Most importantly, it held up really well with all of the weight of my bike and gear strapped to it when I hiked through the Grand Canyon.
  • Teva Mush walking shoes – I carried all of my gear for the hike in the Grand Canyon (except for hiking poles). These shoes are extremely light (5.4 oz), packable, and have just enough tread to get the job done.
  • Geax Saguaro Tires 29×2.2 – these were probably the tires used by most racers. Except for one hole that Stan’s failed to seal, the tires held up well.

Complete Gear List for the AZT 750

Bike

Bike Bags

Sleep

Clothing

Rain
Warmth

Parts

Tools

Navigation

Lights

Water

Electronics

Toiletries / Meds

  • Sunscreen (in travel bottle)
  • Chamois cream packs (2)
  • Chapstick
  • Bandages
  • Ibuprofen 400mg
  • Zyrtec D
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Travel-size toothbrush / toothpaste
  • Travel-size deodorant
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer

Miscellaneous

  • Cards: Credit, Bank, Health Insurance, License
  • Ziplock freezer bags (2) for random/messy food
  • Trash bag for covering sleeping bag
  • $80 in cash

Route Tracks and Sleeping Spots

Arizona_Trail_Race_750_Forest_Baker_Tracks

 

12 Responses to Arizona Trail Race 750 | The Abusive Boyfriend
  1. Forest Baker
    November 6, 2014 | 12:35 am

    Another gluten for punishment is thinking about doing the AZT 750 in 2015 and he had few questions. Norb, consider yourself warned.

    QUESTION: THE CARRY?? What kind of system did you rig? I looked over the pics on your blog and saw your Osprey pack. I assume you started the race with this same pack? And left the rear wheel on it appears.

    ANSWER: Yes, I rode with my pack and “hiking” shoes from the start. I only bought a pair of hiking poles right before I dropped into the Grand Canyon. I was very worried about riding with the pack because I don’t like to have weight on my back and I thought it would make me feel hotter in the AZ sun. But it turned out fine. I only carried my sleep kit on my back (~5 pounds). The alternative is mail your pack to the post office at the South Rim. Unfortunately, it looked like there was a good chance that I would end up there on a Sunday when it was closed. And that is exactly what happened, so I was glad I carried it all with me. Eric Foster, a rider who I was chasing, mailed all of his hiking gear and got there when the post office was closed. He got extremely lucky because he saw someone in the office and begged him to go in the back and grab his package. The guy did him a major solid and united him with his hiking kit. Practice rigging your bike, gear, food and water to your body. Seriously – try a couple different methods and go for a test walk. It’s extremely important to get this right and be able to take no more than 90 minutes getting yourself converted for the hike. I used 5-6 straps with my Osprey pack to get myself situated. I carried food and water on my chest, so I would have access while hiking. I only took my entire rig off once – when I got to the bottom of the canyon.

    QUESTION: I’ve messed around with my Osprey Ultra-light Hornet and the bike feels like it’s going to rip my pack to shreds.

    ANSWER: People have had their straps and packs tear apart during the hike. Keep in mind that you aren’t just carrying your bike. You’ve got all of your gear, food and water. I specifically bought my backpack model because another racer had a successful run with it the prior year. Other racers mail proper backpacks to themselves. Bring 1-2 extra straps in case something fails. I don’t know whether the Hornet is likely to hold up.

    QUESTION: TIRES?? My norm is to carry a two tubes (w/slime). Did you have sidewall issues (so many people do, from what I can tell). You ran the Geax Saguaro tires……..were they the right ones? Any change here if you were to do this race again?

    ANSWER: I got cocky and just stared with 1 slime tube, 1 normal tube, and a patch kit. In the first 300 miles, I slashed my front tire and the Stans just sprayed out. I put the slime tube in, but didn’t pump it up enough. Within 10 miles, I had a major pinched flat from a rock drop off. I then put in my normal tube and carefully picked my way around cactus debris. I still got 3-4 more punctures that I fixed with patches. If you want to avoid my fate, carry 2 slime tubes and a patch kit. I had to limp into Apache Junction. Luckily, I got my tubeless tire to seal again and bought two slime tubes. No more issues for the rest of the ride. I’d recommend the 29×2.2 Saguaros. However, the model that has a reinforced sidewall is way too hard to get on and off my Stans rims. Avoid those and just run the normal Saguaros.

    QUESTION: And how many tubes did you haul with you?

    ANSWER: I’d recommend starting with 2 slime tubes and a patch kit (see previous answer).

    Teva Mush shoes? How did they hold up?

    ANSWER: They worked well. I’d recommend them. They were very light and packable. I didn’t get any blisters. The trail in the Grand Canyon is a smooth path, so you really don’t need beefy boots for ankle support. I slipped once and went down on loose dirt as I was descending. Really my fault, not the shoes. One other tip: I wish I had brought light running or hiking shorts for the hike. I hiked in my bike shorts which ended up creating a “warm” environment and chaffing my butt. When I got on my bike again at the North Rim, my ass was on fire. I literally stopped and rubbed snow on my sensitive bits. Not fun. Others have been fine hiking in bike shorts, but it didn’t work well for me. I couldn’t sit normally for the first 15 miles after the canyon.

    QUESTION: Are the GPX tracks tight from your experience?

    ANSWER: Yes, I don’t remember any major issues. During the first stretch to Patagonia, there are one or two spots where I always screw up and pick the wrong split in the trail, but you figure it out pretty soon. And, there was a small amount of bushwhacking and thoughtful route finding in a section before Pine, but it was pretty straightforward.

    QUESTION: What are your thoughts on water capacity needed for the AZT? Been researching sources and know there are areas of concern.

    ANSWER: Know your water sources – especially in the first 300 miles. If Day 1 is a scorcher, bring 3-4 liters to get to Patagonia. After that, Tucson to the top of Mt Lemon is a really bad stretch. I’ve run short on water both times I’ve done this. To be safe, I’d recommend carrying 7 liters when you leave Tucson – especially if it’s hot. Then, a real killer is the stretch from the Gila river to Apache Junction. That is no joke. I strongly recommend that you do not try to climb out of the Gila river valley in the midday heat. Either hit it in the morning or wait until after 4pm to go for it. I got the Gila at 11am and just slept under a tree until 4pm. Cjell Mone was about an hour in front of me and went for it. He said that he ran out of water and “almost died”. I had a similar experience the year before. When he got out to the highway, he was done – he decided to drop out. The only other section that I ran low on water was the section just before the South Rim. I’d suggest carrying 5 liters or more when you leave Flagstaff in case there is no water at the fire lookout cache before the South Rim.

    QUESTION: Did you mail anything for the hike through the ditch? Hit a store for any certain supplies?

    ANSWER: No, I didn’t mail anything. Again, I was worried that I’d get there when the post office would be closed. I just bought a pair of hiking poles at a store when I got near the South Rim. I’d definitely recommend hiking poles.

    • Norb
      November 7, 2014 | 7:16 pm

      Hey Forest,

      Thanks for the great detail you provided to my questions. I’ve got lots of them and really appreciate your insight and the narrative of your race.

      I consider myself ‘duly warned’…and I know, you warned me when you were in Boise a couple months ago….

      Your words may be haunting me in April. Thanks again for sharing and great job in your accomplishments.

  2. Marshal
    May 6, 2013 | 10:16 am

    Just finished reading report & looking at the pics–brings back good memories

    Pretty amazing trail isn’t it?

    Overall you seemed to cruse right along thru hard & easy!! Your multi-day skill set is amongst the best….

    Were you running a Rohloff hub??

    • fbaker
      May 6, 2013 | 3:46 pm

      Thanks Marshal. Yes, the trail is amazing. I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t feel so beat down by it.

      Yes, I was running a Rohloff hub. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend it for a trail that is as technical as the AZT. It’s hard to explain, but I ended up walking a lot of short uphills because of being in the wrong gear when quickly transitioning to them. Basically, the Rohloff gives you no feedback on whether you are in the right gear until you have pretty much committed to it. Not ideal for quick transition situations (which happen a lot on technical trails). I think, however, it will prove it’s worth during the TD.

      Thanks again for sharing your experience and advice. It was extremely helpful.

  3. nancy
    May 5, 2013 | 8:06 pm

    my hero once again. tsm

  4. Dave
    May 5, 2013 | 5:35 pm

    Congrats Forest – job well done. We enjoyed the hell out of our vicarious participation, didn’t even break a sweat watching your dot zoom across the state. So… you’re returning to the drunk, abusive AZ trail (arch)angel next year? Brian may be right. Great photos!

    • fbaker
      May 5, 2013 | 6:50 pm

      Thanks Dave. And thanks again for making all of this possible. You and Linda are saints.

      I really can’t see doing the 750 again. Maybe another fling with the 300, but you couldn’t pay me to do the 750 again.

  5. Erik
    May 5, 2013 | 5:14 pm

    Wow, hiked the GC rim to rim in the night?!? I can only picture some jackelope sitting scared shitless in the bushes as you trampled by in the moonlight with the bike strapped to your back. Congrats on finishing and for coming in 4th! Not bad at all. Good luck in the next race.

    • fbaker
      May 5, 2013 | 6:48 pm

      Yes, I was quite intimidating with my spandex and Rio/Carnival-style bike wheels flying up over my head. Even a mule train had a hard time getting it’s horses/mules to walk past me.

  6. Brian
    May 5, 2013 | 5:04 pm

    Oh yeah and looking forward to hanging out soon. Say hi to Annie for us.

  7. Brian
    May 5, 2013 | 4:58 pm

    Forest,
    I’ve known you for 26 years. Ive been holding back for a long time but the time has come for an intervention. What the hell is wrong with you. You are fucked up in the head. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this but you have problems. Who the hell would do that to themselves. Its just fucked up. So wrong. Get some help please.

    • fbaker
      May 5, 2013 | 6:45 pm

      Brian, you’ve got me pegged. If you guys would move back to CA, I’d find better things to do with my time. Save me…

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