Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dancing with Cacti

It began with an email from KT the Man.  He was headed to Arizona for an endurance race and wanted to know if was interested.  I had followed some of the Arizona Endurance Series on the net for some time and I was eager to come down and do some grass roots racing through the prickly pear.  The Antelope Peak Challenge was a 115 or 65 mile loop on some new sections of the Arizona Trail.  I was not up to the long one, but I figured I could stretch and make the 65 mile version.  So, we were on!

The last two weeks leading up to the event were not friendly to me work schedule and weather wise.  Two straight weeks on call for work and the first rain of the season kept me to local loops, no long rides.  Still, it would have to do and I counted on all those recent hard SS rides to get me by.

I had to decide what bike to ride.  It was between the Epic 29er with the carbon wheels or the Carve SS I have been riding for a while now.  I was really liking the SS and since I was thinking about doing the WRIAD on an SS, I figured it would be good to see how this bike treated me over a longer, harder day.  So, the SS it was.  I had just received some new wheels that would have been sweet to roll on, but I did not have enough time to burn them in after installing them.  I have one rule above all when it comes to new gear/bike changes before a critical ride:  Never go into battle with an unproven weapon.  So I changed only one thing...the grips, stealing the most excellent Ergon GA-1 grips off the Blackbuck.  Those are the best I have found for SS work on long days.  I considered changing tires from the Geax TNT AKAs to some TNT Saguaros for extra grip in the desert conditions, but the pics I had seen of the trail made it look pretty smooth.  The AKAs are fast, good sized, and they were already on there.  SO, I went with the AKAs, something I regretted a bit later.

I also had a new hydration pack to try out.  It was much too big for the day's requirements, but it was light for its size and comfy to wear, so I figured I would give it a shot.  Osprey makes great stuff and I have loved owning the tried and true Talon 22.  This Escapist 30 was a bit bigger than the already big Talon 22 and was more suited for bike use, having tool organization features.

The morning came and we loaded the camping gear into KT the Man's adventure van and hit the road toward Tucson.  The drive is about 9 hours and we talked about bikes, clean diet changes, bikes, riding, job stuff, life issues, and bikes.  Soon enough we were across the border into AZ.

Rolling in to the camp area, we set up and prepped for the next day.  The trick was finding a cactus free zone to set up a tent.  Man, this is an unfriendly country.  Wearing sandals would be crazy around here.  I had a new GPS that I was breaking in, although I had tested it a bit before I left.  I would have liked to have proven it further, but it was either go with it or not go at all.  So I played with that a bit, checked over my pack set-up, and then hung around a communal fire pit, talking with some of the racers that were camping here.  Friendly banter and talk of the route and past rides ran their course and then it was time to hit the tent, enjoying the new inflatable camping pad I had bought last year.  Super comfy and packs small too.

I was awoken by the noise of the 115 miler folks leaving at 05:00 in the cold and dark.  Brrrrr.  It was cold enough at 06:30 when I rose to meet the morning.  KT the Man fired up his antique Coleman stove, the kind you have to fill with Coleman fuel and prime before you light it...have not seen one of those since I was a kid...and tea with some trail mix got me ready to roll.

GPS on...check...pack ready....check...last minute clothing decisions and we were off on the 'neutral start'.  However, the neutral start was decidedly un-neutral to SS riders.  Too fast for me right off and I dropped off the back into the stragglers.  The 6.5 miles of dirt road led us to a highway and then about 10 miles of pavement, uphill into a cold wind.  I pulled a lone lady along for a while till she dropped out of the draft and I ended up riding with 2 other guys on SS bikes all the way to the next turn onto the dirt.

Clothing layers were adjusted as the sun was making the 40-ish degree temps fade away.  It felt good to be on dirt again and the Arizona Trail began here.  I posed for a pic in front of the sign and did not realize until later that Antelope Peak, the distant point on the horizon, was our 'maypole' that meant the turnaround point of the race.  If I had seen that at this stage of the race I would have been...oh what is the word...oh yeah, 'dismayed'.

Dropping onto the trail I was reminded of that tire choice again, and I was already wishing I had opted to swap for the more aggressive Geax Saguaros.  The trail was off camber, loose, and covered with small broken rocks and cactus pieces.  Tons of switchbacks required a bit of tip-toeing to stay rubber up, but I was still catching and passing folks on geared FS bikes.  It was warming up and the miles crept by.  It was slow going but I was happy to have chosen the SS.  I was riding a lot more than I would have expected, pushing on the steeper, loose hill sections.  The Carve SS Pro was treating me well so far and I just dig the way it turns pedal input into rolling up the trail.  Singlespeeds are so cool and great singlespeeds are even cooler.

The sweeping vistas were tough to appreciate unless you stopped.  The trail was lined with more kinds of cactus then I had ever seen and it took all your concentration just to color between the lines.  Going off trail would have been very bad.

I was in the back of the pack and alone most of the time, but I would leap frog with a few guys over the course of the day.  I was feeling really strong and riding a lot of the winding trail-ups.  I also noted a bit of pre-cramping feeling in my quads and that worried me, so I began to push a bit more, leaving some money in the leg-bank.  Unfortunately, before the day was over I would end up overdrawn.  This section of the trail was pretty new and anything but buff and I was not always clear on the route, getting off course twice until the GPS and a bit of poking around and backtracking got me back on trail.  At one point I was at a cattle gate crossing and met up with two riders.  I had been looking at a distant peak, thinking that it could not be Antelope Peak as it was very far away and it was already 01:00.  Just then one of the riders pointed to the peak in question and told his buddy, "That is where we are going".  REALLY?  Oh jeepers!!!!

The backside of Antelope Peak...finally.

About, oh, 40 miles into the ride the leg cramps began to hit me.  I could not push hard, so I would dance on the pedals until I felt the legs going south, then I would push for a while...pedal...push, etc.  The sucky part was I was feeling really strong other than that.  My energy was great, my back felt great, the SS was working sweet, but I could not hit the GO button.  Sucks to be me.  Leg cramps are my Waterloo...always have been.

At about 50 miles it was 5:00 and I had about 45 minutes of daylight.  I had a head light with me, but the last section of trail was described as very hard to follow and that was in the daylight.  By now there were times I was having issues even walking.  I never absolutely locked up solid, but the threat was always just under the surface.  I was also pretty much out of water, having about three good swallows left.  I had gone through 100oz in the Osprey pack plus 5 small water bottles.

That was enough to sway me into taking the bail-out option at mile 60 or so.  The trail turned right and I stayed straight ahead on the dirt road to camp.  I was very grateful for that smooth piece of road...not flat, but if I died there at least I would be found before the buzzards got me.

I rolled in to camp just at dusk, signed in, and headed for dinner.  What a day.  The rest of the night we hung around the fire in our camp, sharing time with the locals and the event organizers as they waited for all the riders to come in.  The last 115 milers, two guys on singlespeeds, one nursing knee issues, came in at 10:30 at night having left at 05:00 that morning.  Oh man...that is a long day. 

The next morning we set out to ride the 24 Hours of the Old Pueblo course as KT the Man and Nicette, our lady of the group, were set to race the team 24 hour in a few weeks.  We rode about 12 miles of some of the flowiest, funnest singletrack in the desert.  SO THIS is where they hide the fun trail out here...right next to our camp site!  What a contrast to the previous day's trail!  Still, it is all good.  The trip was great, the company sweet, the ride was hard, and the deed was done. 

The Carve had been a perfect companion.  The tough Geax TNT casings never flinched on the rocks and the Geax sealant inside kept me flat free...I KNOW I ran over cactus many times.  The new Osprey pack was too big for this trip, but was never uncomfortable and had a pocket for everything.  The GPS was awesome to have and the new eTrex series from Garmin looks ready made for endurance nuts with the AA batts and easy to use features.  The Fluid endurance drink mix in the bottles kept me very well energized but even with Elete in the water reservoir, I still battled cramps.  Bummer.  One of these days I will figure that out.  In the meantime, thanks to the organizers and to the hard working folks who cut that Arizona Trail out of the desert.

I will be back.

1 comment:

Randy said...

AZT miles are really tough beat your up singletrack miles... 20 miles there felt pretty close to 35 or 40 at home in So Cal. Still, beautiful country there this time of year, once the sun comes up and takes the chill off.