Another year, another Arizona Trail race. The 12th to be exact. This year is proving to be more interesting than normal, but what race of this magnitude isn’t. For those who do not know, the Arizona Trail Race takes place every April around the full moon.
The 300 mile and 750 mile versions depart this Friday, April 7th. The longer version leaves from the Mexico/Arizona Border at 7:00am, and the shorter from Parker Canyon Lake, 15 miles north of the border, an hour later. Both routes follow the same path, which happens to be the Arizona Trail with the associated Wilderness detours. Like many races of it’s kind there is no entry fee, no prizes and no support.
The ride starts with a traverse of the rugged Canelo Hills, a make or break for many. Most racers will sleep just south or east of Tucson on the first night.
After reaching Tucson, racers hit Reddington Road which eventually becomes a trail that leads racers the long way around to Catalina Highway. At the top of the climb, racers reach the infamous Oracle Ridge, where they will more than likely hike their bike up steep rocks and through thick and sharp brush.
After riding what is a memorable descent, racers are greeted to highway 77 and the town of Oracle. After that, things get rugged and rough. Sound familiar? The push to Picketpost is something only racers can explain. It’s special yet very demanding.
For the 300 milers, Picketpost is a blessing as their journey is complete. For the 750 mile riders, well, they get to keep riding for 450 more miles.
The route continues outside of Apache Junction, east of Phoenix, before taking on HWY 88, and eventually Roosevelt Dam. From here, racers will have there minds on Payson, a large town with many of resupply options.
Things get real after Payson with the notorious Highline Trail, but not before the rough and tumbling that many forget before then. After finally making it up the Mogollon Rim, conditions tend to get cold the rest of the way, and it’s not even uncommon for racers to see snow fall from the sky or on the ground.
Flagstaff is the next resupply point, which has the basics including food, a bike shop, and a hotel if they choose. Up next is Tusayan, the last resupply point before taking on the big ditch hike.
The Grand Canyon hike from South Kaibab to North Kaibab is a 21 mile stretch where racers need to cary their bikes because of regulations inside the canyon. That means, bikes go on cyclists backs. Racers will need to have prepared a supportive backpack system to carry the heavy load of their bikes and associated bags.
After riders leave the Canyon, they will be greeted with plenty of snow, and a paved road into Jacob Lake before finish the remaining 20+ miles to the border.
Let’s not get that short description wrong. This is no easy feat and takes racers many days, but the average race time will be in the 10-11-12 day range. See past results here.
Word on the street
A lot of talk has gone down this year with the weather and snowmelt conditions. While it may seem all well and good in the desert portion of the route, just a few days ago (4/4/17), a major portion of the route was effected.
A brush fire broke out in the base area of the Catalina Highway just near Molino Basin Area. Thankfully, the human-caused fire has been contained, and fire crews are working to put it out. This hopefully means racers should not have a problem going through this weekend and early next week, but time will only tell.
Maybe more concerning is the snow up north. Many racers have shared their concerns on the Bikepacking.net forum regarding the issues. It sounds like there are a few snow detours in place and a few snow piles that racers will have to encounter along the way including Mormon Lake, Flagstaff, and near the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
That’s the name of the game in what is considered the first of the three Bikepacking Triple Crown Races. It should be another exciting year for racers and dot stalkers alike. For your viewing pleasure head over to trackleaders.com for tracking and to check out the the full route.
Good luck to all the racers, and please be carful.