Alison Kinsler was the first female finisher of the Arizona Trail Race 300 this year. Read about her experiences on her first ever bikepacking race below.  Content and Images by Alison Kinsler A year ago Dave Wilson sent me a message that I should do the AZT 300. Before then I hadn’t heard of the AZT, and my generalized impression of bikepacking was a rigid frame riding with panniers or dragging a trailer behind it, effectively eliminating all fun derived from riding a bike.  I read Dave’s blog about the 2012 race and decided I was game.  It wasn’t a hard sell since I was spending my afternoons riding a bike trainer in a tent in Afghanistan.  I felt like a grounded child and was up for just about anything as long as it didn’t involve trainer intervals. Shortly after I returned, I got the run down from Dave along with a hastily sketched map.  Dave, owner of Nuclear Sunrise, got me started with a frame bag, a couple tanks, and a silo.  In the fall we did an extended version of a local double century that we rode partially loaded.  After that ride I realized if I wanted to finish the AZT 300, I needed to take better care of my butt and get my water off my back.  My final rig included a harness system, small seat bag for tools and an additional silo.  I had a 3L water bladder in my frame bag and 2 water bottles. IMG_0778 I did a lot of 6 hr+ rides over the winter, one of the benefits of living in the desert.  These included several loaded rides on what I consider pretty rocky, technical trails.  Leading up to the race I felt that my fitness was good and that if I could keep my butt happy, stay hydrated and keep moving I could do this thing. The week before the race I did a mini bike overhaul. During this I noticed my rear end was loose.  At first I thought it was my rear hub and then maybe my pivot bolts which had been giving me headaches, but it turned out to be a blown bearing.  My LBS replaced it and I grabbed an extra allen wrench just in case… 10011478_10152136416894608_3576115576582962442_n The race start initially felt benign, but quickly the dreaded hike-a-biking started.  Nothing too bad with some short hills, but enough that the first 30 miles took longer than expected prompting a stop in Patagonia.  I was grateful for some quick road miles out of Patagonia and some fun and fast singletrack into Kentucky camp. Around mile 70 my rear tire got soft after a small thorn puncture.  Thankfully it sealed and I just needed a few pumps to get the pressure back up.  At this point I realized my rear end was loose and my rear pivot bolt was spinning… great.  I eventually stopped and pulled the cranks so I could get to both sides of the bolt.  With my pivot bolt tight and lights on I was ready to press on.  After a few miles worth of hills, it was fast and flowy trail down to I-10. After Mike, another CO racer, and I finally figured out the gate we crossed under the interstate.  I rode off the culvert, not getting the message about the drop, and nearly ate it.  Mike thankfully rode ahead and found the faucet in the rock at the campground, because I would have never found it on my own!  After several miles of fast singletrack and nearing the 115 mile mark I decided to put down around 0130. After a surprisingly decent sleep, I was riding by 0600 and quickly made it to Rincon for some breakfast and provisions.  On the road out to Reddington, I made small talk to a roadie.  During his questioning I realized I didn’t know much about the upcoming sections, other than I’d eventually climb up Mt. Lemmon and descend Oracle.  I started thinking that I should have done a bit more course research instead of just blindly following a line on my GPS. The Reddington climb went pretty well and I was up by 0900… 24 hours into the race.  The next sections took me off guard as I expected to quickly get on the road to Mt. Lemmon.  There was quite a bit of fun, but demanding riding.  During this, I had to stop yet again to pull my cranks and tighten the bolt, which loosened again.  I decided to give up on it and periodically check to make sure it wasn’t backing completely out. Several miles before Prison Camp I had my first mini-mental break drop.  I was confronted by an unexpected and prolonged hike-a-bike, both uphill and partially downhill which eventually ended up in a crash.  I recollected and eventually made it to the road.  As with everything on day 2, this took longer than expected.  When I finally made it to the top, I took a wrong turn up to the ski area instead of following my nose down into Summerhaven.  This wasted about 2 miles and a half hour and cost me a full meal.  Thankfully I at least got a bowl of chili before starting the demoralizing Oracle Ridge.  There was a fair amount of cursing involved, but I eventually made it down. I decided to put down shortly after making it through the state park.  I contemplated riding through the night, but the miles were coming slow.  The second day took it’s toll mentally and I needed to regroup.  Starting around 5 am after about 3.5 hours of sleep, I started ticking off miles and thought I might still have a chance at getting close to Eszter’s record.  I was hoping to get into Kelvin by 2 pm, but after a sidewall cut and the Ripsey wash with ensuing climb I made around around 4pm. IMG_0793IMG_0791 (2)   I keep pushing and started the real climbing right after sunset.  Had I known what was ahead, I would have stopped to enjoy the castle like canyon with towering and majestic saguaros backlit by a full moon.  However, I thought I’d be able to power through this climb and get a quick descent into Picket Post to enjoy a beer, pizza and maybe a record all before bedtime.  The AZT would have none of it. After multiple false summits and a technical, rocky and hilly “descent,” I quietly stumbled in just after midnight.  Initially I was disappointed by falling short of the record after riding well on day 1, but I underestimated the AZT.  Studying a map and elevation profile can’t adequately describe the Arizona Trail.  There are few easy miles.  But there are some amazing miles. The next morning I got to greet several finishing riders.  At this point all my disappointment was gone.  Two days earlier, while pushing my bike along Oracle Ridge, I said I’d never do this again.  On the ride home I was thinking to myself, maybe packing my bike across the Grand Canyon wouldn’t be so bad…  

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