Content by Neil Beltchenko Every year my April vacation comes after a long cold ski season. For three years the destination was Mexico, until last year when I decided to take on my first bikepacking race in the desert…The Arizona Trail Race 300. I had read about it after “touring” the Colorado Trail the summer prior. I decided to enter this underground race that stretches from Parker Canyon Lake to the Picket Post Trailhead. It was an eye opening experience for me, the powers above did not want me to finish as I dealt with a broken fork and a slashed sidewall. After it was all said and done I finished in 2 days 21 hours and 49 minutes. So how did this year go? A lot different…
  • Goal: To better my time, thats all I wanted to do. I knew it was possible with the issues I had last year. I told Dave Wilson in the Canelos while Kurt Refsnider and Aaron Gulley were ahead of us. “I want to keep up with these guys as long as I can.” This quickly turned into my new goal.
  • Gear: I wanted to keep the weight down on my bike, I felt I could be more efficient than last year especially on a hardtail (Stumpjumper 29er). My system worked perfectly. I had a frame bag made by Crater Packs that held clothes, extra water and food. My stem top tube bag called the Titan by Nucular Sunrise Stitchworks held mostly food. I also had a seatpost top tube bag, the Jerry Can by Revelate Designs. This contained all of my essentials like tube, lube, chain links, rag, etc. Lastly, I carried a 2 liter lumbar Camelbak pack that held my phone, chamois butter, and batteries for my lights and GPS.
  • The Canelos: Aaron and Kurt took it easy at the beginning, more easy than I would have expected. So slow at times that they just fell over from lack of speed. I can’t remember falling off my bike once during the 300 miles. It felt good to get to Harshaw Road (as always). Kurt, Aaron, Jay P, and myself bypassed Patagonia and road to Sonoita together. I chatted with Jay P (750 Rider) most of the time. We had never met, he is a good guy… we chatted about bike bags, fat bikes, and the industry. We all fueled up at the market in Sonoita and left, leaving Jay P. behind.
  • Santa Rita Mountains: It started with washboardy road, that ended with fun singletrack into Kentucky Camp. In between was road and a more climbing. I felt good. Kurt had drifted back a bit, but soon caught up. Maybe it was his fruit punch water that came out of the water dispenser at the market? We fueled up at Kentucky Camp and the three of us moved on together. I felt very strong at this point, knowing I could keep up with the two that were trying to beat the 48 hour mark.
  • Las Conilas: At this point I was on cruise control. I wanted to pound out the climbs but Kurt and Aaron held back so I decided to as well. I learned a lot just riding with them. I also realized how much Kurt talks. He had so much to say on the trail, so much energy I was blown away. Combined, these two have nearly 10 runs on the Arizona Trail. They have road many sections together, and have become friends. I listened mostly, trying to save my energy. Aaron saw a Gila Monster and he shouted (scared me a little) “Kurt, Kurt!” In all of his years, Kurt had never seen one of these trail angels, neither had I. We ended up seeing two more shortly after. We were also blessed with an amazing sunset, that really got me excited for some night riding.
  • I-10 to Rincon: After some difficulty with a cattle gate, we went under I-10. Kurt started to pick up the pace a little, and we all spread out a bit more. They were faster at descending, and are both more experienced bikers then I am. They were also rocking full suspension bikes. Despite this, I felt like my climbing was strong. If they got away from me on the descents, maybe I could catch up on a climb. We fueled up at La Selvilla picnic area, as I assessed my food. I asked if they had planned on going into Tucson, both of them said no. Here was a prime example of their experience. I had no idea I would be up front with them, let alone at La Selvilla at 9:30pm. My whole plan had changed. I looked at my food and told them I was set until Summerhaven, but I had some doubts. We started the fun and flowy section to Hope Camp. I tried hard not to outrun my turns as both were hauling pretty fast, because of this my erratic shifting ended up snapping my chain. I quickly popped off the broken link, put on my quick link and got going. At that point both Aaron and Kurt were quickly out of site. I kept my cool, there was no need to panic. This was the only issue I had with my Sram XX1 30 tooth drivetrain for the duration of the race. I had wished I rolled with a 28 tooth instead of a 30.
  • Tucson to Lemmon: I was now on my own, I decided to head to the Safeway and resupply. It turned out to be a smart move. Climbing up Reddington Rd, I could see them about 2 or 3 switchbacks up. I didn’t try to catch them, just kept a steady pace. A lot goes through your mind in a race like this, especially while you’re alone. I had time to reflect on last years race, and enjoy some night riding with music beating in my ear drums. I had a lot of eyes stare at me in between Reddington and Molino. As the night grew it became more and more eerie. Looking back waiting for a cat to jump on me…it never happened. After fighting off my first sleep monster, I made my way to the Molino switchback. Again, lights ahead of me. After reaching the top, I slowly started the descent, thats when I ran into a guy with short shorts running up the switchbacks. I’m pretty sure he was real, still not certain, but it was an odd site at 4:00 in the morning. I caught up with Aaron after the Prison Camp climb. He told me he was having indigestion issues and needed to lay down for a little. I slogged up Lemmon, as the sun rose waiting for Aaron to catch up, he never did. I reached  Summerhaven at around 9:00am.
  • All things Orcale: My Tucson trip had paid off. After descending into Summerhaven and realizing everything was closed I made my way to “the ridge” with plenty of food from Safeway.  I still can’t believe we bring bikes up this thing. It is extremely important that you have solid hike-a-bike shoes. I was very please yet again with my Pearl Izumi X-alp Enduro shoes. The wind was whipping like crazy on Saturday, helping cool things off from the previous day, and also nearly blowing me over. After a long descent, I finally made it to HWY 77. The ride into Oracle was a nightmare, with a crazy head wind that short little road section felt like an eternity. I went no further than the market, stocked up and enjoyed some ice cream.
  • Tiger Mine to Ripsey: This was the toughest part of the race for me. Middle of the day on Sunday with no sleep yet. A little ways after Tiger Mine I was having difficulty controlling my bike. I started to blame it on my new 720mm riser bars… but really I think it was just me over compensating everything I did due to fatigue. This is when the climbs became harder, and I was boiling. Two weeks prior I was in a ski mountaineering race where the temperature hit 0 degrees. I was looking for a pick me up, but nothing really worked. I just needed to keep moving forward and hope for that sun to set. We all have them, and this was it for me, the lowest of lows. The sun was nearly gone when I made it to Freeman cache. I didn’t need water but was excited to make it to the checkpoint. Once the sun set I was stoked. It woke me up. I ran into John Schilling, which gave me a bit of a lift. I went as fast as I could on the boulders segment. Things like, rocks, cacti, and bushes started to turn into dogs, people, bikes, even aliens. My mind really started to play tricks on me. However, I was comfortable with where I was mentally, it made me laugh.  I climbed Ripsey absolutely exhausted, it was time for a 20 minute nap next to the Kelvin cache.
  • Gila to Picket Post: For some reason I knew 2nd place was out of the cards for me. Kurt and Aaron had a mindset of sub 48 Hours, I did not. Sure enough Aaron passed me while I was packing up my Bivy. I remember telling him “I’m completely disoriented.” I felt like I was struck upside the head after I woke up. Aaron moved on, and I knew I would not see him again until the finish. At this point my butt was a mess, and I was nearly out of chamois butter (which was my saving grace throughout the race). All I wanted to do was get away from the Gila. I was freezing cold, and my legs wanted nothing to do with the sand. I started to zoom in and out on my GPS far too often. It felt like forever but I finally made it to the box canyon turnoff, just as the sun started to rise. After about an hour of climbing my eyes started to go their separate ways. I need another rest, I laid down for another 20 minute nap. I woke up feeling very refreshed. I ate a ham sandwich, soaked in the beauty of the canyon and was enjoying my place on the AZT. If I wanted to break 48 Hours, I would have needed to be at the canyon turn off at 3:30am, I got there at more like 5:00am. I knew it would be impossible and I was fine with that. My goal was to better my time from last year and thats what I did. I was a bit fooled by the descent down to Picket post (again), but nothing could put me down at this point, I was nearly done with the AZT!
Reflections of the Arizona Trail Race
The only picture I took after my nap in the canyon
  • Finish: I rolled into the parking lot at 10:20am on Sunday, with my girlfriend (Lindsay), Kurt, and Aaron cheering me on which put a big smile on my face. I can’t think of a better way to end the Arizona 300. I want to thank those guys for sticking around, it meant a lot. I had no idea I had a performance like this in me, especially with very little training.
  • Overall: All three of us broke the previous record held by Kurt (2 days, 2 hours, 20 minutes). We also all came in under 50 hours.
  • Kurt – 45 hours 7 minutes
Reflections of the Arizona Trail Race
Photo: Kaitlyn Boyle
  • Aaron – 48 hours
Reflections of the Arizona Trail Race
Photo: Kaitlyn Boyle
  • Neil – 49 hours 20 minutes
Reflections of the Arizona Trail Race
Photo: Kaitlyn Boyle
Reflections of the Arizona Trail Race Last but not least: Big thanks to Scott Morris for putting together a fantastic race and route, your GPX files, cues, and hard efforts do not go unnoticed.
Reflections of the Arizona Trail Race
Photo: Kaitlyn Boyle
Check out my interview with Ben Welnak on Bikepackers Radio.   This was the hardest consecutive miles I have ever done. I state in this video that I thought, at the pace I went, this race is harder then my experience on the Colorado Trail Race last year. We will find out if this is true after the CTR this year.   Video: Dave Wilson

5 Comments

  1. Great write up. You 3 did amazing.

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