:: click here for part one ::     :: click here for part two :: In the morning, I was just about over it and had abandoned any hope of finishing the race, but was still stuck 35 miles from Jacob Lake. I started hiking, thinking that I would probably be able to hitch a ride eventually, but unbeknownst to me, the road wasn’t yet open for the season, and the only cars that came by were a couple of park employees heading into work. I kept on walking, but was starting to get some hotspots from my shoes and thinking about performing a little surgery on them when possible trail angels came by in the form of a passenger car. The car was going the wrong way, toward the north rim, but I smiled and waved anyway, thinking they might take pity on me on the way out, and, as a matter of fact, they did. I looked pretty rough, with a few days beard and soot-covered from huddling over the fire, but they stopped to pick me up anyway. It was a young couple from Utah, and they told me this was their first date and that they had spontaneously decided to drive to the north rim. Somehow, they seemed too comfortable with each other for it to be a first date, and I began to suspect that their visit to the canyon was not as coincidental as it seemed, SPOT stalkers perhaps, or maybe something else, but I wasn’t willing to look a gift horse in the mouth and kept my suspicions to myself. My first year on the AZ Trail had come to a disappointing end, but I really wasn’t demoralized because I had a great adventure, learned a lot and really challenged myself. I spent the next few months thinking about mistakes I had made and how to fix them, and when I lined up for the start my second year, I was convinced that I had it all figured out. Not. My first day was a disaster. Surprise, surprise, it was once again a really hot day and I went out too fast, and by the time I got to Patagonia I was out of water and pretty thirsty, but in an act of self-sabotage, I didn’t stop there for water but continued on to Sonoita, about 13 miles down the road. Although it only took me about 45 minutes, I was totally cooked and dehydrated when I got there. I sat around for a while trying to recover, but was only able to continue on at a really slow pace. I was also cramping really badly and though I had thrown a few packets of salt into my jersey pockets in Sonoita, when I tried to use it, I found that my excessive sweating had caused the packets to dissolve. A little bit after Kentucky Camp, my misery ended when I slashed my sidewall and had to throw a tube in. I really regretted only bringing one spare tube since I would now have to detour into Tucson in the morning to pick up a replacement. But, I sat there and thought about it for a while and since I had put so much effort into getting ready for the race and leaving a car at the border, I wanted to do more than just finish. I wanted to finish with a decent time, so instead of continuing on, I exited stage right and rode back to Sierra Vista for a restart. Two mornings later, I set out alone from the Mexican border. I had convinced myself that I was going to go a lot faster my second year, but after the first day, I was just about in the same place I had been the year before. I tried really hard not to let it affect me though. Jay Petervary and others have pointed out the importance of not allowing negative thoughts to creep into your head, because once they gain a foothold, motivation flags and the riding gets a lot harder. Will power, it has been said, is just like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets, so when you notice your brain veering off course into negativity, don’t just go along with the flow but force yourself to think about something else. You may be very tired and sore, too hot or too cold, or just plain bored and beaten down by the trail, but decide before you even start that you will finish the trail no matter what, barring injury of course, and impose your will on the course. Make it happen! At least that is the attitude that I tried to maintain, though I wasn’t always successful. Sometimes, instead of making me ride faster or farther, my self-exhortations instead produced a sort of existential rebellion in my brain, and I would think, “Going harder just shows that I am too competitive and care too much, if I was really pure, I would just be enjoying the journey.” I was usually able to put this lame thought out of my head and keep on trucking– I was in a race after all– but I don’t think I am the only one who struggles with this kind of thought. az bikepack 2 and grand canyon 052 Many self-proclaimed purists like to castigate racers for being too competitive, “you don’t get it,” they say, “it’s not about the destination, but about the journey.” This is generally a sound bit of wisdom, and to be sure, stopping to smell the flowers and enjoy the journey is a big part of the essence of bikepacking, but competition is not necessarily a bad thing. The word competition comes from the Latin competere, meaning “to strive together to seek.” In other words, a little ego is okay because it makes us push ourselves harder and reach new limits, but too much ego and you just become a dick. Or a jane. I kept plugging away and didn’t sleep the first night, slowly gaining a bit on my pace from the previous year. I remembered that the trail was hard, but my memory had tricked me and I had forgotten how much misery it generates–if you let it. Although still very hard, the trail was a lot more enjoyable the second year without the added distraction of saddle sores, and I made it to Oracle that evening, even managing to sleep for a few hours since I had brought a sleeping bag the second year. Later the next day, as I was nearing the ascent to Picketpost, I ran into a hiker who seemed really angry about what he felt was the limited amount of water I was carrying and the fact that I expected to reach Picketpost so soon. After politely listening to him rant for a while, I bid him adieu and continued on up the trail. Maybe I was over tired again, but that night I had another AZ Trail induced hallucination. After topping out the climb up from the Gila River, the trail traverses through some long bowls which are pretty rideable, but which have a good bit of exposure. Perhaps I slipped down Alice’s rabbit hole and entered Wonderland, because along about then I realized that I had suddenly grown and was now 10 feet tall, just kind of floating along effortlessly above the trail. It was kind of surprising that I was still riding okay, but I was, and so I kept going. This very realistic feeling of being taller continued for a few more minutes when suddenly a vivid and startling image flashed across my brain of an Aztec warrior sitting on a stone throne in the control room of my brain, chuckling in delight to find himself piloting this strange, futuristic humanoid through the land of Aztlan. When I caught a further image of this Aztec warrior having hallucinogens blasted up his nose with a blow gun, I wisely decided it was time to stop and sleep for a bit. az16 I awoke refreshed, relatively speaking, and without any more hallucinations, I descended to Picketpost and continued on, excited at the prospect of resupply and Coca Cola. I was still gaining a bit on my time from the previous year and moving determinedly forward. The trail was more familiar the second time and thus it went by more quickly. A few more hours sleep, many more hours on the bike, and I reached Payson. The second year, I decided to skip the town of Pine and restock in Payson, but I think next year, I will definitely go to Pine before hitting the Mogollon Rim because Payson to Pine though short, gets difficult. The ascent of the Mogollon Rim was as tough as ever, and while I had tried to ride too much the first year, the second year I think I walked too much, but at least I didn’t go over the bars again. The stretch from the top of the Rim to Flagstaff hadn’t seemed too bad the first year, but then my tires had been pretty soft and I had been on a full suspension bike, whereas the second year, I was on a hard tail and in some strange, act of self-sabotage, I neglected to let air out of my tires, instead spending the next 40 miles binging and bouncing off endless rocks the size of half buried footballs and soccer balls. I just had no memory whatsoever of this section being so hard the year before, but now I felt like it was going to break me. In bikepacking, time is relative. If you race the AZTR, there will be times when you are very miserable, and that is when time will slow to a crawl. The more you focus on your misery and your next stopping point, the longer everything will take. “Be here now,” may be the clarion call of various new age gurus, but there is some value in it. Don’t focus on the hurt, but force yourself to look around and acknowledge the beauty, the space and the freedom. Force yourself to smile. I finally stopped for the night a few miles shy of Mormon Lake, and settled down right on the trail for what would prove to be a very cold night. I was smart enough to take a sleeping bag the second year, but not smart enough to take a pad, and I shivered all night as the ground efficiently conducted all the heat out of my body. In retrospect, I should have continued a few more miles where I might have been able to check into a bikepacker’s hotel. These small, brown ‘hotels’ which dot our national forests can be used by bikepackers for emergency shelter, but you need to be pretty cold or desperate to actually check in for the night because even the very best ones are really just outhouses. In the morning my legs were swollen and bloated, and I was a little worried because I had never experienced this before. It might have been from an electrolyte imbalance, but somehow it felt related to the impact of caroming off rocks all the day before. I hopped on the bike and before I could dissipate my morning grogginess with a few miles of pedaling, I hit another rock with my foot and ripped the cleat plate right out of the shoe. The cleat was still clipped into my pedal, just no longer attached to my shoe. I was able to reinsert the cleat plate into the shoe, and carry on, albeit much more gingerly. Later that afternoon I arrived in Flagstaff, went to the bike shop for some quick maintenance and ran into a sporting goods store for some shoe goo. I glued my shoe back together, picked up my bike and went and loaded up at the store. But, instead of hitting the trail, I sat behind the store for a couple of hours trying to convince myself to get back on the bike, but I was really tired and my legs were still swollen. So, after pointlessly sitting on the ground for a couple of hours, I walked over to a nearby motel and checked in. A few hours sleep and I was back on the trail at about 10 or 11 p.m. I rode hard and steady through the rest of that night and all the next day, reaching the south rim in the late afternoon. The second year I brought a more substantial pack to carry my bike across the canyon, but I still hadn’t practiced my carrying system. Fortunately, the pack was well equipped with straps and I was able to load it up in a satisfactory fashion and start my descent as the evening light worked its magic on the Grand Canyon. Evening and nighttime are probably the best times to make this hike, not only to avoid the heat but also to avoid the masses of people on the trail that want to know what you are doing and take your picture. There wasn’t anyone on the trail anymore, and I sat down for a quick rest. I must have closed my eyes for just a few minutes, because when I opened them I saw a giant desert hairy scorpion had scuttled to within a few inches of me, its giant lobster claws grasping searchingly for my flesh. The surge of fear and jolt of adrenaline did me good though, and I leapt to my feet to continue my lurching descent. Early the next morning, I hooked up with Elliot DuMont and Mark Caminiti, and we sat around for a bit talking smack before realizing we weren’t getting any closer to the rim. Elliot reached the rim before me, but kindly waited for me to put my bike together, and we were off to Jacob Lake. I couldn’t believe how fast he was riding, and that I was able to ride hard enough to stay near, but actually, I think he was easing up every time I fell too far back, which was awesome since I reached Jacob Lake much sooner than If I had had to provide my own motivation. We both stuffed our faces and lollygagged for a while before hitting the awesome last 30 miles to the Vermillion Cliffs and the Utah border. I was able to hang with Elliott for a little bit here, but eventually I completely crumbled and started walking every hill and even the slight rises. I felt really good because I knew I was going to make it to the finish, and I didn’t mind dawdling along to enjoy the last few miles. Be careful not to get too entranced by the view of the Vermillion Cliffs though, because there is one surprising and sharp rock section near the end that will shred your tire if you are not watching. Once, when I was about to finish the CTR, I had let a few tears slip down my face when I thought the finish was in sight, only to feel like a real sucker when I realized I still had 18 miles to go, so for my finish of the AZTR 750 there were no tears, just a satisfying sense of fulfillment and a pervasive sense of joy. I gloried at the Vermillion Cliffs bathed in the red light of the setting sun as I pedaled the last few miles to the Utah border. aaron


  1. Thanks for sharing. Lots of perspective.

  2. Happy Buddha

    Excellent writing.

  3. Pingback: Two years on the Arizona Trail : Part two - Bikepackers Magazine

  4. Awesome writing, and an even more awesome saga. A real inspiration for anyone serious about meeting life with a good attitude!

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