Aaron Johnson | AZTR750: The First 300 Miles

AZTR750: The First 300 Miles

March 06, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

May 8, 2014

It's been 2.5 weeks since I dragged my dirty, blown out body and bike across the Utah border, and oh man, recovery's been awesome. Sit on couch, destroy all food in sight, drink beer, repeat. Glorious. Actually, I've been back on my bike quite a bit more than I expected, even though I am still feeling abnormally fatigued - that race got me super motivated to keep riding and I can't stop! I've been bouncing the experiences and memories from those 9.5 days on the trail around and around in my head, so I guess it's time to get some things down on paper.  Too much happened to do a play-by-play recap, so here's a photo essay of the memories that stuck with me.


And we're off! People seem more nervous than excited - should I be more nervous? Answer - yes.


Canelo Hills - AZT doesn't waste any time telling you who's boss


Aaron G, Neil B, and Kurt R blow by me like I'm standing still, on their way to record-breaking AZT300 runs.

Patagonia's out there somewhere...


Should've gotten some fudge

Patagonia. The greatest root beer float of my life. 6 hours into the race and I feel like I've been racing for days. The Canelo Hills blindsided many of us, the Arizona Trail's cruel and sudden wake up call. I was expecting a relatively easy start to the race, to ease into race mode - HA! Alright, game on.

Almost to Kentucky Camp - body is finally coming around, time to fly. Photo by Sean Allen.

Southern AZ desert

WOWZA. Somewhere past Kentucky Camp, the AZT atoned for its earlier brutality by giving us one hell of a sunset. Some of the greatest twilight riding I can remember, and the singletrack kept getting sweeter and sweeter.

Magic hour

               Can't let the mind wander too much here

Can't let the mind wander too much here

DCIM\100GOPRO Breakfast at the Rincon store with Paul

Early pre-dawn shred-fest coming into Tucson - man that trail was fun. An empty belly pushed me along towards breakfast at the Rincon market. Long gone were the memories of yesterday's struggles. Oh, if I only knew what was coming....


Climbing away from Tucson on Reddington Rd.

DCIM\100GOPRO Struggle....

Near the top of the Molino hike-a-bike. Photo by Jesse Morse-Brady.                

Near the top of the Molino hike-a-bike. Photo by Jesse Morse-Brady.

The first BIG obstacle of the route - Mt. Lemmon and it's evil side kick, Oracle Ridge. After a slap-in-the-face 1,000 ft. hike-a-bike to gain access to the Mt. Lemmon road, we faced a 15 mile, 4,000 ft ascent up Mt. Lemmon. It started off horribly, my water cues were incorrect and I ran out of water at the base of the climb, only to be saved by miraculously finding a tiny pool just off the highway.


The rest of the climb was delightful - sunset, cool temps, beautiful scenery. I crested the top around 9pm, donned many layers to face the bone-chilling wind at 8,200ft, and began the so-called traverse of death, Oracle Ridge.

I actually enjoyed Oracle Ridge quite a bit. Despite a chilly, horse-poop infested bivy a couple miles into the ridge (how do horses even get up here??), I had a blast scrambling my way along the ridge as the sunrise presented itself. I didn't think it was nearly as bad as people make it out to be - tough, yes, but I had much tougher moments out there. The descent off the ridge was grin-inducing crazy steep and loose jeep roads and singletrack, finally mellowing out into happy winding desert trails as we approached the town of Oracle.

            How I love you Oracle Patio Cafe    

How I love you Oracle Patio Cafe

Stuff yer face     Stuff yer face

Then shit got real. The heat came back with a vengeance, accompanied by some nasty crosswinds. Progress after Oracle slowed to a crawl - heavy bike (6L of water!), relentless steep ups and downs, getting blown off-trail by the winds - it took 6 or 7 hours (!) to make it to the Freeman cache, only 35 miles from Oracle.



Cholla forests - beautiful                

Cholla forests - beautiful

First rattler sighting

My goal was reaching the Gila River that evening, but I hugely underestimated how long it would take me to get there, which resulted in me not packing nearly enough food in Oracle. Fighting the Ripley climb through the darkness, still many miles from the river, water and food dwindling, an uneasiness crept over me like I hadn't experienced before, and the mental demons had me in their grasp. My self confidence was shaken, I was pissed at myself for making such a rookie mistake about the food. What the hell am I doing out here, alone in the middle of the night in the freaking desert? Thoughts of ending my race after the 300 mile mark began to take hold.

Yet another ridiculous sunset

Of course, these thoughts were absurd - I wasn't in any danger, and I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, and I'm a bit annoyed with myself for letting those thoughts affect me like they did. But this race was taking me to depths of fatigue I hadn't experienced before, which did a number on my mental state that evening.

I did finally reach the river at midnight, immediately filtered several liters of water to quench my thirst, and devoured the rest of my food. Tomorrow's gonna suck, I thought as I dug into my sleeping bag on the soft river bank, and fell asleep instantly to the soothing sound of the river.

My alarm was drowned out by the river, so I awoke to daylight. And man, the Gila is stunning. The beauty of the morning banished the negativity from my head, and I rode along in awe.

DCIM\100GOPRO Sometimes riding......

DCIM\100GOPRO Other times pushing.

The 6 hours it took me to escape the Gila without any food weren't bad at all. Slow and steady, body in fat-burning mode, I simply pedaled forth, climbing out of the canyon and taking it all in.

DCIM\100GOPRO Mr. Boatman fills me in on the upcoming challenges

Picketpost. Finally. I was still debating in my head if I should continue, still a bit shaken by my errors of judgement, and completely exhausted by the unexpected difficulties of the first 300 miles. Thankfully I was able to push past the doubts; some fun conversations with fellow racers, a bit of rest in the shade, and some sorely needed bike maintenance got my motivation stoked up, and before long I was off towards Apache Junction, my mind on only one thing: FOOD.

Apache Junction did not disappoint. Easy miles on dirt roads and paved highways got me to restaurants and hotels in no time. Initially I felt guilty about getting a hotel - during CTR, I never even considered the possibility of getting one, and I didn't expect to want to stay in any hotels during this race. I always considered staying in hotels kind of contrary to the spirit of the race, but I also didn't expect to feel as bad as I felt after only 4 days. I realized, this is my vacation, and I'm here to enjoy myself and see Arizona in the best way possible, not worry about whether I should stay in a damn hotel or not. If it means getting a hotel so I could recover to continue enjoying the race, who cares.

And damn, did that bed feel good. Next up - central AZ and the dreaded Highline Trail to the Mogollon Rim.


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