Aaron Johnson | Dixie 200

Dixie 200

June 29, 2015  •  3 Comments

Bikepacking racing is a funny thing. Preparedness, fitness, and experience only count for so much - one tiny little mistake, or tiny piece of bad luck, can result in a DNF, untold physical misery, injury, or worse.  I've had my fair share of misery and suffering during these races, but so far, never succumbed to the dreaded DNF. I guess there is a first time for everything.......

The Dixie 200. One of the more obscure races in an obscure sport, only a small handful of people attempt it every year. Masterminded by St. George local Dave Harris, the route has a reputation for both stunning beauty and brutal, unkempt, remote trails, and a ton of climbing. At only 200 miles, it's one of the shortest bikepacking races out there, but each of those miles has to be fought for, usually dragging your bike over downed trees or routefinding blindly through alpine terrain. Sounded awesome to me, and great prep for the Colorado Trail Race coming up in July.


The plan was to go strong and steady from the start, and bang out the route in one push, no sleeping. I'm not gonna lie - I was gunning for the course record, set last year at 38 hours by Steve Cook. I had his splits all written down, and I was ready to test myself. I could have gone lighter on my bike setup, but I wanted my gear to be closer to what my actual CTR setup would be, so I included some sleep gear, and 10,000 calories of food, hopefully enough to last me the entire race and not depend on food resupplies.

Turnout was surprisingly large this year - 15 happy bike riders, as opposed to the 5 or so that normally show up. Dave gave us a quick pep talk in the chilly morning air, and we were off. First up, a 4,000 ft, 13 mile climb.

Usually, I start way too hard in these events, caught up in the excitement and trying to keep pace with the leaders. This time, I was determined to start super easy, and maintain an easy pace for most of the first day, to leave some gas in the tank for the push through the night and the next morning. I spun easy up the first climb, chatting with some other racers - Scott and Mike.

We topped out at 10,700 feet, and had a few miles of some awesome riding through alpine meadows. Everything was surprisingly wet and vibrant. Mike and I caught up to the front runner, Todd Tanner, who looked like he was out for a day ride! Almost no gear on his bike, just a backpack - obviously his goal was to ride straight through as well. The adventurous nature of the course soon became apparent - every so often, the GPS track would shoot off in some random direction, away from the trail, off into a meadow or field of bushes. Initially pretty confused, we quickly learned to just shrug our shoulders and trust the GPS track.

Todd was strong and pulled away from us. Mike had some water bottle mount issues and stopped to fix them, so I found myself riding alone. Still keeping it easy, I enjoyed the morning and had a blast on the long traversy descent down to Navajo Lake, the first water resupply.

I caught back up to Todd at the campground spigot. After getting shat upon repeatedly by a bird while filling my bottles, Todd and I headed out to tackle the Virgin River Rim Trail. Again, Todd was too fast for me, and I watched him disappear up the trail.

The VRRT was awesome and challenging, sometimes flowy, sometimes loose and techy. The views from the rim, looking South towards Zion National Park, were stunning. The heat of the day was upon us, and I again slowed my pace, not wanting to repeat the calamity of the desert heat self-destruction we all experienced in the Stagecoach 400 earlier this year. The miles flowed by relatively quickly, and I found myself at the first resupply, Todd's Country Store, around 4:15pm, well ahead of record pace. Todd was there, chowing down a burger.

I grabbed a burger and coke and was off pretty quickly, not needing to buy any other food. Todd was trying to figure out why his tracker wasn't working, so he left after me, but soon caught me on the dirt roads leading to the next climb.

A 2,000 footer awaited us, and proved more challenging and interesting than the earlier climbs. After some initial dirt roads, we cut through what appeared to be a section of private property, barely any trail, just following the GPS. Then we began climbing up a narrow, overgrown, steep canyon, surrounded by aspens and pines, pretty amazing in the bright evening light. The trail devolved into hike-a-bike, until we finally gained the top of the plateau.

It was full on golden hour as we traversed the plateau, the red cliffs and hoodoos in all their colorful glory. Todd's pace was still a little too quick for me, but as I followed him up the trail, he suddenly stopped and stared intently at something up ahead. Apparently a BIG mountain lion had been walking up the trail, and took off running when it heard us. Right then and there we decided we were sticking together through the night! That had me nervously checking over my shoulder every 20 seconds for the next hour - Todd was bigger than me, so who do you think the big cat would choose to eat? Little Aaron in the back, trying hard to keep up with Todd!

Luckily no more kitty sightings, and we started a ridiculously fun descent down Grandview - sandy and loose from all the ATVs, we surfed our way down. At one point a 5 foot drop came out of nowhere and I flew off it, barely landing upright. I wondered how people would handle that at night.

We grabbed water at a nice spring, and started another long climb as the sun set. I was thankful for my conservative pace throughout the day, as my legs and overall energy level were good and strong, but I was beginning to get some serious ass chafage. Nothing out of the ordinary, I knew it would pass, like it does in every long race as your rear end adjusts to the endless hours of abuse, but it was definitely slowing me down on the climb. Todd would easily pull away from me and then have to wait as I gingerly caught up. Eventually I took a bunch of ibuprofen which really helped, and we topped out the climb into the darkness. It was about 10pm, and we were determined to push though the night, no stopping.

After a series of shorter climbs and descents, the ibuprofen had worn off and I began to descend into the throes of some serious pain. Such ungodly chafage! More ibuprofen had zero effect. We had a good 20 miles of rolling, but trending downwards, fireroad to get to Tropic Reservoir, so I was able to stand out of the saddle quite a bit, which helped. As we descended into the valley, the temperature dropped precipitously, and we soon began to freeze, even with all our layers on. I was starting to get pretty sleepy - the ass pain helped to keep me awake, but the sleep monsters were closing in. Just make it to morning, then everything will get better!

What time is it? 1am. F$&k. Only 4 and a half more hours of this......

The dirt road to the reservoir took some maddening meandering detours, and it seemed like forever until we reached the reservoir, the temperature slowly dropping even further. I was in some serious misery, pretty much unable to sit down on the seat. Negative thoughts were creeping in - why the hell am I doing this? Just stop and sleep till dawn! No way can I keep going with this cheese grater ass! On the bright side, the ass pain distracted me from how cold I was getting on this long, endless, gradual descent.

We had a short climb up to Chimney Rock, which brought us just high enough to get back to some warmer air. We decided on a 20 minute nap here, just to give us a little boost to get us to sunrise. It was 3am. I definitely felt better after the nap, but my rump was only getting worse.

We topped off our bladders at the campground, and started off towards Thunder Mountain. 15 miles of relatively flat dirt road lay ahead, and I forced myself to sit and spin as smoothly as I could - every small bump was excruciating. We made it to the turnoff to Thunder Mountain just as dawn was approaching, and I looked up just as Todd swerved oddly. "I just hit a wall, can't keep my eyes open, I need another nap." I wasn't feeling sleepy any more, but my rear end was on fire, so I was happy to stop for a bit. 30 minutes later, we set off in the early morning sun to tackle Thunder Mountain.

Todd seemed totally revived after the nap and by the morning sun, and he was gone. I could no longer sit down on the saddle at all, and had to do Thunder Mountain entirely standing. This meant walking most of the climbs, as they were too loose or technical to maintain traction while standing. Thunder Mountain was incredible in the early morning light - an endlessly entertaining roller-coaster of trails down the red cliffs and among the crazy rock formations and hoodoos, and I wish I could have fully enjoyed it, but I wasn't in the greatest mindset. All I could think about was making it to Harold's Place and a hot warm breakfast. I didn't even stop for any pictures, which is odd for me.

Finally made it to Harold's, meeting Todd in the restaurant. My hopes for heaping pancakes and bacon were dashed when the menu was limited to some sort of frozen egg product, and frozen sausages. WTF?? Not cool Harold's. At least they had coffee....

I knew I was done after Thunder Mountain. No way in hell could I do another 40 miles, and nearly 10,000 feet of technical climbing, standing up. This proved to be a good decision - closer inspection of the damage indicated broken skin, some pretty bad swelling, and signs of infection. Sadly, I had to bid Todd good luck, and watch him ride off to hopefully finish our ride and break the record. My wonderful fiance swooped down from Brian Head and picked me up, and that was it for me.

I am baffled by what happened - good legs, on record pace, only to be taken out by saddle sores?? Never in my life has this been a problem. You might be wondering - was I using chamois cream? The answer is no - that was the one thing I forgot - but I normally never use it, even in longer races like CTR or AZTR750, so I wasn't very worried about forgetting it. Some combination of the high temperatures, excessive sweating, no chamois lube, and the bike shorts I was wearing, ended up rubbing me the wrong way and ended my race. Lesson learned - my iron butt isn't quite as iron as I thought, and I will be properly lubed up for future ultras!

The Dixie got the better of me this time, but I will return next year a wiser man to finish her off. Congrats to all who attempted the route this year, and of course, big thanks to Dave Harris for making it all possible.


Thanks guys! Yeah that plateau was super creepy, glad I had company up there. Ass is all healed up and ready to rock for CTR.
Michael Ackerman(non-registered)
Aaron- fantastic entry! Your photos and narrative are well crafted and inspiring. And wow, that explains the HUGE cat tracks I observed up on Grandview hours later....it just feels like you're being watched up there on the plateau....I think I recall Dave H commenting on the dot net that it's just "bears and lions up there" Tom Wolf had a sasquatch encounter. on the Pole Canyon HAB....so yeah- shit out there is wild!!!!!!

What a fantastic route and great go at the record. Toughen up that ass and we'll see you in July in Durango. Chapeau!
Dave Harris(non-registered)
The funny thing about the Dixie...I can't think of any other event like it, so it surprises almost everyone the first time they do it. You had a great ride going! Now that you know what to expect I'm certain you'll be charging off the front next year.

Great writeup and images, and a surprisingly positive tone with no excuses! Class act all the way. It was great to meet you & Megan.
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