Three times. Each time my response was the same, "Arizona." We moved here from Eastern Washington about a week before the start of the race and I had every intention of really studying the course, making cue sheets and planning out our resupply strategy and stops. But somewhere in the chaos of buying/selling a house, the ordeal of moving and my parents flying into town just before the start, the pre-race planning really got put on the back burner and we were sort of "racing blind." But what a great way to get to know our new neighborhood!
Coyotes sited: 5
Coyotes are so cool! It was rad to see them run across the trail in front of us, several times. Matt even spotted a cluster of 3 coyotes working together on a hunt. I highly recommend Coyote America, by Dan Flores if you want to know more about this wise, old, American creature.
After my recent experience on the Cross Washington route, I was very hesitant to push through too hard without sleep. So our first night of P&P, I was eager to give in to the sleepiness that I felt around 11pm. It can be surprisingly challenging to find a suitable place to bed down for the night on a dark, desert road in strong winds. We eventually settled on a flattish piece of dirt next to some rocks.
There was a 20% chance of rain predicted for the first night, which seemed like a very slight chance to us. Other than that, sunny skies and a wide range of temperatures, lows in the 40's in Flagstaff and highs in the 80's in Camp Verde. I opted to pack a few light layers and a buff for extra warmth and Matt followed suit. We decided not to bring a tent, or a tarp, or a bivy of any kind. We set down our sleep pads and curled up under a down quilt. We had a clear view of the half moon and a few stars, so I was a little surprised when I felt the first sprinkle on my face. I had dozed for about half an hour when it started to actually rain. We quickly packed up before our down quilt got completely soaked and begrudgingly got back on our bikes.
Matt found a cluster of pinyon trees that looked like they might provide shelter if any more rain came through, but I was optimistic that it was all done. After all, we could still see the moon and we were in the desert. The rain continued, intermittently light and then stronger. The pinyons provided some shelter for a few hours before we packed up and started riding again. I was quickly impressed with the desert rain's ability to soak both our bodies and the soil, which quickly turned to peanut butter. Matt and I were lucky that we managed to avoid the worst of the mud, but we both were stopped when our bikes became so bogged down with muck that our wheels stopped turning. Yuck.
After the first day, I felt like I couldn't really catch up with the lost hours of sleep. Our second night we faired much better, despite quite a bit of shivering, we had a lovely camp. We got up super early and came across another racer camped beside the trail around 2:30am. We later learned that it was Alexandera! Sorry for shining our lights in your eyes. I thought that when the sun came up that I would be magically revived, but that was not the case. Luckily, Matt was of the same mind and he deployed the down quilt one last time in the first sun beam we came upon and we enjoyed a 45 minute nap in the dirt together.
The weather was predicted to be windy. Like over 50 mph gusts and HIGH WIND ADVISORY warnings flashing on construction signs in Flagstaff the day before the race start. For the most part, we didn't suffer too terribly from the wind on our first day. At times it was even nice to have the breeze.
Our second day out, the wind situation escalated after we climbed out of Pine and up onto the Mogollon Rim. The views were dramatic as we rode on the Rim Road. The valley below was over 3,000 feet below us and we were excited to be back on the Colorado Plateau. We quickly learned that the views and the elevation came with a price: incredibly strong wind gusts! We snaked up and down and with every bend or hill crest on the Rim Road, we would lean our bikes into the wind. During one of the particularly heinous wind gusts I found that leaning wasn't enough and I was knocked over sideways. I was able to unclip and land on my feet and brace my bike against the onslaught. I stood there stunned for a moment before slowly trudging on. Needless to say, the Rim Road was not my favorite section of the ride, despite the amazing views.
Number of cheeseburgers consumed: 5
Our order at McDonald's in Camp Verde was impressive and included one quarter pounder, 4 McDoubles, 2 McNuggets and large fry. You'd be surprised how delightful a soggy, cold McDouble can be the next morning in the rain. We also ate a tasty sandwich in Jerome that was accompanied by WATERMELON slices and we had the most amazing pre-made, microwaved Philly Cheesesteak sandwich from Mary's Lake Store. Mary's Lake Store sells more fishing lures and supplies than they do sandwiches, but that didn't bother us. Other than that, we ate a lot of gummies and bars.
Matt asked me if I could smell the elk in the early am hours on the AZT. Shortly after that we disturbed a small herd of elk on the trail. I'm still not sure if Matt was joking or if he really could smell them?
Number of crashes: 0
This was a big fear of mine. Lets just say that I've learned from the little bit of bikepack racing that I've done. Some crashes may be unavoidable, but some crashes may be the results of choices made. Hopefully our zero crash count was due to good choices.
Number of nights we slept in a porta potty: 0
We did share a breakfast of cold coffee and chocolate doughnuts inside a nice, clean, National Forest pit toilet. It was at least 20 degrees warmer inside the toilet structure, out of the wind and dry. We both wished that we had slept there, but we had to push on.
Snake sitings: 1
We only saw one coiled danger noodle that we quickly scooted past during some fast highway miles. I think it was too cold to move. Or dead. From the cold.
Flat tires: 0
This actually surprised me. I fully expected those sharp rocks to eat our tires right up. Especially while I hacked my way along Sycamore Ridge. But the rubber held and we had zero flats!
Just as Matt and I were nearing Flagstaff, 20 miles from the finish, mechanical mayhem began to ensue. First Matt broke a spoke. Then Leigh noticed a wobble in her drivetrain and almost dropped a crank. Then Matt broke the adjacent spoke and we had some serious trepidation that his entire rear wheel might explode on the AZT and we would have to scratch or hike the last 10 miles to the finish. Luckily Matt was able to nurse his way home very gently and we managed to avoid hikes and scratches.
Mistakes we made: several
We only missed a few turns and even then we quickly realized our errors. Obviously we should have brought some sort of a rain shelter. We probably should have studied the route a bit better. Then we would have known that we really needed to load up with extra calories in Pine before heading back out. But then it would have been less of an adventure. One mistake we didn't make was choosing the wrong adventure buddies. We were a pretty stinking fun team (emphasis on stinking ;).
There were 48 of us signed up on Trackleaders and 5 of them were duo teams. About 20 people scratched which seems like a crazy high attrition rate. Matt and I were the first duo to finish and the 7th and 8th overall finishers.
Total elapsed time: 59 hours, 20 minutes
On Trackleaders, our average pace was about 5 mph, which includes all the time we were stopped to eat, sleep and filter water.
Miles ridden: 302
The total elevation was somewhere around 25,000 feet of climbing. We started and finished at home, and with our few missed turns we actually clocked 315 miles on my Garmin.