Tracey Petervary shares her first-timer’s take on the AZT 300.
I decided in September 2015 that I was going to give the Arizona Trail Race 300 mile version a go. Logistics fell into place pretty easily with my buddy Mark Seaburg. He was also going to race, and his daughters could join us for the drive to the start, and pick us up at the finish.
I joined the Arizona Trail Association for maps and information, and to support the maintenance of this beautiful trail that I was excited to get to ride and experience.
The AZT 300 would be my first mountain bike ride of the 2016 season. In Victor, Idaho where I live, our trails are still drying out until mid-May. I had been racing, riding, and training on Fly-Mingo, my Salsa Beargrease, and got a few rides in on Fresh, my Salsa Warbird.
JayP set up Tastee, my Salsa Spearfish, for me. Since he has two years of prior experience on the AZT, this was a huge advantage for me.
Photo courtesy of JayP
We dialed in the final touches the night before I left. This would be the first time I would be traveling alone to a race and would have to put my bike together without my fella. Which leads me to the next thought–leave earlier next time.
My travel day started at 4 a.m. I arrived PHX at 1 p.m. Three-plus hours later, I arrived at the hotel, checked in, unpacked, and ate dinner. Whew! It was a long day already. I started putting my bike together around 8 p.m., strapping on bags and sorting out the final gear and food. I struggled a bit with the fork and headset coming apart. Then I realized I had only downloaded the course on my GPS to Tucson! Ugh, I had maps and cues, but my sense of direction is well challenged. I went to bed at 11 p.m. and tried not to stress about the GPS I’d have to deal with in the morning.
I woke up 5 a.m., with less sleep in the tank than desired. I messaged Mark since I knew he had a computer, but we had no USB cord to do the transfer. We had an hour-plus drive to get to the start, but we had to stop for breakfast, gas, and now a USB cord. We knew we were going to be late. After a few attempts thwarted by a storage issue on my GPS, Mark was finally able to get the correct track uploaded. I was stressed!
We arrived the start approximately 8:10 a.m. and were on our bikes 20 minutes later! Scott Morris and Eszter Horanyi were there to see us and some of the other 750 racers off. As I gave Scott a high five, I apologized for being late. He said, “A late start is a great start.” I thought, “Better then no start!”
Photo courtesy of Nico Barazza
My biggest concerns were the very-different-than-falling-on-soft-snow cacti, flats, and running out of water. I gained confidence from studying the maps, reading the cues and other racers AZT blog posts several times. It was surreal! Here I was riding the AZT, and it felt wonderful! I tried to relax and shake off the stress I had just experienced. But more than anything, I was super stoked to be riding dirt!!
Temps were mild, and there was a nice breeze. The riding was rippin’, and there was only a little bit of hike-a-bike through the Canelo Hills. Due to my concerns about running out of water, I carried three full water bottles on my bike, but only drank 100L by the time I got Sonita. This was mile 43 and my first resupply. I ate some macaroni salad and a perfect pickle. I still had some of my food, but still grabbed a few snacks and ice water before I headed back out.
It was windy on the dirt road, but soon we were back on swoopy fun singletrack. At mile 57, I caught up with a few riders as we stopped at Kentucky camp for a water resupply. The riding was just fun and amazing. I rode with an Italian for a bit, Maurizio, who was racing the 750. When I introduced myself, he said, “Ah! You the wife of Peter!” but I knew what he meant. The riding just got better and better as we rode into the night. The sleeping spots, however, did not. I went through a sandy wash and thought, “Next one of these is where I’ll sleep.” At approximately 10 p.m. I found one and laid down. Maurizio was close behind and did the same. I could hear others passing by saying, “Sweet spot!” A couple of others ended up joining us.
I was up at 1 a.m. and on the move. I was struggling to stay awake and took another 15-minute break. It was a fresh day when the sun came up and more epic riding lay ahead. Colossal Cave at mile 97 was the next water supply for me. I ran into my friends Jason and Mike and another rider Tom all of whom were racing the 750. We all headed out together and the boys quickly pulled away. At mile 123, I was five miles outside of Tucson, and saw Tom again. He was having trouble breathing, and we rode into town together.
I had to make a plan. I knew I wouldn’t hit Summerhaven at a time I could resupply, so Oracle, at mile 200, would have to be my next stop. I ate one of my favorite gas station entrees, Stouffer's mac & cheese, loaded up with food and a couple Red Bulls, and headed out to climb! The riding was alright until I hit the Molino hike-a-bike. It was a nightmare! Not only did I have to hike up with my bike, but I also had to hike down too! Once I was down to the campground, I stopped and thought, “That was the worst thing I have done all year.”
I continued up the trail into the dark and hit the road pretty quickly. As I pedaled up towards Summerhaven, it became colder and I became tired. I knew the day would come where I would have to spend the night in a bathroom with a pit toilet. Trust me; that day will never come again. I was unprepared, and didn’t have enough to keep me warm for the few hours of sleep I needed to get me to the finish. I woke up at 2 a.m. feeling disgusted and sick. I tried not to think about it and kept pedaling. My toes got so cold, I got off a few times and walked, even stopping a couple times to warm them up with my hands. Finally, the sun was out and I headed to Oracle Ridge for breakfast.
Before that, though, two of my least favorite things awaited; hike-a-bike and bushwhacking. Thankfully it was over before I knew it and once again the riding was rippin’! I got down to the highway and got confused by some signs and some of the cues, but I eventually made it to town. I ate the mac & cheese, grabbed more drinks and snacks including one of those pickles packed in juice, thinking this would get me to the finish.
Once again, the singletrack was killer, and I knew I had 60 more miles of it to look forward to. But about 15 miles in, I took my worst fall of the ride. I was making a tight right-hand switchback and my tire slipped out. As I fell, one rock punched me in the stomach, and another hit the front of my helmet. As I stood up and shook it off, I thought, “That could have been really bad.”
But I was back to the fun singletrack and it took me into the night. I was entertained by the glowing green spider eyes and the birds that didn’t move. I screamed as I rode by the biggest black and yellow tarantula I have ever seen! I stopped to switch out batteries in the wee hours of the morning, but beyond that, I was able to keep moving. I put on my music for the first time of the ride and jammed out. I sang through the night to keep myself awake just having a grand ole time flying through the super fun terrain.
Once the sun rose again, I began to trip out. I was experiencing Deja vu that I had been scoping out these trails before with JayP and Miker! As I was riding, I thought, “I need to get out of this warp nightmare!” I began to sleep ride, and missed a turn. Thankfully, I noticed I was passing a smashed coconut for the second time. I got back on track, but things just got uglier. The sleep deprivation and heat were setting in. I got jabbed by a cactus and several quills were stuck in my arm. Dang those things hurt! Pulling them out was no easy task. I started to move slower and I was still tripping out about being here before. I was expecting things that appeared and some that didn’t.
Then I saw this:
And boyeee did I feel special! I nearly missed it, being that it was stuck between two rocks, but it happened to be where I stopped to pull the quills out of my arm! I took a bit and left the rest.
Parts of this last section was brutal for me. I couldn’t get clear understanding of exactly where I was, and my riding skills were getting sloppy. I began to walk more than I rode. I told myself that this was what I would be doing a lot of today, but to just keep moving forward and I’d get there. I sat under a rock, drank pickle juice and ate my pickle. I was cheering myself on. I eventually ran out of water and thought “No one is coming to save you.” I was a little nervous, but not scared. I kept moving forward even though my feet were screaming. I came across another water cache and sat down, relieved.
The end was near, so I tried to focus on enjoying the last of the riding. I was greeted with a cold beer at the finish by Mark, Kaitlyn Boyle, and Kurt Refsnider. We chatted for a few minutes, then headed to Phoenix. I was going on 36 hours without sleep. I passed out within 15 minutes of being in the car!
My legs were shredded from cacti. I will get some tall socks for next time. I feel super lucky to have had no flats and no mechanicals. This was for sure, the most fun, rugged, and demanding trail I have even ridden. Tastee performed like a champ. I was able to ride freely and cleared so much of the technical terrain.
I finished First Female and 6th overall. I guess all those lonely hill repeats in crappy weather paid off!
Special thanks to my encouraging husband JayP, Salsa Cycles, my friend Mark Seaburg, and coach Danny Sutter. You were all a big part of my success in this adventure!
Photo Courtesy of Kurt Refsnider