This year I traveled with the newest member of the Surly team to check out Single Speed Arizona. This was my first SS event and first time riding in Arizona. After talking with several people who had ridden out there I decided to take the Pug SS along for the ride. I brought it stock. Only changes were seat swap for my beloved Chromag saddle and slime in the tubes for things called goat heads.
I had been told many times that everything in the desert is sharp and drink lots of water. I felt like this would be a difficult ride but not something I couldn't power through. I have to say, this is really something you just can't understand until you do it yourself.
The ride began with loading up 100+ bikes into a Uhaul and the 100+ riders into leather clad buses.
At the trailhead there were 50 sets of instructions given out to share. I never saw these instructions. Not sure it would have mattered. Google has ruined me for following directions.
The start of the race was lead off by a moto that brought us out to a long sloping open dirt road. So much fun to glide down. Amy and I had situated ourselves at the back of the pack. I was determined to get DFL. There was a sweet painting by a local artist that I was coveting.
The open road launched into what looked like forested single track.
The variety of trail was mind boggling. Wooded, then desert, then wooded, then desert, then wooded desert. It switched faster than I could wrap my head around.
I was lolly gagging in a major way. Stopping to snap pictures with my phone. Slowly moving so I could look closely at what was around me without running straight into something sharp/deadly.
At some point maybe 1/8 of the way in I was told they thought I was in DFL position. This was great news! This is what I had come for. A slow, patient crawl to ensure my position as DFL and take home the prize. "In it to win it" as they say.
Being a person who ingests a gallon of water a day, I was concerned about the whole desert situation. I thought I was doing pretty good until I met up with a few guides who were waiting for me at the first river crossing. They told me that I was WAY behind the next group. I realized then I may have over shot my lolly gag. Before I carried on, one guide graciously gave me a fill up on my Camelback. I don't know if I would have made it out without this knowing what I know now. Thank you for that.
I took this picture when I stopped to enjoy the view and a red vine shortly after talking about being DFL. I was thinking to myself, this is what DFL looks like people. Yee haw! It was taken at about 11AM according to the time stamp on my phone.
These three trail images span over 1 hour of riding/hiking for any locals that can figure this out.
I carried on for awhile and hit a part of the track where I heard an animal run through the brush on my left. I yelled out not knowing what the hell it was and leaned into a cacti. That stung. As I kept pedaling I heard another animal run through brush on my right. I was wondering how many were out there and where the heck they were! It was truly freaky. Dan caught up with me shortly after that at about 12:30PM. I told him about the noises. They were probably jack rabbits. Damn rabbits. Dan showed me how to pull the barbed cacti out of my calves. This came in handy later for sure. I had no idea about the tiny hair like spines. I noticed them everywhere after he showed me and pulled a group from my leg.
Here is where things get a little fuzzier. I know there was a point where Dan came racing back because he had left his bag at the creek crossing they had met me at. He told me to let the people at the checkpoint know to call him because he went back for his bag and he might have to turn around if he couldn't find it. An undetermined amount of time later Dan came racing up to me from behind. He forgot I was suppose to tell the checkpoint to call him and worried about being left out in the desert. It actually worked out well because I never found the checkpoint.
We rode for a bit. Saw some cool saguaro forests and ruins. He asked if I was ok. I said yes. He asked if I had enough water, I thought I had until I pulled out my bladder and it was basically empty. I had a back up bottle in my frame bag but since I was only quarter of the way through that would not be enough. Dan gave me a bottle full of water to dump in my bladder and told me to ration it. He went on since his reserves were dwindling and I assured him I was good and had figured this would be an all day event for me. According to my time stamp we parted ways at about 12:45PM.
Shortly after I bonked.
I am not sure what happened or where exactly but I believe I went off the trail. Where ever I was it was not matching the description that Dan gave me for what to expect coming up. There were no pink markers and no tire tracks or broken vegetation to signify that anyone had been where I was. I stopped taking pictures at this time and turned off my phone to save it for emergency if needed. I wasn't able to get service anywhere along the way but figured a live phone was better than a dead one if I ended up out in the desert at night.
The next two and half hours were mainly climbing and hiking. Lots of pushing my bike. There was no sight of water. No shade. No pink markers. No tire tracks of people who should have been there before me. No fresh breaks in plants. Nothing. I kept pushing up and forward and hollered out every once in awhile "I don't see any pink!" and then shortened it to "Ah- oh!". My voice echoed back at me but I heard nothing in return. It was at about that time that I had to pull a strange bug off my ankle that was stinging me. It was terribly painful and my face started feeling waves of numbness from my forehead to my chin. Later I was told that it was most likely something referred to as a Cow Killer that has a certain neurotoxin in it's sting. So that's comforting.
Sometime after this I sat down for a minute and when I went to get back up I realized I had a flat front tire. I pushed on because I wanted to cover as much ground as possible to find some markers or people or water or really anything besides the dust, cacti and COW KILLERS that has been surrounding me for hours. I decided to seek shade to attempt to change the tire. That proved much harder than anticipated. There just wasn't any shade to be found. I chewed on a Twix not out of hunger but just to keep something in me to keep me going. I remembered Dave Gray talking about how he is not hungry when he is pushing himself during Arrowhead 135. He usually has to choke food down. So that is what I did too.
I gave up on finding shade and sat down to pull out my flat tire kit. Since I had slime in the tires (thank you Amy!) I decided I would try to inflate it first before popping it off and see if it would hold. the problem was that I was pretty dazed and the sun was beating down. I just wasn't functioning. I struggled with the pump and when I finally got it mounted it just wasn't working. I sat back and had a moment where I realized I may have made a fatal mistake coming out here and working so hard at DFL. I was lost. In the desert. Low on water and food. No idea if I was heading in the right direction and unable to even pump a tire.
To get my head together I went through my pack and took stock. I had failed to pack my pocket stove, emergency blanket or even a lighter. Whoops. I had a head lamp, some foods, a back up bottle of water, junk straps, a long sleeve shirt, a bandana, a knife, multi tool, flat tire kit, some stickers, koozies and patches (friggin SWAG). I decided I needed to do everything I could to get back to somewhere where I could hitch a ride or make a phone call before dark. I had no desire to stay in that desert at night with what I had on me.
I pushed on, not resting for more than 2-3 minutes at a time. When I would stop to rest I made sure to do a head check. I would go over how my body was feeling and how my mind was feeling. My feet were killing me. I was constantly stubbing my toes, scratching my calves on cacti and my pedals but I felt physically strong to move on.
I realized my back tire was flat now. Didn't really matter since I had not been able to stay up right on my bike for awhile. I may have felt strong but my bell was ringing. Balance had left me long ago.
Hours passed and I finally noticed a shimmering in he trees way down the mountain to my right. I yelled out to see if it was people. I figured out a way down and miraculously hooked up to a trail that lead me to the infamous Whiskey Tree. I was so freaking happy to see that god damn tree. I was back on the trail!! There was one bottle of whiskey dangling with the empties. I knew it was there for me. I felt much better laying under that tree but knew that drinking that bad boy was a horrible idea. I needed to stay straight and get my ass out of there. It was about 3:30PM at this time. I had removed my pedals and was pushing a steel fat bike with double flats. Whiskey would have to wait.
I hiked around that area for a bit looking for markers. I didn't see any so I made a guess and pushed forward leaving the tree behind me to my right. Eventually my pushing lead me to the Skull Mesa Trailhead. I stopped to gaze at the wooden map trying to remember where the heck I was suppose to go. I chose a direction and pushed on.
Eventually I made it to sloping open areas that would have been amazing to ride instead of stumble through. I considered stopping to try and fix the flats but by this time I just wanted to keep moving. The sun was dropping and I still had no idea how close I was or if there would be anyone at the end. I hadn't seen or heard anyone for at least 3 hours at this point. My journey had started at about 9AM that morning with the rest of the racers.
When I finally came upon the creek I was so happy! I had been holding my pee just in case I needed to fill my empty Camelback and take it like a champ later. Dan had warned me to only drink the creek if I absolutely needed to. He said I should get some antibiotics the next day if I had to go that route. So I filled my pack and decided to save that for tomorrow if possible. Hoping that tomorrow I would be in camp and not holding my urine for emergency use at night here in the desert. Even though I had found trail signs I still hadn't seen or heard any human beings so I was not leaving that creek without water just in case.
I trudged on and was surprised to see heads bobbing over a ridge. I put my bike down and hiked over to where they were walking along the creek. I called out and asked them where I was. I told them I had been out here since 9AM and they looked shocked. They said I was about 5 miles out from the parking area. Just follow the creek and I would make it back. This was great news.
I picked up my shuffling pace and came across more hikers. The looks on their faces told me I looked rough. My voice was almost gone. I prefer to say that I had a sexy growl but tomato, toemato. These hikers asked if I needed help and I said depends on how close I am. They said I was almost there so I pressed on.
After awhile I decided that "Almost there" is a really relative term. I laughed to myself thinking this was payback for those damn Arrowhead signs. People of AH135 - I get you.
The final leg was more hiking, more pushing, more water crossing that filled my shoes and tires with water, more sloping open areas that begged to be ridden. Then finally, I heard hollering. That had to be SSAZ! It was loud, happy and in the direction I was heading.
The welcoming committee aka my rescue group came yipping down the trail maybe a half mile from the parking lot at about quarter to 6PM I believe. I was so happy to see their shining faces! First thing I asked was if they were mad. I knew I had fucked up. I made mistakes that almost left me in the desert. I was prepared for a tongue lashing. They were not mad. They were super happy to see me. Chris thanked me for making it that far because he didn't want to ride that hill again. I was happy to have helped. Seriously. It would have really teed me off if people would have had to put themselves out and ride that damn course over and over looking for me. I was glad that I had accomplished what I had. I had made it back, come hell or high water, before dark. Booyah.
They took my bike and I hitched a ride back to the shop with Chris from Drunk Cyclist. I don't think I am suppose to tell anyone but he is a damn good guy. I removed my wet worn out shoes immediately and still haven't been able to put them back on. Stubbed toes and large blisters as well as just over all swelling stopped me from being able to, if I even wanted. I don't think I will ever wear them again. They are trashed with a capital F.
The rest of the night had me limping about, talking to lots of great folks, listening to some awesome AZ local bands and yelling at Charlie the Bike Monger for stomping on my god damn toes over and over. I made him give me his disgustingly squishy damp yet roomy shoes as protection.
Pallets were blazing at the campground and we chatted, drank and goofed off till into the AM. I wandered off to refill my cup when my camper started calling my name. I curled up with chips and guacamole and feel asleep with a smile on my face.
My time in Arizona was epic. Whether I was genuinely lost in the desert or not, I can assure you I felt lost and that is quite a wicked head whack. I learned so much. I have no hesitation about returning. The AZ SS scene was epic. Everyone I met and rode with I consider a pro. That course was wicked and they conquered it on two wheels and then partied into the night afterward. I give a big fuck yeah knuckles up to all those who were there and all who helped out.
Let's do this again.