Snow so heavy that it bends ponderosa pines on the side of the road makes me wonder if I’m still in Arizona in April. My brother looks out the car window and remarks “wow.” At the start line, the Arizona Trail 300 racers face six inches of snow six miles from the Mexican border. I start at 8:30 am to make maximum use of daylight hours, and the rest of the group starts at 9. So I “break trail” through the snow just like a cross country ski race or the Iditarod.
The trail is easy to find, a jeep track for the first mile or so, then a brown strip of single track through the white snow. I can’t see the Canelo Hills because it’s snowing and the clouds hang low. Soon, I feel the hills and have to push my bike up some steep sections. This is when Jefe, the eventual winner, and Todd, pass me. They are pushing too, but with greater hike-a-bike speed than me. Next to pass me is Scott, the race organizer, course record-holder, and Topofusion genius. “This is epic, have a good race,” he says merrily.
I have plastic bags over my smartwool socks, and neoprene “toe-sties” over the toes of my shoes. My feet still go numb. I fall in the snow and my rain pants protect me from getting wet. When I hike, I get mud and snow clods in my cleats, so it’s tough to click into my pedals. I notice other racers have the same problem as they pass me. My plastic bags are in tatters by the end of the morning, and my toe-sties shredded.
Chipper Tim passes me and takes a picture of me riding in the snow, he’s still riding the race as I write this. Tim and I ride together for a bit, we pass some people, he stops to take pictures, I press on. I enjoy a sandwich in the sun for lunch. The clouds lift, the beautiful San Rafael Valley comes into view, but there are more ridges to climb before we descend into it. Tim and Lee catch up to me and we sort of ride together for the rest of the afternoon. They chat, I gasp. They stop for water at the tank, I continue riding. Refreshed, they catch up, chat at me a bit, then disappear ahead of me.
In the last hills before Harshaw Road, a bull is smack dab in the middle of the trail. He is surrounded by some cows. I clap my hands and shout “go away!” None of them move. So I make a big circle around them, remount and speed on down the trail. In Patagonia for pizza at the Velvet Elvis, I learn that Jackson and Corey also faced the same bull in the same place. Everyone is wolfing pizza and I join Patagonia friends Julie and Meg for calzone and pizza. It’s about 5 pm; Lee, Tim, Jackson and Corey are out the door and off to Salero Road. Ian and Brad arrive and settle into their pizzas.
It’s very difficult to leave the coziness of Velvet Elvis Pizza. I refill my water bottles, grab a yogurt for breakfast and head out into the cold. Salero Road steadily gains elevation, but it’s in decent condition by this time of day. Not the wheel-stopping mud zone that Scott reported earlier in the day. The sun sets with a blaze of pink and orange. I scare a tribe of 15 javelinas from the road, including a few babies.
I turn on my bike light and continue into the darkness. I purposefully do not look at my watch. I pass Salero Ranch. At last, I see lights on the side of the road and find Jackson and Corey’s camp. I decide this is a safe place for me to camp too, and join them. It’s good to rehash the day with the boys from Austin, speculate about tomorrow, and eat cold pizza.
I’m so excited to get into my sleeping bag atop my awesome new air mattress at 9 pm. At 9:10 pm, my air mattress has lost all its air and its awesomeness. I envy Corey’s hammock. I sleep fitfully on the hard desert ground, with a brilliant sky of Milky Way above me.
Total hours: 11.5, riding hours: 9.5-10, miles: 45-50? (too exhausted to check my GPS)