Pre-dawn light comes too soon after the full moon light faded, so I’m awake at 4:50 am. I linger in the warmth of my sleeping bag for a little while, mentally planning exactly how I will pack everything quickly and get on the trail. My cold hands fumble with various stuff sacks and straps; so it still takes me 40 minutes to get going.
Before 6 am, I’m riding on beautiful singletrack through rolling hills, headed toward Rosemont Junction. Again, I’m walking too early in the day over stuff I should be able to ride. Coordination skills and quads take awhile to warm up. I switchback down to washes and switchback out of them. I follow cattle running down the trail in front of me and dodge their fresh deposits.
I wish good morning to Ian, cocooned in his sleeping bag on the side of the trail. I stop for breakfast as the rising sun warms my soul, what a great day to be on the trail! Chocolate covered espresso beans make me happy. Enjoying the view of snow-capped Mt. Wrightson behind me, I realize that I’ve ridden all the way around the Santa Ritas!
I roll on, feeling better and stronger until I reach the bottom of a wash and a near vertical trail up the other side. I take half steps up the trail, dragging the heaviest bike in the world behind me. Take half step, lurch bike up next to me, bring other foot up, suck wind, repeat. “This is my Everest,” I think, as my inner drama queen takes over. When what I really need is my inner Wonder Woman. Fortunately, the cliff trail is not very long and I'm at the top, still walking because the trail is thick with yuccas and prickly pear cacti—can’t someone cut this back?
At last I come to the jeep road descent and bomb down past The Lake with the beautiful wind in my face. I turn north, returning to singletrack toward Twin Tanks. I reach the tanks just as a huge bird of prey (Golden Eagle?) takes off from the water. The trail meanders pleasantly over more small hills toward Sahaurita Road. The day is heating up and I take refuge in the shade of a palo verde tree for snack time.
I reach Sahuarita Road, my first milestone of the day and aim for the next one: the I-10 culvert. Many flowers line the trail, including bright fuchsia hedgehog cactus blooms. I reach the culvert and love it’s cool shade.
On to La Cienega! I ride along the top of Davidson Canyon, and soon reach La Cienega, an oasis of cottonwoods in the small canyon below Three Bridges. A train runs over the bridge above me as I aim for Colossal Cave and La Posta Quemada Ranch. I’m loving this trail, but feel really exhausted. I have to push over small inclines, and when I ‘m done walking, it’s a big effort to swing my leg back over and remount.
Trail magic! My friend Tom appears on the trail, he’s ridden out to cheer me on. But I tell him this is my last day on the trail because I’m cooked. He starts to encourage me to keep going, but realizes from my face that I am really really done. So we ride together to La Posta Quemada Ranch where we inhale giant burritos and cokes. Ok, I inhale, Tom eats like a normal person. I wish I could bathe in coke, I’m so desperate for caffeine and sugar.
We continue riding on the trail, through beautiful wildflowers and reddish hills. We head toward the Rincon Mountains on singletrack that flows like a dream. I’m still tired, but we seem to be going downhill, and the sugar and caffeine help a lot.
I bid farewell to Tom at X-9 road, he’s continuing on the AZ Trail; I’m following the course along Old Spanish Trail to Saguaro National Park. I plan to just ride back to my house in Tucson from there.
Except it’s a million degrees and there’s a headwind. I call Tom’s cell phone and request a ride from Saguaro National Park. At the park, he reads my mind and buys me a coke, I can’t get enough of the stuff.
My legs are thrashed, my mind is mush, I can barely put two words together. I’m beyond exhaustion. I have absolutely no regrets about leaving the race early. It’s 2:30 pm on Sunday, and I’ve ridden 135 miles in about 3 days. Of course, I’ll be back!
Special thank you to: Team CarboRocket, Craig the Bike Monk, Lee Blackwell, JP & friends, Meg & Julie, Mark, Tom, Ryan & Nate at Arizona Cyclist for my awesome Niner bike. You've all been an inspiration to me--thanks so much for your support!