Hallucinations came early to me on Day 2 of the Arizona Trail 300. Action Jackson and Corey were up and at ‘em, hitting the road around 5:20 am. I struggle out of my wet with dew sleeping bag and put on as many clothes as possible in the pre-dawn chill. I hit the road around 6. Salero Road continues to climb, and continues to deteriorate in quality. It’s a jeep road with some rough and steep sections. I pass my first ghost town of the day, Alto, which contains one adobe wall, complete with door and window. No hallucinations yet—no imaginary miner or his mule.
The sun’s up, I stop to remove some layers and snack. I continue up and down the wicked road until I see a stream ahead. Look there’s a truck, someone’s fishing in the stream, I think to myself, happy at the Orvis image in my mind. I get closer and see the truck’s broken back window, note the truck’s tilt into the stream, the door ajar and it’s a little scary. I power through the stream and up the other side. I have entered the zone of target-practice cars.
I’m walking my bike a little too frequently considering the early hour of my long day. On I ride/hike, cursing the road quality, wondering why I hadn’t pre-ridden this section. Oh yeah, because I thought Forest Service Road actually meant “road” and not “pile of rocks.” My dream of being the first woman to complete the AZ 300 is fading fast, along with my imaginary book deal.
On a far away hill, I see a camper and think, “Oh a family is camping out here, I must be close to Mt Hopkins Road!” The road eventually passes the camper, but it’s another hallucination. Instead I see an upside-down, shot-up car frame. There’s another upside-down car, equally bullet-holed, across the road.
Finally, I see the easy-to-miss turn that will take me to Hopkins Road and the wonder of the Whipple rest area. I’ve ridden this section in the dark, so this morning, it’s actually pretty fun. At Whipple, I fill my water bottles, use the beautiful toilet and sink, and sit down outside to have breakfast. I hear voices above me in the parking area, and one voice I actually recognize.
Trail magic! It’s JP from Green Valley who I know from his bike advocacy work. Yay, a friendly face! He had been tracking the race, but didn’t realize I’d be there. He and other GV cyclists do the Mt. Hopkins road ride every Saturday morning; soon, other familiar faces joined us. Everyone was very encouraging which gave me a big mental boost for the rest of the morning.
I spend a bit too much time among friends, then hit Elephant Head trail. I’ve ridden most of this, and it’s a challenge through Devil’s Cashbox and the climb out of Agua Caliente Canyon. Then I hit the pass and the descent, which is a scary (to me) trail carved in the rocky side of the hill with little margin for error. I end up walking a lot of this. Yay, I hit the jeep trail down through Chinle and turn onto the last 4 miles of Elephant Head Trail. I’ve ridden this section a lot, and it’s rocky, but mostly fun. It’s almost mid-day and I’m starting to get tired and hot.
At the jeep road, I sit down in the shade and send off a pathetic tweet about being shattered at mile 68 with ants attacking me in the shade. As I head toward Madera Canyon Road, I see two deer and suddenly feel better. At the creek, I soak my head in cold snow melt water and feel more optimistic. At the water faucet, I see Ian who is struggling in the heat being from Britain by way of Finland.
It‘s suddenly very warm in the asphalt parking lot, I feel dejected that I haven’t gone very far. I am so tempted to give up. Because I see Ian, I don’t call my brother to come get me. So take that, weakness and doubt, my British knight Ian helped me beat you back!
Ian takes off and I leave about five minutes behind him. I fly like the wind downhill on pavement to the Box Canyon Road turn. The washboard false flat torture begins. An hour or so later, it gets worse as grade increases and the real climbing begins. It’s lush in the bottom of the canyon with small stream, but brutally barren on the road.
I pass Ian who is resting in the shade of a shrub. I pass my second ghost town of Helvetia. I hear church organ music from the cliffs above, my first auditory hallucination of the trip. Upward, ever upward, then I need to rest in the marginal shade and eat a half-melted energy bar.
I finally come to the top, but there’s no rewarding descent, just a flat dirt road that eventually crosses the AZ Trail. I’m back on single track again, through rolling hills in the late afternoon sun. The trail flows beautifully up and over and around the hills. I see two deer run across the trail in front of me. Then I see about 15 more bounding and leaping through the tall grass, toward the mountains, toward the sun. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all day.
I come to Oak Tree Canyon and try to remember if the trail north of here will have sandy washes suitable for sleeping. Remember, I am without a functional air mattress. I determine that the trail north goes through rougher terrain, so I search for a good campsite even though it’s early.
In Born to Run, Christopher McDougall writes: “Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” I’m sure a few of my AZ300 comrades find this ease and power, but I don't, not this evening.
On this Day 2, I don’t push beyond extreme fatigue, because I know this is my last chance for a sandy bed and my diminishing coordination skills could easily cause a spectacular sunset crash.
Instead, I stop, set up camp, wave good evening to Ian as he rides by, eat, brush my teeth and fall asleep before the sun goes down.