A few weeks removed from the Arizona Trail 300, my memories of the 45-hour endeavor are quite foggy. I spent the majority of the ride alone on my Spearfish, talking to cattle, cacti, and myself, and staring wide-eyed at the amazing Arizona landscape while wondering how in the world it was passing by so quickly. Here’s a bit of what was imprinted more clearly in my brain…
I remember the battle my legs waged against my brain early in the race, with my legs wanting to push hard and my brain insisting that they hold back. There’s no need to push hard three hours into a two-day ride. And despite trying to take it easy, my legs were cooked by the time I rolled out of the rugged Canelo Hills.
I can still feel the frustration of letting Aaron Gulley and Neil Beltchenko, both of whom were looking very strong, ride away from me the first afternoon while climbing into the Santa Rita Mountains. That climb hurts my legs every year, and my dehydrated brain knew not to give chase, but it’s never easy to let anyone ride away.
“Kurt! Kurt!” Aaron yelled as he skidded to a dusty stop ahead of me and jumped off his bike. It was dark, and I was thoroughly confused and alarmed. Aaron seemed to have lost it. In reality, he found a Gila Monster on the trail, and coincidentally, I had been complaining to him earlier that I had never seen one. I stopped and admired the little beast as it crawled warily off the trail.
Swoopy, flowy, cactus-lined singletrack blurred past early the first night. I recall loving the easy miles and being amazed at how fast Aaron and I were moving.
In the early morning hours, my legs came around and finally started firing on all cylinders. Aaron’s lights disappeared behind me as I rallied the tough trails that lead up Mt. Lemmon. The hours flew past until I hit the pavement and argued with the sleep monster all the way over the high point. Now that long climb is merely a blur in my head.
My head, hands, and feet stole all my focus through the morning - sore feet, bruised hands, and a brain that was dreading the impending afternoon heat in the low desert. Descending Oracle Ridge was incredibly painful, and all the miles had taken a toll on my legs. A rattlesnake struck and hit my shoe as I passed by, jolting me awake briefly.
I recall the frustrating afternoon doldrums – high temperatures, dead legs, a stomach wanting to be left alone. I repeatedly debated bailing from the route while I crawled forward. I hit the water cache at Freeman Road in the evening, filled up my bottles, sat down for ten minutes, and called Kaitlyn. I don’t know why I called, and I don’t remember anything from the short exchange aside from one thing she said: “You’re doing it!” I guess I was…pushing hours ahead of my sub-48-hour goal.
From that point on, my brain apparently decided it was not a wise use of limited energy and resources to form many new memories. I recall flying through winding singletrack as night hit, temperatures dropped, and my legs came around. I recall seeing the lights of tiny towns far below me while on the Ripsey ridgeline. I recall struggling along the Gila River through White Canyon as sitting on the saddle became increasingly painful. I recall stopping and staring up at cliffs towering above me as I climbed over the final pass, wondering how I was so close to the end so soon.
And I recall my frustration at the seemingly endless descent to the finish as I raced the sun. Not more than a few years ago, we raced the setting sun to the finish; now I was racing the rising sun to the end. And I beat it.
At the finish, Kaitlyn grinned widely as I rolled up in a daze. My body was devastated – 300 tough miles, 45 hours, and not a wink of sleep. My low-functioning brain insisted on me falling asleep, Kaitlyn insisted on me eating and drinking, and my feet insisted on being freed from my shoes. Ignoring all this, I apparently became enamored by a cow who was grazing nearby and insisted that we bring her home. Sadly, that didn’t happen.And to answer some of the gear and race strategy questions I always receive…
—I started the race packing 17,500 calories, enough to get me to the finish. I finished with 2,000 calories and didn’t need to head off route during the race to resupply. I’ve been living and racing on a paleo diet since January and maintained this for the 300, eating more nuts and meat and less simple sugar than ever before in an ultra. And my stomach felt good the entire time.
—For gear, I packed my normal minimalist bike repair kit, two tubes (one with sealant), a small bottle of sealant, an emergency bivy, arm/knee warmers, and a light long-sleeve jersey. A pair of Fenix BT20 lights again provided ample lighting for both nights on just three pairs of 18650 batteries.
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After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. www.krefs.blogspot.com