Arizona Trail Race Journal

The Arizona Trail is a 800 mile long multi use trail which starts on the Arizona / Mexico border, and finishes at the Arizona / Utah state line. It traverse through deserts, ponderosa and aspen forest, the Grand Canyon, and more. It’s as diverse as it is hard. I recorded this Arizona Trail Race journal after I finished, as most nights I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.

I completed the Tour Divide  first in June, then completed the Colorado Trail Race in July/Aug and finally the  Arizona Trail Race as an ITT in October. Together they make up the Bikepacking Triple Crown.

Race Data

757 miles

Mexico to Utah

Oct. 7th 2017 – 6am to Oct. 22nd 2017 – 11:09am

15 days 5 hours 49 minutes

Position:  14th out of 43

Average daily mileage: 49.7 miles

Moving average speed: 4.9 mph

Route average speed: 2.1 mph

Moving Time: 6:09:47

Stopped time:  8:19:57

Day 1

Oct. 7th

6:04 am to 10:33 (16:29)

72 – miles

Mexico Border to Kentucky Camp

Josh, a friend of Brett Stepanik hosted me in Tucson. He picked my up at the curb at the airport, gave me a bed to sleep in and drove me to the start.

The AZTR’s first day was brutal. Starting at the border you climb about a mile to a dirt road and follow that to almost all the way to the start of the 300 race. Along that road I saw my first javelina of the trip.

The trail itself was very hilly and rarely did it ever seem flat. Loose gravel and fist size rocks meant I had to refrain from any day dreaming or I’d wash out my front end.

The route was also very hard to follow as it was overgrown with tall grass. Mixed into the grass was tons of Cat’s Claw. At times the grass was so thick I couldn’t find the trail. I kept imagining there could have been a lion waiting to pounce on me. My shins were a bloody mess by the end of the day.

By mid afternoon I had made it to Patagonia and the sun was extremely hot. By the time I got there the effects of the 98 degree temperature could be seen in my disposition. My appetite was already fading. I was dehydrated for sure.

It was 11 or so paved uphill miles to Sonoita where I got supplies and a sandwich but my appetite still wasn’t there. Overall the stop was way too long and it was dark by the time I left. I road the highway a few miles before climbing back into the hills towards Kentucky Camp. Between the darkness and my waning energy levels, the going was slow. 

Because I was going so slow by this point I was convinced I took a wrong turn or missed Kentucky Camp. I also almost stepped on a rattlesnake in my exhausted state. He wasn’t very big but I gave him a wide berth all the same. I was really feeling the day’s effort.

When I got to Kentucky Camp I was so tired. It took all my mental energy to stay focused on what I was doing. I tried to drink water and eat something knowing I was in a bad state. Unfortunately I was so tired all I could manage was to get my gear out and sleep on the porch.  I almost felt like I had on day 1 of the CTR.

Day 2

Oct. 8th

4:03 am to 5:39 (13:36)

43 miles – 115 total miles

Kentucky Camp to La Selvilla Picnic Area

It was really hard to get up and going at 4 in the morning. I was still exhausted but I knew since I was doing ITT there was no one to push me. I had to do it myself. Most of the morning I was dragging ass. I tried get as many miles in before the heat of the day hit.

The terrain was much like yesterday’s where it was just up and down. I was fighting to make progress and not feeling very well. I shook it off as I was just finding my grove early in the race. I was very wrong. 

Most of the morning I felt like I was clawing my way up every climb and there were a lot of them. Despite my lack of energy I did my best to keep positive and try to take in the experience and views around me.

At I-10 I sat and rested in what little shade I could find. The little voice in my head kept reminding me that if you’re not moving forward, you’re not moving in the right direction. As a result the break didn’t last long.

Just north of I-10 the wheels began to come off. I was so tired I finally stopped next to a little shelf that offered a small patch of shade. At first I just laid Phillip in the middle of the trail and sat in the shade. After about 10 minutes I realized I needed to do more than just sit.

I crawled over to Phillip and removed my Z-Lite pad and proceeded to take a nap right in the middle of the trail. I awoke to the sound of an approaching cyclist. The guy must have thought I was dead. We exchanged hellos and I moved Phillip from the trail so he could pass. I decided it was time to move on.

I rode another 4-5 miles and was about a half mile short of La Selvilla Picnic Area and I just stopped. I was staggering and my head was swimming. I almost fell over getting off Phillip. I just sat on a rock and hung my head.

Craig, the cyclist I saw earlier, reproached me on his return trip. He quickly saw how bad off I was and he stayed with me for about 10 minutes to ensure I was going to be okay and we moved on together.

We got to La Selvilla and Craig went on his way. I promptly made camp under the ramada. I laid out my ground sheet, stripped down to my boxers and laid down. I tried my best to drink water and eat but my body fought me every time. My sleep was fitful at best and I didn’t get much rest.

I had only gone half the distance I hoped for. I was in a really bad place.

Day 3

Oct. 9th

3:25 am to 8:30 (5:05)

20 miles – 135 total miles

La Selvilla Picnic Area to Tuscon

After such a terrible day on day 2, I was hoping for a better day 3. 

I tried to drink and eat during the night but my head and stomach weren’t having it. I felt so terrible. Little did I know I was extremely dehydrated and had heat stroke. It was a long uncomfortable night of fitful sleep.

I slept as long as I could, but by around 3 am I decided it was pointless to continue to just lay there. I started motivating myself to throw a leg over Phillip once more and see what the day would bring.

When I got going the trail was fairly easy going, which was nice considering the state I was in. I got to enjoy the surreal stillness of the early morning hours before the sun can up. Before long I hit pavement on the outskirts of Tucson.

It didn’t take me long to make the decision to only ride into town and call it a day. Despite stopping early yesterday I was not in any position to continue on with a big mile day.

My first stop was a Safeway supermarket but I couldn’t buy any food as I had no appetite and nothing looked or sounded appealing to me. I made my way to an auto parts store to get some zip ties to fix my bottle change that broke off during day 1. Along the way I saw a cafe and got breakfast. I ate as much as I could, but drank more water than I ate food.

I found a hotel not far away, showered and took a nap. I woke up long enough to have lunch at the hotel bar, then I went back to the room to lay down. I ordered pizza for dinner. The majority of the day was spent resting and trying to hydrate.

After a short day 2, it was tough stopping yet again after doing even less miles. The reality was continuing on wasn’t an option at all. 

Day 4

Oct. 10th

3:30 am to 4:01 pm (12:31)

41 miles – 176 total miles

Tucson to Windy Point

I felt okay when I got up, but it wasn’t easy finding motivation to start. Rolling Phillip through the hallways of the big hotel I was in seemed so odd. It would be my first HAB of many today.

The moment the pavement ended things got hard. I climbed up E. Reddington Rd to reach FS 4417 and headed into the desert. The going was rough and quite hilly. But I wasn’t feeling too bad compared to how I had felt the last two days.

By the time I crossed back over E Reddington Rd the sun was baking me. I took a break at a water cache I found just before the road. I drank as much as I could, but in the end it wasn’t enough.

The next section was brutal in my exhausted condition. Any rest or recovery I had achieved the day before was completely gone. At one point I stopped to call my buddy Scott just to express how tired I was, as if by saying it out loud to another it would free me of the burden.

After the call I sat on the nearest rock and had myself a little mental breakdown/cry. I was in a really bad place. On the next downhill I got too close to the edge of the trail and Phillip’s front tire slipped off the trail. I did one of those slow motion endos, where you watch it all unfold but are powerless to stop it. I jammed up my wrist and bruised my palm in the fall.

The hill before reaching the Mount Lemmon Highway was extremely steep and the going was slow. Knowing it was the last climb before the highway gave me a little mental boost.

I had lunch at the campground next to the highway. I didn’t want to leave. I could feel how bad off I was and the idea of getting on Phillip was almost too much. I finally did get going but my forward progress was at a snails pace. When I reached the highway again I was thoroughly exhausted. My head was fuzzy and I had a hard time focusing on any single task.

I only made it only a short distance before pulling over into a pull out to take a nap in the shade. As I laid there I wonder what the people in their cars thought of me just laying there in the dirt.

I pushed on to Windy Point where my physical state was dangerously close to being a major health issue. To continue on would have be foolish and irresponsible of me. Succumbing to heat stroke and dehydration on Oracle Ridge was not a risk I was willing to make.

I finally made the decision to call Josh and take a few days off. Knowing that the rules allow one to accept motorized assistance in a medical emergency I made a point to note where I stopped so I could return to the same point and start again.

Day 5

Oct. 11th

0 miles – 176 total miles

Tucson

I spent most of the day either in bed or on the couch. I drank and ate as much as my stomach could handle.

Day 6

Oct. 12th

0 miles – 176 total miles

Tucson

I managed to make it on my own to a bike shop where I got new straps for my fork mounted bottle cages and properly repair Phillip’s broken bottle cage. I also did more research on the remaining sections of trail. 

Oddly enough while out on the trail I had no appetite but after a day off the bike I finally found it again. While on the bike the idea of eating had made me sick to my stomach.

After two days of bed and couch rest I was convince that if I had not called Josh I would have put myself in a life or death situation.

Day 7

Oct. 13th

6 am to 11:26 pm (17:26)

49 miles – 225 total miles

Windy Point to Bloodsucker Wash

I felt great when Josh dropped me off at Windy Point again.

The rest of the climb to the top that I was dreading two days before was a breeze. Oracle Ridge was my next test and I had heard horror stories about it. I really enjoyed it and the views it offered. At one point I noticed I lost my vest so I started walking back for it. It was much further than I expect and by the time I got to it, I wished I had ridden Phillip instead. The downhill was quite fun as well.  

After learning my lesson about pushing through the heat of the day, I spent most of the afternoon at Zipline Adventures. I hung out in the shade of their deck. I drank and ate lots of food while napping and watching tourist prepare for the zip lines. 

I got going again around 4 pm. I enjoyed the trail through Oracle State Park. I hit up the water cache at Hwy. 77 and made some phone calls to let my folks know I was doing better before getting turned around at the underpass next to the cache. I figure it out and headed to Tiger Mine Road.

I left Tiger Mine as the sun was going down. I was still riding good despite the trail being challenging. As darkness fell the riding got tougher and I started to slow down. I got spooked crossing a big arroyo when I frightened an animal in the brush. I never saw it but it sounded big. I saw another rattlesnake a bit further along. Like the first one it scared the shit out of me, as I didn’t see it until I was almost on top of it.

The switchbacks in this section were tight and navigating them on a loaded bike as hard. Many times I thought to myself I should be walking some of them, as the penalty of crashing wasn’t worth it with all the cactus and sharp rocks.

I pushed on the best I could but as usual, I had a hard time finding the motivation to keep pedaling so late in the day. My goal was to ride until midnight. When I got to Bloodsucker Wash and found it wide open and flat without much grass or brush around it, I decide to camp for the night.

One thing I really enjoyed were the stars. They were so bright without any light pollution.

Day 8

Oct. 14th

5:14 am to 11:23 pm (18:09)

57 miles – 282 total miles

Bloodsucker Wash to Campsite North of Gila

In comparison to yesterday, today was much tougher.

Reaching the Gila River seemed to take forever. There were a ton of ups and downs. There was no shade and it was really hot once again. Luckily my mental state was still in check, so I dealt with the adversity well. As well as being a hard section, I found it quite beautiful as well.

The last 7 or 8 miles to the Gila were downhill but still contained a ton of ups and pedaling. As a result I totally missed judged how long it would take. By the time I got there I was feeling dehydrated once again and I was late to meet my pizza delivery.

While on the ridge I order pizza from Old Time Pizza in Kearney and had it delivered to the Gila. It was delicious. I took a nap there as I was feeling the effort of reaching that point and wanted the sun to go down some before pushing northward. I wasn’t able to get comfortable while hanging out, so my nap didn’t give me much rest. I also had that feeling I should have been moving instead of napping in my head.

The route along the Gila wasn’t easy. There was a lot more up and downs and tough tread to navigate. By the time I got through the climbs it was dark. As I made my way along the river I was tried to find a spot to access the river for water. 

As I traversed one of the flats I noticed I was surrounded by glowing eyes. I instantly fear the worst but they turned out to be a pack of Ring Tail Cats. They were everywhere! Just up the trail the bushes erupted again and I thought, “No big deal just Ring Tail Cats again.” But this time it was a big pack of javelinas. I was starting to worry at this point what I might see next.

When I got to the turn to start away from the river and to start climbing I left Phillip and searched on foot for a river access again. I could hear kids partying not far away. I was headed towards them to ask if they knew of an access point, then realized I might not want to sneak up on a bunch of drunk people in the dark. I turned around a decide I’d make do with the water I had.

I pushed on up the climb as far as I could. Like yesterday I hoped to push further into the night but when I once again found a great flat spot, I listened to the signs and made camp.

While on the climb I saw my first tarantula!

Day 9

Oct. 15th

3:53 am to 10:24 pm (18:31)

69 miles – 351 total miles

Campsite North of Gila to Canyon Lake

I woke up thinking it would be an easy 20 or so miles to Picket Post.

I was wrong as usual. It took much longer than I expected. The climb up to the high point was tough but the rewarding of views and great tread along the way made it all worth it. The morning sunrise was beautiful so I had that going for me.

I filled up water at the water cache before Picket Post and took a morning break. Once to Picket Post I quickly made my way to the highway, where I decided to take the road alternate so my attempt was as close to that of the actually race in the Spring.

The long road detour to Queen Valley flew by. Being mostly downhill and having a tail wind, I made amazing time. I got breakfast and snacks while in town. I also tried to get out before the heat of the day but I failed.

Like with the morning section I was hoping to blast through the next 30 miles. The heat and terrain weren’t on my side. The temperature was back up into the high 90’s and really drained my energy. I had to stop multiple times to take breaks before I could get going again. It was so hot my water was like drinking bath water. It tasted terrible.

The trails in Golden Canyon just before Apache Junction were fantastic! I really had fun in the single track as it wasn’t full of climbs and had great flow. The Golden Canyon trail system dumps you out into the furthest eastern edge of the Phoenix area. I relished the fact that once again I was on pavement to Apache Junction. 

I found a place to eat in Apache Junction, resupplied at the grocery store, and filled up my bottles. I drank like three Mountain Dew’s and two waters at the Italian restaurant I went too. The A/C was really nice and I was really reluctant to leave.

The sun was going down as I skirted the eastern edge of town and headed back into the desert. The next section traversed a large hill side. The single track was full of tight turns and didn’t have much flow. I faltered many times and quickly drew frustrated.

I stopped many times to look back at the lights of Phoenix and admire the view. I felt energized as I felt like I was the only person out there testing myself on these difficult trails.

I turned around to get going and I spotted a light moving in my general direction. So much for being along I thought. Then I don’t know why, but I got a bit freaked out. I stalled multiple times as I got closer and closer to the light. When I finally got to the light, I found it was John Schillings.

John had said he’d come out and meet me but I thought he lived near Flagstaff and would have told me where he’d be. I told him he freaked me out a bit and he laughed. We rode back to his car together and he wished me good luck.

Leaving John I gained Hwy. 88 and started towards Theodore Roosevelt Lake. By this point I was pretty tired and had been on the bike a long time. I did my best to keep motivated but I only made it to Canyon Lake.

The signs said no camping but I threw down in a parking lot all the same. I slept on the island between the two lots. It was surprisingly chilly when I went to bed. The first handful of cars that went by woke me up but soon I drifted off to sleep.

Day 10

Oct. 16th

5 am to 6:21 pm (13:21)

77 miles – 428 total miles

Canyon Lake to Payson 

Thankfully no one came and woke me up in the middle of the night and I slept well.

It was a total grind getting up to Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The hills were relentless and many times I wished I was on a dual sport motorcycle. My reward was seeing a pack of javelinas, including some babies cross the dirt road in front of me. There was close to 20 of them all together.

It took half my day to get to the lake. When I got there the heat of the day was upon me. Luckily the next 10+ miles were paved so there was a slight reprieve. 

I stopped at the Butcherhook convenience store for a soda and snack. I was going to resupply there but they didn’t have much. As a result I pushed on to the IGA just up the road. I was thought about getting pizza again near the IGA but they were closed that day.

I had lunch at the IGA and my next stop was Jake’s Corner Bar. I had no real intension of stopping there but the culmination of the last two days had caught up with me. I decided it would be better if I stopped now during the heat of the day and push on later. I didn’t go to the bar but I did get drinks at the store and take a nap on a picnic table in the parking lot.

After leaving the bar the route changed back to more dirt roads before crossing Hwy. 87. The next section of the route got really hard. Once again I really started feeling the miles in m legs and the heat. I hit a mental and physical wall about 10 miles from Payson. I began taking breaks every 30 minutes or so. All I could think about was getting food and a hotel room in Payson.

Getting to the top of the high point I had been climbing towards gave me a mental boost. I also think all the snacks I ate during my breaks gave me the needed calories to bust out the last miles into town. The sun set before I reached town. 

My first stop was a Mexican restaurant. I was so tired I didn’t even finish my food. It was the first time I was this tired since day 3 when I had heat stroke.

Overall it was a good day, but very long. At the hotel I showered, inventoried my food supply, did some maintenance to Phillip and hit the hay.

Day 11

Oct. 17th

4:45 am to 9:42 pm (16:57)

48 miles – 476 total miles

Payson to Campsite North of Mollogon Rim

It was tough getting up today. I was really comfortable in an actual bed. Once outside the temperature was actually cold for once. A big swing from the temps I experienced during the day yesterday.

The first convenience store I went to was closed so I had to back track to another, to resupply. Surface streets lead me out of town and through neighborhoods to a forest service road that headed NW towards Oak Canyon. The going was good for a while and there was a bit more pavement as well. I dropped into Oak Canyon and then things got harder. 

There was a bit of HAB and progress was slow. I passed two ladies hiking as I near the top of the last climb. They were impressed with me or so they told me. It was nice to hear.

Phillip and I made our way towards the Pine TH and then cruised into Pine. I was too early for lunch, so I went food shopping before going to the bar next door. Knowing the Highline Trail and the Mollogon Rim were coming up I didn’t waste any more time in town. For once I felt I was somewhat efficient while in town.

This Highline Trail is 16 miles long and it took me almost 8 hours to complete. It was really hot by the time I started it. The trail was very technical and included lots of climbing. There was also a lot of HAB. It definitely lived up to it’s tough reputation. 

I saw a small snake and my second tarantula. The tarantula was only a small one but very cool to watch. I took an unplanned break to watch him cross my path.

It was dark before I reached the top of the rim. The last 3/4 of a mile were the toughest. The end is the climb along a power line, up to the actual Mollogon Rim. I pushed, dragged, and hauled Phillip up over the worst HAB of my life.

I literally had to extend my arms to full length pushing Phillip uphill, then grabbed both brakes (If I grabbed just the rear we would have flipped over backward, if I grabbed only the front, Phillip just skidded backwards down hill.), take two steps, and repeated the process for close to 30 minutes. The climb was that steep.

The tread of the climb was loose and rocky as well. This meant constantly lifting Phillip’s front tire up while pushing him uphill. My feet would slip and roll on rocks, and more then once I lost my footing. It took a Herculean effort for sure.

I was smoked when I got to the top. I was also quite sweaty and now being at a higher elevation the temperature was much colder than I was used too. Because of this I got cold really fast. I checked in with my dad to let him know I was doing okay and then pushed on in the dark.

I made it a few miles more, before getting cold enough that I didn’t want to continue. I found a great spot on a bed of thick pine needles and Phillip and I were asleep in no time.

Day 12

Oct. 18th

5:43 am to 7:21 pm (13:38)

61 miles- 537 total miles

Campsite North of Mollogon Rim to Lake Mary Road

Wow, what a cold night last night. Such a stark difference from nights below the rim.

The best part of today was the fact that I was surrounded by trees! There was shade and wonderful trail to ride. That doesn’t mean it was easy though. I froze until the sun came up.

Up until now I forgot to mention the cough I had. It was the same cough I had on the Tour Divide and the Colorado Trail Trail. It’s that cough you get from breathing too much cold and dusty air. The cold made my cough even worse. I sounded like a life long smoker of 2+ packs a day. Every cough shook my whole body.

The bulk of the day was spent navigating the rocks of the Happy Jack area. I joked to myself that James Brown couldn’t keep rhythm through Happy Jack. It was mostly old forest service roads through the woods but the ground was full of large lava rocks. It made forward progress very slow at best. There was also a lack of reliable and clean water. 

Most of the day I was looking forward to reaching Mormon Lake so I could get a hot meal. The closer I got, the more I mentally shut down. When I got to the turn off for Mormon Lake I couldn’t decide if I wanted to descend two miles off the trail or keep going. There was also the fact that the restaurant wasn’t open and only the camp store was. I finally decided it wasn’t worth it and move on.

I had ridden the section after Mormon Lake earlier in the Spring while doing the Coconino 250. It was the first time all trip I new the trail I was riding on. It was nice to know the trail somewhat but there’s something to be said for riding a trail you’ve never ridden before. When every pedal stroke is new, there’s a feeling that comes with it you don’t get when you’ve ridden it before.

As dusk fell upon me I started to feel the effects of being on the bike for 10 days. By the time it got dark I was pretty much finished for the day. I started looking for a camp spot and found a nice one just off the trail. Just like last night the temperature was quite low and I laid down and prepared for another cold night.

Day 13

Oct. 19th

5:25 am to 9:04 pm (15:39)

84 miles- 621 total miles

Lake Mary Road to Campsite South of Tusayan

Another long cold night last night.

I slept too long but I clearly needed it. The plan was to get up earlier and put miles in before the sun got too hot. I crossed Lake Mary Rd and climbed up to the Anderson Mesa. I rode it the opposition direction in the Spring when I rode the Coconino 250. The mesa was rocky but luckily the rocks were smaller than those of Happy Jack.

I had been in fear of these rocks since the start. I knew from the Coconino 250 what they were like. I think since I was last here in the dark and at the end of a very long day my perception of them was a-skewed.

Just like during the Coconino I really enjoyed the single track just outside Flagstaff. It was one of the few times I felt like I was just riding and not racing. I think the fact I was headed to Chipotle added to my positive attitude. 

On the way into town I stopped at the bike shop to grease Phillip’s seat post and get a new piece of hardware for my light. The mounting bracket holding on my light broke clean off when Phillip feel over. Nothing hit it during the fall but at some point I just have damaged it.

Next up was Chipotle, which was so good. I got a chicken quesadilla to go for dinner while there. While getting snacks and drinks at a gas station across the street, some drunk guy rear ended Phillip while he was in the bike rack. Luckily for Phillip and I the rack wasn’t fixed, so it moved when he hit Philip.

The guy got out of his truck and didn’t say a word. I was speechless and just focused on getting poor Phillip unstuck. He was pinned between the guys bummer and the rack. The cashier must have seen what happened and promptly kicked him out of the store. As he drove off I was in awe of what could have happened if the rack was fixed or if I was on Phillip.

I made my way through the various neighborhoods of northern Flagstaff and back to the peaceful and safe woods. Climbing along the slopes of Humphrey’s Peak tested me but the downhill was just as sweet as the trail coming into Flagstaff. I really enjoyed this section of trail.

I came around a corner two find two bikepackers coming at me. It was Scott Morris and a friend on an overnighter. We chatted a bit and I told Scott to keep an eye out for my Flamin Hot Cheetos I lost (I found out later Scott did find and enjoy them.).

As mentioned the downhill off the shoulder of Humphrey’s was amazing. Phillip and I were flying. As I descended I thought to myself I needed to come back and ride the trail again without my bags.

I reached Kelly Tank and filled up on water and had a snack. It was still light out but the sun was getting pretty low. Wanting to make miles I didn’t stay long. I enjoyed easy riding and an amazing sunset as I covered the ground to Cedar Ranch TH.

At Cedar Ranch TH I stopped to eat my quesadilla and drink some water from the cache there. The last of the dying light faded while I was there, forcing me to finish my dinner in the dark.

I knew the next section was exposed, could be very hot and lacked clean reliable water, so I pushed on as far as I could. I found a thru-hiker in their tent just off the trail. I asked if I could approach and did. It was a young lady thru-hiking the trail. We had a great little chat, exchanged Instagram handles and wished each other good luck.

I made it another 10 or so miles before I threw the towel in for the night. The stars were so bright I stopped many times to enjoy them but the cold didn’t let me stop long. At camp I put every single piece of clothing I had on, but it was clear right away it wasn’t going to be enough. I was in for a very long and cold night.

Day 14

Oct. 20th

4:14 am to 7:23 pm (15:09)

51 miles – 672 total miles

Campsite South of Tusayan to Bright Angel Ranger Station

Last night was the coldest night of all. I froze and if Phillip was a real donkey I think he would have froze too! Or we would have spooned for warmth.

To be truly honest the night was miserable. I’m not sure how much sleep I got, but what sleep I did get wasn’t that good. Packing up in the cold wasn’t much better. My hands were numb by the time I got on Phillip and started riding. The sun couldn’t rise fast enough.

On the way into Tusayan I ran into another thru-hiker headed southbound. He was super nice and we chatted a bit. When I got into town I got pizza and resupplied at the small grocery store.

A random guy at the pizza place asked me what I was doing and where I was headed on my bike. When I told him, the look of surprise was written all over his face. I got the impression he thought I was homeless.

I figured out where to get my permit for traversing the Grand Canyon and made my way to the ranger station in the Grand Canyon Village. After obtaining my permit I was convinced I needed more food. After two failed attempts I finally found my way to the grocery store. I wasted a lot unnecessary of time doing so.

When I finally got to the South Kanab trailhead I found out my harness was missing a buckle. It must have fallen off during the trip there. I ended jerry rigging it and hoped it worked out.

I was excited to start the canyon and got quite emotional. I hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was about 10 or 12 years old. I got a lot of stares and comments from those I passed in the first few miles. The further down I went the less people I saw. 

The canyon was amazingly beautiful and better than I remembered. It was clear the effort was going to be harder than expected. I started around 4 pm and got to the bottom around 6:30 in the pitch black. I only stopped once to take Phillip off my back. Doing so wasted too much energy and it was easier to just keep him on my back. Despite being incredibly hard, I did get to enjoy an amazing sunset during my descent.

My plan was to camp at Bright Angel. The temperature at the bottom of the canyon was going to be a balmy 57 degrees, where as if I slept on top, it would have been in the high 20’s or low 30’s.

By the time I got to Bright Angel all the rangers were off duty for the night. It took me almost 20 minutes just to find the ranger building. The first ranger simple came to the door and asked what I need through a closed door. Then a second one came out after a few minutes to show me the equine camp where I was staying.

The ranger asked how my carry was going and I told him how I needed more padding for my waste. He mentioned there was a blue foam mat in the hiker box and it was mine if I wanted it. I grabbed it and followed him to camp.

The wind was crazy strong by now and setting up my tent was so much work. As hard as the tent set up was, simply walking around was harder. I was so sore that it was hard just walking around camp. I really needed to stretch, eat and hydrate, but honestly I just wanted to sleep.

I tried to minimize my movements and be efficient to avoid the pain and discomfort of moving. When I finally decided to lay down I carried everything I needed at once so only to have to take one trip to my tent. It was pretty sad but gave me a good laugh at the time.

Once in my tent I started to worry the wind was going to blow it down. So much so that I propped one leg on top of the other and held the tent’s single ridge pole between my big toe and the next one. This didn’t last long as I was so tired and I couldn’t hold the position for long.

The wind kept me up for a while but finally the sand man carried me off to the realization that I just carried my bike down 4707′!

Day 15

Oct. 21st

4 am to 6:23 pm (14:23)

63 miles – 735 total miles

Bright Angel Ranger Station to Jacob Lake

I really didn’t want to get moving when I woke up. I knew I was going to be very sore and that the climb was going to be incredibly tough. At the same I just wanted to get the whole experience over with.

The beginning of the climb wasn’t bad, but it got steeper as it went. I felt pretty good up to Cottonwood Camp where I got some water and answered lots of questions from curious campers.

Not long after Cottonwood Camp the trail got a lot harder and energy levels dropped quickly. Luckily I got a lot of encouragement from all the hikers and runners. I stopped again at Supai Tunnel for water and answered even more questions.

It was just under 2 miles to the top from here but very steep. Every runner I saw now really cheered me on. Most of them had passed me on their way up so they knew what I had already did, and what little I had to go. It was motivating for sure.

I can’t describe how I felt when I got to the top. I was a mix bag of emotions. It took me over 3 minutes to just get Phillip’s rear axle in. My mind just wasn’t processing very well and neither were my motor skills apparently.

As I sat there trying to compose myself I thought I recognized a guy there. Before I could figure it out he said, “Craig is that you?”. It was Paul Hamilton, who I knew from Carbondale. He was there to support his girl’s attempt at the Rim to Rim FKT.

Putting together Phillip was hard enough, but getting my leg over his top tube was even harder. My hips were so tight I could barely lift my legs. I finally did so by standing on a curb and even then I barely got my foot over the top tube.

Once again I followed the road alternate like those in the Spring do because of snow. Just shy of leaving the park I came across a large herd of buffalo. Myself and a bunch of cars had to stop as they were in the middle of the road. I stayed close to the cars so I wouldn’t get hurt. Finally the herd move off to the left but one buffalo was left behind. When he/she realized this, they took off after the herd with lightening speed. Poor guy/gal almost wiped out on the pavement doing so.

I reached the North Rim Country Store by late afternoon and it was already cold. I got some food, sodas and rejoiced at only having around 40 miles left to the finish. I asked about the weather and was told it was going to be below freezing once again.

This didn’t sit well with me so I asked to use their phone to call and get a cabin in Jacob Lake. With a cabin secure I packed up and time trialed it the 15 miles or so to Jacob Lake.

I got my room key and found my cabin. Once inside I cranked the heat. I was absolutely freezing! As the sun went down the temperature followed and add to that my higher than average pace on the road and the wind chill was bone chilling.

I got in the shower to warm up but the water never got above lukewarm. I was crushed by this! All I wanted to do was get warm and it was also my first shower since Payson. After this shower failure, I put on my puffy pants and jacket and beanie, then got under the covers in bed. I FaceTimed my folks and my mother commented on the image being shaky. I explained to her that was from me shivering.

After finally getting warm I walked over to the diner for dinner. Dressed in black puffy pants and jacket and a black beanie, I got some odd looks from the other customers. The food was okay at best. With dinner and desert in my belly I went back to my cabin and called it a night.

I drifted off to sleep thinking about the fact I had only about 28 miles to go!

Day 16

Oct. 22nd

7:45 am to 11:09 am (3:24)

25 miles – 757 total miles

Jacob Lake to Finish

I paid way too much just to stay warm in a sub par cabin.

Despite wanting to be done, I was also not excited about starting super early since it was so cold. I had breakfast at the dinner in hopes of the temperature going up while I ate. I don’t think it really helped physically but it did mentally.

The trail was amazing and easy going. I made amazing time. There were a few tests along the way, but I was so pumped to finish I blasted right through them. I was definitely feeling the pull of the finish line. 

I reached the final hill and yelled for my buddy Scott who was supposed to meet me there. I yelled at the top of my lungs three times and never heard him respond, despite being able to see his truck. I put my headphones back in, turn on Macklemore’s Downtown, and ripped down towards the finish.

I came around the second to last turn and almost ran over Scott. I back tracked a little bit so he could film me finishing. Then as I came around the very last corner I washed out my front wheel and almost crashed!

It felt good to finish the AZT and the Triple Crown and have a friendly face waiting for me. Just like most of my adventures the finish wasn’t a big ordeal. Adding to the old adage, “It’s not the destination but the journey.”

Also like other adventures it was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that I didn’t have to pack up Phillip and pedal again the next day. Part of me didn’t want to stop, but another part of me did. I was done and of course the thought of “What now?” creeped into the back of my head.

Final Thoughts

The Arizona Trail was by far the hardest of the three for me. I’m sure it was equal parts racing it alone, the trail itself, the heat stroke, and the fact it was my third big race of the year.

I definitely didn’t deal with the heat very well. I have a crazy love hate relationship with the desert. The desert definitely holds a special place in my heart. I love the canyons, sunsets, cactus, and big walls. That said I dread the heat and amount of effort it takes to operate in such an environment. 

At the end of the day, the AZT was an amazing experience. I went places physically and mentally I had never been to before. It pushed my limits and set new ones. I’m stronger as person after completing the AZT and the Triple Crown.

As I eluded to earlier, the finish was anticlimactic like most of my trail finishes. I’m proud of the fact I set myself a goal and had the tenacity to complete it. By the end of 2017 I had ridden 6200 miles, bikepacked 4280, and raced 4038 miles. It was my single biggest year ever. 

The One of Seven Project started as a personal goal to celebrate my uniqueness, to become one of seven billion, and by the end it became a defining moment in my life. 

MORE RESOURCES

Read these next or checkout the main resource page.

Gear lists from the AZT, TD and CTR; Pros & Cons; Things I’d do different; and Tips.