Cjell Money is a Pussy – Tales from the AZT

atzr

The Ariozona Trail is a 750 miles foot path from the Mexicoan border to the Utah border. The Arizona Trail Race is a bicycle race along that route. It is fucking hard.
I had heard of the race a while back but hadn’t considered giving it a go until Chip Androus had emailed me a month or so prior urging me to consider it. 750 miles of the single track. The longest single track bike race on the planet. Springtime Arizona riding a month before Tour Divde…no brainer.
Preparations consisted of around 48 hours of scrambling. My time up until then had been consumed by putting together steel frames, a new venture for me. I have gotten together a humble fab shop in Vail where I have started constructing custom steel bicycle frames. Frame number one was built for a friend of mine in Texas and I was obliged to get it sent out before my departure for the race. This meant most of the time in which I should have been getting cues together and constructing new luggage was utilized to finish the frame. No regrets, the drop bar fillet brazed 29er that resulted was worth it.

photo 2

Frame number 2 will be this year’s Tour Divide bike. It will be a very cross inspired drop bar 29er+ bike-gasm. Lugged steel construction with classic lines tweaked slightly to accommodate dirt drop bars. The bike will also run Surly’s new Knard 3.0 29+ tire. The big volume tire combined with a frame pump should provide a very versatile bike which will be tunable to the varied surfaces encountered on the TD. 25psi for road and 5 psi for that extra shitty stretches, somewhere in between for everything else.
Needless to say, much of the time spent in the shop building frames left little time for much else. A breakdown of the remainder of my prep time would be best represented in a pie chart.

piechart<

I fucking hate Garmin. Load the entire track of the Trail? Nope. Multiple base maps for the tour down the start, and then the race? Nope. Randomly deleting shit I really need? Yep. I would say that my little GPS unit is the exact opposite of intuitive, but that would imply some sort of predictability which it has none. I turn it on and it takes an inordinate amount of time to start and load. Simple made maddenly difficult…Garmin. Soon they will be eclipsed by an apple product that works which will be a blessing.
In typical Cjell Money fashion I decided I would ride down to the start of the race. I felt that the tour to the start was necessary training being that the number of bike rides over 5 miles could be counted on a fist thus far this season. I did get some snow riding in on my snow bike this winter. Mostly riding back and forth from East Vail to Vail via the cross country ski trails. I was a bit discouraged by the pretentious XC skiers. Every forth one would throw a shit-fit about me biking on their trails. Not a single one stopped to take a look what effect a 4 inch tire at 4psi leaves on the trail, which is nothing. Those fools are worse than roadies, come to think of it, they probably are roadies.
Vail to Tucson is around 800 miles so I figured 12 days would give me time to ride at a decent pace and a couple rest days at the end. 10 days would make it tight and anything under 7 would leave no rest and constrict the schedule to uncomfortable levels. Of course I chose to leave 7 days before the race start. What could I do, my Garmin needed hours of undivided attention.
I took a ride towards Aspen with my loving girlfriend Robin as to skip the I70 corridor and give me a jump start towards Arizona. The black sheep was packed out with luggage that remained from TD the previous year. Remnants is what they were. Made of cuben then had been abraded heavily and had holes. Seams were blown out. Closure systems protested. It’s what I had and needed to make it work. After packing everything up it didn’t seem too bad. I failed to predict what I would be asking of them on the AZT.
Leaving Carbondale I had also added a small backpack to my kit to expand storage for the ride down. I was carrying two fresh tires for the start of the race along with extra sealant. The extra space was welcome but I was reminded how much I dislike riding with a pack on. Spent a night outside of Delta sleeping out. The next day brought me to Telluride where the locals were talking of the heavy snows that were predicted for that night. I wasn’t too excited about setting up my tarp and battling snowfall all night so I started thinking of alternate plans. My first instinct was to hitchhike out of telluride with the bike to avoid the impending weather and dodge it from lower elevations but as I stood outside the Conoco with my thumb outstretched I saw a man pass on a bicycle equipped with drooping panniers. Decidedly not on a bike tour, he did however appear to be of the bike touring pedigree, so I made my move.
Biked up alongside and inquired about camping. Camping was not really the goal, more of fishing for a roof was the plan. I’m not sure if I could have encountered a better person in the situation. Dave was an old salty bike tourer, gray beard and a hardened exterior, who had been at it since the 70’s. He immediately invited me over to camp at his place. After a minute of riding towards his place enough trust and mutual respect had been built and he invited me in for a shower, bed, dinner and some documentary viewing. BINGO.
Dave had just come off his annual winter bike tour of 9000 miles! Desert riding in the SW and Old Mexico. He had gone around the globe and was almost too humble about it. I had to pry stories out of him, which I was happy to do because his tales from the road were incredible. Getting beat and robbed in Turkey, desert crossing in Africa.
I was a little embarrassed to show him my rig with cuben luggage, GPS, Ti frame, etc etc but he was very interested in how one could tour with so little. Makes me think about the essence of bikepack racing and how it aligns or doesn’t align with my personal ethics. I had never toured on a bike valued at over $100 before tour divide, and listening to myself telling Dave, my ultra real bike touring host, how the fancy bike wasn’t ‘me’ seemed disgenuine.
He made me a bike tourist portion of pancakes and bacon and we watched a documentary on Arctic exploration from the 90’s. Now those idiots were nuts. Schadenfreude was a term he introduced to me, meaning taking pleasure from the hardships of others. The documentary was all the Schadenfreude I needed to keep pedaling.
Snowed hard that night. I would estimate 8 inches to a foot. I was grateful from my wonderful host who was luckily house sitting a very nice mountain home on not living in a tent outside of town as he usually does.
I seized the morning sunshine to bike up and over Lizardhead pass. Most of the new snow had been push out of the lanes of traffic. I put on all of the clothing I had and started up. Lizardhead is a bitch, but very pretty and rewarding. I crested the top with a bike filled with dirty icicles and a glad to start my freezing decent.
All downhill to Delores and then Cortez. I got some direction from a bike shop in Delores telling me to take a right after the big Casino which I did. The particular right after the casino was not the road I wanted, it was a road leading to a small reservation community.
100% Native American. All of the residence I passed stared at me asking with their eyes, ‘What in the fuck are you doing up here?” I looked back inquiring with my eyes ‘what in the fuck am I doing here?’ Finally a sweet Native American resident driving the tribe security car approached and asked if I was lost.
She offered me her tribe discount at the casino hotel. I considered the time of day and my current navigational misstep and was obliged to accept.
$40 was much more than I like to spend on lodging but I was short on options entering into the reservation. I showered and proceeded to try my luck in the casino with the promotional cash they gave to me for staying in the hotel. I asked a few people working there how I could cash out because I would much rather have the $20 than casino action. My mother, father, and sister are all math teachers, casino were never really my thing.
I gathered that I needed to play the money out before I was allowed to cash out. I was down to $3 when the slot machine I selected started dinging and counting. It didn’t stop counting until it hit $60. FUCK YES. 60 bones. I couldn’t run to the cashier fast enough. +20 for the hotel. Boom.
The morning was very windy as I set out to 4 corners. It only got windier. And windier. When I finally reached 4 corners I rode past the ticketing booth prepared to claim ignorance, no one seemed to care. 4 corners was a bit of a let down and it sounds like the little monument was off by a ways. Ha.
Joke was on me though. Winds increased and the next 5 miles took me over an hour. 40+ miles an hour would be a conservative estimate.
Had a look at the map and started doing calculations about how long it would take me to reach the next town on the reservation traveling into the extreme headwind. It would be over 2 days riding hard at 5 miles an hour. Shit.
Pulled the plug. Decided I would have a hard enough time on the AZTR and didn’t need to beat myself up in the windstorm. Stuck my thumb out and got picked up quickly. The Native American man had a brand new truck who was really into professional wrestling.
He gave me around a 40 mile ride which put me smack dab in the middle of no where on the reservation. Wind had now picked up and with them sand. SAND. A full on sand strom. In my eyes and mouth. My efforts to ride now were almost laughable. 5 mph had now dropped to 3 or 4. I was pretty fucked.
Tried hitching again for over an hour with no luck. I decided I would stop being such a baby and try to ride. I stuck out my thumb feebily as cars passed by. No luck. At this point, with my current progress I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it to the next town before dark. Shit.
Camping wasn’t really an option considering the winds and my tarp tent whose kryptonite happened to be high winds. Needless to say, moral was low.
I told myself to stop being such a baby and get in the saddle but my efforts to make forward progress were so futile. Options…options…options? Hmmmm.
I continued to attempt to ride sticking out my thumb to passing trucks or anyone who looked to have enough room for a bike. If I could time it right I wold fake like I was having a mechanical while cars passed. I was surprised no one stopped considering the all out sand storm that was happening. I couldn’t clench my teeth any longer without grinding copious amounts of sand. Wow, AZ, you are a real bitch.
I was in the saddle when a passing Tacoma with two bikes in the back saw my thumb outstretched. An avid cyclist from Durango heading to Phoenix. He recognized my current predicament and pulled over. Thank the baby Jesus.
I considered just taking a ride the next reservation town but listening to the radio, the 50 mph wind of the day were expected to increase to 70 the following day. Are you kidding me? 70 mph winds. Shit the bed.
Happily accepted a ride to Flagstaff with the sandy tail between my sore, sun burnt legs. Cjell Money was feeling like quite the pussy.
A fellow AZTR racer, Eric Foster was obliged to host me for a few days in Flag while I recovered from the riding. He as attempting to graduate from college while simultaneously preparing for the AZTR. He as forfeiting sleep to accomplish his goals. I was happy to accept a ride down to Tucson from another racer passing through leaving Eric to sort out his shit without me.
Forrest Baker had an amazing connection in Tucson and I was happy to take advantage for a shower and a bed when I arrived. The following day I reunited with Chip Androus, the only other Grand Depart finish of the Tour Divide from the year before.
Chip had ridden 350 miles of the course before succumbing to cactus needles, knee injury and infection. I was beginning to understand that the AZTR might be slightly gnarlier than I had estimated. He has some good info for me and insisted that I bring a tweezers. A tweezers? Really? Shit.
Chip and I headed down to the start of the race where we met back up with Forrest and some others to camp for the night.
The following morning we headed down to the Mexican border where the 750 hopefuls were lining up. A decidedly nervous energy in the group with good reason. The AZ trail was about to kick the shit out of every last one of us. Got hi, took photos and started off.
It wasn’t a couple miles before I started making a few discoveries. 1, leaving on a true grand depart with other competitors was stressful. Every time to stop to piss, fix something, rest, or whatever, you are passed by other riders. Especially that first day. I wasn’t doing a great job of handing that anxiety. 2, my luggage was shot. I was losing thing on the gravel road even before hitting single track. After surviving 3000 miles on the TD it needed to be replaced. Weighing in at under 10 ounces, it was impressively light but was certainly not up to the rigors of the AZT. I was stopping to fix it constantly and it’s in effectiveness zapped my confidence in riding anything technical.
I will save any reader who has made it thus far in the post from the ‘whoa is me’ crybaby ethos I would normally put here as many others were experiencing the same thing. The AZ trail is fucking tough. 100 degrees. Single track. Hike a bike. No water. Long resupplies making your super Gucci titanium super bike a 50 lb pig. Shit.
I hadn’t quite bonked getting through the canello (sp?) hills but needed salt and water in a big way when I finially reached Patagonia. The trail was shaking out my gear more than I had expected. I was riding the same 2 speed BlackSheep from tour divide and I managed to lose the shifter button early one. Hell.
Traced my steps back to the last time I was sure I must have shifted with no sign of the tiny button. Single speed it is. I of coarse was passed by a number of other riders, one of whom, rhino, spotted the button that I had missed. Wow, some good fortune.
More issues with luggage coming out of Senoida. My setup was very from heavy so I removed tubes and taped them under the seat. I would lose one soon after but who couldn’t see that coming. Most riders were wearing backpacks and at the start I was feeling confident that I had my setup entirely on the bike. I soon realized that with all of the Hike-a-bike that the backpack was very advantageous as pushing the full 50+ lbs of bike/gear/water sucked ass. The pack would help with some of that. Live and learn.
Rode into the night as much as my body and mind would permit. Ended up camping with my buddy Forrest. Only made it til about 10 but was fully shot at that point.
On the bike at about 4 the next morning, Forrest was already gone. Leaving with all those riders was killing me. Hard to ride your own race when other riders would constantly remind you of where you were losing time.
That morning as the sun started to rise was the first section of fun ridable single track. Hope was being restored. Getting into a section around Saguaro National Park, the trail weaved almost comically around miles of cacti that would constantly remind you that any slight miscalculation would spell certain needle carnage. Everything in the desert want to fuck you up. Everything.
Got into the Rincon market and took my time trying to relax and take in calories. It is so hard to do with other riders coming in and making a faster stop that you, but really focusing on yourself is necessary.
Left the Market knowing that reaching the Summerhaven store/restaurant before closing would be impossible but forward progress was the only the to do.
I recall that section as being quite trying. Rationing my water too much was my main problem. I arrived at the next water with over a bottle remaining. A theme for the trip. Normally one can run quite a hydration deficit and fill up at the next point but dehydrating yourself in anticipation for the next water stop but for the AZTR depriving yourself of food or water would have a compounding effect and the terrain provided no respite. If you were dehydrated or bonking, it would be much slower that traveling fast with a lighter load. Lesson I was quickly learning.
I was also fully educated in how under prepared I was. I spent and evening riding with Max Morris who was telling me that he was bikepacking almost every weekend preparing for the race. I hadn’t seen any dirt on a loaded bike since last year when I hung up my gear. My foolishness was deheartening as the arduous miles continues to come. My headspace was becoming more and more dark.
I slept that night next to bathtub springs and was up early. I ate the remainder of my food save one granola bar. One bar for around 50 more miles of single track. Shit.
There were certainly moments on the trail that were so rewarding and awesome. The AZT is not without it’s amazing single track that is fast and fun. It just mixed in with shit that is hard as hell and unridable.
It started getting warm as I crossed the Gila River and filled up with water. This time I figured I wouldn’t over fill and left there with three bottles. Mistake. The miles on the Gila brought me my first crash which are always emotional. My spirit began to break as temps soared. I wasn’t in danger of being thirsty when I started the climb out of the river valley and came upon a hiker water cache. I took a modest drink and continued up and out. I was soon walking as the sun brutally pounded me.
My hunger gave I to thirst as I started to realize that my miscalculation might be putting me in a bit of danger. I was now having my first thoughts of calling the race at the finish of the 300. There was a waypoint on my GPS marked, “finish of the 300, sweet.” I was prepared to call it there. I figured there would be people there and I would happily accept water, breaking the rules and calling the race. When I got to the point, there was nothing, just more single track. Screw it. The next point to bail, I’m out. This is a type of dangerous punishment that I wasn’t prepared for. My brakes were also noticeably weakened and I was using that as another excuse for a forfeit. The 50+ lbs of bike on descents were eating my pads at a accelerated rate.
I had made peace with my decision to call it before I made it to the road. It was simply more than I was prepared for. A springtime training opportunity for the TD had proven itself way more than that.
I did finish the 300 which I could not trick myself into being proud of that accomplishment. At this point I was simply happy to know I would not need to wake the next day at 4 in the morning and do it again.
Another racer and I enjoy the small amount of shade a small tree provided there at the trailhead. He encouraged me to wait until the following morning before calling it quits but I had taken too much solace in the fact that I needn’t worry about anymore thirst, hunger or exhaustion. I would be done right here.
We pedaled the next 20 or so miles into apache junction together. The miles were much easier knowing they would be my last on the AZT that year.
Destroyed a Chinese restaurant and crashed on the side of the road. My friend got up early and I wished him well. I believe only Max was ahead of us at that point but it no longer mattered to me as my head hit my makeshift pillow.
Blake, another rider passed that morning and rode passed. I didn’t envy him. I was going to ride into Phoenix slowly and sit at a diner for as long as I pleased.
Stayed with a friend of a friend. I don’t know if I had ever been that dirty before. The shower was almost spiritual. I had all my cloths on as dirt covered the tub floor. I had few feeling of failure. Just relief knowing there was no more.
The fine folks at the Slippery Pig bike shop allowed me to box my bike. I hopped on the train to the airport just outside of the shop and bid Arizona farewell. The state had truly kicked my ass. If I were ever to return, I would be with much more preparation and in better headspace.
I congraduate all those who finished the 750. I am not sure that I envy you but commend your accomplishment.
Will I be back? Not enough time has passed to know for sure but if I do, it will be a different Cjell Money.

More to come on TD prep. My bike conctruction is coming along well and preparation for the tour to the start as well as the race are in full swing. Dave Wilson from Nuclear Sunrise witnessed some of my plight struggling with my uber light luggage and has volunteered services. His shit is second to none when it comes to bikepacking bags. I’ll check in soon with some updates with prep, kit, bike, etc.

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About cjellmoney

Fucking badass dude.
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4 Responses to Cjell Money is a Pussy – Tales from the AZT

  1. Gunnar Berg says:

    Sorry I’ve missed you the past couple of times. Next time I’ll cancel all family weddings or funerals to ride with you. You just gotta see our place in Lanesboro.

    You be well and be careful out there.

  2. Matt Alford says:

    Cjell Money Lives! Good read as always and nice to know that even the Manelope can be humbled.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  3. Singlefin says:

    Props for attempting the AZT on a whim. Good luck on the Divide…look forward to hearing how the Knards work out for you.

    http://www.californiasierratrailrace.com/

  4. aaron d says:

    Good meeting you out there Cjell, hopefully see you again next time (or a different you)!

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