Somewhere around 2 I finally hit some single track. This cooled me down quite a bit. I kept on with my meal plan of eating something every 15 minutes. At some point, it began to be a struggle. Just the mental capacity and discipline of stopping and eating was not fun.
I missed the exit for twin lakes and had to backtrack to the road and make my way there. It was 3ish if I remember it correctly. I showed up with at least a 1L of water so I went thru the process of putting on all my layers but my 2nd pair of long johns, ripping open a pair of hot hands, blowing up an air mattress, slipping it into the bivy and then slipping me into my sleeping bag liner. I stopped moving and the cool of the night hit at the same time.
Note to future riders: Hot air rises, cold air drops. This is good to know because if you are sleeping in a valley or close to the water the cold air is coming for you. Twin Lakes has been a great goal the last two years, but I will not sleep there again.
All zipped up I started to hyperventilate. 2nd year, same spot, same symptom… what they hey! Once I realized the Kelty classic bivouac sack will not breathe I had to unzip and let some cold fresh air in. I didn’t know saving my life could be so easy.
I figured by the time I got packed and rolling there would be a rider pulling into Picketpost. Congrats to Pete Basinger for the 2 days 13-hour win. You are a beast.
April 9 – Day Goal – Tucson Hotel
I’m not sure if I set an alarm or not. I do know that if I had not prepared my camp stove right outside my bivy, I’m not sure if I would have made it out before 10 am. The Colossal Cave was my next item to check off the map. I wanted to get there before the heat of the day. The plan was to rest in the heat of the day and buzz into Tucson around sunset.
I knew there was a lot of fun riding ahead and was very optimistic for the day. I had no idea of the magic that lies ahead. The trail takes a few detours to run underground. The first is 83 and the 2nd is interstate 10. At 83 I stopped for a breakfast of Pink Salmon. There were clouds in the air that had me checking the weather radar often.
At Gabe Zimmerman, some sweet soul had a poster and two styrofoam coolers sitting trailside. You could see empty glass coke bottles sitting next to one. As I walked over to open these white treasure chest I could not hold back tears. You read trail reports and hear about trail angels and their magic, but this was my first experience. Thank you, whoever you are.
After the angel refuels stop, I was soon battling horse traffic on the Arizona Trail. Thou shall not spook the horses, but come on with the horse shit people. I ran into a pair of riders and they let me know the clouds were connected with the fires on Mt Lemmon. But no worries because the trails were open.
I took a nap at the group campsite near the cave. I quit here a year before. I spent 6 hours resting and cooling down. I knew I was going on and didn’t know how hard it was going to be making Tucson. It was not that bad after all.
Came off the trail and hit up IHOP and then crashed hard. Overnight I had laid out baby food packets and made sure to inhale one or two each time I got up for a bathroom break.
Friday – Race day Goal – No rest till Kentucky Camp
My mom had brought Cinnamon Rice Chex as a special breakfast treat. Thanks, mom!
We packed up and made the drive from Sonoita, AZ to Parker Canyon Lake. I wasn’t the last person to show up, but I was cutting it really close. Aunt Tish didn’t make it out of the truck to wish me off. My mom, Becky, took a few photos and wished me well. After the standard prep talk from Scott, the pack is off.
I give my last goodbyes and head off into the Canelo Hills. This year starting on time afforded me the opportunity to ride with a lot of different riders. A lot of riders complimented me on the Triumph Over Kid Cancer frame bag. This was a prime opportunity to let folks know why I was out on the trail.
Casper from Denmark and I seemed to play tag all through the east hills. Good news, I didn’t seem to have weak lungs like I did in this section of the ride last year.
Casper Ortvald on day one of the Arizona Trail – 2017
A few miles in I learn that my bag test the day before was not thorough enough. I was questioned with a group of riders about a missing orange bag. Yes, I was the owner of the lost orange bag. I really didn’t believe the rider when they said someone had it and was bringing it up the trail. I had just put my bike down and was ready to head back down the trail when I saw Jeff Hanson and his wife Jennifer coming up to greet me with my handlebar bag. I was grateful.
I had carried an extra niteze wire bungie and used it to secure the orange bag into place. Once setup this bag stays put for the rest of my ride.
Riding in a group had its benefits and drawbacks. I had plenty of water and knew a waterhole was getting close. I wanted to be sure to always keep 1 liter of water until I made it to the next refuel stop. So I missed a water spot I used last year.
In the next mile, I found a small pool of suspect water. This water was not flowing so I used my tabs to treat it before loading it into my hydration pack and sending it through my Sawyer mini. I chose to put the Sawyer inline this year so I had immediate access to water. On my 2016 ride, there were too many times where the 35 min tablet wait was a pain to deal with. The Sawyer allowed me to scoop my bladder into a pool of water, hook up my water line and start to drink. This would also work as a gravity filter. I could just hang my bag in a tree and let it drop into my bottles.
Riders on the Arizona Trail Race
By mid-day, I kept passing riders hiding in bushes. I couldn’t blame them. It was hot on the trail. Last year I hit Patagonia 5 minutes after the stores closed. This could not happen this year. The Canelo west trailhead hosted 4 or 5 resting riders. one rider asked me something like “How’s it feel to kick the Canelos in the ass?” I let him know it was the other way around.
Canelos west meant fewer riders yet an easier ride despite the gusty winds. You get out on the trail and feel all alone. There might be riders out there but you don’t see or hear anything. Around 5 I hopped off trail to take care of some bush business.
If you are ever feeling lonely or need to see someone just stop off trail for a #2 … someone will show up.
The need for water
Down Under Tank 03-035a (Mile 18) was my next water stop. I had a mission this year. I missed the cement damn with the pipe that feed off the bottom Trap Tank. It was a minor victory, but I was glad I found it. Very nice and cold water off the bottom of the stock tank. As I was topping off I met a fellow Texas rider named Don Schwieters (750). He quickly earned my respect for being a Tour Divide 2016 finisher with the time of 29:07:58. Congrats on that achievement Sir. Don’s AZTR750 time was 13:08:25. Congratulation on that achievement also.
If I was stopping for water I would fill up to capacity and then work on cooling off my body. My hometown is so humid I never get to take advantage of the body’s natural ability to cool itself. On the trail I got into a routine of taking off my long sleeve shirt, soaking it in water and putting it back on. I would also wet my hair to enjoy the cooling effect. This helped me lower my body temp so I could push on in the heat of the afternoon.
The Down Under Tank water held me all the way to the corrals at Red Bank Well 03-068 Mile 21 when I met Don for the 2nd and last time. He was off to conquer the 750.
The Canellos – Translation – what bicycle tire nightmares are made of.
Mile 20.5 – sidewall gash – Orange Seal to the rescue. This was larger than my cut from last year. Stan’s couldn’t seal that one, so I knew a tube was in my near future. Orange Seal, do your thing to my front tire, please. I really didn’t want to use up a spare tube and lose my sealant setup. I pulled my front wheel and placed it where the cut was face down in the dirt. I was hoping the dirt from the outside and the sealant from the inside would make a bond. It did and I was back on the trail. I strolled off the trail to a mine opening and waited for the fix to work.
It worked! After pumping a bit more air in I was back on the trail. It wasn’t long before my slacker riding got me in trouble. It was just a little sidewall rub but it was at the perfect spot to rub off my dirt seal. Once again, off the bike yanking a front wheel out of the forks while pulling for a superglue pack. Waiting for the glue to set I kept placing bets in my head of how long this might last.
Getting back to civilization
The ride to Patagonia was pleasant. I was a bit surprised when the trail ran out and I was on the blacktop. All this happening when the sun was still up. Wow.
The women with the white dress on?
As I was on the blacktop heading into town I saw a greenhouse farm and then looked up to see an angelic woman walking in my direction. This same scene was repeated a 1/2 mile later. So if someone knows where the ladies in all white are going please let me know. It was intriguing to me.
In Patagonia, mom and aunt were ringing a bell and cheering me on. Well, my mom was, my aunt didn’t seem herself. Not at all.
Once in town, hit up the Velvet Elvis for a large hot plate of spicy spaghetti.
It was a surprise to see how many riders came into town why I was sitting there eating. The Hansens had the same Velvet Elvis craving.
Next door, the Mercantile had a few rides hanging out cursing the Conelos, but today it was not the Conelos that was the problem but the heat.`As riders would come to the store I would hop up from the restaurant and go trade war stories. I was hoping my 2016 riding buddy Steve would show up. He never showed up.
After night fall
My sidewall gash was letting air out of my tire but I chose to air it up and ride to Sonoita, Arizona. Becky and Tish were staying another night at the Xanadu Guest Ranch and I knew it was an option for good rest. During my 12 mile ride to Sonoita, I had made a change of plans. Sleep 3 hours at the ranch and then head out to Kentucky Camp. I made the ranch 3 hours earlier than I did the year before.
I walk into the room and quickly notice it feels like an inferno. Tish was shivering and could not get warm. Mom pulled me to the side and said she had booked Tish on the first flight to Texas the next morning. They tried to get into a clinic but couldn’t get an appointment.
Overall I was feeling good at this point. I grabbed a shower and put on my camp clothes. It was bedtime. Around 2 am someone is waking me up. What the hell? This is a bed for one. It was Tish. She wasn’t talking to clear and when I asked if she was climbing into my bed she just mumbled and made herself at home. Long story short Becky was alarmed and a few moments later we called 911 thinking Tish was having dying on us. It freaked me out so it was back in the truck and we headed off to the hospital in Sierra Vista.
I was taxed with the job of calling loved ones sharing the bad news.
Well, what about your race? They all asked.
To hell with the race, that old trail will always be there. I can come and ride it another time. I was seriously shaken by the shape my aunt was in.
We trailed the ambulance and fire crew to the hospital. The doctors ran some test, rehydrated and boosted up her potassium levels.
After a few hours, she started to make complete sentences and could walk again. They ran a culture but would not have results for a few days so they let her go. She didn’t seem perfect, but she didn’t stroke out so I felt like continuing my effort on the AZT.
Day 1’s sidewall gash had grown a stalactite overnight. I noticed when I started riding and something was ticking the fork on every rotation.
We traveled back to Xanadu so I could get back on the bike. A quick stop for a food order at The Chuck-wagon and I was off into the wind at 10:30 am. Despite the stroke scare, the trip to the hospital, and really slow food service, I was still ahead of the game by 3 hours.
Things didn’t work out as planned this year, they never do. Never! In 2016 everyone around me was healthy and I tapped out of the (Arizona Trail Race) AZT300 due to an illness. Jump to 2017, I’m healthy and everyone around me is sick.
On one hand, planning, workouts, sponsorships came together perfectly, and then there was chaos falling apart in the opposite direction.
It takes me back to my chemotherapy treatment days. For every victory out there, there was something kicking you in the nuts trying to break you.
Every decision had a bad effect on someone.
I had a mission to go and complete this race and dedicate it to the memory of James A. Ragan.
My family was not going to make the trip to Arizona so I offered up a seat to my aunt Tish. She jumped onboard and me, my mom and my aunt took off west.
As a small business owner, you have to complete all the to-dos before getting on a bike and riding off into the wilderness. My last to-do was a big law video production. To get this one completed I found myself in a parking lot 35miles west of my cozy bed at 3:30 am. Not having internet sucked. By 4:30 the edit was complete and uploaded, everything had been checked off the list and it was time for rest.
Prep day Thursday
The first day to have all the bags loaded up. A small amount of anxiety knowing that day 1 and the Canelos are calling. At the Xanadu guest ranch, I had a great talk with Don, a road tour rider from Nebraska. Don spent the last part of March traveling Arizona by bicycle. He and his riding buddy were quite the inspiration.
Packing bike bags is a problem without a perfect answer. You must keep heavy stuff down low, items needed quick need to be close, and bedding gear tends to be fluffy and bulky. So if you pack for weight alone you will not have quick access to the things you need. If you pack for quick items you might have a lopsided bike. If you pack your pack… blah blah blah, I will figure it out as I go was the plan.
There were fires causing a detour in the route up Mt Lemmon. I was bummed hearing this because I wanted to trudge through the suck that came with taking off to Redington Road and climbing the mountain.
What makes your heart race? Why do you get up every morning? How would you react in the face of tragedy? Who would you give everything for? Life has a way of stopping you in your tracks and making you question everything you think you knew about yourself. It questions your career, your routines, your priorities and everything you previously treasured. There are many experiences too great for one man to bear, and this is mine. Luckily, I did not have to bear it alone, I had the trail and the memory of James Ragan. The trail opened up an outlet for my pain, an opportunity to harness it into strength. In these times we find a deeper self, a new self-reborn from the ashes of tragedy. This is my phoenix song.
Riding a bike on a road is hard. A rider has a long stretch of pavement and has to choose the right gears and the right time to spend their energy on. If they have trained hard and chosen wisely, they will come out on top of the competition. In the world of ultra, mountain bike racing it is far more complicated.
For me ,racing the Arizona Trail was never about one person on a bike racing other mountain bike riders. It was never about being stronger than folks who never went out to ride. It was always about the opportunity to learn and grown in life. Join me on my adventure.
I cry every day. How is that for a manly statement? But seriously, over the last few years there has been something on my mind that makes me emotional. It was never something I asked for, but it is something I’m trying to accept. CANCER.
It never really went away. Sure, my cat scans show clean now but the way I think will forever be changed. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Cancer. On most days you can probably say that not an hour goes by without Cancer coming to mind. There is one thing that helps push it out of mind. That one thing is riding a bike down the side of a mountain. When you are trying to find the right line and make it to the bottom without killing yourself, the mind has nowhere to wander. On those brief stretches of trail the thought of cancer vanishes.
Fight Club on wheels
Males often watch the film “Fight Club” and think for a second that such an event would be a lot of fun. Others think they want to start up a club in their basement. I, for one, think the rush would be fantastic, but the threat of death would be too great.
In mid-April I rode a race that felt like I was in a fight club.
It is open to all, with no gender or transgender issues. The trail really doesn’t care what is in your Lycra, it just wants you.
It will beat you up, spit you out and after your wounds heal, it will have you begging for more. In a majority of the trail reports many riders have a “losing it” moment. I think it’s losing something while finding it all at the same time. I wanted to go out and find that thing.
Derrick Perrin on Chemotherapy outpatient MD Anderson, Houston, Texas.
August, 2 years ago, I was thirty-six, and a married father of three little ones under the age of five. This is the year I was handed a MRI report. I was looking for a torn hip cup or Bursitis, but what I found was cancer and a fracture in my right hip. The fracture came from falling off my bike while having a tumor. The tumor was due to Lymphoma Cancer. I went from seeing one doctor in five years to seeing five doctors in one day. I chose MD Anderson as my cancer care center because they were well known for getting the job done. My friends over at Triumph Over Kids Cancer made my choice easy. Their son James had received care there and the world knows them as the top in cancer research and care.
Cancer has a way of jacking up your entire life. You can’t just have hardships like waking up super early to make a four-hour drive to a doctor’s appointment, oh no, you have to have a flat tire on the way. Or you complete your last round of chemotherapy, you ring the celebration bell, you drive home and find your toilet valve has been leaking for the last few days and you have to rip out your hardwood floors at 2am. It’s a snowball effect. It sucks but you work to get passed it. You are not prepared for things to multiply into worse problems. All you want to do is take care of your health, but life keeps throwing it at you. But once again you learn to live like that. You learn to anticipate problems and fix them as they come up. God teaches you to be patient and to work harder. He has given you the ability to see and fix the things around you.
4 months and 6 rounds of chemotherapy later my scans all showed negative for cancer. I still had the bike that tried to kill me and I had a crazy idea. (Read more about that story here) That idea was to ride in ultra, off-road mountain bike races. The top of my list were:
Tour Divide Ride from Canada to Mexico on the Continental Divide
I don’t know how cancer affects other people, their brain, their faith, their body, or their soul. I know that my fight with cancer has worked to strengthen all. It woke me up. In the back of the mind there will always be a why me? Why so young? The year I was diagnosed, two of my friends younger than I had died from cancer.
First it was James Ragan. He passed after battling osteosarcoma and left a legacy behind. So proud to ride for him and for his organization, Triumph Over Kid Cancer.
The most recent was a previous client of mine, Christina, who passed from Lymphoma in her hip. Well, guess what? I had Lymphoma in my hip. Death was coming soon. I looked at the mortality charts studying them as if I had control. Five years is considered a survivor in the cancer world. 56% of folks with my cancer don’t make their year anniversary. I set out to make these five years amazing.
The balance game begins
Why sit through round after round of chemotherapy? Why sit and sign medical waivers to take drugs for your cancer that are all known to cause cancer? What will life be like with Leukemia? Who, What, Where, Why, When? The cloud of questions circles your head like a cartoon character that just got hit in the head with a frying pan. You balance opportunity to live longer with the possibility of getting a secondary cancer.
Wednesday April 13
I packed the last bit of goods I thought I was going to need for the race. I ran into Roger Brittain at “The Pedal” bike shop when I was picking up my bike. He had heard about my story and wished me luck. At the shop I had a last minute bike tune-up and hit the road. Day 1 – Drive from Corpus Christi to Sierra Blanca’s only lodge, Americana Inn Motel.
Thursday April 14, 2016
The hotel had a nice sloped parking lot and Benjamin had his balance bike. This was a good combination. Grason played army men in the parking lot while Kendra begged for two extra towels from the angry man at the front desk. Our 1am arrival time might have had something to do with his grumpiness. We headed west for Sonoita, Arizona. El Paso and Deming were our last two major stops for camping gear. I had a feeling that my recently purchased pannier bags were not going to be a good fit for my bike rack. On the drive I purchased another Sea to Summit bag at Dicks Sporting Goods in El Paso. Walmart in Deming, New Mexico provided the last day packing jitters. You sit there looking at a million items and think, in a day I will not have access to any of this. What, if any, of this crap do I need to pack on the bike? Opportunities, right?
Later in the day we arrived in the village of Sonoita and the Xanadu ranch in time for check-in.
Time to load the bike for the first official test drive. A half mile trek proved the panniers were sketchy and the last minute Dicks trip would pay off. We ran for dinner and then to scope out the turn off where the pavement ends and the 4×4 trial begins north of town. Back at the guest ranch I packed my gear and went for another test ride. Successful pack and time to sleep.
Trail Day 1 - Friday April 15, 2016
Game day. Load the bike, load the kids and head south to Parker Lake. The drive was fast and beautiful. One day I would like to go back and do it without racing to get to a race. I was happy to pull in behind the Broadway Bicycle Team so they could lead the way to the trail head. The area was buzzing with bikes, dogs and pre-race jitters. Scott was kind enough to hop up on a truck bed and give everyone a welcome and a few housekeeping items. By 8am the AZT750 races were passing the trail head. They started at 7am and had already booked ten miles of trail. I knew I was not a race contender so when everyone jetted out I was still hugging my children and trying not to cry. We shared an emotional prayer and I hopped up on my ride and headed north. I must have gotten excited by the race because I hopped on the bike and hit the trail before Kendra had a chance to snap a shot of me. Who am I kidding, with each minute there I had more and more tears welling up. I didn’t want her to see me cry. I just wanted to start this journey.
Within the first few miles I laid it over, lost a cell phone and was having a genuine blast on the trail. When I found my cell phone was missing I turned around and headed back past the gate I just closed. There it was glass side up covered in a layer of dirt. Phone back in bag, I headed north again. Winded, I chose to hike the bike up the next big climb. I jumped back on the bike, made a few pedal revolutions and hisssssss! The rear tire kissed a rock and got a gash.
Insert rookie mistake #1 here: I had packed line, thread, and needles to sew up my tire. It still had a good bead on the time when it was spewing out Stan’s NoTubes. I was trying to think how to get back on the bike fast. After pumping up a bit of pressure and watching more Stan’s fall out what did I go for? Nope, not the needle and line, not the superglue, but a tube. The tube held fine and my side gash problem disappeared. While fixing the tire I was able to visit with a lot of the seven hundred and fifty riders as they hiked along. My five-minute fix was dragged out by my choice to video the situation. It took longer than thirty minutes and that was too long even for the best of video demonstrations. I then had to hike off trail and be with nature.
Somewhere I ran into Grace. She was a through hiker looking to make eight hundred miles from there to her destination. I would pass her on the downhills and she would kick my ass on the up hills. She made me think hiking the first fifteen with a bike on your back might be a good idea.
Enter the Jack. Jack is from Eugene Oregon and somewhere down the path he lost a bicycle wheel. See Jack rides a mountain unicycle by Kris Holm Unicycles. Yes, you read that right. A one wheeled machine set to travel seven hundred and fifty miles from Mexico to Utah. Jack is a very determined twenty-three-year-old setting off to do something that has never been done. The AZT750 is listed as the world’s hardest mountain bike race and Jack decided to make it more difficult. Jack had a jack up his sleeve. See, Jack knows one of the most difficult parts of the 750 is packing your bike in and out of the Grand Canyon. The nation park does not allow any wheels to touch the ground. So when others are nearing the end of the 750 and working extra hard to hike a bike on their back, Jack will simply mount up his one wheel and move on. Smart move Jack. Glad he is out there making opportunities happen for himself. At this point in the race we played follow the leader until my 2nd mechanical error.
Over the bars and down the hill I go
While riding down a rocky jeep trail I found the biggest rock and tried to hit it with all I had. Sounds good right? Well, somehow it hit something, freezing my front wheel in place, as I rocketed over my handlebars. Somehow I landed on my feet but the propulsion carried my body downhill another 100 feet before stopping. At that point I hiked back up to my bike. Two things were not like they were a minute ago.
My front tire had found the ability to stretch and touch the front fork, and my GPS had a new gash in the screen protector. You can live without the GPS but you can’t ride without a front tire. 11:53am I met two guys coming back from riding the first section with the AZT750 riders. Why in the world you would want to ride out and back on the first twenty-five miles I’m not sure, but these two guys were doing it. They saw my situation and offered to pick me up at the Comelo trail head if I needed it. At this point Jack rolled by as we talked. They were as blown away as I was. The two men verbalized what I had thought about doing, which was a manual fix in the field. Sure, sure, sure, I would be flexing the integrity of my front wheel but I had to do something. Hiking the bike would have been thought-less to do in its taco-ed state. The men suggested finding a fence post or a tree to flex it in, or jumping on it. I didn’t find a tree worthy of fixing it so I went with the jumping fix plan. As the guys put it, “it could fix it, or it could make it a lot worse”. I was already in the worst mood, so I went for the step and flex method. It seemed to work. I was moving again and I was happy. I had spent a lot of time documenting my flat by video early on and opted for a few photos before getting back in the saddle. Insert headphone in ears here. I had enough solitude and it was time for some music. I had packed an ipod something or other in my race gear. People who know me know I don’t buy Apple products. This little gem was found on a hiking/biking trail in Corpus Christi. I reached out to the registered owner and got nothing back so I sacked it away. Thank you, Steve Jobs for this little piece of technology. The battery life was awesome.
To ride up to water tanks that are empty is like finally arriving at a mirage. Rookie mistake #2: Carry more water. Sure three liters is a lot if you are sitting at your desk, but for a 6’4″ bike rider it’s never enough. Next year I want bottle bars on my front forks. The next water stop was not far ahead. A dirt tank with plenty of water. It also had plenty of cow patties, plenty of algae, and plenty of character. This was the first place where water choices of hikers and bikers were completely different. I filled up my tank with water and the appropriate tablets and headed thirty minutes down trail. At that point I needed to eat, so I dropped in the tablets that are there to kill the crap in the water. Once the neutralizing is done, it’s time to drop in the Nuun tablets so my water would be full of electrolytes. Lunch was a tuna packet, nuts and part of a dark chocolate bar. Coffee was served by a pinch of the Ziploc baggie and a sloshing of water into the mouth. Ah, instant espresso goodness. Okay, to be honest it takes a few times to get use to drinking coffee like this. I think this will be a good camping thing in the future.
I made it to the trailhead about fifteen miles into the race. I was half way to Patagonia and I had caught up with Jack. He didn’t seem to be having the time of his life but then again he was at mile twenty-five of a seven hundred and fifty-mile journey. I trekked along only to be caught by thirty mile an hour winds, and Jack.
Sometime I climbed to the summit. I had been working for a while looking at one side of the mountain and climbing. All of a sudden the right side came up and my view of the mountain went away. I would be able to see for miles and miles in all directions if I didn’t have tears in my eyes. Could I be having my epiphany race moment on day one not even thirty miles into the race? Yes, yes I was. I was so emotional and thankful for the folks who had put me on top of the world. Sure it was around 5,000 feet in elevation but it was the top of the trail world that day.
4:50pm trail time – 3 Text from Mom but the first 2 are not meant for me “12:29: He hasn’t moved since then. He was last for the three hundred’s. The next three hundred is going on mile twelve, he is on five. This is going to be rough. ”
“He has to get forty-six miles in today. Maybe at midnight he will get in. Three hours and forty minutes and the lead has done over twenty miles”.
“You knew the first twenty something miles were going to be tough. Keep your calories going and you will catch up”.
The damage was done and the fifteen super motivational quotes after that could not make up for the wake-up call in the text. Only problem was that mom was too optimistic with her concept of midnight. I completed the forty-six miles a little past 1am on Saturday morning.
Sometime before Friday’s sunset I passed Jack for the last time of the race. I then met up with Grace who was heading for water where she would make camp for the night. There was a fork in the trail, and bikes and horses were led to the right and hikers to the left. Some good laughs came to mind when I was reflecting on one riders trail log. He wrote that a good rider could make the entire Arizona Trail 300 without having to hike the bike that much. I’m not sure what drugs were in his water bottle but I hope to find out before I go race the AZT again. I found a spring, a pack of wild turkey and a way off the trail. Yep, right at sunset I found myself going downhill back and forth, in and out of a dry wash, as it descended toward Patagonia. You ride along the hill, whip back and over along the hill, only lower than you did on your previous pass. At one point I rode off the trail and was riding where the cows hiked. It was not far, just enough to be annoying. One hundred feet back and I was back on the trail. I found a windmill and got excited. I thought of climbing it for a photo (I’m semi-famous) for that. I have also been known to shimmy up a telephone pole to snag glass insulators.
The windmill was disconnected and so was the large array of solar panels. The AZT Trail App said there would be a trough in the corral, and there was. I pushed down the float and water flowed into my camel-pak. Yes, fresh water without algae. Enter the water tablet sequence here.
A few minutes later my lighting kit was mounted up and ready for its first test. Helmet lamp on, check, handlebar lamp, check, and let’s ride. I was surprised with my setup. A 170 lumens Princeton Tec lamp on my head and a Blackburn lamp on my bars. I had this light in addition to the light provided by the almost full moon. I made it into Patagonia, Arizona at 9:55pm. No services at that hour. I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie and hit the pavement for Sadonia some twelve miles away. I called Kendra and the kids and let them know I would be there around midnight. Ha-ha, I wish. Once I got up to speed on the pavement I realized going over 8mph was a huge strain. I pushed, but my bike kept pushing back. I know the pavement runs uphill the entire way, but this was ridiculous. I would ride some, and hike a bike a little. This was not my ideal situation, but I would take it. I knew I had a hotel room waiting for me. For my first day with two mechanical issues it would take it. At 2:09am I rolled into Sedonia and placed my first call in to MTB Cast.
Derrick Perrin calls in from the trail. Audio provided by MTBCast
I then pedaled two miles off course to bed down at the Xanadu Guest Ranch. I plugged in all my rechargeable gear. I took in some water and a morphine bomb oil capsule. The warm shower was nice but when I got out I had trouble controlling my body temp. I had a fit of shivering and shaking before warming up to sleep. I crawled into bed thinking this is the first time I have ever done one thing for 16 hours. It was tough and that is what I came to Arizona for.
I sleep hard and woke up in damp sheets. Argh, sweated it out. Night sweats are always a system asked by my oncologist. It was not the sweat but coughing that woke me. It seemed like every hour on the hour I had a persistent urge to cough hard deep. From five to nine, sleep was good.
Start of day on the Arizona Trail – Call to MTB Cast
Packed up and headed out of Xanadu Guest Ranch so I called in before stopping for a burger and supplies at the local market.
Trail Day 2 - Saturday April 16, 2016
I woke up with the plan to inspect my front axle, pack the bike and be rolling by eleven. I would ride till sunset and try to bed down for some solid rest before hitting the trail before sunup. “Two Days To Tucson” was the theme I started with. Sure it sounded like a cheep B-list spaghetti western, but for me it was a huge adventure in the making. I would get there no matter what, get the bike fixed, and lay up in a hotel for a solid day before moving on to tackle the climb up Mt. Lemmon.
The AZT quickly reminds you that it’s not just about riding a bike from point A to point B. Kendra and the kids were set to leave for Tombstone at the same time if it hadn’t been for the flat tire on the Durango. Lucky for us, the innkeepers had a plug and were nice enough to fix the flat. They headed out at 11am and I was back on the bike a little after noon. I stopped for a few snacks at the market. I packed a fresh local brownie and a Perrier water for the road. Next stop was a burger for now and one for the road. The burger for now had all the fixings and the one for the road was plain with cheese. They hold better in the pack if you leave off the tomatoes and condiments. By 1PM I called my grandparents and MTBcast and was ready to set sail.
The winds from Friday had spilled over to Saturday and I was pedaling right into them. With the wind also comes dirt and allergens. The trail takes you from Sonoita north. Once off the pavement you head west on 4×4 trails until you meet up with the AZT300. I passed two dirt tanks and topped off at the first one. When I arrived I rushed to down two liters of water, leaving me with one left that was red from my beet juice powder mix. I topped it off and dropped in some tablets. For some reason I checked the label on the tablets and read “neutralizing tablets”. I had dropped in the wrong ones. Now I had to empty the entire mix and start over. So here we go again with new pond water and new tablets. Thirty minutes down the jeep trail it was time to put some food in and let some food out.
I packed up lunch while talking to my brother James. I kept on pushing into the wind. Somewhere I came to a fork in the road and stooped to post up my bike and take a scenic photo. Looks like Hog Canyon was 3 miles ahead.
Out of the blue a rider appeared. His name was Steve and for the next two hours we talked and played follow the leader back and forth into the Santa Rita Mountains. Steve rode a Specialized Camber mountain bike just like me. By the time we reach Kentucky camp (7:52pm) Steve was the lead dog and I happily followed. We fielded a few questions by the campers and then jumped back on the bikes. On our way out of camp one guy lined up his kids and they clapped and cheered us on. We hit the top of the road north of the camp and I made another call in to MTB Cast.
Left – Steven Barnard right – Derrick Perrin at Kentucky Camp
Phone call to MTBCast from the top of Kentucky Camp
MTBCast: Arizona Trail Race ’16 – Derrick Perrin called in from Kentucky Camp – Riding with Steven Barnard, 750 racer.
At sunset we stop for dinner and to update our attire. I quickly learned I put on too many layers. I didn’t want to sweat out my clothing and then really get cold.
I found a nice balance between clothing and gloves. My body could endure a lot more if I had my ears and hands covered. My ski gloves with vent zippers open worked great. These were for riding and also part of cold weather sleeping gear. We set a game plan for the one-hundred mile mark. I’m still not sure if that was one-hundred miles into the race, or one-hundred miles for the day, and whose race? Steve’s 750 or my 300? Well at the time it sounded like a hell of a plan so I signed up. We hit the trail as Steve hit the music. Boy, oh boy, did he have a collection. I made a game of name that tune or artist. I think I did a fair job of getting all the 70’s and 80’s right. Kenny Rodgers threw me for a loop. Somewhere along the trail I discovered I should have carried more water. Steve seemed to have bottles mounted everywhere. We made a good push and found a water well. I didn’t want to wait the thirty min for water so during that time I cracked my sparkling water and drank it. Why didn’t I fill it back up? Rookie mistakes.
Water well on the Arizona Trail
We headed on and by 3:30am Steve was starting to push, but by 4:30 it was me pushing. We had passed two game cameras by then. I’m wondering if the person manning those cameras could send me a night time photo? Two times we stopped and grabbed a bite to eat. I was dead set on sleeping by water. I was going to fill up before bed and have it there for breakfast. So we pushed on passing one possible water hole with a report of “floating fish” somewhere. We found decent downhill single track just outside of the forest boundaries. Steve yelled “Stop right there, put your hands up, and yell,” so I did. “What was that for?” his reply, “You just passed the one hundred-mile mark!” I was happy because anything beyond this was pushing beyond the previously set goal. In this stretch I accidentally donated my ski gloves to the trail.
We pressed on to Twin Tanks. Just a fourth of a mile off trail there was another racer that we never saw. We set camp while the sun was coming up. It was beautiful. I called my parents since they had been watching my dot all night long. I filled up my water system and dropped more iodine tablets into the mix. I don’t think either one of us caught any sleep. Getting warm was a challenge. I put on all layers of clothing including my sock gloves. I had cracked a few hand warmers for my feet and hands. Everything was good except for my legs. They were cold and my arms were getting hot. I soon pulled my puffer jacket off my arms and placed my legs in the arm holes. Bingo perfect body temp. I was glad I was tucked in my bivy and the rest of the world couldn’t see this bike riding fool with a puffer coat on his legs.
I crawled into bed thinking this is the first time I have ever done one thing for 18 hours straight.
Sunrise over Twin Tanks
Trail Day 3 - Sunday April 17, 2016
It was unclear if I stayed up too late or got up too early.
Call in from start of day 3
MTBCast: Arizona Trail Race ’16 – Derrick Perrin called in Twin Lakes
Camping on the Arizona Trail.
Once I laid down and got warm I began to cough hard. I then had labored breathing. I felt like my airway was closing up and I had to work hard to pump air in and out of my lungs. I was a wheezer. I got rest but no sleep before the trucks rolled in. Who knew that Twin Tanks was such a good fishing hole? Five families were hanging out, catching fish. I stuck my head out of my sack to see a pack of runners on the trail. Seems like Sunday morning was a great day to run a half marathon on the Arizona Trail. Later, I would be thankful for these runners and the infrastructure they required. We packed up. I called my Mom and let her know the plan was to ride to Tucson and get my wheel fixed and lay up for a night in a hotel. I waited to get to a hot shower and sit there to breath in the humid air. I also called MTB Cast to let them know it was a short, crappy night but I was on the trail following Steve. A few more miles down the trail I called again after being energized by some really nice single tracks. My energy was up but I still knew this could be my last day of riding. I broke out the camera and shoot video as I moved along. I was moving to slow and Steve hustled on.
At the lake I didn’t pack my rear rack well. Somewhere I lost my extra tire. I figured this would be an important thing to go back for. I ditched the bike off trail and hiked back a fourth mile to pick up my spare tire. I ran into a few local riders. One couple ask if I was the sick one riding the AZT300. I’m guessing they had run into Steve ahead. Yep, that is me. I hit a gate and then a port-a-potty before crossing over the road. Thank you runners and your necessities. It was nice having a potty to poop in. I will call that trail magic. I know there was at least one racer who called this potty home early Saturday morning.
I then kept moving up the trail. It was heating up and I had to remove clothing and apply sun block. I must have fought with myself for fifteen minutes before stopping and taking care of the issue. I knew it was going to be a hot day. I knew my long johns were not for day riding. I knew my ninja hood needed to come off, but I didn’t want to stop. I had to work hard to convince myself that switching would be beneficial to me and the race.
Once I found shade, the clothing came off and the sunblock went on. This was also a good time for a mid-morning snack. Proud of my ability to take care of simple things, I rode on.
AZT crossing under US 83
For some reason making it under 83 and I-10 were big for me. Maybe I have read too many bicycle trail reports. These locations were the noted objects that won’t poke or sting you. My next scheduled stop was the watering hole next to the train bridge/crossing. The report said “Watch out of hobos”. After riding for three days in the dirt, I didn’t think a hobo was going to want anything I have to offer.
Trail angel time
The trail passed by a parking lot and I wasn’t sure if there was water at that trailhead or not. I asked a lady and she pointed me up to the staging area where the half marathon had started. I asked where the bib was and she said use the cooler. I was only going to grab a liter and head for the hobo place. Come to find out they were closing up shop for the day and offered me food and fruit. So I topped off my three letters knowing they were about to dump the water in the desert. Why I didn’t grab a banana I don’t know. I pushed north. I found myself on single track surround by ocotillo and then turned the corner and was surrounded by creosote bush. I really enjoyed this part of the trail. It was getting hot when I hit the rail road crossing and saw the first bunch of Socorro cactus.
You made the 100 mile mark – Popsy
“Thanks, I needed that” – Derrick
This section had evil rocks, but some of it was a rideable. Once around, I could see the little ranch caller La Posta Quemada. I came across several day hikers and dog walkers in this section. I had no Idea I was fourteen paved miles from the bike shop at this point. Rookie mistake #3: Know your maps and your GPS. In hindsight, I should have dropped down to the cave for a water refill before hitting the pavement for Broadway Bicycle. Laid up for a day, rode back out to the cave and hit the trail. This is what I actually did. I kept hitting the pedals until the La Selvilla camp site. I knew there would be water there but I didn’t know there would be a Steve there. When I rolled up I didn’t know it was him. All I knew is there was a bike packer on a picnic table. He yelled out, “It’s you! I thought you were a goner.” I rolled up and spouted out, “Donde este la agua”. His reply, “I don’t understand”, “where the hell is the water”, “right over there, it doesn’t turn off and there are hornets all around”. I didn’t care. I had ridden the last forty-five minutes without water and I wanted some. The hornets turned out to bees and I turned into wet. I wasn’t the first person to bath in the faucet that day and I have a feeling I wasn’t the last. I set camp on a picnic table, I got some rest, while coughing up a lung. Had to find a spot in the tree shade that had part sun and part shade.
Tapping Out - The Scratch
Food & Water
I was at the end of a long day with less that three hours of sleep in the last thirty hours. This was not in the plans. Giving up on the front half was not a good effort. My windpipe was closing, my lungs were full of crap and I could only think of my last blood work at MD Anderson. My white blood cell counts were on the rise, but still lower than the any Arizona Trail bike racer. Sure, there were things I was willing to face over the week. Cuts, bruises, mental fatigue, and muscle pains were the expected fighters. My rising partner for the previous day had been so positive. Everything was achievable when riding with Steve. He had been there. He heard me try to sleep. He saw the pile of lung contaminants on the park bench. He knew it was time for me to call, but that I didn’t want to accept it. This was the first time he was not positive. When asked how it was to ride with Derrick, Steve said,
“Good ride, Its been fun. Helped me get me over the top of the hill. Its just too deep in the lungs. You just need to just back out. It hurts, it really hurts. I know how you feel. I love you and be safe.”
For my rookie run I don’t think I could have had a better riding buddy. Thank you Steve for babysitting me on the ride. After re-watching the race playback on http://trackleaders.com/ I was really surprised I didn’t meet Steve on day one. Each time I had a mechanical, he would get within thirty minutes of me.
Call in from end of day 3
MTBCast: Arizona Trail Race ’16 – Derrick Perrin calls the race due to breathing problems.
Post Trail Days
I was riding for me and my fight over Cancer.
I was riding for James Ragan who is not with us because of Cancer.
I was riding to show folks you can go do monumental things after fighting Cancer.
I failed after one hundred miles of trail. The hardest part of the trail was hitting the help button on my spot GPS. It hurt. I had to call my supporters and tell them I was done. I had to call James’ Parents and let them know I was not able to make it to the end.
For the past three days I had let everyone know how I was doing by pressing the “ok” or “not so okay” buttons on my spot GPS. The device was setup to send a text to my supporters who were watching the race back home and to make a post on Facebook. Not once had I thought about hitting the “I’m done, please come pick me up from the trail” button.
I knew that hitting that button would post to the world that I had scratched. During the ride I was wondering how I could do it better next time. Did my flat and broken front tire hold me back from being where I wanted to be on day 2? As I sat there ready to push the end button the thought of not having another chance to ride the Arizona Trail again came to mind. What if this, what if that, what if I keep riding and my week immune system fails me completely. What if the Cancer comes back before I get to pedal another stoke on my bike.
If Cancer only taught me one thing, it is that plans and what you think the future holds will not be what you can expect. Friends that you thought were going to be there can vanish into memories and opportunities are there for the taking, but there is never going back for them.
Kendra came and picked me up next to the sign that read “Tucson 14 miles” How painful is that? We saw Steve on our way into town and cheered him on. We hoped him well and were happy to see he made town that night.
There are always trade offs when you choose one opportunity over another. I passed up the opportunity to complete the Arizona Trail 300 Mountain Bike Race. I opened up the opportunity to eat breakfast for dinner at Waffle House in Tucson, Arizona with my family. I was really out of it and the food helped a lot. A hot shower at the hotel helped me clear out my lungs. We got up the day after and looked at the opportunities we had now as a family I knew once I called it there was no going back. Kendra offered and I had to say no with tears in my eyes. I had come off the trail and that was that. The Arizona Trail ride was dead. But I was alive. And I needed to move on.
I was glad to have my family at my side as I recovered from trail life.
Balmorhea State park was on the short list of things we must do on the way back home. We made it there by way of White Sands, New Mexico and visiting family in Kermit, Texas. Balmorhea did not disappoint. We loved day one so much we booked a second day and really enjoyed the time together. Recovering in a 74 degree pool was amazing.
Doubt set in a few days later. I was so close to Tucson when I called the race. I was so close to having a bike that was 100% again. I was, I was stabbing at the way things could have and should have happened. My old basketball coach, Casy Jones, had a saying that fit this moment. That saying was, “Coulda, shoulda, ain’t shit!?” He is right, if I could have continued I should have continued, and I would have completed the race. Life went down the way it was meant to be.
I often ponder the trail I chose not to take, the moment I knew I was done, if I could have changed my fate. But in these moments I realize I was in control the whole time. I could have given up at the diagnosis. I could have given up at the month of chemotherapy. I could have given up when I felt myself changing. But I continued. Now I know you can’t live your life for the marker. You have to live through the journey of getting the marker. My experience was amazing, but it would have been nothing without my family waiting to comfort me and my friends waiting to cheer me on. We did this. I did this. And so can you.
I thank God for the safe ride and the adventure of a lifetime. I thank my family for supporting me on my “crazy trip into the wilderness” and I thank James Ragan for showing me how to go out and find that one thing.
Things I would do different if given the chance to ride the trail again.
Use an inline filter for my hydration pack. This would save time on each water refill.
Plan a mail drop in Oracle, AZ – This would let me carry less of a load over the trail.
I will leave you with the video that started this adventure. Thanks for reading.
Arizona Trail 300 Mountain Bike Race – Report by Derrick Perrin
Back at MD Anderson for a quarterly checkup. Looks like my rectal contrast is omnipaque today. Sounds like a a shade or color but it will be what the doctors can use to my back side. Amazing to spend so much money for someone to see the inside of my back side.
Thursday I will be back at MD Anderson for my follow up