Believe it or not, I actually felt like trying to race a bit. Not that it improved my finishing position by much mind you, but it was a fun exercise in minimizing my downtime for the day.
Another rare occurance: I was early. Enough to surprise Jeff & Ray. Even though I showed up early, the parking lot was already buzzing with activity. Tons of riders came out for this one. The weather was looking really good - 60's & overcast. Not to mention the trails would be in fantastic shape after a steady rain two days earlier.
I met a few new faces who I only knew via social networks and tried to say 'hi' to the many familiar faces in the crowd. 7:30a arrived and the large group was off!! All the racers started together on a short neutral rollout to the dirt following the same route for roughly 10 miles, then the short course riders would peel off to the right while the 60 milers continued north.
Somehow I ended up near the front of the pack where I clearly did not belong. I wished Ray well and watched him speed off ahead with the likes of Kurt, Neil and the other trail crushers. I pulled over and let about 20 riders cruise on by. As soon as things started to space out a bit I jumped back in, but still managed to get passed by what seemed like another 20 riders!! Yet I still felt like I went out of the start too fast along Desert Park trail. I consider myself a relatively strong rider, just not a fast rider. I also take a really long time to warm up during a ride, usually 20 miles or so before I feel comfortable.
This route doesn't give you that luxury. While the first few miles are a gradual ascent, they are rocky, commanding your attention. Then the trail gets really rocky, enough to make things uncomfortable. That's about when the grade kicks up and the real climbing begins. Welcome to the Tom's Thumb trail. At the end of a small canyon the trail turns abruptly to the right and shoots skyward. Twenty-seven switchbacks later you arrive at the top of the McDowell's.
|Trail namesake: Tom's Thumb.|
|Popular place for rock climbers as well.|
|No Saguaros up here, only prickly pear & boulders.|
The downhill was a hoot, only dabbed on a few switchbacks and there weren't too many hikers coming up the trail.
At the bottom the route quickly transforms into a network of XC trails. I rode the Gooseneck trail for the first time a couple of weeks earlier and it was 3x better on this day due to the moist packed desert soil. I started to see runners coming at me one by one as there was an ultra-marathon event going on simultaneously at the Regional Park. I believe the runners I was seeing were part of the 50k course, incredible athletes all around.
I caught up with Derek & Jason at the trailhead followed by Nancy a few minutes later. I barely needed to top off my water some 20+ miles into the ride. I scarfed down a quick snack and made my way towards Brown's Mtn. This would be the last short effort for a while.
|RRC climbing the north side of Brown's on a recent ride, we descended this climb today.|
Brown's Mtn came and went, along with it Cholla Mtn & Granite Mtn trails. Before I knew it I was back at the Gooseneck trail having a snack with Nancy, Derek & Jason, some 40 miles in the books. I wasn't feeling too bad, but I also wasn't looking forward to riding the Sonoran trail. There were still a few hard efforts left in the day.
The four of us rode up Gooseneck and over to Pemberton together. I lost sight of Jason first, then Derek. Nancy disappeared for good when she sprinted up the gradual climb on Coachwhip. I stopped at the bench where the Windmill trail connects. It was time for my reserve stash: Coke!! I really needed the 5 minute break before the final push up and over the eastern flank of the McDowell's.
|Fountain Hills fountain spouting off from the Sonoran trail.|
I caught up with Derek & Guy on Promenade and the three of us pushed our way up the Western Loop to the new Andrews-Kinsey trail. This trail is a welcomed addition to the park providing a well contoured singletrack connector around the east side of the mountain. No need to ride through the gated community at the bottom of Sunrise trail and slog up the crappy jeep roads to Promenade. Hooray for new trails!!
By the time I swooped into the banked turns of Quartz trail, my wrists were aching from the constant pounding most of the day. I was ready to crack open a cold one. Jeff showed some mercy on the route planning when he diverted off of Paradise trail after only a few hundred feet in favor of a smooth paved finish the last couple of miles. Thank you!!!
There was a nice group still hanging out in the Basha's parking lot when I finished, even Ray was there!! (He's usually long gone by the time I finish) I was pleased with my finish, under 9 hours for not dead last!! It was great to see the large turnout this year, more people are getting hooked on the AES events. Great route Jeff!!