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As I continued on, the rain closed in slowly and eventually started to come down hard enough, I needed my rain gear on. If the weather was warmer, the rain would have been refreshing, with the wind, it was just cold. I stopped under a bush for some shelter, so I could eat some food. Even though I was getting wet, the dirt on the road wasn’t being affected too bad. This part of the route was passing through the dead volcanoes on the north side of Flagstaff. The scenery was beautiful, but with the impending weather, and the posibility of things getting much worse, I constantly focused on forward motion. When I got to the soft grey cinder road climb, the main goal was just to keep moving. The road was too soft to ride with one hand, I had to eat while walking the bike to get in the calories and keep my momentum. At least the sun was back out for this bit, and the wind had even died down. After crossing the highway, the road carried on to the Sunset Crater National Monument, the weather also started to rear it’s ugly head again. I stopped at the visitor center to try to pay my way through. When I asked the shop worker about paying, he glanced at his bare wrist and said, “You’re just in time… to not have to pay. Anyone braving the weather today deserves something for it.” He also told me I was an hour and a half behind the last guy, Ben, and 3 and ahalf behind the first two, Dana and Chris. Woohoo, $15 saved, and I was in fourth place, awesome!

The rain started to sprinkle again. The base of the final big climb was at 7000′ and made its way up to 9300′ in 7 miles. The rain started to mix with some ice crystals. I had made this climb up the gravel to Lockett Meadow before, I knew it wasn’t that bad. As I pedaled up, the rain continued its transition to freezing rain, then snow. Lockett Meadow was beautiful in the snow, but I was so focused on moving forward, and keeping warm, I couldn’t be bothered to take off the gloves for a photo. I passed a camp with a few Overlanders and their trucks, looking at me in the weather, they knew I was crazy. I found the trailhead, and started walking up the trail. There was no point in riding the Inner Basin Trail, it’s steep, and covered with rocks and roots. The snow was deep enough now that the trail was covered and finding the route became diffficult. I am normally disgusted by the people who feel the need to carve their initials on the Aspen trees, but today the graffiti was the only trail marker I had to follow. Any time I needed to find my way, I’d just look for the hearts and initials on the trees. After lifting over dozens of dead trees and navigating the snowy trail, I had finally made it to Waterline Road. The wind was whipping at the top and dumping tree-fulls of snow on me. I had to quickly pull off my rain jacket so I could layer up with my down jacket, add gloves, and make a hood out of my vest. I had left my nice rain gear at home, so I had to get creative with what I had. After bundling up, I started the descent down Waterline Road. I had been looking forward to the break on the downhill, but the snow was so deep, I had to pedal the whole way down. The wind whipped hard and brought me to a complete stop on a few of the corners. The sun was still barely lighting the sky at 7:30, I could see down to Flagstaff, where there was no white on the ground, and I breathed a sigh of releif. It was going to get better, just get down. After hoisting the bike over at least 20 more downed trees, I was finally making progress. I made it to the bottom as the sky went totally dark. Time to eat some much needed food. While most of the day had been travelling on dirt and gravel roads, we were back to riding singletrack for the rest of the route. The dirt was soaking wet, but not really muddy. This just made for slow going, as the ground was soft, and tires would easily slip when riding up the rocks. There was plenty of hike-a-bike, simply to avoid spinning the back wheel and falling over from an abrupt stop. I phoned Sarah, to let her know I was nearing the finish, and to wait another hour before driving up to pick me up in Flagstaff. Little did I realize how long those final miles would take.

The last 25 miles seemed to drag on forever. It would have been much smarter to stop for 15 minutes and eat 1000 calories, that would have given me power until the end, but I thought I was only a couple hours from finishing. The two hours doubled to four. I continued my slow pace south, away from Flag now, constantly wondering, how much longer is the trail going to be this rugged. I was riding the AZT, I should have known, there’d be no let up. I carried on through the rocky terrain, getting off to walk up all the rocky climbs, both to keep the heart rate down, and to avoid injury. The skies spit rain, then the moon would come out, then more rain, then some thunder, then more moon. I only looked at the clock, maybe once an hour, and it was very disheartening. I was upset to know I had kept Sarah waiting so long when she had to be at work in the morning. Nothing I could do, but keep moving forward. While I know I was in a major calorie deficit at the time, I was still cognizant enough to realize, a lot of my emotional distress was related direclty to my energy level. For whatever reason, I get this “short-timer’s syndrome” where I cease consuming calories when I know the end of a ride is near. I should know by now, not to do that, and will take the time to keep up on the intake on my next ride in a few weeks. My emotions got a huge boost when I made it back to the Urban Trail System, just a couple more miles! I was elated to hit the wet pavement into town. It was just after 2am when I made it back to Flag Bike Rev to mark my finish time on the roster in the mailbox. 285 miles, almost 24,000′ elevation gain, in 44 hours 10 minutes. Time to get some food! I rolled around in circles, eventually finding Sarah and Pepper waiting in a nearby parking lot. I appologized for being late, but I was still rewarded with a huge hug and kiss, and an extremely excited pup. On the way home, I learned that Ben and I were the only people to finish the ride.  This time around, 2nd was also last.

“What a ride?” I thought, now onto the next.

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