AES Black Canyon Trail

During races, my body always behaves differently than during normal rides. This time was no exception. I figured that the AES Black Canyon Trail would take me between 7 to 8 hours, including stops, so I was packed with 3 liters of HEED, 1 liter of water, and 10 energy bars. I got a bit late to the starting point, and so was about 2 minutes behind everyone leaving the parking lot. It was a push to catch up, but once I did, it was pleasant drafting in the pack. The actual start of the race came after a mandatory “water-check” at which time I had a first sip of my HEED. Yuck! OMG – I wasn’t sure if I could drink all of this without throwing up.

My heart rate was averaging 90% during the climbs up Maggie and Crown King Rd. – this took me 2 hours – and my legs felt awful the whole time. Usually, I quite enjoy a good climb and spinning, but the adrenaline and excitement of not wanting to be left behind, seemed to change this for me. It was a very nice to ride with Chris and Chuck as our speeds seemed to match pretty well for the first 1:30 hour. We chatted about this and that, and my heart rate dropped a few times as we were just coasting along and not racing it. That leisurely pace ended at the last steep climb up Crown King road with each of us testing our limits.

At the top, I took a 10 minute break to stretch, drink, and let air out of the tires. Then, the descend on an amazing single track began. I hadn’t ridden my bike in a week and it showed. My single track skills were near zero and I felt uncomfortable at every turn. Luckily, this began to improve after filling up 1 L of water at Crown King road (thanks, Chris!). This diluted the HEED taste somewhat – and reduced the urge to hurl with every gulp.

The Black canyon trail then became faster and more fun for me. My bike handling and energy level went up, and so did the fun meter. It is an amazing trail – and for that very reason also very dangerous in parts. The trail builders spent a lot of time in a few sections carving a trail into a mountain with a very steep drop-off to one side.

By the time I reached the second (and official) water stop, I was beginning to pass people. I filled up with another 1 L and hammered on. Soon, there were some people shooting in our direction from below – just target practice I am sure – but I felt like the target!

I cleaned a few uphill switchbacks and really had fun until just 1/2 mile before the end, when I ran through a knee-high cholla cactus during a second of inattention as I was watching some hikers coming up along an adjoining trail segment. Yikes, that hurt and I had to stop and pull a deeply embedded sticker out of my ankle. Still made it down to the finish line without my next competitor close enough to pass me.

Much to my surprise, I came in after 6:03 hours, with 5:43 hours race time. I used 6 liters of liquids and 1 gel, but all the 2000 calories worth of energy bars in my pack merely came along for the ride. Full results are at AES Results and Strava.

People had collected around Aaron’s minivan for postride bevs and snacks – much fun and chatting was had for 2, 3 hours as riders finished the course to big cheers.

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