The second annual fall edition of the Arizona Trail Race 300 proved to be a tight and exciting one from start to end for the women. While many bikepacking races have a clear leader who establishes their dominance from the start, this year saw three women riding at the front of the field, trading leads, riding together for sections, and pushing each other towards the finish. Until the very end, it was unclear who would come out ahead, with Katie Scott’s speed combined with longer rests contrasting with Ana Jager’s endless steady consistency.
While Katie led at sunrise the final morning, in the end it was Ana who reached the Picketpost trailhead first in a time of four days, three hours, and 59 minutes. Racing the full 800 miles, she stayed only for a few minutes, changing into her signature tank-top before heading up the trail towards Utah, her prologue complete in fine form.
Katie Scott came in forty-ish minutes back at four days, four hours, and 40 minutes. [Here at the Town Bicycle, apparently we’re very bad at looking at our watches when someone finishes. These are approximate best guesses!] “It was really hard,” she said upon finishing, quite possibly the understatement of the day. After drinking some bubbly water and sitting at the trailhead, she reflected back on her ride how determined she was to finish, no matter what. Her gratitude for the route and the people involved was clear, even in her extremely tired state. She’d said in her MTBCast call-in while coming off of Oracle Ridge, “I’m just thinking about how happy I am to be out here. And that I’m doing it. And how grateful I am for all the people who helped make this happen for me.” It was a team effort with friends loaning gear at the last minute, Bedrock bags providing a seat bag, and a 20-hour cram session where she studied the course on the drive down from Durango, labeling water sources and resupply points. She was clearly happy with the effort, and an outside observer would even go so far as to say she might be properly hooked on the sport of bikepacking racing.
Alexandera Houchin would roll in late in the afternoon after a “heartbreaking” day that involved tearing a knob off of her tire. When one plug and then two wouldn’t fix it, she proceeded to sew the gash and wrap the tire and rim in tape to help it hold. As of Picketpost, it was holding. She posed for a quick finish line photo, as third woman finisher of the 300, before heading north. “I’m just wasting time sitting here talking,” she laughed as she rolled off towards Utah.
Isabelle is the final woman out on course, scheduled for a early- to mid-morning finish tomorrow. If one is to believe the radar, she may have gotten pretty wet last night just north of the Freeman water cache as a band of severe weather rolled through.
For those new to following this event, it’s important to note that the AZT300 generally has two sets of racers competing, and this year had the unique addition of a third category. Both AZT800 racers, those riding from Mexico to Utah, and the 300 racers, those stopping at Picketpost, start at the border at the same time. It’s a fair race between the two groups to see who will complete the first 300 miles first. So, 800-mile riders feature into the 300-mile race results, but they often have vastly different race strategies than those just riding the shorter distance. A group of singlespeeders, including Alexandera, added bonus trail to the route, deciding to do a reverse Lemmon Drop for the climb to the top of Mount Lemmon. While the Lemmon Drop is a popular shuttle ride in the downhill direction, it’s mostly hike-a-bike uphill. But, it is considered the Arizona Trail Association’s official Wilderness by-pass route, and it gets riders off of about 13 miles of the Catalina Highway. It seems that by taking the Reverse Lemmon Drop, most riders lost about 12 hours to those who took the highway.
The race started with eight women at the border on Thursday morning. While 7 a.m. was still cool, the sun soon made its presence known and temperatures rose rapidly as riders made their way through Sunnyside Canyon and then the Canelo Hills. A newly added section of trail, El Pilar, added about two hours to the ride time of the route before Kentucky Camp. For 300 riders, the addition of the ride from the border to Parker Canyon Lake, the Sunnyside Canyon trail, and El Pilar probably added a minimum of five hours to the route when compared to 2019, potentially more. The overgrown post-monsoonal trail conditions also didn’t help with anyone’s speed with ruts and grass and catclaw everywhere.
The front of the women’s race remained close through Colossal Cave mid-day on the second day, with Alexandera, Ana, and Katie coming through within 20 minutes of each other. As with the first day, temperatures rose quickly, hitting 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the Tucson valley. In earlier editions of the race, most riders would be well on their way up Mount Lemmon and into cooler temperatures by the heat of the second day, but the new route saw nearly everyone down low and in full sun. Of the 24 people who stated that they were starting the 300-mile version of the race, only a maximum of six will finish (there are still riders out on course, so time will tell). It was a brutally hot two days.
Alexandera, Ana, and Katie continued their steady march north, all easily making the resupply at the Rocking K market on route outside of Tucson before heading up Reddington Road. Katie and Ana would end up climbing up to Molino saddle with Zach Friendly under the cover of night, nearly getting into it with a rattlesnake on the way. Isabelle Fisk rode strong about six hours behind the leaders. To hit Rocking K, she bivvyed just north of the La Sevilla campground, hitting the final miles of trail through the Rincon Valley and Saguaro National Park to the market at dawn.
The leaders, now through Molino Basin and on Mount Lemmon proper, split up with Alexandera heading up the Bugs Springs trail on her way to completing the reverse Lemmon Drop. The other two stayed on pavement going up and over the mountain, both making the resupply at Summerhaven. Ana took the time to call into MTBCast from here, sounding seriously stoked on life, saying that the race felt like a party with all of her friends. She didn’t feel particularly bad about choosing to ride the highway instead of the bonus trails saying in her call-in, “You probably hear cars, because I took the highway route, which I honestly feel pretty good about. It felt good just to spin. But I’m super impressed by the folks who are hike-a-biking. Super badass.”
Katie would call in from Oracle Ridge, recounting both happy and sad tears and explaining that she’d only decided to sign up for the AZT300 the Sunday before. She says in her MTBCast call-in, “I may be a little underprepared…but I’ve only gotten words of encouragement.” Both call-ins are well worth a listen. The two women came together on the lower reaches of Oracle Ridge and headed into the Black Hills together around 8 p.m. Alexandera meanwhile was bivvyed at a spring near the top of Mount Lemmon, and Isabelle was climbing the highway behind her.
Further back on the route, Shelly Peppe-Nani and Carrie Hammond were having a blast riding the route together. They would ultimately reach the Rocking K market before calling it quits after realizing they wouldn’t have enough time to complete the whole route.
Morning on the third day was windy but cool as Katie and Ana made their way towards the Freeman water cache in the Black Hills and Alexandera and Isabelle came down from Mount Lemmon. Alexandera was clearly stoked on having completed the Reverse Lemmon Drop, and in her call-in to MTBCast, she said, “I found myself appreciating how rideable Oracle ridge was.” For those not familiar with Oracle Ridge, it’s commonly the most dreaded part of the AZT300 route, losing 3,000 feet of elevation from the top of Mount Lemmon down to Oracle State Park and being only marginally rideable at the best of times. She seemed amused by the whole Reverse Lemmon Drop situations, “It’s such rowdy riding!”
Isabelle was also enjoying the morning and found the amenities of the Hijinx Ranch magical. Cooler temperatures reigned at the front of a low-pressure system, sweet relief for the riders as they traversed some of the historically hottest and most exposed sections of the 300 route.
Coming over Ripsey ridge later in the afternoon, Katie had an hour lead over Ana and was riding near Johnny Price, but she was running low on food and needed to take advantage of the delivery service offered by Old Time Pizza in nearby Kearny. Choosing gluten-free items off of a pizza joint’s menu proved to be difficult, but she ordered some burgers and sandwiches without buns and bread, a pile of fries, and some ice cream. But with the delivery services not starting until 4 p.m., she was forced to wait in Kelvin for nearly two hours, and Ana, who had also ordered pizza and a milkshake, had the chance to close the gap. The two women left Kelvin together along with Andrew Strempke with little to no daylight left.
A revolting knee around mile 270 left Katie hiking her bike for much of the Martinez Canyon traverse. Still, she maintained a lead over Ana on the final major climb. She took a short two hour nap before pushing on to the water catch near the highpoint of the canyons. With eyes that refused to stay open, she went down for a nap, determined to finish, but needing a reset. Ana, ever consistent, skipped the water catch and headed down the final descent to Picketpost, coming in as the first woman of the 300.
It was a close race start to finish with both women relatively, or very, new to the sport of bikepacking racing under slow and challenging race conditions. Ana is clearly hooked on the sport, and Katie seemed stoked to as well, noting that racing brought out the same focus and drive that she had when she was a soccer player. “I want more of that,” she said afterwards. “I’ll be back for sure.” The future of women’s bikepacking is bright!
As for now, Ana and Alexandera are headed towards Utah with another 500 miles of trail and a giant canyon crossing between them and the border. Wish them luck and follow along at Trackleaders.com!
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