On Oct. 28, the Arizona Trail Bike Race put a group of mountain bike riders grinding past Patagonia on an 800-mile endurance run from Mexico to Utah, using the full length of the Arizona Trail (AZT). This year’s version was called the Arizona Trail Race Grand Depart 2021, and included a 300-mile race option within it—a race within a race—ending near Superior. Eighteen of the 50 starters tried for the full 800 miles.
The bikepacking riders who tackle either of these routes are an elite among outdoor riders, ultra-endurance athletes who push themselves day after day in a wild variety of conditions on our state’s iconic trail. By the time they’ve bisected the state, they chalk up 56,000 feet of elevation gain. This race is free to enter, and offers no prizes to its winners.
Patagonian Tomás Jonsson was perhaps the only race fan near Patagonia who saw these hard-riding visitors. A seasoned rider who’s been making, grooming and riding local trails for years, he knew some of the riders and cheered them on at the new crossing of the AZT at SR82 and Casa Blanca Canyon.
Riders geo-locate as they push ahead. The GPS app ‘Trackleaders’ shows in real time where each rider is, with popup data, such as their miles completed, elapsed time, current elevation, and accumulating total elevation gain. On its map, Trackleaders provides a moving pointer for each rider, by initials. There is a time-lapse movie of the moving pins along the trail.
After they left the AZT start at Montezuma Pass, the riders fanned out along the trail. The route used a few paved miles to Hog Canyon, in order to reconnect with the AZT at Gardner Canyon.
The race included a 21-mile bike portage across the Grand Canyon. The first finisher arrived in Utah on Nov. 4. Leading rider Nate Ginzton did 797 miles in 9 days, 10 hours and 44 minutes, a new record. Nine of the 18 starters in the 800-mile race “scratched,” i.e. did not finish.