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Blue Dot Stalking

March and April have been pretty quiet with regards to races for my athletes - but the races they have been doing have been big ones. Ones that spanned multiple days and utilized the Trackleaders platform to allow for monitoring and following all the athletes - blue dots for the guys and pink dots for the ladies. Hence the term blue dot stalking.

At the end of February, Judd started the Iditarod Trail Invitational 300 - racing from Anchorage to McGrath along the traditional Iditarod dogsled course. There are specific checkpoints that the athletes must reach and a recommended route. Each athlete has to have a minimum of survival and mandatory gear that they have to carry that is checked before the race. Judd is no stranger to winter racing and fat bike racing, with multiple finishes at the Arrowhead 135. But this was his first trip up to Alaska and over twice the distance as Arrowhead. As a rookie, the primary goal was to finish. He had some other goals of course, but finishing was number one. When the race started, the blue dot watching commenced.

Judd pedaling steadily down the Iditarod Trail
I knew conditions were challenging this year and was happy to see Judd riding with some other races. Team work can provide motivation and there's always safety in numbers. But that also worried me - Judd rides single speed and trying to maintain the same pace as geared riders can be challenging. There's only so fast you can spin! And a slower cadence in fresh snow is also a challenge. As the race progressed, there was a solid pace - sometimes riding, sometimes pushing. It takes a long time to cover even 50 miles when you are trudging through snow dragging a fully loaded fat bike. There were some (many) nervous days as I watched the blue dot slowly trace a line across the interior of Alaska. I knew Judd had the training and the preparation, but I was still worried. A lot can happen under those conditions. Each late start to the day had me constantly refreshing to make sure that blue dot started moving. And it always did. All the way to the finish at McGrath, some 300 miles and 6 day, 8 hours and 3 minutes later. Even more impressive is that he was the only single speeder listed in the results.

Judd at the official finish for the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350
Then came April. Time for some more blue dot watching as Rhino set out for his Individual Time Trial on the Arizona Trail. The Arizona Trail Race is much like the Colorado Trail Race - it's a fully self supported journey from the Mexico border across the state of Arizona to Utah. There's defined course, with specific detours in place for wilderness areas, national parks and this year, mud. The late, wet snows had required an optional mud detour around higher sections of trail, like near Flagstaff Mountain and other areas. You can ship things to post offices along the route, stock up at gas stations and convenience store or eat at restaurants along the route. You can't have your friends meet you with a huge hamburger and pile of fries. Water is the same - purchase or treat and plan well in the desert around Tucson. Leave the track for any reason and you have to return to the same location prior to continuing along the trail - with some exceptions for towns along the route.

Rhino filling up some bottles outside of Tucson
Rhino left a day before the group start, with the plan of riding his own race and just keep pedaling. He'd done his research on mail stops, water locations and resupply points, and had detailed spreadsheets with anticipated pedaling time. The ITT was to ensure that he'd have the ability to use the resources along the trail in the frenetic first days when both the 300 and 750 races are gunning for Tucson.The goal was to ride the entire trail - with minimal detours for mud and to finish. It took a few days for the leaders of the 300 to catch him and even longer for the first racers in the 750 to catch up. Rhino's momentum was steady and consistent. He stopped around 10:00 every night and then was pedaling usually by 5:00 AM. He made good time from the border into Tucson, then up and over Mount Lemmon. On the final stretch of trail into Picket Post, he had plenty of company from the 300 racers. Then it was back into the solitary riding as the rest of the 750 riders were still behind him. They would slowly start catching him on the long stretch between Picket Post and Roosevelt Lake, with even more catching him on the push into Flagstaff. That day head start was proving challenging for even the geared riders to overcome.

Signing in the Picket Post kiosk - the finish for the AZT 300. He still had 450 miles left to ride.
Sunset as he pedaled up into the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix
There was a planned full day off in Flagstaff to resupply and do some bike maintenance. Then came the two day push into the Grand Canyon. Rhino joined up with some other riders for the entrance into the Grand Canyon, sharing permits in case they decided to camp at a few of the camp ground inside the Canyon. The Canyon is really the final barrier between the racers and the finish at the Utah border. And what a barrier - having to take the bike apart and carry it down to the Colorado River from the South Rim and then back up to the North Rim. This year, the North Rim was still snow covered, so there was some leeway on route. A final overnight at Jacob Lake, and then he was on the home stretch. Goals achived - finishing as the fastest ITT of the race and the ninth fastest time for the year in 12 days, 9 hours and 42 minutes.

A good view of the gear Rhino was carrying for the AZT 750 in addition to his backpack.