We caught up with Angus a few weeks after his Arizona Trail FKT attempt to see how he felt about it all.

The Arizona trail carries a certain mystique around it, based on the US national scenic trail it boasts the title of the longest singletrack mtb route in the world. For me it has always drawn me more than either of the other “big three” in the US. Why? I'm not sure perhaps it's the technical nature or the fact that the desert landscape is so different to anything that we have closer to home. Either way it has been on my bucket list for a while and this Easter break gave me the opportunity to get out there and see what all of the hype was about. 

Prepping for my attempt proved to be more time consuming than normal, both in terms of the resupply but also the kit and equipment. The usual resources came into play; drawing heavily on previous riders blog posts, Youtube videos, Bikepacking.com articles and google maps I was able to get a pretty comprehensive set of beta together. 

On the kit front, I was lucky enough to be riding a new MACRO aluminium hardtail. I opted for this over the RAW for two reasons, the slightly tighter geometry would help on the very twisty singletrack, especially the many switchbacks on route and also the weight with the Canyon portage in mind. 

What to pack is always a hard one, I knew that it was going to be cold and wet so I went for a fairly conservative approach. 

For a full breakdown of kit, check out his YouTube video:


In the week leading up to the attempt, there were some pretty crazy snowstorms out there which left over a foot of snowpack in multiple places on the route. In the words of race director John Schilling, “if it was only a short section or two, but it's half of the route. The AZTR is tough enough when conditions are perfect.”

With that in mind, my perspective on the whole trip took a bit of a switch. From racing to get the record to “trying to ride at record pace and seeing how far I get with it.

Through a combination of hitchhiking and riding, I made my way down to the Mexican border to start my ride under stormy skies. After around 10 miles (decided to switch to imperial units as all of the route markers/online beta was in miles) of gravel roads, I was onto the first section of singletrack, and I was in for a treat. The route starts at relatively high elevation, and for the next 60 miles, I followed a twisty track through the Canelo hills. It was smooth with short punchy climbs and never more than a hundred feet or so without a corner. As I gradually descended, I watched the vegetation change around me as I dropped down through different biospheres, the shift from high forest to grassland and finally cactus-filled deserts kept me easily distracted from the task at hand. Not even the rain that arrived mid-afternoon could dampen my spirits. But with the rain came the death mud, all it takes is one revolution of the wheels and they pick up an inch-thick layer that completely jams them up, and you are left having to carry your bike on your back. Less than ideal. I rolled into Kentucky camp at 2100 or so and spotted a porch to shelter from the rain. It was early to sleep, especially for day 1, but as I was still running on UK time, I took the opportunity and grabbed three hours kip before starting up again just past midnight.

Progress was slow, especially at night, but I soon settled into a steady rhythm; with the nature of the trail and the conditions, my speed was averaging out at around 5-6mph. When the sun came up, I was greeted with my first proper section of desert riding; luckily, the rain had stopped, and there was plenty of cloud cover to keep me cool. As I headed towards Tucson, I had my first resupply of the ride in a roadside cafe. I knew it had to last 24 hours or so, so I left with a bunch of snacks and four burritos packed neatly into my hydration pack. An hour of easy paved riding was a welcome break, but it wasn’t too long before I turned off onto gravel and headed back towards the Arizona trail hiking route. The section after turning off Reddington Road before the singletrack took me by surprise as it was double track on the map but turned out to be super rocky with multiple drops and techy lines as well as short sections of pushing.

As the rain came down once more, the rivers began to rise, and I found myself crossing dozens of little creeks that were flashing, including a couple that were well over my waist with a lot of force behind them.

My mood was boosted when the one ATV I had seen all afternoon stopped and yelled out the window that I was a “f***king badass” as I cleaned a technical climb in the pouring rain…

After a reasonable push up (and down) the Molino hike-a-bike in the torrential rain, I arrived at the Molino Basin trailhead and the foot of the Lemmon Pusch.

Again, it was early, maybe 2100, but I decided to take advantage of the public toilet and shelter from the rain as well as try to wait out some of the flash floods as I didn’t really fancy getting washed away.

After setting my alarm for three hours, the rain hadn’t stopped, and I talked myself into grabbing another hour's rest, and another… and another before the rain subsided completely. At 4am, I started my ascent of Mt. Lemmon. I was expecting the next 10 miles to be almost all pushing but for the first section and then up the Bugs Spring trail, I was able to ride about half of it. As I slowly climbed, the first patches of snow appeared and by the time I reached 6000 feet, there was a full covering which only got deeper as I progressed.

Snow Hike-a-bike is not fast; I was averaging less than a mile an hour by the time I got to 8000 feet, it was a foot deep, so when I popped out on the road, I made the call to take the snow detour and ride the last couple of miles to Summerhaven along the road.

Summerhaven provided a welcome opportunity to refuel and warm up before the technical descents of Red ridge and Oracle ridge, both of which were fairly overgrown and had plenty of snow on them which meant for a decent chunk of my time was spent pushing. Once Oracle ridge opened up a little bit, it was one of the best descents of the ride. Super twisty with a load of drops but a good amount of traction to boost confidence. Better yet I hit it as the sun was coming down which lit up the Saguaro desert which lay ahead of me.

As night fell, I found myself now in the proper desert; the trail was smooth now, and it seemed to feel as though it was always downhill as I weaved my way through saguaro and cholla cactuses trying to protect my hands as much as possible.

I set my sights on riding until midnight but at 2300 or so my tire went flat in an instant and I was rolling on the insert (well worth fitting) I had given myself a 2cm long sidewall slice. No biggie, I got my tool kit out and started sewing it up; around 90% of the way through, I managed to snap my needle… less than ideal.

The plan now was to cover everything in a few layers of super glue and hope for the best. It was holding air, and the sealant was doing its trick so I put one more layer on and decided that I would bivvy down and see if it was still holding air in the morning.

I woke up to a fully inflated tyre, so once more layer of super glue for good measure, and I headed North once more. It wasn't the best seal so I had to reinflate the tyre periodically; sometimes it would last a full day and other times a matter of minutes but it wasn't a major issue for the rest of the ride. I was just praying that it didn't happen again as that would have left me trying to file down a snapped needle with a nail file in order to make a point which could go through the tyre. Luckily it never came ot this.

The next 70 miles or so of trail was perhaps my favourite part of the route. The wildflowers were fully in bloom, and the desert was so lush and green, more so that I ever would have thought it could be.

Mid-morning I met Lael Wilcox and friends on the trail which further boosted my mood and before I knew it I was at the Gila river.

With one last big climb to Picketpost before the end of the AZT300 route, I set off and started the climb around sunset. It was here that I saw my first rattlesnake and not long after three more. I'm not usually scared of snakes, but every stick and root was making me jump as I anticipated its rattle. At the bottom of the climb, which is incidentally the low point of the whole route, I met a thru-hiker who was trying to set the FKT for a fully unsupported attempt, i.e. carrying all of his food and supplies for the duration and not using caches or shops. This gave me flashbacks to the 2020 GBDURO in the Covid year where we had to do a similar thing.

The push/ride up featured some of the most scenic landscapes with an impressive monolith to target at the summit. The sun set and I pushed and rode my way up. A water collector tricked me into thinking that it was the top but another few miles of ups and downs were still to come. The descent to the Picketpost trailhead was a complete lie, it didn’t feel very downhill and large sections of it were unrideable for me at the time, but as I was fixated on making it down, I pressed on and arrived at the end of the AZT300 around 1am where I camped out for a couple of hours before continuing on my way.

From here the next 50 miles or so towards Apache Junction were pretty cruisy, either nice gravel or well-maintained singletrack as I passed through Gold Canyon. When I reached Apache Junction, the day was starting to heat up, and temperatures were approaching 30C, so I nipped into Basha’s (a supermarket) and ate a whole pizza, “camelled up” on water and filled my hydration pack and bottles with ice water to fend off the midday heat.

Jacobs Crosscut trail which left Apache Junction was the only section of the route where I doubted whether it needed to be included.

A short climb and traverse didn't sound hard on paper, but the ground was littered with grapefruit-sized rocks, so it was on that line between being able to ride and having to push. One way or another, it wasn't especially fun. The silver lining was that it was quite short-lived and soon turned into the familiar flow of the smooth singletrack that I had come to expect.

Saguaro lake was my next opportunity for resupply. A few miles of paved roads took me to the turning for the marina where I popped down and found the gift shop where I was able to refill water and grab a couple more snacks. I was pleasantly surprised when I left the lake and started the long climb up to Four Peaks at around 4500 feet of elevation gain I was expecting it to take a long time but as it turned out it was a very well graded gravel road and as the sun went down once more I stuck on an audiobook and zoned out whilst spinning my way up. At the summit, we rejoined the hiking route and started the singletrack descent. It was 1am now and I decided that I would get some sleep before dropping off the mountain.

The descent was pretty overgrown with bushes as well as steep and rocky so it was pretty slow going especially as the creeks were up so it was wet feet all round. Once I reached the road crossing at Sunflower, however, the terrain quickly shifted away from rock to grass and mud, in moist places it was dry but there were still some patches, luckily it wasn't “death mud” but as I turned off the hiking trail onto the wilderness bypass the jeep track turned from well graded into a river in the middle of a canyon.

The next three hours or so were spent pushing my bike up an ankle-deep river, at the very least, it managed to keep me cool, and the scenery was spectacular as a deep red mineral that I expected was cinnabar lined the walls of the canyon.

I avoided drinking the water as I didn’t fancy giving myself mercury poisoning. Turns out this was a wise move as my suspicions were correct and the Mazatzal mountains are a Mercury mining hotspot.

When the trail pointed downwards the rain came out and the wind picked up, the descent was rough yet rideable, and as I picked my way down the mountainside, my eyes turned to the mountains ahead of me and their snow-capped peaks.

I knew that I was nearing the end of my journey. The next two hours were on easy gravel tracks which lead to the foot of an hour-long climb up to the town of Payson and as I rolled down the hill, there was a flurry of snow in the air which was a rather fitting end.

Beyond Payson, the route went up the Mogollon rim onto the plateau towards Tucson. Reports from locals and hikers coming the other way were that there was a foot of snowpack in places and when that melts it leaves behind deathmud. I had made it 500 miles, and I was even a little bit up on Alex’s record pace despite the tough conditions.

As I sat in a Mexican restaurant and ate three burritos, I was left feeling a mixture of emotions.

I perhaps had the most fun that I have had on any route I have ridden; the AZT has some of the best riding I had ever experienced, not only that but it was consistent, there were no boring stretches or bits that you just had to grind out to “get to the good stuff”. Yet there was also this feeling of unfinished business; I’m well familiar with this as I have DNF’d many a race/route but this time it was a little less bitter than usual and I was already looking forward to coming back. I always race stronger the second time I do a route so next time I will be on fire!