Finish photos by Katie Strempke (@katie.strempke)
A quick search on this site is it all takes to realize just how impressive of a year Andrew Strempke has had. He kicked things off with an individual time trial of the Monumental Loop in New Mexico, completing the 245-mile route in 24 hours, and setting a fastest known time in the process. A month later, he snagged first place at Pinyons and Pines in Arizona for the second year in a row. And, shortly after that, he rolled up at the Mexico border for a first-place singlespeed finish at the 2022 Tour Divide. A month later, Andrew was at it again at the 2022 Colorado Trail race, taking 13th place overall and 5th in the singlespeed division.
Yesterday morning, Andrew finished the 800-mile Arizona Trail Race (AZTR) in third place overall, setting a new singlespeed record on the Triple Crown Challenge (Tour Divide, Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail Race) in the process. He finished all three events on a singlespeed in a single year, lowering the singlespeed Triple Crown Challenge time by more than five days, according to AZTR race director John Schilling. As displayed on Trackleaders, his cumulative time was 34 days, 6 hours, and 49 minutes—an incredibly challenging 4,000-mile feat that was previously set by Alice Drobna in 2015.
First off, how does if feel to be done with the AZT?
It feels great to check this one off! I scratched from the 800 last year, and knew I had some work to do before I could complete the route the way I wanted to. I started the race with better mental and physical preparation, and it paid off.
How was the route this year? Any big surprises or challenges?
Overall, I was amazed at how much singletrack there was and how much of it was rideable. It put a smile on my face nearly every day. There’s very little pavement on the route (92.4% unpaved), but I (along with four other singlespeed friends) took the AZT wilderness bypass up Mt Lemmon instead of taking the highway. This 20-mile section of singletrack was a tough push (7,000 feet of climbing), but a rewarding way to climb the mountain, and there weren’t any cars to worry about. The trail was pretty overgrown and temps were high down south, then the weather was cold up north. I saw 17 degrees one morning on my Garmin near Flagstaff.
Hiking across the Grand Canyon was even harder than I’d imagined. I started my hike at 4 p.m. and finished at 11 a.m. the next morning, fighting sleep all night long. In retrospect, I should’ve slept for a few hours on the south rim before starting the trek. With a bike, gear, food, and water, that pack is heavy and unwieldy! There were several sections of snow on the trail north of the canyon, and it looks like more is on the way later this week. Hopefully, other riders can get through before then.
Tell us about your bike and gear choices. What worked and what would you change next time?
I rode my Chumba Sendero Ti, geared 32×22, which was perfect for me. No flats on Rekon 2.4s, just a couple of small punctures that I heard my sealant take care of while riding. On the second evening at the base of Mt. Lemmon, I looked down to see only a pedal spindle, no pedal body. I had just serviced my pedals a week earlier and must not have tightened the lock nuts properly. After 100s of pedal strikes while hiking and a couple days of singlespeed stomping, they came apart. Fortunately, there is a new bike shop (Lemmon 8 Cycling) in Summerhaven at the top of Mt. Lemmon that had a pair of pedals for me. Also fortunately, I was planning to mostly hike there via trail instead of pedaling the highway, so the lack of pedal didn’t cost me much time. Next time, I’ll pay attention to the torque spec on that nut and service them a few weeks prior to give them a proper test before an event.
Dynamo hub and light was nice to have for all the night riding. It also kept my Garmin Edge 1040 charged. I had a 35 degree sleeping bag, foam pad, and a minimal bivy and tarp. This combo, along with all of my layers, kept me warm enough to sleep in the low 20s, so I was happy with it. An inflatable pad would have been warmer, but I didn’t want to worry about thorns when selecting a spot to sleep. I never touched my tarp.
I wore a long sleeve button-down sun shirt and lightweight zip-off pants for thorn protection. These both worked well in hot and cold weather. I also used some hardware store gloves with some rubber armor over the knuckles and fingers to protect my hands. I had seen the trail last year and knew the extent of overgrowth that was possible down there. I ended up buying some leather work gloves in Flagstaff because my wool gloves plus rain mitts were not enough for temps in the low 20s. Best $7 purchase ever. I wore an Osprey Stratos 24L pack the whole time, rather than shipping it ahead to the Grand Canyon. Inside, I had hiking poles, the foam sleeping pad, a water bladder, and extra food when I needed the space. The frame on this pack worked well for me and I would carry everything from the start again to avoid stressing about hitting a post office at the right time, days into the race.
Were you always intending to complete the triple crown this year?
Yes, this has been my goal from the beginning of the year. I’d toured the Great Divide route before and raced the Colorado trail a few times, so I knew I could complete those routes. The AZT is daunting and has been in the back of my mind all year.
Completing these three races in a year made it very different from a typical year of riding for me. The races demand so much recovery afterward that I felt like I didn’t ride my bike that much in the periods between races. I got in so deep with bike racing that I wasn’t riding my bike! Kinda funny to think about.
I spent winter and spring preparing for the Tour Divide, which wasn’t out of the ordinary. Lots of miles, although the pull of singletrack is always there, and often I’d go ride mountain bikes with friends instead of going out for a long gravel ride. I think this is important—you’ve got to keep it fun or you’ll burn yourself out.
After Tour Divide in June, I leaned into the recovery and didn’t ride much at all for the next six weeks. We went on a short ride with friends in July, and I joked that I hadn’t been on a bike ride all summer. It sure felt that way, it took me forever to get ready to go on a day ride. Then, I got Covid and our van engine blew while we were visiting family in Kansas, so I spent the three weeks leading up to CTR on the couch, rather than at elevation like I’d planned. This was not good prep for the race, and I really felt the effects after the first day. I hadn’t been mountain biking much all summer and felt a lack of confidence on the trail. But the triple crown was my goal, and I had already completed Tour Divide, so I gutted it out to the finish.
This fall, I tried to take everything I’d learned from my scratch last year to prepare for the AZT. I spent about a month mostly off the bike after CTR, but tried to ride lots of technical trails and train a bit in the weeks leading up to the AZT. I started my own business this year (Dispersed Bikepacking), so fortunately getting time off to race for 34 days wasn’t an issue. In each race, I wanted to be competitive, but the triple crown was the main goal, so finishing each race was the priority. I tried to make decisions that would keep me in the race, rather than taking risks that could improve my result.
Lastly, what’s next?
A whole lot of recovery time! Just riding for fun this winter, although I’m sure I’ll have to say no to a few rides in the next month or so; I have some friends with big bad ride ideas. Not sure what’s in store next year. Probably some shorter races, maybe some longer tours.
A huge congrats goes out to Andrew on his accomplishment. Head over to the event page to follow along as Ana Jager and Alexandera Houchin race toward the finish.
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