Coconino extravaganza

Extravaganza: “marked by extreme freedom of style and structure and usually by elements of burlesque or parody” — Merriam-Webster online

As I was taking a lunch break during the BFL race this spring, Lee pointed out to me a trail heading to the west and up a big mountain. “You will take this trail all the way up Mingus mountain when you’re riding the Coconino 250.”, I recall him saying. I had no idea what he was talking about, or why he thought I’d be riding 250 miles any time soon.

Now, 7 months later, I am handing out Spot tracking devices as we are meeting for breakfast at The Place. I am the only one not starting the ride right after breakfast. It’s 7 am and these guys are ready to roll! I am ready to roll over in bed a few more times. That’s the joy of the Coconino stage race format: you start whenever – and you better enjoy night riding if you don’t get an early enough start and are a slow poke like me.

Day 1: Holy bumpiness!

Around 11 am, I finally have my gear and bike in shape, but am also getting hungry for lunch. After a foot-long at Subway I am getting antsy to ride, turn on my GPS and holy smokes: after triple checking the last 2 weeks that I’ve loaded the tracks correctly on my GPS, nothing is showing up, now. Like a dear in headlights, I am suddenly stopped dead. No GPS track, no joy in riding, or worse, getting completely lost. I haven’t even started the race, yet, and I’ve got a major electrical. Thoughts creep through my head: Could I navigate just with my cell phone? I should have printed out the cue sheet, instead of only putting it on Evernote. But, even if I did use my cell phone, would the batteries last that long? Then I have an idea: my Garmin Oregon has an SD card, my cell phone has an SD card. 30 minutes later, I’ve copied the tracks from my cell to my GPS and I am off! Wheew, was I lucky!

The ride starts easy and is very scenic along the Flagstaff urban trail and then Walnut canyon. I am loving it. Weather is slightly overcast, which makes for crummy pictures, but perfect temperatures ~75F? Near Marshall Lake, I meet the AZT stewards who are out for a good looking-over and we chat for a while. They did a great job cleaning up the babyheads up to the parking/camping area, and are out now to fix a gravel field that the last rain storm left behind. Thank you very much!

Afterwards, the trail is in shambles: it’s bumpy, rocky and even the double track/dirt road is standing-only. If it weren’t so bumpy, I think that I could go 15, 20 mph, instead I am at 5 to 10 mph. It’s frustrating. By the time Mormon Lake comes around, my legs are toast. I lay down and rest. I am not drinking enough fluids. My lips are dry. I am not recovering. I get up and keep riding, skipping the campgrounds for water, as that would mean additional climbing. Somehow, I don’t get plowed down by speeding maniacs on ATVs, motorcylce, SUVs, and trucks with camper-trailers on the dirt road to Munds Park. I miss the turn to the left and go right down to Munds Park. Oh well, I am out of water and hungry – not a bad place to change that.

Dinner in Munds parks consisted of 2 tamales, Mt. Dew, banana and an apple. Totally worth the extra mileage. The Mt. Dew certainly does the trick, and with renewed energy, I ride out the last section of rough 4×4 and Schnebly Hill road in the dark. Someone had parked their SUV at the turn-off to the stage 1 stop, so I miss the road and keep bombing down Schnebly Hill Rd for another 1/2 mile before I realize my mistake. Only 140 ft. back up, no biggie. Almost at camp, I am greeted by Matt and Jason who are out for a late night walk. Very nice to have a welcome committee!

Found a campsite, pitched my tent, cooked a delicious Mountain House dinner, and a had a great nights sleep!

Day 2: So, this is a race!

People are rousing and quickly the first are rolling off to new adventures. I am making hot water for my Breakfast Skillet and break camp. It is still overcast and a bit chilly. I look at the route for today: at least 12 hours of solid riding and the Sedona trails might mean a lot of hiking for me. Oh well, I’ve got nothing on my schedule but mountain biking this weekend, so let’s do it!

The Munds trail is perfect singletrack. I walk the sketchy parts and ride the ones were I feel more confident. Nothing would ruin my ride like an over-the-bars this early in the day. Down at the Circle-K, a few others are heading in/out: Jeremy and his 12-year old daughter (on a hard tail with rack!), and Matt and Jason. After getting water and breakfast sandwiches, it’s time to ride the Broken Arrow and other assorted Sedona trails. On the BFL race, I was schlepping my bike along, not much fun. How would it be this time?

The trails turn out to be tough, I walk a lot, eat, and drink. Knowing what to expect certainly helps in accepting the challenge and defeat. Someday I will ride more of this, but it’s OK that I don’t for now. Matt and Jason catch me after a little while, as I am mostly staring my GPS trying to figure out the lines between the boulders on Broken Arrow. It’s their home turf and I tag along. Easily twice as fast not having to look at my GPS the whole time! We pass Jeremy and his daughter after a while, they are making fantastic progress! I am in awe. We cruise on and at some point Matt and Jason pull away while I am having a drink of water. They are fast! I put my nose to the GPS and follow the crumbs.

After going through a couple underpasses on Templeton trail, I hear a noise. Is it a bike from behind? No. Frustrated, I stop to inspect my bike. Wheels are ok, derailleur is ok. Hmm. I keep going and then I realize: my chain is making that noise! To make me feel better, I am making plans to get oil in Cottonwood. Matt and Jason catch up with me (they took a wrong turn) and we stop at Oak creek for lunch break. I wash my socks and shirt in the clear river without soap. They smell amazing afterwards! The guys take off, and I ride at my own pace, soon catching up with them again.

Next up: Lime Kiln trail. It’s a severe hike-a-bike in the sun and without a breeze, we are drenched reaching the saddle point. A view of Mingus mountain is in front of us, along with a breeze! Cool, refreshing and wide open space to ride! Matt and Jason pass me as I make a wrong turn on the way down, but I soon catch them again on the climb.. and so it goes: they miss a turn, I miss a turn, we play catch and it’s a race, suddenly! On a long climbing stretch I pull away from them and they never catch me again. Just before the loop-dee-whoo downhill going into Cottonwood, I catch up with Les and Jill. Then, they pass me on the downhill and pull away. This is a race!

I stop at the bike shop with the red bike in front and the mechanic puts some oil on my chain. The odd creaky sound goes away. Very nice. I stop for an hour at the Maverik on the way out of town and load up on food and water. My bike gets loaded with 2.5 liters of water and I carry 3.5 liters in my pack. Just in case, I tell myself, that I don’t want to go to Potato Patch campground that night.

The ride up Mingus mountain is challenging, then I hear gun fire and a cop passes from behind. Apparently, people just shoot guns up there for fun, and the cop was out for a bit of a cruise up the mountain – everything normal. After an hour, I see a bike behind me. Who could that be? I don’t have to wait long, and am soon passed by someone without loads of water and bags. Not a Coconino racer! Just someone out for a 1 hour hill climb. At one point, I catch a glimpse of 2 black bikes, it must be Les and Jill! I am committed to not let anyone pass me, so I hurry on. Riding, hiking, pushing, and ratcheting my way up the mountain, it is dark by the time I reach the top. Reaching the top means the end of one thing (steep climb) and the start of another (pushing your bike through a trail strewn with 6″ rocks). Some LED flashlights and a campfire greet me near the stage 2 camping spot. I set up camp and hang out at the campfire with the others as I am cooking another Mountain House dinner. We are all enthusiastic about having made it up here. Very nice way to end the day.

Day 3: Expansive views and endless dirt roads

Without any commercial re-supply points, day 3 is to be remote. I am a sucker for this kind of thing. Breakfast and bike were ready at 8 am, an hour later than yesterday. It is still cool, so I put on a light sweater and ride down. Soon, I catch Aleck, who had camped separately from the rest of us at the eastern side of Mingus. We ride together for a while, then he pulls away on the downhill while I take pictures, until I catch up with him on a wrong turn. We ride for a while on the dirt road and he catches a couple wrong turns that I make. It is nice to have another set of eyes on the track! My rear tire is a bit low, so I pump it up and he’s gone. My next goal is Coyote Spring, where I am hoping to top off on some clear, cool liquid. However, that plan is spoiled by the green soupy mixture with dead rat that I encountered. Oh well, still 1.5 liters left, and I don’t have any other options than to press on to the Verde River, some 20 miles ahead.

Soon, I encounter Mark and Roland. They are engaged in a bike repair session, as Roland had blown 2 spokes out of this Arches EX rear wheel. Yuck! I am running those, too. Mark was supplying the spokes and wheel building skills, so I ride on, not wanting to sit around in the sun with my limited amount of water left. The dirt road is covered in goat heads, and every now and then when I stop to pull them out, my tire makes hissing sounds that would soon be plugged with Stan’s sealant. Too cool. Just before taking the rollercoaster down to the Verde River, I meet Aleck who is having lunch with his bike turned upside down. Is he resting the tires for a fast descent – or is he having tire issues? I fail to find out.

On the way down, I run across Jason, who has his wheel up in a tree! I stop for a minute to see if I can help, but he says he would just put a tube in his wheel after a nail had gotten embedded in the casing and punctured it ~10 times. And so, I cruise down to the Verde River reaching top speed of 34 mph. The view of Bill Williams mountain and red rocks are coming closer and gaining in proportions. That would be a big one to finish today!

At the Verde River, I see Les and Jill riding away. As they are just leaving, I have thoughts of trying to catch them, but once I see the Verde river flowing, the cottonwood tress, and the meadow in the shade, all my competitive thoughts turn to mush. Perfect place to rest and filter 200 oz. of water for the push up to Williams.

The ride up starts hot. Thank goodness for arm coolers. Some dune-buggy like vehicles haul down as I am spinning my way up the dirt road. Soon, the dirt road becomes a 4-wheel road, and then turns into a very rocky / sandy section that I walk. No need to burn up in the sun on some long forsaken climb. I take a break every half hour with Cytomax and salt tablets. Seeing the first Ponderosa pines that day is a treat. The white / black dirt road becomes red and smooth, meandering through a Ponderosa forest with green meadows. Amazing! I keep thinking that I’d have to pay an entrance fee any minute now, but there was none. There is a still a good bit of climbing on the red fire / forest service road, and then a paved section leading straight to Benham trail on Williams mountain.

I look at Williams mountain and know that I am not in any shape to ride this one up. I try occasionally to get a few hundred yards in, but mostly I push. And push. Sunset makes it a very peaceful and serene hike – and I tell myself that I am not going to take a break or get my light out until the downhill starts.

Just before the descent on Bill Williams mountain, I meet Jay, who appears a bit disheveled. I get my light out and together, we make it up the final 500 ft of the Benham trail. I take my well deserved break as I hear Jay’s tire slide off into the night. I sit down on a bench with a bottle of Cytomax and look at the dark sky and sparkling stars. It is getting chilly, but I don’t want to waste time by putting on my sweater this close to the finish line.

I get my stuff together and mount my headlight. It is shining a clear path through the darkness and down a gravel trail. I find out immediately why Jay was skidding so much: the gravel is slick and my rear tire does not find much traction in spite of me shifting my weight all the way backwards. I miss most switchbacks as the water drainage is hiding the turns in the trail. Good trail design for the erosion control, I am thinking, but tough to find the way down in the dark. I dismount a few times and bounce my bike down rocks. Soon enough, I see a crisp LED light shining through the trees. It’s Jay, and with the mount for his GPS is busted, he had to go back to pick up the GPS. Together, we blaze on and work our way down; I dismount whenever it begins to look techy. Towards the bottom, another climb begins and my light goes into batteries-almost-empty-blinky mode. I cannot find my spare battery, so Jay rides in front, lighting the way, while I yell directions from behind. What team work!

In Williams, we look around the town and finally realize that the motel is at the west side. Downtown Williams is nice, and after getting a room, I ride back to get a big dinner at some touristy ‘Route 66’ restaurant. Soon, Mark calls me to find about the room and dinner. Afterwards, laundry and shower time, followed by a good night’s sleep.

Day 4: Fast and fantastic

On waking up, I don’t feel like riding – at all. Still, the show must go on, so Mark and I go over to Safeway and get some breakfast / supplies for the day. After downing 3 chocolate Muscle Milks and a turkey sandwich, my body recovers magically and I feel like riding again. I am glad. Mark is kind enough to hook me up with his private stash of chain lube – inclusive dirty rag – and I am off for a 9 am start. Another hour later than yesterday. At the rail road bridge where the stage time officially starts, I meet Michael who is gearing up and looking like he’s going to kill that section. He passes me quickly and that’s the last I see of him. He is fast. I am not fast, so I ride at my own speed, and can’t believe how gorgeous it is in this neck of the woods.

Sycamore canyon starts off bouldery, and I hike it, wondering how slow my progress will be, and how long this will last. It is not too bad, only a few crossing through a boulder wash and then mostly pick-your-line through rock gardens and some steep but short climbs. Only 20 feet to the right is the rim of the Sycamore canyon; what an awe-inspiring piece of nature. It is now designated as a wilderness area.

The Sycamore creek is still flowing and invited me to take a short break. Then, it is dirt road all the way to the interstate, where the Texaco station provides an odd assortment of general merchandise. The clerk said that all my buddies already came through, about 10 or 12 of them. I had an egg burrito, Mt. Dew, banana, and stocked up on water. It is a nice break watching people and chilling out. The next 40 miles would be the last for the day, and I wanted to enjoy them.

My left achilles tendon is getting sore, and trying various way of holding my food does not improve anything. Stretching, however, does, so that it is tolerable. The moto trails were next, some fun stuff, one super steep downhill that I _walked_. It is good to see that another pair of feet also decided to walk this part before me.

The Hart Prairie dirt road is a decently steep uphill, but wonderfully scenic ride. Yellow aspen trees and blue sky make for a quick ride of that section. The last part is the Arizona Trail downhill section, and for once, I really feel good on the downhill. My front tire is gripping as I rail some turns and have enough momentum to coast up short uphills. What fun. After the road crossing, I am thinking of the Aspen Asphyxiation race earlier this year, and how exhausted I was by this point. But this time, I ride right past the boulder where I rested, and then lock-out the front suspension and hammer the uphills. Release lock-out, pick line, hug the downhill berms, repeat. I feel good, my legs are catapulting me uphill with the suspension locked out, then toss my loaded bike through the turns on the way down. It doesn’t seem heavy or unwieldy, and somehow all the pain from my achilles, feet, and hands goes away. I even catch some unexpected air on the lower moto trail, just to land perfectly, then lock-out the fork and hammer on. It is a hoot. As I see the finish line come closer, I go for one last sprint – as if the last 10 seconds mattered in a 4 day race. No crowd to cheer me on, just a yet-to-built housing lot marking the end of the 250 mile race. What a trip! The Flagstaff urban trail then routes me almost all the back to the Travelodge, where I was kindly allowed to leave my car for 4 days.

Thank you everyone who made this possible! My comrades on bikes, who I unfortunately met only so briefly (Matt, Mark, Jason, Michael, Lynda, Jay, single speed Ray), and Scott, Chad, Lee for getting this rolling at all.  To all the trail builders out there: I love you! Thanks for all your hard work.

Other write-ups:

Day-by-day times

Day 1:
Start on Urban path: 11:32:04 am
Munds Park dinner: 1h10min, 450ft.
Missed stage1 stop: 10min, 140ft.
End stage1: 7:54:00 pm
Stage1 time: 8hr:22min

Day 2:
Start stage2: 7:11:00am
In Cottonwod: 2:11:00 pm (7 hours)
Leaving Cottonwood: 3:17pm (bike shop + Maverik)
Time stop stage2: 7:12:30pm
Arrive at camp: 7:18:00 pm
Stage2 time: 12hr01min30sec

Day 3:
Start stage3: 8:01am
To magic gate: 8:58am (missed the gate)
To Coyote spring: 9:38am
Coyote spring detour: 10 min, 100 ft
To Verde: 11:33 am
Leaving Verde: 12:39pm (Wow, that was a long break!)
To Pine trees: 3:20pm
Time stop stage3: 8:01pm
Total time stage3: 12hr00min

Day 4:
Leaving motel: 8:59am, getting later every day 🙂
Stage4 start at bridge: 9:09am
To Texaco: 12:14pm
Leaving Texaco: 12:41pm
Time stop stage4: 5:22:30pm
Total time stage4: 8hr13:min
At car: 5:42 pm

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1 Response to Coconino extravaganza

  1. Nice writeup!! I was reliving my experience through your words.

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