Zen On Dirt


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Girls Trip to Moab

Sometimes it’s hard to measure change. Life events flow and warp together and we don’t even notice things that have drastically changed. Some people are good at spending New Years reflecting on the past year (I don’t like to stay up that late), some people use birthdays (I like to let mine slip by unnoticed), but for me, the Annual Girls trip to Fruita is the annual event that I mark all change by.

I could go into all the changes that have occurred over the years, it’s been an impressive run of making things up as I go along, but really, the trip wasn’t about reflecting on the past year, it was about riding bikes in the desert, drinking margaritas, and enjoying the sunshine.

This year, we decided to go to Moab instead of Fruita. Just for giggles. Just to change things up. The other change was the absence of Megan, who decided to firmly stay in Mommy-land with her new beautiful little baby who I’m just dying to meet. (Apparently, if you’re breastfeeding and stop breastfeeding for  a week, your milk stops and then you have to feed your baby other stuff that makes their poop smell bad. And your boobs hurt because you’re not feeding your baby. These are just some of the things I learned during our trip. Other things that we discussed aren’t really appropriate for what I try to keep a PG-13-ish blog.) Other than that, we did what we always do: Ride bikes, try not to drink to many margaritas, make delicious camp food, and enjoy the sun.

I arrived early Thursday morning. The girls were already camped out Willow Springs road and were waiting for me to arrive to go ride. I’d woken up at 3 am in Flagstaff after giving Brad Mattingly a ride from Tucson back home after he’d finished the first-ever AZTR north-to-south edition. We’d gotten stuck in Phoenix traffic, and I wasn’t too keen about driving across the Rez late at night, so I opted for the early morning drive instead, bivying in his gear room and sneaking out hours before the sun even wanted to come up. The moonrise was pretty though.

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Cute guy. I prefer the snakes that don’t rattle…though I think I have to say that I prefer no snake to any snake, any day.

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Hopping across the highway, we made our way up to the Mag 7 trails. Having never been, it was the motivation to bang out the 5.5 hour drive in the morning, having the added disadvantage of a time change as well. The sun was warm, the La Sals were snow capped, the rock was red. Ah, Moab.

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I’ve yet to have a super-great experience in Moab. My first time, I was just relearning how to ride after a I’m-too-cool-for-school hiatus from riding through high school. New boyfriend, new bike, men’s bike seat. Things did not end well. I was back a few years later, riding with a group that was fun, but well above my skill level. I was fairly to mostly terrified the entire time. Before Tour Divide, I passed through, riding a day of trails and having a sub-optimal experience bikepacking the White Rim. Last May, we came by just as my knee exploded from an AZTR injury. I rode a day and spent the rest of the trip holed up in camp, unable to walk or pedal. It was awesome. Not.

I really wanted this trip to change my memories of this magic place.

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With this group of girls, it would be hard to have a bad experience. The best part is, we all have things that we’re good at. There’s upsy-daisies that Kay rides with ease that the rest of us won’t even consider. Shenna can mountain-goat up any awkward step up. Heidi goes faster downhill than I think I’ll ever be comfortable. We can all challenge each other, which is awesome.

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We scooted over to check out Gemini Bridges near the end of our ride. Water, wind, and time sculpted this. Just goes to show, persistence pays off.

We toodled back to camp, stopping at the gas station to wash hands and faces, laughing at the sign that said: No sink baths allowed. Moab has bred a special breed of dirtbaggery.

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Tequilla, limes, ice. Ingredients for a good afternoon at camp.

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I slept out, as I normally do. I woke up to see the sunrise, as I normally do. I went back to sleep as the color faded, as I normally do.

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We’d gotten ourselves seats on a Whole Enchilada shuttle in the morning. With snow still low in the La Sals, we got dropped off at the top of Kokopelli. My two most recent experiences at this point were in the middle of the night. Turns out, it’s way better here when a) you can see the views b) you’re not racing and c) you’re headed downhill.

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We jumped ahead of most of the other groups on the shuttle and with a motivated pace, were able to stay clear of much of the big-group mayhem.

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It took a flat tire to stop us long enough to have a snack. I haven’t done a long descent like that in a long time. Endless downhill. While I wanted to stop and take pictures initially, I soon got into the groove of non-stop riding. Made me rethink my decision to boycott all core work this past winter…

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Not real.

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The last time I rode this, I must have been scared out of my brains because I don’t remember any of it. That’s my coping mechanism, when I get scared, I block it out of my memory. Maybe I have more skills now than I did nine years ago, but 98% of the descent was a rideable good time this time around with a few sections that we looked at saying: It would go…but if it doesn’t there’s some pretty bad consequences.

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I vowed to return and ride the whole thing some fall when the snow’s gone.

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We started talking about milkshakes and burgers long before the bottom. Unlike my traveling companions on the Cononino Trip, this group knew how to eat. And eat well! We headed straight to Milts, a classic Moab establishment, for malts, grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, french fries, and tater-tots. We talked of riding Ahab in the afternoon, a plan that deteriorated to planning on riding trails by camp, and then eventually morphed to taking naps in the sun.

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We knew a storm was moving in on Saturday, so we made haste to pack up camp in the morning and get out to ride the new Hymasa trail and Captain Ahab, the trail that took my knee out last spring. Apparently the combination of downhill hike-a-bike and cold temperatures can cause a torn quad-tendon and inflamed hamstring tendon to take a turn for the worse. Go figure.

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We started up with the understanding that the weather could turn at any moment and if someone wanted to turn around, we all would. Light drizzles threatened to shut us down, but stayed light and the wind kept the rocks dry.

Part way up Hymasa, we run, nearly head-on, into a group of four guys.

“I read you blog!”

“Who? Me?” I asked. People read my blog?

Apparently I have a fan in Salt Lake, who’s name I completely forget. I’m so bad with names…

We stopped and chatted, they’d ridden up Hymasa but were nursing a flat back down with plans to try again with an inflatable tire.

I got shit the rest of the way up the climb from the girls. But, in the end, it was really cool. Sometimes I wonder if any one really reads the words that I spew forth at somewhat regular intervals, and it’s always really awesome to hear that people enjoy it. In the end, I write for myself, but if I can inspire some people meanwhile, that’s icing on the cake!

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We reached the top of Hymasa, stoked that the trail was way more fun than riding the jeep road up. Some tech, some beautiful trail, and amaze-balls views. And then it started to rain, so down we went on Ahab. There was no discussion to be had. Jackets went on, heads went down, and we giggled our way down slippery rocks, pretending that we were riding more cautiously than we would if it were dry.

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The rain let up just as we made it back to the car. As the only girls in the parking lot, I think we made more noise than everyone else combined. We loaded bikes, stripped off wet clothes, and piled into the car, determined to make a beeline to lunch to figure out our next step.

Moab Diner, another fine establishment, got the nod. Lunch time coffee, cinnamon rolls, and a combination of breakfast and lunch plates gave us time to check weather forecasts and ponder our options.

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We wanted to be optimistic, but we also knew that Vail Pass, our escape route was going to be under a winter storm warning the next day. None of us wanted to drive home through the snow. We’d done that last year when they closed Vail Pass and Megan and I decided to stay the night in Eagle instead of taking the long detour around I-70. We made it out to Klondike Bluffs for an afternoon ride, reasoning that we could drive late into the night if the weather deteriorated, before the rain started coming down. We hadn’t even opened car doors when the hail started, so we quickly put bikes in appropriate cars, tried to make sure we all had our stuff in our own cars, and hastily retreated on the dirt road that was quickly turning into a muddy mess.

Not wanting to spend the whole afternoon sitting in Kay’s Sprinter hoping to be able to fit a short ride in on Sunday morning, we made the executive decision to point back towards Colorado. It was time to go home. Which actually turned out well for me because my dad was leaving on a trip the following morning and we were going to miss each other by a mere 12 hours had the weather not got to shit. This way, with a mid-evening arrival home to Boulder, I was able to at least squeeze a dinner and breakfast in with him, which was well worth skipping a ride in Moab.

I got home, adrenalined out, ready to take some mellow days on the couch – a perfect plan when hanging out at parents’ home. A perfect time to reflect on the past three days of riding, on the past three month of adventure riding, and the past three years during which I really feel like I’ve figured some stuff out. I have a job, I have health insurance, and I have the love of my life. My brother commented that he was jealous, in the claws of the final two weeks of his mechanical engineering senior project, sleep deprived and frustrated.

I told him: When you have things going right, you’ve gotta enjoy them.

Right now, I have things going right.

Thanks for the great weekend girls. Thanks for the great trips that everyone has gone on with me the past winter. Now it’s time to make my way back to Tucson, pack up our house, and head out for a grand cross country single track adventure. Summer has arrived.

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Tucson love

For a while this winter, I felt a little bit homeless. Not in the sense that I didn’t have four walls around me (because I love living in a way that doesn’t involve four walls, but instead with a bike or car packed full of gear), but in that Colorado didn’t really feel like a current home, and I didn’t really consider myself a Tucson resident, spending my first winter there.

I sort of thought that I’d love Tucson for the winter weather and for the trails, but somewhere along the line, I really fell in love with the place itself. The brilliant weather and trails help, but I love the food, I love all the people I’ve met. I love that I can be completely out of my comfort zone in my neighborhood, being a significant minority as a white person for the first time in my life, yet feeling completely comfortable watching the dozens of kids play in the street in front of our house. I love being able to pedal to get the best gelato ever, and Mi Ranchio, oh I love me my Mi Ranchito.

Anyhow, my infatuation with the city has surprised me. It’s been a little sad to not spend much time there in the past month, and to know that at most I have 12 more days in the Old Pueblo after getting back from a whirlwind trip to Moab and Boulder to drop a car to stage logistics for later this summer before leaving for our summer trip.

I’m going to miss it.

I’ve done my best to make the most of the few days I’ve spent there between trips that somehow gloriously piled up and fit perfectly with each other. Wake up. Eat. Work until it cools down outside. Ride bikes. Smile at the sun. Marvel at the flowers. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

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At some point in time while I was gone, the flowers exploded! Pinks, yellows, reds, purples, whites. While the desert has always felt far more alive than  I expected it to be in the winter, this spring show has been spectacular.

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I missed the one precipitation event this spring early in March while I was in Death Valley. This storm didn’t amount to anything, but the clouds made for some beautiful sky patterns and sun rays.

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The hot daytime temperatures have led to evening rides stretching into night rides. Golden hours haven’t disappointed.

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Yeah, this place is special.

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With spring comes snakes. I was too busy gabbing with Alexis on this ride to notice this fellow. In my brain it registered: That’s a funny looking rock. Scott pointed it out to us after I’d already passed by and Alexis was right next to it. It didn’t seem to be excessively bothered by us as it slithered off into the bushes.

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Yellows.

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Peach? Red? Pretty.

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The clouds look digitally processed. I did next to nothing to alter this photo. The sky really did look like this, which was funny because we’d all expected a dud of a sunset. Never underestimate the power of Tucson clouds.

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Oh Ranchito. We convinced Alexis that she had to eat at some point of time before going back to work, so it might as well be at Ranchito. It was definitely the correct life choice. It’s warm enough to ride in the evening, then partake in the traditional sprint down Saint Mary’s to try to get to Ranchito before they close, and to sit outside in bike clothes without the need for a hoody.

I love this place.


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Coconino 250-ish: Homewards! Mingus to Flagstaff

After our third night together, we’d all gotten comfortable enough with each other to give each other grief for things that we deserved to get grief over. I incessantly gave Glenn and Lucas a hard time about their eating abilities, and they looked at me skeptically every time I said that something ‘trended downwards’, or that ‘the road is just down there’, or ‘it’s only xx miles, as the crow flies.’ All valid reasons for being heckled.

Luckily for me, sitting at nearly 7,000 feet at our campsite, I could say confidently that we were going to trend downwards towards the Verde River at 3,800 feet. As was standard, we had to ride in the upward direction on a sub-lovely little piece of rocky singletrack to the point where we’d start trending downwards. But once we did start going down, life got better. Smooth trail, wide switchbacks, minimal rocks, beautiful views, and most importantly, no uphill.

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After dropping 800+ feet, we went through the magic gate and started along a series of residential roads, turning to gas line roads, turning into jeep roads. I’d looked ahead on the GPS and standing at the top of a classic AZ gas line hill, made the bold statement: We’ll be on roads the entire way to the Verde.

Glenn’s a quick learner: So what you’re saying is we’ll be riding roads like this (pretty rough), unless Scott found something harder to take us on.

Yeah, pretty much.

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We maintained our elevation as we hit the Great Western Trail with huge overlooks into the Verde Valley. It it wasn’t for the rocks making the road chunkier than it really needed to be, it would have been high desert cruising.

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Eventually, the road did trend downwards for real, losing nearly 2,000 feet over the course of seven miles. Spirits – through the roof!

What I hadn’t told them was that Williams, our next mini-goal and resupply point, was back at 7,000 feet and that all Scott had told me about the section between the Verde and Williams is that ‘you climb’. I figured we should all be joyful while we could be, so I didn’t say anything about what was to come. We hung out by the river, dipped our feet in, filled our bladders, and ate salty snacks. Lucas went for full immersion, I went for a soaked shirt to start the climb with.

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Holy moly was it a hot climb. At nearly 20 miles long, it never let up. The sun never gave us a break. Lucas declared that after spending four months off the bike due to a broken wrist, he was in no shape to be doing this route. But the cool thing was – he was doing it. With enough breaks in the shade, we slowly made our way up the road that started out smooth and slowly (and then rapidly) deteriorated.

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We’d left Cottonwood the afternoon before with the intention of trying to make it to Williams with only one night out, but had packed enough food to stay out the  second night if we didn’t make it. Leaving the Verde, I was ready to admit that our chances of making Williams, even with skipping Bill Williams mountain, were slim to none. At least we were able to temper our expectations of a big dinner.

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After entirely too much up-up-and-away, we finally reached the aptly named Pine Flats at 6,500 feet. We still had 500 feet to climb to the paved road that would take us to Williams, but we finally felt like we were within striking distance. The next time the road kicked up, we decided we were done and ready to find a camp spot. Unfortunately, while I was scanning the side of the the road for a suitably flat place to camp, I came upon a set of tracks.

“What are you looking at?” Glenn asked.

“Do those look like really big bear tracks to you?”

We stood there looking at the imprints in the soft shoulder of the dirt road.

“I think we should keep riding for a little bit,” I announced.

“Yeah. That’s a good idea,” the others agreed.

We made it another mile before we felt sufficiently far away enough from the tracks to settle down in wide open meadow for the night. We figured that as long as we put our food away from us, even if the giant bear found us, he’d dine on our trail food instead of us.

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With vision clouded by the giant burger consumed in Cottonwood, Glenn made some inadequate food purchasing decisions and had only bars left for dinner and breakfast. He’d refused my Oreos earlier in the trip, claiming he tried to eat healthy while on tour, but it didn’t take much arm twisting to convince him that one would taste pretty darn good. Apparently, even better with some almond butter on it. I’d call that a well-rounded, nutritious dinner.

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We settled down to sleep early again, bedtimes were around 7:45 this trip. I slept soundly until something that was a cross between a bark and a roar woke me up. Deep, primitive, loud, I had no clue what sort of animal could have been making the noise. My first thought was a huge dog, but we were in the middle of nowhere. Next I reasoned a wolf since we’d heard that wolves had been reintroduced near Sycamore Canyon, which wasn’t that far from where we were camped, as the crow flies, of course. I laid still, hoping that whatever it was would go away.

The creature came back as dawn was breaking. The same deep bark. I sat up, curious as to what it was, hoping that it wasn’t a wolf staring at us across the meadow. Instead, a huge elk was looking at us from across the road. There was the bark again. He looked less than pleased, probably wanting to cross the very meadow that we were camped in. He eventually decided that we weren’t going to be moving any time soon and wandered off. Glenn and I laughed in relief as we’d both had our imaginations run wild the first time we’d heard the barking.

It was a relatively quick and easy drop into Williams. A local directed us to the Grand Canyon Cafe for breakfast where we gorged ourselves on breakfast burritos. The boys were finally learning how to eat!

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With a resupply at Safeway, we were on our way out of town with the intention of bypassing Sycamore Rim. While we’d heard it was beautiful, I’d heard that the trail was questionable and after getting beat down two days in a row, we were ready for some easier miles. Scott directed us towards some forest roads that would cut off some miles, and the rim, while keeping us off pavement.

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The roads were pretty glorious. Smooth, fast, we hooked back up with the route just south of I-40 where we stopped to eat our sandwiches in the shade. It had been a morning of easy and fast miles and the San Francisco Peaks outside of Flagstaff were finally starting to look closer. We felt pretty good about our mileage for the day, content with staying out for an extra night, and thus being able to take our time for the rest of the afternoon.

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We made our way to the Texaco, our last water stop for the trip, and with spirits high, Lucas bought us all ice cream sandwiches. This was definitely bike touring at its finest! After spending some time digesting, charging up phones, and people watching, we hit the road again, taking more beautiful dirt roads paralleling I-40. We knew that we could have taken I-40 straight into Flagstaff, but we were enjoying being out still. Riding bikes. Taking in the views.

Plus, I really wanted them to get to ride the last section of the AZT trail into Flagstaff.

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We headed off towards Wing Mountain. Scott had mentioned that we could bypass some of the trail by staying on the road. I saw the bypass on the GPS and promptly ignored it – I wanted to check out the trail. While there may have been some tired legs in the group, I figured that what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them (i.e. there was a much easier way around) and we started up the trail which pretty immediately turned into an extended hike-a-bike to the top of the hill. I thought it was sort of funny. I don’t think Glenn and Lucas did.

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But here’s the beauty of the Coconino loop: Every time you want to hate it, want to quit, want to find something better to do with your life, it throws a glorious piece of singletrack your way. The descent off of Wing Mountain was no exception. Some glorious moto trail with an exquisitely bermed final mile. Smiles were back!

We made our way up to a beautiful little camp spot just a mile short of Hwy 180. We’d brought all sorts of good food up from Williams. Tacos with cheese and avocado made my night.

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I was a little sad to wake up that final morning, knowing that all we had left was a three mile climb and then a long drop back into Flagstaff. Bikepacking trips are always like that…happy to have done a big loop and looking forward to creature comforts of civilization, yet wanting to stay out longer. Five nights out is long enough to really get into the swing of things, to get into the life pace of travel by bike, but it’s also not long enough to forget what a comfortable bed feels like.

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We climbed up from the pine trees into the Aspens, nearing 9,000 feet high on the San Francisco Peaks. Clouds overhead threatened rain as we finally reached the AZ trail for our final descent.

“More people need to get out on this,” Glenn declared. “I know epic is overused, but this loop really is epic.”

I had to agree. It was epic, it was hard, and I can’t put into words how impressed I was at how Glenn and Lucas handled it. Neither had any idea what they were getting into. As far as I could tell, Glenn had looked at Curiak’s photos from his trip on it and decided that he had to go see it. I don’t blame him. I’m pretty sure Lucas came under the trip description of: Riding bikes in Arizona.

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I think the trip opened up their eyes to a whole new type of bikepacking. Obviously, road touring is big. Dirt road touring is starting to take off. But technical singletrack-heavy loops, there’s not that many people doing them. And most of the people doing them are racing instead of leisure touring. That needs to change.

I sort of feel like it’s my job to open up people’s eyes to this type of touring – bikepacking, I guess, if you want to go back to the original definition Scott wanted the word to have when he started up bikepacking.net. That if you’re careful about what you pack, and bring bikes with squishy parts, you can ride at a high level on trails in beautiful places. And if you’re not racing – the trails can actually be a lot of fun rather than a slog!

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I promised them mostly downhill and a grand total of 5 rocks for the entire descent. Of course, I was wrong on both counts, but the riding was relatively easy, at least compared to what we’d been doing, and the final fast descent down to town put smiles on all of our faces.

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We headed straight to Flagstaff Brewery for lunch to celebrate. Six days, five nights. A job well done.

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A toast to new friends. To having eyes opened about new ways of doing things (those nifty alcohol stoves sure are neat, and I sort of want a fancy camera now). To living the simple life and to seeing the world from a bike seat.

It was a glorious time. Thanks for the adventure!


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Coconino 250-ish: Flagstaff to Mingus

It’s sort of funny how this trip came together, because really, what are the chances of me going touring with a vagabond from Maine and the publisher of Bunyan Velo from Minnesota.

The first inklings of the trip started with Scott mentioning that some guy named Josh Spice wanted to come down and tour the AZT on a fat bike with some other guy. We were both dumbfounded by the idea, because anyone who’s ridden any of the AZT knows that a fat bike…well, isn’t really the best tool for the job. (Someone did race the AZTR300 on a fat bike, and finished, but said that if he came back, he’d bring suspension) Scott said that he was going to write back and tell them to either consider doing a dirt road route, or to bring different bikes.

But, I’d heard of Josh Spice in the recipients list on emails that I get from Salsa. It sounded like he was trying to time the trip to coincide with the AZTR, and at the time, Scott was still planning on racing, and I was looking for something to do instead of hanging out in an empty house at home watching dots move across the screen. I hatched a grand plan: I’d convince them to bring mountain bikes, I’d convince them that the Coconino 250 was a better loop to do than the AZT, and from Flagstaff, I’d drive up to get Scott from the border, drive him to St. George to hang out with his parents while I went to Moab for our Annual Girls Trip, and then I’d pick him up on my way back to Tucson. It was brilliant. Except things never really work out as planned…

So I sent Josh an email, inviting myself along on the trip…if they wanted to do the Coconino, which has been on my bucket list for a while now. A Scott-and-Chad designed loop, I’d heard good things about it.

I mentioned to Scott that Glenn Charles was the second guy on the trip.

“Wasn’t he the guy who rode a fat bike on that California Lost Coast road tour?”

“I think he’s the guy who bikepacked around Alaska in the winter for a few months.”

Turns out, we were thinking of the same person, and it was, in fact, Glenn.

Plans changed, morphed, and got adapted, and on the Saturday after the AZTR start, I found myself picking up Glenn and Lucas from the Phoenix airport. Josh had to bail, and apparently Lucas had somewhat invited himself along as well. As the publisher of Bunyan Velo, I’d heard of him through Gypsy by Trade. If Nicholas spoke highly of him, it was good enough for me.

And so there we were, three people who’d never met, ready to embark on what was guaranteed to be a fairly to mostly amazing trip.

What could possibly go wrong? Aside from a potentially broken thumb, a tree-skewered thermarest, and some puking.

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As all good bikepacking trips start, we went to The Place for breakfast. I cleaned my plate. The boys didn’t. I was so confused.

Bikes had been assembled in a hotel room the afternoon before, trail provisions bought at Sprouts, and beer consumed at Flagstaff Brewery. 8 am, we were on the road.

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I’d skipped the trail heading into Flagstaff during our AZT tour with the plan of riding it during this tour. Unfortunately, a fire by Walnut Canyon rendered the trails closed and we were forced to ride the 20 miles of road out to Lake Mary leaving Flagstaff. A bummer for sure, but a good lesson that a trail’s existence or availability in the future is never guaranteed.

The morning was beautiful and the miles passed quickly as basic information was exchanged: Where are you from? What do you do? What bikes do you own? Strangers are fun, especially when they’re interesting ones.

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The wind picked up as we ducked into the trees on the AZ trail having bypassed the fire closure. This section of AZT follows a lovely railroad grade with minimal technical riding. While it was definitely more fun to ride it in the downhill direction into Flagstaff, even up was pleasant. It was one of two sections of trail that I knew on the whole loop. When I was getting trail beta from Scott, I insisted on only knowing water and food resupplies, and the approximate time and distance between resupply points. I like riding things blind, taking things as they come. If it goes up, I’ll pedal. If it goes down, I’ll coast. If I can’t stay on my bike, I’ll walk. The simple life.

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Spirits were high. Duffy, pined cruising. Glenn asked me if all of the AZT followed a railroad grade across the state. No, not really.

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After leaving the AZT, we followed a series of dirt roads heading back towards I-17 and the ADOT yard that was to be our water resupply for the day. I’d convinced Glenn and Lucas that there was no need for rain gear or shelters, we were in AZ after all, so I was slightly worried as the clouds continued to build throughout the afternoon. Luckily, they amounted to nothing and we got sporadic sun throughout our mellow cruise.

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We reached the ADOT yard early afternoon. After skipping the first sections of trail, we were well ahead of schedule and I called Scott to see what our camping options were if we were to go past the Camp 1 spot from the Coco250 race route. Not much, he told me. A drop into Sedona, it would have been stealth camping with an early start unless we were willing to ride into the night. The decision was made to call it a day early instead, so we took our time filling up on water, petting the neighborhood cat who’d decided that my lap was the best piece of real estate in the area, and munching on snacks.

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Not long after, the views exploded. I’ve been to Sedona once before, but the view from the top, now that’s something else!

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Bike-selfie. I think Glenn liked the view.

A nasty wind had whipped up the dust in the valley making for less-than-clear views, but the grandeur of the area couldn’t be hidden.

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We get to ride bikes here!

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We reached our camp spot around 4 in the afternoon and our jaws dropped. How did Scott and Chad find this place? Is this for real? The wind was gusting up at 40+ mph, and we had to take sanity breaks and hide from the wind occasionally, but the better part of the next three hours was spent perched on the edge of the cliff, admiring the view. It really was fairy-tale-esque.

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The dust led to a quality AZ sunset and as the final color left the sky, we found ourselves a somewhat sheltered place to set up camp for the night.

It wasn’t a minute after I’d finished blowing up my pad that a rouge gust of wind blew through our camp. Glenn’s pad and sleeping bag went flying, and my pad took flight, straight into a tree. To be more specific, it turned a tree branch into a skewer and hung there until I could go retrieve it. With no pad patch kit and an inch-long gaping hole in my pad, I tried to patch it with a tire patch. I laid down on it and had the comforts of a soft pad for approximately 3 minutes.

It was a long night curled up on the ground, one pair of chamois under my hips, one pair under my shoulders, pack under my feet, and water bladder under my head. Luckily, I have plenty of practice sleeping in uncomfortable positions and I actually grabbed a few hours of sleep as the nearly full moon made its way across the sky.

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I knew that we’d had a mellow day on Day 1 of our tour and expected things to get rowdy on the drop down to Sedona and beyond. I don’t think Glenn and Lucas had a clue. How do you explain AZ riding to someone who’s never done it? But I guess that’s the point of touring, getting your mind blown minute after minute, hour after hour, and day after day, be it by the views, the riding, or everything combined into one beautiful experience.

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Dropping down Schnebly Hill trail and then the Munds Wagon trail was…rough. Definitely had a Team Vertigo aspect, lots of rocks, narrow trail. For the first miles of the morning, it was a bit of rough wakeup call for all involved.

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But the views!

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All was going according to plan until Glenn washed his front wheel out around a tight and loose switchback. Face first into some rocks, his glasses saved his face. His thumb didn’t fare quite as well as he heard a pop as he put his glove back on. After a little GPS sleuthing, he and Lucas exited out onto the road for a smoother coast down the hill to Sedona while I rode the last couple of miles of trail.

What was a fairly rideable trail turned into a Scott-and-Chad special, and I found myself playing the usual on-again-off-again game, navigating rocks, roots, and drops. But oh, was it beautiful (and the trail did get better near the bottom).

Meeting up with the boys shortly after, we made our way to Sedona to evaluate the situation. I needed a new sleeping pad. Glenn needed to ice his thumb and get a bent derailleur hanger fixed. And I needed to find some postcards to send out, and a postoffice to buy some stamps and to send my destroyed sleeping pad home. Overwhelmed by the chores, we went to Starbucks and drank coffee, absorbing the energy of the crystals embedded in the ground.

Honestly, I thought the trip was over with the bum thumb, but after the coffee was gone, Glenn was determined to continue. With a taped up thumb, we headed towards an outdoor store to buy a new pad. Instead, we found a consignment shop which I was more than ready to check out. I had no intention of spending a lot of money on a new pad if I could fix my old one when I got home.

We entered the small room crammed full of clothes and gear. I found the owner, a grey-haired man who seemed to fit in with the crystal-vortex crowd of Sedona.

“Do you have any sleeping pads?” I asked.

He looked at me skeptically.

“Have you ever slept on the ground before?”

“Ummm…yes.”

“Successfully?”

“Yes.”

I started to wonder if he wanted my money or not.

He looked up at Glenn and Charles, perusing the shop.

“How many people is this pad for?”

“One.”

“You?”

“Yes.”

I started to wonder where this conversation was going.

“I’ve got this one.” He led me over to a giant pad, at least twice as tall as I was.

“Do you have anything smaller? We’re traveling by bike.”

He looked at me funny again. “So you’re looking for something short and inadequate?”

“Yes, exactly.”

He pointed me to a 3/4 length, ancient thermarest. “Here’s one that’s plenty short and inadequate.”

“I’ll take it.”

It wasn’t lightweight, it was overpriced, but being able to get out of there and save ourselves a trek further into the heart of Sedona was well worth it.

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While I packed it up, found a tourist info shop for postcards, and mailed my old pad back to Tucson, Glenn went to the bike shop to get his bike fixed. We reconvened, found ourselves some lunch (sweet potato, fig paste, mozzarella, and tomato, YUM!), and took steps to finally escape the vortex.

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No question about it, Sedona is strange. I think I like it.

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The route hops on some classic Sedona trails south of town, heading out towards Chicken Point, Llama Trail, and then Templeton, and down to Little Buddha beach before truly exiting the vortex. Having ridden Sedona once before, I knew what to expect.

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There’s nothing quite like the rocks of Sedona. Sort of like Moab, sort of not. Sort of like St George, sort of not. Unique and fitting of a vortex center.

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It was neat to see Lucas and Glenn find their stride as the day went on. What was completely foreign to them and completely unrideable became manageable. Skills were on the up!

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Filling up on water at Red Rocks State Park, we headed out onto the Lime Kiln trail, determined to find a nice place to camp. I think we succeeded.

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We watched the full moon rise before settling down for the night. It was a special place to be able to watch the lunar eclipse, drifting in and out of consciousness as the sky went from daylight-bright to pitch black and then back to bright again.

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Not only did we get to watch Nature TV with the sun rising on the Sedona cliffs, but we got the bonus programming of hot air balloons swooping down, nearly touching the ground in front of us, and then taking off again. They were close enough that we could hear them talking. Glenn thought he was going crazy hearing voices before we realized what was going on.

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On to Lime Kiln. Scott had described it as a combination of vague-le track and two track. It was a pretty spot-on description.

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These guys seemed as interested in us as we were in them. When they finally took off, we marveled at their power-to-weight ratio. To be able to move so easily and gracefully…

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Pile ‘o Salsa at Coffee Creek.

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The route eventually led us to some sandy sections of trail. Many of them paralleled smooth dirt roads and Glenn made the bold statement: Scott is mean!

I told him that Scott had been called far worse than that when it comes to his routes.

While it was only 12 miles to Cottonwood for brunch from our campsite, the going was sub-fast through the sand. Apparently when Scott and Chad had reconned the route, it had just rained and the trail was fast and smooth. Go figure.

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Dead Horse State Park. Mine is a mighty pony!

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We went to Georgie’s Cafe. 10:30, I opted for breakfast (stuffed french toast with strawberries, eggs, and hashbrowns), the boys opted for burgers, a decision that would haunt them for the rest of the day. With my heckling at their inability to eat big meals, they both finished their meals, right down to the very last french fry. This was maybe not the greatest idea in the world as we had the 3,000 foot climb up Mingus ahead of us and the afternoon sun was beating down with an intensity that made me feel like my brains were about to boil. I could only imagine what it would have been like coming from Maine or Minnesota.

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Mingus is a little bit of a beast. It’s been known to crush souls. I could only imagine what it was like when Scott, Kurt, and Aaron rode up it during their prize fight race/implosion on the route. It starts out paved and mellow…and then quickly kicks up.

Lucas lost his burger not far up the slopes. Every shady spot became a good reason to stop. The sun was relentless.

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Yeah. Mingus.

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We took the liberty of skipping the hike-a-bike to the top of the mountain, instead taking a contouring road around the flanks of the beast. Unbeknownst to us, there was a spigot with running water just a few miles down the road. Knowing we’d be dry camping and our reliable water source was going to be middle of the day after, we filled up. It made us feel silly for hauling 300+ ounces of water up the hill, but apparently the spigot is new in the past 5 years.

Getting to cool off, splash water on heads, and rest raised spirits. At least temporarily.

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The views did not suck.

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As the sun got lower in the sky, we pushed on, wanting to get as close to the top as we could before setting up camp. We were nearly to Day 2 camp of the race, but knowing that none of us had any place to be or to go, and if the trip took six days instead of the five that we’d planned it’d be a-okay, we weren’t stressed about the time. Anyhow, the next day had to be easier, right?

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We settled on a beautiful little spot in the trees. We figured we could push on for another 45 minutes, but the site was so flat, and soft, and just about perfect. When touring, we decided, you don’t pass up a beautiful camping spot. Spirits started to rise as food was consumed and I said that we got to descend off the backside of Mingus the next day, all the way down to the Verde River, 3,000 feet below us.

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We even had a camp visitor! Lucas wanted to get a picture before he ran away. I assured him that these guys don’t move very fast. They make me look graceful when it comes to trying to move quickly.

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We got into bags early to watch the last rays of sun disappear behind one stand of trees and to see the moon rise on the other side of the horizon.

Worked over, we were all looking forward to some downhill and mellow riding the next day. Little did we know what was in store.

Well, I should have known. I know Scott and I know nothing is ever easy when it comes to a Scott GPX line. 

 

 


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In the interim

After a few days of lounging around St George, it was time to head back south to Tucson. It was an awesome stay with Scott’s parents where I got to catch up on the Facebook, the status of the missing Malaysian flight, and Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Hey, when you can’t walk, the TV starts to look awfully appealing for entertainment. 

We rented ourselves a nice little Chevy Malibu and drove it the whole way back on a single tank of gas. This was helped by the fact that the air conditioner was broken, which helped on gas milage but pretty much stank when we hit rush-hour traffic in Phoenix during the heat of the afternoon. It was good to be home and we had a whole two nights and a day to ourselves to return the rental car, get breakfast at Bobo’s, and look helplessly at the gear that was piled on our floor. And to admire the onion that was growing greens in our bowl.

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JayP showed up the next day, getting ready to start his assault on the AZTR 750. Arriving mid-afternoon, he built up his bike and we took him out to Starr Pass for a ride. 5 minutes from the house, he got to witness firsthand the never ending battle with tires versus the AZ desert as Scott’s Stans-less tire decided that it didn’t want to hold air any more. And then we couldn’t get the valve stem out to add more Stans (which I had), so we broke the rim seal, added the Stans, and tried to air it back up with a hand pump . No dice.

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Jay and I left Scott on the side of the trail to get home and either switch his tire or just switch bikes, planning on having him ride our loop backwards and meet us.

The riding was lovely, it was so good to be back in Tucson, to be fighting being too warm rather than too cold. It was good to see all my saguaro friends again and ride all the familiar rocks.

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We ran back into Scott coming down the Yetman Wash trail and proceeded homewards in the dark. With temperatures in the 90’s during the day, it was definitely night riding season.

Jay took off the next day and Justin came to occupy our spare bedroom. His ride to the start of the 300 had fallen through, so we offered up some floor space and van space for the following morning. We took him out to Starr Pass as the sun was setting.

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The sunset was a dud, but at least we got some pretty clouds before the light left us.

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We were nearly back from our loop, heading down to the Genser trailhead when the junk-show started.

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Pssssssst. Scott’s rear tire, tubed instead of tubeless, decided that it didn’t like being rallied down the final rocky descent at breakneck speeds. With no Stans and no hope of it holding tubeless, Scott went to put his tube in.

Psssssst went the tube as he tried to put a little bit of air in it.

“Here, try mine.” I gave him my spare tube.

Pssssst went my spare tube. We stood dumbfounded.

“I’ll patch it!”

I put a patch on the offending hole and gave it back.

Psssst went the tube, more slowly this time.

“I’ll put another patch on it!”

Pssssst went the tube, a third time.

“I think the tube is hosed.” Scott’s tube, leaking Stans, had no hope of being patched.

Meanwhile Justin looked on, wondering how the Scott and Ez junk-show ever fixed anything.

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“I’ll ride home and go get the car.” We conceded the fight and I left Scott on the side of the trail with a flat for the second time in two days. Whoops.

In the AM, we piled into the SportsVan and went down to the AZT 300 start at Parker Lake. It was awesome to see everyone, including the AZT750 riders coming through, most stopping for a short break.

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I would have loved to see Kaitlyn go after my AZT record. Stupid crashes. Cool scars.

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The start was a bubbling mass of nervous energy. I thought maybe I’d be a little jealous of the racers…but I wasn’t. That’s a good feeling to have…to know that I made a correct life decision on this one.

Scott gave his motivational speech, same as last year, and we watched the riders sprint off down Gear Check hill. Suddenly, it was relatively silent with a few stragglers starting late and the drop-off drivers starting to pull out.

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Time to ride for us! Having made the drive down to Parker Lake, we opted to ride the six miles around Parker Lake…because, well, when else were we going to do it?

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We ended up on some questionable trails that probably saw more immigrant traffic than bike traffic, lost the trail more times than we found it, but all in all, had a lovely little two hour adventure next to the lake. The only downside was that the marina was only open on weekends, squashing our hope for an ice cream sandwich by the water.

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We made our way home to watch the dots move along the AZT, spending the rest of the day in the coolness of our house, wondering how the racers were faring in the heat. Both glad we weren’t racing, it was fun to know that people were out there, having the adventure of a lifetime. Well, that, or cursing Scott’s name as they made their way through the Canelos. Oh, the lovely Canelos.

And then it was time to go again. Rest is for those who can’t think of anything fun to do.

 

 

 


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AZT Taco Tour: The Ditch, the bathroom, and the finish

Years and years and years ago, my parents took me to the rim of the Grand Canyon. I remember looking down into the vastness and wanting to hike down, but at the time (I think I was eight, which makes it less than a quarter century ago, but not by much), our trip was limited to taking a couple of pictures. I’d vowed to return to actually hike the canyon, but as it turns out, it’s not really on any of the standard routes that I drive around the west. And also, I’m a bit of bike rider, which makes hiking down 4,500 vertical feet a recipe for disaster.

Getting to hike the canyon was one of the draws of the trip for me. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew that it’d be spectacular. All through southern and central AZ, I had other obstacles to focus on and the immensity of the canyon crossing didn’t phase me. Then all of sudden, we were there in Tusayan, packing up our bikes for the short jaunt to the South Rim to start our journey down.

What could possibly go wrong?

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I remembered the view well from my last visit and we spent a few minutes staring down into the abyss. Scott informed me that what looked like the bottom from our perch wasn’t even close. I pretended that I already knew that. Gulp.

We headed straight to the backcountry office to get a permit for camping. We were hoping for Cottonwood, which was a little farther along the trail and would have given us a better chance at making Jacob’s Lake the next day, but as it turned out that both the campgrounds at Cottonwood and Phantom Ranch were full.  Phantom Ranch had a spot the next night, “Why can’t you just wait a day?” the nice lady at the office asked us.

Scott pulled out his powers of persuasion (and knowledge) and with the help of another employee, convinced her that AZT thru-hikers can get permits outside of their normal parameters. Reluctantly, she gave us our permit and reminded us several times that our Day 2 would be 14 miles with 6,000 feet of elevation gain. “Are you sure you can do that?” she asked, looking directly at me.

“Well, if I go down there, I’m going to have to find a way to get myself out.”

She looked skeptical about the whole operation and had us sign a sheet saying that she’d advised us against our itinerary and that it was “excessive.”

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Our next stop was the post office to pick up our mail drop. New packs, new shoes, more oats (as if we hadn’t hauled a weeks worth from Flagstaff). We sent back everything that we could, small packs, a spare tube, shock pump, iPad, and the oats. I convinced Scott that it would be nice to have the stove for a meal down at the bottom and if we didn’t make it to Jacob’s Lake the next day. It was a minimal junk-show.

Lunch was next and a visit to the outdoor store. We finally caved and bought two Grand Canyon National Park Official ponchos because the forecast was calling for rain and snow. We’d almost made it the whole way without carrying rain gear. We were skeptical of our purchases right until it started snowing outside while we were paying.

Then back to the Xanterra office to put an order in for a hot breakfast at Phantom Ranch and two sack lunches for the next day. Overpriced, obviously, but the thought of pancakes and bacon for the hike out made it worth it.

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Scott put our bikes on our packs while I ate carrot cake. He’d tried to explain the technique to me when we were first testing the pack for me, but I told him that I had no interest in learning because this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he was a pro. The snow started to fall harder and we sought shelter behind a row of bathrooms, warming up in them before setting off to the rim.

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Really, what could possibly go wrong?

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We ran into hoards of people scurrying up to the rim in the storm as we slowly made our way down. I did my best to take small steps, to walk deliberately, and to use my one hiking pole as much as I could. I’d accepted the fact that I was going to destroy my legs with this endeavor, but figured whatever damage I could minimize, I would. Everyone wanted to know what we were doing. We gave various lengths of answers. A lot of people just shook their heads in amazement. I don’t blame them.

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The snow stopped as we dropped in elevation. The trail is nothing short of spectacular. It blew my mind (I know, terrible descriptors for a writer, but I’ve got nothing to describe it) and within a few miles, we had it all to ourselves, dropping into the depths of the world.

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That down there, that’s not the bottom. We took breaks occasionally, and then less frequently as we realized we’d be racing daylight to get down to Phantom Ranch. 9 miles in 4.5 hours is a stretch for people like us.

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Stunning. (I need a thesaurus)

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We made it down to the river and made our way along the sandy trail to the bridge, getting to the outskirts of Phantom Ranch just as headlights became necessary. After some bumbling around, we found our special area, and dropped our bikes, only to feel drops of rain start to come down steadily. Luckily, the canteen had just opened and we found shelter among other hikers who were there for wine, beer, and other merriments. The gal running the canteen knew about the race and was happy to give us hot water for our meals as we sat there, feeling worked over, and worried about the prospect of camping in the rain. Ponchos yes, shelter, no.

But, luck was on our side and the rain let up 15 minutes before the canteen closed for the night. We set up our camp under clearing skies and had a warm night at the bottom of the canyon.

We woke up at 4:45 to make the family-style breakfast at the canteen that we’d ordered. Apparently everyone at our table was watching their waistlines and we had our fill of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and peaches. Worth every penny, we left stuffed with two sack lunches.

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My song for the hike had become “I’m a little pack mule, short and stout” (sung to the tune of I’m a little teapot). The lyrics would eventually change to “I’m a little pack mule, not afraid of heights” as we made our way up the trail.

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Sunrise from the trail. Ouchy shoulders, legs that were sub-stoked, and miles and miles to go couldn’t take away from the beauty of watching the sun illuminate the canyon walls. We could see that snow line from the storm on the north rim was low and we wondered what our ascent would bring.

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Our climb was punctuated with exclamations of “Alexis would love this geology!”

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What can I say: It was hard. Getting packs on and off was an ordeal. Shoulders hurt. Scott reminded me frequently that he was carrying the stove, a tube, and tools – all weight that I wasn’t. I reminded him that he also had 5-inches of suspension to play with on all the trail leading up to the canyon and it wasn’t my fault that his bike weighed more.

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But we climbed. We had one minor junk-show when it started snowing on us and we attempted to extract the ponchos from our bags, get them on, and then get our packs on. By the time we were set up, it had stopped snowing. Classic. 

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A day of melting had gotten rid of most of the snow, but as we approached the north rim, we struggled to keep our shoes dry.

We reached the rim with a few minutes of sun left. We dropped our packs, absorbing the last rays of sun, surveying the fact that the ground, which had been dry for most of the drought-filled winter was now covered in several inches of snow. The temperature started dropping as the sun fell. We had the option of camping or trying to ride the 40 miles of pavement to Jacob’s Lake in the dark. We knew both options would be miserable and cold.

Deciding not to decide, we made our way to the backcountry office to get water at the year-round spigot.

“There’s a bathroom over here that has a space heater in it,” Scott exclaimed as I was filling up bottles. “We should at least warm up.”

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We decided that the bikes were cold too, so we brought them in. Then, one thing led to another, and it was morning and we were getting ready to face the cold temperatures outside.

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While eating our dinners made of hot water from the sink, I took my socks off to assess the damage. It was a pretty impressive blister, but nothing that a safety pin, a little bit of antibiotic cream, and a bandaid couldn’t fix.

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Knowing that we were woefully unprepared to face the temperatures with our gloves and socks, Scott had the brilliant idea of making mittens and vapor barrier socks out of our ponchos. My was shredded already from our botched attempt at hiking with them on and we decided they really were single-use items.

The mittens were brilliant. We would have been totally hosed without them. Even with the protection of the ponchos, we were still cold and high clouds lingered in the sky, foiling any attempt at using sun rays for warmth. Dead set on Jacob’s Lake, we pedaled in the cold, saying little. Scott grew icicles on his beard, my hair frosted up. We guessed at the temperature (it was 19 F).

Eventually, it got warm enough to not feel frantic, to start to feel human again. We looked at the trail, paralleling the road, being glad that we weren’t pedaling over the bumps with cold hands and sore legs (did I mention I couldn’t really get on or off my bike, and unclipping was  quite a deal, let alone walking). To pass the time (because 40 miles of pavement can get boring for two mountain bikers), we spent the last 10 miles thinking up our favorite memory from that grade in school. Mile 10, 10th grade. Mile 9, 9th grade, etc. We both had some pretty funny stories and before we knew it, we were shedding our ponchos at the Road Closed gate in order to look civilized for the final quarter mile into Jacob’s Lake.

We had a hot breakfast. We ate cookies. We talked to another bike tourist. We called Scott’s parents to tell them of our ETA. I insisted that we eat lunch two hours after we finished breakfast. And then we rode, back onto the trail.

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We hit a bit of snow, but the last 26 miles really are fairly easy cruising. Some climbs, some rocks to navigate, but mellow enough to really soak in the moment. We stopped at the last AZ Trail sign, 11 miles from the border.

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We’d come this far. We’d be done within 90 minutes. It made me sad.

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After 749 miles, the final descent was smooth, long, had wide corners, and had a stunningly beautiful backdrop of the Vermillion Cliffs. It seemed surreal that after all the abuse the trail can (and did) dish out, for it to end on such a beautifully constructed section.

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Scott’s parents were waiting for us as we arrived. It was awesome to be greeted at the end! We were only an hour late (after my desperate need for lunch before leaving Jacob’s Lake). We piled into their car, headed for Saint George for dinner at Costa Vida. I nearly fell over trying to get out of the car to get to the restaurant, the legs were officially revolting.

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We  (and by we, I mean me) spent the next two days laying on the couch, hobbling to the bathroom, hobbling to the kitchen, and admiring the views of the mountains surrounding St. G. While I would have loved to ride (and Scott did!), it was time to relax and let the legs heal. They’d done good.

The trip really was a dream. Last December after Scott took me out bikepacking in the Gila, I’d told him that no trip would ever be able to compare and that he’d ruined me for life. This trip…this one was something special, much like the Gila was a year and half ago. Out for 14 days, enjoying the views while still riding long days, staying fresh enough to enjoy the riding while still having the contentment at the end of a long day that we’d done good, food in new places, and stories that are too numerous to ever all get told.

Did spiritual enlightenment happen? Nah. But I can say with 100% certainty – In this stage in my life, I would much rather tour on my bike than race it and that I’m the luckiest gal alive to have such an amazing partner to go on these adventures with. It’s a big, wide world out there and I can’t wait to see more of it.

 


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AZT Taco Tour: Highline, wind, and first views of the Ditch!

I thought a lot about the experience I was having out on the trail touring rather than racing.

For me, when racing, a deep fatigue settles in sometime after about 48 hours. Riding technical stuff becomes (seemingly) dangerous. Powering up steep hills becomes a waste of effort. Efficiency is king. If it’s faster to walk a section rather than to walk-ride-walk it, walking it is. It, for me, is an unfortunately part of bikepack racing. Sleep deprivation makes everything worse, but you accept the fact that you’re going to be tired from then on out and keep on trudging.

Leaving Apache Junction, I felt the familiar deep ache. I told Scott, to quote Caroline so eloquently: My legs are no good today.

But the beauty of the situation was – it didn’t matter. We’d puttered along the pavement. Climbed the dirt gently. Enjoyed the views. Stopped at all the informational booths. And the fact that I was having a bad day didn’t even phase me. (Luckily, the legs decided that it was no fun being no good somewhere mid-afternoon and my usual energy returned. Whew.)

Leaving Pine, I knew we had the Highline trail on the horizon. Scott had advised the wearing chamois would probably be a good idea, but warned me to be prepared to hike pretty much all day. 18 miles, it’s been called an abusive girlfriend among other non-flattering names. Max had put his running shoes on for the section instead of trying to slide around on bike shoes during the race last year.

We got breakfast in Pine, filled up our food stocks, and headed out.

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Sometime around sunset, we finally crested the Mogollon Rim, 20 miles later. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad.

The key, as I see it, was that I was coming off of two ‘rest-ish’ days. I had fresh-ish legs. I could power up the steepies. I could ride the techy downhills. I still walked a ton, but Scott and I had a system worked out where at the top (or bottom) of every hike-a-bike, he’d get on and ride around the next corner and yell back whether it was worth it or not. He was right about 98% of the time (sometimes he thinks I ride a lot faster/can ride a lot more than I can, but this time he was spot on). While the first half was overgrown and involved some extended hiking sections, there were some BEAUTIFUL sections of trail in there. The second half seemed mostly rideable. The hike up to the rim…well, it was a hike up to the rim. I won’t sugar-coat that one.

I thought about how I’d have to stumble through the trail if I was racing, probably cursing it, hating every mile (and there’s a fair amount to hate about it), but with all day and no where to be, frustration was kept uber-low. We took breaks in the shade, and had a positive experience on Highline. Now, how many people can say that?

Anyways, it made me love touring even more and make me even more certain about my decision to go on a hiatus from racing.

Now, onto the photos and the rest of the trip:

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Scott doesn’t walk down much. I have a general policy that if Scott rides something smoothly, I have a shot, if he fumbles it, I only have a shot if he’s being clumsy, and if he walks, well, it’s time for me to walk too. There was some downhill walking, but I just viewed it as good Grand Canyon training.

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Stop right there!

Ok. I pretty much have to. It’s not rideable from here. 

The views were spectacular. The Mogollon rim, pronounced Mug-y-on, is where the Muggles live. We were hanging out in Hogwarts all day. I like living in a land of wizards, witches, and unicorns. (Were there unicorns in Harry Potter? I only made it halfway through the fourth book.)

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There was red sand and red rock reminiscent of Sedona. Even slickrock!

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Wild life.

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Wild trees. And apparently wildlife that scratches wild trees.

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Lots of beautiful things to look at during our meandering tour.

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Near the end of the trail we started coming across some…erm…interesting pruning techniques on the bushes that were threatening to grow in the trail. This explained it. As a former Brownie (I quit because I thought Boy Scouts were having more fun and I was sick of making lanyards), I love the idea of getting little girls out to do trail work. Good work Shadow Rim Ranch girl scouts!

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We filled up on water, getting ready for the night, and started hiking. It was maybe the most physically taxing thing I’d done on the trail so far. These feet weren’t made for walking.

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We made it a whopping 26 miles in a full day of riding/hiking/dragging bikes through bushes.

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Scott promised easier riding the next day. We meandered along some beautiful singletrack in the morning, crossed our water resupply and filled up a whole 1.5 liters as Scott said we could detour off route to the ranger station and get more water later in the day, and continued on our merry way.

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It would have been fantabulous had the wind not picked up to gale force. And had some ass-hat not driven on all the roads when they were muddy, tearing them to pieces. I sorta, kinda, really cracked. Legs are no good today. Head is even worse. The endless trees and endless roads wore on me as I struggled to keep up with Scott. The road surfaces were soft, or rocky, or jagged. Never smooth and hard.

We found an area where Scott had cell reception and we called ahead to Mormon Lake lodge to find out the store hours. 8-2. There was no way we were going to make it. The extra kicker – the reservation office for the cabins also closed at 2 but they could leave a key out for us. Only 10 am, we wanted to keep our options open so we declined the reservation.

10 minutes down the trail, I announced that we should probably make the reservation. I was crawling.

We had until 6 to get there because the newly opened pizza joint was going to be holding onto our key for us and we had to get there before they closed. Scott said No problem!

The day wore on. I ran out of water. I wondered where the fabled ranger station was, or if Scott had decided that he had enough water and was pushing on. I suffered for the first time on the trip and there was little I could do besides plod on, knowing that, again, we were light on food and it was going to be frigid out that night. A cabin and hot dinner would be very welcome.

We eventually hit the highway, 4:50. The ranger station would have been to our left. We’d left our morning water at 9-ish. Poor decision making on that one. We had 1:10 to get to Mormon Lake. Taking the trail stopped being an option and we happily hopped on the highway, riding the rollers all the way there.

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The pizza place had opened two days prior. They had root beer floats. It was divine.

I felt a little guilt about getting a cabin that night. Surely it wasn’t going to be cheap, we had camping gear, why weren’t we camping? Because it was freezing (literally) out, we were on vacation, and a night of sleep is well worth whatever price we’d have to pay in the morning. Am I getting soft? I like to think I’m getting smart.

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We skipped some trail on the way out of Mormon Lake because there was a traffic-less paved road that paralleled it (and Scott described it as bumpy), hopped on a section of trail that Scott said was worth riding, and then jumped back on the highway to skip a section of trail that I’d be riding on the Coconino loop not long after finishing the tour.

We hit Flagstaff in time for lunch, promptly spent far too much on food at Sprouts, and spent the next 30 minutes eating and trying to figure out how to fit all the food that we’d collectively bought into our bags. I never learn.

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It was a slow and heavy climb out of Flag on some beautiful trails. Riled up by a crazy person that we had to deal with in Flag, my stomach was a knotted up mess. Luckily the trails were so good that I soon forgot about the incident, the stomach started digesting, and we were soon climbing up towards the San Francisco Peaks to check out the snow level.

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Around 8k, we found snow. And aspens. And beautiful climbing temperatures and protection from the wind that had pounded us the day before and all morning.

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With snow on the south side of the peaks, we bailed down to Hart Prairie road for a lower elevation way around the peaks. We were racing sunlight to get to a low elevation for warmer temperatures and protection from the wind.

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The day had been forecasted for 30+ mph winds out of the south west. The following day was to be even worse, gusts of 50 mph. We raced the growing shadows, eventually descending to an elevation that stopped feeling like winter. Finding a small grove of healthy trees in a forest of partially burned trees (sketchy!)  was the best we could do and we settled down to try to cook dinner and survive the night. It was cold. My tootsies were not happy with me.

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Another hour of daylight would have taken us down to Kansas, but now we faced the final 1,000 feet of descending in the morning. It was cold. Again, my tootsies were not happy. And windy. We’d gotten up early in hopes of knocking out the westward sections of the trail before the wind was supposed to intensify in the afternoon. It was blowing a steady 30 when we got up. It never got better. It never got worse. At least we got an early start.

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The sections of trail that went north east were amazing. Pedaling was optional. Any other direction…hold on for dear life. Scott found us a sneak through a dirt road that saved us a a couple miles of westward motion and we flew high on the small victory for the rest of the afternoon, or at least until we hit the trees at Moqui Stagestop and finally found shelter from the incessant howl.

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Finally getting over halfway…

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I have a thing for endless dirt roads. I think I’m sick that way.

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Once in the trees, we filled up on water at Russel Tank, rode the Coconino Rim trail (delightful), and found ourselves at the Grandview trailhead. There’s a firewatch tower there that you can climb and Scott coaxed Miss. Team Vertigo about halfway up.

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We got some beautiful views of the Big Ditch in one direction and could see all the way back to the San Francisco Peaks in the other direction. How far we’d come…how far we had to go.

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The final 16 miles consisted of the Tusayn Bike Trail. Scott claimed that it descended 800 feet, so I took that to mean that it was all downhill. It wasn’t. But it was lovely nonetheless. We planned on staying the night in Tusayn, hoping that rooms there would be cheaper than at the South Rim, so when we got to town, we ate some overpriced Mexican food (the Horchata was the best I’d ever had though, so that almost made up for the prices) and found a off-the-beaten-path motel where the owner was stoked about the AZT.

We faced the canyon for the next two days. The question of the horsewomen from Day 1 still echoed in my brain: Can you do that? I mean, physically?

It was a fair question. While I’ll fess up to exactly 4 runs here in Tucson this winter (all of which made me deathly sore), the last ‘hike’ I’d done was down Oracle Ridge a year prior. Before that, I’d done some Sanita’s hikes in Boulder before the ITI. I’m not a hiker by choice. I was worried, but I was trying to be brave. Luckily, there was plenty of cable TV on to keep my mind off the inevitable while Scott played TrackLeaders on the iPad.

We slept early and well. I’d need every bit of energy I could get.