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.
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.
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.
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.
Spirits were high. Duffy, pined cruising. Glenn asked me if all of the AZT followed a railroad grade across the state. No, not really.
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.
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.
Not long after, the views exploded. I’ve been to Sedona once before, but the view from the top, now that’s something else!
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.
We get to ride bikes here!
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.
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.
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.
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.
But the views!
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?”
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?”
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?”
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.
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.
No question about it, Sedona is strange. I think I like it.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Pile ‘o Salsa at Coffee Creek.
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.
Dead Horse State Park. Mine is a mighty pony!
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.
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.
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.
The views did not suck.
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?
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.
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.
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.