Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sedona (not so) Big Friggin Loop

A couple of days post Coconino Loop I was ready to ride some Sedona singletrack. The Sedona Big Friggin Race loop was in order. It had been shortened this year to 37 miles and I got the go ahead from Mary to head out. The race was won this year in 3 hours, 40 minutes. An impressive feat. I gave myself a little more time and told Mary I'd meet her back after her hike with the dog.

The route traversed some trails I had not seen before, Highline was a real treat. The trail climbed up nicely and then contoured around before dropping down some very steep switchbacks and fall lines. I got a little misplaced right away as the trail was covered with some sticks, making it look, and likely, illegal. After getting a bit misplaced again on Baldwin trail (see a theme developing here....)I was off to Red Rock State Park for the second time this week. Exiting the park you ride pavement for a bit and then turn on to trail. I got really lost here as the trail split multiple times and the GPS track was a little vague. I ended up climbing a bunch of trails that were specifically not the one I was supposed to be on. After a bit of searching, and remembering who laid this course out, the wee trail going up the wash and leading to some hike-a-bike made perfect sense. I was back on the track.

The trail topped out at HWY 89 and I was of to Girdner, Old Post and Cockscomb trails, I'd been out there before and remembered them being nice hikes, in and out of a sandy wash, not primo bike stuff, but there were miles to fill and this was about as far out as you could get. The trails eventually turn to really fun stuff, Rupp trail and the end of Girdner are just big grin stuff, although of course I got misplaced out there as well.....
Crossing the road at Dry Creek the track took me up a driveway with no trespassing signs. A little searching showed a small but worn trail that I assumed was taking me over to Thunder Mountain trail. About 50 feet in I come across a couple of guys working, they are not happy to see me..... something about trespassing and questioning my eyesight were discussed, I pleaded ignorance and turned around. I headed down Dry Creek road and was about to head down 89 when a Forest Service truck rolls up with a couple of kids in it. I hit them up for a way back up to the trail, they happily obliged and off I went.

Thunder Mountain is a mix-mash of fun and technical in and out of the wash riding, although today with tired legs I was ready for the fun swoopy stuff to return, and the Teacup/Jordan trail is just that.

The wind was amazing this day, easily 40 miles an hour in places. After getting out through Broken Arrow I was getting hammered on Llama, pedaling my ass off going downhill and not looking forward to the Pathway, knowing full well I would be in it's teeth! At the top of Llama I gave Mary a call, she was just hanging out at Bike and Bean and the timing was perfect, ten minutes later I rolled in, a perfect day.

I did the extended play version of the race, 45 miles instead of 37, total time out was 4 hours and twenty minutes. I was happy with that time, tired legs and being lost for 20% of the course notwithstanding, not sure where the extra mileage came from, I must have been really lost out there in places!

Four days in the Arizona Desert

Man it's been an ugly winter here in Northern California, weeks and weeks of rain and more snow than I care to think about, a trip out of here was in order. We've been eyeing a couple of bikepacking routes in Arizona for a month or so and had decided on a route that headed out of Superior and out around the Gila River using portions of the Arizona Trail and the the Arizona Trail Race route. Much planning and research ensued.  A week before we were to leave, and with all our gear packed, it was becoming apparent that the weather was not going to co-operate.The heat was on and it looked like temps in the upper 90's were in the forecast, not good for my office dwelling wife nor I since the highest temps we've see this year have been in the 60's. So an alternate plan was hatched, not optimal, but with time off already approved and my work schedule cleared, we needed to make something happen.

A route out of Flagstaff was deemed the  best, it was going to be cold at night, but the daytime temps would be tolerable. I spent a couple of evenings tracing out a route based on the Coconino Stage Race, a 235 mile, 4 day loop from Flagstaff out through Sedona, Cottonwood, Williams and back to Flagstaff. The snow would be an issue at points, but some detours were available and we would have to make do.

We had decided early on to take Sasha, our new to us rescue dog. We figured that spending the trip with us, even though it meant 4 days at a boarding kennel, was better than staying home for the entire 11 days. Reservations were made and it looked like it was coming together, mind you we have totally changed our plans 2 days before leaving, not good for someone with a propensity for over thinking everything.

We left on Thursday afternoon, a couple hours late due to my work. Made it to the top of the Tehachapi's and called it a night at 1 am. Friday saw us rolling into Flagstaff and checking out the kennel, super nice place and we were relieved and confident Sasha would be well taken care of. All the gear was packed before we left, so all we had to do on Sat morn was drop the dog off and ride our bikes for 4 days, what could be better!

We're off!

After a bit of route finding we were off to find the AZT, the drop down to the Urban path was a nice way to get it started, rocky stair steps right out of the gate!
Mary with a big smile!

Me above Lake Mary

Mary on the AZT

Mary on the AZT

We rolled up and along the AZT, a trail that is at times good and bad. The good parts are really well built, swoopy , flowy stuff. The bad is open range land that has been post-holed to death from cattle or Elk, not fun. We made our way along the AZT, out past Lake Mary and around the side of Mormon Mountain. The section beyond Lake Mary is quite nice, although the trail bed was pretty soft, which made the pace a bit slower than anticipated. It was pretty cool to be following an old railroad grade, the bed of which was comprised of a massive amount of local rocks, the ties were still visible in many areas. Mary was rolling right along and having a good time on the flowy stuff.
Old railroad grade from Flagstaff to Mormon Lake

Just about ran over this little guy.
Fire roads were the norm out past the AZT. We made our way onto Schnelby Hill Road, the old road from Sedona to Flagstaff  to our first camp spot of the trip. We got settled in and fed long before dark. At some point I got up to enjoy the lights of Sedona, Cottonwood and Jerome in the distance, I sat down and felt a pretty good stinging pain and knew immediately that I had been stung by a scorpion. I was pretty sure it was harmless, but a call to poison control by a worried Mary confirmed my thoughts, a big pain in the ass for a few days, but nothing more.

Pretty nice sunrise.

Not a bad view!
Mary, enjoying breakfast.
We awoke Sun. morn. to a nice sunrise, got packed up and were on our our first off route venture. We didn't read the cue sheets properly and headed down to Munds trail where it crosses Schnelby Hill, unaware we were supposed to start higher up the road from camp. A quick turnaround and 1000' of climbing later we were on cue. As we came into Sedona Mary yells to me that something is wrong with her fork, a quick inspection shows that air is getting on top of the solo air valve and it has fully compressed the fork, not what I wanted to see from a brand new cartridge. An hour later we were rolling again, only to have it happen three more times, putting us way behind schedule. I could get it to work with a bit more pressure than normal, but the small shock pump I brought along was not fully depressing the Schraeder valve, which meant I had to jury rig a small pebble between the two to make it take air, not a real easy way to get the exact pressure I was looking for. We stopped to help a couple who were pushing a bike with a broken chain, they were super stoked when I got them rolling again and we hoped for some trail Karma.

Sedona unfolded as usual, spectacular!

Mary on Broken Arrow
Mary on Munds wagon Trail
Mary in Sedona

Tweitmeyer would be proud.

Noodling up a trail in Sedona

The route from Red Rock State Park to Cottonwood was unknown to us, so we headed off to Lime Kiln trail, the old road from Cottonwood to Sedona. As we headed up Lime Kiln we were met with our first " Really? Why? hike-a- bike" A push up a seldom used goat trail brought us to some nice trail and roads out to Highway 89. Lime Kiln out past 89 turns to miles of sand with some nice sections of trail between, not much fun, but it does get fun as you head into Deadhorse State Park and the views were pretty impressive. Because of the problems with Mary's fork, we were off of our schedule, and we really needed to be on schedule to be back in Flagstaff early Tues.

Out along Lime Kiln

Lime Kiln Trail

Mary on Lime Kiln

It was pretty apparent we were not going to be making the 4000' climb to the top of Mingus Mountain today, so we headed off to find a motel and get a plan together. It had been warm the past two days and we had not planned on stopping at a motel until Williams on the third day, so the unplanned stop held a welcome shower for both of us. We killed a couple of burgers at a strip mall Carl's Jr. and were in bed by 9.
The plan ended up getting an early start and making it to Williams the next day, a pretty tall order. I re-packed the bikes with me taking some of the weight off of Mary's bike hoping she would be able to make the long day problem free. We made our way out of town and up the at times steep dirt road towards the peak. At about the 8 mile mark the road turned to trail, rideable at first but then very steep hike-a-bike. I pushed on ahead and then came back to help Mary a few times and within an hour or so the push was over and we were on top. It was a tough push, but Mary was in good spirits considering that this was her first taste of serious loaded hike-a-bike.
The views from the top were pretty impressive, there was a hang glider launch at the top as well, one look over the edge told me those guys are absolutely nuts.

Dirt roads on the way up Mingus mountain

Getting higher....

Riding trail 105 before it gets steep.

The view from the top.

After making peak we were off on some fire roads and Free Ride trails down towards Prescott Valley. A trail along a pretty wash was a welcome big ring grinder. At a long power line road we were in need of water, the cue sheets led us slightly off course to a spring which we managed to find in the brush. As I filtered from the spring, the filter made a loud crack and it was pretty apparent that the brand new filter bought for the trip was done, not a good place to be. Luckily we had Iodine tablets so we would not die today....

Trail 111 from the top of Mingus Mountain

Coming down Trail 111 from Mingus Mountain.

Wonderful Coyote Spring.

Which was a lot better then this........

After the spring it was an old railroad grade down to the Verde River, the low point of today. More questionable water with Iodine tablets was gathered here, all we could do was laugh at our fate today. From the river it was a steady 3500' grade towards Williams, steep at times but through some wonderful country. We went through a least 4 Eco zones today with the heat of the desert giving way to cool mountain plateaus.

You can go all the way to Canada!

Where we had been earlier today

A STEEP little push on the way out of Perkinsville

The mountain in the center is Mingus Mountain, from 40 miles away. We started at the bottom and went up and over. Big copper mine in the foreground. Pretty much the middle of nowhere.

The Bill Williams Trail was the goal of the day, as we got closer it was apparent that it would be a no go. We had stopped in Williams on the way to Flagstaff to check on the snow level on Bill Williams, the folks at the ranger station reported a couple of feet of snow at the peak. We decided to see what a few days of sunshine would do for the trail. As we approached the trail, the view of snow on the southeast side told me all I needed to know. We decided to camp just outside of Williams and see what the next day would bring and go from there. We were close to 10,000' of climbing and about 70 miles in today, the fork had given us a few problems, Mary's stomach was a bit unsettled from the Iodine and we needed to stop before it got to chilly, we were at about 7,400' and although it was beautiful, the wind had picked up and we needed to be done.

Mary's clothes line

Enough of these for the day......

Mary on her way to Williams.

 It had been a tough day on Mary, I had taken as much weight as I could off her bike, but the push up to Mingus had taken it's toll, she was still positive, but it was apparent that another day of hike-a-bike was not going to go over real well.

We decided the next morn. that we would take some back roads into Flagstaff, another day of technical trails were not in the cards for Mary and I wanted her to end the trip on a positive note. It was a beautiful day and the temps were perfect as we rode the dirt roads and railroad grades to Flagstaff. A ripping tail wind drove us along at a pretty good clip and early Tues. afternoon we were in Flag. A quick stop at the kennel to pick up a very happy Sasha and Mary was in the DaysInn hot tub before dinner.

All in all a pretty epic adventure. It was likely a little tougher than Mary had anticipated. I always worry about these types of things, you never know what is around the corner on routes others have laid out, not so much of a worry when it's only yourself, but when involving others, it's a bit worrisome. A couple of days off the bike should do the trick for her. Thanks to the folks who put the route and race together, we may never do it again, but I think we will remember it well.

Mary and Sasha relaxing in Cottonwood