The time finally came to race the Coconino Loop, first explored by Chad, Lee and I, last June. There was some work to insure everything went smoothly, including a last minute rescinding of a fire re-route, and of course the usual SPOT/tracker setup.
But for the first time this year, I was ready well before the event, and actually had time to kill. Also, a first for this year, I was primed and ready to race hard.
Part of the excitement was the new format — self supported stage racing has never been tried before. But the route itself was the biggest draw. This route has it all — scenery, singletrack, technical, hike-a-bike… and it’s a loop! (I suppose I’ve gushed enough about the loop on this diary, so I’ll leave it at that…)
10 riders met at ‘The Place’ in Flagstaff. Most of the field started shortly after breakfast, but Chad, Jean Claude and I took a bit of time to get ready back at the Gnome’s place. I pulled out the computer to verify the tracker was working. All was well once Jean Claude registered in the USA (rather than France, the last place his SPOT had been on). Chad and Jean Claude took off, and I went to the porch to continue digesting food and answer a few TopoFusion emails.
It was a little strange to be sitting around while everyone else was racing, and I had to run through my ‘strategy’ in my head a few times. Turns out I couldn’t wait as long as I had planned, so I pedaled through NAU’s campus just before 10am.
At the urban path the clock starts and it was time to let ‘er rip.
Holy crap this trail is fun to ride at speed!! I got a kick out of seeing 9 fresh tire tracks in front of me, all cruising through some nice singletrack. It was interesting to be able to ride at my own pace, ITT style, but still know it was a group race, and that I’d (hopefully) catch other riders out there.
It took several hours, but eventually I started seeing people, stopping to chat briefly before motoring off.
It was the perfect fall day – calm, crisp, colorful. The kind of day when it just feels good to be outside. The bumps on Anderson Mesa were not as powerful as I remember them, but at this pace they definitely hurt. What stage 1 lacks in climbing, it more than makes up for in general abuse to the body.
I rode with Lee for a few miles. He was setting a good pace and on some of the flatter roads I couldn’t get away from him without a big ring. We stopped for water at the ADOT yard, then it was time for the final sprint to the end of stage one. I was falling to pieces on the techy climbs on Hot Loop. A good sign that I had paced myself well. I was very glad the end of the stage was near and that I’d have many an hour to recover.
My time was 5:12, which was much faster than I had anticipated, and good enough for the stage ‘win’.
The view from stage stop one falls into the ‘pretty OK’ category. I can’t remember any significant portion of what was said as we all sat on the rim, eating and joking around. But I do remember laughing. A lot.
David Jones rolling into stage stop one. He fiddled with his lights for a bit, then continued on, thru-rider style. Though it’s a stage race, you don’t have to stop if you don’t want to.
The group enjoying the light show.
It was a long night, but I needed it. When touring and racing I usually am anxious for the sun to come up so I can get back on the trail. But I took my sweet time packing up and readying everything for the next stage. I really enjoyed the open ended start time — very low stress and peaceful.
Sedona was a wonderful red blur. “Singletrack Bonanza” was how I described it to Tim when I finally caught him. World class trails, and I really think bikepacking is the best way to ride them — no traffic, no parking passes, no fiddle farting around. Simplicity is good.
Things are technical enough that I couldn’t get the pace high enough to cause meltdowns. So I was ‘forced’ to enjoy the trails largely without suffering. I knew there would be plenty of suffering later in the day.
I took the above shot after Tim cleaned an initial pitch on Lime Kiln that I failed on! He’s discovered the joy a 20×36 (super granny) gear can bring…
Sedona was fading away by the time I met up with Rob. I enjoy the remoteness and wild feel of the Lime Kiln, but it held a surprise challenge: shandies! I don’t think I ever had to walk, but the uphill grinding sure burned some energy, mental and otherwise. I dabbed all over the place, trying to grind turns and instead finding my bike tipping over. Quick foot reflexes required.
I was a little disappointed when the start of “IMBA land” Lime Kiln was sandy. But once onto singletrack the techy fun began. I had questioned my previous comparison to the Lunch Loops, but I think it was right on. Good flow, big (for bikepacking) drops and jumps, and nearly all downhill!
Woo hoo! And it’s not 98 degrees this time. Near the bottom I noticed my camera was not in its pouch. D’oh! No time to go back through the shandies. I thought there might be a chance that Chad would still be at Hog Wild or Maverick, so I pedaled hard through Cottonwood, with the first solid/reliable surfaces of the entire day!
Sure enough, Rob found my camera and took this self-portrait where he found it. Thanks a bunch Rob!!
Also sure enough, Chad was just about to pull out of the Maverick. I was still well behind him, since it would take 20+ minutes to get organized and ready for Mingus and the next day of riding — it’s a stage race but you still have to carry everything you need. It was good to see Chad and to know the chase was on.
I loaded up on Don Miguel burritos, but made the mistake of eating a non-Miguel burrito that was pre-cooked. It made multiple attempts to come back up as I tried to hold myself together on the Mingus climb.
I made good time until midway through the ridicu-steep section. Right when I was faltering I heard Chad through my mp3 player’s noise. “Hey you guyyyss!!” He was WAAAY above me, but within reach.
There’s a mile of contouring along Mingus, and it may be the best mile of the whole route. Such a relief. Then it’s singletrack time.
photo by David Jones
I saw Jonesy’s “I heart hike-a-bike” rock art on the side of the trail, and it made me laugh out loud. Good for positive thinking, because we had a lot of hike-a-bike to go, and I wasn’t going to make it at this pace.
Luckily I ran into Chad a ways up, and he was sitting on the ground. I followed his lead.
We pushed together for a while and took a few much needed breaks. One foot in front of the other, just keep moving. My arms were about the fall off, so I made vain attempts at riding, eventually pulling away from Chad near the final switchbacks. I made it to stage stop two in 9:20. Last to start and first to finish… just barely.
It was cold at the Mingus viewpoint. We called MTBcast and speculated on when other riders would arrive, if at all. Nearly half the field never made it to the top of Mingus. It’s the shortest stage mileage wise, but definitely the hardest.
We moved camp to the overflow waypoint to get out of the wind. Rob and Tim rolled in near or after sunset, tired but happy to be done for the day. “Which one of you jokers dropped your camera??” I thought he was going to say “which one of you jokers included that trail??”. It sure was nice of Rob to carry it all the way up Mingus for me! Both Tim and Rob agreed that the Mingus hike-a-bike should stay in the race.
By trackleaders / Paula we learned that Lee was still climbing Mingus in the dark, and that the other riders had turned around. Just as we were going to sleep, Lee rolled in!! Nice work Lee!
Stage 3 and 4 in the next installment…