Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Coco Krispies

On Monday 10/8/2012, a bit prior to 2pm, I wrapped up my run of the Coconino 250 stage race as I rolled onto the pavement at Quintana Drive in Flagstaff.  No cheering crowds, no podium girls to kiss on each cheek(lol)…nuthin…except the breeze blowing and the sun shining; just the way I like it.
Stage 4 Finish

This was a special race for me since it was my first completed multi-day race.  After being taken out on day 2 of the 2012 AZT(link), I needed some serious redemption…it was time karma paid me back after all the investments I’d made…. And pay me back it did.  OK, on with the story…

Day 1:
I arrived at “The Place” around 6:30AM on Friday, found a place to park in the neighborhood, then sat down with some of the fellow racers for coffee and breakfast.  There were tons of smiles and friendly discussions about the route, bikes, prior experience, etc.  I brought with me a plain white water bottle and had everyone sign it as a souvenir.  Turned out to be a nice way to break the ice and introduce myself to everyone.

At about 7:30, people started rolling out and I joined 3 other SSer’s from California, Doug, Dave, and Ernesto.  We made our way to the FUT’s and began our roll towards Fisher Pt.   The ride along Andersen Mesa was just as you would expect – bumpy…but soon we descended down the swoopy fun section of the AZT across Lake Mary Road and picked up the trail on the other side.  Shortly after leaving FR240, I told Doug I was going to go at my own pace (they were riding together) and continued on, watering up at the ADOT yard, then onto the Stage 1 camp spot.   
Stage 1 Finish - Schnebly Overlook
There was no one there so I sat around, enjoying the scenery and scouting a good spot to layout my bag and bivy.  The other racers started to trickle in, most notably Mark who had ridden into Munds and schlepped a 12 pack of Coors in his pack.  He graciously offered beer to everyone as they rolled in.  The small stack of unconsumed beers had dwindled but 3 cans of liquid gold still remained.  Mark insisted that he did not want to have to descend into Sedona with them so I felt compelled to lend a hand… I ended up drinking 3 of his 12.  (Mark, good thing you live in PHX, it’ll be easy to return the favor!)

Day 2:
In my typical fashion, I woke up early, somewhere around 4AM then laid there awake in anticipation of the days ride.  A bit later, people began to stir so I proceeded to get packed up.  I began my roll down Munds Wagon trail a bit after the Alaskan contingent (Dave, Sharon, & Michael).  Making my way down the chunky descent, I came upon Michael who had asked me if I’d passed Dave and Sharon.  “No, I didn’t” I responded.  Figuring they perhaps made a wrong turn or stopped to take pictures, we proceeded and shortly thereafter, I decided it was time for an OTB…on some silly left hand switchback.  I landed hard, bruising my left shin.  Michael quickly extracted my bike from me as I gathered up and decided it was best to just shake it off and go…that we did, on down the Circle K to refuel.  As we were storing out purchases and getting ready to leave, several other riders arrived including Mark, Jill and Les.  Since I was ready to go, I pressed on to enjoy the super fun singletrack of Sedona.  I’d ridden all that trail before as part of the AES race (Sedona Big Friggin Loop) and after getting a bit more water at Red Rock State Park, it was on to Lime Kiln Trail.  Ah yes…Lime Kiln Trail… Having never rode it before but hearing stories, I was somewhat prepared for what followed…HAB up a steep ridge in the beginning, deep sand in the middle with at times a very faint trail, followed by a fun, ledgy descent into Cottonwood.  All in all, great fun, but damn, I never knew the Verde Valley was such a WIDE valley…whew.
In Cottonwood, I stopped at the BBQ place where I waited way too long for them to make me two BBQ chicken burgers; one to eat then, and one to go.   
The BBQ place in Cottonwood
Finally, with my dinner safely wrapped up stored in my pack, I left just as Michael was passing.  We stopped at the gas station as our last refuel stop before heading up Mingus.  I tanked up on as much water as I had capacity for (about 180 oz) and enough food to get me to Williams the next day then proceed up the mountain.  Initially, the climb wasn’t bad; sitting turning my 32x21 was easy.  Then it got steeper…where standing turning a 32x21 was about perfect.  Then it just got silly steep…no way I was gonna burn my “glycogen matches” trying to muscle up the steep grade.  So off it was, walking my way up Mingus Mtn, helmet off since the 80+ degree heat was doing a fine job of BBQing me.   Occasionally, the grade would lessen and I’d hop back on until finally hitting the single track.
Oh boy….the single track up Mingus…technically, I guess you would call it single track, but holy crap, quickly turned into something only suitable for acrobats and mountain goats.  There were times when it took every bit of effort to heave the bike up and over the next big boulder, then squeezing the brakes while I then heaved my body up.  This “bike-body ratcheting” exercise continued for what seemed like an hour.  During this wicked HAB sufferfest, I swear I saw Jesus three times and maybe even a few of his disciples.  Finally, after scratching my way up this rocky, overgrown excuse for a trail, I hit the top where some useless a-hole decided it would be fun to litter the now-level-trail with tons of babyheads.  At this point, my “chunk avoidance system” was shut down for maintenance as I was the ball in a life size pinball game.  FINALLY, it was game-over and I made my way down the dirt road to the stage end where I waited a bit for the next person.  
Stage 2 end point - top of Mingus Mtn
Forty five minutes or so later, Michael rolled in and we then proceeded to the stage 2 campsite.  I built a fire and we waited for the remainder of the folks to roll in, the first being Lynda W, followed by Keith.  Not sure how late the last person rolled in, but it was plenty dark as many people arrived, looking like they’d been through a meat shredder.

Day 3:
Sleeping better that night, I still awoke early and began to think about the days plan.  As the first rays of light filtered through the trees, I decided it was time to get up and go.  I rolled out a few minutes after 6AM, shortly after Les and Jill who I saw down the trail a few miles.  The descent down Mingus was crazy good…big wide, banked switchback turns in between which were smooth sections of bench cut trail begging to be ridden fast.  I then made my way north, along a rocky powerline access road which must have been a goathead farm at some point.  I kept hearing a “tink-tink-tink” sound as a goathead stuck in my tire and hit the frame with each tire rotation.  I stopped and removed several of them and had to in some cases use my finger to convince the stans sealant to coagulate and seal the puncture.  Thankfully, I emerged from that unscathed, passed on the water at Coyote Springs (where I think someone was making rat stew), and pressed onto the Verde.
Before the big downhill of the Verde, you slowly climb along the north end of Mingus Mountain on what is actually a very enjoyable dirt road.  It meanders in and out of several drainages until finally, you make a left turn and become a human torpedo due north to the Verde River.
At the Verde, I crossed the bridge and found a nice spot to access the river where I proceed to filter and purify 3 liters of water with my steripen.   It was a very serene spot with the river flowing, big shady trees that were just begging to have weary bodies lying beneath them…which apparently lured in some other racers later that morning.
Racers at the Verde River - Pic from Roland Sturm 

I then left with about 130 oz of water on board hoping that would get me up the never ending ascent to Williams.  Grinding up that road, it was mostly ridable with the exception of a section where you pass a layer of flagstone.  The road then became steep and loose, which together equals HAB on the SS.  The climb is nothing short of brutal – false summit after false summit until finally, the presence of Ponderosa pines signals you are nearing 7000ft.  From there, I continued north on the getting an occasional slap in the face with another small climb as the road undulated along the landscape.  Finally, I reached the Benham trail that leads you up the south face of Bill Williams Mountain.  This well built trail would be a treat with some fresh legs and an unloaded bike- two things I did not possess that day.  Finally, I reached the top where 3 mtb’rs where resting.  One asked me if I was in the race to which I think I responded “yes”.  I asked them how the trail down was and thankfully one of them spoke the same, unintelligible language that I was speaking and replied, “steep with some steps…be on your toes”.   Down I went, hands death gripping the brakes but nonetheless having a great time knowing the day was about to end.  Rolling into Williams, I sat on the curb, collecting my thoughts and thanking God I cheated death one more time.
Stage 3 End
 I got a room at the America’s Best Value Motel which albeit a very budget joint, was a welcome change from sleeping in the dirt the prior two evenings.  I washed up some clothes and prepped everything for the next day while I waited for others to arrive.  Keith showed up and himself, Jackson and I went downtown to find burritos the size of a Lincoln Continental to devour.  After dinner and back at the motel, Jay rolled in and since I had an extra bed, he accepted the offer to share the room with me.  He looked like the 4-day old meatloaf in the all-you-can-eat buffet warmer table that someone forgot to change out….yeah, it was bad.  In his delusionary state, he mumbled words about possibly quitting and I quickly responded, “No way dude! The tough part if over!”  Waking up the next morning, he admitted that quitting nonsense was simply crazy talk as we got geared up ready to roll out.
I left Jay who was going to grab some breakfast and rolled down historic Route 66 to the east where I came upon Doug, Dave and Ernesto.  I yoyo’d with them on an uber chilly roll down to Sycamore Canyon where we departed ways again.  At this point, I could smell the finish…even though it was 40 miles ahead, I had strong legs and thought of finishing was as though Lance Armstrong had just sold me his spare EPO shots.  I proceeded to have  great time riding the chunk of the Sycamore Rim trail, picking my way through the lava rock.  Finally emerging on the powerline trail, I then hit the roads that led me to the Texaco where I came upon Roland who was on his way back to LA. 

Me at the Texaco - Pic from Roland Sturm
Roland’s race unfortunately ended with some broken spokes and tire troubles that meant the final stage wouldn’t happen for him.  I bit farewell to him and I pressed on with the Wing Mountain moto trails my next mental hurdle.  Just prior to reaching them, I passed Keith who had gotten an early start that moring.  Finally, I made the right turn on the moto trails and carefully rode the rutted, loose cinder grooves down to hwy 180.  There I ditched all but 24 oz of water not wanting to carry it up the FR151 climb and downed my last caffeine gel.  I got into a steady rhythm going up FR151 with great anticipation of the upcoming descent down the AZT.  Just before that and next to Alfa Fia tank, Jackson (who had gotten ill the first day of the race), Dave and Sharon were relaxing and enjoying the fall colors congratulated me.  Jackson took a few pics which hopefully he’ll send soon, shook my hand and bid me farewell.  On I went, on what has to be the funnest descent in Northern AZ, gripping and ripping that single track that I’d ridden numerous times before.  Even with a weighted bike, I tossed it around those turns as though it was a feather.  After a right turn on Lower Moto and down a mile or so, I looked at the gps and I was off track…wtf?..damn, backtracked up about ¼ mile where the track indicated you take a very seldom used trail.  Fun little section, but my mistake cost me a good 5-10 minutes.  Finally, merging with Schultz Creek trail, I continued as fast as I could railing the final turns and eventually hitting Quintana Rd, the end of stage 4 and the race. Whew! It’s over…

I'm hoping my total time of 31:45 will be good enough for a first place finish...after everyone reports their times, I'm sure Chad will publish the results.  Whatever place, it makes no difference, finishing was a victory and anything after that is a bonus!

Made my way down through Flagstaff to where I parked my truck 4 days prior, loaded the bike and drove back to Munds where my wife was waiting.
Ok…if you’ve read all of this up to here, thanks…perhaps more detail that you’d ever want to know! So time for a few parting thoughts…

Mark – dude, thanks for being a beer Sherpa…I owe you big time.  Let’s get a BP trip together at BCT this fall – I’ll Sherpa the beer, you name the brand.
Michael – great meeting you and riding with you.  It was a pleasure and I hope to cross paths with you again.
Jay – Frankly, you looked like crap Sunday night  (lol) and that pizza had no chance in a battle with you… but you survived!  Great meeting you and hope we get to ride again.
Lynda – pleasure to meet you and share my campfire rock w/ you…I kept looking behind me every day ready for you to go flying by me .
Jill – Great to see you.  Your blog posts about your AZT experience were extremely inspiring…when my mind is in a bad spot on a long ride, I often think about the will and determination you showed back in April.
Les –Great to see you as well.  I have that image of you from the Rincon Market back in April as you walked in, white as a ghost shaking violently as though you were a clothes dryer in the spin cycle with an unbalanced load.
Dave, Doug, and Ernesto – great riding with you guys – we were definitely representin’ the SSer’s out there.  Hope to see you guys at the APC ride this spring.
And finally, Scott Morris and Chad Brown – these guys do so much for the sport of mountain biking in AZ with their continual stream of stoke.  The underground races that these guys set-up have provided me an outlet for my addiction and keep me from having to race with the spandex clad roadie crowd of the MBAA series.   (sorry any of you MBAA fans!) (actually, I wear spandex too, but refuse to let it turn me into an arrogant roadie type…)
And last but not least, my wife (is this sounding like a speech at the academy awards?).   While I was out racing for 4 days, she stayed at home painting our house…  what a great woman!
Lastly, a little word cloud to capture the experience....call it a coco cloud!


  1. Really nice writeup Ray, love the water bottle!! Word cloud is pretty cool too.

  2. Thanks John....glad you enjoyed the story!

  3. Congrats Ray! Seems like you have many talents and that you write almost as good as you ride, ha-ha. I really enjoyed reading through your blog and riding with you the couple of mintues I was able to keep up. Hope to maybe see you in AK for the Kenai250? Cheers!

  4. Thanks Michael! yeah, writing has never been my strong suit...neither is descending Munds Wagon Trail as evidenced by the huge bruise on my leg! Let me know when the Kenai250 is planned...would really love to do it!

  5. Nice recap! Glad your bike survived this one. It was killing me not riding that weekend! Not even stupid East Loops! I'll be looking for you in the top spot when Chad posts the results up.

  6. Hey I don't see "Gotcha on this one RJ" on that tag cloud picture. LOL.

    An epic ride for sure, not only did you avenge the AZT 300 incident but you did it with style.

    Beer Sherpa, LOL.

    I do love to ride, but life is too busy for me to aspire to this sort of craziness for now, love to read about it though.

    As Cake says, "Rock on completely with some brand new components." (in reference to the new SS en route.)

  7. Hey Ray, I have a few pics of you the last day and would like to send them to you. Whats your e-mail address? Jackson

    1. Thanks Jackson! my email is rhemmele at gmail dot com