There was no shortage of big talk about our informal race on the Coconino Loop (such as my post). Unfortunately there was a serious shortage of the endurance and intelligence needed to back up that talk.
It was the first road trip with my new wheels. This is only the second vehicle I’ve ever owned, and so far I am really happy with it. Bike inside, with both wheels still on. Thumbs up.
I made it to Sedona with enough time for a gorgeous shakedown spin on Llama trail. I was so stoked to be back in Sedona and about to set off on a big ride. I was pretty stuffed up from allergies and groggy, but figured a night of non-Tucson air would clear that up.
We met @Starbucks in the middle of Sedona, then coasted down the hill. At the intersection with Schnebly Road, we joined the route and I rang an invisible bell over my head. The prize fight was on!
Err… we were just a bunch of friends shredding some Sedona singletrack. In fact we were having so much fun not racing each other that we blew a pretty serious turn and had to backtrack uphill for several minutes! I thought we were supposed to be *good* at this? Ha!
Sadly, that was not our last rookie mistake.
We kept a steady clip all through Sedona and the loose surfaces of the Lime Kiln trail. I still get an exploratory kick out of riding the forgotten pieces of singletrack on that trail — even though this time several Coco-tour riders had left tracks for us to follow. I get an even bigger kick from floating off the limestone ledges and other fun features as the route drops to the sleepy town of Cottonwood.
We were just over 3 hours in and all was well as we stocked up on food and water at the Maverick in Cottonwood. Cookie ice cream sandwich for Kurt, Don Miguel burrito for Scott. The reasonable pace lasted almost exactly as long as Kurt’s ice cream sandwich, which he was eating as we pedaled the lower slopes.
The road goes to dirt and just keeps getting steeper, until I found myself longing for lower gears. Kurt slowly let the hammer fall down, and Aaron was right on his tail. I would like to try to claim that I backed off in the name of pacing and strategy, but unfortunately my pace was actually pretty limited by my back and my legs. I *really* didn’t want to go any harder, but neither could I find the fortitude to go any slower. It’s not good practice to ride a pace that feels too hard when you’re staring down the barrel of a 30+ hour ride. And I knew this. But the race psychology of a 3-person “prize fight” was different in ways that I did not predict, and could not dissect while my head was about to explode, hot and in the sun.
The climb up Mingus is so steep and sustained that there’s no chance to cool down. Take the ambient temperature and add 25 degrees to get what it feels like — assuming the sun is up. It was probably only in the 70′s for us, but the morning sun was not our friend, and the ‘cook’ factor was pretty high.
mmmm… some good old fashioned Mingus hike-a-bike
I caught back up to Aaron before the singletrack, which was probably for the worse. Good to have company, but we kept pushing each other harder than either of us wanted to go. “Looks like Kurt has shown his hand.” Neither of us wanted to let him go so early, neither did we want to sit in last place.
I think we have a lot to learn. ITT’s, and racing off the front are one thing. Evenly matched contests are another. I felt like the hatchling baby bird we almost ran over at the base of Mingus. Freshly fallen from the tree and completely clueless.
Once at the top I could pretty much feel the damage done and didn’t like it. It’s rare for me to cramp, but I could feel a certain snapiness in my legs, one that made me feel like I had just finished a XC race. My stomach was not happy, and I was getting sleepy — already! Still, the race is early, and I was extremely curious to see if I could bounce back. I mixed my carborocket stronger, tried forcing down a bit of sugary food and took a few breaks with Aaron in the shade.
I knew it was all going to be about the Verde’s monster climb. If I wasn’t back by then, there was little chance of salvaging anything. We rested and the cooldown at the river was well timed with some passing clouds. I dunked my jersey and started the climb.
It went just fine for a few hundred feet. Then it felt like I was dragging a 50 pound weight behind me. My eyes were starting to get heavy and I was thinking of sleep. I started thinking about a motel room in Williams (I had no sleeping bag or bivy gear). I knew something was wrong right there. During the AZT 300 I never even once considered sleep or (in effect) dropping out.
The beauty of these things is you still have to get yourself out. So you keep pedaling, giving you plenty of time to both reflect on and feel the pain of the error of your ways. It was beautiful and terrible, all at the same time.
I hadn’t said anything, but was pretty much resigned to ‘living to fight another day’ before we even caught sight of a rider ahead. “Uh oh… that’s Kurt.”
Even from 500 yards away his body english was telling. Something was wrong. My first thought was that he had crashed (!?) or been bitten by a snake or something crazy like that. It took forever to reel him in, even though he was just standing there! Turns out he was just shelled — exactly like us. “I was wondering when you guys were going to show up.”
Reuniting with Kurt was a nice adrenaline shot to the morale, and all weakness was temporarily suspended. Or temporarily ignored. “At least we’re all in the same (sinking) boat,” I thought. Level playing field, and — who knew — Kurt is actually human (it is hard to believe sometimes, with the stuff he pulls off). Maybe there’s still a race here.
I think we were actually moving along pretty good, but hurting ourselves deeply. Aaron was riding beside me at one point, then rather suddenly turned off to the side and just stopped, without saying anything. He looked like hell and was probably fighting off a cramp. I kept climbing on ahead for a few more minutes and kept seeing Aaron’s face in my head. It was exactly how I felt, and knowing how strong he is, it somehow just registered in my head that this race was over. I stopped and stood in the middle of the road, grunting. Kurt stopped behind me. Aaron too.
I don’t remember what we said at first, but it wasn’t long before all three of us were on our backs, trying to muster forth descriptions of how bad we felt and what ailed us. It wasn’t pretty. All I could think about was our big talk and the SPOT dots now reunited, but sitting still. I just started laughing. Then felt bad, hurting. Then started laughing some more. Then Kurt told me to stop laughing — it wasn’t funny. Then he was laughing. And I was trying to stop laughing, which only made me laugh harder. Then my stomach started hurting from all the laughing, so I was really trying to stop, but couldn’t.
I just loved it that after making claims about beating each other and breaking the course record, here we were, all together and laying in the middle of the road, completely broken, and barely a third of the way through a route that really isn’t all that long. So much for us.
From the impact crater site we moved slowly up the rest of the climb, stopping frequently and trying to analyze what exactly went wrong. Was the pace really that hard? Too hot? Legs not recovered from previous (AZT) adventures? It’s still not completely clear.
Yeoooow! Aaron heard a passing plane and thought it was a incoming car (we hadn’t seen any for hours, thus the sprawling out all over the road). He turned quickly to see if someone was coming down the road, and a big cramp and that hilarious pic was the result. In the next few frames he’s smiling and then laughing. We had accepted our fate by this time, it was just a matter of pushing through back to civilization.
I may not have been cramping like Aaron and Kurt were, but my legs were still just as dead. I was motivated to get to real food in Williams, but was incapable of pushing a faster pace than either of them. There was almost no doubt in my mind that my chance of pushing through the night (at any pace) was slim to nil.
sunset on failure
Food and a warm bed please! Just a few miles to go. There was some discussion about whether we would stay on route and fight over Bill Williams Mountain, or shortcut directly to town. Nobody made a case for it, especially when we were reminded of the trees down.
So we inhaled glorious fast food, got a motel room, a warmup continental breakfast followed by a real breakfast, and by 10am or so, we were back together enough to keep riding. Slowly. It’s the time of year that I can really appreciate just being in “the trees” and cooler / pollen free environments. I was so happy just to be out on the bike.
Especially when we made it to the next singletrack on the route! My legs actually felt half-decent for a while, inspired by watching Kurt clean a bunch of the difficult climbs.
smooth singletrack on Sycamore Rim?!
Though we have raced each other quite a bit, the three of us have never just gone for a ride. So it was a real treat to just be doing some relaxed riding — touring! And the Coco is a great route for it.
Aaron can’t let a bikepack trip go without a sidewall flat! At least we weren’t racing any more, so it was no big deal.
Our stop at the Texaco (formerly a Mustang) was one of my favorite memories of the ride. Just sitting in the shade, joking around and eating everything and anything that looked good, held such simple pleasure. One only truly appreciated when you are overworked, hot and hungry from some good effort on the bike. Then you hop on the bike and keep riding. Ah, touring.
I think Kurt wanted to be picked up by that dust devil. Kuuuuurt!
After swooping Wing Mtn’s banked moto trail, we took a B-line for Flagstaff, and then immediately for Sedona via Oak Creek. I did my best to stick with the guys through all the rollers, but I was still in tour mode, and Kurt was on a mission to get back in time to meet his parents in Prescott. It was too much suffering for me, so I let them go and slowly made my way down the canyon, stopping whenever I felt like it. It was actually a nice ride, and a good way to complete a 200 mile loop.
Nobody got a box of donuts (the prize), but the milkshake from the place next door to Over the Edge Sedona was a nice consolation.
I will be back to thru-ride the Coconino again.