September 12, 2015

Pine: Fire on the Rim

I kept missing the Fire on the Rim race held up in Pine, AZ. Now in its 4th year, my schedule aligned and I didn't want to miss out. I had heard great revues of the event, fun course, fantastic local support and funds go back to local trail building. Sounds like a swell time to me.

Of course I wanted to parlay this into a full weekend of riding. It just so happens that I needed to scout the AZTR750 route from Payson to Pine, I only would need a lift back to my car to retrieve all my car-camping supplies (read: beer cooler). My buddy, Doug, came through on that end!!

The FotR race offers riders three distance options for the same entry fee. What's the most bang for the buck? 3 laps & 45 miles, yeah! Let's go!

First, I had to get to Pine. I bolted work after a 1/2 day and was spinning out of the Payson Walmart parking lot by 1:15p. I recalled hearing stories about this section of the route being much tougher than people had anticipated. I knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park, I just hoped I wouldn't be walking my bike for miles on end.
A short gaffe in GPS navigation and I was finally on route through a Payson neighborhood.
A fun short bit of trail linking the neighborhood pavement out to AZ87. 
A very short fast stint on AZ87 brought me to this: ripping forest road!
The soothing sounds of the East Verde River.
Not sure if this was normal height for the river, but it was a few inches deep flowing over the road.
One hour into the ride and I had knocked out 10.5 of the 26 miles to Pine.
I knew my pace wasn't going to last. The road began a series of short steep climbs, the first few were rideable. Soon the road surface deteriorated into a more traditional AZ jeep road, couple that with an increasing grade and I was off the bike in push mode.
A bit too steep & loose for pedal power.
Shade break!
The chunk continued and rumbles began in the distance.
The HAB topped out to an expansive view of the Mogollon Rim.
I had my doubts at the turnoff to this section, a lava rock strewn 2-track, but it was rideable and gave way to this.
The dirt road gave way to a bit of pavement riding on the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park road. I didn't realize the route came so close to the park, it's a cool sight if you haven't been. My route peeled off the pavement 1/2 way down a monstrous 14% downhill grade. The dirt road portion of the downhill led me to a secluded community along Pine Creek.
Bombs away!!
This will get the brake pads warmed up.
The lower downhill into Pine Creek.
Nice bit of singletrack tucked behind the homes in Pine Creek. It wouldn't last long.
While my pace had slowed considerably over the next 10 miles I was still making good progress and 'only' had 5 1/2 miles to go. What I didn't know was the next 3 1/2 miles would take me an hour and a half to cover.

It began the instant I crossed Pine Creek. Straight up the opposite side. Overall the grade wasn't terribly steep, but what it lacked in pitch was made up for in chunkiness. Couple that with overgrowth and it meant a bunch of walking. Every now and then I was able to ride for a few hundred yards.
Typical terrain leading to the AZT.
This fella was enjoying the solitude until I came by.
Oak Spring, just a few feet before reaching the AZT.
I met up with the AZT for barely a 1/4 mile before turning off onto the Walnut trail. This would lead me up to Hardscrabble road where I could zoom down into Pine and the camping venue for the race.

Once again my hopes were dashed for a rideable trail. I really wanted this particular section to be worthwhile as it would be a key connector in putting together a nice loop around Pine.
Some trail, huh?
But then it would get buff like this...
...only to yo-yo back to this.
It was slow going all the way up to Hardscrabble rd. Hopefully this trail is on the short list for trail work.
I had visions of loose rubble on this road, it was my lucky day. Clean sailing down into Pine.
On my way down the road I passed by Doug, who was staying at a friends house, and we arranged to meet up after I ate some dinner to grab my car back in Payson.
Nice to see an entire community (or two) come together for an event like this. Photo courtesy of the FotR
Map of the race course, and the cool fiery mountain biker logo. Photo courtesy of the FotR
Expo area. Photo courtesy of the FotR
The pre-race festivities were well underway when I rolled in. I signed in for the race, found a few more friends who were camping RV style and joined in to their corner campsite on the final turn of the race route. Doug drove me back to Payson and I was back in Pine shortly after sunset.
Do NOT camp on the final straightaway!!
One of the few spots with shade.
I was about to set up my tent near the fenceline when I was informed that it was part of the course!! Oops, wouldn't want to do that. I was pretty worked over, so I made it an early night in preparation for the 7:30a start the next morning.

Rise & shine!!

I slept really well, grabbed some breakfast and readied myself for the race. 7:30 rolled around quick and I found Jeff & Nancy hanging near the middle of the start pack. The announcer barked out the final seconds and we were off!!
Bringing up the rear of the 45 miler pack, Jeff & Nancy just ahead of me. Photo courtesy of the FotR
Off we go. Photo courtesy of the FotR
The road gave way to graded dirt up Hardscrabble road. The climbing became steep, but I kept spinning in granny gear. The entire climb didn't really seem so bad at such a slow pace! I was still ahead of a few racers when I passed the aid station at the top. The ensuing downhill on forest road was fun, but before I knew it I was getting passed by the lead riders of the 30 mile race. It was like I was standing still when the two leaders zoomed by. Dang, they were fast!! They also had a 10 minute gap on the field barely 5 miles into the loop.

The course turned onto a private ranch, only open for a few pre-race rides and on raceday. By now I was getting a steady dose of the 30 mile field passing by me. The road climbed, but wasn't steep, until near the top at the water tower.
Private ranch road.
I managed two shots while still 'racing'.
The pitch up to the water tower was steep and loose. I relented and hiked up the final bits. My legs were already feeling worked over. The ensuing downhill didn't do much for my confidence levels. I was having a difficult time seeing the trail in the early morning shadows. The singletrack descent was steep. and coated in moon dust. Not exactly my preferred conditions, but I didn't crash.

Next was a double track climb, again it wasn't steep but I couldn't really muster anything. It was then that the thought of DNF'ing began to creep in.

Another sketchy downhill followed and I had a few close calls with terra firma but managed to keep things upright. Two more times on these descents I thought. Hmmm. What are the odds I don't craxh, I wondered. Some pavement followed and soon I was at the Pine/Strawberry trail. I've been trying to ride this trail for a few months, but kept running out of time. Today was the day.

It too began with a gnarly descnt with a few rock drops and goofy twists, yet I still kept going. It was actually a really fun trail, but had more climbing than I expected. My legs were in full-on revolt, no power, nada. Somewhere in here I decided I just wasn't feeling it and pulled the plug. I backed off my already slow pace and freely allowed anyone behind me to pass. I did want to ride the Pine/Strawberry trail until the end instead of taking the course exit about halfway through.
Racer on the Pine/Strawberry trail.
I stopped and sent Jeff a text letting him know I was done. He replied back that he was already back at the car!! That made me feel a bit better knowing he bailed as well. Of course Nancy kept going.
Nice views from the trail.
The trail switched from sunny & open to forested.
It was getting toasty, so a shade stop was a must.
I reached the checkpoint out at Hardscrabble rd and informed them of my decision to call it off. There were a few of us getting set to bomb down the road for the nearest beer.

I really don't like quitting, especially an event I paid for, but it was an easy decision on this day. I was in no mood to suffer through another two laps on dead legs. In the end I think I wasn't fully recoverd from the Grand Canyon hike the weekend before. My legs didn't feel 'normal' until the day prior to the race, then I went and did that tough ride to the venue from Payson. Any other time that wouldn't have mattered. Oh well. I'll be back to give this one another crack.

Back at our campsite we pulled out the chairs and brews to help cheer on the racers as they finished up.
Nancy finishing up the 45 miler!!
And the crowd goes wild!!
Making it official. Photo courtesy of the FotR
A few of the volunteers, err cheering crew! Photo courtesy of the FotR
The only other item to settle was whick team was going to finish higher, the guys from Estrella or those effin' Vassago guys. The Estrella crew had a lead going into the third and final lap in spite of Derek's wicked crash on the first lap. Dude is core, stopped his bike and 20mph momentum with his face, got up, dusted off and finished the lap!! As someone noted back at camp, it looked like he went 5 rounds with Tyson. He was checked out by the medical staff and deemed ok, sans the multitude of shiners. He was in good spirits as he held a huge icepack against his melon.

We were all whoopin' & hollerin' when Cory from the Vassago team came flying by securing a third place overall finish in the team category. Nice job fellas.
Rob snagged an impressive 2nd place in SS.
Nancy on the top platform!!
Effin' Vassago guys on the right & my buddy, Tanner, part of the winning team in the back.
Way to go Pine, you know how to put on a fantastic event. Kudos to all the locals who allow us to be a part of their community for a weekend. As a bonus the registration funds go back into the trails of the surrounding area. Very cool. They are working hard to make Pine a mountain biking destination. Keep it up, you're well on your way. I'll be back for more next year.

Official race photos here.

Payson to Pine route:

My shortened Fire on the Rim route:

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