May 20, 2021

Pinyons & Pines: DNF

 The Pinyons & Pines bikepacking race is held annually in May and is now in its third iteration. My buddy, Dana, puts on the event and has had a different route for each year. I attempted the ride in 2019, but an unfortunate wreck early on knocked me out. This year's route looked mighty inviting. It was a 300 mile loop starting / ending in Flagstaff going counter clockwise to the south passing through Jerome, Camp Verde, Fossil Creek, Pine and then up on the rim for some AZT riding. I've ridden a bunch of the route before, but there were plenty of holes to fill in my mental atlas, different ways to connect the dots.

The Binary Bicycles SSP ready to go.

This would also be the first Grand Depart for many of us since late 2019 or very early 2020. Things were almost starting to feel like normal. Aside from finishing, my goal was to ride a fast touring pace without a bunch of night riding. I wanted to see the route, not pass through Fossil Creek in the dark, etc. I figured I'd be the course sweeper and wrap things up sometime on Sunday.

The ride started at 6a on Thursday, but I needed most of Wednesday afternoon to get all my stuff ready. I didn't feel like making the 3 hour drive north on Wed. evening to camp out before the start. I'm not good at getting up and moving in the dark while camping/bikepacking. This is fact. So, I opted for another night home in my bed with the alarm set for 2a. Somehow, I can do that. I was up and on the road by my projected 2:45a rollout time and arrived in Flagstaff at 5:40a.

The scene around Flag Bike Revolution was something I've been longing for, friends, bikes, building anticipation and fresh air. Dana was busy getting everyone sorted with goodies: stickers, patch, pizza coupon, cookies & shammy butter. World class I tell ya.

P&P Swag.

Start / Finish here.
Friends!! Billy, Jeff & Holly. Photo by Billy.

Dana giving some final words before 6a.
As you can see in the pics above, blue skies, but wind was in the forecast for the next 3 days, most of which was projected to be a 30+ mph headwind. Only a slight chance of precipitation, so I left my rain gear at home. I did pack a bivy and a water repellant-ish windbreaker, that should do it.
Rollout through the heart of Flagstaff.

The Mad Rhino on the loose!!

I'm looking confused as to why my bike is lying there, but in reality I was getting ready to shed my baselayer!! Photo by Forest.

After shedding layers, I had the pleasure of riding with this fella: Forest Baker. Check out his route: Bones to Blue near Lake Tahoe.

Chris Kuzdas digging the early miles through the pines.
The first hour or so of the route generally climbs, but it's fast riding. Then a screaming fun downhill as we zigzagged through the forest. So far, the wind was calm or we were sheltered enough by the trees to notice.

Beautiful open ranch lands here.

Did someone say rustic??

Already putting some distance on Humphrey's Peak, Arizona's high point at 12,633'.

A short nostalgic slice of Route 66 as we parallel its replacement: I-40.

A quick stop at the Texaco station in Parks.
I hadn't really eaten much for breakfast before the ride, so a stop for a breakfast sandwich and chocolate milk really hit the spot. I decided to snag a bottle of Mtn. Dew for later as a few more riders passed by including the El Freako duo of Jeff & Holly.

What you can't see...the wind. It was now making itself known over the open, treeless expanse.
It wasn't really too bad though, a bit of a crosswind. For some reason I thought this section between the trees was longer, but it was only a few miles. Before I knew it the forest came calling once again.

I recognized this section of powerline from the Coconino250 route and knew I wasn't far from Sycamore Rim.

A nice bit of Sycamore Rim trail.
This was my third time riding Sycamore Rim, first in this direction. It's tough both ways. Lots of lava rock in between the good bits, generally slow going. Over the years it's developed a nickname or two: Suck-a-more or Sick-of-more trail. At least the views are worthy!! Overall, it wasn't too bad and the 5 miles went by soon enough.

One of the overlooks along the way.

There is a northern portion creating a loop near KA Hill that I haven't ridden yet.

This guy. Ben Hanus, calling it quits after his knee wasn't up to the task. It would be a recurring theme for a few riders including myself.

Eric Morton was supposed to be riding too, but a plumbing issue pushed back his start so he came out and took a boat load of action shots, but I was too slow!!

Here's a caption for the next pic...

...a fine view indeed.
Near the final mile or so of the rim trail a rider came up behind me and flew by. I was able to keep pace as the trail twisted down the hillside and we popped out on the next batch of forest roads leading towards White Horse Lake. There were reports of a food truck there, but I really didn't need anything.

I ended up riding a bunch of miles with Ryan, this guy is quite the character and made the miles go by quickly.
Somewhere along this stretch of route, near mile 50 or so, my left knee began making itself known. It was a slight discomfort at first, but as the miles added up a sudden jabbing pain hit the inside of my kneecap. Never really had that specific pain before, but pedaling wasn't too much of an issue.

My front tire began spewing sealant from a small puncture in the tread and it wouldn't seal as I rode. I finally gave up and stopped, letting the sealant pool over the hole. A few miles later it repeated, but finally settled down. I thought I was done futzing with it.
Large open meadows along the way.

Ryan stopped to chat with a squirrel and I pushed on to the big downhill towards the Verde River.

The daunting Mingus Mtn. coming into focus.
The next resupply point was the town of Jerome, up on the flanks of Mingus Mtn. I was aiming for the Haunted Hamburger as it was open until 9p, but I wasn't concerned about missing business hours.

Descending off the rim the trees morph into a sea of Juniper.

Cue the joke: The Great Western's Western.

Crossing the forest boundary, the chunky road bounced me around for miles.

More descending near Bear Canyon.

Caught up to another rider before reaching the river.

Bottoming out in Perkinsville.

It's a party at the Verde River!!

It may look murky, but the Verde River filters cool & clear.
The other riders got going up the hill before Ryan and I. It's a 12 mile climb, then another 5 mostly downhill miles until Jerome. The lure of a burger & cold brew were strong. I just hoped my ailing knee wouldn't be too problematic on the grind up the mountain.

Crossing the Verde River.

Short break to slam a warm Red Bull at the halfway point as Ryan cruises by.
So far the climb wasn't too bad. It was warm, but not hot and the wind wasn't too bad although on occasion a gust would blow me off my line.

Looking back north, Humphrey's Peak and the hint of Sedona's red rock country.

The upper half of the climb rode even better than the lower half. Fanfreakingtastic.

We could see that notch in the saddle for miles, it was our target and assumed the top of the climb.

Going through the notch, however a false summit.

There's the top!!

Jerome comes into view!!
It was around 5:30p and wouldn't you know, just as I could taste that upcoming cold brew, my front tire began spitting sealant...again. Grrr. Same as before, it wouldn't seal while I rolled. By now, enough air had come out I needed to add some and a tire plug. I guess I should've done that 25 miles ago!!

My knee woes continued, I popped a couple of Advil and decided I'd give K a call in Jerome to let her know what was up. My plan was to refuel in town, ride another 15 miles or so, get a good night's sleep and re-evaluate in the morning. The route was fairly tame heading into Camp Verde with a long downhill. If my knee had enough, it was an easy place to bail. I really wanted to finish the route though, still a few more places I wanted to see.

High above the Verde Valley overlooking Clarkdale & Cottonwood.

More wonderful dirt road and a view of Humphrey's Peak.

Gold King Mine & Ghost Town.

That looks like a cool place to tour.

Seems like a friendly place.

See? It is, Friendly Ghost Town, unless it's after 5:30p, then you die!!!

Next to the strip mine is the United Verde Mine.

Entering town, route goes left & down, but the food & drink are up & right a couple of blocks.

Lots of bikepacking rigs parked out front when I arrived!! Cue the green chile cheeseburger!!
My buddy, Rhino, was here, but couldn't put down any calories and had called it. That's such a helpless feeling when you're staring at a plate of food you know will help and can't eat it. Ugh. Ryan was also already chowing down and helping the servers know the 'Hot Food!!' was ready. Haha.

Bellies full, water topped off enough until the next source we headed out and it was still daylight as we crossed mile 90 of the route. I just had to make it to camp.

Over the years Jerome has seen a rebirth as a town, it's good to see and a cool place.

Ryan and I coasting through town.
Exiting main street the route peels off onto a narrow dirt road dropping through a residential area. It has the appearance of being a dead-end road but alas, it isn't. Genius!! It brings you to a gate then begins a long methodical climb around the flanks of Mingus Mtn. The 2-track is fairly rugged, but rideable.

Ryan got ahead of me about the time I felt my rear tire go soft. What the?? Sure enough it was losing air, but I couldn't see a leak. I put some air in it and began riding. Almost as soon as I began pedaling I could feel a slight discomfort in my left Achilles. Oh no. I've had a couple issues with my Achilles over the past few years and it's no fun. Barely five minutes later I could feel the rear tire going soft again. Drat. Time to add some sealant and keep moving. For good measure I found the spoke next to the nozzle had snapped off at the hub. Great. One bottle of sealant, some air and again, five minutes later it was soft, yet no visible leaks or hissing. Did the busted spoke puncture the rim tape??
Not a bad view while pumping up a tire.
My Achilles was definitely not happy, matching my knee. Jeez. I don't think I was more than 3 miles from Jerome and the wheels simply came off my ride. The sun was setting, the bike wasn't cooperating and I didn't want to risk a long-term injury/recovery period. I made the call to K to discuss an extraction plan.

I figured it would be best to turn around and head to Cottonwood. It would be almost all downhill and even if I had to stop every 5 minutes to add air, I'd get there soon enough. I should note that I did have a tube, but my current rim/tire combo is extremely difficult to remove a tire trailside. Perhaps not the best strategy, but considering everything else that was going on, I wasn't about to mess with it.
The sky painters were putting on quite a show.
Night had fallen, lights on, I began my descent as quickly as I could after topping off the rear wheel one more time. While pumping the tire up the next go-round I noticed the nozzle was loose at the rim. I did my best to tighten it, added air and hopped right on. Down at the gate I checked the tire, it was holding. Go figure. I guess I didn't have a tire leak at all, just a loose nozzle. Oh well, one less thing to worry about.

It didn't take long to reach Cottonwood and the Maverick gas station. My GPS showed 99.08 miles. That's a dumb number to stop a ride at, so I Googled a quick lap around the block to at least notch a 100 miles. As luck would have it my GPS powered off TWICE while riding around the block. So stoopid.

I still had an hour or so to wait until K arrived. Cold chocolate milk hit the spot and my phone kept me occupied until she arrived a bit after 10:30p. Let the adventure begin. Huh? That's right, my day wasn't close to being over. As I readied the bike to fit in the back of her Prius, the quick release skewer on my front wheel came apart, handle off, axle still in my hub and wheel attached to the bike. WTF?!? I reinserted it a couple more times to no avail. The wheel wasn't coming out. We tried loading the full bike but there was no way it was going to fit. Next option, remove the fork & handlebars. Good thing we had four arms/hands since everything was still connected via cables, but it fit!!

Now we had an hour+ drive north to Flagstaff to get my car. We both decided we'd rather not get a motel room and just drive the 3 hours home. Yep, we arrived back home sometime after 3a and in bed around 4a. I slept rather soundly.

In the end, I'm bummed I couldn't finish the route, but I made the correct call. Come to find out after the fact that not only did it rain, but it rained a lot beginning the night I bailed. So, I 'may' be glad I missed the freezing rain, cold and death mud!! Thanks again to Dana for putting on a stellar event and spectacular route. I hope this one stays around for the race or at least on odd years?? Just a thought. Of course I owe everything to K for picking up my broken self at the end of her workday without a complaint. She's amazing and the best I could ever ask for.

Current score: Pinyons & Pines - 2, JS - 0. Until next time, ride on.

My route: