.....is put on every fall by the Pay 'N' Take, the local beer supply for the cycling community, and runs one way from Flagstaff (pines) to Jerome (the mines). After rolling out of Flagstaff on neighborhood streets, the ride is entirely dirt roads with the exception of about five miles of singletrack along the rim of Sycamore Canyon for a total of something like 85 miles of Arizona sun. The first 50 or so miles are rolling terrain staying atop the Coconino Plateau before dropping off the Mogollon rim and descending to the Verde River some 3500 feet below and then climbing back up to 5500 or so feet in the last fourteen blistering hot miles.
I've wanted to do this ride since I first heard about it four years ago but complications, namely work, hangovers, or simply not knowing, has kept me out of it. This year as luck would have it our fire season would be over just in time. I figured this out at some point the weekend before while putting the finishing touches on the bike I'd been working on all summer for Lynn and before I could even say anything she had found herself in at the Pay 'N' Take and had all the info and before she or I could think twice about the thing she had signed us both up. For the next week our anxieties would build from realizing that working a summer in fire means that you do more sitting around than anything else, but whatever, we're tough, and there's nothing like sitting around bored with a fire pack on your back to make you realize it.
Our season ended Thursday and after driving back from Kanab we shook down our gear and the crew headed our separate ways with the end of season party scheduled for that night at the Mormon Lake guard station thirty miles away. Somehow between my car spewing gas onto the ground and not being able to make other arrangements, I decided to ride my bike out. I figured on a two hour ride on the pavement and left Bashas grocery miraculously with a little less than two hours of daylight left with two steaks, a sleeping bag, and a change of clothes in my pack and a pad tied to the outside. Haul Ass. I took the super commuter. Singlespeed with road slicks and pedaled as fast as I could. Everyone from the crew must have passed me as I pedaled, grumbling at myself. No one offered me a ride. They knew by now that I'd just decline anyway. I arrived to a beacon of a burn pile set ablaze and was greeted with a keg of Oak Creek Nut Brown and before I had even caught my breath I'd put back about seven of them. The party waned into the wee hours with plenty of drunken mishaps and a only minimal of things burned.
In the morning I was surprised to not be more hung over, water is good like that. I pedaled back to Flagstaff before breakfast, much more slowly and painfully than I'd come down. The ol' Flight seat was nagging at me the whole way as were my hamstrings. The morning beauty of the lakes and being on the bike seat, in addition to the whole ride down with camping gear was giving me the itch for a bike tour. Freedom. Finally. After selling my soul to the U.S. government for fifteen dollars an hour for the last five and a half months. Time to make up for lost time. This is only the beginning. When I got back into town I stuffed my starving face with FRATELLIquiles from Martanne's and then bought a new bike seat.
A little after noon on Friday the call I was waiting for came. It was John the powdercoater. Lynn's had been colored pink and was ready. I had just fixed the gas leak in the RV and went to pick it up instantly, along with Lynn so we could promptly get to work putting Shiela together. Shiela was a vision from the start, a personality through and through, and by far the most functionally and esthetically beautiful thing I've ever created, but I'll get to that another time. We picked up a 6 of Moose Drool and went to work. I prepped the frame and Lynn went to work on the parts. It was probably nine o'clock before she was finished but somewhere in the build process Lynn realized that there was no way she wasn't riding Shiela to the Mines the next day, and any adjustments would either have to wait or be made en route.
Our five o'clock wake up came early. Two nights of drinking, bad sleep, and bad eating habits. No matter. Coffee will fix that. We rolled up to the Pay 'N' Take earlier than most with a little of that pre race jitter in the stomach that was quickly amplified by the free coffee. I took a moment to spin Shiela around the block and was impressed. She was light and quick, but not overly so; she felt confident, but the pavement is no proving ground. Scott the owner/organizer gave a little pre race ramble with some blah blah blah....verbal directions that you'll soon forget....blah blah blah....suffer.....blah blah blah...suffer more....take some salt pills at the river or something....and we were off. My stomach rumbling.
We rolled out of town at the back of the pack but immediately a bike was down with a mechanical. A few people waited but the pack rolled on. Pines to the mines is not designated as a race, but it is certainly treated as such. There is a cup for the first to cross the line, male and female, as well as the last, but I just hoped to finish. We hit the dirt and all the spandex ninnies were off in a cloud of cold morning dust, and I fell quickly to the back and rode with Scott who was riding sweep as Lynn rode off in a tear of excitement on her new steed. The group with the mechanicals caught up as my stomach grumbled and with them were friends Andrew from Fort Tuthill, and John whom I'd met on the trail last summer, and I suddenly found myself rolling along in a posse and not noticing the morning's ailments.
A turn marked in flour took us off the wide Woody Mountain Road and onto a doubletrack and I found Lynn there waiting for me. We rode on together for a while and somewhere along the way of winding through the woods we came to the conclusion that the friends we'd asked to come and get us in Jerome were probably not coming. And in neither of our minds was there even a question of what to do.....we had embarked on a bike tour twenty miles into a group ride or race or whatever this silliness was, we had our own mission. The formality of it from Lynn's mouth was "we should just ride back to Flagstaff." We had sleeping bags and money and so it was. The no plan.
The course wound us through some rough and rolling doubletrack sections before landing us on a powerline straightaway that crossed over a wash and put us out on a stretch of singletrack. By now we'd passed about six people, not as though either of us were counting. The singletrack wrapped the ride around the headwaters of Sycamore Canyon and was absolutely stunning, despite at times being barely rideable. Rocks jutted out every which way and ate your tires and killed your momentum before you ever had a chance to build it. It was really more of a hiking trail. At the end we hiked up a short hill to the distant sound of music and at the top were greeted by Rick and Melanie at the first rest station. It seemed to me that we must have been the first people through to not be taking this ride so seriously. When they told us their resupply included beer and whiskey I excitedly said yes to both. I guess I was the first taker of the day and Lynn must have been the second. It was just after ten o'clock.
We rolled on refreshed through the flat dusty roads of the Kaibab National Forest. Long shots of mostly straight roads through Ponderosa Pine forests with late autumn flowers blooming yellow in fields spanning many acres out of brown stems in the sparse canopy. I felt the tired of the past nights setting in and wanted a nap but settled for a snack. We passed some crazy bastard on a single speed back there a little ways. A brown and white fisher 29. He'd been having fits of flats. He passed us as we set under a tree and snacked on leftover fire camp food. When we got to the downhill we figured we were something like 50 miles in....better than half way and we passed the single speeder again, his bike upside down and his pump out. He wasn't flat but was paranoid for the downhill. And with good reason. Rocks of all shapes and sizes reached out from the soil to steal your flow and eat your rubber and stop you in anyway possible. I gave a tube over to this paranoid single speeder and he introduced himself as Jeff. I made some adjustments and he took off, but I quickly caught him. We more or less paced each other out for the rest of the downhill. Me pulling away with gears and out riding him while I could, and him catching up when my innards were jarred painfully loose from riding a rigid bike. And so it went: the dueling doubletrack downhill of rigid bike and singlespeed. When this brutal road flattened out we turned left onto the Perkinsville Road and I left my counterpart behind for a fast pedal to the Verde River and a much needed rest stop.
This stop had people cheering me on as I pulled in and I asked them in a frenzy how far up was the leader? The girl looked at me with a discouraged look and said, "ummm...they came through about three hours ago.'' Well, I guess I'd better hurry then. I made my way to the tent and found all the food had been pillaged, but that the beer had not so I cracked one open to see Jeff roll in on his single speed and crack one open and clank my can in good camaraderie. Lynn followed shortly there after and we sat under a shade tree by the river bank and kept the good folks that kept us going in good spirits by making a joke of the whole thing and the men in spandex that took it all so seriousliy. "I'm gonna need another beer," I said, "....and a nap." And so I proceeded to the amusement of those watching. Lynn took off, wanting to get the hill to come over with, and good for her. See you at the top I said. I woke from my nap and felt the need for a hot dog...fresh off the grill. MMMM. No better way to start up a 14 mile climb in the dry heat of a desert afternoon than dehydrated with two beers and a hotdog in your gut. I dunked my head in the river, took off my shirt, strapped my helmet on my pack and pedaled on up the grueling climb to Jerome.
And what a climb. Stomach cramps coming from all directions. Hot Dogs and Beer. Burps that start to taste vomit. I dropped to the granny gear for the first time in I don't know how long. My sweat began to feel like someone poured a beer out on me. I passed the old doctor that rolled through the rest stop as I was waking from my nap. He looked like he was really hurting. It made me feel better for just a minute until he was out of sight. Then back into my own world of suffering. Mile posts ticked by slowly. I figured mile 8 was about halfway and I thought I'd take a break but I wasn't even sure for what. More food so I could burp it up later? At mile post 8 I came up on Lynn with her bike upside down having just fixed a flat. She was looking pretty rough herself...pale, salty, eyes sunken back in her head. I told her I was going to take a break. She said to ride just a little further and that she had heard screaming, the enthusiastic kind, just up the road from there. We rounded a bend and a few hundred yards up the roads we came across what had to be a mirage. An RV full with beer, tequila, music blaring from the sound system inside, scantily clad and beautiful women frolicking about with frisbees and hula-hoops appeared out of nowhere like water in the Sahara. And all the while they are trying to coax me into stopping mid stroke, bribing me with tequila and beer with what had to be at least another eight miles to go in this climb. What sort of tease was this? It was the popsicle that finally got me. Nothing ever sounded so good in such a time of agony. I sat in the shade of the canopy amongst good company still not believing this to be happening and Lynn passed me her beer. I still wanted nothing to do with this vile fluid after the climb but eventually I came around. We stayed for a few rounds, all hard earned. The hula girls were telling us it was just five easy miles to the party at the end and I thought....yeah, easy if you're in a car. But it was all true. Every bit. Even the bit about the ride to come. I began to realize how cool this ride is. Every aide station was awesome, put together by people who made it so, and progressively more so. And everyone whose company I sat in began to feel like some sort of masochistic family. We'd all suffered in and earned this fine reward that was coming in just five miles.
The last stretch was easy pedaling and breathing and talking. We were stoked. Stoked to have made it, but more stoked I'd say to be on this adventure, and in such good company. We rolled in on the party with the sun already behind the mountain and found ourselves in some friendly ghost town amidst a strange array of junk cars, trailers, a boat, some old mining machinery and some couches. Not to mention the Pay 'N' Take trailer and its outside mounted beer taps, and a whole lot of food. The party was mellow but the beer flowed endless. The spandex ninnies had mostly passed out or gone home. Many with good tales of their own. The real party, as I realized a very short distance into the ride, was coming at the back of the pack, and wouldn't completely roll in until after dark. And when they did they brought with them stories of blown side walls, satellite phone calls from the bottom of the Grand Canyon for coordination of medical evacuations, wrecked motorcycles, scuffed limbs, and God knows what else. We entertained ourselves well into the night with our respective stories of the day's adventure before passing out on some musty old carpet on a dilapidated stage. And our friends, they never made it to pick us up, but we already knew what we were doing in the morning.
We rolled into the town of Jerome in the morning and found ourselves at the Mile High Grille for breakfast as it had come highly recommended. The words "Best Bloody Mary in Northern Arizona" were scribed all over the menu and could not be ignored. When it came it was hard to argue with those words. Booze before 9:00 in the morning never tasted so good. Breakfast didn't even matter at that point. We coasted down the seven miles of twisting pavement with the speed of traffic into Cottonwood and wondered around for a while. We found our way to Dead Horse State Park where we were hoping to find the Lime-Kiln trail and take it to Sedona. A knowledgeable ranger caught sight of our bikes and woke us up from a nap under a tree to chat us up. He steered us in the right direction and we were off...in the heat of the desert day once again. We managed a fun stretch of singletrack before hanging a left on the Lime-Kiln. This trail was really more of a wagon road. It was well marked with cairns, but the sandy doubletrack wound about aimlessly in the hills outside of Cottonwood and seemed to make no direct effort at getting us to Sedona. We climbed for a while. The goat heads were making me nervous. Without slime in your tubes they can give you the fit of flats that will end your ride and leave you walking to the highway. At some point the hill leveled off and I thought it prudent to rethink our route. Lynn rolled up a minute behind, obviously well into that thought, and definitely cursing me. We sat under a shade tree and had a snack and a nap and awoke two hours later to the sun still beating down on us.
We turned around. Out to the highway. Twenty miles of pavement to Sedona. The movement was still slow but it seemed fast relative to the climb on the trail. We felt refreshed. But not for long. Again the sun and warm water in our bottles would have their way with us. Dehydration. As we got closer to town I started scheming a plan for the night and the morning, so we could camp and get food, enough for dinner, breakfast, and fuel back to Flagstaff. Something in this scheme wasn't adding up. Stores, and good camping are located nowhere close to one another if you're on a bike, and we'd end up backtracking through Sedona on the streets to accomplish our daily chores...never fun. We stopped at the top of the hill and sat down on a sidewalk on a busy highway, both delirious. We swapped schemes for our night and mine was out the window. Turns out Lynn has REALLY good ideas. We did something I thought I'd never do and got a fancy hotel in Sedona. Posh living, but rather than compare prices we figured our time would be better spent in the pool and hot tub. When the sun went down we walked to a fancy dinner in our sweaty bike clothes and flip flops. We were hobos in the lap of luxury, dirty and underdressed. Now where's my pedicure?
In the morning we lounged around as long as possible and exhausted the free continental breakfast at the hotel. Usually I'd be disgusted at this idea, eating shrink wrapped, sugar-coated pastries, but this hotel had bean and rice burritos with salsa and sour cream and granola and fresh fruit. Perfect for a long bike ride that climbs 3500 feet or so over a route yet to be known or decided. We rolled out and stopped in at Mountain Bike Heaven and met Rama John, the owner since 1989. Not your traditional bike shop in any way. I don't think there was even one remotely new bike on the floor, and on the wall were relics to the glory days of mountain biking....old Foes, Mantis, a Doug Bradbury Manitou with the fork linked into the seat stays. What really threw the whole thing off though and really made it "Sedona" was the oxygen bar. All it needed was a disco ball and you'd be set for all post ride transcendence. I grabbed some chain lube and Lynn set to work copying a Cosmic Ray map onto a paper towel. Off we go, climbing up Schnebly Hill road in the company of Pink Jeeps and passenger tourists cheering us on. This is feeling so familiar now.
We got to the top of the climb and were quite hungry, but the pedaling turned easy and we decided to wait for a good spot to eat. We came to I-17 and some buildings occupied by the power company and thought to look around for a soda machine. There was none, but I seemed to remember a Forest Service outpost amongst these buildings. Little Antelope Guard Station. And it was. The Forest Service has a seemingly bottomless supply of Gatorade, now if only someone was home. The driveway was empty, but a green fire engine was rolling up the way we came in and we soon found ourselves in the company of Jason and Geordie, Engine 454. We all had lunch and shared stories and as we pedaled off they were called to a fire. We definitely don't miss doing this.
We rolled off into the unknown parts of the Coconino National Forest with a hand-drawn copy of a hand -drawn Cosmic Ray map to guide us to who knows where fully knowing thats where we might end up. When the signed roads ran out we chose the next most major road to the north only to be wound around in a swirling uncertainty as to where we would end up. And after a snack we found ourselves at a known major road. Instinct, or possibly even Cosmic Ray I suppose, had pulled us through. We ground our way back to Flagstaff, woefully passing by the Mountainaire Tavern in favor of dwindling daylight. We rolled into town on empty, but figured it only proper to end our adventure precisely where it began at the Pay 'N' Take. And on our arrival we were greeted by some of the same friendly faces that greeted us in Jerome two days ago. They asked how our ride back was, not realizing it had just ended. Then they put together the same dirty clothes, the sweat, and the helmets and jaws dropped. We ordered beers and margaritas and sat outside and said nothing. What was there possibly to say?