Coconino loop, part 3

{If you haven't already, check out the other parts of this trip report: part 1, part 2}

Day 4: Wing Mountain – AZT to Flagstaff – Marshall Lake

Stats: 87 km (54 miles), 8h48min moving time, 1337 m of vert

There was much windmilling of hands and jumping up and down to keep warm as we performed the routine morning camp tasks: making breakfast, packing up the tent, packing up the bike bags. I started riding in a wool shirt over my bike jersey, my rain shell, buff and thick gloves, but stubbornly, only bike shorts despite the clearly freezing temperatures.

A cold morning on the Coconino loop.
Audun and I pedalled dirt roads out to the I-40, and stopped at a Texaco to refill water. For the whole trip, we only ended up treating water at the Verde River - all the other days we just bought bottled water at convenient points to save the hassle of treating. I had warmed up from the pedalling but cooled down as I waited outside the store.

Soon enough we were back pedalling on old Route 66. I was already snacking. It had taken a couple of days for my appetite to rev up, but I had achieved peak hunger. I was a black hole, a bottomless pit. The calories flowed through me and, far less efficiently than any other transducer known to man, turned into forward motion on my bicycle.

The route soon leaded us on more and more disused dirt roads in the direction of Wing mountain. My drive train was ticking and scratching after three days of hard use and no love. I geared, and in a crescendo of popping, the chain snapped.

Broken chain!
I want to claim that this was the first mechanical of the trip, but of course my back suspension had failed on day one. In fact, it seemed the valve core we had put in was leaking slightly, and we adding air to my suspension every twenty-four hours or so.

Audun repaired my chain, and we continued on our merry way. The route dragged us over some barely-there doubletrack before ejecting us onto flowy moto trails. They were good fun, as long as you avoided the occasional mud patch.

Audun on the moto trail

Unsurprisingly, riding on the moto trails left me feeling hungry, and we stopped to snack on pepperoni and crackers with sweeping views of the San Franscisco peaks. We would climb up into the foothills of those mountains before picking up the Arizona Trail (AZT) for the long descent into Flagstaff.

The climb through the foothills was first 3 miles on dirt road. I moved uncomfortably in my seat, alternating between sitting and standing. My bike shorts were chaffing; my back ached from the pack. Several times on this trip, Audun and I concurred that we probably should have ridden bikes more leading up to this trip. But we were getting it done, and it was beautiful.

Climbing to the AZT
I started to get grumpy as we hit the final stretch on singletrack. My drive train kept seizing up, throwing me off balancing when I just wanted to pedal. Soon enough we picked up the AZT. Predictably, since we were at the same altitude as Bill Williams, there was snow. Luckily this was a south-facing slope and the snow was much more minimal.

Super fun downhill, said the cue sheet. Spot. On.

Riding the super fun downhill on the AZT


That section on the AZT is probably the longest singletrack descent I have done in my life. We started to see more regular day riders as we approached Flagstaff. I had barely eaten since this downhill started, since I kept thinking we would be in Flagstaff soon for a welcome lunch break.



We picked up a bike path into downtown Flagstaff. I was in a calorie deficit haze as I walked into the Natural Foods Market for resupply. I picked up water, a few more energy bars, potato chips and two microwave burritos that I reasoned we could eat cold. I devoured the burrito outside the store, while Audun was clever enough to go inside and have the cashiers warm his up in the microwave they had for that purpose. There was a slight breeze, and I shivered uncontrollably despite wearing a down jacket in the sun.

Our final stop in Flagstaff was at REI to get a couple more freeze-dried dinners and some lube for my poor drivetrain. I got the most maciest, cheesiest, high calorie freeze-dried meal I could find.
It was kind of a relief to leave Flagstaff and finally be back on the trail, making forward progress. We had a beautiful evening to ride through Walnut Canyon, with long shadows striping the singletrack.

Late afternoon shadows in Walnut Canyon

A short pushbike followed by serpentining singletrack in the forest that swooped up and down and around finally lead us to Marshall Lake. We marvelled at the shear amount of rideable singletrack there had been this day as we pitched the tent in the last rays of sunlight. 

Day 5: Marshall Lake – Sedona

Stats: 78 km (48 miles), 6h58min moving time, 748 m of vert

I was no longer surprised to see frost on the inside of the tent fly as we got up on the last morning. I finally capitulated, knowing we were at altitude for most of the day, and started riding in tights. I was sick of being cold! (Something I thought I would never say on a bike trip to Arizona).

Morning on the AZT!

From dry Lake Marshall, the AZT lead us along fairly flat singletrack, passing along a number of wetlands. The singletrack turned into doubletrack, and we met a couple of thruhikers. The repetitive scenery was growing a little monotonous when the trail finally veered and descended to Lake Mary road.

We pedalled along the path of an ancient train line through the forest, a beautiful trail if a bit nondescript. Since we were in the trees, I lost all feeling of forward progress. I was starting to be mentally ready to finish. It's strange, you can be enjoying yourself a ton, but when you start to see in the finish line in your minds eye all of a sudden you can't wait to get there.

We met two other bikepackers, one on a full suspension fat bike, headed north to Utah. I was hungry, so very hungry, thinking about what I would eat in Sedona when we finished. I reminded myself to keep eating.

Soft trails in the forest

After 20 miles of singletrack, we popped out on a dirt road and the way to Sedona got considerable faster. There was lots of fast dirt riding all the way to Schnebly Hill View. From that vantage point Sedona appeared below us like a fairytale kingdom.

Schnebly Hill View

I thought it would be all downhill from Schnebly, but the Coconino had another twist for us. A final, rough climb on rocky doubletrack before picking up a disused trail with epic views down the mountain.

Descending into the fairytale kingdom

We picked up Mund's Wagon Trail toward Sedona. It was good technical fun for a while until the steps started to get too big for me. I was tired, and ready for it to end. We had a Pop Tart stop in the middle of the trail before tackling the final section (not a good way to get Strava QOMs!).

Tough riding on Mund's Wagon.
I was elated when we hit the final pavement miles. It's not ever day I start something I'm not sure I can finish - the Coconino loop was that for us. 

Gear notes

Nerd alert: this section is meant as a reminder to myself of how I packed, and may serve as advice for anyone embarking on a similar journey. Feel free to stop reading here if you're not interested in gear (I'm happy you made it this far!)


Although I played around with the packing configuration during the trip, here's the way it ended up:

In my Osprey Tempest 20L pack:
- A 3L Platypus water bladder & spare Salomon soft flask
- Steripen for purifying (which we only did at the Verde River)
- Sea-to-summit Ultrasil dry bag containing: Patagonia rain pants, lightweight tights, underwear, wool socks, extra sports bra, Sierra Designs down sweater, Devold wool mesh shirt, buff, fleece hat, Sealskin cycling gloves, Mountain Hardwear shell jacket
- Smart phone in airplane mode for taking pictures and reading at night
- Nuun electrolyte tabs and a handkerchief
- 0.3L fuel bottle with gasoline for stove (had it on my bike but there was a lot of gasoline smell around the bottle for some reason)

In my Apidura Backcountry handlebar pack:
- Nemo Nocturne Rhapsody 30 sleeping bag (comfort temp down to about freezing; I've slept out as low as -10°C in it but I am a warm sleeper)
- Therm-a-rest Prolite pad
- Cook kit: 2L MSR Seagull pot, pot grip, MSR Whisperlite stove, fire starter
- 1L clear plastic bottle for water
- Bag of toiletries including: toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, skin cream, comb, chamois cream, hand sanitizer, contact lenses

In my Revelate Designs Pika seatpost bag:
- Two spare inner tubes in case the tubeless failed on my bike (Audun carried all other bike tools)
- Poles to Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 person tent (Audun carried the body and fly)
- Small Sea-to-summit dry bag containing: first aid (painkillers, band-aids, sports tape), Swiss army knife, a variety of spare batteries and USB battery pack, Black Diamond Spot headlamp, foldable Sea-to-summit cup and spork
- Assorted food: freeze-dried dinners, a jar of peanut butter, instant oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, energy bars, nuts, etc.
- A Spot Gen3 in a mesh pocket facing skyward

Sundries:
- Garmin Etrex 30x with the Coconino GPX on my handlebars for navigation
- Apidura Backcountry top tube pack filled with energy bars for quick access
- 0.5L water bottle in cage on frame, usually filled with Nuun

What I would have done differently:
- In terms of clothing, I would have left behind the rain pants and the down jacket. I would have brought a thicker wool shirt, and removable arm and leg warmers for cold morning riding.
- I didn't really need the battery pack I brought to charge my phone, or the extra batteries for the Spot.
- I wished I could have found a way to carry more water on my bike and less on my back! I may try to attach some bottles to my fork for the next trip. The biggest lesson from this trip was less weight on the back = more fun riding!
- The Therm-a-rest Prolite sleeping pads are light but not super comfortable and we may upgrade to Neoairs or similar soon.
- Obviously I should have cut my toothbrush in half to save weight.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

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