21 October 2007

4th Annual Pines to the Mines Mountain Bike Endurance Event

From left to right, me, Dustin, David and Brian. Credit: Connor Gifford. Congrats to Dustin, David and Brian! They made it on mountain bike from Flagstaff to Jerome.

Yesterday, I attempted my first endurance mountain bike event. It was the forth annual Pines to Mines Endurance Ride. While it did have the undertones of an endurance “race,” Pay n’ Take, the event coordinators, emphasized it was a ride and not a race. Needless to say that didn’t some many of the riders from barreling 80 miles full boar from Downtown Flagstaff to the hills containing the historic mining town of Jerome. The race/ride was capped at 50 entrants, and approximately seven of us did not make it the entire 80 miles.

Credit: Pay n' Take. We started at the Pay n’ Take in downtown Flagstaff and our objective was to ride 60 miles from town, down and off the Mogollon Rim, across an historic bridge over the Verde River and then up a grueling 20 miles through the rolling and steep hills into the town of Jerome.

I lost my riding buddies early on. They were stronger riders than me and have been riding quite a bit more than I have as of late. While I thought we were sticking together for the ride, it turned out those guys wanted to ride a bit harder. So, I ended up riding the majority of the course with Tony, a Flagstaff city cop. He rode his commuter bike for the event, which I could not believe. He wore garden gloves and tennis shoes and did not have clips on his peddles. Given all this, he was riding much stronger than me yesterday, but we decided to stick together through most of the ride.

The ride was incredible. The morning started off cold, around 35 degrees and slowly warmed up as we rode towards the Mogollon Rim. In Jerome, it was around 80 degrees at mid-day. We rode through downtown, picked Route 66 for about a mile and turning onto Woody Mountain Road. From Woody Mountain Road, we picked up the Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail, which was single track, and we remained on this for about seven miles. The single track was quite technical in many places. It didn’t have a lot of technical up hill and down hill segments. However, the trail contained large segments of incredibly rocky areas with boulders and loose rubble lining the trail. I was able to clean most of it, but chose to get off and walk the bike on several segments. I knew I had a lot of miles to ride, and didn’t want to get hurt early on. This part of the ride was perhaps the most scenic. We rode from the head of Sycamore Canyon to where it became deeply incised. I tried to take in the scenery as much as possible; however, it was often difficult due to the rough terrain I was trying to negotiate. I did get to see several beautiful natural tanks including the Palmeroy Twin Tanks and a few others that dotted the trail. Once we reached the end of the Sycamore Canyon Rim Trial, we reached our first check point.

Big Jonny and another fella were aiding this check point. Tony and I stopped for a breather, grabbed some fruit, and refilled our water bottles. This was mile marker 30, and I had 50 more miles to ride. I learned from Big Jonny that the rest of the group moved through the check point about an hour prior, and I thought that was great. These folks were cookin’.

2007 Pines to Mines Logo, and 2007 t-shirt design. Credit: Pay n' Take. Art work by Joe Sorren.

I realized at that time, I wasn’t going to finish the ride. I’ve never done an MTB ride bigger than about 20 miles, and at that point, I’ve almost doubled that. I realized I’d probably stop at the next check point, which was the 60 mile mark.

My knees were beginning to hurt (and they are still a bit tender), and my bike was not shifting well. Dustin, Brian and I worked on the bike the night before, and while it was shifting much better than before the tune up, it was still riding rough.

Well, after eating an orange, eating a few electrolyte tablets and drinking more water at the aid station at the 30 mile mark, I was ready to continue the ride. We were riding through the Kaibab National Forest at that point, and the landscape was exceptionally beautiful.

For those who haven’t spent much time on the Kaibab, the forest appears to be in much better shape ecologically than the Coconino. It’s more remote, and hasn’t been subjected as intensively to extensive logging and a long history fire suppression. As a result, it tends to have larger tracks of open meadows with larger ponderosa pines and extensive Gambel oak stands. As I’m riding over 20 plus miles of rolling ponderosa pine, oak forest and open meadows, I recall what Brian told me as he talked me into this race.

“Hey man, it’s a roller for 60 miles and then you pedal uphill 20 miles into Jerome.” I hadn't trained for that ride, but I figured I was in good enough shape to do it. Well, it was no roller, unless you consider rolling up and down hills for 60 miles as a “roller.” I’m not complaining, it was one heck of a ride, and a hell of a life experience.

To make things even more interesting, the winds were completely unforgiving during most of this ride, and during the latter part of the ride, I was riding directly into a head wind.

Another photo of us after the race. I felt it worth including because it has the historic mining camp in the background. Jerome is quite a neat place.

So, after about 20 miles, I reached the edge of the Mogollon Rim and it was time to drop off the rim. Tony had dropped me about five miles prior, and I was riding solo at this point. Downhill off the rim was intense. It was at least eight miles of grueling unimproved road comprised of boulders, loose rock, gravel and sand along the route. On the down hill stretches, which was the vast majority of this eight mile segment, I had to be completely focused on what I was doing. If not, I was going to eat a boulder -- something I really didn't want to do. I had to watch the road ahead, and watch my tire. My eyes oscillated between these two point -- ahead and tire, ahead and tire. As I was riding downhill at ~¾ speed, my whole body was being shaken, my quads were burning from standing in my peddles, my head was rattling, and my arms are in pain from being jostled about.

I could likely endure the first few discomforts the entire time, but by far the worst was the pain in the arms. I had to stop several times just to compose myself. I’d stop, shake out my hands, stretch my arms, and then start riding again.

Map of course route. Credit: Pay n' Take.

Once I got below the rocky portions of the road, I stopped and ran into another rider. His name was Kurt and he is a physics teacher in Flagstaff. I had kept him within eye shot during the Sycamore Canyon Rim segment of the ride. He and I chatted briefly and he indicated he had taken a couple of falls. So, I wanted to make sure all was going well with him.

While taking a breather in the pinyon-juniper, Kurt and I chatted a bit about the ride, and then we continued on. I would occasionally stop to make sure it was okay and making it down hill without injury.

A couple of miles later, I stopped again to chat with him. I told him I was going to the 60 mile mark, and bagging the rest of the ride. He indicated he was going the same.

So, we continued riding and after a few more excellent down hill switchbacks, I reached the 60 mile mark at the Verde River. A couple of minutes later Kurt arrived. We were hanging out with Anthony, a Pay n’ Take employee who was running the aid station at the Verde. I found out Tony had passed this check point about 10 minutes prior and he was headed for Jerome. I thought Tony was going to make it, and I was stoked.

Kurt, Anthony and I remained at the Verde for a while and then rode (in a truck at this point) back up hill to look for a couple of missing riders. These were the last two in the race, and they had checked in at the aid station at 30 mile. Upon not being able to locate them, Anthony decided he was going to run us up to Jerome.

Town of Jerome, AZ. Credit: Jerome Chamber of Commerce.

At this point, all I was thinking about was Bigfoot Bar-B-Que. They were catering the event, and there would be plenty of food in Jerome. As we were driving toward this little mining town, we saw Tony on the road. He was beat, and ready to call it a day. So, we loaded his bike in the truck and proceeded up hill.

Anthony decided to make a stop to call the race organizers and determine what he needed to do regarding the two other riders. He was instructed to return to the 60-mile aid station and wait. So, Kurt, Tony and I decided we were going to continue our ride to Jerome. We knew it was going to be punishing, but we were ready to get to there. Besides, I knew Connor had been waiting for me for hours, and I felt really bad because I didn’t want her to wait.

So, we continued to ride. As we had anticipated, the road was rough and the winds were howling. We made it only about a mile further before Tony’s wife and kids arrived in a SUV with a bike rack. At this point, Tony’s wife offered to take us to Jerome. Kurt indicated he was going to continue riding, and I decided to ride with him. Then, Tony was in as well.

We then realized the winds were not going to die down anytime soon, the road was incredibly steep, and we weren’t going to make to Jerome until after dark. So…we took the ride.

Once the day was over, I logged 61 miles of the 80 mile route. This was the most I’ve ever ridden on a MTB. Also, it was perhaps some of the most technical riding I’ve done to date. So, I accomplished quite a bit on that day. Image credit: Connor Gifford.

Although I did not finish, I felt I earned the t-shirt. So, I grabbed one. Because this wasn’t a race and I never treated it as one, I didn’t feel bad for having the t-shirt, nor will I feel bad about wearing it. Excluding this race/ ride event, I've never DNF-ed.

I will make my second attempt next year. Barring injury, I plan to finish in 2008!

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