The Coconino 250 was something that was not on my radar screen at all until about a month before the event.  The main event was a 4 day stage race consisting of 3 nights of camping between each stage.  I knew my buddy Beto would be interested in doing an ITT of the loop as he’s yet to do a bikepacking stage race.  So Jen and I had to figure out if we really wanted to do this.

Pros:

  1. With great riding in Sedona and a shload of desert singletrack, I had no doubt Beto would be ready for this one despite the short notice.
  2. Delivering a couple frame bags would net me some cash to help pay for the trip.
  3. We’d stay with our friends Dara and Troy so Jen could do some trail running and riding.
  4. Troy was willing to do some kid sitting while the girls played.
  5. We’d take the Kia.   I figured the Kia would get close to 30 mpg driving at about 75 mph, much faster and cheaper than the truck camper.
  6. We’d leave Wednesday evening so we could car camp somewhere…..Connor’s first car camping trip.
  7. The weather was looking stellar.
  8. I have plenty of sick days!

Cons:

  1. My knees have been killing me since CTR.
  2. Only one big ride since CTR….125 miles of road the weekend before Coco.  It killed my knees.
  3. We wouldn’t be driving our second home.
  4. I knew very little about the course despite printing out the cue cards.
  5. My classes would fall behind.
  6. Motivation was low.

We loaded up Tuesday night and Jen picked me up after work on Wednesday.  That car was packed.  A quick stop in Cruces to give Smokin’ Ray his bikepacking kit…then we battled the headwind up to the free campground west of Socorro.  We had a great night of camping other than some plant causing Jen to have some serious allergies.  I slept outside the tent on my bivy while Connor and Jen got cozy inside.  Connor was super stoked to be in the tent.  He thought it was so cool and could barely contain himself.

Connor enjoying the cozy tent.

The next morning we stopped for pie in Pie Town (rip off) and took the dirt road short cut (NOT!) to Gallup.  We made good time in the Kia and got to Dara and Troy’s early in the afternoon with Les and Jill not far behind to get a couple of frame bags I made for Les.  After dinner I headed over to The Place, the official starting point, to meet with Beto.  On the way back I missed a turn and got pulled over and when the cop realized I had not been drinking and was only frustrated driving in an unfamiliar place in the dark, he let me go with a warning.  I spent the rest of the evening getting my shit together for a 6 am roll out from the house.

I met Beto at the Place on Friday and he was ready to roll.  We checked the back parking lot and pounded on Les’s truck, but no answer so we rolled out at 6:25.  We made pretty good time and took needed breaks to make adjustments.  Beto had to change shorts as the ones he was wearing were causing him some issues.  Luckily he brought a second set.  I only had what I was wearing.  We soon found ourselves at the top of Schnebly Hill overlooking Sedona.  This was our first missed turn.

Schnebly Hill….the spot of our first missed turn.

Back on track we rallied the gnar down to Mund’s Trail where we had to bypass the infamous Hangover Trail on our beeline to town.  It was getting pretty hot and we needed food and water.   We took about a half hour break at the Circle K hiding in the shade on the side of the building chowing some sandwiches and ice cream.  The next leg was a bit of a struggle on the single speeds despite a low’ish gear (32×22 for both of us) and some familiarity with the trail system.  I forgot how much up and down techy stuff there is in Sedona.  Luckily it’s beautiful and we knew we weren’t going to be on it for long.  Soon we found ourselves crossing Hwy 89 for the Lime Kiln Trail.  The sun was starting to fade and the climb up the ridge was not rideable on a SS.  On this trail we missed a couple more turns, but ripped up the last section into the campground where we washed up a bit in the bathroom.

Looking towards Sedona from Lime Kiln.

Cottonwood was the site of our first major time suck.  I did no scouting of the town, but knew we’d have to go off course for anything but gas station food.  About a half mile towards town we stopped in a grocery store/grill.  We spent about an hour waiting on food and refueling.  We got a bit worried as we were the only customers who did not buy a tall boy or two and drive off in a shitty car.  Needless to say, since I had the blinky tail light, I followed Beto up the road to Mingus.

It was only about 9:30 when we passed the airport, but my eyes were burning due to lack of sleep the week prior and  a controlled burn in the area.  We found a flat spot and set down for a few hours sleep.  We were probably about 1,000′ up from town, but it was really warm.  We decided to hit the trail again whenever we woke up….which we hoped would only be about 3 or 4 hours.  At 1:30 am or so, we got going again enjoying the cool weather up the hill….which we were grateful for as the hike-a-bike up Mingus sucked ass.  I’ve done worse, but not that long with that level of difficulty.  We got to the top at 3 am and ate breakfast in the campground.  We weren’t real quiet, but I don’t think we woke anyone.

On the way down I missed a major turn and lost some vertical.  Beto waited for me at the top and we eventually got back on track.  The single track to the bottom was really good and quickly made us forget about the difficulty of the hike-a-bike up Mingus.  We made it all the way to the Verde without having to stop for water.  Being a Hispanic, Beto thrived in the heat drinking about 2/3rds the water I drank.  When it was cool, I had the jersey unzipped and he was putting on arm warmers.  We laughed about this more than once, but sometimes I got a bit nervous about running out of water or overheating.

There was a large crew of single speeders under the Verde bridge getting ready to head the direction we just came…which would be a really long climb for those guys…..in the heat….and probably pretty stiff for their gearing.  Where we were headed wasn’t much better.  It was getting hot for me and the climb was a slight grade that went on and on finally getting back into the Ponderosa and cooler  temps…..only to come to our last spike on the elevation profile.

That spike was Bill Williams Trail where the top half consisted of a rarely used switchbacking hike-a-bike.  We pushed up and forward looking forward to the backside descent into town.  The backside descent was pretty burly and really put our gear to the test.  If there was any trail that would expose any weakness in your bike or anything attached to the bike, it was this one.  Ledgy with lots of wheelie drops and BIG water bar blockages, this trail pounded the crap out of is.  Both of us only walked a couple small sections and afterwards we spoke about how other types of bar setups would handle that mess.  My setup was so solid. I felt no bouncing or twisting and nothing shook loose.  Thumbs up on the latest configuration that both Beto and I were running.

Into Williams we rode in search of pizza!  We rode right past the Safeway….neither of us seeing it as I was glued to my smartphone looking for the pizza joint.  We spent about an hour at the pizza joint then headed out of town…..away from the Safeway.  After asking someone for directions, we turned around and headed back to reload with snacks and stuff for the last stretch.  Ben and Jerry’s, beer from Smither’s (a finisher in last year’s Coco), and not quite enough room in our packs, we headed back towards Flag.  We rode for about another hour before finding a place to crash out under some small trees.  It was only about 7 pm.

We both ate a bit more in our very nice camp spot, but were soon being high beamed by some redneck who was in an RV nearby.  We did absolutely nothing but stare back and continue getting ready for the night.  I had to glue the sole back on my shoe and kind of appreciated the extra lighting during that moment.  We crashed out hard and I awoke a bit before 4 and ate some more.  At 4 I finally woke up Beto and we took our time breaking camp as it was pretty cold.  We got to the Sycamore Trail just before daybreak.  On the rim we heard lots of elk bugling away.  We took some pictures and ate lots of snacks.  I took us down some more singletrack that was off course.  We lost a lot of time here because we stopped to take off some layers and never noticed we were off course.  After heading off in the wrong direction, my gps died just as I noticed we weren’t on the track.  I had Beto lead the way and we got back on course immediately exiting the canyon and on to the power line.  We spun away to the Texaco where I dropped $6 on 4 AA’s to get my gps going again.

JC Penny model pose overlooking Sycamore Canyon.

We missed about 4 more turns, but soon found ourselves railing the final singletrack into town.  I called Jen to let her know I planned to eat a big breakfast at The Place, then we finished up at around 2 pm.  Beto was pretty stoked to finish unscathed and I was excited to have completed another bikepacking adventure….my 3rd for the year.  I was quite impressed by the difficulty of the course, and was not at all disappointed that we weren’t even close to record pace.  Our first 2 days were tough and I knew that if we pushed on, I’d still have to call in sick on Monday to safely make the drive home.

Beto ready for this ride to be over.

Jen got to do the Wardog Trail Run with Dara, and Troy took care of the kiddos.  Many thanks to the Marinos for being such great hosts.  I owe Troy a big one.  Also thanks to Chad Brown and Scott Morris for putting together what had to be a bit of nightmare in regards to connecting gps files for this big loop.  Keep up the good work brothers.

To summarize:  The Coco 250 is a brutal test that can easily be done in under 3 days.  It is not SS friendly.  It is not hardtail friendly.  I give it a Gnar rating of 5 stars.  The views are about 4 stars.  The camping was 5 stars.  Water accessibility was 5 stars.  Food availability was 4 stars.  I highly suggest you try this route if you haven’t already.

GPS TRACKS!!!  Don’t use these if you do the course.  I missed way too many turns.

Flagstaff to Cottonwood

Cottonwood to Flagstaff

A most trusty rig!

MY BIKE:  I rode the exact same setup I used in the CTR.  I had only cleaned and lubed it since then and added a bit of sealant to each tire.  I ended up breaking a spoke nipple on my rear wheel (no adjustments needed) and by the finish, my chain was sagging pretty good.  No flats in 750 miles!  I made a couple mods to my bar harness which made it even more rock solid than in the CTR.  I also carried a bit less stuff and more water.  Only one tube, no spare shorts and socks, and no rain pants left plenty of room for a 1.5 liter bottle of water.  I had a bit of clunkiness in my fork which after returning home I discovered to be too little air in the negative chamber.  Not bad for a 4 year old fork.

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