This could probably go in the AZ forum, but I'm more interested in sharing with my PA friends. Also, I'll probably post a link there. Enough intro, here's the story.
Sedona 1: Friday to Sunday
I flew into Phoenix via Charlotte (DNC convention …. oopsie, massive traffic, didn’t interfere with me although I did get a bit nervous about delays). I got to phx on-time, hit the Sedona shuttle and was rolling north in a small white van. Pulled into Sedona (actually Oak Creek, which I now know makes a difference), hit a taco shack in the middle of town, and shortly had a full belly and was greeted by a long-time friend (adopted brother, really): Dave B. We cruised to Absolute Bikes and i picked up my first rental which i was about to have for three days: a 2012 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp (see bike section for thoughts on the bike itself). the shop guys were great -- friendly, knowledgeable; got the bike ready on the early side for me. Basically, i only had to adjust the brake/shifter angle and the seat angle. The drivetrain was setup cleanly and shifted flawlessly for me.
We pointed ourselves directly at some moderate trail to help me get the travel kinks out and to get a feel for my new ride. Parking just north of town, we headed up to the Bell Rock pathway trailhead and did a nice little “warm up” (and stretch out from traveling) of about two hours pedaling and playing on some of the rock obstacles on Bell Rock Pathway, Lower Mystic, Little Horse, Upper Lama (Llama?), Bail, and then back (partially via the single-track bypass -- which we didn’t really dig). The ride was a lot of fun, i got to know Stumpy a bit [incidentally, this was my first time on full-squish] and we had some fun trying some of the trickier ups (mainly on Little Horse, i think). it was a good ride, oddly the weather was hot and a bit humid -- not what I was expecting (ok, I was expecting hot) and my buddy indicated that was sort of out-of-character for local weather. He did say that with us bordering between the end of monsoon (second week of September), the weather was always a bit sketchy (30% chance of storms, every day -- that’s literally the forecast for weeks at a time during monsoon). We had planned on camping south of Oak Creek, but the weather was not looking favorable to a comfortable evening (and we’re getting old and soft) so we headed up to Flag (his home) and slept in pure comfort. Well, the couch as great, anyway.
We also downed a few Alaskan Amber’s in memory of previous westerly trips. It’s not my favorite beer now, but it sure as heck is sentimental to me. I got to meet his wife for the first time which made me super happy (they are also expecting a little one shortly) and we headed back down to Oak Creek in the morning.
We didn’t get as much of an early start as we wanted (ha!) but so be it. We rode out of the Verde Valley trailhead for Baldwin and did Baldwin CCW, the first part of Templeton to Slim Shady, and some of Made in the Shade (exploring back north from the southern intersection with Slim Shady) which we then followed up with road and a detour to the supermarket for sunscreen (doh!). Bell Rock Blvd and Verde Valley School Rd got us back to the trail head . Incidentally, my buddy has been riding Sedona for years, but he’s not really connected to the local mtb community and doesn’t have great knowledge of the off-map/social trails. the shop was nice enough to point us in a few directions that we planned on exploring in “Sedona 2”. The day was great fun, we mostly got our riding down in the AM, but it was WARM. Somewhere early on Templeton after a bit of switchback climbs, there was a bit of a down with open rock, drop, and gap. I decided to attack it (surprise) and landed slightly on angle (and the landing rock was off-camber, as well). The rear tire took exception to all of this, pulled away from the rim (buuuuuuurp), and the tube went POP (big time). I slide and banged into the rock (fortunately, flat open rock), got some scraps and a wonderful bruise on my thigh (four days later, it’s dark purple in a 6” x 9” oval). No worries, but there was a tube to be replaced. I also upped the pressure in the tires a bit. Ha! My buddy was pretty concerned at the pop. He *thought* it was a tube, but he worried it was a bone. Fun stuff.
The Templton -> Slim Shady was really a nice ride; some of the technical climbing on Templeton (and/or Baldwin?) was fun and challenging. Down Slim Shady was very cool -- and literally, it was some nice cover from the sun exposure. We found some nice areas to play when we cranked back up Made in the Shade -- really just an open “playground” which is very cool for an Easterner like myself. We also found some off-shooting trails that we didn’t follow up b/c we were a bit tired and VERY sun-baked. Speaking of which, we headed back to the trailhead, put on swim suits and walked down to Oak Creek near Red Rock Crossing. The water was very brisk which felt great. We got some grub at a sport-ish bar in town (good grub and beer, a few loud pontificators that I could have done without) and set out south to find our camping spot for the night
Red ants were our main enemy and it took quite a while to find a spot out of the radius of the little buggers. But we did and they weren’t a problem. However, there were definitely mosquitoes and some little buzzing black flies that made sleep a bit difficult. Fortunately, the sky was wide open and stars were everywhere. So, when I woke up for the 14th time, I just took in the stars until I fell back asleep. Fun stuff: it was a warm night and I had to fight in/out of the sleeping back with being covered from attacking skeeters. We got treated to a great sunrise and with an early start (always amazing how much easier that is from camp versus home), we went back to the Bell Rock trailhead and went for a slightly more medium-epic day.
I think the ride went like: Bell Rock Pathway (get the camping kinks out), up Llama, up Little Horse to Chapel (Chapel was quite enjoyable). Hit some quick road to upper Mystic (we were curious about pigtail, skipped it this time), and then out to Broken Arrow at Morgan Rd. Broken Arrow definitely had more of the “bigger” slickrock feel than much of what we had done up to that point and it was REALLY fun. I made a very steep ledge-up that just seemed to be calling my name. It had a slight rolling lip to it, so it wasn’t a sharp ledge (like a picnic table would be) -- but man, I was pumped to make it and it felt “easy”. I did have a wipe out from focusing on the next uphill and ignoring the bottom of the current downhill -- washed out in some sand and took a hard shoulder fall with some wind being knocked out of me. But again, all was good. I was slightly disappointed to not make the downsteps coming off of Chicken Point, but I was pretty drained and didn’t feel like pushing it or trying it again. Maybe when I’m more used to full-squish and bigger downs. But rolling Little Horse was great and we made our way to Phone to cut back to the car. We hit a swimming hole about a mile hike from the high bridge north of Sedona proper. Great clear (cold!) water. Almost too cold. But really just perfect. We rolled back to Flag via the beautiful canyon drive.
The Specialized Stumpjump FSR Comp
The bike had a nice setup with some extra wide handle bars (straight bars which felt a little non-ergonomic at times). It was a decent seated climber (with pro pedal on) but I didn’t really do extensive climbs on it (i.e, 45 minutes “up”). It really made drops and gaps fun to land and it really “fit like a glove”. My more advanced friends regularly bemoan my lack of “get back” when going down/over obstances. This bike made that process simple: it just happened -- a slight kick back of my hips and the seat was jumping forward on any bumps and then we were through it and rolling on. I think the suspension had some role in that but even more so, the shorter top tube and short stem really made it work for me. My home bike (a Trek hardtail 29er with the G2 geometry) stretches me out a bit more and truly getting behind the seat while even with horizontal plane is really tough. Long and short of it: i really liked playing on this bike. I was able to do some nice slickrock “ups” on it (including some big step ups) and I certainly hammered some down runs (for me), along with drops and gaps. The landings felt like butter (except for the one ….). My only big question about Stumpy: how would I far on it for an all-day (6-10 hour) pedal epic.
Flagstaff 1: Monday to Wednesday
Monday was a light ride up Mt. Elden on Oldham from Buffalo Park. Well “light” is relative -- I was somewhat ok riding at ~4000 feet in Sedona. But riding from 7000’ -> 7600’ on Oldham was ROUGH that first day. Hell, it was rough all week, but it did get better. We headed down via the east part of Rocky Ridge and then down Easy Oldham. The climb was, well, sort of ridiculous. Altitude, sustained “up”, and technical obstacles made it just brutal for me. I did manage to have fun making a few of the rock obstacles. But, really it was painful because I had nothing in the tank. I haven’t hung my head sucking wind like that for some time. Crossing on Rocky Ridge had some fun stuff, but we cut out before it got really interesting (Dave was saving that for Wednesday). Definitely had some fun playing on the way down: a little too much at one point (got weight forward on a roller and landed front-wheelie rolling -- yikes!). But, at least I wasn’t climbing (until the tricky climb up to Buffalo Park -- fun up and down). Oh yeah, I was also on my new bike: a Pivot 429. This bike did not fit like a glove, but some of that was setup, some was narrower handlebars, and some was just not the same fit as the Stumpy. We grew to work together pretty well.
On Tuesday we climbed Oldham from Buffalo Park (again -- not entirely as bad the second time, but still not “easy”) and then we did Rocky Ridge all the way to Fort Valley Trails. We wound our way through Fort Valley a bit (up the Moto trail to AZ) and then cut out on AZ to forest road 9092. Hit down that road (hopping the whole way) and back into Flagstaff on US-180. The climb into Flag on something like Forest Rd. at a ridiculous grade was a kick in the tail at the end. The ride was a lot of fun. I was able to take a better stab at some of the technical obstacles going up Oldham and I recovered quickly enough to hit Rocky Ridge with some enthusiasm. There were many, many fun obstacles there and I cleaned quite a few of them. My buddy was a bit leary of Fort Valley as being the “shiny new trails” which are more hype than substance. They were definitely hammer-able, smooth and buff. Our suspicion is that a lot of the fun stuff is social. Climbing Moto didn’t really do it for me, but it was good training for the bigger day to come.
Pivot 429 Comments
It’s really hard to talk about the 429. It never “felt” as good as the Stumpy. The bars were too narrow. [And, the bars on my home HT trek now feel too narrow as well.] It wasn’t as plush. But, for crying out loud, I did repeated long, sustained climbs at altitude with her. I was dying. But, the bike wasn’t bobbing around like a boat in my son’s bath tub water. I attribute much of that to the frame’s stiffness. I essentially rode both bikes with Pro-Pedal on the entire time (except a few downhill sections I knew were coming ahead of time). [I’ve since taken a quick test spin on a Giant with Maestro and I was able to stand and mash on it really well. That wouldn’t have happened on the Stumpy, even with pro-pedal -- I think. It might have happened on the 429.] Also, the tires on the 429 were really narrow (2.0). I think that definitely helped keeping the wheel weight down, but it sacrificed on the downs and the shoulder knobs weren’t confidence inspiring. So, it’s hard to assess the 429: I used it really well. I never felt overly comfortable on it. There were several components I would swap around.
And now for a few comments about Flagstaff. My friend Dave B. had been raving about Flag for about 10 years (or so) and living there (mostly) for almost as long. It is a cool town. And there is a plethora of good beer to be found. The Green Room and Hops on Birch are both “good beer” bars. Green Room is more laid back in the afternoon and gets the party crowd at night. I’m an afternoon type at this point. Green Room used to house Mogolon (sp?) brewing and they still stock their beer. Hops on Birch is newer and seems to be doing pretty well. They have a great beer line up (reminds me of Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier, VT). The atmosphere my first visit was ideal. I got into several beer conversations and several other laid back conversations. Hops is doing a WONDERFUL thing: they sell half-pints. Which makes it REALLY easy to try 6 or 8 beers instead of 3 or 4. Which is my goal in life. I think over five visits, I tried about 20 or more beers. For an East-coaster, this was an ideal way to try a lot of West coast beers that I can read about but can’t obtain easily. My later visits to Hops were a slightly marred by “scene” (but only *slightly*). If Hops can be about the beer, they will do really, really well. If they end up being “scene”, they could possibly crash and burn once the “scene” moves on (i.e., gets bored). Perhaps both will happen: the scene will move on and Hops can continued to be about the beer. I have high hopes for Hops and I’d love to visit again when I get back to Flag.
I’d also like to give a bit shout out to Mother Road brewing. US 66 -- Route 66 -- runs through Flag and is nicknamed the “Mother Road” for those that don’t know their Americana. Fortunately, being superior, I *had* to know that ahead of time. (I’m joking folks -- although I did know it.) I had their beer at Hops and then went to the brewery. They have a great, beautiful tasting room area. You can also bring pizza in from next door (the most wonderful continental Italian style -- fresh ingredients, lack of grease, each ingredient standing out on its own). Mother Road is making the best beer in Flag (in my opinion, of course). Try to get your hands on the White and Black IPA. The English bitter was perfect as well. Great beers. Go there. Now. Well, maybe wait until your down with your current task. Then go. Quickly.
Thursday was our mammoth ride. Again up Oldham we then did the “big” climb up Brookbank. Loose crap everywhere and really steep. It was almost impossible to balance the weight to keep the front down and the rear wheel gripping. Good grief. Let me rephrase that. Holy crap. Just unbelievable climbing. But, it was definitely rewarded by the views of former San Francisco mountain (Humphrey’s, Agassiz, etc.) and a few sections of blissful rolling singletrack through high mountain fields. Wow. Talk about “earning it”. More and more climbing and then finally down through Sunset. That was a killer fun descent. Definitely had to restrain myself to keep from getting in way over my head (and over my handlebars). We saw a great red-tailed hawk enjoying the day at the Sunset trailhead. Then we continued down Schultz Creek for another 4 miles of rolling goodness. After all the ridiculous climbing, the payoff at the end was perfect (so was the weather). We avoided Rocky Ridge by hitting forest road 557 back up to Easy Oldham and, surprisingly, I had something left for the climb into Buffalo Park. Really a brilliant ride.
Friday was a day off. Friday night we camped out near Lake Mary. The night was great sleeping weather. I got to enjoy the howls of the coyotes and the mating calls of Mr & Mrs elk. The elk calls were really amazing: they sounded like a high pitched wooden whistle. Needless to say, the stars were unreal. And, a few treasured pieces of juniper wood gave some wonderfully fragrant smoke. On Saturday, we hit Sandy’s Canyon to Arizona B out to Marshall Lake. Sandy’s Canyon was a fun descent and the floor of the canyon was beautiful. Climbing back out (completing the canyon crossing) was tough but doable. But then things got rough. There were numerous steep climbs on big scrabble. And I kept fighting them. Dave B wisely hopped off and walked them. He was feeling much stronger later on. But, the scree climbs were a “fun” challenge and I’m glad I hit all 47 of them. (Ok, really, there are probably 4 or 5 of them.) But, again, there was a great payoff: some blissful rolling single track out near forest road 9481Q. Is it worth it? It completely depends on whether you are willing to pay to play. You could probably just drive to Fort Valley and slam around without the entrance fee. But, the feeling after you’ve earned it is its own reward. Some of the high fields were great and the long views near Marshall out to Humphrey’s were just golden flowers (goldenrod?) in golden sun in their brilliant end-of-summer glory.
On Sunday the goal was Highline. It took some time to find and I can understand why trails like it (and more advanced trails) are not announced to everyone. People could definitely end up in sketchy predicaments. I finally found the trail head and headed up. Made in the Shade is a good “tester” for mini-exposure like you’ll find on some of the heaftier trails. Unfortunately, my buddy took a strain/spill -- wasn’t warmed up -- and dinged himself and his ride on Slim Shady. So, I had to solo Highline. Some hikers were following me so i figured at least the vultures wouldn’t get my body. The climbing didn’t feel that bad (thanks Flag) and the obstacles weren’t bad at all. But, the exposure (aka, drop the hell off the cliff) that went from “not really there” to one or two spots with a turn and a definite drop -- made the ride very intense for me. It definitely screwed with my head and made some easy things much more difficult than they would be otherwise. That is to say, I felt like some of my technique degraded to that of my five-year son. I did go to scooter mode in two spots.
Yet again, the payoff was worth it. At the high point on Highline, there is a great shade tree and a nice little wall to rest on for a few minutes. the view gave a very different perspective on the red rock features because you are “up” and looking across at features instead of up at them (of course there are higher things as well). I was looking to exit on Transcept (and come out near town), but that wasn’t to be. I headed further out Highline and into, what felt like, the middle of nowhere. There was some great rolling track in there and some doable drops. But, then, the trail kicked into some bigger DH style stuff which I wasn’t prepared for. Maybe with a couple friends, 9-1- predialed, armor, and bigger travel I would *try* some of the features. But, not that day. So, I walked a lot -- even with a smile on my face. I still tried some of the tamer obstacles and eventually got out into a wash. I was literally following bike tracks at this point but amazingly I popped out on Baldwin and headed back to the closer-to-town trailhead. Unfortunately, b/c I missed Transcept I was far out the road and had a long crank back to town and then climbing up through the *cough* golf course. But, I survived, I had a taste of “off map” in Oak Creek, and I was *done*.
All-in-all, it was a massively wonderful epic trip. Even without the biking, it would have been 100% worthwhile to see DB and his wife. With the riding, I had a massive experience and something to share with MTBR. Thanks, AZ!
Some overall stats for the 10-days: ~110 miles, 12000 feet of climbing, and 27 hours on the trail. Woot!
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Thread: Trip Report: Epic AZ Visit
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