This fall marked my third year in a row of bikepacking the Coco 250, a self-supported 250-mile loop starting in Flagstaff. The route goes down to Sedona via the Arizona trail, then across the desert low lands to Cottonwood, then up and over Mingus Mt to the Verde River and then up to Willams, and finally back to Flagstaff. The first year I did the stage race, organized by Arizona Endurance Series which breaks the route into 4 stages. The year after that Chase and I made an attempt at thru-riding the route but ended up bailing and getting a Hotel room in Willams.
This year I decided to give it another go and try to do all 250 miles in one push. I had just bikepacked the Colorado Trail the month before so I was feeling strong. I set a goal of 42hr but really I was just going to get out there and give it my best. I decided to bring a sleeping bag, but other than that I was packing light, warm layers, a repair kit, and a 2.5L MSR bladder in the frame bag.
I started at 730am on Saturday from my house in Flagstaff and rode to The Place Restaurant, which is the official start/finish of the race. The first segment down to Sedona went well and I was treated to a great view from Schnebly Hill vista of freshly rained on red rock.
The riding in Sedona was great after having just gotten some moisture, and I enjoyed the killer single track over broken arrow and out lama trail. Red Rock Park was just closing when I arrived, but I had enough water to get to Cottonwood so I didn’t need to fill up there. The Lime Kiln section was also wet and that made the sandy sections firm which was nice for sure.
The sun set on me mid way on the Line Kiln and I adjusted to the change of pace that night riding tends to bring. There were many hours of darkness and night riding ahead of me and it was with no small amount of dread that I watched that last light fade from the sky.
I arrived at the Maverik in Cottonwood 12hr after starting, which seemed about right. The Maverick gas station is the last food resupply until you reach the town of Willams, so I spent some time loading up on food and water.
The most notorious part of the route is undoubtedly the heinous climb up Mingus Mountain, which has a substantial amount of Hike-A-Bike at the top. I went pretty hard up the climb and made it to the top in just over 3hr, despite sipping around it the mud trying to push my bike up some of the steeper sections.
Things started to go downhill pretty quickly for me after reaching the top of Mingus (no pun intended…) I started to get sick to my stomach and dizzy. I tried to push through it for a few miles but ultimately decide that I needed to get off my bike and lay down, which I did. I pulled out my sleeping bag and immediately passed out under a juniper tree.
After an hour and a half, I woke up hungry and decided that must mean my stomach was working again, so I eat some crackers and got back on the bike to start riding again, this was at about 2am. From there that rest of the night was kind of a blur. Intermittent nausea and fatigue made for slow going, and just before sunrise I laid down again knowing the sun would wake me shortly.
Waking up to the sunshine was great! and I felt way better. I few down the hill to the Verde to start the big climb up the Great Western Route to Willams. The night before I had decided that I was going to drop from the race (guess I was feeling pretty bad) but with the sun up and my stomach feeling better I resolved to push hard and finish. I charged up the biggest climb of the course from the Verde river to the top of Bill Willams in just over 5hr and was down in Willams eating a turkey sandwich by 3pm.
As I pedaled out of Willams I tried to mentally prepare myself for the sun to set and another cold night on the ride back into Flagstaff. Spending two nights out with almost no sleep was not going to be fun but my stomach was feeling better and my legs were still alive. I knew I could do it if I stayed focused. I got through Sycomore Rim Trail just as the sun was setting, which was good because trying to ride through all those rocks in the dark might have broken me. Then finally getting to the smooth flat Garland Prairie Rd, and the final stretch, I felt strong and stood up and pedaled hard up to and over Wing Mt (which is haunted at night, dark and easy to get lost). The last climb up to Aspen Corner was magical in the moon light with aspen leaves quaking in the breeze. I started hooting and hollering as I neared the top, just stoked on the absurdity of what I had just done. This seemed to freak out the people camping in the area, much to my delirious amusement.
I rolled into Flagstaff at midnight. 40 hour 44 minutes after starting. It was dark, cold and deserted at “The Place”. Rather anti-climactic, but I didn’t care, I was happy to have finished. I then trudged home to my warm kitchen and eat the pizza that was waiting for me on the table!
I slept like the dead!