Flagstaff draws us all up for different reasons. Some make the drive to visit family and old stompin’ grounds from childhood. Others wait for Winter snowfall to ski at Arizona Snowbowl, and a handful have made the cool pine country of Northern Arizona a yearly pilgrimage to escape the long summers of the Sonoran Desert. In mid-September, a group of us were there for exactly that – to beat the lingering heat of Summer and enjoy cool nights and long days of pedaling Bikepacking Root’s Craters and Cinder Cones Loop.
This ride was billed as our advanced route given the daily mileage and elevation gain, yet there were options for folks to cut the route short if energy or skills weren’t up for the full meal. Running clockwise from Flagstaff, on our fire-closure modified version of the route, we’d cover around 50 miles per day on beautiful forest service roads, in and out of the historic town of Williams, and finally loop back to our cars via a 30 mile stretch of rough singletrack on the Arizona Trail. We’ve hosted a number of rides since starting up our bikepacking trips again last November, and it was good to see a mix of new and repeat faces this time around.
A good portion of the crew coincidentally met up Friday morning at Macey’s European Coffeehouse, and the cool, bordering on cold, morning temps had us lingering over coffee and wondering if we’d brought enough layers. Later on, we all convened at a dog park on the edge of town, finished packing our bikes, and made a quick round of introductions. In total, we were 15 riders on a mix of hardtails, full squishers and fully rigid bikes ready for the weekend.
Tossing all worries of warmth aside, the route immediately climbed the short but steep path up Mars Hill, and with it, any worries of too many layers. Most of the riders were coming from months of desert heat, so the cool pines of 7,000’ were a welcome change. The Flagstaff area had recently received a devastating amount of rain, but lucky for us, a host of wildflowers were still in bloom, including the crimson red of the fetid goosefoot that blanketed the route on day three.
Just before lunch, we made a side trip to the Lava River Caves on the eastern edge of Government Prairie and spent an hour exploring the mile long tube cave. This system was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago following an eruption and rapid cooling of the lava flow. We walked, shimmied and ducked until we could go no further. About 30 miles in for the day, we stopped for lunch, Michael brewed up some afternoon coffee, and we crossed Historic Route 66 for the final miles to our camp for the evening.
As the sun set and we neared the Dogtown Lake Campground, the mosquitos came out in swarms. Guy, the campground host, asked if we had any preferences for our site, to which Jeff replied, “You got any without mosquitos?” We were directed to sites 49 and 53, or was it 51 and 53? We fumbled around for a bit in the fading light and finally settled into the evening routines of laying out bedrolls, boiling up little pots of water for meals, and as has become tradition on our rides, gathered around the fire for S’Moreos.
Day two started with a brief climb and then a fast road section to the Safeway in Williams, Arizona, our only resupply for the weekend. We overtook the tables and chairs out front and set about playing Tetris with our bike bags and food resupplies. Chris was celebrating his 32nd birthday, so we sang him a quick song and enjoyed a round of frosted cupcakes. From there we headed north out of town, filled water at the Chevron on Highway 64, and settled into an afternoon of riding on quiet fire roads with sweeping views of Sitgreaves Mountain and Kendrick Peak.
A stout climb awaited us at the end of the day, so we all settled into paces and rhythms that made sense for each of us. Mike, Jeff, Chris and Henley stopped for lunch at Howard Mesa and continued on as the rest of the group had lunch right before the last big push. The Stagecoach 100 had just finished up earlier that morning, so the climb up Bull Basin Mesa was flagged here and there and made for a little extra motivation.
From about 5:30PM to around 8PM our group arrived in waves at our campsite for the evening. It had turned cold and the wind was gusting to 30MPH, so we kept a fire going and gave welcome hoots to the riders finishing with headlamps. All together again, a bottle of whisky was produced to further celebrate Chris’ birthday, and down went the last of the S’Moreos. Having pedaled up from Phoenix via some shenanigans on the Arizona Trail, Erik joined the group and rounded out our eclectic group of riders with his titanium Omnium cargo bike. Jeff ate his first packet of Ramen. What a day.
Day three dawned, and the wind had thankfully died down. Our water supply for the evening and morning came from an ingenious and enormous rainwater tank, so we spent a good chunk of the morning filtering and calculating our needs for a big day of riding. The planned route took us on a big chunk of singletrack west of the San Francisco Peaks and down into Flagstaff via an alternate of the Arizona Trail. Several riders opted to head towards food and beer a little quicker via Highway 180 while the others peeled off for the AZT.
The trail climbed through aspens up towards Arizona Snowbowl and then began the big drop and final miles into town. Nate, Josh and Ryan made their own way, while Mike seemed to make quick work of the trail, even on a fully rigid dropbar Karate Monkey. Toby, Chris and Henley finished the final miles together in the dark and arrived at Mother Road Brewery to celebrate with drinks and tater tots with the rest of the group.
Many thanks to all the riders who made this trip happen and to the following folks for contributing their photos: Elisha, Erik, Gypsy, Henley, Josh, Nate, Scott and Toby.
Want to join us on an upcoming trip? Take a look at our upcoming rides here, and don’t forget to join us for our monthly Breakfast by Bike events.