Coconino 250 Journal

The Coconino 250 is a diverse and challenging loop that starts and ends in Flagstaff, AZ. It travels through the towns of Sedona, Cottonwood, and Williams. Sharing many passages of the Arizona Trail and trails of Sedona, climbing over Magnus Mtn., traversing the Verde River Valley and Walnut Canyon, skirting Mt, Humphrey, and winding through amazing ponderosa forests near Flagstaff the Coconino 250 is as much challenging as it is diverse. What follows is my Coconino 250 Journal:

I rode the Coconino 250 as a shakedown ride for my Triple Crown of Bikepacking. It was only my second multi-day bikepacking trip. The Coconino taught me some good lessons which really helped me during my Triple Crown. Though an incredibly tough experience, I loved the landscapes and challenges the Coconino had to offer.

Ride Data

240.2 miles
Sedona, AZ  to Sedona, AZ
May 19th – 10:12am to May 22nd – 11:30am
3 days 0 hours 42 minutes
Average daily mileage: 80.1
Moving average speed: 5.0 mph
Route average speed: 3.3 mph
Moving Time: 2:00:17
Stopped time:  1:00:25

Day 1

May 19th

10:12 am to 10:45 pm

45 – miles

Sedona to Mignus Mtn.

I had planned to start the loop in Flagstaff, as that is the official starting point but when I arrived the night before it snowed! The mud on Anderson Mesa and the surrounding Flagstaff area isn’t to be trifled with.

When I woke up to snow I decided to drive to Sedona and start from there. I knew it would be snow free as it’s much lower in elevation than Flagstaff. The only issue with that plan was where to leave my truck. After much research and many phone calls I found out you could leave your car in the Basha’s (grocery store) parking lot.

The bike shop was the next stop for some last minute supplies and then I finally threw a leg over Phillip around 10 am. We had to ride surface streets a few miles to gain the official course, which was just south of town. My starting point happened to be a pavement section so the start was great.

The first section of single track was great. We tackled the first tricky descent of many and it was on to more flowing trail. I saw a lot of hikers as it was the weekend. Phillip and I made our way south, turned west and crossed 179 and headed towards Oak Creek.

Getting to Oak Creek was tougher than expected and by now I was already questioning having my rigid fork on Phillip. Once we left the creek it was easy going to Red Rock State Park. By now the day was quite hot and the sun was intense.

Between Red Rock S.P. and Cottonwood the trail was much flatter and not as technical. We rode through large open grass fields on double track and single track. At times the tread was hard as rock and some times it was fine beach sand.

As we approached Dead Horse Ranch State Park the trail got a bit more challenging, but it didn’t last long. By now I was really hot and feeling the effects of the heat. I decided to take a break at RIOT, a restaurant in Cottonwood. I got a burger and drank a ton of water.

This was my only big break of the day, so I took my time. As Phillip and I left town we resupplied at a gas station. We left with extra fluids to be safe, even though I knew we had to go up and over Mignus Mtn and would have to haul the weight.

The climbing started right away and it was exposed rocky dirt roads without any shade. I did a lot of pushing and stopping. Finally the route turned off the road and became single track. The riding was good but I was getting tired.

The sun started to set as the climb got steeper. The trail wasn’t very wide and it was quite rocky so I my generator hub wasn’t producing any light. I was worried I was going to crash or roll an ankle. I rode as long as I could without using my head lamp but finally got it out.

Upon pulling out my head lamp and it wouldn’t turn on! I tired in vain but I couldn’t figure it out. I tried a bunch of different things but finally gave up. It was one of those lamps with a lock feature. I stumbled my way up the steepest pitches of Mignus by starlight. My pace was so incredibly slow. I cursed myself for such a rookie mistake.

Finally we made it to the top and back to dirt roads. We pushed on a few miles, and as the trail began to descended I decided I had put in enough miles for the first day.

I found Phillip and I a great spot off to the side of a small clearing next to the road. We were concealed enough not to be disturbed by the ORV’s and other campers. Since I didn’t have a working head lamp I would repeatedly spin Phillip’s front wheel to make light so I could see and do my camp chores.

Day 2

May 20th

6:30 am to 10:15 pm

82.9 miles – 127.9 total miles

Mingus Mtn. to Walnut Canyon

Despite some loud campers and passing ORVs in the night I slept pretty well. It was a bit chilly but I stayed warm in my quilt and emergency bivy. When I woke up some teenagers walked by but didn’t see me, when I started to leave I spooked the hell out of them.

It was a good thing we stopped when we did. The descent was long and quite fast at times. On the lower slopes of the mountain we turned onto a single track and it would have been quite challenging in the dark. We popped out of the woods at Hwy. 89A, crossed the road, then had to lift Phillip over a locked gate to continue.

The next section followed a set of power lines. This meant no shade, lots of exposure, and bad tread. It was still early in the day but the sun was already making things hot. We left the power lines to follow a serpentine route along Forest Service Road 318a. During this section I was really feeling yesterdays effort.

We turned left onto Forest Service Road 318 which followed a spine almost all the way to the Verde River. The only thing I saw out there were a few ORVs who kicked up tons of dust. Phillip and I reached the Verde River around lunch time and the heat was unbelievable. I was already dehydrate when I got there. I filled up my water supply and had a snack before moving on.

After leaving the river there was over 20 miles of climbing and over 3000′ of elevation gain. This is the point where I really started to struggle with the heat. My pace slowed to a crawl and I plodded along. Finally, I found some shade under some juniper trees and stopped to take a nap. I had to move cow pies and few rocks but I was able to carve out a little oasis for myself.

The nap and snack I had helped a lot but I was really dehydrated and the miles going into Williams were tough. Not long after my nap the landscape began to change with the elevation gain and trees began to offer some shade.

As we neared Williams my front tire started to go low. I stopped once to top it off enough to make it to town and continued on. Making it to town was a big relief. With that said I was hurting. Our first stop was to hit a convenience store for some Gatorade, water, and more snacks. Man, did that Gatorade taste good going down!

I found a pizza place and order a pie for dinner but I wasn’t very hunger due to still being dehydrated. I ate as much as I could and wrapped the last few slices in tin foil to go.

My tire was still leaking so I pumped it up again and headed out of town. Not long after hitting the first dirt road out of town I stopped again to pump up my tire. This time it wasn’t working. After a few failed attempts I decided to replace the valve core as the current one was sticking. The new valve core did the trick and finally Phillip was back to 100%.

By now it was dusk and getting dark fast. Because I was so focused on being dehydrated I didn’t think to get online and see how to unlock my head lamp. This meant another night in camp without a light again.

The next few miles were flat all dirt roads which was quite enjoyable. We finally stopped at the beginning of Walnut Canyon. I wasn’t about to try and tackle any single track in the dark and I was pretty wiped out from the dehydration.

Using the light on my phone I set up camp in the dark. Camp was on a little ledge in a beautiful Ponderosa forest. Phillip and I slept on a bed of needles for the second night!

Day 3

May 21st

6:30 am to 10:05 pm

76.4 miles – 204.3 total miles

Walnut Canyon to Lake Mary Road

I definitely heard some strange noises in the night. One time I busted out my phone and used the light to try and see. I couldn’t see shit but mentally it felt good to let whatever it was that I was aware of its presents.

Like clock work Phillip and I were out of camp at 6:30. I felt much better than I did when I went to bed. Walnut Canyon was really beautiful and very funny to ride through. At times it was rocky and hard to keep a rhythm. Finally the single track ended and we were once again on dirt roads. I was really happy I got to see it in the day light.

Upon crossing I-40 we stopped at the gas station / country store for more fluids and got a breakfast burrito. Knowing that I didn’t want to repeat yesterday I took my time at the store and really fueled up. I left feeling good.

The next section was all logging roads. I missed a turn or two and had to some backtracking but still made good time. Shortly after crossing Hwy. 180 we stopped for a break and I saw my first mountain biker since Sedona. We were just getting going when we saw him but he quickly dropped me.

We climbed toward the lower slopes of Mt. Humphrey’s and the AZT. Once to the AZT I took another break and saw a few hikers while resting on a log. Once going Phillip and I had a blast! This section of the AZT was so much fun. At times it was fast and flowing and others it was technical and challenging. We continued to see more mountain bikers as I got closer to Flagstaff.

We navigated the surface streets and into downtown Flagstaff where our first stop was Chipotle. Man did it taste good! I got a chicken quesadilla to go and it was back to the route. The trail leading out of town might have been my favorite section of trail on the whole loop.

We over took a hiker and he had his head lamp on. I noticed it was the same one I had. I asked if he knew how to turn the lock off and he didn’t! Of course there was no cell service to look it up online, so for the third night in a row I had no camp light. Unlike the first night on Mignus Mtn, I wasn’t climbing and had enough speed so my generator hub was producing light.

The rocks of Anderson Mesa were really tough in the dark. I had a tough go of it but I kept reminding myself I was at the end of my second big day of riding. Do so I accepted my situation and just kept turning the pedals and cranked out the miles. After riding for almost 3+ hours in the dark I decided to call it a night just before Mary Lake Road.

You guessed it, another night on a soft bed of pine needles. Phillip and I were in heaven!

Day 4

May 22nd

6:30 am to 11:30 am

35.9 miles – 240.2 total miles

Walnut Canyon to Lake Mary Road

Last night was another chilly night. There was some road noise as we were only a few hundred feet from the road. In hind sight we should have stopped sooner or crossed the road and went on some to avoid the noise.

The first third of the day was more amazing riding. We road along an old railroad bed then into a large field where crossed paths with some deer and a few elk. The tread was narrow and at times was rocky but we made descent time.

Just west of Mormon Lake the Coconino leaves the AZT and heads west. Throughout this section we road a bunch of dirt roads. After skirting the southern edge of a nearby peak the route started to descend. We went downhill for roughly 25 miles. There were some climbs but mostly it was trending downhill.

After crossing I-17 we climbed a short way to the edge of the mesa we were on. From that point it was all downhill to the round about where we started. Having a rigid fork on Phillip didn’t make for a fun descent. What was even worse was the single track the route took near the bottom.

After descending for miles and with numb hands, Phillip and I popped out on pavement and it was smooth sailing to the finish. We still had to climb a couple of miles back to the car but at that point a few more miles didn’t bother us.

It felt great to finish and complete our first multi-day bikepacking adventure. Back at the truck I changed into casual clothes and cleaned up best I could in a busy parking lot. I went to the taco place down the road and enjoyed a great meal while evaluating the ride.

Final Thoughts

The Coconino 250 is a great bikepacking loop! The diversity of the riding and landscape make for an excellent loop. The services are nicely spaced out, making it easy to resupply and it helps to limit how much you need to carry.

I would not ride this loop without suspension again. A full suspension would be nice but a hardtail would work fine too. I would do your best to ride the section between Mignus Mtn. and Williams when the sun isn’t it’s hottest like I did. It’s a tough section to carry enough water not to keep from getting dehydrated.

Overall loved the Coconino 250 and would ride it again. Next time I’ll learn how to unlock my head lamp though.

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