Words by Dana Ernst, Photos by Sam McLaughlin, Jake Keyser, and Dana Ernst
The inaugural edition of Pinyons and Pines started at 6AM on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Despite the weather forecast calling for snow, rain, and strong winds for the second day of the race, 39 people were at the start. Four pairs were racing in the duo category and the rest were racing solo. In an attempt to get ahead of the weather, two individuals and one duo started ITTs at various times the day before.
Every rider received a free event patch, a coupon for a free pizza at Pizzicletta, and a sample of Squirrel’s Nut Butter Saddle Butter. Folks started gathering at Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution about an hour before go time. The shop was gracious enough to provide coffee and donuts for riders. After riders had a chance to mingle, I made a few quick announcements and then we were off.
The group stayed together during the neutral roll out, but as soon as the race was officially on, several riders, including myself, upped the pace as we entered the first section of singletrack. A small group consisting of Ty Hopkins, Chris Cone, Micah Clinger, Lucas Ratliff, Mack Gerrit (riding single speed), and myself were the first to reach Sedona (mile 67) after roughly seven hours. All of us stopped at Burger King to refuel. At this point, Ben Hanus was about 30 minutes back and Chris Seistrup, (winner of the 2019 Tour Divide), was two hours behind. Hanus and Seistrup would go on to place first and second overall.
Two duos and 23 solo riders successfully completed the first loop. In addition, Ceasar Medina and the duo consisting of Jeff Hemperley and Holly Hovious completed the first loop, having started their ITTs the night before the grand depart. Despite the threat of severe weather, a total of 14 riders were inspired to start the second loop. Hanus, Seistrup, and Durham started the second loop just before midnight.
Meanwhile, Cone and I had detoured to the Flagstaff Nordic Center to refill on water and catch an hour of sleep. Around this time, the temperature started to drop and the wind was getting angry. Shortly after leaving Flagstaff, Seistrup stopped to sleep trailside for a couple hours while Hanus and Durham pressed on. At around 4:00 AM, Durham stopped to sleep and escape the wind in the Chapel of the Holy Dove, which is a short distance off route. Here’s what Durham posted on Facebook a couple of hours later: “I’m bailing, the wind is insane and real cold. Made it to hy180 at 4am and took shelter, was so cold. Woke up to gusting winds, and they seem to be getting stronger. Going to get a ride back to flag. I’ll give it another go next year. Thanks Dana Ernst.”
Cone and I made it to the AZT cache box on Babbitt Ranch (mile 190) just as the sun was rising. Sometime during the night, I had a silly crash while riding uphill and smashed my knee into my handlebars. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but by morning, I was having quite a bit of pain while pedaling. While Cone and I were eating breakfast at the AZT cache box, Hanus was south of Kendrick Peak (roughly mile 155) and Seistrup was traversing the AZT west of the San Francisco Peaks (roughly mile 140). Hanus and Seistrup would reach the AZT cache box roughly 3.75 and 6 hours later, respectively.
Around 9:00 AM on day two, most of the racers who decided to tackle the second loop were getting started. At this time, Cone and I were slogging our way up the cinder road east of O’Leary Peak. The wind was battering us while Hanus and Seistrup were occasionally treated to the world’s best tailwind. At mile 227, Cone and I turned onto pavement near Sunset Crater. The headwind was so intense at this point that we had to stand and pedal in our easiest gear while riding downhill. Both of us were blown off the road multiple times. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. We arrived at the Sunset Crater Visitor’s Center (mile 231) at 10:00 AM. We took shelter from the wind for almost an hour and contemplated our fate. The wind was continuing to howl and it was snowing and raining on the Peaks, which is where the route headed next. We had legitimate concerns about the wind, weather, and falling trees along Waterline Road, which was burned in the massive Schultz Fire in 2010. I was also having serious doubts about my knee being able to make it the rest of the way. Ultimately, Cone decided to scratch while I reluctantly chose to press on.
The time off the bike made my knee worse, but I hoped that it would improve after I got rolling again. The climb up to Lockett Meadow was absolutely brutal in the wind. I had to get off and walk several times because the wind was so strong. By the time I made it to the meadow around 12:30 PM it was alternating between rain and snow. Meanwhile, those who’d started the second loop that morning were on the other side of the Peaks and getting dumped on by snow. Around this time, Hanus was riding the cinder road on the east side of O’Leary Peak while Seistrup was getting hammered with a cross wind near SP Crater. Typically I would (barely) ride up the Inner Basin Trail to Waterline Road, but the pain in my knee was significant enough that I walked nearly the whole thing. I was somewhat sheltered from the wind, but the trees were swaying back and forth while creaking. The numerous downed trees across the trail were not encouraging.
When I finally reached Waterline Road, I was greeted by a driving rain. Part of me was looking forward to the long descent down Waterline Road so that I could rest my knee, but I was also concerned about the wind. Unfortunately, the cold rain coupled with a ridiculous number of downed trees didn’t give me the reprieve that I was hoping for. Moreover, the wind was downright terrifying and I had to be careful not to get blown off the side of the mountain. Unfortunately, intense sharp pain in my knee prevented me from riding anything I couldn’t coast down, and after riding 262 miles in 33.5 hours I had to drop out and call my wife for a ride.
Hanus and Seistrup solidered on, battling wind, rain, and snow. Hanus rolled into the finish at Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution around 11:30pm with a finish time of 1 day, 17 hours, 20 minutes. Seistrup finished a few hours later with a time of 1 day, 20 hours, 10 minutes. The 2019 Pinyons and Pines had a whopping two finishers. The duo consisting of Hemperley and Hovious returned a couple weeks later to ride the second loop in more favorable conditions. The first loop also saw two ITTs from duos later in the summer. Despite the fact that the weather got the better of us, I think the first edition of Pinyons and Pines was a success. I intend to make a few tweaks to the route for next year while keeping the spirit the same.
Not counting Liz Sampey who joined us for part of the first loop and never intended to ride the whole route, we only had one solo female rider (Lindsey Shepard) this year. This is clearly an area that needs improvement and I hope to see more women at the event next year!
Congrats to everyone who showed up for the grand depart, and to Ben Hanus (Buena Vista, CO) and Chris Seistrup (Prescott, AZ) for taking first and second place. Their finish times were 1 day, 17 hours, 20 minutes (01:17:20) and 1 day, 20 hours, 10 minutes (01:20:10), respectively.