Artwork by Duane Koyawena.
The 2023 Grand Depart took place at 6am on Thursday, May 18. Check out the event recap by Matt Annabel, Dana Ernst, Cassidy Howard, and Wyatt Spalding on Bikepacking.com. Matt also had a chat about his experience with Quinn Travis on the Stoke Podcast. Leigh Bowe describes her experience racing while lactating in Whoa Baby Part 2: My journey to be a competitive bikepacking mama over on The Town Bicycle. Also, check out Jesse Reeves’ recap video, as well as Chris Wilson’s recap video of the ITT he did a week before the grand depart.
Mother nature came to play this year. Day two of the race dumped a LOT of rain on the AZT along a section that is notorious for “death mud”. In order to protect both the trail and the integrity of bikepacking races like Pinyons and Pines, we made the call mid-race to avoid miles 219-263 and 288-295, which utilize the AZT. This decision was based on the radar, word of mouth about conditions on the course, and discussions with folks familiar with the area and bikepacking races. If even one person outside of the event complained that we destroyed the AZT, it could put this event and others like it at risk. Currently, we fly under the radar and abide by rules concerning “events” under 75 people. We opted to play it safe and not risk the potential for damage. This decision is likely unpopular for some folks, but we stand by it. We were not terribly concerned about riders mucking around in the mud on dirt roads. Riding around in the rain and mud isn’t very enjoyable, but we didn’t have any apprehension about most of the rest of the course.
Once the decision to modify the route was made, we did our best to notify all of the short course riders that were spread out over a hundred miles of the course. We sent a text message to every rider on the short course, an email to all the riders, and posted on social media. It took a while, but eventually the word got out. Thankfully it was pretty easy to bypass miles 219-263 by utilizing Lake Mary Road. This potential detour was relayed to riders several days in advance when the weather forecast looked pretty grim. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an easy to implement detour to bypass miles 288-295.
Riders were instructed to do one of the following:
Unfortunately, the timing of these events had a significant impact on the outcome of the race. The three leaders (Jacob Miller, Stephen Scherle, and Jesse Reeves) were already in the midst of riding the AZT. The gaps between these riders were pretty significant and we are confident that if the shit hadn’t hit the fan, Jacob Miller, Stephen Scherle, and Jesse Reeves would have finished first, second, and third respectively. The hope was to get all three to follow the same route back to town, but alas that isn’t how things transpired. Jacob opted to rejoin the route at mile 263.5 and followed Wiemer Springs Road all the way back to Lake Mary Road. In hindsight, I (Dana) wish I would have initially encouraged all three riders to do this. I was in the midst of responding to numerous messages, attempting to give beta to folks out in the storm, and by the time I realized what route Jacob was taking, it didn’t leave much time to get the word out to Stephen and Jesse. I attempted to contact them, but they were likely out of cell range or just had their heads down and were trying to make it back to town. In the end, Stephen made it to the finish first, but Jacob followed more of the course and rode significantly more miles with quite a bit more climbing. Jesse followed the same route as Stephen.
Meanwhile the next group of riders, which contained the top four women, were about to enter the section of the AZT we were concerned about. At this time, it is likely that a few of them had not gotten the word on the upcoming conditions. I (Dana) exchanged several text messages with Sam McLaughlin. He indicated that conditions didn’t look too bad at the beginning of the AZT section. I figured this would be the case based on the soil in the area. I told him that I trusted his judgement and to do what he thought was best. He and the lead pink dots (Lilly Hacker, Claire Burke, Leigh Bowe, and Liz Sampey) all opted to give it a go. Eventually, all of them were confronted with the notorious Northern Arizona death mud and turned around. The top five pink dots opted to pull the plug at that point and got a ride back to Flagstaff.
One regret I have is not more clearly communicating to the rest of the folks out on course that they were encouraged to give the lollipop on the Mogollon Rim a shot. I knew that this section of the course had not received as much rain and I had no concerns about folks riding on potentially muddy roads.
By the end of day two, the short course turned into the “choose your own adventure” edition of Pinyons and Pines. As time went on, things dried out and conditions improved. This meant that riders near the back of the pack were able to ride more and more of the intended course. Instead of listing finish times for folks like we have in the past, we will attempt to summarize who rode what version of a loop.
Complete Short Course: Rich Meyers is the only grand depart rider to complete the short course in its entirety. Timing was everything this year and Rich lucked out with good weather. The mud that the leaders encountered was pretty much gone by the time Rich reached the AZT. Great job Rich! In addition, Chris Wilson rode the full short course (including Heart Trail, which was on the originally proposed route) during an ITT a week before the grand depart. Check out Chris’ recap video here.
Lake Mary Road Bypass of Miles 219-263: Lindsay Nohl, Spencer Holmes, Marin Sigurdson. These three skipped the worst of the mud and rode the rest of the route.
Lake Mary Road bypass of Miles 219-297: Cole Chambers, Sam McLaughlin. Sam was near the front of the race and was one of the riders that attempted to ride the AZT during the storm and then turned back. Not to be deterred from riding the finale, both Sam and Cole pedaled Lake Mary Road back towards town and then sent the finale on Mount Elden the following day. Sam rode more of the finale than Cole, but did similar loops.
Lake Mary Road bypass of Miles 219-330: Allison Bohn (extra credit: headed back out and rode final 43 miles with Cami Scott a couple days later), Joe Pavlik, Cassidy Howard (extra credit: took Wiemer Springs Road instead of Lake Mary Road for a portion), Randy Windle, Oly Abbate/Andrew Hobson (extra credit: this duo had more fun than everyone else combined)
Mini Pinyons and Pines: This group turned left at mile 156, pedaled Lake Mary Road back to town, skipped the lollipop on the Mogollon Rim. Alizabeth Potucek, Bret Parke, Jeremy Hardwick, Justin McKinley, Samuel Cramer/Joe Green, Effie Bourgin, Hannah Dhonau, Tom Nemann, Greg Dunham, James Morrison (ITT), Chris Piercecchi (ITT), Mike Banfield (ITT), Steven Mantani (extra credit: also did an out and back on Lake Mary Road to Clints Well), Doug Whitbeck (extra credit: also did an out and back on Lake Mary Road to Clints Well with Tiffany), Tiffany Love-Chezem (extra credit: also did an out and back on Lake Mary Road to Clints Well with Doug). Doug and Tiffany also rode the last 30 miles or so of the course the day after they pedaled back to Flagstaff.
DNF: I hope most of these riders will come back next year and give it another go. Brad Mattingly, Chris Kuzdas, Daniel Dickason, Dave Fotsch, Jeff Hemperley, Daniel Cherenson, Lilly Hacker, Claire Burke, Leigh Bowe, Liz Sampey, Sarah Higgins, Daniel Lambert, Wyatt Spalding, Lawrence Dennis, Cami Scott, Dexter Kopas, Ted Albright, Meg Knobel, Henry Vogel, Mike Farrel, Mike Root, Scott Lotz/Nico Hawbaker, Louie Konkol, Alek Konkol, Matt Murray, Tiona Eversole (ITT).
The long course riders also had to battle the weather with a massive storm bombarding them in the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott. Day three required many miles of walking in death mud to reach Camp Verde. All of the riders that finished are tough as nails.
|Matt Annabel||Carbondale, CO||4:15:59||First place overall! Single speed. Broken crank arm repaired in Camp Verde. Only 500 rider to complete entire route with no deviations.|
|Dylan Turner||Flagstaff, AZ||4:17:37||Death mud deviation.|
|Karin Pocock||Blue River, CO||5:19:41||Approved deviation around flooded single track in Prescott.|
|Emily Elliot||Redlands, CA||4:19:2||Significant deviations from route. Missed Prescott loop due to weather. Mountain lion encounter!|
|Seth Holmes||Longmont, CO||3:7:56||Significant deviations from route. Skipped lollipop on Mogollon Rim.|
|Matt Porembski||Mesa, AZ||DNF|
|John Phelps||Montrose, CO||DNF|
|Paul Kuzdas||Phoenix, AZ||DNF|
|Zachariah Merrigan||Mancos, CO||DNF|
|Timothy Nipper||Albuquerque, NM||DNF|
|Blake Bockius||Truckee, CA||DNF|