It was finally Fall Break after a tumultuous first quarter of teaching at a new school. I was burnt out and in need of some desperate outside time. I had been wanting to do the Craters and Cinder Cones Loop for some time now and the weather up north looked absolutely perfect for taking it on. Plus, it would serve as a chance to escape the late-season desert heat and seem some fall foliage.
I packed up the bike as soon as school was done Friday and drove north to Flagstaff where I crashed at my friends’ house (Esther and Mike). They graciously allowed me to use their house as a base for me to leave my car and store some gear while I spent a few days out riding (even when I lost their garage remote!). We stayed up late eating pizza, talking about teaching, and reflecting on life.
The next morning, I got up to a frigid blast of fall air, packed up the bike, and jumped on route. I rode from their place on the east side of the city downtown along the ACA Route 66 Bicycle Route. From downtown Flagstaff, I jumped on the Urban Trails System and sped eastward to a park that led up Observatory Mesa (past the Lowell Observatory of Pluto-discovery fame). It felt beautiful to be racing through the pines with crisp fall air set against a backdrop of deep blue skies. The route wove through miles of forest service roads, past cattle roaming the woods, and ranchlands amongst the pines.
The woods suddenly opened up into a spread of prairie with gorgeous views of the San Francisco Peaks accompanied by a solid wind. I picked my way down a descent and swung left onto a pine-needle covered double track that looked rarely used. I passed through several burn zones as I swung towards Kendrick Peak and its small range. I soon realized I was cycling on the south side of Kendrick and was on the Barn Burner Race route (the race that had killed me) along with its crazy chunky volcanic rock. Eventually I swung past a series of rentable Forest Service cabins along a beautiful lake. Shortly after, my first views of golden aspen came into view.
I climbed further north towards the peak before swing in a wide arc south where I passed over Route 66 proper and faced a killer headwind on tarmac. I was in a several mile prairie that flanks the highway and the unbridled wind slowed me to a crawl. The day was getting on late as I entered the National Forest south of Williams, swung by White Horse Lake, and then did the long hard ascent up Forest Road 180.
Evening was in full presence at 5 pm, so I stopped to put on warm layers, my front and rear lights, and continued pedaling into the dark along route I had done gravel rides on with Darren and Janna just weeks before. Bill Williams Mountain rose to my left in civil twilight. With that, I hit pavement and began a fast downhill towards the city of Williams, passing by the reservoir and entering the crisp night air right in the middle of the city. All the campgrounds were RIDICULOUSLY expensive (the same price as a hotel room - I can only imagine they were hyped up glamping facilities) so I got a room at the Red Roof Inn. I walked downtown, got some food from the Grand Canyon Brewery before stopping by Safeway to pick up groceries for tomorrow.