Pinyons and Pines 2024: Faces Behind the Dots

Earlier this May, 14 pink and purple dots set out on the Pinyons and Pines Bikepacking Ride from Flagstaff, AZ. This 364 mile route with 31,000 feet of elevation gain connects singletrack, doubletrack, gravel roads, and a splash of pavement to create a spectacular tour of what Northern Arizona. Some notable performances include Frances Hacker’s 2 day, 6 hour, 31 minute finish (first non-binary finisher) and Kristen Tonsager’s 2 day, 20 hour, 40 minute finish (first woman finisher) after trailing Sarah Didier by just an hour for close to two days! We reached out to the WTFNB participants about their highs and lows, sleep strategies, and wildlife sightings. We hope you enjoy reading and that you’re inspired to ride by these incredible folks!

Allison Bohn

Home: Flagstaff AZ

Bike:  Juliana Wilder XT

What was a high point during your ride?

Almost the whole thing! I enjoyed the mixture of gravel and singletrack, the wildly changing terrain, the warm sunny skies, the big climbs, Highline trail, and laying out under the stars. I also jokingly said my favorite meal was a slice of pizza from a gas station, it’s funny what suddenly becomes appealing.

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

My lowest point was a sleep deprived bonk on the final night. The plan was to push through the day and all through the night to reach the finish line. Around 11:00 pm I started to feel bad in the “endless sand pits” around mile 355. I was visually hallucinating from the darkness and fatigue.

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I value sleep and knew I would want and need it since my goal was to finish. I’m relatively new to riding at night and honestly would rather stay warm in my bag. The plan was to sleep 4-6 hours per night and go for an all out push the final night to experiment with deprivation. It worked but it was tough!

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

Yes! On the second morning Cami and I spotted very fresh bear tracks on the AZT, it had walked the trail just prior to our arrival. I also enjoyed many elk crossings, mule deer, and some beautiful snakes.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I initially signed up for a solo attempt, as did my partner Cami. We decided last second to ride together as a way to celebrate our recent engagement. It turned out to be one of the best decisions and the absolute highlight of the entire adventure.

Cami (she/her)

Home: Flagstaff, AZ

Bike:  Ibis Exie

What was a high point during your ride?

My high point during this ride was riding the entire route with my partner. We recently got engaged and wanted to do something epic together that would push both of our limits on the bike. It was nice to have her there with me and we would take turns bonking so it was great to receive that support and give that support when needed. One of my favorite things we did together was during the night, we would each have an earbud and listen to an audible book together. It would really pass the night miles quickly and it was nice to listen to a book with someone under the stars.

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

My low point was coming down the Mogollon Rim and my body desperately felt like it needed an actual meal and no longer snacks or loads of sugar. It was a 10-mile single track ride down to Christopher Creek, which sounded like an easy downhill trip in my mind, but it didn’t end up being that. The trail was very rough, rocky and technical and what I thought would take 2 hours, actually took 4 hours because of how technical the terrain was. By the time I got to Christopher Creek I was just starving and so fatigued but that cheeseburger and fries was worth it!

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I did have a sleep strategy for the race. I do think sleeping is super important and I think not sleeping during races really isn’t good for our brains. My goal was to get 4-6 hours of sleep every night so my body and brain would feel recovered enough to keep pushing. I packed a lightweight sleeping quilt and a ground pad so I had something to sleep on. I do think resting is important for not only our body and mind, but also to continue to be able to do rides like these in the future.

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

My notable wildlife sighting was biking down the AZT on day two. It was about 5am and all you could see on the trail were the tracks of all the cyclists racing through the day before and all through the night. I turn a corner and I start to see huge bear tracks that were now covering all of the tire tracks so I knew the bear had been on the trail maybe an hour before I was there. It was super exciting to see and I needed to stop to take photos for sure!

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

What I enjoyed most about this ride was that it taught me that our bodies can sometimes be pushed further than we know. Pinyons and Pines was the most difficult ride I have ever been on. The route is purposely made to be super difficult, the terrain is not forgiving, and it feels like you never really get a break. It was amazing to see how everyone doing this ride could continue to push every day and finish. It will for sure be a good reminder the next time I feel like a ride I’m on is difficult. What I also enjoyed was that more women and non binary riders signed up this year. I’d like to see more of that and see more route makers encouraging these kind of riders to participate.

Frances Hacker (they/she)

Home: Flagstaff, AZ

Bike:  Pivot Trail 429

What was a high point during your ride?

The Arizona Trail Highline singletrack- so fun!

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

Rationing my water up Mingus mountain in 100 degree temps while I distracted myself with an audiobook about dragons.

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I planned to nap 20-90 minutes every night and during the day if I needed to. I tried to stick with it, but sleep was pretty disturbed on the last night because I was not far from a loud highway.

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

Nighthawks! spooky…

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Meeting other riders and sharing some miles together was definitely another highlight. There are many inspiring folks out there!

Isabelle (she/her)

Home: Durango, CO

Bike:  Slug Gasser Titanium Hard Tail

What was a high point during your ride?

Gosh, honestly, I think the whole time I was out there, I just felt a lot of gratitude and I was really proud of myself. There were moments that felt so hard and then I’d turn a bend and there’d always be a beautiful view, or an animal, or a stranger in a jeep cheering, or some other unplanned joy. I can walk away feeling like I rode my ride, and there are no moments where I look back and think, “I should have done that differently.” My goal was to have a really smart, steady ride, and I think I accomplished that. It feels really cool to know that I can be alone and make good choices and come out the other end stronger for it.

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

Sunday morning, my last day, I was struggling really hard. I was having a hard time keeping food down the whole ride and had already vomited once my first night. I started riding around 4:30 am and hadn’t eaten anything for a few hours and needed to get calories down, so I had a little baby food packet smoothie thing. A few minutes later, I was on my hands and knees throwing up and couldn’t stop, and my hands and legs were shaking. If I was going to try to finish, I knew I’d need to take it easy in Sedona for a few hours. I did get some food down but was still shaking a lot and staving off nausea. It was scary to leave the comfort of town without knowing what my body would do if I kept moving. I ended up hiking the whole Schnebly Hill climb and didn’t get on my bike until it flattened out 5 or 6 miles in because that was the only way I was going to avoid getting sick again.

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I went in planning to listen to my body. I ended up sleeping about four hours a night from midnight to 4 am. I am still learning what works for me, but I think I’m liking the early starts.

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

On my last night, I was going to push through the night because I felt good but I saw eyes. I couldn’t tell what they were, and just as I was deciding what to do, a massive brown animal four times my size jumped out from behind a bush. It was a cow, but it scared me half to death and I called it a night after that. I screamed so loud and I was only about a quarter mile from another rider’s camp. There’s no way he didn’t hear me!

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Leading up to the race, I kept trying to answer why I was lining up at the start. I couldn’t answer that question when I was out there either, especially during low moments where my body was clearly signaling that it wanted me to stop. Now that I’m done and reflecting on my time out there, I still can’t put my answer into words. But there’s an unnamed feeling that I have that keeps me wanting more. I talked to other racers about this, and I think a lot of us feel that way.

Kristen Tonsager

Home: Denver, Colorado

Bike:  Revel Ranger

What was a high point during your ride?

Watching the sun set as I climbed up Schnebly Hill Road

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

The last 40 miles! The forest road was fast, but man I felt slow! It seemed like the longest stretch of fast gravel and I was cursing my tire choice. My Spotify decided to stop working, so like a sleep deprived idiot, I thought I could uninstall and then reinstall the app… with no service. Ha! I sat down, ate a snack, took a 5 minute nap, re-evaluated my time to finish and focused in the silence, pushing the pace all the way to Flagstaff.

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I had a loose plan, but didn’t decide act on anything until it was 10pm on Day 1. At that moment, I decided my sleep strategy would be 10/1030p to 2/230am. I really enjoy getting up in what feels like the middle of the night to ride into the sunrise! I decided I would do that Thursday and Friday night and forego sleep Saturday and push to the finish

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

I saw a Fox cross the road! I think it was just outside of Pine…

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Pinyons and Pines was such a neat route. I really enjoyed the chunky descents on singletrack to balance out the gravel roads!

Leigh Bowe (she/her)

Home: Flagstaff, AZ

Bike:  Why S7

What was a high point during your ride?

Honestly just getting to the start was a high point for me this year.

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

Definitely when I made the difficult call to scratch. I was feeling really good and then within not much time at all, I was feeling really bad. I knew that were I to continue, there would be no chance for an easy out, and I had a toddler at home and needed to be functional when I got back to her. After a 90 minute dirt nap, I still felt terrible and decided to hitchhike back to Flag.

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I did the thing that I hate and decided the night before to skimp on sleep during the race- and therefore, I left my sleeping bag at how and brought a puffy and a light bivy. My plan was to ride until I was in the hot temps below the Mogollon Rim before stopping to nap sometime on day 2. After that I was just going to see how fast I was moving and how I felt.

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

I saw a tarantula hawk, but that was about it other than swarms of flying insects around Mormon Lake.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

This stuff is hard! Before kiddo, getting ready for races, physically and mentally, was no big deal. Now a days priorities and free time are very different. I had a great day out there and I am inspired by all the strength in bikepack racing. I’m really looking forward to my next effort (hopefully one that is longer than 12 hrs) soon!

ReyRey (they)

Home: Flagstaff, AZ

Bike:  Pivot Shadow Cat (Goes By Shadow Kitty)

What was a high point during your ride?

Powerful sunset ride down into Fossil creek the second day, as the warm air rose up I slipped into the creek and rode hard into the night stars.

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

When I got down on myself for missing the single track just before the Maverick station descending Mingus, I redid the section thanks to Kristen’s advice, but it was the negative self talk after as my heat exhausted state made a sloppy mess up Line Kiln to Sedona. The many gates were swollen shut in the later afternoon air, and my dexterity was in a state I call “struggle buss.”

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I did stick to it, but I unfortunately was hyperthermic two of the three times I went to lay down for my 4 hours of sleep. It expended more energy than was strategically ideal, but this experience gave logistical value for my next go. Only once in the heat of the Cottonwood valley did my sleep system serve me an allowed my body go into a rem state off Cherry Creek road.

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

I was so taken back by all the animal visitors. Many squirrel and lizards and velvet ants, deer, coyote, elk, so many birds chirping as I pedaled circles into under the varying high desert trees and shrubs. Can’t forget two mysterious tapetum lucidum, mirrors in the back of the nocturnal eyeballs of one infamous large cat.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

So grateful for this sacred learning experience and the spark I feel inside.

Sarah Didier (she/her)

Home: Mission Viejo, CA

Bike:  Scott Contessa Spark 900

What was a high point during your ride?

The downhill to Cottonwood – 15-year-old Cruz caught up with me right at the top of the climb up Mingus and we rode together down to Cottonwood. It was just so much fun to be riding with someone after so many hours by myself and Cruz is an absolute shredder! It made me completely forget that I had been out there for over 48 hours and I was just having so much fun on my bike and taking in the beautiful trail and scenery. Right then I knew this is exactly where I was meant to be. It’s a great feeling.

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

My lowest point was in Fossil Creek, on day 2 (Friday afternoon). It was really hot (over 100 degrees!) and I couldn’t really eat nor drink, as I was feeling nauseous and just extremely exhausted. I thought I was going to have to renounce then. But first I had to drag myself to Camp Verde, because there was nothing else until then. I just had to get to Camp Verde. Once I got there I bought a big bag of ice and sat in the shade for a while, trying to cool down and thinking about my options. I decided to check into a hotel to get some sleep, eat and drink. After some fresh rest, I was able to start again at 2am. But I would hit my second low point 20h later when my body shut down and made me stop about 28 miles before the finish line…

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

No, I didn’t really have a strategy and this was a mistake. I thought I could push through the first night and take naps on the second day, but not sleeping in the first night just made me too tired to resist the heat on the second day and then it was impossible to take a nap outside in that heat. After sleeping 4 hours in a hotel in Camp Verde, I realized how much I can actually recover when I sleep, but then again I pushed myself to the limit instead, and on the third night my body just couldn’t take it anymore.

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

Two herds of elk on the Rim Road on the first night and probably a small mountain lion or bobcat at the bottom of the trail just before Christopher Creek, later that same night.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

The course Dana and Dylan put together was absolutely epic and I’m so happy I was able to ride almost all of it. I learned so much on this ride and also realized how much it means to me and how much I want to be better at it and come back for more, haha! I also met some incredible, awesome and inspiring people and it was kind of hard to drive back to California after the ride and leave all this behind. When we’re in it, we keep thinking about the finish line, but once it’s over we just wish it could last a little longer…

Sarah Higgins (she/her)

Home: Salt Lake City, UT

Bike:  Specialized Epic Evo

What was a high point during your ride?

Riding the Highline section of the AZT on day 2. The single track was rippin’ and the views were incredible. I’d never been in that area of AZ, so it was cool to see a new place. I LOVED all the new trail work that was done as well. Berms, doubles, drops, it had it all. Way to go ATA!

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

Getting food poisoning my final night was definitely my low point. I spent most of the night throwing up and experiencing intense chills and aches. I had felt so strong the entire race and to go down like that was a bummer, especially so close to the finish. It’s going to take me a while to trust Maverik pizza again.

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I did! Plan was to sleep 6 hours the first night, 4 the second, and whatever I wanted on the third. I stuck to it, and I’m so happy I did. I don’t do well with sleep deprivation and have found I ride harder and have more fun when I am well rested.

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

Elk on the first night, which look kind of terrifying in the dark. No kitties thankfully.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

S/o to Dana and Dylan for another awesome course. The course always caters to mountain bikers, which has me coming back every year. You guys are rad!

Ti (she/her)

Home: Durango, CO

Bike:  Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt

What was a high point during your ride?

Catching the most amazing sunrise on the climb up to Schnebly Hill. Riding in the dark the night before, I had no idea what was around me. When I woke up the next morning, I realized that I was surrounded by the iconic sandstone monoliths of Sedona. I was in awe the entire morning.

Would you like to share a low point in your ride?

Something funky happened with my GPS early in the race, and I got re-routed back to the starting line. By the time I realized I was going the wrong way, the rest of the group was well ahead of me. I spent the rest of the ride trying to catch up to everyone, which messed with my entire strategy.

Did you have a sleep strategy going into the race and did you stick to it?

I had originally planned to get between 5 and 6 hours a night by calling it around midnight and getting started with the sunrise. That plan unraveled immediately when I rode through most of the night right off the bat while trying to catch up to everyone after getting off route.

Did you have any notable wildlife sightings?

I saw SO many creatures: elk, deer, coyotes (one watched me close a gate on the AZT), spiders with glittering eyes in the night, butterflies, lizards, snakes, and tons of squirrels. Although I didn’t see any mountain kittens, I did see a couple of fresh tracks in the sand on the last forest service road stretch about 10 miles out from the finish.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

A massive shoutout to the race organizers for making this event feel welcoming and inclusive. I always love when events offer a non-binary category option, and as an Apache/Diné (Navajo) lady rider, I appreciate the acknowledgment that P&P takes riders through the traditional homelands of several tribes, including my own. Ahéhee Dana & Dylan.

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