Originally Published: September 29, 2015 6:02 a.m.
CHINO VALLEY - Some families go backpacking on summer vacations. The Dunns of Chino Valley went bikepacking.
Chris Dunn, his wife Janice, and their daughters Zoe and Phoebe rode mountain bikes 542 miles in 11 days through the spectacular landscape of central Idaho, mostly on gravel roads, many of them with bumpy "washboards" (indentations). They endured grueling 3,000-plus foot climbs and extreme temperatures, starting some days wearing down jackets in 32-degree weather and finishing 50 miles later in intense heat.
Janice estimates their total ascension was almost 40,000 feet ... all with camping gear on their bikes.
This challenging journey is called the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route because it passes through the highest concentration of hot springs (50) in North America where you can soak without scalding yourself. The Dunns didn't stop for many dips. A heat wave persisted during most of their trip, reaching as high as 104 degrees.
"We jumped into rivers a couple of times to cool off," says Janice, who spent a year planning the journey. "One day we spent six-and-a-half hours in a restaurant."
Obviously, it was air conditioned.
"The word I would use to describe the trip is 'intense,'" says Zoe, who turned 17 on June 20 when the family arrived at their starting point in Ketchum. "Intense climbing, intense distance, intense healing..."
"Yea, spending three hours going up one mountain [Lick Creek Summit, 6,877 feet]," adds a less-than-enthused Phoebe. "I'm more into short distances than long, miserable rides."
"She kept a good attitude," said Janice, complimenting her 14-year-old daughter.
"We got along great," Zoe says.
The trip made sense for Chino Valley's first family of mountain biking.
Chris, 53, a biology teacher at Yavapai College, serves as the team director/head coach for the Chino Valley High mountain biking team that competes in the Arizona High School Cycling Association (AHSCA). Organized in 2012, the AHSCA stages five races across the state in the fall, including one at Prescott's Brownlow Trail at Pioneer Park.
In 2014, the Cougars finished 11th out of 30 teams in the final standings, ahead of other area teams from Bradshaw Mountain, Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy, Canyon View Prep, and Tri-City College Prep. Only Prescott placed higher (5th).
Janice, 54, a fourth-grade teacher at Del Rio Elementary School in Chino Valley, serves as the team manager. She organizes the squad's travel and other logistics, such as driving to Flagstaff for the first race of the season in September at Fort Tuthill.
Zoe, a senior at Chino Valley High, has consistently placed among the top five in AHSCA races the past two years. In 2014 she tied for fourth among the girls' varsity riders in total points. She has ridden in the Whiskey Off-Road three times, finishing second among amateur female junior cyclists (18-and-under) in the 25-mile race in 2014 and fourth in the 30-mile event earlier this year.
In her first AHSCA competition on Sept. 13 in Flagstaff, Phoebe crossed the finish line second among 17 riders in the freshman girls' race. At the Whiskey Off-Road, she was first among females and 14th overall in the 15-mile race.
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Zoe has ridden a long way since her parents bought her a bike at Wal-Mart when she was in the third grade. At age 10, she started competing in races to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.
Speaking to assemblies at Heritage Middle School with teacher Jack Davis, who has the disease, she collected approximately $5,000 for the cause through the years. In one of the events, she rode her 24-inch mountain bike 64 miles over two days. "I just kind of went for it," Zoe recalls. "I went a lot farther than I thought I could."
Zoe found out early her preference for mountain bike racing over road racing. It's a different kind of crowd with more camaraderie and less cut-throat competition, she says.
"I love the people in mountain biking," Zoe says. "It's a great community. They'll ask you to ride with them. They'll lend you equipment, anything to help."
"They understand things," Phoebe adds, "like weird tan lines, scars, and leaving something to go ride. Some people don't understand what we do."
They're not just out for a leisurely ride. The Chino Valley team rides three days a week from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and often joins mountain bikers from Prescott High on Saturdays for three-hour rides.
Right now, Zoe is putting in more hours for longer distances in preparation for the race of her life: the World Solo 24-Hour Mountain Bike Championships in far northern California (Weaverville) from noon Saturday, Oct. 3, to noon on Sunday, Oct. 4. She will be the youngest competitor at the event that has been held in Scotland, Australia, and Italy the previous three years.
Because the minimum age is 18, she had to apply for an exception and was granted one based on her extensive experience, including a second-place finish as part of the four-girl junior team at the 2014 USA Cycling 24-Hour Mountain Bike Nationals in Gallup, New Mexico. In 2013, based on an essay she wrote, Zoe was chosen to ride with the professional team of Monique Pua Mata (winner of 2011 and 2012 Whiskey Off-Road races) at the 24 hours in the Old Pueblo race through the Sonoran Desert in Tucson. Her friend Hannah Madler from Bradshaw Mountain High also was selected.
This time, however, she'll ride for 24 hours alone. "I've wanted to do this for a long time," says Zoe, who admits that one of her motivations is proving to skeptics that she could do it. "It's a 12.4-mile course that has a 1,500-foot elevation climb over three miles. I hope to complete 12 laps."
Her "pit crew" - Janice, Phoebe, and Travis McCabe, a pro racer from Tucson who used to babysit the sisters - will provide motivation and nourishment.
"My goal," she says, "is to not sleep and not stop."
Her racing schedule never seems to stop, either. The following Sunday, Oct. 11, she'll be riding with the Chino Valley team in the third race of the AHSCA season at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills.
It's lucky that Oct. 6-9 is fall break for Chino Valley schools. Zoe can sleep late.
Ed Wisneski can be contacted at email@example.com.