Just outside of the historic town of Prescott, Arizona, a highly popular destination for mountain bikers, Chino Valley sits 15 miles to the north and is quickly becoming a hot spot for gravel riders thanks to the quiet and scenic unpaved roads that go off in every direction outside of the city limits. It was just over a year ago that we first attended the Chino Grinder event that’s held annually on the first weekend of May, and since that time the area has been added to our list of ultimate gravel riding destinations.
We came back this year for another Chino Grinder, this time with Topical Edge as an event partner. In addition to helping support the event, we were looking forward to getting a taste of some fresh roads and challenging terrain in our continued build-up to June’s Dirty Kanza 200. We tackled the long route, a 115-mile out-and-back course that featured everything from well-groomed dirt roads to rocky, equipment-testing rough sections, and even some pavement that allowed the body a break from the off-road rigors. Thankfully, the 115-miler wasn’t the only option and routes as short as 25 miles offered something for nearly everyone.
After rolling out of the start under the typically sunny skies that make the area a favorite for outdoorsmen, we were almost instantly on undulating dirt and gravel roads that look out over the expanse of the high desert terrain. After about 25 miles of up and down terrain, and a sorting of those looking to race at the front versus those who were more interested in the overall experience, we turned uphill for a steady 15-mile climb taking us from an elevation of 4,500 feet up to 7,300 feet, where the desert vegetation was replaced by pine forests.
The return offered a nice opportunity to rest the legs and take in some much-needed hydration and calories as we descended what had just been climbed...but as we reached the lowest point of the course the pleasant 60-degree temperatures that greeted us at the start had increased considerably. That created a whole new challenge on top of the course itself. Fortunately, getting enough fluids wasn’t an issue since feed zones with water, hydration mix, and calories in the form of numerous solid food options were plentiful throughout the day.
As much fun as we had out there we’d be lying if we said we weren’t incredibly happy to be done once crossing the finish line. The day’s demands were well evident on our salt-encrusted jerseys and dirt-covered faces. Even though it was current and former professional riders that ruled the day in both the women’s and men’s events, the majority of the riders out there work a full-time job, have families, and are happy to challenge themselves while getting to ride with friends. For us, this was a double PR Lotion day, with a pre-event application followed by another one post-event to help with what would have otherwise surely been sore muscles for days.