Mountain Bike Heaven
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Phone: (928) 282-1312
1695 West Hwy 89A, Sedona, Arizona 86336
Channel Some New Age Singletrack
At first glance, the UFO looked like a flaming green and white ball shot from a Roman candle. And it could have been.
Just then, we were driving past a high school in the middle of the Res, which is what everyone in the Four Corners area calls the Reservation, the very barren and somewhat eerie 200-mile stretch of slickrock and barbed wire in Arizona that's home to the Navajo and Hopi nations. But the object flew across the horizon in a straight line, neither arcing nor diving, and simply vanished when it struck the Earth's atmosphere. The three of us in the car, Doug, Burney, and I, still can't agree on whether it was a ship or a meteor.
Seeing the UFO was strange, but not as strange as the reaction of the people in Sedona, Arizona, where we were headed at the time. Expecting rolled eyes and doubt, we were met with "Yeah, you should have seen the Mother Ship that landed here last week." and "The energies in Sedona are open for all sorts of spiritual and alien contact.
"As mountain bikers have Moab, New Age crystal fondlers have Sedona. Rama, the owner of Sedona's lone bike shop, Mountain Bike Heaven, says seekers and healers from all over the planet are drawn to the energy emitted by the red sandstone buttes, spires, and pinnacles surrounding the town.
The town itself seems inseparable from the rock, built in and around it like water pouring into a series of bays and inlets. On the outskirts are the four vortexes, the energy centers where people gather to worship their deity of choice, from the sun to Native American spirits to crystals. Shops all over town try to draw you in with offers of free maps to the vortexes. The maps have ads on them for businesses such as the New Earth Lodge Vacation Cottages, Angel's Chakra balancing & Aura Clearing, and Rainbow's End Steak House.
Though it's easy to shrug off the somewhat hokey mysticism of the town, there is powerful mountain biking magic working in Sedona. The area has some of the most scenic and technical trails in the Southwest, set in a backdrop of surreal red rock desert and green vegetation.
On the first morning, Golden Brainard, a Specialized team member from Flagstaff who logs winter miles in perpetually snowless Sedona, took us to Broken Arrow, about six miles from town. On weekends the area can be crowded with pink jeeps that a tour company uses as a gimmick, but we only passed four on a Friday morning.
Following broken, shelf-rock roads, we climbed onto Submarine Rock, a slickrock formation in the shape of what else?-a submarine. Like clouds, Sedona rock formations are named, including Coffee Pot Rock, revered by local riders; Snoopy Rock, which looks like Snoopy in repose on the roof of his dog house; and, I'm not making this up, Blow job Rock, which is an unlikely, horizontal rock shaft sticking out of a butte and almost into another rock's mouth-like opening. A local Puritan wanted to blow it up because he thought it obscene.
Off the back of Submarine Rock a singletrack leads to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a church built into the rock that is highly overrated as an attraction and looks like two vertical slabs of sidewalk sticking out of the sandstone. The trail is a good intro to the area's flora. Every 100 feet, Golden would yell back, identifying plants hazardous to bike and biker alike. The plants are ubiquitous to every ride: prickly pear cactus, wide, flat cacti the thickness of a T-bone with poison tipped spines; cat's claw, with grabbing, scratching branches: and agave, a member of the aloe family used to make tequila. The agave consists of a cluster of short, leathery leaves with needle sharp points that are as hard on your tires as the agave tequila is on your stomach.
When we got back to the car, a guy practicing yoga in Richard Simmons-length shorts approached Burney and me. Rather than the boring "Hi," he came right up and asked when we were born. Actually, he didn't seem to care when I was born. "You were born under the sign of the rooster," he told Burn and quickly followed with, "Do you have a boyfriend?" When she pointed to me, he looked surprised to see me standing there in front of him. "He was born in '68? He's a dog," he looked back at Burney. "You're not right for each other. I'm part Navajo," he said like he was bragging, even though he looked as pale as my legs in February. While I mounted the bikes on the roof, Steve Running Shorts, or whatever he claimed his name to be, tried to talk her into coming over to his van to look at his Rainbow Family Photo Album.
After prying Burn away, we had lunch at the New Frontiers Natural Grocery Doug. recommends the Vortex Veggie Sandwich and the Astral Traveler Smoothie, while I opted for the Harmonic Convergence Veggie Burger and the Crystal Quencher. Conveniently located down the block is Mountain Bike Heaven. We were greeted at the door by Rama, who talks in a slow, stoney way, like Chong in "Up in Smoke" when he says to Cheech, "You just ate the most acid I've ever seen."
Above the door was a picture of Bagwan Shree Rashneesh, one of Rama's early spiritual teachers, flanked by posters of mountain bike gurus John Tomac and Travis Brown. Rama envisions his shop as a sort of fifth vortex. "I try and promote higher consciousness through mountain biking. It teaches lessons, principles of movement, and balance and coordination, much more than other sports.
The shop is the focal point for local riders who gather for short rides after work and weekend epics. As we rode out of the parking lot, a baker's dozen of riders moved in a pace line up the pavement to the Secret Trail, which is actually well known and appears in area guidebooks. Like most of the rides in the area, the Secret Trail is a riotous mix of Third World-class roads and singletrack.
We climbed a dirt road for a half hour until were stopped by a sinkhole wide and deep enough to swallow a mobile home. A pink jeep driver standing across the gap yelled, "Look out for the hole," much to the amusement of his passengers in the back seat, From the hole, a typically gnarly, rocky singletrack took off, snaking through a wall of scrub oak, which is essentially a tall, dry shrub. The trail careened downhill, with switchbacks and three- and four-foot drop-offs every 100 yards. As we descended, the path became smoother and faster until it became just a procession of banked turns and whoop-de-doos that led us back to the pavement just in time for sunset.
On Saturday morning we met Rama, Wheelie (Rama's shop mechanic nicknamed for his crazy stunt riding and his ability to true a wheel), and Simon for breakfast in Jerome, a former mining camp considered the oldest town in Arizona. Built on the side of a mountain, the town's roads are so steep they make the streets of San Francisco seem Iowa-flat, Some of the buildings are actually starting to spread downhill like slow-melting pats of butter.
Simon is known locally as "Stickums" because he went over the bars, landed on a prickly pear cactus, and was stuck with 300 needles. "I have nine lives," he told us between mouthfuls of pancake, "or at least I used to. I'm down to four now. The closest I came was racing motorcycles. I crashed going about 140 and hit a concrete barrier. The announcer said there was no way I could have survived."
From breakfast, it was a short hop to the top of Mingus Mountain where Rama, Stickums, and Wheelie began gearing up. Even though it was a warm day, they were all wearing tights, long sleeves, and gloves. "The brush overgrows the trail in some spots," Rama warned. Burn and I followed their lead. Doug thought he knew better.
Mingus Mountain is the toughest ride I have ever done. It took us five hours to cover 12 downhill miles. The first section is the Coleman Trail, a two-mile trials course of sharp rocks, agave, and steep, pinched switchbacks. If I had been alone, I would have said it was unrideable and turned back, but the Sedonans showed us otherwise."The trick is to go a little faster than seems safe and keep pedaling," Simon advised.
From the trials course, we hooked onto the Black Canyon Trail, which presented a new set of technical challenges, mostly organic. The trail was less rocky, but you had to pedal through stiff, sharp brush instead. The way was a jungle of scrub oak and cat's claw, with the occasional prickly pear land mine popping up and jabbing a quill in your sidewall. Within a mile, Doug's uncovered legs and arms were swelling and scribbled with long red hemorrhoidal scratches.
After three miles of brush torture, the bushes finally pulled back and gave way to fun, challenging trail, contouring the hillside, in and out of little valleys. Rounding yet another bend, I nearly rode into Rama, standing in the trail. He was looking at Wheelie, who was lying across the trail holding onto Simon, who was hanging by a tree limb over the edge of a 75 foot cliff...down to three lives.
"Get me up, man!" he was screaming at Wheelie. Just like on TV, I ran over, braced myself against a rock and held Wheelie's free arm, while he tried to pull Simon up without going over himself. Simon finally gained a foothold and we hoisted him back onto the trail. Simon explained that he had ridden the section a hundred times, but had been dicing with Wheelie, ate it, and went over the wrong way.
"I thought I was a goner for sure, man," he said, peering over the edge at his bike, lying unconscious on the rocks below. "I grabbed for the tree as I fell and by luck got hold of it. I was just worried the roots wouldn't hold." After a 20-minute downclimb, Wheelie and Rama managed to reach Simon's bike. Amazingly, the only injury was a taco'd front wheel, which Wheelie, living up to his name, fixed in a flash, and Simon was able to finish the ride.
The scariest part of the Mingus Mountain ride is that Rama says it's relatively tame compared to some other rides in the area. The trail rating "gonzo-abusive" was coined up north in Moab, but it belongs in Sedona. And the town and the locals are just as far out there as the riding. Rama said it all while we were discussing alien visitations during a rest stop on Mingus Mountain: "I wouldn't mind being abducted... as long as I could bring my mountain bike."
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