Slickrock with Great Restaurants
by Richard Cunningham
Sedona is one of those art-gallery-on-every-corner, chic Southwestern tourist destinations, right? Serious Arizonian explorers remark with downturned lips that Sedona wasn't a "real town" until 20 years ago. While all this may be true, MBA discovered another side of Sedona that probably should be kept secret. Surrounding the artsy New Age village, tucked between vertical red and white sandstone cliffs, are the kind of awesome singletrack trails that hardcore mountain bikers live for. We admit that we expected Sedona's uppercrust curio shops, espresso bars, jewelry stores and trattorias to be down on mountain bikers, but the reverse is true. Sedona's city government has chosen to embrace the mountain bike community-and, contrary to some people's first impressions, fat-tire cyclists will discover a side of Sedona that is pleasant, accessible and affordable.

The MBA wrecking crew ended up in Sedona because ProFlex Commander-in-Chief Ralph Hines was sending the Pro-Flex/BMW race team to Arizona for a week of training for the World Cup. We decided to tag along for a chance at free food, serious Sedona back country and riding with the world's fastest mountain bike racers. We knew we could eat with the best of the ProFlex team, hut we did have major reservations about our ability to hang with three-time World Champion Hank Djernis.

WHERE TO RIDE IN SEDONA

There are no trail maps detailed enough to depict every trail surrounding Sedona. The all-time best guide to mountain biking in Arizona is Fat-Tire Tales and Trails by Cosmic Ray. There are two good bike shops in Sedona that will get you pointed in the right direction and it takes little coaxing to lure shop employees out for a ride. How do you choose which shop to visit? Conservative types may choose to visit Sedona Sports on the north end of Highway 89A, while true moto devotees should visit "Rama" at Mountain Bike Heaven on the west end of the same highway.

For an initial orientation to Sedona's brand of red clay and rock, we would recommend the loop out to Submarine Rock. This is a popular route for Jeep tours, so it's difficult to stray off the main double-track. The loop transverses a wide array of canyonland with liberal doses of slick-rock. Most cyclists will be humbled by the tacky-looking pink Jeeps' climbing and descending prowess. There is a great singletrack return from Submarine Rock to South Sedona that offers a spectacular vista of Bell Rock, one of the city's trade-mark sandstone domes. For the pastoral side of Sedona, take a leisurely ride to Oak Creek. Oak Creek meanders through most of the area, and a little exploration will reveal some spectacular swimming holes.

To the west, there are some cliff dwellings and ruins above Boynton Pass that deserve a look-see, but if you stray too far north, you will illegally be entering a designated wilderness area. With so much legal riding available, it's stupid to tarnish the rep of all mountain bikers by venturing into places that are off-limits - especially after the city planning commission has compelled developers to incorporate public access and trail easements into all projects that abut the National Forest.

TOURING WITH THE CHAMP

After a couple of four-hour guided singletrack excursions, our legs were feeling pretty worked. We had been staying in the Desert Quail Motel, situated in the southern part of Sedona below Bell Rock. Don Troutman, the Desert Quail's owner and Sedona's mountain bike evangelist, had arranged for a local NORBA Elite racer to be our guide as we prepped for the arrival of the ProFlex team. We figured that after two days of hammering in the hills, our first day with the BMW/ProFlex team would be an easy one. The ProFlex team treated us like royalty, taking away our personal bikes and giving us special Team-Issue 954s. A white label on the top tube of the bike they handed me read "Flank I" a tough standard to live up to. The bike's intended owner, three-time world champion Henrik Djernis, rolled out on his backup bike, signaled to the team and we headed for the hills. I got the feeling that this was not going to be an easy ride. The next five hours were devoted to a middle-chainring tour of the Sedona Valley. We rode singletrack and slickrock, forded creeks, threaded through fancy housing developments, raced pink Jeeps, perched atop sheer cliffs, descended the impossible and climbed the vertical. I admit that I thought I was a pretty good slickrock and singletrack rider, but I was continually humiliated by the bike-handling prowess of Hank Djernis and Nick Feid. Those guys are awesome! I was feeling pretty worked when we coasted into town for a hydration break. After the dusty peloton had quenched its thirst at a downtown mini-mart, we rolled out to explore "Secret Trails"-a maze of singletrack set against a 300-foot wall of stone to the north of the village. Hank and his company of hammerheads were relentless pedalers. The trail unrolled below our wheels like a stone conveyor belt. The blue-green junipers and pinion pines were an aromatic blur that filled my peripheral vision.

"Is it is possible to suffer in heaven?" I asked myself I struggled to stay attached to the group as the sun slowly dropped below the red cliffs of Doe Mountain. Luckily, nearly all the fire roads and trails leading back to Sedona are downhill. At the four-hour mark, the life was draining from my quadriceps. I downed some aspirin and eased back to the peloton, where Hank was hanging hack. We were motoring up a wide, sandy fire road south of Cathedral Rock. With about five miles to go, the World Champ sensed that I had nothing left and asked me if I needed some help. Proudly, I declined. The group was still together when Djernis turned to his British teammate and ordered him to get to the front and attack. The two took off like rockets, closing the 200-yard gap and splitting the peloton into pieces.

Alone and off the back, I savored the view as the last golden rays of sunset illuminated the eastern walls rimming the valley. I was glad they were gone. Finally I could enjoy the view. As I topped the last gentle climb and coasted toward the Desert Quail Inn, I could see the entire team, strung out for a mile or so down the road. Hank was leading.

A PROMISE TO RETURN

As with most great experiences, we found ourselves loading up the MBA Volvo all too soon. ProFlex's Ralph Hines met us at the car. "Don't miss this thing next year," said Ralph. "We'll plan on staying an extra week."

The morning sun was turning the frosty meadows to steam. The short time I had spent in Sedona seemed like a blur, but the stiffness in my thighs reminded me that it was real enough.

"I'll be back," I pledged. "I wonder if the Moab set knows how much they are missing?"

TRAVEL PLANS

Sedona’s Secret Details

Where is Sedona? Halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff on Highway 179. Take Interstate 17 about an hour and a half north of the Phoenix airport.

The best lodging? Of course, it’s the Desert Quail Inn (800-385-0927). Rates start at $69 and run to $135 for a room. These folks are bike-friendly and can set you up with a guide if necessary. Sedona has a full complement of lodging choices.

The best time to visit? Any time. There are 320 sunny days a year, and the altitude and geographical location keep the temperature moderate. It will snow a little in the winter.

The best bike shops? Mountain Bike Heaven. Yes, they rent bikes: full-suspension Bianchis, Mountain Cycles and ProFlex models for $35 to $40 per day. Phone (520)282-1312; Sedona Sports also rents bikes: hardtails for $8 an hour, $28 per half-day and $40 for a full day. Phone (520) 282-6956.

The best trail map? Fat Tire Tales and Trails (Mountain Bike Fun in Arizona). Phone Cosmic Cycles, (520)779-1092.