Sunday, March 24, 2019

Southwestern Sojourn

Southwestern Sojourn:
Mountain Biking Sedona

 I felt a pull towards somewhere exceptional, somewhere different, somewhere that has long been on the list.

Sedona has long been known for its beautiful landscapes and its culture. Of course, there are the Vortexes. Ever since my Reiki Master training back in 2012 I have been advised to seek out the power of the vortex. Promised a life-changing experience, I finally heeded the call. It was time to ride the enchanted trails of Sedona Arizona.

I convinced my co-worker Jeff aka JZ, to tag along. Eventually, his partner in crime Reggie was added to the roster. The Three Amigos took flight landing in Phoenix around 10:30 am. With the yearning for singletrack and an empty stomach, we hit up a co-workers family restaurant for some authentic Mexican. It was here where I discovered world will never be the same. 

Food coma on fast approach, JZ turned the fob of the Dodge Caravan and we made our way north on I-17. With his lead foot in full effect, our captain forged the way through cactus fields, prairies, and canyons until we reached Elysium. 

I felt like they were flipping us off

We hit the ground running (or biking) picking up our rentals at Absolute Bikes and pedaling literally across the street to some sweet singletrack. Absolute Bikes turned out to be a great shop. They won me over when they said "I am sorry sir, but we screwed up your rental.""We accidentally gave it away to someone else, but we did replace it with a high-end carbon version at no extra charge." I was willing to let it slide this one time.

Climbing up Slim Shady, it wasn't long before my legs and lungs were en Fuego. But those initial views though.....

Unable to speak a three-word sentence, I made full use of the granny gears while being captivated by my surroundings. Slim Shady transitioned into Templeton where the pedestrian traffic was heavy. Onward, Easy Breezy offered up some nice drops where this guy felt like a hero. Just call me Huck Norris. After maybe eight or so miles the sun began to set. It was time for a cold beverage.

We made our way to downtown Sedona traversing about three rotaries to get there. It felt like we were back home for a minute. The views continued to not suck as we found a great bar to enjoy another cold one...

After dinner, which was more Mexican I believe, we hit the grocery store and migrated south to our Airbnb in a town called Rimrock/Lake Montezuma. Sounds kinda cool, right? Yeah, not so much...Turns out the actual Lake Montezuma is nothing more than a muddy pond loaded with foul and some random trash peppered throughout the perimeter. It felt like a scene from Breaking Bad, minus the crap box Winnebego billowing yellow smoke. Thankfully there was no smell of meth in the air. Despite that blemish, there was a nice feature literally across the street from our house called Dry Beaver Creek. Peaceful yet strong, Dry Beaver turned into a very wet Beaver by the end of our trip courtesy of some precipitation.

The house was simple, clean, and perfectly sized for what we needed. Sounds like something someone whispered in my ear in college. There was this strange smell though...slightly dank but not too nauseating. Not whispered. I forgot to take pictures of the dwelling.

Day two was something I didn't expect, something that was not on the agenda. The forecast was less than optimal for Sedona, so I hit the Accu Weather and Trailforks websites hard as I was sipping bad coffee (Sanka?!). I concocted plan B which involved a thirty-five-minute drive west to the City of Prescott. The drive out there was nothing special and we stopped for a pre-ride taco at Filibertos. Side note...we ate a lot of tacos on this trip. I will talk about my favorite later. Reggie also eats a lot. Reggie eats like it's his job and he is dedicated to his job.

We eventually launched from Thumb Butte trailhead. I can summarize this day of riding in two words....F****n awesome! I was in love with the dirt, the creeks, the forest, the views, and the beautifully built singletrack. It was like purpose built for hardtails! There was no shortage of climbing of course, but the flow and features of the trails were outstanding. I was grinning ear to ear, except on the last climb out. After inadvertently submerging my left foot in what felt like arctic water from a creek runout I was rifling out vulgarities in my head while the snow pelted my face trying to make it back to the van. I was basically being a bitch for a half hour or so. I took a moment to reflect on the ride as I was changing.....feeling like this was not the last time I will see these trails.

Not surprising, we were all ready for a beer. Enroute to Whiskey Row in Prescott Jeff says " Hey I just saw a wild Boar in someone's driveway." Reggie and I laughed assuming he was hallucinating from the minor hypothermia he may have been experiencing. Turns out we were wrong....kinda. First stop was Ravens' Cafe for some nitro beers and cajun fries. Nice place, but it felt more like a quiet coffee shop. A few doors down we hit the next watering hole for which the name escapes me, but it too had a Raven reference. Ravens must be the state bird because they were everywhere! It was here we met two women, one being from my childhood home in Beverly, Ma. We shot the breeze while they educated us on holistic dentistry and what Jeff saw in that driveway...Javelina. Basically, it's a rodent that looks like a Boar, Wild Pig, etc..that sits in its own family virtually unrelated to any other animal. 

Our third and final stop was the Palace. An old Western Bar/Restaurant type place that had those cool saloon double doors to walk through into the dining room.  I pulled an "I'm your Huckleberry" moment while on video. The staff was all in period dress and the energy seemed electric. We ended up having the best waitress ever named Annika. Turns out she was graduating from nursing school in a few weeks! She was easy on the eyes as she introduced herself. I had to ask her immediately what was up with the dudes to my right. Looked like s**t was about to get real as they sat down. The middle guy had what looked like a Sheriff's badge and he was packing some serious heat. 

Yes, I had to make this a black and white photo.

That night ended up being a ton of fun. Prescott.....I shall return. The drive home was a little dicey and Jeff thought he was Mario Andretti forgetting that the bends in the road did NOT have berms. 

Day three's menu included breakfast, espresso, singletrack, killer views, drinking beers out of a van with a former Pro Enduro Racer, Thai food, and Salsa/Country dancing in a parking lot. Another big day of seventeen ish miles with big challenges and scenery that did not suck. Llama, Cathedral, Broken Arrow, and the Hogs did not disappoint.

That is the infamous "White Line" trail

Apres ride we stumbled across this woman with her friend living the van life enjoying whiskey and beer in the parking lot. Reggie swore it was peach schnapps. Krista Rust was her name and she was sponsored by Turner Bicycles as she traveled the world as an Enduro racer. She and her friend were going to collaborate on some guided South American mountain biking tours they told us. We all swapped stories talked of mountain biking and enjoyed the food and laughter that followed. Another great day in the books.

We convinced Krista to come and ride with us the following day as we chose to explore Made in the Shade and the very popular Hiline trail. First, espresso at the Sedona Bike and Bean shop. I will be honest and say that I enjoyed this hike. I was able to ride many of the sections, but there were a few that wreaked of badness to me. There was no shame in my game as I happily walked my bike up and down these death traps. I did love the views and I certainly loved watching Krista ride as if she could've done them in her sleep. Very impressive. Also impressive were some of the lines that Jeff and Reggie took. Nice job fellas!

What can I say, another great day above ground, on the bike, in the sun with great people. That evening concluded with Indian Food, grocery shopping, and movie night with me introducing the boys to Tombstone. Doc Holliday is still my favorite character. 

Monday, which ended up being our final day of riding due to the forecast was nothing short of a good time. We descended down the chunky yet flowy Scorpion trail. It was here that I had one of my few heroic moments on the bike. 

After a short break, I called upon the Power of Grayskull and Jesus Christ himself to help me finish a very long and chunky climb up SkyWalker. Knowing that this was my final pedal of the trip I took the time to take it all in......oxygen that is. I was breathing so heavy that my tidal volumes were eligible for the Guinness Book of World Records. ARDS aside, I smiled and thanked the Universe for the opportunity. A toast and a street taco to top it all off. The Pollo with the Sriracha Honey sauce was the clear winner.

Those were the only Javelinas I saw

Feeling bummed that we were done riding we decided to take a road trip. First was a pit stop and Montezuma's Castle!

After dropping off the bikes, Jeff and I were feeling randy as we got a double espresso at the now familiar Sedona Bike and Bean. Onward up 89A north! This was a real gem of a drive. We departed Sedona at 4000 feet of elevation and arrived in Flagstaff at just under 7000 feet. We were blown away with the diversity of the terrain, stopping here and there to capture some pretty sweet shots. FYI...falling rocks and boulders are a real concern on this road!

Much like Prescott, I was captivated by Flagstaff. How awesome is it that you can mountain bike in the Red Rocks in Sedona and forty-five minutes away you could be skiing by the afternoon? We sampled a number of breweries for which my favorites were Dark Sky and Historic Breweries. Historic makes a delicious cherry pie vanilla porter. We dined at this slightly upscale Thai place where the food was the best of the trip. They even got me to drink Saki. Not my bag baby.

Much to our dismay, the weather had turned. Mother Nature offered up some sketch with a high pucker factor. White-knuckled most of the way I kept feeling like I was back home. I mean didn't I come to Arizona to leave this crap behind?!

The sun had risen on our final day as we packed up, cleaned up, and said goodbye to the mighty Dry Beaver. Looking to kill some time before our Red Eye home we drove through Scottsdale. After typing in "Old Town Scottsdale" in the google app we were led through the beautiful palm tree-lined streets, beautiful ballparks (Chicago Cubs spring training), and galleries that had me feeling like I was back in Los Angeles. Suffice it to say that feeling abruptly changed when the GPS said "you have arrived" as we stared blankly at the Psychiatric Hospital it was referring to. What was it trying to tell us?! Was it time to face matters, or a subtle reminder that Jeff and I had to go back to work soon? Either way, there was nothing old about the Scottsdale we saw. 

Downtown Phoenix was smaller than I had envisioned, but it was a clean looking city with construction everywhere. Reggie and I enjoyed a beer at the Tilted Kilt while Jeff got himself a much-needed haircut. We migrated over to a restaurant that was recommended by Reggie's co-worker. I forgot the name but I didn't forget the food! The eggplant meatballs were the shiz. Around 9 pm we boarded. I closed my eyes for a short period of time until my nose woke me up telling me the dude to my right probably just soiled himself. The rest of the flight home was uneventful.

My final thoughts on the Southwestern Sojourn.......

Sedona is a tourist trap. That was reflected in the downtown and pedestrian traffic on the trials. By no means was it overbearing. The hikers all played nicely in the sandbox waving hello and graciously allowing us riders to pass on by.

You cannot argue that Sedona is beautiful! The trails were awesome. The views were the antithesis of awful. All that climbing and chaffing were well worth it. I did feel like I was looking at the same views at times, but again they never sucked. Would I come back???? Yes, but only if I was riding in Prescott again. I will be back to that city and I will explore Flagstaff a bit more as those two cities did, in fact, speak to my soul. 

But what about the Vortexes??!! Didn't the higher power speak to me telling me to see these incredibly powerful entities?! I am happy to report that I finally stumbled across a very powerful vortex and it left me feeling....relieved.

Until next time my fellow Racer-Xers, keep it classy and keep it real.