Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Bikeist Vortex?

Why no Bikeist this past Monday?  Labor Day people!  Would have posted a place-holder to let you all know, but that would constitute "work" which I'm pretty sure is illegal on Labor Day --

Anyway, not easy to post when you're stuck in the world's longest traffic jam (or what seemed like it) all the way from Flagstaff to Phoenix along I-17.  I know, I have cited about a thousand reasons why I have only transported myself to work via bikes for 19 years, but #1 (by a long-shot) is my complete loathing of getting stuck in traffic.  My personal hell.  Oh, what I would have given for a bike!  Of course, the bike wouldn't have been quite so pleasant once I got back down to the Valley of the Sun and its toasty 112 degrees of pure fun.  Note to self:  every holiday weekend, every living soul in Phoenix (who can't afford to fly to San Diego) gets in an endless line of SUV's to crawl up the mountains to Flagstaff/Sedona on Friday night and then turns right around and starts heading back to Phoenix when they finally get there on Monday morning. 

Lucky for me, despite this torture, I still managed to fit in some amazing biking during this trip to watch my buddy Mark (yes, the same cyclist hating guy from Kansas featured in my very first post!) get promoted.  Us being in the Navy, promotions are always followed by "Wetting Down" parties -- and this one didn't disappoint -- went pretty much all weekend.  For those of you still trying to remember who Mark is, here's his unfathomably rusty cassette:

Oh, the horror!

Flying in the night before the festivities gave me ample opportunity to get up early the next morning to hit the amazing red rock trails in Sedona.  Doing a little research before-hand, I discovered the Bike & Bean, a coffee/bike shop in Oak Creek (right near Bell Rock) that rents top-shelf mountain bikes and also runs the Red Agave mountain bike "resort" across the street.  Some of the best trails in Arizona lead out from right behind the Red Agave's A-frame units.  Unfortunately for me, the Red Agave was sold out for a wedding, but the Wildflower Inn (a cheap, clean, motel with an incredible view of Bell Rock) actually shares a parking lot with the Bike & Bean.  Absolute best thing about the Inn, though, is their new basement tenant:  Famous Pizza & Beer.  As a born and certified New York pizza snob, I was dubious about the pizza (which wound up being delicious), but thought I had died and gone to heaven when I creaked in after my insufferable drive from Phoenix to discover a freshly hung chalkboard listing about 15 different craft beers on tap!  Score!  Bikes, trails, beer, pizza, gourmet coffee and a bed all co-located within walking distance of each other all for my personal enjoyment!  It must have been my own personal Sedona vortex that led me to this spot (or something like that) -- what an awesome micro-vacation within a mini-vacation!  I sat with the owner who is a huge hop-head and learned that he had just moved in that week.  The man knows his beer -- Stone, Green Flash, Dogfish Head, Ska, Great Divide, and even some Belgians were all on tap.

The next morning I woke up early to this view:

I jumped into my mountain bike shorts, dry-fit shirt, and bike shoes -- loaded my stuff in the trunk of the car, scarfed down a fresh waffle (love free hotel lobby breakfast buffets with waffle-makers -- why don't all hotels have them?), then made my way across the parking lot to the Bike & Bean just as they were opening to pick up the fully suspended Santa Cruz I had reserved the week before. 

 I was greeted by the owner (a fellow New Yorker!) who made me a perfect double espresso as I filled out the rental paperwork.  He had a map ready for me and patiently walked me through his recommended ride for the morning.  When I asked him what drew him out here from New York -- he just looked around the shop and said "this, man!"  So jealous . . .

Next, I was out the door and on the bike.  Always a little weird re-adjusting to the feel of a mountain bike -- used to be the only way I rode, but I'm predominantly a road rider these days.  After whizzing around the parking lot a few times, it was across the street and through the Red Agave's grounds to the trail head.  The trail was flat and smooth at first, but, before I knew it I was climbing some steep, rocky inclines.  The slim-shady trail was supposed to have a good pay-off, but the twists and sudden, rocky rises were a little too technical for me without a guide or more time to learn the route.  So, I redirected under the highway to the trails surrounding Bell Rock which were much more to my liking.  Mostly smooth, and fast, this is what I had come for.  The kind of trails you salivate over watching mountain biking videos. 

I almost immediately came upon a small group of Canadian dudes who had flown in to mountain bike Sedona for a full week.  A local was acting as their volunteer trail guide, and they generously invited me to join them (always nice when mountain biking in a new place).   I got off to an auspicious start, though, as we hit the first quick rise.  Last in line, I followed the line of the rider in front of me who hesitated on the up, and then swerved around a boulder too big to hop over right in the middle of the trail.  My momentum carried me right into the rock and straight over the handlebars -- woooh!!!  Oddly enough, it was a great feeling -- probably because of the reminiscence and because I executed a decent roll and was none the worse for the wear.  Getting the first (and only) tumble out of the way relaxed me, so I felt much more in control of my adrenaline from that point.  Also helpful to my confidence was that two of the Canadians (who had been riding these trails all week) both bought it on the next rise (ok, it's not just me - this terrain is actually pretty challenging).

With our local "guide" shouting out cues as we went along, we soon got into a good rhythm, especially when we reached the top of the first climb and started descending a bit.  I love my road bike, but there is nothing like descending on a mountain bike -- it requires so much concentration as you react to every twist and terrain change -- your entire body and mind are engaged as one.

We strung together several, assorted, climbs and descents before getting to a point where it seemed like we were coming to the end of the loop as we hit a dried up river bed we had previously crossed.  At this point our guide simply said "follow me, you're going to love this, it's how I always end" as he headed back up a steep trail we had skipped earlier.  When we got to the top, he encouraged us to space out our descents (sort of like you'd do on a water slide) because he wanted to "shred" the trail all the way down.  I went last so as not to risk getting in his way and enjoyed an amazing, fast, red rock descent with no sudden drops or hazards to slow me down -- it felt like a roller coaster ride, without any sense of losing control or momentum.  Perfect.  My vortex had led me to the perfect confluence of pizza, beer, coffee, and mountain biking, and had culminated in the perfect red rock descent back to the trail-head. 

We took some shade at the rest area adjacent to the trail-head, introduced ourselves and discussed some of the highlights of the ride.  I looked at my watch and couldn't believe that I had started out four hours earlier.  It felt like I had just started -- although it was much, much, hotter than when I had set out.  Our guide said he never biked past noon in the summer (wise man) and strongly recommended that we follow his lead.  I needed little convincing because the long pause suddenly reminded me that I had been at sea level less than 24 hours earlier.  Time to head back to the shop for another jolt of espresso before hitting the road to Flagstaff and Mark-a-Palooza --

Lucky for me, this was simply the jump-start to an amazing weekend.  I try to incorporate biking into each and every trip I take, and this was one of the best moves I've ever made (thanks, of course, to the Bikeist Vortex that exists on the edge of Sedona).  Fellow San Diegans, my airfare to and from Phoenix was less than $200 on Southwest.  If you are looking for an amazing biking adventure, book a flight now, and head to one of the coolest (only?) bike shop/coffee shop/bike resorts you will ever find.  You won't regret it --

It's so good to be The Bikeist . . .

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