Monday, April 25, 2011

Local Flow

Text and photos: Greg

I rode out to the local trails this evening. Stormy clouds were rolling fast and low over the valley. It had rained for much of the weekend, but -- except for a few small puddles -- the trails were dry. Better than dry. They were firm and grippy. Hero dirt, it is often called. Tires grabbed corners without letting go and I dove in and held on, feeling like a hero and grinning like a fool.

Swoop and flow of trail. Whir of wind and tread. Twists of bare trees against the boiling sky. Hard corners of rock. Scent of wild blossoms and a kaleidoscope of pink and white, yellow and red, lavender and green blurring past the edge of vision. Legs pumping, heart pounding, breath racing. Everything coming together until it was not me on a bike. Only a bundle of senses sweeping over the surface of a complex and beautiful world. Lighting the way ahead with the bright beam of a smile.


On a brighter springtime evening a few days ago, Mike and I headed out onto the same trails. Our intent, I suppose, was to use our cameras to try to capture that feeling of losing oneself in the flow and sensory overload of the ride. Perhaps ironically, our pace was much slower. We rode and shot, shot and rode. Until evening passed into twilight. My photos below. Check here for Mike's.

AZ: Sedona Vortex

Words by Greg
Photos by Greg and Trina

The final installment of our AZ trip recap:

A dome of stars arched over the dome of our tent. A late moon. A crisp morning sunrise. We pack up our last camp of the trip and head from wilder places into the whirl of civilization.

We both have an uneasy relationship with civilization. We're part of it. We know that. But we manage to feel as if we're not connected with it, or at least not responsible for it. As if we wouldn't mind if civilization were to careen onward and leave us behind, bobbing in its dirty wake, waiting for the water to clear and the waves to calm.

So instead of heading pell mell into the strange civilization of Sedona, we stop short, linger near the fringe. We leave the truck in a parking lot where hordes of other tourists lumber from huge buses to gawp at the towers of red rock, cheap cameras snapping away at the parked cars, the surrounding fence, themselves posed in front of what may be, in the distant background, a glorious mountain of stone. We grab our bikes and ride away onto a weaving red snake of a trail that stalks the highway, then slithers away toward the naked red stone.

The trail fulfills our mountain bike desires, with sections of fast swooping curves and packed dirt, shallow stairs of terraced rock, twisted climbs, smooth stone, tight squeezes, small drops, and short, punchy hills. The bright blue of the sky explodes with white clouds and sunshine. The wildness of the ride belies the fact that we're never far from the weary stuff of the city of Sedona, which bleeds into the valleys and oozes onto mountains, overlaying the burst of red rock and soil from the deeper earth with money and arrogance, with "second" homes and commercial inanity.

We turn our eyes instead, toward the juniper and pinyon trees, to the soaring red cliffs, to the narrow band of trail that leads us onward. And turn blind eyes to the scourge of civilization. The same blind eyes that prefer not to see that the truck we arrived in, the roads we arrived on, the food we eat and the bikes we ride all tether us to the civilization we claim to deny.

The very trail, slipping as is does stealthily between the cracks of the more obvious machinery of humanity, is a product of that same machine. If there were no one here to ride, there would be no trail. Or if a trail, a humble and rough one, molded by the hooves of deer, perhaps, not the rollicking roller coaster upon which we now plunge and soar.

The sunshine is warm, but a blue breeze stalks the ridge tops, pulling chill from our sweat. The breeze must also bear dust or pollen from a distant place, for Trina is having a spectacular allergy attack. She is snorting and hacking and repeatedly riding up to me shouting "See? See?" angling her face toward me. I am supposed to look at her in shock and horror at the vast river of snot that is running down her upper lip, dripping free, and coating the trail in a thick layer of mucus and slime. But to me it never looks like much more than a thin bead of moisture below her nose and I repeatedly fail to be impressed, which causes her much disappointment.

Zeek is in the truck enjoying a day of rest. Sprocket might as well not be with us, as he so closely matches the color of the red dirt that we can hardly see him. We ride stone shelves past people lost in meditation or the contemplation of UFOs. We bump up and down rocky staircases. We skim near a swift little river. And swoop and holler along the trail.

Lunch is served trailside overlooking the lifestyles of the rich and famous, backed by desert trees and shrubs, and carpeted -- very thinly -- with a few early spring flowers. The bright day begins to dim behind high, fast-moving clouds. We turn back and enjoy the reverse of our morning ride, now grunting where we had swooped down, and swooping where we had climbed in the morning, still managing to grin despite the miles in our legs.

Back at the truck, we take Zeek for a quick taste of the trail, then load up and head out, fleeing the mayhem that creates a whirling vortex around Sedona. We head toward home, not leaving civilization behind, to be sure. But perhaps slipping stealthliy over long miles through the cracks between the noise and bright glare of our civilization. Heading homeward to where we do our best to find a quiet space where we can keep to our own warm glow.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

AZ: Picketpost

More catch-up photos from our Arizona trip. Our next ride was yet another section of the AZT, this time near the jank-town of Superior. We'd tried to ride the Picketpost section the previous year, but had gotten rained out.

We spent the morning in camp, busily studying bird song, taking sample photos of botanical specimens, and measuring the changing intensity of solar radiation as a thin layer of cloud burned away. Important scientific stuff.

By early afternoon, we'd made it to the trailhead where we boldly charged past the large AZT sign onto a wide jeep road that quickly disintegrated and became a rocky wash with no real trail to follow. The going was tough and we were walking lots of it and I kept thinking, wow, this doesn't seem to be the kind of trail that anyone would be very enthusiastic about. But then an actual trail crossed in front of us and we realized that we'd probably missed the other end of it somewhere.

Once we were on the actual trail, the going got much better. It was a smooth climb that took us around the back side of Picketpost Mountain and headed steadily toward a high ridge. We wound slowly upward through the saguaro scenery, sharp peaks and ridges punching upward in the distance.

Trina and Zeek stopped for a nap in the sunshine while Sprocket and I rambled onward. We made it to where the trail seemed to top out and began to head downward into harsh and beautiful canyons. The view was enticing, but we turned around and headed back to gather up the other two. Then all together we headed back down the way we'd come.

We swooped downward on the curvy trail, grinning and spinning. When we got to where we'd dragged ourselves out of the rocky wash, we turned onto the section of trail we'd missed on the way up. Or... At least we hoped it was the trail that would lead us back to the trailhead.

This section of trail was so fun that, for a while, we didn't really care where it was going. Nice flowing singletrack punctuated with rocky sections that kept us challenged and alert. We were having a great time, but the day was starting to fade. Were we really on the right trail? Were we headed toward the truck? Would we make it before dark? We kept on riding through the golden light beneath the glowing cliffs of the mountain.

There was still daylight left when we popped out at the trailhead, just to one side of where we'd foolishly ridden up the jeep road and into the wash. (The route which was -- foolishly, we thought -- right behind the main AZT trail sign.)

Happily tired and hungry, we loaded bikes and dogs and drove off into the sunset toward civilization, where in the midst of miles and miles of completely generic strip-mall American chain restaurants, we happened to stumble through the doors of a funky dive* that served us some of the best Mexican food we've had. Then we slipped away into the darkness and slid past the glittering hulk of greater Phoenix and back into wilder lands where we slept under bright, crisp stars while coyotes sang lonely songs to a lonely land where we did not feel alone.

*Elvira's Mexican Restaurant in Apache Junction. Go there. It's the kind of place that should be kept alive.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

AZ: Sonorascape

Words and Photos by Greg and Trina

I suppose it's a good sign. Good that we're still catching up on our posts from our trip to Arizona in February. It must mean that we are having plenty of fun in the here and now. But please, allow us to take you back to the day after our La Milagrosa (mis)adventure.

We did another short ride on a section of the AZT near Colossal Cave. Short, yes, and fairly easy. But we were tired enough from the day before that it worked us over pretty good. Still, it was fun to zoom along through the cactus when the trail turned downward.

After the ride, it was time for us to begin our slow way homeward and northward with more fun expected along the way. We spent a couple days of traveling and had a couple campouts where we were happy to relax in the desert and let the flora, fauna colors, shapes and scenery of the Sonora fill our senses.

We had to implement a leash law when we camped in Aravaipa. The beautiful cactus forest was so densely carpeted with cholla and other injurious prickles that the dogs couldn't take two steps without needing cactus spines removed from their pads. We figured they'd benefit from the rest anyway, and based on the amount of dozing that was going on, that seemed to have been the right call.

Red-eyed Phainopepla eating mistletoe berries

A challenging approach to a glorious hillside camp with views so spectacular as to justify the extra effort of getting there... if the thrill of getting partially airborn isn't enough justification in itself.