On Location: Mountain Biking in Sedona, AZ
Words by Chris Shalbot. Photos by Paris Gore. Dragging bikes through an airport along with the rest of your luggage is what you might call Type II fun. Even with four days of planned riding and a wheeled bike case, the constant navigation through the crowd of other travelers and standing in one line only to be denied and directed to the other side of the terminal can easily wear you down. You get arm pump without the satisfaction of even riding. Just like all Type II fun, looking back made it all worth it. Upon finally checking our bikes, evo’s bike buyer, Jon Kennedy and I settled in for the 3.5 hour flight down to Phoenix with promise of warm temps, good Mexican food and new-to-me singletrack in one of most iconic riding destinations in the US: Sedona, Arizona. The trip came together after a text from evo and Devinci rider Matthew Slaven inviting us out to preview the latest Devinci trail rig, the Django.
With the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival drawing riders from all over for demos, shuttles and live music, we thought it would be best to bring our own bikes so we wouldn’t have to depend on the few production Djangos Devinci brought with them. That in itself posed a couple problems… From the previously mentioned airport struggles to misjudging the cargo capacity of an “economy sized” rental car, we were off to a rough start. After trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for what seemed like half an hour something clicked and it worked. Our Mitsubishi rental was fully loaded and off we went, chirping the tires as we left the parking garage, Siri steering us towards the closest In-N-Out Burger.
Two hours and two Double Doubles later, driving under clear skies with our little 4 cylinder pinned at a consistent 5500 RPMS, we found ourselves pulling into the village of Oak Creek. The quiet golfing community just south of Sedona would be our home base for the duration of the stay. We arrived, beer in hand, to a crowded house of friends, old and new, who shared stories of their rides from earlier that day and location plans for the next four days. Tired from a late night in the office the day before, a full day’s work plus travel, I found my bed somewhere around midnight with a promising outlook for the morning.
I managed to sleep through the coyote howls but awoke to the smell of bacon and coffee. Farm fresh eggs, pancakes, bananas, berries, yogurt and granola- the spread was everything you could ask for to get your day started. Our crew consisted of Matthew, our Devinci Rep James Patrin, photographer Paris Gore, Fox Suspension Product Manager Ariel Lindsley and a handful of shop employees and close friends of James. We sat around the table eating our breakfast, scoping some photos from the day before. James lived in Sedona several years back helping start Sedona Bike and Bean and was involved in establishing some of Sedona’s initial trail systems. His knowledge of the area was invaluable. After a few last minute tweaks to some bikes, we finalized a ride plan that dropped us off north of town and finished out on the west side.
We rolled out in the Devinci van and got dropped off near Brins Mesa Trailhead and made our way towards Soldier Pass. Back home a lot of the riding is grinding up a climb to earn a long descent, so Soldier Pass’ quick technical descents followed by short, punchy climbs was the perfect introduction to Sedona’s foreign landscape. Within the first miles our route was met with surreal rock formations including the 130 year old Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole, the Seven Sacred Pools and the stunning Coffee Pot Rock. From Soldier Pass, James knew of an unmarked trail up one of the many washes in the area. It was a steep grunt of a climb but once we leveled out we traversed up and down, up and down under the towering spires Coffee Pot. It became very evident that bikes equipped with a dropper post and tubeless tires stood the best chance out there. The constant ups and downs over square edged rocks and cactus lined trails make the two items almost a necessity. We wrapped around Coffee Pot, and connected with the Tea Cup Trails making our way over to Thunder Mountain.
Even running tubeless in Sedona does not guarantee a flat-free ride. It’s here we suffered the first flat of the day. The quick addition of a tube and we were back on the Thunder Mountain trail which ultimately headed over towards Chimney Rock and the highway, but we chased a rumor that there was a relatively unused connector trail that links up with Lower Lizardhead to save us some time and also keep us off the road. The trail was rough from the start and only continued to get worse. We found ourselves pushing far more than riding in the sun with temps hovering around 80 degrees. This was the low point of the day. Eventually we found our way out but not without another flat courtesy of a large cactus thorn. Ten minutes and another tube later and we were back on the trail headed west to Vultee Arch and the Chuckwagon trails out to Mezcal, the crown jewel of the West Sedona trails. Mezcal trail traverses a bench underneath the red sandstone mesa that gives the trail its name. The caved walls are said to have been at one point inhabited by the Yavapai and Apache tribes. Experiencing this scenic and rugged landscape by bike provided a deep connection to the history of the land and the people that made their home there. From Mezcal, the rest of the ride went pretty smoothly, with fast rolling singletrack and vantage points looking back at the mesa. We met up with James’ wife Aletta at the Vultee Arch Trailhead and proceed to have a post ride “parking lot patio” party complete with Tecates, margaritas, chips and guac. After toasting to a great day, we made our way back to a taco dinner and planned for the next day.
Day two started off with more of the same with plans to hit Hangover. If Mezcal is the crown jewel of West Sedona then Hangover is the feather in the cap of all of Sedona. Few spots compared to the views from Hangover but getting to the top is no easy feat and neither is getting down, which adds to the allure. The crew grew with the addition of Devinci’s US Sales Manager Francis Morin, who is a former World Cup XC racer. We parked downtown and rode up to the Airport Mesa where we met up with Matthew’s riding buddy and Bend, OR local Adam Craig and his Giant teammate Karl Decker. We ripped a lap down Brewer back to downtown and crossed over the highway, this time heading northeast out Schnebly Hill Road for a 5 mile slog. Although it’s not steep, the Schnebly Hill Road climbs to over 6000 ft and offers very little shade. With the crew pushing at more than Jon and I’s casual desk jockey pace, we were soon hanging off the the back of the pack. After about an hour of climbing we reached our drop in point and the group of 10 or so riders huddled under the few trees for shade to refuel and hydrate before ripping back down Munds Wagon to the start of Hangover. From this intersection Hangover is immediately intense, traversing up and across slick rock marked by cairns and white paint. You never really get the chance to relax. Just when you think it has to ease up you’re met by more steep slick rock switchbacks. However those willing to put in the work are rewarded by a nearly 360 degree view from the saddle.
It’s there that we met Paris, who opted to drive out to the trailhead rather than ride with his camera pack all the way from town. We broke for lunch while Matthew, Adam and Ariel decided to pioneer some lines off the top. Hangover is listed as “extreme” and although it’s a word that may seem Mountain Dew commercial cliché, I don’t think there is a single other word that would best describe the numerous high consequence no fall zones and technical lines. It’s so incredibly scenic but the exposure keeps you honest, forcing you to focus on a trail that’s cut along a ledge, rewarding advanced riders all the way down. Eventually you pop out of the ledge and the risk of tumbling several hundred feet subsides, but not before one last series of terracing rock rolls.
We all come out unscathed and loop into Hangover’s last section of loose fast single track back to Schnebly, crossing back and forth over the road and eventually back to the bottom of the climb. From there we we’re faced with two options: ride back to town directly or add another 45 minutes and take the Huckaby Trail out. Completely exhausted we only had one choice…keep riding. Although it was slow going with most of our energy zapped from the climbing and heat, we made our way along Huckaby to the Midgley Bridge where we said goodbye to Adam and Karl. They continued to put in miles for the day as we pedaled back to town and 89 Agave for their Ultimate Margaritas and more chips and guac.
The third day started off with a 5:30 wake up call with plans for some photos at a nearby location with Paris and Matthew for our Django launch piece. Loaded up and out the door by 6 we were soon hiking up from the bottom of Hiline with most of the photo gear Paris brought with him. We arrived just in time for Paris and I to get set up and for Matthew to get a couple quick trial runs before the morning light poured over Courthouse Butte. Not only did we get the shots we needed for our piece but Paris also managed to snag some photos of Matthew that will be used in a Dakine ad later this year. We wrapped up by 8 and headed back to the house for breakfast. After another awesome meal from Chef Charlie, one of James’ old friends who brought his cooking skills along with his bike, we sat down, planned some events and bounced ideas around on how we could continue to work together with the release of the Django. Most of the the group decided to go and check out the festival back in town while Aletta and I took the Djangos out for a quick afternoon lap on the trails in between Oak Creek and Sedona. Once on the Djangos we realized a quick lap wouldn’t suffice. The Slim Shady, Templeton and Easy Breezy Trails were the perfect mix of fast rolling and technical terrain. The miles piled on and the bikes begged for more. We crossed under the highway, gave Charlie and some friends going the other direction a high five or two and set our sights on Chicken Point. Chicken Point is a famous panoramic viewpoint accessible from the south by bike or foot on the Little Horse Trail. it can also be reached from the north via the Broken Arrow Trailhead by pedaling, hiking or riding in a 4wheel drive vehicle on old jeep roads. It’s a popular spot for tourists and cyclists alike and home to Sedona’s most exposed trail, White Line. After taking in the view, having a snack and causally pedaling along Llama Trail under the towering Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock, we stopped for a quick caffeine fix at Oak Creek Espresso before returning to the house. Having those trails just out the door was awesome. No coordinating cars, just hop on the bike and go. It was the perfect follow up to the two previous days.
A late night of watching Supercross was met by another early morning, trying to squeeze in one last ride before catching a flight back home. The plan was to catch a ride out to the Festival venue with Verg, Devinci’s nomadic demo driver and pedal back to the house. I was the only one up early enough to fit in the ride so some solo exploring ensued. Starting off at the Airport Mesa again I circled around the Ridge Trail and out to Red Rocks Crossing. It’s there I met two other riders who were turning around because the water level hadn’t receded enough yet to walk across the rocks. This was a totally unseen circumstance. I needed to be back to the house by 10 to pack up my bike and head to the airport. I was already running late and turning back meant missing my flight. I took off my shoes and socks, strapped them to my pack and waded across the river. With the water up to my knees and using my bike to stabilize myself on the slick, algae covered rocks, the crossing went relatively easier than expected. I quickly threw on my socks and shoes and spun away, determined to make my flight. The climb out to Templeton was rough and slow with a few non-rideable climbs. Once up on top the pace picked up again and I found myself pinning it to get back to the house. Having ridden the same trails the other direction the previous day, it was cool to see how well the trails worked in both directions. I made it back in time to pack my roller and take a quick shower while Jon got my bike into my Biknd JetPack Bag. The bike bags went into the car right the first time and we hit the road back to Phoenix with just enough time for a final serving of In-N-Out.
Thank you to James, Francis and David at Devinci for inviting us out, to Matthew and Paris for the extra hustle to nab some amazing photos and hilarious YouTube videos and to Verg for keeping the bikes dialed every day. Thanks to Charlie for being the amazing house chef and CJ, Aletta, Damian from Crow’s Feet Commons and everyone who we rode with. I’m so grateful we got to ride together.
Finally, if you find yourself riding in Sedona don’t hesitate to check out all the awesome trails we rode along with others that make up the 200 plus trails in the area. For service and parts stop by Over the Edge in Sedona and local Devinci dealer, Absolute Bikes in Oak Creek.