Phoenix Mountain Biking : Grading the Trails

phoenix mountain biking
Cruising the red rocks at Papago Park. (Photo by N. Scott Trimble)

[January 2021: This post about Phoenix mountain biking is pretty old. We’ve had a lot going on trail-wise since this was published 9 years ago. Expect an update soon!]

Phoenix mountain biking offers any rider some hard choices. There’s no shortage of great mountain bike trails. A few years ago, I published a list of my favorite trails. Now it’s time to refresh it with some new info. Things change – so my old list may not be as much help anymore.

I’ll list all the Phoenix mountain biking spots I ride regularly and give them a grade. The letter grade reflects trail quality, amenities, traffic and all that good stuff. I’ll make extra notes about location – it’s a bit unfair for some great trails to get dinged for being a bit further away.

This list is NOT complete. If I don’t mention your favorite Phoenix mountain biking, I welcome you to add it in the comments. Click the links in each section for a more in-depth look at the trails.

Black Canyon Trail

Barely close enough to the Valley for this Phoenix mountain biking list. But I can’t let a nationally recognized mountain bike trail go ignored. The southern reaches start off flat and firm. Go north, and the action gets steep. All told, this is supposed to stretch way far north. I’ve heard Prescott and beyond. Far northwest of Phoenix. Grade: B+

Phoenix mountain biking
I have a long history with Trail 100 and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Deem Hills

A new bit of mountain biking fun out in the West Side, right in view of the I-17 freeway. Your ride will start with a hard slog to the top of a mesa. That’s where the fun singletrack lives. Great flow up there once you get up that grunt of a climb. Grade: B-

Fantasy Island North Singletrack

Named for the famous bit of State Trust Land in Tucson. This was built on private land a few years ago – miraculously, the land owners haven’t closed it. Tight, twisty and turny. Only one really long climb, but lots of rolling terrain. Far out to the southwest, but still right for a Phoenix mountain biking list. Grade: A

Gold Canyon

Just did my first ride here in May 2012 since it’s a new addition to Phoenix mountain biking. Well-designed singletrack – tight turns, steep chutes, quite a few technical bits. Some of the best scenery around since it’s right near the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Far to the southeast. Grade: B+

Mountain biking near phoenix
The sort of riding you’ll find at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Hawes Loop

An East Valley favorite. There’s quite a bit of road riding involved. But the downhill sections have great flow. You’ll need to check your speed. If you head a bit north, the terrain will get steeper and more technical. Dead east of Phoenix. Grade: B

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Pack lunch: You’ll find more than 50 miles of singletrack mountain biking. There’s the Competitive Track, the Pemberton Loop and numerous off-shoots – plus a pump track! Home to some of the best races. Northeast of the Valley, north of Fountain Hills. To me, it’s the gold standard in Phoenix mountain biking. Grade: A

Papago Park

Lots going on here, all just moments for Sky Harbor International Airport. Fast groovy singletrack; gets more technical as you head south. Some short power climbs to get your heart going. Home to the informal STP races. Grade: B

Mountain biking near phoenix
A little Pima and Dynamite fun.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Well more than 30 miles of mountain biking near Phoenix. Trail 100 is the out-and-back backbone of this mountain bike trail system. Lots of off-shoots. The far east and west portions are the most fun, with the middle third fairly bleak and rocky without much flow. Great Phoenix mountain biking 15 minutes north of Sky Harbor. Grade: B

Pima and Dynamite

A nearly-uncountable amount of singletrack, most of it on State Trust Land. Wild and wooly undulations, with a high likelihood of wildlife encounters. Gets more technical the further northeast you ride. North Scottsdale. Grade: A

South Mountain

The Desert Classic gets a lot of love, but the really technical mountain biking is up on the Mormon and National loops. Plenty of offshoots no matter where you go. Lots of rattlesnakes in the spring. These trails get a lot of use – check yourself. Grade: B+

Man Dies in Second Mountain Bike Fatality of 2012

This is what you usually get from a ride at McDowell – big smiles and good times. Stay safe out there, everyone.

A mountain biker died during a rider at McDowell Mountain Regional Park Saturday. That’s the second mountain bike fatality at my favorite park in the last six weeks.

I have a story on Examiner.com with more details. That’s what you want to read for the "just the facts" info. Frankly, the story is missing the rider’s identity. I could press harder – but in this case, that’s not what’s important about the situation.

My motivation for writing the Examiner story was two-fold: First, so other riders can remember the basics of how to be prepared (see below). Second, I hope it’s a wake-up to the abject performance of the so-called outdoor writer at The Arizona Republic. Every hiker who skins a knee on Camelback Mountain warrants a story, but the Republic can’t be arsed about anything beyond sight of the newsroom.

But here on my own site – I just have a few messages for my mountain bike brethren. There are a few points I want us all to take away from the deaths of Ron Cadiente and the as-yet unnamed out-of-town visitor.

Be Prepared

If you mountain bike without a helmet, water, tools, a properly maintained bike and a cell phone -- You.Are.Not.Prepared. Don’t leave home without any of these. And think about a sports drink and some snacks, especially as the weather gets hotter. I can’t believe I still need to tell anyone to wear a helmet. It boggles my mind that anyone would mountain bike without a helmet – there is just no valid reason for it.

Don’t Do Anything Stupid

If you can’t pass someone safely, don’t pass them at all. Wait. I don’t care if you’re a Cat 1 or pro mountain bike racer (in fact, they tend to ride safer than Cat 3’s front-of-the-pack riders), finishing a few seconds earlier is not worth your safety or that of your fellow riders. Your sponsors or the bike shop who sponsors your team certainly agrees. And yield the trail whenever you can to riders headed the opposite direction. I notice a lot of people like to ride Pemberton counter-clockwise these days. Fine. Let’s all be good to each other and allow some room.

Control Yourself

This means to things: Keep your speed reasonable and watch where you want to go. I know speed is fun – but the there’s a fine line you’ll cross when the speed gets too much for your skill or the trail conditions -- and it shrinks your margin of error. And that’s not fun.

Now, onto "where you want to go". Most experienced riders instinctively know that your bike will go wherever your eyes do. Call it "target fixation" or whatever, but it’s true. So look at the path around the obstacles before you. See the smooth line and fix a firm but loose gaze on it. It sounds easy, and it is – but it’s also essential for keeping your mountain bike in control.

You are Cool, Caring People

Mountain bikers are good people. The Internet can bring out the worst in people. But read the very first reports of Ron’s death on MTBR. And then witness the support as people set up a low-key but meaningful way to raise funds to honor his memory. The response makes me more than a little proud to be a mountain biker. And I regret not doing more to participate. If there’s a second-annual ride for Ron, I’ll get behind it on this site and I’ll be there to ride.

Do any of you other riders out there have any observations about what we can take away from these unfortunate losses?

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Arizona Pols: Courting the Electorate Via Spam

No, this is NOT the District 9 I live in!

For Arizona political hopefuls like Martin Sepulveda, kissing babies and shaking hands is passe. The power of the Internet and the telephone allow them to spread their names without effort.

And, too often, without consent.

If a guy like ex-Chandler city council member Martin Sepulveda, who hopes to win the Ninth Congressional District seat, knocks at my door -- it’s easy enough to ignore. Not so if he robo-calls to a handy list of phone numbers.

Or if he buys my e-mail address and spams my inbox. On the other hand, it says a lot about a congressional contender’s character when he sends you a grammatically challenged, hyperbolic screed full of some of the most egregious abuse of upper-case letters on record (Note to Mr. Sepulveda – hire a decent copywriter before it’s too late. And please, be smart enough not to throw the word "tyranny" around without regard for its meaning.).

It also sends other messages that voters shouldn’t overlook: "My politicking trumps your privacy. I play dirty. I will do anything to take and hold a seat."

As if Arizona politics isn’t already crawling with that sort of behavior.

This post is my vehicle to shed light on people like Sepulveda, my scarlet "S" (yes, as in SPAMMER) that will show who sends unsolicited campaign messages to an electorate that didn’t consent. This list is non-partisan and open to submissions (so if you get one that I haven’t listed, forward it to me at wanderingjustin at hotmail dot com).

If you are a politician and your name is on this list, fear not. You can win your way off. Just e-mail a signed denouncement of the use of unsolicited e-mails and robocalls for political campaigning, along with your pledge not to use such tactics. I will strike your name through on this list, and post your denouncement (with signature redacted). That’s it.

Here’s where the list starts:

Martin Sepulveda – Running for Arizona CD9 seat

Grounded Airliners at Pinal Air Park – Random Photos

A Delta 747's huge tail finds a spectacular backdrop in Picacho Peak.

For a flying and travel enthusiast, it’s surreal to see hundreds of acres of grounded airliners. It’s a sad sight for many reasons.

Before I get into that, why are these airliners baking under the Arizona desert sun? Well, they’re parked at Pinal Air Park because they’re surplus to their owners’ needs. Some are just too old to be useful – it’s a 747-400 world, and most of these are 1- and 200-models. So they wind up here until they get pressed back into service … or until they get recycled.

Two more 747s languish at Pinal Air Park.

I see these old airliners and think of where they have gone. They’ve probably taken people all over the world … and back in a time where the world may have seemed bigger and more mysterious. You couldn’t take a peak at Reykjavik on Google Earth, or find a new friend in Busan through Facebook.

And I also see waste. Many of these will never go back into service. And we know there are many clever ways to recycle airliners. Turn ’em into hostels, use them for home construction, turn them into bars … whatever. A lot of effort when in to them. Surely they can do more than just get turns into a new generation of receptacles for processed food.

A 747-200 and a DC-10 at Pinal Air Park

My Switch Vision sunglasses giveaway is still going on! Competition is heating up, with hikers and mountain bikers pitching in some great stories about the best thing they’ve ever found on a trail. Best story wins! Check this blog post  for the rules. Deadline is March 30, 2012.

An Airsoft First-Timer Tells All

airsoft first-timer
Probably the coolest protective gear on the field.

Light drizzle, a chilly wind, 45 degrees and overcast -- it’s finally winter in the desert. I’m warm thanks to my Army battle dress uniform, gloves and balaclava.

And every run, dodge, dip and duck through the ruins of Sasco, Ariz. also keeps the chill away. The abandoned mining town is filled with foes firing torrents of plastic 6mm projectiles at me from replica assault rifles – I’ve lost count of every M-4, M-16, MP-5 and AK-47 I’ve faced.

I’m an Airsoft first-time. And my first game ever is a heaping slice of deep-fried gold.

Never heard of Airsoft? I think of it as paintball done right -- the guns function better, they’re less awkward, there’s no dye getting everywhere. The very realistic-looking weapons spew plastic balls somewhere between 300 and 500 feet per second. My Echo1 rifle, one of its RedStar line of AK-47 replicas, straddles the middle. It’s not fancy or pricey, but it helps me hold my own. No malfunctions, just steady performance.

airsoft first-timer
The pylons lead to the way to what’s left of the mining tunnel. Lots of ambushes and betrayals here …

My Monolith team – one of several teams in the game – has only four people. We’re overmatched and outgunned, with nary a true machine gun or sniper rifle among us. We try to compensate, bribing other teams (like Free Stalkers and Bandits) to harass, harry, heckle and harangue the team standing in as the Russian military.

My entire day of Airsoft first-timer fun is the result of some hard work put in by a go-getter named Darr. He displays ambition, serious organizational chops and a real love for this game. Throughout the day, people rave about his scenario, which he based on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl video game. The remains of the smelter and skeleton of the mining operation fill in nicely as a slice of the abandoned, irradiated Russian city called Pripyat. Darr has everything right: the game area, his ability to improvise, the props and layout. Success requires negotiation skills, duplicity and wariness (for the inevitable betrayals).

airsoft first-timer
Max, David and Henry were my Monolith teammates.

About 30 minutes pass before the teams open fire on each other. Until then, it’s a crock pot of diplomacy, misdirection, evaluation. I love the tension, especially next to the premature release of so many flavors of paintball games.

I learn a lot about Airsoft and the people who play it. They are professionals, college students, high schoolers. Some sit back to take advantage of cover, firepower, superior numbers. Others make and break deals at will. Some sneak through the creosote and ruins, unheard and unseen. Others stomp around in heavily armed herds. In short, there’s something for everyone.

But here’s what worries me about Airsoft, especially in Arizona – there are few convenient places to organize awesome events like this. And too few people willing to do the heavy lifting of contacting the owners and managers of empty spaces. Sasco is terrific, but remote. I can think of several places within 30 minutes of the Phoenix area that would be perfect.

And the Airsoft industry needs to work harder to get more people involved. It should target every single World of Warcraft/Call of Duty/Halo fiend. If one out of every 50 uninitiated people permanently attached to gaming systems wound up on a field with a decent Airsoft replica in-hand, profits and advocacy would soar. I’d also hit CrossFit gyms and all the people who love stuff like the Warrior Dash -- fitness pays dividends in Airsoft. I could see a smart Airsoft shop (or manufacturer/brand) even holding a biathlon – running with your Airsoft replica and stopping to use it to hit targets every half mile. Provide loaners for Airsoft first-timers who don’t have their own – a perfect introduction.

airsoft first-timer
Me!

From there? Get players talking about finding viable places to play just as much as they talk about gear (your fancy hop-up and tight-bore barrel will be more fun if you have more places to put them to work).

But those are thoughts for another time. For now, my bottom line: All credit to Darr for his imagination, thoroughness and commitment to crafting a really outstanding time for the Airsoft players from the Valley to Tucson. Поздравляю!

Check out Darr’s YouTube slideshow, and do note the groovy pirate-metal soundtrack. Avast!

What’s Up With Wasted Dates?

You'll see this all over Phoenix in the late summer. (photo by Balaram Mahalder)

Don’t let the headline fool you. I’m not turning into a dating website (though I offer my friends lots of dating advice that they never take). But dates are on my mind.

The Phoenix area is full of big, beautiful, bountiful date trees. Come the end of summer, they begin to hang heavy with fruit. Before it ripens, though, landscaping crews scurry about. They cut the branches down and toss pounds upon pounds of growing dates into the trash. At grocery stores and farmers markets, these same dates sell for up to $10 a pound.

That’s right: Every date tree that gets pruned is a wasted opportunity -- to make money, to even feed some people. Sure, they’re tasty. They’re also a great source of potassium, iron and fiber. Yet they just wind up in the trash.

To the best of my knowledge, only Arizona State University is smart enough to harvest and sell its dates (and olives!). The university invited volunteers to prune the plants and take the harvest home. Sure, they’re not a revenue source. But at least the dates aren’t feeding and breeding legions of flies in a trash bin.

Every other municipality and property owner with date trees is squandering a great renewable resource. Considering our economy and the growing interest in being green, is there a better time to tap into an easy, ready-made source of urban agriculture?

I’d love to hear from our local city governments and property owners: Why do they allow this waste to continue? Help them do the right thing: Write to your city council representative. Knock on a nearby business owner’s door and say "hey, I’ll harvest ‘em." Figure out a way to harvest your own tree.

Remembering my T-6 Texan Warbird Flight

I always had fantasies about flying in one of these. Carl’s T-6 brought me a little closer.

I catch the 10 p.m. newscast as it’s about to go to commercial; the anchor teases a story to come in the next segment.

“A vintage airplane crashes in the desert, killing two,” she says.

It could be any vintage plane, any pilot. But I know it’s not. I turn the TV off. Moments later, my phone rings. It’s Alexa, a friend and colleague at The Arizona Republic.

“Justin, there’s been an accident,” she says.

“I know.”

Where Pilots Are Born

It’s an ungainly beast, this T-6 Texan. No enemy fliers feared it. The Japanese didn’t give it an ominous nickname like “Whistling Death.”

But the sunlight and its deep-blue coat of paint make it look just enough like Pappy Boyington’s F4U-4 Corsair to reach the 6-year-old boy I used to be — the boy that refuses to miss an episode of Black Sheep Squadron.

And really, the T-6 Texan made the Corsair – and the P-51 Mustang and sundry other American fighters. Or at least the most important part of those planes: the pilots. Yes, every fighter pilot of the era started here. A few hundred hours in a T-6 Texan, then into planes twice as fast, twice as powerful and heavily armed. Into the fray against the Luftwaffe or the Japanese.

Carl Schmieder is only 6o — too young to have flown in WWII. But he’s a member of Cactus Squadron, an aerobatic outfit flying the T-6 Texan to its limits at airshows. He’s fairly short, fit, genial. But I expected to see him in a vintage flight suit. In his striped button-down shirt and slacks, he looks like a jeweler sneaking out of work. Which he is.

I climb into the cockpit behind him. There’s a plaque bolted to the instrument panel: Intentional straight and level flight prohibited.

The Takeoff Roll

The radial engine harrumphs to life. The vibration reaches me at the cellular level. I’m more excited than I’ve ever been. We taxi, wagging around so Carl can see what’s in front of the Texan’s elevated cowling. We gather speed, and we’re in the air.

The next hour or so is the stuff of my dreams. Carl starts slowly, with aileron rolls. It’s the first time I’ve ever been upside-down in an airplane. A laundry list of combat maneuvers follows: Cuban 8, Immelmann turns, steep banks, barrel rolls. Carl explains every maneuver – I hear the still-awestruck young boy in his voice. He’s done this countless times, and the little boy still lives.

I learn what a four-G turn feels like. I grunt and tense every muscle in my lower body – quads, core, arms … all clenching to force enough blood into my head to stay conscious. Still, I feel an invisible electric blanket cranked to "HIGH" settle over me. The edges of my vision distort just slightly. It’s amazing.

Back Down to Earth

We land, and I’m physically wrung out, nauseous, over-heated. Carl slides the canopy, and I drink the air. It smells of exhaust and is barely any cooler – but it’s refreshing as lapping water straight off an Icelandic glacier.

I’m delighted, maybe as much as Carl is. He got to fly — and share the magic of aerobatic flying.

But Carl is gone, along with his final passenger and his priceless, dynamic piece of flying history. The National Transportation and Safety Board report can tell you why. A sad piece of aftermath: The Arizona wing of Cactus Squadron disbanded after the crash.

Maybe we shouldn’t embrace risk. No aerobatics, no mountain climbing, no polar expeditions. It’d save lots of lives.

But it would sure make living a lot less interesting.

(UPDATE: Jan. 2020: My original story for the Arizona Republic is no longer online. I’ll see if I can find it somewhere else or even scan it. It wasn’t great, but I was new at this newspaper thing!)

  • Flying Vintage Aircraft with Warbird Adventures
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Why Phoenix Can’t Be More Like Chicago

chicago bean
You'll never see anything like this in Phoenix.

In July, I dropped into Chicago for a four-day visit. Overall, I was underwhelmed. Some cool architecture, yes. But the city marinates in self-importance over its fading foodie scene. The pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are by and large savages. I’d much rather visit Portland, Seattle or Vancouver.

But -- Chicago has some terrific public spaces. I was puzzled. The last few years have been an economic disaster, and we’re only starting to poke through to better times. So where did Chicago get the scrilla to keep its public works projects afloat through lean times?

Through a city sales tax of more than 10 percent.

Interesting. This could never happen here in Arizona, where the city sales taxes hover around 2 percent, give or take depending on the municipality.

An outdoor concert venue - too visionary for small minds.

I’m not upset about not having to shell out another 8 percent per purchase (especially since an intern who’s from Chicago points out that at least half of the Windy City’s sales tax props up graft and corruption).

But you know, a 5 percent sales tax that’s effectively used wouldn’t bother me a bit. The first things I’d like to see? Improved bike lanes, quality city gyms, better parks, functional water fountains along the well-travelled canals, for starters. You know – stuff to make the city more liveable, to make people healthier and more active.

Why can’t this happen here? Because there are too many regressive bomb throwers like Sal DiCiccio, perhaps the most stunted person to ever sit on the dais for the Phoenix City Council.

DiCiccio’s notion of leading is to squawk "cut spending!" like a stuttering parrot. Somehow, I started receiving his "newsletters," which are little more than angsty screeds portraying him as a crusader for the little guy. I never signed up for this; I suspect his staff tapped into city data to find an audience upon which to push his small-time agenda.

Let’s look at some recent subject lines:
Your kids’ milk money pays for raises
Taxpayers misled: Food Tax for pay raises
Your Water Bill: Going UP -- You Can Stop It!
Expected Smears on Reformers
Phoenix can Lead Nation/Unions Stop Jobs
Phoenix Spending ‘ripe for abuse’
Union takeover – Phx City Hall

How sad. Not a single idea for how Phoenix can do more for its residents (nor any idea how to write better than amateurish hack level, but that’s another story). It’s all panicky demonizing and fear mongering. No inspiration, no original thinking. No innovation. DiCiccio equates good governance simply with spending less and taxing less -- and offering fat tax breaks to pet projects in the hope of a fleeting boost in low-paying jobs.

Improving city services? Offering amenities that truly world-class cities enjoy? Forget about it.

Sure, our current tax dollars could go further. Trimming here and there? Never a bad idea. But when that and squalling about unions is all a self-proclaimed leader can do, your city is in bad hands.

I’ve always wondered why Chicagoans who move to Phoenix constantly pine for their former city (well, during the winter months, at least).

Hmm, maybe the answer is the Sal DiCiccio mentality.

The Warrior Dash – Things to Know

warrior dash arizona
Spartans! Eat hearty, for tonight we dine on … MUD! (Yes, I know I’m mixing my warrior classes, what with the 300 reference and the faux-viking headgear.)

LOOKING FOR TIPS AND “HOW TO” INFO FOR THE WARRIOR DASH? SEE THIS UPDATED POST!

So who out there did the Warrior Dash? What did you think? Was it really "a hellish 3.4 miles" of running, obstacles and mud?

I took a shot, as you might guess. It’s too fun to be hellish – but it is challenging -- and quite a spectacle. I ran in the Arizona edition on May 1. It ran for two days in Florence, just southeast of Phoenix. (Find a Warrior Dash near you) Here are a few thoughts from being part of the 1:30 p.m. wave. Check these out, and let me know about your Warrior Dash experience!

  • Don’t wear anything you plan to wear again.  And if you sink a lot of time into some sort of costume, be willing to destroy it. And have it hinder your performance. Except for the dudes I saw running in dresses – they were fast, and looked well-practiced at running in dresses.
warrior dash arizona
Somebody needs a shower.
  • Run the second day. The first day will help organizers work some kinks out. On Saturday, the Arizona race only had one water station. The organizers wisely added a second for Sunday.
  • Bring towels and spare clothes. Don’t overlook this. A portable camp shower isn’t a bad idea, either.
  • There’s a very convenient bag check. Drop your spare clothes/towel/keys/whatnot off there. Run. Come back and get it. Save yourself a long slog to the car.
  • If you have time, enjoy the atmosphere. The electronic timing tag on your shoe gets you a free beer (though it’s beer fit for frat boys rather than warriors, so I skipped it).
warrior dash arizona
Hose before Bros: Participants get their sins -and slime- washed away with a Warrior Dash baptism.
  • I understand that not everybody is super-fit. I know that not everyone is charging hard for a good time. But please, people, this is not a Toys for Tots walk-a-thon. At least look like you’re trying. Jog bits of it. And do not, for the love of Odin, walk three abreast. Stay to the right and leave room for the faster people. Earn your plush Viking headgear! If you are not willing to get out of breath, sign up for something else.
  • There are lots of scantily clad fit people. Just sayin’.
  • We had to pay $10 to park. That was kind of grating.
  • Speaking of parking -- it smelled like the Rastafarian Army was camping near our parking spot. Both arriving and leaving, the smell of skunkiness filled the air.

So if you did it, would you do it again?

warrior dash arizona
Yes, I’m muddy. What of it?

Best of Arizona – Outdoor Adventures in Ahwatukee

While there’s plenty of outdoor adventures in Ahwatukee, Ariz., I still have some mixed feelings about the area.

On one hand, it’s a dense cluster of red-tile-roofed McMansions. It’s the sort of place where people drive to yoga classes in gas-guzzling SUV. It marinates in suburban blandness (though this has changed somewhat since I originally wrote this in 2011).

On the other hand, it is the main access point to the 16,000-acre South Mountain Park. And it’s by far one of the Phoenix area’s best outdoor amenities. It’s riddled with trails for hikers and mountain bikers.

My favorite is the Desert Classic and its various spurs and offshoots. It’s easy to put in a 20-mile ride that never stops being fun. Fast and flowing, with the occasional rock garden. Sometimes, you’ll even glimpse a rattlesnake trailside. Be careful out there, especially in spring and fall! They love the shade from creosote bushes. (Find out more about dealing with a rattlesnake encounter.)

There are some swooping turns where you can countersteer, dig in and lean your bike way over at high speed. There are some sandy sections, so you’ll want to be

Really, the only downside is that everyone knows it’s awesome. So the trails are often crowded, and not everyone has good trail manners. On my last ride, though, I was tickled to see a mom and dad teaching their under-10 son and daughter the mountain biking ropes. Both kids were doing a fine job on the trails as they enjoyed some outdoor adventures in Ahwatukee.

outdoor adventures in Ahwatukee
View from the cockpit. That’s a wide bar!

As always, water is mandatory (I could say this about helmets, too, but that really ought to go without saying). And snacks are a smart idea, too.

What about after the ride? Get out of Awhatukee and get something tasty in your belly. Nearby Tempe has plenty of restaurants. Post-ride, though, I’d lean toward the Cornish Pasty Company. Maybe some locals will chime in with cool new  Ahwatukee spots.

Mtbikeaz.com has a great Desert Classic map.

Phoenix Councilman Again Shows Contempt for City Employees

I just got an ominous e-mail from Sal DiCiccio, the councilman for District 6 in Phoenix. Its subject line: "This will shock you." The title is "What do you get?". 

Councilman DiCiccio says this: "A first-year city of Phoenix clerk gets 40 and a half days off [scary bold text Sal’s], including vacation, holidays and sick time. That’s two months off — and an afternoon — in the first year of employment. And the days off keep going up as the years go by."

Wow, Councilman. That sounds like the benefits packages enjoyed by most of the civilized world save the United States, where we pride ourselves on working people into a stupor. I interpret this information as the city doing something right for its employees – giving them time to improve themselves through travel. To indulge their curiosity. To refresh themselves. Congrats! Yay, city of Phoenix for doing the right thing!

But wait! That’s not what Councilman DiCiccio is saying. He thinks it’s a bad thing to allow workers time to be more than wage slaves. I mean, what if they travel and create some great memories with the bounty of their time off? What if they go abroad and see that other First World countries have universal health care and copious amounts of vacation time? Oh, the horror. I also love cooking the statistics to include sick time.

"If employees don’t use all their time off, they get to cash in the remaining days like casino chips," Councilman DiCiccio intones, "and guess who the bank is? You and your family." [again, scary bold text Sal’s]

Gasp! You mean my Little Timmy (note: Wandering Justin has no offspring named Timmy. This is sarcasm.) is paying for those bums to go on vacation? Do you hear my howls of indignation and my weeping and gnashing of teeth? I’d also like verifiable proof that employees get to "cash in" their sick time. Remember, we know Sal "lacks specific details and numbers." And how many state and federal holidays are included in that 40.5 days?

Councilman, this is exactly the way things should work in a productive, prosperous, industrialized society. (And yes, dammit – we’re prosperous when every college kid has an iPhone.) I’m perfectly fine with my tax dollar being used to treat city employees like real people with real lives, interests and aspirations instead of worker bee drones.

Councilman DiCiccio, you have it back-asswards. You should be crusading against business owners who do the bare minimum for their employees. Laud your city’s paid time off policies. Hold them up as what decent business owners should aspire to do for their employees. Show them that fair amounts of vacation time are beneficial to people’s health, sanity and productivity.

But you’re afraid to do that, aren’t you? Because I’ll bet those same business owners will stuff your campaign coffers when you run for mayor (keep in mind – I don’t live in Sal DiCiccio’s district. So why does he send me these e-mails? To start his campaign for mayor. As I’ve mentioned before, I never even signed up for his newsletter.). If you fail to toe the line, you’ll see fewer campaign contributions.

No. It’s easier for you to throw truly hard-working and deserving people under the steamroller.

Leader? No. Politician? To the very core.

Scenes from Arizona: 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

My friend Danielle (L) and her quad team The Go-Go Girls - happy before the wind and rain.

There are lots of lessons on my mind now that it’s the day after the 2011 Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

For example, desert plants can rip the ratcheting buckles clean off your right shoe. And that a fire can and will melt your left shoe while you’re drying it out. (I have to thank the guys at Tucson-based Fairwheel Bikes for extricating me from the clutches of my shoe – even though they’re a Trek dealer, the crew put in some after-hours time removing the offending shoe: Well, some of them did. The others laughed and took photos.)

The indignities heaped on my poor Specialized shoes were just the beginning. It was an event complete with tent-destroying winds, person-soaking rains, teeth-chattering temperatures – all a perfect concoction to make people flee the event.

Our camp started with eight people on four duo teams. We ended with two teams and four people.

My bike is ready to go. And Ryan Zilka (R) is ready for a lap, too.

It was really the wind that started breaking us all. It made everything harder – steering, picking a line, even the simple act of breathing. And slap on at least 5-10 minutes of extra time per 16-mile lap to deal with it. And extra depletion of the energy in your legs, lungs and mind.

The rain started just as I was returning to hand the baton to my teammate, Harry. He got soaked and frozen during his lap. He expected to be back before he’d need lights. The clouds made night show up early, and he had to walk the final downhill into the infamous 24-Hour Town.

Harry’s misfortunes were pretty epic. The storm destroyed his EZ-Up tent, plus bent and broke several poles of his REI tent. He wound up sleeping in his CRV, while I was holed up in my Subaru Forester – and yes, a 6’2

Arizona sunset over 24-Hour Town.

guy can stretch out fully and comfortably in a Forester (as if that car doesn’t already have enough superpowers). Many cars and even RVs left before sunrise.

Yes, this post reeks of woe, sorrow, misfortune. But in some twisted way, it was still fun: eating freeze-dried Chili Mac, shivering my way through Sunday’s first lap, dogfighting through the starting pack, shotgunning 16-ounce cans of coconut water. Speaking of that dogfighting, one woman was unfortunate enough to get pitched into the cholla cactuses within 30 minutes. I felt so bad for her – nothing like that needs to happen. All I can wonder is if someone with too much aggression made a dangerous pass and caused that accident. Who in the world can think endangering another rider is worth a few extra seconds?

24-Hour Town ... you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

That first Sunday lap was actually a thing of beauty, despite the cold. The wind abated, and the previous rain made the trail beautiful and grippy. My wheels stuck to it like glue. By my final lap, though, the wind was back. It wasn’t quite as Book-of-Revelation-awful as the previous night’s wind, but is was no picnic.

Harry and fellow duo rider Ryan Zilka (possibly one of the most relentlessly upbeat people I’ve ever met) met me at the finish with a can of Guinness to celebrate our second year camping and racing together. It was just a nice gesture that really underscored what 24-hour racing is all about to the pack fodder – solidarity, spending time with good people and going home safe.

You can also read my 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo recap at Examiner.com.

Awesome helmet decoration
The dudes from Mountain Flyer make a visit.
Humor goes a long way.
Ruined camp sites - a sign that the weather hit hard.
The expo area before it got storm-squashed.
Our happy 24 Hours of Bromance camp before the storm hit.

Images from Avondale, Ariz. – 2011 Hedgehog Hustle

mbaa2-9, Hedgehog Hustle 2011, Mountain Bike, Arizona
Getting aero on the downhill at the 2011 Hedgehog Hustle.

UPDATE: See my report on Examiner.com for a race recap.

Today, I made a trip out to Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Avondale, Ariz., to check out the 2011 Hedgehog Hustle. My erstwhile Adventure Bicycle Company stooge-turned-real estate mogul Matt Long was out there lining up for the Cat 2 race with the infamous Phoenix International Raceway in the background. There was definitely a chill in the air, but it warmed into a nice day for some racing.

I’ll have a full report later one. For now, you can enjoy this here slideshow I’m about to unfold. But I done introduced it enough. (NOTE: I have many other photos. If you don’t see yourself, send a note including your race number to wanderingjustin@hotmail.com)

Scenes from Fountain Hills, Ariz. – The McDowell Meltdown

EDIT: If you’ve come here looking for photos of yourself, I probably have about 100 other shots. Let me know your race number and I’ll see what I can find!

On Jan. 22-23, the MBAA Arizona state championship mountain bike race series got started at McDowell Mountain Regional Park just north of Fountain Hills, Ariz. The park is one of the best outdoor recreation assets in the state, and the weather cooperated to make it a great time for racers and spectators. You can read my recap at Examiner.com or just check out these photos. Find out what you missed – even if you were there!

Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Too fast not to blur a bit
Fountain Hills, McDowell Meltdown, 2011, MBAA
Racing with a smile.

Miguel from Adventure Bicycle Company hangs out at the team tent.
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Surviving My First 12-Hour Solo Bike Race

Me headed out for another lap as the day wears on.

Saturday, I raced in the solo class of the Four Peaks "12 Hours in the Papago" mountain bike race.

Hang on – make the "Slowlow Class" -- as in slow speeds, and a low number of laps!

I was pretty excited about this race since it’s so close to Phoenix – and I think Papago Park is one of the best attractions around. The red sandstone buttes are close to Mill Avenue and a lot of other fun stuff. And having a 12-hour race so close to home took some of the logistical problems away.

There were many interesting things at play here: I hadn’t ridden my bike in three weeks, mostly because of fighting off some sort of plague that’s making the rounds here. This was the first weekend I’ve felt pretty much back to normal.

I pretty much treated this as training for the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race next month. I experimented with intensity, food and drinks to see what would work to keep my legs from cramping and stave off dehydration.

Mission accomplished: A combo of V-8, coconut water, Cytomax, Pro Bars and the occasional "toaster pastry" helped me put in 8 laps and avoid Dead Freakin’ Last place by a large margin. I also dealt with the cold pre-dawn temperatures pretty well.

Something else: I avoided caffeine the entire week before the race. I hate waking up early, so I decided skipping caffeine would help me fall asleep faster each night. Worked perfectly.

These are lessons I’ll apply next month when my bud Harry and I hit Old Pueblo as the duo team Bone Resistance.

OK, so how did Red Rock do in running and organizing 12 Hours in the Papago? Pretty well. Here are some points that stuck with me: Continue reading

New Phoenix Trails Bring Recreation – and Dose of Controversy

Rusty Angel Deem Hills Wandering Justin
A look up the Rusty Angel Trail at Deem Hills.

There’s not much in the way of hiking and biking trails west of I-17 in Phoenix. That’s bad news for hikers and mountain bikers living in that area.

That makes the opening of Deem Hills Recreation Area, a great piece of news for people wandering around Phoenix, right? Right?

Um, maybe.

First, a small group of litigious homeowners halted trail construction for a few months, as reported in The Arizona Republic. Fortunately, a Superior Court judge didn’t buy their argument (“The suit claimed the building of trails violates Environmentally Sensitive Development Areas Policies Design Guidelines and the city’s own Trail Management practices and procedures,” wrote Republic reporter Betty Reid.).

Conversations with some hikers on the trail convinced me those arguments are a smokescreen: What really had the plaintiffs POd was:

1. They could see the trails from their backyard, a sad reminder that they’re not in an exclusive enclave but rather in a sea of tile roofs.

Deem Hills Google Earth
A Google Earth Views of Deem Hills and my routes.

2. They’re worried that trail users might be able to see into their yards.

Hmm. I drove about 30 minutes from central Phoenix to ride the Deem Hills trails for the first time. At no point did I peer into the yards of homes flanking the south side of the park.

You see, I was a little busy TRYING TO STAY ON THE TRAIL AND NOT WRAP MYSELF AROUND A CACTUS OR THREE!

Seriously, I’d love to know what these lawsuit-happy nabobs are doing in their backyard that has them so worried? Perhaps they’ve mistaken themselves for celebrities – they’ve forgotten that they are Joe and Ethel Suburb, and thus of little interest to the outdoor lovers enjoying the park.

Everyone I encountered on the trails was friendly, hikers and bikers alike. Many said it was their first time on the trails. But one of my talks with the hikers disturbed me: I mentioned that I saw some room for improvement on the trails.

Deem Hills Wandering Justin
A look at the trails in the hillside at Deem Hills.

“We don’t want it too nice,” she said. “We just live over in the neighborhood.”

In other words, “let’s prevent this amenity from rising above mediocrity so that I won’t experience any inconvenience.” And make no mistake about it: the trails at Deem Hills are merely OK. You can find out more in my review at Examiner.com. They’re not the best nor the worst – and they’re a huge score for West Valley mountain bikers, who will get some great training on the many climbs in the park.

The area is a bit unusual because it seems to be one of the few spots in the Valley of obvious volcanic origin. The park is littered with large black volcanic bombs. I’d definitely be curious to know more about its geology from those in the know. I’d have to guess the hills are heavily eroded cinder cones. I also spotted some agate-like minerals strewn here and there.

As for the controversy, let’s hope this is also the end of the legal drama and that the “don’t look in my backyard” NIMBY crowd gets over itself in all due haste.

Phoenix Councilman Supplies Info About Residents to Special-Interest Group

Sal DiCiccio, a member of the Phoenix city council, has convinced me of something – that he’s funnelling information about residents to an outside organization to further his political agenda. Here’s how he did it:

Back in August, something strange popped into my e-mail box: a newsletter from Councilman DiCiccio.

I never signed up for it. I don’t even live in his district. I chalked it up as an anomaly until I got a newsletter from nofee2hikeaz.com a few days later. I also didn’t sign up for its newsletter.

DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com, it turns out, have a common goal – opposing the Phoenix Park Board plan to charge for parking at less than 20 percent of the city’s trailheads.

City Staff Members Look Into E-Mail Mystery

On Sept. 8, I decided to ask city officials about what was happening: I contacted David Urbinato, parks department spokesman. He passed my e-mail to Toni Maccarone, the city’s spokeswoman. Here’s what she wrote to me:

" -- we did quite a bit of research, and the answer that we came up with is what we thought.  We do not share our city news list with anyone.  We’re sorry, but we are not sure how you got on these other lists. When I asked Councilman DiCiccio’s Chief of Staff Hal DeKeyser about it, he said that you may have been added to the Councilman’s list in a number of different ways because they have a separate, outside list that they maintain, and they add people’s e-mails from a variety of different sources."

Maccarone suggested I talk to DeKeyser. I know him – he is a former Scottsdale Tribune editor. I joined the paper as a reporter just after DeKeyser was effectively exiled to the then even-more-bustling (if you count retirees in golf carts as bustling) West Valley. There, he served as publisher of a flock of chicken-dinner publications like the West Valley View.

I decided to let things unfold a bit before talking to him.

I’m pretty sure DiCiccio had access to my information since I signed up for the phoenixnews e-newsletter. I registered using a personal address, not the one posted here at WanderingJustin.com.

Slip-Up Reveals the Connection

On Sept. 17, I got the break I hoped for: I received a newsletter from both DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com – and the content was exactly the same: every subject line, every sentence, every idea. Identical.

To me, this is a major sign – likely outright proof – that Diciccio or someone working for him provided my e-mail information to nofee2hikeaz.com.

Both parties were stupid, arrogant or a radioactive combination of both.

Local Media is Watching

A reporter at The Arizona Republic also confirmed that the paper is curious about ties between DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com. The reporter said interview requests for the website were not answered – and that DeKeyser denied any ties to the organization. Someone is lying. And the reporter has no motive.

Since the curiously similar e-mail blasts, I’ve continued getting DiCiccio’s Glenn Beck-ish squawking for the entertainment value. In his alternate reality, he is the only guy looking out for the little people of the impovershed Arcadia and Ahwatukee neighborhoods (someone has to make sure families there can afford the payments on their fleet of SUVs). In that alternate reality, it’s also OK to sign people up for e-mail lists against their will and to funnel their information to outside organizations that are not accountable or even willing to be interviewed by media.

It doesn’t seem the city has a policy governing how it handles residents’ e-mail addresses. So DiCiccio will probably escape censure from city officials. But I’m hoping he’ll answer for this and every other act of ethical dyslexia at the ballot box.

So what do you think? Does it look like DiCiccio or one of his staff members provided e-mail to addresses to nofee2hikeaz.com? If so, do you find that dirty pool?

Scenes from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Here are a few fun scenes from a trip I took to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This was back in November, but I’m just getting around to it now. Except more about this very cool place soon.

A museum volunteer holds an owl.
The rocks and minerals on display are also pretty cool.
Rattlesnake!
A falcon poses during the Raptor Free Flight show.
A closer look at the falcon.
Looking west of the museum at the open desert.

Eight Things to Know about the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

Right now, a shantytown/mountain bike refugee camp is forming in the desert northeast of Tucson, Ariz. It’s there for the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike race (be sure to read “A Note on Kona” below). Even one week before the event, RVs were already starting to stake their claim. At that point, it was mostly locals from nearby Tucson, retirees and Trustafarians. If this is the first you’ve heard of such a thing, let me explain a few things.

1. In epic mountain bike racing, we don’t explain things. So if you don’t understand why someone wants to do this, I can’t explain it to you.

2. The race is open to a number of categories based on number of riders, gender, combined age and even whether your bike has more than one gear. And yes, there are solo and co-ed categories!

3. The idea is to do as many laps as possible from noon one day until noon the next. Now, let’s say you’re coming through the finish area at 11:55. You dawdle a bit, and the next team in your class whizzes by and sends a rider for another lap. Well, if you send another rider, you’ll have the same number of laps. Your rank will be determined by who gets back fastest. So pedal faster, or you’ll hear banjos!

4. Yes, some people stay awake the entire time in the solo class. And they’re still obscenely fast. See Tinker Juarez. And Tinker is no spring chicken. Bow before him, and recognize consummate coolness, professionalism and old-timey good mountain biker vibes.

5. The Old Pueblo course is stupendously fast. No epic climbs, and huge sections of largely straight jeep road.

6. There’s also a lot of twisty singletrack, tons of cactuses and some sneakily placed ditches and ruts.

7. There are lots of cool people racing and supporting the racers. I rode with James (a solo class racer) and his pal, Mike. They were both super-awesome and helpful in showing me around the not-quite-marked course.

8. Watch for bovines. That’s cattle, to the layperson.

So what class am I? Well, I signed up with a friend for the Men’s Duo Class, but he’s come down with tonsillitis. So I’m essentially racing solo in the duo class. He’ll probably take a lap or two, but I’ll be pulling some long stretches.

A Note on Kona: If you’re not familiar with Kona, it is a very sweet mid-sized bike manufacturer. It produces solid bikes for a wide range of disciplines. The company tests its products quite a bit in the northeast U.S. and British Columbia, ensuring that its products are all sorts of tough. Kona is unfortunately overshadowed by all the big companies – their bikes are just as good, if not better. Kudos to Kona for sponsoring this race – for Kona, it’s not just about advertising: It’s about being part of the cycling community and making it better and more accessible. I truly dig Kona’s stuff and recommend its products, even though I don’t own one (but Sarah’s first mountain bike was a very capable Kona Cinder Cone hardtail, and I worked at a Kona dealer).

Sanskrit to Celebrity Yogis: 10 Things I Hate About Yoga

Yoga that doesn’t mess around. (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

I took my first yoga class in 1999. I found a lot to like about it. I could feel my body snapping back into alignment. It even helped my concentration – at the time, I played a lot of hockey. After a yoga session, I’d strap on the goalie pads and the puck seemed bigger and slower.

On the flip side, I found out there some things I hate about yoga. An aborted session at At One Yoga in Phoenix (more on that in a future post) really brought this to the forefront of my mind.

1. Sanskrit Chanting – Exactly what is the point of that Sanskrit song that so many yoga classes start out with? I don’t speak Sanskrit, and I’m frankly not there for a "spiritual" experience. And besides, whoever said "chanting" begat "spirituality?" I grew up going to Catholic mass, so I’ve had a bellyful of unneeded verbal repetition. Let’s get to the good stuff!

2. The overly soft, nurturing, gentle yoga teacher voice – Exactly where do some yoga teachers get that overly measured, breathy voice? It sounds ridiculous. And I say that even though one of my favorite teachers uses it. Coming from male teachers makes it even worse – I always hear them as Mr. Van Driessen from Beavis & Butt-head.

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