CategoriesFitness

Phoenix Destroys Some of the Nation’s Best Urban Mountain Biking

NOTE: See the updates at the end of the post.

Congratulations, Phoenix. You’ve officially destroyed one of the nation’s best urban mountain biking areas. And you managed to do it on the down-low.

By the time I started mountain biking in 1992, the Papago Park trails were the gathering place for local riders looking for a quick post-work or -class ride. Whether you were new to the sport or one of the fastest racers around, Papago Park was there for you. It was up to the task of being a venue for everything from 12-hour races (edit: I had a case of 12-hour brain when I wrote this … 12 Hours in the Papago stayed in the Tempe and Scottsdale portions of Papago) to ad-hoc races

Phoenix destroys papago trails
That feeling when bureaucrats destroy something awesome in your city.

No longer. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out:

  • Most of the trails on the Phoenix side have been bladed from the singletrack mountain bikers love so much to an eight-foot-wide (just my eyeballed estimate) superhighway. The surface is unpaved and covered in loose pebbles. The berms in the corners are also gone, so forget about sustaining any sort of speed into a corner. In places, there are even slabs of concrete, presumably for drainage.
  • There appears to be no motive.
    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    It’s mountain biking, Jim – but not as we know it.

    No existing trail user benefits from this destruction. My only guess is that this is some bizarre, mishandled effort to improve the area’s

    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    This concrete drainage will not hold up well – as Phoenix could’ve found out if they consulted IMBA or some real trail builders.

    wheelchair accessibility. I could support that – but why destroy the existing asset for the majority of users when a separate wheelchair-accessible trail network is an option? UPDATE: I’ve seen some talk in the Facebook group referenced in a few paragraphs that this might be a way to lure more 5k trail races to Papago.

  • Rumors of Starbucks and other silly money-grab theme parkization (my new word) of Papago Park have been around for quite awhile now. It seems the public heard about this for so long that they stopped believing it, and didn’t monitor the situation closely enough. Notice that the trail destruction happened during the summer months, when most cyclists switch to road biking or head up north to cooler climates. There’s also no news coverage, with this being the closest mention to the topic. There was no signage explaining anything or asking for input.
  • I’m to blame. But so are you. So is every single mountain biker who may have knownabout this, and didn’t expend all energy possible to organizing the people who use and love these trails. This speaks to a need for a far more organized and engaged cycling community. I’d also really like to know what the International Mountain Bicycling Association would say about the quality and sustainability of the new pseudotrails.
  • It’s not too late. Seriously. A Facebook group has formed to mitigate the damage. And imagine if enough of us stand together and demand that Phoenix build new mountain bike specific trails. The business case is there if you look to the progressive thinking of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, which turned itself into a regional draw for cyclists by expanding its trail network. Then-Supervisor Rand Hubbell put McDowell Mountain Regional Park on the national mountain biking map – maybe someone equally intelligent at the city of Phoenix could do the same. Step One: Go find the people who hand-built the Fantasy Island North Singletrack and get them to work their magic at Papago. The result would be even better than the current – sorry, make that former – trails.

Let’s see how Phoenix handles this, and how it explains the lack of public notice. I’d also like to see how they analyzed the trail user groups to figure out whether this would actually benefit anyone.

SOME UPDATES

Ray Stern from the Phoenix New Times is following this situation. Expect balanced, well-researched reporting from him. It’s what he does. And while it’s great to have bloggers and social media users squawking, it’s a huge benefit to haves someone with the time and resources to dig into city documents and present other sides of the story. Not to mention using those resources to right the situation.

Ray’s found that at least one off-road wheelchair user really digs the revamped trail. And some other disabled trail users do, too, judging from the social media conversations. Meanwhile, I think too many mountain bikers are howling “tear it out and make it the way it was” and polishing their pitchforks. I favor a solution that would create something unprecedented: A venue that includes a resource for off-road wheelchair users to have fun and maybe even compete (sign me up as a race volunteer and trailbuilder, already!) and integrates a purpose-built, mountain bike-specific singletrack network. Given FINS and its amazing trail design and execution, this is possible with a minimum of resources. The biggest challenge is finding the political will. And jeez, mountain bikers … stand with disabled trail users, FFS.

CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Prescott Mountain Bike Trails – A Mixed Bag

prescott mountain bike trails
My day on the Prescott Circle Trail was pretty muddy.

It’s been years since I last sampled the Prescott mountain bike trails. I’d been a camp counselor there one summer, but that seems like eons ago. A few things I noticed recently made me want to visit again: A news article that said "Prescott is powering its way onto the national mountain-biking map," and news of a trail circling the entire city that will be 50 miles long when it’s finished.

I dropped into Prescott in mid-July to sample the Prescott Circle Trail System. It was a perfect Sunday for mountain biking – clouds and intermittent drizzle! Balm for a sun-baked Phoenician’s soul. In a nutshell, the notion that Prescott is even remotely, tangentially close to being a national mountain bike destination is a combination of homerism and public relations spin from mountain bike event organizers. Prescott has stepped up its game, yes. Good. But it has a lot of work to do before it’s even playing the same sport as Flagstaff, much less in the same league.

prescott mountain bike trails
The Turley Trail is part of the Prescott Circle Trail.

Let’s break my ride down to show you what I mean. Be sure to watch the video at the end!

Find the Hidden Trailhead
I found a handy map on the City of Prescott website. I found a Prescott Great Circle Trail System trailhead and named it my starting point. I figured out how I could snake around the trails and wind up somewhere on the west side of the city before using streets and urban trails to return to my car.

Well, finding the trailhead was a bitch. The city considers this Prescott mountain bike trail a real asset, I suppose – but it’s not easy to find. Contrast that to Fountain Hills, where you start getting guidance to the trailhead four miles away. I found the Turley Trail buried in a neighborhood down a gated one-lane road. But hey, at least I found it.

Turning the Wheels

prescott mountain bike trails
The Turley Trail is here somewhere …


The first half-mile or so went pretty well. The Turley Trail dips, dives and weaves around with some short, steep power climbs. Not bad. Then, things got ugly.

What do I mean? Well, I lost track of all the fallen trees I carried my bike over. Portions of the Turley Trail have terrible drainage, while others have large chunks of rock protruding from the ground. It seems great for hiking – but for four miles, it’s utter, abject crap for mountain biking. If this is supposed to be part of a signature Prescott mountain bike trail network, it has to be better.

At one point, a mess of downed trees obliterates the trail. I backtracked a few times searching for the Turley Trail (watch for an area that looks like someone gave the forest a Brazilian wax job, and you’ll know navigational challenges are afoot).

prescott mountain bike trails
A cool spot along Trail 396 (I think)

I eventually connected to Forest Road 9854, which swoops downhill if you turn right. The rainfall made the trail a big slick, and coated my tires in mud. The tires passed the mud along to me and my bike. Kind of novel, really! Speaking of tires, skinny slick racing tires might not be your best bet. Consider a meatier tread when you hit these steeper, rockier Prescott mountain bike trails.

The forest road eventually meets up with the Senator Highway. And just across the two lanes of pavement -- you’ll find Trail 396.

The Real-Deal Prescott Mountain Bike Trails

Trail 396 and its offshoots are more-than-legit Prescott mountain bike trails.
Swooping turns, nice scenery, good trail markings. You’ll get that Luke Skywalker flying through Beggar’s Canyon feeling. The 396 will give you more than a few options. Stick with it, and watch for the turn to Trail 395. I took the 374 to the 373 – they dumped me off on White Spar Road with no sign of more trail. Had I picked the 395, I would’ve crossed White Spar Road and found the Prescott Circle Trail continue on the 941S.

prescott mountain bike trails
Finally, more “wheee!” and less woe on the Prescott Circle Trail.

That error cheated me out of a few more miles of singletrack. A sign saying "this way to the Prescott Circle Trail" would’ve been really nice, Prescott. And you know, it’s exactly the sort of thing a destination "on the national mountain-biking map" would have.

Slinking Back to Town
Alright, I didn’t find the 941S, and it was getting late. So I took White Spar Road back to town hoping to maybe catch another glimpse of trail. White Spar has no bike lane, by the way. Another strike against Prescott’s talk of being on the national mountain-biking map. I didn’t find any Prescott mountain bike trails as I headed back toward Whiskey Row.

prescott mountain bike trails
Who gave this part of the Turley Trail a Brazilian?

I recalled that Ironclad Bicycles was on White Spar. I stopped there hoping for directions to some easily accessible Prescott mountain bike trails. But its Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – to late to drop in before your ride starts, to early to drop in after. So, kind of useless business hours for visiting mountain bikers.

I found a short urban trail system and a pump track. The urban trails are short, but the pump track was a bit of fun.

Eventually, I headed up Gurley to pedal back up to my car. On the roads.

Off the Bike
I made my inaugural stop at Granite Mountain Brewery, where I had a pretty good milk stout and a panini. As a homebrewer, I love small breweries. And the three-barrel setup here qualifies as small. But the staff wasn’t up for much beer small talk – or much talk of any sort (UPDATE: I made a visit in January 2014, and the food was better and the staff far more friendly. Don’t miss this place!). Still, it’s not as spastic as Prescott Brewing Company, though I’ll give props for its Chocopalypse porter.

Prescott Circle Trail
The Wild Iris coffeehouse is THE place to end a ride. Or start one …

My final stop was the Wild Iris coffeehouse, where I had a very nice shot of espresso and a cookie. The staff has a friendly attitude in addition to making good espresso – and it’s a soothing place to hang out. Some places just have that indefinable vibe -- and Wild Iris is one of them. It’s exactly the sort of place I want to hang out after a day on the Prescott mountain bike trails.

Prescott Mountain Bike Trails Bottom Line

Prescott has a lot of potential to be a better mountain bike destination. It’s definitely better than it used to be, and that is exactly its greatest enemy: comparing it to itself. The Prescott mountain bike trails are a mixed bag from stupid to sublime, even on the Prescott Circle Trail network. Prescott needs to connect the pieces, commit to consistent trail design and provide far-better signage. And it absolutely must resist the temptation of boastful hometown braggadocio that leads to undeserved hype.

I look forward to coming back and checking out more of the Prescott Circle Trail. When it’s complete, it should offer a lot of opportunity … but again, some sections need work.

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CategoriesAdventuresFitness

Scottsdale’s New Mountain Biking Trails – First Impression

This pretty spot is, unfortunately, a dead end in the trails "redesigned" by the City of Scottsdale.
This pretty spot is, unfortunately, a dead end in the trails “redesigned” by the City of Scottsdale.

I’m not used to being confused while mountain biking near the Pima & Dynamite trails in Scottsdale. But today? Flumoxed, mixed up, mystified. Like “watching Vanilla Sky” puzzled.

I mean, these are the Pima & Dynamite trails, but not as local mountain bikers know them. It’s almost like Disney’s Imagineers came out, erased the existing trails … and then slapped up their own vision of what mountain bike trails should be.

But nope, it’s not Disney: It’s the city of Scottsdale. I read about the new trails on a divisive thread on mtbr.com. I kind of forgot about the thread. Then I blunder across an unfamiliar trail and think, “oooooh, yeah …” I see a lot of interesting things on this ride. The biggest impressions, though, are the thoughtless destruction of existing mountain biking trails – and new trails built with no thought for flow or logical direction.

A case study in the wrong way to close a trail. Way to go, Scottsdale!
A case study in the wrong way to close a trail. Way to go, Scottsdale!

There are right ways to close mountain biking trails to be reclaimed into the natural environment. Look at the photo to see what Scottsdale did: Ripping into the earth with heavy equipment, and then peppering the trail alignment with wood, bits of cactus and whatever else happens to be around. One heavy monsoon storm, and guess where this will go? If you guessed “right into the new trail,” congratulations! You’re smarter than the Scottsdale officials who signed off on this travesty. I would bet Scottsdale didn’t get any input from the experts at the International Mountain Bicycling Association, either.

Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.
Notice the deep, sandy scree and the bike it caught? Bad trail building.

Alright, onto the second point: “Flow” is an elusive characteristic. What does it mean? Well, if you build a mountain biking (or multi-user) trail that required riders to be on their brake levers constantly, your trail doesn’t have flow. If you have so much sand that riders expect to see The Hoff sunbathing, your trail doesn’t have any flow. The new trails are wide and usually off-camber i the turns. There’s not a berm to be found. There’s too much loose scree on top that can make for some hairy situations. The only good thing? The trails have a bit more traction in many spots, which should be fairly friendly for singlespeed riders … or at least the strictly-OK singlespeeders (like me). One rider said on MTBR.com “However, I kept thinking of anti depressants when riding them. All the highs and lows are taken out.”

A mystery trail through a bunch of fox tails. Kind of cool.
A mystery trail through a bunch of fox tails. Kind of cool.

Look, building good trails is hard. I don’t have any answers. And clearly, Scottsdale doesn’t, either. The next time city officials want to build some new trails, they should look to the best trails in the region: Talk to Rand Hubbell at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Get some input from the West Valley Trail Alliance. The city of Phoenix mountain biking trails are also far ahead of Scottsdale. These trails will never be a destination, nor sought after as a venue for mountain bike events.

In other bad news:

  • Riders can’t park along Dynamite Boulevard anymore because of the road-widening project. I parked at a Chase Bank about a mile east of Pima.
  • The trails are unsigned, so it’s hard to know where you’ll wind up.
  • The city is also splashing out on a huge trailhead with parking. Yay, more pavement!
My ride route. New bits are in the northeast. The new trailhead is the dangly bit hanging from the south.
My ride route. New bits are in the northeast. The new trailhead is the dangly bit hanging from the south. Looks like sea horse, doesn’t it?

My bottom line: The people responsible for the changes deserve a good whack upside the head with a stainless-steel soup ladle. But I’ll keep my ladle in the drawer if they at least think about getting some help before they build/modify trails without proper adult supervision.

A spy shot of the new trailhead under construction.
A spy shot of the new trailhead under construction.
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CategoriesFitness

Phoenix Mountain Biking : Grading the Trails

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

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.

Rather than a "best" list, 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+

CategoriesFitness

Gold Canyon Trails in Arizona: First Ride

gold canyon trails
Awesome scenery, great flow, lots of turns – it’s the Gold Canyon singeltrack.

There’s nothing like a new mountain bike trail. Except riding it on the second day of 100-degree-plus heat. Oh, well, one out of two isn’t bad.

But enough about the heat: Let’s talk about a nice gem of a singletrack network in Gold Canyon, which is just east of the Phoenix area. It’s just across the border into Pinal County and butted right up against the awesomeness known as the Superstition Mountains. You can get a lot of the nuts and bolts about the trails – including how to get there – from my article on Examiner.com. You can also find a great map at gilamonsteroutback.com – a rider named Phil did the homework for all us mountain bike sinners whose GPS receivers conk out at inopportune times.

I have plans to chat with Phil about the origins of the Gold Canyon trails. He seems to be a go-to guy when it comes to knowledge about the Gold Canyon trails. And if Phil had a hand in the design and building, I am prepared to give him major props. These mountain bike trails have that flow and groove so elusive to trail builders. Someone has made maximum use of the space, and even brought little chunks of Moab and the North Shore to the fun (see the video at bottom).

The Gold Canyon trails are hard work. You’ll need skill. You’ll need to pay attention. In short, you need to be a REAL mountain biker.

So go check out the dirt from the Examiner.com article, hit gilamonsteroutback.com for a map, go ride the Gold Canyon trails … then recharge yourself at Mountain Brew Coffee afterward.

CategoriesFitnessUncategorized

Best of Arizona – Pima & Dynamite Trail Network

gila monster, wandering justin, arizona
A gila monster!

I almost don’t notice it. But the slow, wiggling movement catches my eye. A splotch of black and orange among shades of brown.

Yes! It’s a gila monster!

Thirty years of living in Arizona, and this is only the second one I’ve seen in the wild.

This is exactly what makes the trail network near Pima and Dynamite in Scottsdale one of the city’s best outdoor activities. You can rip through more than 50 miles of great trails. You can enjoy stark-but-beautiful high-desert scenery.

And you can come face-to-face with wildlife. Here at Pima & Dynamite, I’ve seen more than just this gila monster. Add to the list rattlesnakes, juvenile bald eagles, chuckwallas, jackrabbits and coyotes.

pima and dynamite, mountain biking, wandering justin, arizona
The entire area is riddle with trails.

About my pebbly, leathery gila monster friend: He moves slowly, but quickly enough to get away. I get a bit of video on my Fuji XP-10 (a nice complement to my handlebar-mounted Helmet Hero) before he scurries under a bush. He is venomous, but too shy and slow to be of much danger. The encounter puts a grin on my face for the rest of the day.

Ripping through a tight corners. Short bursts of power to muscle my way up climbs. Flying up and down rolling sections of trail -- these are all great. But a glimpse of nature puts an extra shine on the day.

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
Fully loaded for a day at Pima & Dynamite.

Speed, excitement and fitness are great reasons to ride. But so is seeing the bigger world around you. There are few better places to bring it all together.

About Pima & Dynamite

  • Most of the trails are on Arizona State Trust Land. You need a permit to legally use the area. Check the State Land Department website for more information.
  • A map helps. And Dale Wiggins is a map master. Check out his offering for Pima & Dynamite.
  • Park at the intersection of Pima Road and Dynamite Boulevard. I usually park on Dynamite just off the westbound lane.
Another example of the crazy wildlife you'll find at Pima & Dynamite.
CategoriesAdventuresFitness

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.

CategoriesFitnessUncategorized

Best of British Columbia – Vancouver Island & Victoria

The Transmission Forbidden trail. Awesome forest, eh? Photo courtesy of MtnBikingGirl.com.

Here’s the second post in the Best of British Columbia series. Extra-special thanks to Teresa from MtnBikingGirl.com for the super Vancouver Island advice! Missed the first post? Well, then, go back and read it.

Justin’s Quick Hits

I only got a quick day excursion to Vancouver Island, but I can definitely say it has the best brewery I found during my visit. The scenery is pretty spectacular, and the ferry ride from Vancouver is a novelty for desert folks like me. Victoria is a really walkable city that actually reminds me of a shrunken-down Brisbane, Australia – well, with a much cooler climate. But it has that same healthy, friendly, scenic elements. A bit touristy, but it’s too pleasant a city to hold that against it. The bus ride from the ferry dock to the city is also really pleasant. I was able to get out for a quick boat tour with a crazy marine biologist, which was tons of fun. I spotted some seals and even plucked some fresh seaweed out of the ocean and chomped on it. Good times!

But you’re hear for mountain biking, right? Over to you, Teresa!

Teresa Tells It All

Lots of riding over here! To drive Vancouver Island from Victoria, at the south end, to Port Hardy, at the north end, takes approximately 7 hours and almost every community has their own set of trails. If you do plan on coming over this way, you’ll definitely need a car and a few days to really get a taste of it.

Cabin Fever (photo from Teresa at MtnBikingGirl.com)

To get over here you’ll need to take a ferry. Ferry routes and schedules can be found on the BC Ferries website. I recommend buying a CirclePac which allows you to include the Sunshine Coast route at a discounted rate.

Here are my top picks for riding on Vancouver Island:

Victoria – The main place to ride is an area called Hartland (aka The Dump). There are trails here to suit every level of rider and the trails are marked like ski trails with green – easiest, blue – intermediate, black – hardest. You can find trail maps at the local bike shops but if you want to take a peek of what’s available, I found this one online.

Sooke – Located 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, Sooke is a real gem. I recently rode the Harbourview Trails there for the first time last month and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner! When you head up the fireroad there’s a series of fun, flowy XC trails but if you continue on up the road to a trail named "FM Radio" you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Sooke Harbour from the top of Mount Quimper. I should forewarn you, this is a 45 minute trek from the road and you’ll come across a couple of sections that are "hike-a-bike". It may seem like a long trek up, but the downhill is worth it! Recommended for advanced XC riders.

Cumberland – Part of the Comox Valley and day 1 of the 2011 BC Bike Race, this is where I live and is approximately 3 hours north of Victoria. We are spoiled with our network of trails here. Not all Cumberland trails are marked so you’ll need to buy a map from one of the local bike shops or if your budget allows, hire a guide. There are also some great trails on Forbidden Plateau. You can ride up the fire road to get to the trails here but most of the locals shuttle (it’s a long, dusty ride on a well travelled road). For more information and to view trail maps, go to cvmtb.com.

Campbell River – Campbell River is approximately 45 minutes north of the Comox Valley and will be day 2 of the 2011 BC Bike Race. The best riding here is in the Snowden Forest which boasts over 100 km’s of trails. Most of these trails are for the intermediate to advanced rider, but there are some easier trails as well. I recommend talking to one of the local bike shops (Swicked Cycle is on the way) for trail recommendations and a trail map. With such a large network of trails, it’s easy to get lost.

If you want to continue along the BC Bike Race route, the next stop is Powell River…

Powell River – To get here you need to take a ferry from Comox (this is where the CirclePac I mentioned above comes in handy), which takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. Powell River is one of the newer mountain bike destinations, and I have only ridden here once before and the trail network has really expanded. The trails used for the BC Bike Race are on the Bike Powell River site and for futher information I would recommend contacting someone at Bike Powell River directly.

Sunshine Coast – There isn’t much information online about the Sunshine Coast trails, however one trail that I know they’ve really put a lot of work into is the Suncoaster, which is a 33 km trail that was designed to take people from ferry to ferry on trails and back roads. It’s also one of the trails that the BC Bike Race follows. Other trails worth checking out here are the Ruby Lake Trails. And as always, I highly recommend talking to the local bike shops to get the real scoop and find out trail conditions, etc.

The ferry out of Langdale will bring you back to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.

CategoriesFitnessUncategorized

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.

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Why Phoenix Councilman’s Stance on City Parks is Bogus

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio has come out adamantly against a $2 a day parking fee for about 700 of 5,000 parking spaces at city trailhead parking lots. Here’s what he has to say in the latest newsletter he sent out (including to people like me who never signed up for it).

Let’s parse the massaged public relations quacking and uncover the truth, which will prove that DiCiccio’s stance is nothing more than a bush-league politician’s PR ploy:

1. The voice and presence of people who showed up, who contacted the council members, who passed out fliers and who talked with their friends and neighbors – that at least temporarily stopped the city from adding the $2 parking fee.

Right. So far, every single one of the opposition’s attempts to unite have been an abject failure. The NoFee2HikeAZ.com "protest hike" in August fizzled – according to its own Facebook photos, all of five people showed up. Its Twitter feed is followed by an avalanche of 12 people. And The Arizona Republic is reporting that "residents who spoke at the last parks board meeting Aug. 26 were 3-1 in favor of the fee."

2. First the Parks Board was convinced that if it didn’t produce revenue to kick into the general fund that pays normal city operating costs, cuts even harsher than the deep ones imposed in the current budget could be forthcoming. It considered a parking fee as high as $5 a day on hikers

Even at $5, the day fee is still less than the $6 day-use fees at Maricopa County Regional Parks. And I have yet to hear anyone who doesn’t consider that a bargain for excellent trail systems. Phoenix and its parks lag behind – they’re good, but they simply don’t equal the county’s offerings. A day-use fee for Phoenix might lessen the gap. Quality costs.

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