Arizona – Grand Canyon Road Trip – pt1

One benefit of my birthday being around Thanksgiving, is that it makes for a good excuse to travel for my birthday, as the public holidays (Thanksgiving/Black Friday), plus an employer bonus day off for my birthday make it a pretty nice little chunk of ‘free’ time off. The first year here in the US I took a short trip down to LA and Joshua Tree, the second year was a far more exciting trip to Baja.

It wasn’t possible to leave the country (more so other countries didn’t want to allow US residents to enter), so travel was instead restricted to remain within the country. However, with the case rates slowly on the rise again in the US after restrictions started to be eased during the summer of 2020, it wasn’t an ideal time to be travelling – especially to some areas that were far less trusting of mask mandates and social distancing.

Anyway, I rolled the dice, and decided to go ahead with a trip to somewhere I’d always wanted to visit – The Grand Canyon! But, to make the most of a flight out to Arizona, I looked into what else was in the area – and for better-or-worse that is when it became more of a Mountain Biking holiday, than a traditional sightseeing one.

The first challenge was getting my mountain bike there in one piece. I rented a hard case from Sports Basement, and even though it was listed as being suitable for mountain bikes, mine barely fit. And, even though it was a reasonably light mountain bike, it was only just going to be within the weight limits.

Sedona

I’d heard the name, and had unknowingly seen dozens of beautiful/terrifying mountain biking videos of rides in Sedona – without knowing what/where Sedona was. It was during research for the vacation that I also learnt that it is a World Energy Center, with Energy Vortices (Vortexes?), and in addition to it being a popular place to come and ride mountain bikes, it was also a popular place to come and shop for crystals, and take part in new-age wellness stuff.

Regardless of what brings you here, all will agree that the area is stunning.

It was getting late in the day after arriving in Phoenix, collecting a rental car, driving to Sedona, and collecting a rental bike for Jane. But, undeterred, we decided to at least cram in a (very) short ride before sunset.

It was a chill ride, on mostly smooth surfaces with a few little rocky creek beds to navigate. But, it was all about the views. It felt like I was riding in the shadow of Colossus, with the towering red rocks above me.

As much as I would like to make the local news for being an idiot tourist that needed to be rescued, there came a point though that the original route had to be re-evaluated, as the sun was rapidly setting – and we did not think to bring lights. And, even so, we only just made it back to the car park without resorting to using the flashlight in our phones to light the way.

Day Two

Day two was more of the same, picking up where yesterday’s riding was cut short due to the light. This little loop was definitely the highlight of this area, and glad to have squeezed a quick session in before Jane started work.

I had the day to go off and do as I pleased, so I thought I’d check out another section of trails in Sedona. It was still a blast, but somehow the views that seemed to bless the town anywhere you looked were nearly absent in this ride. Instead, I just concentrated on enjoying the trails, which was far less distracting.

Day Three

Day three, was, as you might be able to guess, filled with more mountain biking here in Sedona. Jane was able to take time out to ride, so we started the day together, and would then branch off and take separate loops and meet back at the car.

But, before the cycling began, it was yet another beautiful sunrise from the small little Airbnb cabin we’d rented. The sun cast deep shadows on the rocky formations, and made the red rock glow with extra intensity. 

Far in the distance, a flock (is that the right collective term?) of hot air balloons could be seen gently floating towards town. I imagine that would be quite the experience, undoubtedly filled with high flying energy vortexes to supercharge one’s chakras. Oh, while I run my mouth about new-age science (and, who am I to decide what is real science), I couldn’t help but be reminded of the lady on Instagram that was tanning her perineum when I walked around the town.

The ride started at the Old Amphitheatre with some beautiful views, and reasonably smooth singletrack. 

Yes, that feint white line is the trail – much scarier to ride than it looks!

The further I rode, after starting my solo mission, the more and more hikers I began to encounter – and the more extreme the trails got. While all well within the realms of hardtail MTB territory, it was the riding along slick rock that for all intents and purposes was like a (very shallow) cliff that provided the excitement. While this trail (Mezcal) also followed a thin white line of sedimentary rock, it was not even comparable to the infamous White Line trail – although at times in my head it felt like it.

What can I say. I didn’t stop to take many photos, because I was in love with racing along these trails. But, it was brutal. There were very few places to catch a breath, or to safely reach for a drink. It may have only been 40k, but it was a tough 40k that left me thoroughly exhausted (though equally satisfied). 

There was a few hours left until sunset, so it seemed like as good an opportunity as any to stroll around town to see what’s up. The truth is that Sedona was mostly filled with souvenir stores catering to tourists. It was kitschy, tacky, and really not a place I’d choose to spend time (if it wasn’t for the surroundings).

A quick walk through one of the main streets in town was enough, and then it was off to try and catch the sunset from a nice vantage point above town. I thought I did the maths on where would be a good location to look, but it didn’t quite work out the way I’d envisioned it. Not saying it wasn’t enjoyable, just saying it wasn’t spectacular.

What was spectacular though was was my pre-birthday dinner, that included a cheap-ish pizza, and a frozen mac-n-cheese (topped with my revolutionary addition of cheetos). As Larry David would say, “pretty, pretty, pretty good”.

Day Four

Groundhog Day. Sunrise, then a little more mountain biking. Also, Happy 39th Birthday to me!

There are just so many trails, and trail networks out here that it would take a week (or multiple weeks) to see them all. This morning was a shorter loop, as there was a long drive ahead this afternoon, and desperately want to arrive before sunset.

We rode the Slim Shady trails, which was a good beginner circuit, with nothing too technical, but still some fun and challenging features. I did watch the people on their bigger bikes head further up with a little envy/jealousy – but, I’m pretty aware of my (and my bike’s) ability!

Plus, the views were to die for. This might have been a better choice for sunset!

There were still a few other things to see/do before starting the journey north, and that included visiting the Chapel of the Holy Cross – advertised as being the “#1 Sight in Sedona”. I’d argue that the landscape of Sedona was far more beautiful than this church, regardless of how novel the construction/location/design is. 

However, as far as churches go, this was stunning. The design had links to Frank Lloyd Wright, and the way it seemed both modern while also blending into the ancient landscape was truly an achievement.

It was now four plus hours of driving north towards the Utah border. The first hour was spectacular, winding up through a canyon coloured with all the deciduous trees. But, the scenic Route 89A eventually reached a plateau near Flagstaff, and then it was boring highway miles for the rest of the afternoon.

Until it wasn’t… continued in Part Two.

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2 Comments

  1. Who else would tell you to eat a salad...

    Maybe next time you could try a salad! How the f are you still alive after eating all this crap?



    Beautiful scenery.

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