Friday, September 24, 2021
I had wished to have a little more time in Sedona after our Western Spirit mountain biking and camping trip in nearby Prescott this week, but the way it happened, I could have done without.
Our trip came to an abrupt end on what was to be our final day on this 5 day, 4 night trip. We camped the prior night at the Yavapai Campground northeast of town, at the foot of Granite Mountain. Despite our capacious accommodations in our Big Agnes tent (so big, we call it the Taj), outfitted with Camptime cots and Thermarest pads, neither of us had been sleeping well, despite the strenuous exercise of the daily rides. This morning, I was trapped in my down mummy bag, with fabric stuck in the zipper. I asked Steve to see if he could move it, as my bladder was becoming more insistent that I rise. He leaned over from his cot, then straightened up abruptly with a strangled cry, as a back spasm ended our plans to ride that day.
After a particularly tasty egg, cheese, ham and tomato breakfast sandwich hot off the griddle, our fellow riders Chad, Neal, Paul, John and Alex suited up and set off with Natalie guiding. While Steve staggered around, waiting for the Ibuprofen to kick in, I packed up our tent, cots, clothes, sleeping bags and pads and shuttled them to the van. Our other guide, Willie, was nice enough to take us to our car. This was an advantage of doing a “front country” trip as Natalie had termed it (as opposed to back country)-we were never too far from cell service or stores, which had already come in handy earlier in the week when the stock of beer for Alex and Chad was replenished by one of the guides while we were riding.
The alternative would have been for me to ride while Steve waited in the van with Willie, which didn’t sound like a very comfortable prospect. I was sore from head to toe, as well as scratched and bruised and had echoes of a near-flare of back spasm myself, sustained while pushing up a climb on our first day out.
I don’t make this trip sound very enjoyable, but it really was.
The riding was challenging, but mostly doable. Still, there was plenty of hopping off the bike before a daunting rock formation or “feature”. My arms were as sore as my legs and back, thanks to the effort required to push the bike up the sections I found too difficult or terrifying to ride. And sometimes, I walked just to catch my breath-the elevation of 5500 feet coupled with sustained climbs had sea-level dwelling me huffing and puffing-spending two nights in Sedona before the trip did little to acclimatize us.
To back up to the start of this trip, 4 days before…
Monday, September 20, 2021
To make the 8 am meet-up in Prescott for this trip, we had to rise early for the 1.5 hour drive from Sedona. As we were packing up, Steve realized he was missing his wallet. Tile indicated it was at Canyon Outfitter’s, his last stop the day before, picking up pads for the cots. We stopped off to search outside the store, in case he had dropped it carrying out the rolled up pads, but it was too early to inquire in the store.
Why even do a camping trip so close to our red rock home? We were hoping the trip would unlock Prescott’s network of trails, which was reputed to have a lot of intermediate terrain. Sedona has many terror-inducing, rocky trails, with more limited trails within our comfort level. At our rendezvous at the new Hilton Garden Inn, guides Natalie and Willie were loading up the red Western Spirit van with a trailer, so familiar from our pandemic year’s trips with them to the Grand Canyon North Rim and the White Rim in Utah’s Canyonlands. Natalie grew up in Prescott and designed this itinerary for the company. She and Willie also guide skiers in Hokkaido, Japan in the winters.
We were a small, family group, consisting of a recently retired radiologist, John, with his middle married son Alex. Accountant Neal from Denver was accompanied by his grandfather Paul. Paul is a road cyclist predominantly. He may not have had a lot of mountain bike experience but his endurance belied his 75+ age. Our group was rounded out by Chad, a biologist from Oklahoma, living and working in Iowa. As usual, I was the laggard of the group. Steve was riding well and didn’t seem as affected by the altitude as I was.
Steve and I had hiked the day before in Sedona, our 3 hour loop from the house, up Jordan to Soldier’s Pass to Brin’s Mesa and back to Jordan to the house, but thankfully, I wasn’t terribly sore. That would come later. That I was able to walk on the subsequent mornings was thanks to Natalie and Willie having in their kit a yoga mat, with a foam roller, which I used each evening trying to squelch the impending spasm in my lower back.
The plan to leave vehicles at the hotel was vetoed vigorously by the weekday manager, who suddenly and decisively appeared and shooed us away to nearby A.C. Williams Granite Creek Park. We had but a short jaunt in the van to the start of our first ride, the Salida Gulch. It was sunny and warm, but highly enjoyable riding. My back gave a warning of trying to seize up while negotiating a climb, but it didn’t go critical. It did make me cautious about going all out with effort and I was afraid to try sitting in the low camp chairs until days later, after it loosened up. After a lunch of a turkey, walnut and grape salad, our afternoon ride was Homestead, which yielded a nice view after an arduous climb. The descent was mostly fun.
Dinner at the Lake Lynx campsite was a perennial favorite, Chicken Marbella (Silver Palate cookbook classic), over couscous, with a spinach salad. A real treat of this Western Spirit trip was the ability to have campfires every night. A full harvest moon glowed through the trees to cap off a very full day.
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Despite the exertions of the prior day and the newly acquired Thermarest pads to top our cots, neither of us slept well. The eggs Benedict for breakfast was warming and delicious. Our route today was a fun, windy, curving meander through pine forests, heading west past views of Goldwater Lake from our start on 62/Ranch trail to 396 in the afternoon.
At White Spar campground, the soundtrack was the minimal, quiet, insistent, polite tapping of woodpeckers.
We again had a very manicured, perfectly level pad on which to set up camp, but still didn’t sleep especially well. Steve blames the mummy sleeping bags as too confining. Around a campfire, we enjoyed an evening meal of braised pork with fennel, accompanied by bowtie pasta with pesto and pinenuts and a salad, capped off with Dutch oven brownies.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
After fortification with a hot breakfast of banana and blueberry pancakes (with the fruit in the batter, the way it should be) and sausage, we set out for a tough day of hot, uncovered, near continuous climbing on the White Spar trail. The trail itself is pointy, with shards of white spar (a type of feldspar). Neither of us really enjoyed this day of riding, unlike the others, largely because it was uncovered, with little respite from the unrelenting sun.
Most of our group missed the turn off to the best segment of trail, a short, shady forested section to a miniature segment of creek.
Steve and I were in the back with Natalie, so we benefitted from her guidance. Most everyone whipped passed the turn-off. While we lunched at the creek on sandwiches we’d assembled at breakfast and carried in our packs, Natalie headed further on to round up the rest of the group to bring them to the watering hole for lunch.
My sandwich had suffered from partial crushing from a fall I’d sustained on the ride, with hummus extruded through the wrapping throughout the interior of my backpack, including on the miniature camera inside. This was no problem, as it was the Olympus TG-6, which is waterproof and tough, so I just dunked it in the river to wash off the hummus.
This was the most difficult day of riding, leaving me sore from head to toe. Natalie and Willie’s foam roller had been my savior each night in camp, enabling me to walk again the next morning. Our camp tonight was a primitive one (no facilities) in an area called Big Juniper. This was the only campsite where the Groover made an appearance. We had a view of local landmark Thumb Butte from it.
The moonlight was still strong, but the Milky Way could now be faintly seen. After appetizers of gyoza, edamame and spiced jicama, we feasted ravenously on meatballs and curried vegetables over rice.
Thursday, September 23, 2021
After breakfasting on scrambled eggs, potatoes, fruit salad and griddled muffins, we were in for a fun, flowy, still challenging series of trails to end up 14 miles later at our Yavapai campsite. A short walk led to a nice view of Granite Mountain, a Prescott landmark, which I scouted out during the day and returned to after dark to shoot star-lit landscapes. The foam roller and yoga mat stretching station had been overlooked when we packed up camp that morning, but Natalie having family in the area came in handy again, as a relative was dispatched to pick it up. Another member of her family had been deputized earlier in the week to check on our cars, left unattended in a city park instead of in a hotel parking lot as planned.
We were introduced on this trip to corn hole, a game in which players try to pitch beanbags onto a sloping board or better yet, through a hole in it. Steve and me, Team Sedona, won our match in our only outing. This evening, Alex and Neal battled Natalie and Willie in an epic struggle for corn hole dominance.
After dinner, I headed back to the view of Granite Mountain suggested by Willie, which I’d scouted out earlier. Willie and Natalie came strolling along later to check out what I was capturing. The moon was diffused by clouds.
Friday, September 24, 2021
It was strange to have our trip come to such an abrupt and unexpected end, with a stuck sleeping bag zipper and an untimely back spasm combining to have us bag the last day’s ride and lunch, especially after the rigors of the riding. Back in Sedona, we stopped into Canyon Outfitter’s, which had been holding on to Steve’s wallet for him this entire week.
Saturday, September 25, 2021
We had two fun diversions from a long driving day back to San Diego. The first was stopping in Tempe to meet Richard Laugharn, a photographer and fine art framer and friend of our fine art photographer friend, scott b. davis. scott had gifted us a pair of pivotal prints for helping underwrite his upcoming Radius Books monograph and per scott, Richard was his framer of choice. Richard, scott and another Arizona photographer friend whose work we’ve collected, Michael Lundgren, are friends who regularly shoot together in the desert. scott had treated us, with Ralph and Gail, to a preview of his upcoming art book, sonora, at a dinner we hosted earlier in the summer. Richard has a long-range project focusing over time on selected desert trees and plants, returning again and again to document them over the years, so we enjoyed seeing his portfolio while dropping off scott’s prints for framing.
And the second, break-up-the-long-drive treat was in an unlikely locale: Yuma, a late lunch at Takos & Beer Mexican Grill, for really tasty street corn and a selection of specialty and classic tacos (cerdo ahumado, al pastor and carnitas). Credit for this discovery goes to Valerie Pennington, whose enticing post on Facebook clued Steve into this find.
Back in San Diego, we had a quick turnaround, leaving our cycling clothes and gear and switching into city mode, heading to New York for a second week off, with Broadway open again and hopes high for increasing normalcy in a pandemic-scarred world. Our city clothes would hide the new bruises and scratches and Steve’s back would be flinchy for another week or so, but we were looking forward to plunging back into city life and being a part of New York coming more fully back to vibrant life.