Words and photos by ambassador Molly Joyce.
Unlike summer, when sunrise-starts and a full day’s ride lead to grilled meats and beers with friends and sunsets, the winter is slightly different. Both seasons draw people together, but winter seems to draw out a special breed of riding crew, because, in winter, there are no guarantees.
Summer rides mean warm temperatures, sweaty backs, dusty unibrows, and sunshine. Winter makes no such promises. Instead, a winter ride is a gamble – fit only for gamblers. Between dark nights, icy and muddy trails, hail storms, rainstorms, whiskey to warm you up, and maybe some spurts of sunshine – winter keeps you on your toes. Not just anyone is ready for a ride like that, and those are the types of people that are my favorite to ride with.
In the high desert, winter means anything goes. The world around you is saturated, bright, and colorful in its dormancy; and yet that can change in an instant. One moment you are riding in a t-shirt with your friends while watching a snowstorm approach on the horizon and the 36 hours later 41 inches of snow has buried your car. All of this one week before the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival – an event slated to draw in 4,000 mountain bikers to Sedona’s Posse Grounds Park. As the festival approaches, locals sweat in terror, hoping the snow will melt before the horde descends upon the trails, cutting ruts through the clay-heavy dirt.
But the desert delivers – both intense sunshine and in hearty trail workers who frantically worked to clear out fallen trees and shovel snow off the pump track. The special breed comes out in times like these. There were people hiking the trails doing reconnaissance, others shoveling and tamping the lips of the flow trails, and more still were frantically preparing parking lots and campgrounds for their soon-to-be occupants. The festival arrived.
Day 1 was sunny. Trails were dry. The 40 inches that had hit Flagstaff were melting sending 15,000 cfs into Oak Creek, and the 30 inches accumulated in Sedona had all but absorbed into the red rock. It’s bizarre to look at pictures, a mere 6-days apart, and see the difference. But the shreddy vibes of the first day were quickly made soggy, due to a rainstorm that hit at 10 am on Day 2. I expected most people to clear out – go to their hotels, or Sedona’s not-very-numerous bars, and wait out the rain. But I was wrong. The festival remained busy – vendors whipped out propane-powered fire pits and fancy coffee, the breweries opened up the beer-garden early, food trucks were slinging tacos and wood-fired pizzas like nobody’s business. The festival roared on with free beer and bunny hop competitions (the winning hop was 36 inches).
As the festival winds down to a close with pretty epic sunsets and lots of hugs, there is still the audible buzz in the air of people talking about riding the next day. It’s the time when all of the vendors, the volunteers, and the tireless locals get out and ride. In fact, these are sometimes the best rides – people excited, exhausted, but still amped to throw down their best laps with their best buds. By Monday, Sedona was back to its sunny, dry desert self – but with some hero dirt left over for the rad, special breed of riders that make communities like these amazing to be a part of.