These days we’re headed west, albeit in a typically obtuse fashion.
Westwards? What happened to South?
To the west lies Los Angeles: where cheap flights back to Latin America can be found.
To hasten progress, a ride-share beacon was sent out on Albuquerque’s Craigslist: 2 bikers, 2 bicycles and a trailer, grateful for a ride. Forty bucks of gas money later and we were dropped off in one of my favourite towns – Flagstaff, Arizona. From there, pedal power took us onwards to Prescott, a settlement set a mile high in elevation, below a swathe of rusty red ponderosa pines that abound with singletrack opportunities.
I’d like to have reported on the ride from Flagstaff but sadly my camera failed, leaving me empty handed for several days. It was a good journey though, shared with James, with whom I’d ridden the beautiful Canyonlands loop in Utah last year. Since then, James has worked a winter season in France, dedicating his earnings to accruing serious mileage touring the country, before returning to the US to tackle the Pacific Coast.
Our anticipated dirt road adventure was a touch compromised by recent snowfall, making riding at times muddy and slow going. Still, by the end of the first day we’d made it in time for a beautiful, pink-tinged sunset over the red rocks of Sedona. The area is a gathering point for mountain bikers and new-agers alike, known as it is to be riddled with both singletrack and cosmic vortices…
The next day, we tackled the snake-like climb to the old mining settlement turned artistic hangout of Jerome, from where we picked up a tacky, treacly dirt road around Mingus Mountain to Chino Valley and Prescott.
Our ride to Flagstaff, courtesy of Bobby, Billy and Boris.
Sunset in Sedona, on the way down an epic dirt road descent. Our stealth campsite was invaded that night by a group of new agers gathered to meditate amongst the spiritual vortices...
As the old 19 Century territory capital, Prescott is proudly Arizonan.
A pristine and conservative town, its austere, elm-filled square felt a little at odds with the shabby-chique, liberal Prescott College for which its known.
A sense of order prevailed. Well preserved, chrome-glinting cars grumbled around its quiet streets.
Countdown to Christmas for the kids of Prescott.
And with it, the migration of RV-driving retirees - the aptly-named snowbirds - flocking to the warmer climes of the southern Arizona.
For its size, the town offers an impressive array of bike shops. My favourite was gently-spoken Ed's SouthWest Sounds and Cyclery, purveyor of both fine bicycles and tasteful music.
Inside, it was an Aladin's cave of choice components and quirky memorabilia. Hanging from the rafters was an enticing collection of Spot, Salsa and Surly 29er frames, well suited to the nearby loamy trails.
Further inspection revealed more local tidbits - Prescott organic honey nesting in shelves amongst titanium bottle cages and singlespeed cogs.
The friendly, down-to-earth Bikesmith is well worth a visit too. There, I fitted new tyres (bargain basement CST Caballeros) and loaded up our inner tubes with sealant, to help protect against thorns for the desert riding ahead.
Enjoying some last light singletrack on the way out to a camp spot.
... in a clearing, rich in forest colours...
... and woodsy textures.
In fact, we tried to leave Prescott via singletrack on a couple of occasions... but forces kept holding us back.
Certainly, there seemed to be no end of swoopy trails to explore.
Finally though, after plotting out a dirt road route over at Ed's bikeshop/hangout, we did manage to flee. Several miles of climbing were rewarded with a long descent...
... to warmer elevations, where the distinctive skin of aligator junipers characterised the landscape.
Down, down, down... towards the ominous sounding Skull Valley, named after the grizzly remnants of a bloody Native American feud, and ensuing cavalry battles.
Big views... and more hills ahead. Somewhere beyond lies the Mojave desert...
The Skull Valley grocery store. Quaint rather than scary.
$7.50 trucker's cap = happy tourist.