First-time mountain biking in Arizona is like falling in love as a freshman in high school. Bear with me here, folks. The simple idea of it, at first mention, seems pretty far-fetched. But once you find yourself in it, it’s thrilling, absolutely terrifying, awkward, and on more occasions than your fragile pride would like to admit, you fall down. In the end, it’s a notch in your belt. You walk away from it a bit hazy, but with a feeling of being a stronger individual having lived through it. When the dust settles, one thing is for sure – you know you’ll go back for more.
My weekend experience was no exception, as I decided to take on Papago Mountain in Phoenix on a glorious and breezy Sunday afternoon. Papago Park covers 1,200 acres and in addition to mountain biking, offers The Phoenix Zoo, The Desert Botanical Garden, museums, and baseball fields, easily making it one of the best areas to hit up when you’re visiting Arizona. This weekend, however, was all about those Arizona biking trails. We’d managed to reserve our bikes in advance, and were ready to go. I’m somewhat of an athlete, and like a casual run or hike up Camelback Mountain as much as the next person, and yet, something told me I was in for more than I’d bargained. We hopped aboard our bikes and began the journey to Papago Mountain. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes, and I realized this mountain biking stuff is a lot more technical than they tell you. With a little coaching from my enduring companion, I made it up modest hills and around lazy corners. A fair amount of negotiations with the mysterious gears on each handle bar later, we’d arrived at the base of the mountain.
The trail commenced with a gentle hill. No problem, I thought. With a mighty kick start, I pedaled full speed upward and within moments was wheels-down on a trail that seemed rocky, but doable. Seconds passed, and we were thrown down hill. Downward led to unforeseen jagged rocks and I instantly aborted my mission, throwing the bike behind and jumping to safety.
Cautiously, I hopped back on the saddle and established a suitable speed. Another switchback approached and I frantically fuddled with the gears. Wrong speed. Awkward dismount.
Pressing onward, I undertook another peak. Pedal, pedal, pedal – Yes! Victory set in all too soon, as I caught my breath and peered ahead at the rapidly approaching drop. Terminate! Abort! I leaped off my bike with little grace and proceeded to verbally abuse and assault the landscape. Breathe. You’re smarter than this inanimate landscape. You can do this. Reload.
Back on the bicycle again, and this time, the trail introduced itself as somewhat inviting. Mild switchbacks and modest turns proved less of a challenge. We looked up, and found we’d circled the mountain. Papago Mountain’s smooth rocks against the bustling city almost called to us, and the only thing suitable to do was to set down our bikes and scramble to the top.
Now climbing is something I am familiar with. We made our way to the summit within minutes, and looked down to see the hustle below. For a vantage point as central as Papago Mountain, we seemed miles away from the busy city in the Valley of the Sun. The breeze was friendly, and the feeling… epic. It made me excited to try more Arizona biking trails in the future –like the winding path of South Mountain or Piestawa Peak’s park-long trail situated right in the center of Phoenix.
Making our way back to the bike shop, I found myself swerving playfully, pedaling tirelessly for speed and testing each gear to see its worth, the whole time smiling ear to ear to myself at the feeling of having done it.
It’s pretty clear, no matter what level you find yourself, Arizona offers a unique challenge, and some of the most gorgeous weather to do so in. Now enlightened to the idea, I’m more aware of all the singletrack trails statewide and can’t wait to get back out there. Do you have a mountain biking story to share? We welcome it. Or, create some adventures of your own. My hunch is you’ll be begging for more.
Rebekah Bell is Advertising Manager for the Arizona Office of Tourism. She manages consumer advertising initiatives related to broadcast, print and outdoor media.