By Rob Quinn
3-2-1….. Happy New Year! The champagne corks pop and there we were, sitting on a mountain in East Mesa at my brothers-in-law’s comfortable hacienda conveniently located around the incredible Hawes trails system( www.mtbproject.com ) . A familiar routine has established itself. I ride Hawes for a few hours and the in-law family assembles and we have a good old fashioned shindig at the party hacienda when I return.
But let’s rewind, this was the in-the-middle of the Pandemic New Year’s eve party, the kind they told you not to have. Just like the script, masks made their way into the pockets. The good food and wine flowed, and personal space was replaced by handshakes and hugs with an assortment of far-flung relatives, that like thousands, could not resist the allures of Phoenix in January. A place to chase away your winter blues.
A combination of a great ride, a few potent 4 Peaks IPA’s and a indica gummy that my doctor insists I take after strenuous exercise to quiet two blown and calcified discs in my back and I’m feeling all right even in the midst of this pandemic.
Right on cue the fireworks create a mosaic of sites and sounds that give the sky a Van Gogh effect, minus a stary night since Phoenix’s light pollution stretches all the way to Mexico. To the South, in the Barro you can see the small arms fire. A Latino Phoenix tradition of shooting your guns into the air at midnight in densely populated housing. What can go wrong?
Around the fashionable East Mesa development, the adobe fireplaces were lit in layered fashion that created a stunning visual to my tired sun burnt eyes. A surreal vision that looked other worldly. Like a 3D painting.
The traffic on the freeways, never ending like a long neon serpent still slithers after midnight in a city that never sleeps (sorry New York).
First things first. I need another Tequila. I sense certain non-covid related restrictions have been pre-imposed on crazy Uncle Rob like, no more than 1 Tequila. I instinctively look for a crack in security that presents in newly minted brother-in-law Dan, still assessing this new relative and appeal with the patented Leo DiCaprio swirl and the empty shot glass with a depreciating look. Dan scans the perimeter and deems it safe to slide 3/4 of shot across the bow. A courageous gesture yet, by-the-letter-of-the-law still in compliance of the plan since it’s not a full shot. In music they call that a blue note. That’s what Jazz is built on.
I get “the look” from my wife. Just as quick as the party got going it was time to go and my DD has a very short amount of patience for those looking for perhaps a nightcap on New Years eve?
Tomorrow, as tradition dictates, I will do a hard physical endeavor to basically start the year on a good note. This ride is going to be in the Cave Creek trail system on the north end of Phoenix. I had heard great things about the system and thought New Year’s day traffic would be light. My hunch was right. The place was empty at 8 AM. I’m not sure what trails to ride. I approach a campground host tidying up and ask where to ride. In classic Walter Brennon type fashion, he eyes me up and down and says “If you are one of those extreme type of fellers the ‘Go John Trail is for you”. www.alltrails.com
In all the excitement I forgot to mention that not only was it New Year’s day, but it was in fact the most polluted day in the history of Phoenix!
Yes, that over ambitious slab of concrete had finally made it to the bigs, right there with Jakarta, Indonesia, Delhi, India, and the now infamous Wuhan, China. Today Phoenix topped them all and recorded the worst air quality in the world. The Phoenix TV newscasters said everybody needs to stay in today. The culprit? Fireworks, wood fires, driving fast on gravel roads (bahhh) increased traffic and emissions and last but not least a front that was been parked in the Valley of the Sun for a week that’s now taken on the look smoggy look of LA before unleaded gas.
A perfect day for a mountain bike ride I thought. Besides, most of the trails in Phoenix are in mountains that circle the city, and the air should be better. I was correct. From my perch at the trail head, we had risen above what appeared to be a very dirty brown cloud over the metro.
As we taxi toward the runway, With the smoke and haze reminding me how I feel, Just a country boy who’s learnin, The pitfalls of the city, Are extremely real. -Bloody Mary Morning
I kit up in the empty parking lot, clip in and start the initial ascent of Go-John. It’s then a curious combination of yesterdays wine, the second half of that gummy (Doctors orders) and an unruly breakfast burrito from Alberto’s that I began to spin into the vortex of the hot tub time machine (1960’s type of psychedelic effects on screen) and am experiencing what Ronald Reagan might warn against if he was still president, called a flashback.
Dateline 1982. I had just graduated from college (2.1 GPA ) and moved out to Phoenix to try to charm my high school girlfriend to take up with me again. She just graduated from Arizona State. Only one problem, a guy from L.A. named Brad. Brad surfed and was pre-med. With the understanding I could sleep on the floor one night, I needed a strong statement. That came in the form of a ringing phone while said girlfriend (now wife not to spoil the story) was in the shower. Brad called and I stated that I’d need to meet him in order to bury him in a shallow grave in the desert. Brad hung up and the rest as they say is history.
I scored a job at the coolest radio station on the planet called “The Storm” KSTM. My job was to sell commercials. The “Storm” was a free form album station located in Apache Junction. It was eclectic and right outta the album oriented 70’s.
It’s the holiday weekend in Arizona and I saved my shekels and purchased my first mountain bike from the Mesa Bike Harbor located next door to the station. I bought a 35 pound Fuji Sundance with huge handlebars. A true dinosaur. But wait a minute, the new trail bike I just purchased is 34 pounds with huge handlebars. Funny.
The game plan was to take this baby on a New Years Day ride around Lake Pleasant and then head to a place steeped in Cave Creek history, Harold’s Cave Creek Corral. www.haroldscorral.com There I met my new boss Steve “Allnight” Allison. The General Manager of the station and the guy that hired me to my first gig outta college. More on “Allnight” in a minute.
We got up bright and early. In those days a trek to Lake Pleasant and Cave Creek was an all day haul. Today it’s now suburban Phoenix. A city who’s economy is based on continual growth with nothing but more desert to develop. It’s a fair bet to say that if you bought the useless desert land they sold in the great sales drama movie Glengarry Glen Ross starring Alec Baldwin, you’d be siting pretty today. In fact 300 people a day move to Phoenix. Fueled by disenfranchised Californians and the rust belt exodus, “they move here from Cleveland every figgin day”.
Remember this, if you can’t take the heat get outta the kitchen.
After our day at the lake, we’d meet the new work crew at Harold’s.
Back in the day there were no mountain biking trails-just a bunch of dirt roads. Wearing just my wool pro togs shorts and Beta clipless road shoes I took a shake down cruise on my mountain bike and began a life long love affair. I liked everything about it right away. My ride ended the way 80% of the rides ended in the 80’s. With a flat tire. This was before Stan’s and tubeless tires. An issue that retarded the sports growth in Phoenix. Eventually if you rode in Phoenix you had to install tire liners to give you a fighting change. But you still got A LOT of flats.
Initial cruise completed I hoisted the Sundance onto the Rhode Gear rear strap tail gate rack in the back of my Subaru and off to Harold’s Cave Creek Corral after a quick wardrobe change.
I’m not sure what you know about the Hell’s Angels, but they have a very big presence in Phoenix and Cave Creek was a hot bed. In fact, in 1998 when Hells Angel President Sonny Barger moved to Cave Creek after getting out of San Quentin, he made the city the world Headquarters for the Hell’s Angels. Barger just moved back to Oakland last year to live is final months closer to family.
Let me tell you about my boss. Steve “Allight” Allison, a former overnight “Boss Jock” in Saint Louis, this guy bullshitted his way to the corner office. He was in no particular order: brilliant, evil, an addict, a visionary, a cad, a con man and a man prone to very bad decisions and a guy that taught me more than anybody else in my life on how to survive on the mean streets of Phoenix. While my classmates we getting trained at 3M or going to Grad School in Northwestern, I was driving around a dusty desert oasis with a Hunter S. Thompson like mad man.
When we pull into Harold’s the parking lot was jam packed with Harleys and the people on them were Hell’s Angels!. We must have looked quite the site pulling in with a Subaru Wagon with some weird looking bike hanging from the back inches above the hot concrete. Now that I looked back we really must have looked out of place—two blond kids from Wisconsin wearing OP shorts (note…Hell’s Angeles don’t wear shorts) and white Reeboks with a naïve hi-how-are-ya attitude I hope I still have today.
The cast of Characters was interesting. Allnight, his 17 year old babysitter Vicki he moved to Phoenix with, and a cool cat named Tommy whose family owned the iconic Mexican place called “The Teepee”. Tommy was in a group called “The Fabulous Lum Brothers” and they had a local hit called “Work”. Most intriguing was “The Judge” a Federal Judge that resembled Leon Russell with long white hair and beard. Always sunglasses and a LBJ type cowboy hat. The Judge had a girlfriend named Karen who “Had a nightclub walk that would make a grown man feel like an underaged boy”. During my employment at KSTM I noted that Allnight liked to take Karen to lunch often. Dorothy, we ain’t in Kansas anymore.
The Hells Angels turned out to be really nice and finally one of them says, ”Is that a bike in back of that car? I ride dirt bikes but I’ve never seen a dirt bicycle.” In no time at all I had the Sundance down and these huge guys with chains dangling and big old boots and denim vest of “cuts” with the logo were teetering around the dirt parking lot dissecting the gears and giving it the once over. We called it good once a fat Angel spilled onto the gravel and cut his arm much to the delight of his homies. The Hells Angels Mountain Biking session was over and we retired back to Harold’s with my new crew of friends.
The flashback lasted the entire half hour climb up GoJohn as I about daydreamed my way off the trail. Now it’s time to enjoy twenty miles of Sonoran flow. In the next two hours I’ll see one hiker and two riders in the perfect first ride of the year. As I auger into the parking lot I see a line of cars waiting to get into the park. I beat the crowds of Joey’s and can slide back into Tempe for yet another to be determined dining extravaganza, a few more days of riding and another get together with friends and family.
Even in the midst of this pandemic with, at that point with no end in sight, I am reminded of a timeless Mexican saying that translates to “Hope is the last thing to die”.