We’re surrounded on all sides: cactus of every shape and size aim their spears at our fragile skin. They stand tall like guardians of nature in this harsh terrain, showing this is a place for the hardy and well-defended. I like nature… I just don’t like it touching, biting, stinging or stabbing me. Call me crazy if you like, but that is not a close encounter I want!
With my trip to Sedona, Arizona confirmed for the Liv bikes press camp, I start to excitedly tell a few people where I’m headed. I assume they won’t have heard of this small town in a distant desert on a far-off continent, but it turns out that it’s quite a big deal, and it’s up there with Moab for dream places to ride. On arrival, I’m told by a fellow lady mountain biker that her friend flies out from the Netherlands every other year because the riding is so mind-blowing. With these trails sounding like the polar opposite to my home trails in muddy Scotland, I’m starting to worry that this trip will, in fact, ruin riding for me. Will I be taunting myself with “Nice trail, but not as epic as Sedona” from now until I hang up my full-susser? Will I have to take up BASE jumping to match the thrill of the trails? I am beyond excited to find out.
My day starts at Edinburgh airport where I board my first flight to Heathrow – then onwards to Phoenix, a place I never dreamt I would find myself. Through the miracle of air travel, I am transported a third of the way around the world; I’m in transit for fourteen hours, yet I’ll arrive only five hours after I left Edinburgh. Time differences totally blow my mind… it’s like a bleary-eyed time warp with dubious catering. Armed with only my passport, my travel visa, and a confused expression, I stumble to American customs and join the huge queue. I then get my bag and join another queue to leave the arrivals hall – but it’s the British that love to queue, right?
Having checked weather forecasts in the lead-up to the trip, I had hoped to find a gentle 18-20℃ heat, perfect for riding, especially for Europeans straight out of the end of a cold autumn. Walking out of Phoenix airport at 7 PM into a wall of 30℃ heat, I realise I have not packed appropriately. My already travel-rowdy hair turns to insta-frizz in the heat, and all I want is to remove my ‘early morning in Edinburgh’ footwear and replace it with something more suitable.
The next morning I rise early to discover the true joys of American breakfasts (they sure know how to serve maple syrup!) before boarding the shuttle to Sedona. We leave the city, driving past Saguaro cactus (the kind you would draw if you were illustrating a Western) and upwards towards the famous red rocks of Sedona. As we climb the temperature mellows and the Europeans amongst us relax – we might not die of heat exhaustion after all. After an hour, we stop for a ‘comfort break’ at a ‘gas station.’ The passengers disgorge on the sidewalk and shuffle into the welcoming air conditioning and here, a transformation occurs…. Grown women from all corners of the globe turn into the proverbial kids in a candy store, grabbing at foreign goodies that we’ve only seen in episodes of The Simpsons and Stranger Things. Twizzlers, Yum Yums, peanut butter cups, and a whole stand of beef jerky! It’s like a scene from the movie Big – we’re kids trapped in adult bodies as we photograph the rows of candy and fridges full of Sunny D. Back in the bus and crashing hard from sugar overload, we stare out of the window in awe at the towering rocks made of rusty red sandstone. We see ‘Bell Rock,’ ‘Cathedral Rock,’ and ‘Snoopy Rock’… well, we kind of see Snoopy Rock, as it takes a bit of squinting.
We arrive in town feeling like a pioneer posse. Low-slung buildings, coloured to match the surrounding rock, line the high street. A sign reading ‘Welcome to Sedona, established 1902’ makes us chuckle: “My house is older than that.” With an afternoon to spare before we get our hands on the new Liv Hail enduro bikes, we ditch our bags and check out the town’s vibe. Today is the 8th of November 2016, election day in the most talked-about election of all time. Everyone from the global media to community knitting groups have been discussing the outcome for months, but here, in this dusty vacation town, we see little to indicate that today is important. Life continues as normal while the countdown to one of the biggest decisions in the decade ticks towards zero.
Rising the next morning to a brave new world, we collect our bikes and adjust them to our personal preferences, helped by the Liv mechanics. We climb into the Land Rover and lean out of the windows, cameras in hand, to marvel at the surroundings, having never seen or really appreciated that such a place exists. This seems like an alien world. Without the trappings of human existence, I could imagine this was another planet, as the scorched earth and hot wind dries everything to tinder.
After obligatory high fives and American-style whoops we drop into the trail, hitting the dusty corners and watching the plumes rise from the wheels ahead. Short, rocky inclines keep us on our toes, and we get to test how much grip there is on the slick rock which peppers the trails. Finding there is enough grip for climbing cements the knowledge that descending will be just fine, and we keep flowing through the desert terrain.
We stop to regroup and hear a tentative question arise from amidst the team….”Does anyone have any tweezers?” We all turn as a group to see one of our number speared and bleeding, and also, thankfully, smiling. Our guides, experienced in desert riding, produce tweezers from their pack and proceed in pulling the two-centimeter prickly pear spines from our riding companion’s shin. We give her the respect she deserves for the bloody trickles and readjust our socks, pulling them as high as we can to protect maximum amounts of leg.
We ride on the edge of a giant bowl where the heat bounces back at us from every direction. The rocks, slightly off-camber with forests of cactus below, direct us constantly upwards and keep us looking ahead at the breathtaking scenery. The trail winds onwards then downwards, heading towards the distant valley floor. We follow a signpost towards the ominously named ‘Canyon of Fools,’ wondering what exactly could be more foolish than riding mountain bikes through a desert. We drop into the canyon and discover a narrow and whooping passage cut through the sandstone, a natural luge track made of tire-friendly grippiness with inviting wall rides on each swooping bend. We rail the bikes through the gully, leaning more and more into the giant berms as we gain confidence in the under-wheel stability before one last G-force-inducing twist spits us out at the bottom to squeals of delight and tales of escapades from the trail.
Sedona is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, but is somewhere I hope to see again. The trails were quiet, and those walkers we met were more than friendly and happy to welcome bikes to this most American of places. The towering rocks hide secret trails that can be unlocked with the help of a guide, and they can show you a good time whatever level of gnarr you seek. Add it to your wish list – you won’t regret it.
During this trip to Sedona I was riding the Hail Advanced 0, the latest bike from the women-specific brand Liv. Liv have created these bikes from the ground up based around a women’s body measurements to make the best bike for women, whatever their size. The enduro-ready Hail boasts 160mm of front and rear suspension courtesy of the RockShox Lyrik RCT fork and the RockShox Deluxe RT3 shock, making it more than capable of anything Sedona can throw at us. Finished off with an enviable build kit, the Liv Hail Advanced 0 uses SRAM XO1 Eagle and SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes, ready to stop you on a button.
For more information on bike, check out our Liv Hail Advanced 0 First Look
PS: Readers' Survey 2017 - Give feedback, win awesome prizes: We're giving away an exclusive Trek Slash 2018 in top spec! Click here to take part now!
Words: Catherine Worsey Photos: Sterling Lorence and Catherine Worsey