Ed. Note: MTBTP (Mountain Bike Trailer Park) is a regular column written by Uncle Dan that appears monthly on the Dirt Rag Interwebs. If you missed his previous columns, check them out here.
A three dollar pen. Three dollars for chrissakes! For a cheap, red plastic clicky-top pen at the airport newsstand.
The four dollar pen wasn’t any better; it just said “Arizona” on it. No thanks. I have a million pens like this already, in a rainbow of colors, with the name of some bank or law firm or hotel or car dealership on the side. They seem to spontaneously reproduce in the car’s glove box, in my desk drawer, and at the bottom of every bag. Except this bag. Somehow this one fucking bag doesn’t have a pen in it. It’s got a pad of notebook paper, but no pen. So, I cough up three bucks for the pen.
The pen wasn’t the first thing I forgot, broke, or lost on this trip to the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. In fact, it was merely the last.
My streak started Thursday morning. On the flight out to Phoenix, I pulled out my laptop and wrote a post on the plane. Feeling pretty good, I also spent an hour or so transferring roughly a year’s worth of photos from my iPhone. On arrival, I carried the laptop to the van we rented, so I could work a little more on the drive from Phoenix to Sedona.
Ben and Jeremy are used to this. I run a few websites, a blog, a handful of Facebook pages, a couple Instagram accounts and a twitter feed (mostly MTB stuff). So, my friends fully expected to see the back of one device or another whenever they looked in the direction of my face.
In keeping with this tradition, in the rental van, I pulled out the laptop and set it on my seat.
But as we started loading the van, we realized that we couldn’t fit three guys and three mountain bikes in it. So, we headed back to the counter to change vans (to a TACO incidentally). And, wouldn’t you know it, I left my laptop on the seat on the first van (although I wouldn’t figure this out for almost a week).
Anyhow, we headed out to Sedona, and picked up my friend, and former Arizona local, Dan, at a brewery on the way. After a couple of beers and some fries, I was feeling pretty good, blissfully unaware of the lack of the laptop.
We reached Sedona in the afternoon, picked up our rental bikes, and Dan showed us around a few lesser-known local trails. It felt good to roll through the dry rocky red trails and to acclimate ourselves to the altitude and the desert in advance of the festival. Then we parted ways with Dan and went off to our rental house.
We had picked a place on AirBnB that the owner described as inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous “Fallingwater” house. However, at $89 per night, we had our doubts.
In fact, the place was a battered rust-red mobile home, with tape over the light switches and a home-made teepee in the yard. The location was great, though, the beds existed, and the tap water ran hot, so we settled in. There was no TV, but who cares. If we got too bored at night, we could always rely on our smartphones or laptops.
An examination of the kitchen, however, revealed even greater deficiencies. There were three forks, no spatula, some wooden salad spoons, no cutting board, no tongs, and no colander. I mean, seriously. No. Fucking. Colander. This would make cooking for the next six days very interesting. Not good. Frank Lloyd Wright would not approve.
Still, on Friday morning, we managed to wrangle up some cheese omelets and oatmeal before heading over to the Posse Grounds for the first day of the Sedona MTB Fest.
Jeremy and I had rented bikes for the whole week, and we found some connecting trails to ride over to the festival. Sweet! When we arrived, we met up with Ed and Ben for a group ride in the Southwestern Sedona trails. Ed and Ben nabbed a couple of nice demo bikes and we loaded onto the shuttle.
As we rode, we discovered that the late snow melt from the mountains had filled the creek beds that had been bone dry last year. (Somehow I had imagined them always dry). At the first creek crossing, a group of cyclists sat, pulling off their socks and shoes, to walk their bikes through the creek. I smugly rode by them and straight through the creek, feeling pretty awesome about myself.
The next creek crossing brought me back to earth. I entered the creek with too much speed and couldn’t avoid a big rock in the middle of the deep water. I plunged in face first and the bike toppled next to me upside down. Ed, Jeremy, and Ben had their cameras out before I even had a chance to stand up.
No real damage done to bike or body. But my iPhone took a bath. As I pulled it, sopping, from my pocket, I could see water trapped behind the black lifeless screen. Crap. Not to worry though, I still had my laptop, right?
Back at the Frank Lloyd Wright trailer, I opened my pack to find no laptop inside. A frantic search ensued. It was gone. Double crap.
Now, here’s where, as a blogger, I could take the story on a sappy riff. I could write about being “unplugged.” How the lack of screens is a good thing. How I learned to slow down and “be in the moment.” To tell the truth, I thought about it. A post like that writes itself.
But, if I’m being honest, I really missed my gadgets. I couldn’t take photos, couldn’t coordinate with friends at the festival, and couldn’t call my family. And, just to add a little extra salt to the wound, my iPhone screen came back to life, and I could see notifications of incoming texts and emails, but the touch screen wasn’t working, so I couldn’t read them or respond.
What to do? Well, there was no Apple store in town, and my laptop was in Phoenix, a four-hour roundtrip. So I let it go. I didn’t want to be unplugged, but there I was.
Don’t get me wrong. This didn’t spoil the trip. But I still needed a way to fill the interstices between events (I’m not good at downtime). So, I started cooking for my friends. Jeremy and Ben did not mind this turn of events.
I didn’t have too much down time anyway. The three days of the festival were packed. We rode demo bikes, shuttled back and forth to trails, and listened to live bands in the beer garden as the sun set. The festival was also a great time to meet up with other friends and tell stories. Jen fell on Hiline and slid 10 feet down the cliff. Cam set a KOM on the gravity trail. And Chris’ van broke down on the way from Bentonville, Arkansas.
After the festival, Ed and Jeremy headed home, while Ben and I stayed in Sedona to ride more. Lacking any electronics, I spent my evenings hunched over maps, planning the rides for the next day. My goal was to ride as many “new to me” trails as possible. Would they be good? Who knew? Without TrailForks or MTB Project, they were just lines on a map.
But that made it all the better. Each morning, Ben and I would head out to trails unknown, with packs heavy with water, food, and a couple of beers. We found some amazing trails, and some that were amazing in different ways. On Lizard Head, we amused a few hikers who stopped to watch us pass our bikes down to one another off a cliff face. And, on Summit, we abandoned our bikes about halfway up to reach the top of the mesa by foot.
Riding like this—aimlesslt—is my true disconnect. My unplug. My “in the moment.” Because I’m usually either “training” or “racing” (note the quotation marks), I usually think of trails in terms of miles per hour and feet of elevation. I usually have a schedule and a training goal for each ride.
In Sedona though, I might find myself munching a Clif bar on a rock enjoying a beautiful view, having traveled only six miles in two hours. Or, I might be bombing a downhill with a stupid grin, without worrying whether this slice of heaven has a segment on Strava.
When it started getting dark, we’d make our way back to the Frank Lloyd Wright trailer, sun-baked and salt-crusted, with empty packs, and a couple empty beer cans, not exhausted, but simply done.
And so today, the last day, I find myself at the airport, ready to head home. My right palm is bruised, my left shin raked with bloody ribbons from a cactus smack. My neck is sunburnt, my left shoulder stiff. I’m done for the week, but I’m not done with Sedona—I wish I didn’t have to leave.
I’m itching to get my devices back online, so I can find out whether the Frank Lloyd Wright trailer is for sale. But first, I need to record my thoughts. So, while I’m sitting at the gate, I reach into my bag. Now, where the fuck is that pen?
Be brave, and do it by hand.