By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
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By Chris Parker
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Hurt No One, Ride Where You Please
The Sedona 5 weren't the only bikers to ride the canyon during the park shutdown. Two adrenaline hounds from Flagstaff had descended 20 miles down a remote, even more rugged North Rim trail three days earlier. The last eight miles, they say, were too steep to ride. "We were just following little rock cairns down, carrying our bikes for like five hours," says Paul, who asked not to be identified by his last name. The bikers eventually cut over to Roaring Springs on a side trail and ascended North Kaibab, hitching a ride out to the car with ". . . this guy in a Dodge Powerwagon who worked in the park and was showing his new Russian mail-order bride around."
But thanks to the dramatic bust and a Web site quickly set up by Wheeze, word of the Sedona 5's ride spread quickly through mountain-biking circles across the country. Several national mountain-biking magazines have run features on the ride, portraying the Sedona 5 as Edward Abbey on two wheels.
Of course, that perception is a long bunny-hop from the Sedona 5's original intent. "We weren't consciously on a civil disobedience ride," says Rama. "I can't even say all the attention has surpassed our expectations, because we didn't have any expectations. We were just out for the ride." Asked if he's glad they got caught, Rama says, "It's certainly helped me cultivate my bad-boy image," then adds, "Let's just say I believe some things happen for a reason."
Three mornings a week, the Sedona bike-store owner leads "Rama Rides" that leave from the parking lot of Mountain Bike Heaven. Anyone is welcome, and there's no charge. The rides, which last anywhere from a couple hours to all day, depending on Rama's mood, often venture into designated national wilderness areas around Sedona, where bike riding is strictly forbidden.
"That's where a lot of the best downhills are," Rama explains.
One recent Rama Ride was attended by Rama, seven local Sedona riders (two women and five men, including one 48-year-old known as "Gnarly Old Dude") and a freelance outdoors photographer from Florida shooting his way across the country who had an assignment from Bike magazine to spend a few days making pictures in Sedona.
The twin highlights of that eight-hour ride were a roller-coaster downhill through a wilderness area pass and a long "water ride" through a narrow river channel walled on both sides with lush blackberry bushes. During a rest break about three hours into the day, the riders gulped down water, honey and energy bars as the photographer packed a pipe of marijuana (pot, explains Rama, is an integral part of the mountain-biking lifestyle).
"Anyone here know the Sedona 5?" the photographer asked.
"Why do you want to know?" Rama replied.
"I'd just like to shake those guys' hands."
"Well," Rama said with a smug grin, "you can shake my hand."
Not all the response from other mountain bikers had been so positive. Forest tells the story of a sales rep for the Gary Fischer bike company who turned up his nose at the ride. "Someone introduced me to him as one of the Sedona 5, thinking he would think it was cool. He just stared at me for a while really cold and then he nodded and said 'jerks.'"
Wheeze has kept a running pro/con tally of e-mail response to the Sedona 5 Web site since he took it online in mid-December (http://www.ibike.com/canyon/canyon.htm). As of early August, the count for just more than 2,500 messages was 76 percent for the riders and 24 percent against.
"You people make me sick," wrote one critic in Georgia. "I'll bet you're a bunch of longhaired New Age types sitting there in Sedona with crystals around your necks. You clowns broke the law and you deserve to be punished. Perhaps the Sedona library should remove any copies of books by Ed Abbey so that you don't get any more bright ideas."
Fifteen years ago, when mountain biking was a fringe sport just starting to catch on, almost any biker who rode on public park land was technically breaking the law by using a trail designated for hikers only--no vehicles allowed. However, those rules were originally written to ban motorized off-road vehicles like dirt bikes and three-wheelers. Mountain bikes posed an unusual question--what to do with a new kind of "vehicle" that could move quickly over wilderness trails, but didn't have an engine. Most states have opened at least some of their state park trails to mountain bikers, but national wilderness areas are still off-limits.
"Essentially, the Park Service has decided that mountain biking is not consistent with the scenic and aesthetic values of the wilderness experience," says Herring. Pressed to explain, the wilderness ranger said it was "a matter of attitude, of a lack of respect for the park." However, Herring says the Sedona 5 caused negligible trail damage--far less than one of the commercial mule trains that routinely travel the park's major trails. "Yes, mules are a high-impact animal," he says. "But that's irrelevant. The issue here is respect for what this park is for. These guys [the Sedona 5] were not out to enjoy the natural splendor. They were there to put a notch in their belt."