Not bad, the bikers thought.
Wheeze had brought along a fat cash roll, "just in case," and he had enough to bail out himself and Forest (the only one without drug charges). The other three sat in the cell for two hours before the rangers released them on their own recognizance. "They said they couldn't keep us there overnight," says Rama, "and they didn't want to haul us to Flagstaff."
Before they left for home, the five asked about their bikes, and the rangers said they were still down at Phantom Ranch. "I don't see why they had to make us dump our bikes and go in the copter," says Rama. "I mean, I appreciated the ride, but it seems like if they wanted to punish us, it would have been better to make us ride up and then arrest us. Or, better yet, why not take the front wheel off each of our bikes and say, 'Okay, see you guys at the top!' Now that would have harshed us."
Ten days later, the Sedona 5 appeared before magistrate Verkamp to accept a plea bargain offered by Park Service law enforcement specialist Dave Swickard, the government prosecutor in the case. They all pleaded guilty to violating a park closure, bicycling in a prohibited area and, where appropriate, misdemeanor marijuana possession. The Park Service dropped the mushrooms and paraphernalia charges. Each biker was ordered to pay $244 restitution for the helicopter flights (which Herring says cost exactly $1,220) and given a $250 suspended fine for the criminal offenses. They also had to forfeit their bikes, which Rama estimated were worth a total of $4,000. Herring says the bicycles ". . . are now in the ranger cache. We let the Boy Scouts ride them on perimeter patrols sometimes."
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."