Tag Archives: Phoenix

Mountain Biking Progress: I See Contours and Grade Reversals

Ever since the IMBA Trail Care Crew visited I have entered a new stage in my mountain biking  journey.  Not only are my skills improving after the chance to have some one-on-one coaching in Sedona, but now when I ride I see trail design successes and failures. In fact sometimes it’s downright distracting.  Yesterday, I started rolling down a steep loose rutted section, and I began looking at the hillside to estimate grade to guestimate whether this section was built on the fall line or just constructed at too steep a grade and without grade reversals.   Next thing I know I’m putting a foot down before I bounce off the edge into a hungry cactus.  Not quite ready for that kind of multitasking.

Yesterday I rode at Usery Mountain Regional Park on a few beginner to intermediate loops.  It was awesome.  Lately I’ve been reading, IMBA’s “Managing Mountain Biking”.  In the first chapter they discuss what mountain bikers want: connection to nature, escape, fun, challenge, exercise, variety, connections, camaraderie, a sense of belonging, and facilities.  In just a 90 minute ride I was able to experience all of these (except camaraderie) at Usery Mountain.  They got it right every step of the way, starting with a nice  welcome from a volunteer manning the entrance gate.  She provided me with an easy to read  map with recommended trails for mountain bikers.  At the trailhead there was a clean restroom and clear signage.

I started on the Blevins Trail, which is a mostly flat winding singletrack that curves around eight foot tall chain fruit Cholla and Saguaros.  It’s springtime and many of the cacti were blooming causing me yet another distraction as I would screech to a stop to ooh and ahh over the pinks, oranges, and yellows.  I had brought my camera along, so I was able to alternate photography and biking.

The Blevins and Moon Rock trails were very fast, so even with my frequent stops I was able to get to the junction with Cat Peak quickly.  The trail description didn’t list difficulties, but I assumed (correctly) that going around this mini-peak would mean moving onto intermediate level trail with some more technical sections.

Cat Peak Trail involved climbing over badly eroded water bars, a technical challenge that I am just learning to tackle.  It’s nice to learn to ride over water bars, but I really hope that the sustainable trail building practices from IMBA will gain universal acceptance and we can replace these water bars with re-routes on the contour and/or grade reversals.

All in all I had a fabulous time.  I would love to go back to Usery Mountain to explore other trails.  Did I mention that while I was riding in Phoenix it was snowing in Flagstaff?  Desert riding for the win!


Photo Review: Hummingbirds and their Habitat

This morning I took a break from working remotely to go for a short walk in the desert.  I was hoping to find blooming cacti to photograph, but instead it seemed like hummingbirds were following me everywhere, so I got a chance to photograph them instead.

hummingbird on ocotillo

hummingbird on ocotillo

hummingbird on ocotillo

Week 7: Please Visit, But Check the Weather

Before the snow we had sunny warm days and I commuted by bicycle around town

The highlight of this week was getting a visit from my life long friend Rachel, who came to see us from Las Vegas with her husband and their almost 2 year old daughter, Monica.  Unfortunately, I was fighting and losing to a cold and there was a major winter storm, but other than that it was fabulous!  But seriously, when it’s 80 degrees in Las Vegas, 4 hours away, it’s really hard to believe that it can snow 18 inches in Flagstaff over the weekend.  They came into town Friday night as the wind was beginning to pick up and the temperature was dropping.  Saturday we enjoyed some time downtown and at Thorpe Park while the sky was still clear.  By that night there was a cold rain and overnight the rain turned to snow.  Snow, snow, and more snow.  The highways in all directions were closed Sunday morning.  Rachel and Luke had to wait and see, hoping for great plowing and no accidents.  Thanks to twitter we could follow the latest highway news, and were able to know when the highway had reopened.  Rachel and Luke made it safely back to the desert, where soon they will start complaining about the heat again I’m sure.  Next time we plan to visit them!

Rachel and Luke's daughter Monica

The snow cancelled my work on Monday and I stayed home to rest and recover from a cold

Volunteering:  Jay and Sharon volunteered with AmeriCorps Espirit de Corps Event at Riordan Mansion, picking up trash and raking pine needles (2 hours).  Jay also cleared snow at Riordan Mansion (3 hours).

Beer of the Week: Cosmic’s Irish Red

Something New:  I tried corned beef (which I don’t remember having had before) twice in two days!

Highlight of Being in One Place:  Having people visit you instead of the other way around!

Product of the week: 

Video of the Week:
Jay and Nate riding Black Canyon Trail north of Phoenix:

Week 6: A Long Weekend of Family and Fancy Fabrics

A vireo perches on a cactus in the park right behind Jay's parents house

This was a busy week!  We headed down to Phoenix for a long weekend in order to celebrate Jay’s dad’s award (Master of the Southwest) and to go wedding dress shopping with Sharon’s mom who flew in from Virginia.  Jay got to ride mountain bikes with his brother as I went with my mom and Jay’s mom to several different shops and tried on a couple dozen dresses.  I finally found a fabulous dress and was able to relax and enjoy playing with my niece Laya and enjoying the beautiful weather.  The weekend was a bit tiring, but it was a really special opportunity to be with family.

Morgan Holt accepting Master of the Southwest award

Morgan Holt accepting Master of the Southwest award

Now we are back in Flagstaff enjoying unseasonably nice weather.  Unfortunately Jay has a sinus infection and has spent most of the last two days in bed.  Hopefully he will be back to full health soon in time to spend this weekend with our friends Rachel and Luke and their daughter Monica who are coming to visit.

Sharon enjoying a mimosa after finding the perfect dress

We celebrated three Holt birthdays; it wasn't Laya's birthday, but she loved the ice cream cake!

Volunteering:  Sharon is volunteering tonight for Sun Sounds of Arizona (2.5 hrs).

Beer of the Week: Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Something New:  Sharon entered the wedding dress world, shopping at five stores with her mom and finally finding a gorgeous gown at the last shop.

Highlight of Being in One Place:  Being there for family.  Jay’s dad was recognized Thursday night as a Master of the Southwest and we got to celebrate with him.

Product of the week: 

Video of the Week:
Video of Jay and his brother Nate riding Telegraph Pass in South Mountain Park

Photo Review: Phoenix, An Active Desert

Yesterday I went for a photo hike in the desert behind Jay’s parents house.  I was amazed at how active the desert was with so many birds chirping and lizards darting around.  Soon the desert will start blooming again with beautiful bright cactus flowers, but for now spring is through song.


barrel cactus and creosote

turkey vulture in flight

51st Week in Review: Heading In Opposite Directions

laya painting

Our niece Laya learning to finger paint

As regular readers know, Jay and I got engaged last spring and have been in a very slow wedding planning process ever since.  Planning a wedding while also planning where to set up the tent every night and where we can volunteer is not easy (though from what I can tell, wedding planning is never easy, even if you elope).  Well, this week we had some wedding planning challenges, so we came back to Phoenix to regroup and now I am flying back to Virginia to do some in person planning (and visit family and friends of course).  Jay jumped at this plan because it comes with the opportunity for him to join his dad on a trip to Grand Junction, Colorado to go skiing.  Jay hasn’t been skiing in over a year and he is so excited.  I haven’t been home since August so I am also incredibly excited.  Win win!

Jay painting with Laya

Jay was in charge of the paint, he would ask Laya which color and where and how much, I think Laya liked picking colors as much as actually painting

Product of the Week:

Video of the Week: view below or click HERE to view on YouTube

Hours volunteered:  Sharon volunteered as a StartingBloc mentor (5 hours), Sharon volunteered as a Guest Guide at Project Connect (3 hours)

States: 3 – Arizona, Virginia (Sharon), and Colorado (Jay)

Budget: I got my final paycheck from UPS this week, so I think we actually came out even

People Visited: Cindi and Morgan Holt, Nate, Nicole, & Laya Holt, Melinda Bloom and John Tewksbury

Nights under the stars: 0

Best meal: Family dinner with the Holts, featuring cedar plank salmon, popovers, corn stuffing, green beans, and salad

Best beer: thanks to Matt who pestered us into buying the Anderson Valley Winter Solstice.  I really, really liked it and Jay just regular liked it.  We also got to visit the Phoenix Ale Brewery, which was great.

Mountain Bike Review: Pemberton Trail, McDowell Mountain Park

Before we left Phoenix, we had the opportunity to start the new year with a great mountain bike ride on the Pemberton Trail in McDowell Mountain Park.  A few weeks ago we were asked for advice on where a beginner-intermediate rider from out of town should ride.  When I asked Jay and his dad, Morgan, they both agreed that Pemberton Trail would be the best bet.  “Pemberton Trail?  Where’s that?  Why have I never ridden it?”  Well, it turns out that it’s about an hour out of Phoenix, but having heard about this trail I really wanted to check it out.

Pemberton is a great ride for a bicyclist like me.  It is a 15 mile loop, so it is a good workout with some variety.  However, except for a tiny pitch it is not technical, so it is a good confidence builder for a rider who is moving from beginner to intermediate.

Most people access the trail from the parking lot.  You can ride it in either direction, but either way you ride it you will start with an easy flowing section and then a long steady ascent.

This video clip shows the climb.  You are rewarded for climbing by getting better and better views of the mountains and being surrounded by more Saguaros.

My favorite part of the trail was the middle section where we got to pick up speed for some gentle wash crossings and rolling hills.  The video below shows a little section of the more flowing area of trail.

What goes up must come down.  In either direction you get to end the ride with a long steady descent.  I think the direction we chose was good because the trail was very smooth and wide and we could carry a lot of speed on the way down.

I did start to bonk on the ride about 3/4 of the way through.  We were riding in the early afternoon and it was unusually hot for January 1st.  There is no shade along this trail (like most in Phoenix) so I started to get dehydrated and low blood sugar.  Even with an easier trail it’s always important to remember to take care of yourself out there and bring plenty of water and snacks.  Luckily we had both and after sipping a gu in the shade of a creosote bush I was ready to finish the ride.

McDowell Mountain Park is a great biking destination.  They’ve been adding more trail lately and now they also have a pump track.  You could spend days exploring all the different trails available.

47th Week in Review: Ready for New Shiny Things in 2012

During this last full week of December Jay and I were busy putting together some new and exciting features for 2012.  Let’s talk about 2012 for a moment.  When we left on February 1st, 2011 we said we hoped to stay on the road for a year.  That sounded like a long time and we weren’t sure if we could do it so we didn’t want to over commit ourselves.  Well, with only one month left, we are no closer to being ready to settle down and we are finally getting good at overland travel.  So the new plan is to try to keep going until April or May and to hopefully make a little money along the way to offset our costs.

On Monday we announced our new store on Zazzle.  We have 29 products for sale so far and we will have almost twice that by the end of the week.  Please let us know if there is a type of product you are interested in that we haven’t created  yet.


Second, as Jay wrote about on Tuesday, he received a helmet cam for Christmas and we are now able to provide video from the trail.  Well, this has motivated us to create a YouTube Channel on which we will feature all different kinds of videos from the road.  We are also uploading some old videos from the last 11 months that we hadn’t had a good way to share.


We are planning to leave Phoenix and hit the road again next week, starting in southern Arizona and working our way across to southern California.  We welcome your suggestions for where to camp, volunteer, visit breweries, etc.  Thanks for continuing to read and support us.

This week:

Hours volunteered:  2 hours, Sharon is working on a project for Fresh Start Treasures

States: 1 – Arizona: Phoenix, Scottsdale

Budget: Under

People Visited: Lee Blackwell

Nights under the stars: 0

Best meal:  the traditional Christmas eve dinner featuring Shriner’s sausages, Gruyere scalloped potatoes, corn stuffing, and mandarin orange salad.

Best beer: Deschute’s Black Butte Porter has been a long time favorite of ours which we were happy to have in the fridge this week.

Women Helping Women Be Their Best: Fresh Start Treasures

As new volunteers for Fresh Start Treasures, a charity resale shop in Phoenix, Gayle, Peggy, and I spotted each other from the parking lot.  Dressed presentably in black, with an eager smile, we recognized our own and gathered to wait for the shop to open, talking about what Fresh Start Women’s Foundation (FSWF) means to us.  Through FSWF, women have been helping women for almost 10 years.  Now, we were helping to launch a new chapter in the organization’s history, the opening of their resale shop.

Sharon volunteering at Fresh Start Treasures

Sharon volunteering at Fresh Start Treasures

What I realized throughout the day is that Fresh Start Treasures, the shop, is carrying out the organization’s mission in more ways than they could have imagined.  In the shop they have created a pleasant environment where women are gathering to look better, feel better, and connect with other women.  All volunteer run besides the store manager, the volunteers are where the magic happens.  We were bursting with enthusiasm as new customers came through the doors, personally welcoming them, offering to hold their bags so they could shop unburdened, and even giving them a personal tour of the store.  We had better customer service than you could find in any shopping experience at this time of year.  When a customer was willing to have assistance, we would go the extra mile.  Gayle acted as a personal shopper for one woman who was looking for an outfit for a holiday party.  They found an elegant skirt and jacket set that made her look like a million bucks.

Fresh Start Treasures Shop

Fresh Start Treasures shop

My feel good moment of the day was talking to a woman who explained through broken English how she traveled one and a half hours by bus to get to the store on a friend’s recommendation.  She walked in the door carrying her coat and another bag and I immediately welcomed her and offered to hold them at the counter as she shopped.  Her face lit up and she thanked me, saying she didn’t want to ask because many shops don’t allow that.  She spent at least an hour going through all of our racks, picking out an armload to try on.  Finally she came up to the counter just beaming with several new pieces of nice clothes.  As a bargain hunter myself, I could recognize that elation of finding an outfit that makes you look great and doesn’t cost you your entire paycheck.

Speaking of bargains…  Fresh Start Treasures doesn’t look like a resale shop when you walk in.  There’s a basic formula in most retail where the more white space and room between the garments you can see the higher the price will be.  Not here.  You can get like-new Chicos, JCrew, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor for 50-75% off retail.  All of the volunteers were eyeing outfits, which is dangerous since the usual trap of working retail is that you spend your whole paycheck in the store.  Our $0 paycheck wasn’t going to stretch very far.

As you can tell from my enthusiasm, I really enjoyed my experience volunteering at Fresh Start Treasures.  It brought me back to working at Mountain Sports in Flagstaff, and made me realize that I actually love working in a clothing boutique.  That’s the great thing about volunteering, you can have your career and keep doing those odd jobs that you love in your spare time while helping the community.

To volunteer at Fresh Start Treasures, contact volunteer@fstreasures.com.

The shop is located at 3949 E. Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ 85018


Closed Sunday & Monday

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10 am to 5 pm

Thursday 10 am to 7 pm

Saturday 10 am to 3 pm

Repairing Trails in the Largest Municipal Park in the U.S.

South Mountain Park

South Mountain Park, where Jay started his epic mountain bike ride last week, is the largest municipal park in the country.  It has over 50 miles of primary marked trails, and 100 of miles of social trails, many of which shouldn’t be there.  The park is home to natural and cultural treasures with rare flora and fauna and historic petroglyphs.  Surrounded by residents of the city of Phoenix, this park is very heavily used and in desperate need of some TLC.  Last Tuesday and Wednesday we had the pleasure of working with Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona to work on the Pima Wash Trail and Beverly Canyon Trail.

Jay and Sharon standing on new section of the Pima Wash Trail

Jay and Sharon standing on new section of the Pima Wash Trail

Using hand tools like the Macleod shown above, we fixed drainages, rehabilitated social trails, and rerouted a few sections of trail that were not well designed.  Surprisingly enough, water plays a huge role in trail sustainability in the desert.  It might not rain very often, but when it rains it pours and it doesn’t have a lot to slow it down in terms of vegetation so it just runs across the landscape, taking rocks and deadfall with it.  There were a few sections of trail where the path that the water follows and the path that the hikers follow were the same, creating deep ruts and wider trails where people tried to go around the rocks and ruts.  In these sections we worked to find a new path for the line that would be more sustainable.  In the sections that we re-routed we also had to rehabilitate the old trail so that people would know to use the new one and so that the desert could start to reclaim that previous path.

trail work on Pima Wash Trail

Volunteers creating a new more sustainable section of trail

Jay and I really enjoyed working on the reroutes, because you have a lot of room to be creative and you get to see a vast improvement in a short amount of time.

Jay carrying cholla balls to place at the beginning of the old trail to deter people

Our other main work involved using rocks to reinforce drainages.  By digging out a path for the water to go beside a trail and then layering it with rock, we hoped to keep the trails intact.  Rock work is always challenging.  In this section you have lots of great rock to work with, but hiding under almost every rock is a creepy crawly.  You learn to turn over rocks away from you and with great care. I saw more scorpions in two days than I have in at least the last year.  Once you have gathered the rocks it can be fun to build the drainage, because it is a lot like working on a puzzle.

For really large rocks we used a blanket so that we could carry it with two to four people

We really enjoyed working with Mike and the other crew leaders from VOAZ.  They have been doing trail work for many years and have developed some great techniques for building great trails and for working together safely and effectively.  I hope we have the opportunity to work with them again in the future.

petroglyphs in South Mountain Park

petroglyphs in South Mountain Park