Over 200 mountain bike riders gathered on Saturday morning to take on the tough Fire on the Rim race.
After last year’s race was canceled due to the coronavirus, everyone was happy to be back on the mountain for the race, which raises funds for Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction, Inc. works to improve the health of the forest by adding new sustainable trails, improving existing trails and educating the public on forest fire prevention.
This was the 10th edition of the event which started in 2011.
The riders took off in three stages, encouraged and coaxed by the emcee, Cory Stem. The first group did 45 miles, the second group 30 and the last group did a 15 mile loop.
Guillermo Escalante traveled from Caborca, Sonora, Mexico to attend the race with his son, who lives in Tucson. Guillermo entered the 15-mile Masters Men 45+ with 39 others. He proudly finished second with a time of 1:43:31. His son, Guillermo Escalante Jr., won first place out of 48 participants in the 15-mile Open Men class. His time of 1:15:11 was blazingly fast.
Also in the 15-mile Open Men class, Pine-Strawberry Fire Department firefighter Zach Graham joked about his return to the sport while at the start line.
“I might not be a smart man, but I’m not an idiot,” he laughed.
His last mountain bike race was at age 15. Now 41, he questioned his decision to ride again when he remembered the end of his last race. A few yards from the finish line both tires burst and instead of crossing the finish line he walked the other way and walked away from the sport. But it reminded him and he decided to try the competition once again.
“I’m happy. I’m not last,” Graham said, smiling at the finish line, the tires still intact. “It’s a kick in the ass, no doubt about it.” He took it. 40th place with a time of 2:58:16.
Relay teams also competed. The PR or emergency team consisted of Dennis Webb, Ryan Suess and Guy “Taco Beer” Bell.
Webb explained that their name is indicative of their running style, personal responsibility or emergency room. Personal responsibility is a term used in mountain bike racing for your best times. Each team member ran a 15 mile trail lap. As the first runner, Suess, crossed the finish line, he headed straight for Webb. A quick punch put Webb in his lap, leaving Bell to wait for his return.
The men are members of the Arizona Single Speed Mountain Bikers. They ride “mechanically challenged” because they don’t have to change gear to attack a change in slope.
“We do it partly for fun and for pain,” said Webb. “The team is also tough because you have to wait for your teammate. You don’t have a known start time.
“I took my anti-aging meds,” Bell said of his preparation. “It’s called ibuprofen.” As a team, they placed fifth out of five teams, each covering their 15 miles in less than 2 hours. If they had competed individually in the Single Speed category, they would have placed second, third and fourth out of seven riders.
As the oldest rider, Mindy Janzer, 51, was all smiles with her time of 2:30:15. She took first place in her division. She was the only rider of this class.
“Being old gives you first place,” she joked. She said she was thrilled to have completed the trail, often described as one of the toughest in the state. She started mountain biking 11 months ago, and it was her first race.
“It’s therapy of my nature,” she says. She lost her husband to cancer a year ago. She also sold their summer home in Pine when he was sick. This race allowed him to return to the mountain hamlet that he misses.
“This place has the best vibe,” said Rick Snyder. At 61, his fifth place (time of 3:04:52) in the 30-mile Masters Men 45+ surprised him.
“I’m 110% on this course the entire course,” he said. “There isn’t even time to bend down for a bottle of water and have a drink.”
Snyder said the course takes your full attention and concentration as there are no easy direct lines where you can just ‘turn’.
“It’s very different here. People are sitting in their gardens ringing their bells. It’s so much fun, ”he said.
Parts of the trail passed through residential areas. Many spectators rang red bells to encourage the riders.
At the Big Red Barn on Old County Road, spectators cheered as the runners finished. There were food vendors, beer garden, live music, children’s area. A young local painter captured the finish on canvas.
Although it has been reduced due to COVID, the plan is for a full return to all events next year. And you are all invited.