The life of a professional cross-country rider allows precious little extra time to look around and soak up the surroundings. Even if you’ve got your priorities straight and make a daily effort to “stop and smell the roses,” the demands of the job all too often get in the way of pure off-road enjoyment.
So, in the late-winter months—before the world becomes confined to anaerobic laps alongside a hundred or so fellow racers, and between course-marking tape that acts both as a pathway as well as a barrier to the cheers (and jeers) of spectators—it’s good to get away and remember the point of riding mountain bikes in the first place.
Before the first flag dropped on the 2014 racing season, we invited Kate Courtney and Russell Finsterwald to join us in Palm Springs, California, for a bit of desert singletrack that was completely free of clocks, coaches and competitors.
Basecamp was a mid-century modern masterpiece complete with a pool, grill, backyard fireplace and enough grass to set up our 10-dollar croquette set. Not wanting to subject our non-racer hours on Kate and Russell, however, we found them both rooms at Palm Springs’ legendary Ace Hotel—a design student’s dream and no doubt a welcome departure from the second-rate ski-town condos and run-down two-star hotels that are par for the course for a bike racer.
And as much as we wanted to overwhelm them with good food and soft beds, we wanted to give them a ride to remember, so we chose the Palm Canyon Epic.
The Palm Canyon Epic is a cross-country-rider’s downhill, a 6,000-foot descent that also calls for more than 2,000 feet of climbing over the course of nearly 30 miles. Without number plates, the XC stars were able to relax and enjoy the massive desert vistas and cactus-lined Southern California singletrack.
It is, as they both agreed, about experiencing new places, new trails and different adventures, after all. That’s the reason they started riding in the first place—and it’s the reason they’re both lifelong mountain bikers.