The September morning was cool with clear skies and calm wind. The scenery is ancient, rugged and beautiful. The nearly empty road, smooth. And I couldn’t be more excited to be one of only 250 riders allowed to pedal through the Petrified Forest National Park, 25 miles east of Holbrook, Arizona. I was cycling with people from all over the southwest participating in the 2021 annual Pedal the Petrified bicycle ride, organized by Northland Pioneer College to raise funds for student scholarships.
I was new to Flagstaff and had never visited the park, so when I saw the ride poster in my local bike shop I immediately jumped at the chance. I’ve cycled many miles in the world but knew instantly this was a special bike ride in a unique national park. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was excited. Would it be hot? How hilly is the route? Will I be weaving in and out of giant 200 million year old petrified trees or just riding through a barren landscape? It didn’t take long to discover that this ride was in secure hands and the experience would be fantastic.
Three months before this ride I registered to ensure that I would be one of the 250 possible riders, the limit set by the National Park Service. I felt good knowing the registration fee went to fund Northland Pioneer College student scholarships but the ride experience alone would be worth the price. As September approached I received an excellent e-packet of information about the ride, which informed me of the available routes, start times and location, water and food support and special discounts from local hotels in the area. I felt comfortable and prepared for the ride.
On the day of the ride, I was greeted by friendly and organized ride staff who set a relaxed yet excited tone. This ride was not a race, but a ride for all levels of experience and capabilities offering a choice of both 50 and 100 km (31 and 62-mile) routes. Rest stops of food and water were available about every 5 miles and the volunteers were delightful and helpful. I took the opportunity to stop at every beautiful scenic overlook and history marker, while others were content to ride straight through. I meet many different and interesting riders from all over the southwest and we marveled over the scenery and the unforgettable experience of the ride.
Today I’m registering for the 2023 ride on September 30 and encouraging all my friends from around the country to give this special ride a try. I haven’t had any problem getting them to join me because of the uniqueness of the location, being able to support a good cause and exclusiveness of the number of riders allowed. This ride will always be one of my most memorable bicycling adventures.
Bill Waters, Flagstaff, AZ