Scott Davidson would ride until he passed out, or broke a rib, or simply to the ends of the earth, just to beat Craig Gregory.
For the past five years the two have shared a friendly rivalry at mountain biking races across Arizona.
Daniel Conley, a local Payson legend in mountain biking and a look-alike of Shaun White the red-headed Olympic snow boarder, decided he’d pace himself against Ryan Geiger, a racer from Flagstaff he’d ridden against for the past five years.
Eric Moliter, just back from a stint in the military and out of practice riding on the trail, hoped he’d find his challenge on the course.
The trio made up Team PASTA (Payson Area Single Track Association), the only relay team to register for the Fire on the Rim Mountain Biking Race held in Pine on Saturday.
Conley, who planned on riding the first of the three laps for team PASTA, partnered with his former science teacher, Davidson and classmate Moliter. Every lap represented a 15-mile dash over challenging topography for individual team members.
“It’s a technical course. We’ll have to negotiate logs, water, obstacles, gullies, ruts and loose terrain,” said Conley.
Conley has raced for more than five years. He could have raced with the Olympic team, but felt doing so would lesson his love of the sport.
For it is the love of mountain biking that brings riders to this race. Passion and dedication exudes from every participant influencing the organizers, event staff and observers.
Racers spend time tuning to perfection each part of their bike during the last minutes before the race.
Many proudly wear brightly colored jerseys, body armor, and sleek sunglasses all designed to improve their ride.
Hundreds and thousands of dollars have poured into each bike to make them the best vehicle possible to carry their riders on a magic ride over the trails.
Mountain biking compares to downhill skiing, minus the convenient ride up the hill on a ski lift, but the satisfaction of reaching the top of a climb only to let the brakes off to rush down a hill infects riders. Constantly on the prowl to find new, different and challenging trails to push their limits becomes a crusade.
Satisfying the need for trails characterizes a cornerstone pursuit for the mountain biking organization Mountain Bike Association of Arizona (MBAA). Gregory sits on their board of directors.
The MBAA mission includes finding, building and maintaining trails and sponsoring races for their members so they may accumulate points to qualify for the Mountain Bike National Championships, said Gregory.
Gregory and Davidson share an intense devotion to the sport. They’ve raced against each other since the early 2000s, always trying to outperform each other.
“Scott always seems to beat me, but not by much,” said Gregory.
Their rivalry is lucky for the organizers of the first mountain bike race ever held in Pine because Davidson’s connection with Gregory generated a partnership between MBAA and the Fuel Reduction Committee of Pine-Strawberry to spread the word about the race. With MBAA’s influence, most of the racers came from outside of the Rim Country area.
With only two months to market the race, nearly 100 racers registered this year. Event organizers had hoped for more, but the date for this race is locked up for the next five years, plenty of time to get the word out and generate excitement, said Gregory.
Interestingly, only 76 riders finished the race. That could have been because of the challenging trail or some might have failed to race at all. Moliter, the PASTA team member racing the middle lap, almost failed to finish due to a nasty fall while racing.
“I fell after the cement well where all of the ATV trails converge. The rain made deep gullies and ruts, I hit with my back tire. My tire got hung up and I fell on my right side — hard. Still, I got up and got right back on the bike,” said Moliter.
That fall slowed the relay team. Conley had completed the first lap of the course in one hour 13 minutes. Moliter finished the second lap in one hour 50 minutes.
“I surprised myself and everyone else by coming in an hour and 13 minutes. Geiger only took one hour 8 minutes to finish the first lap. I’m not too disappointed because Ryan is one of those competitors on the track and friends off the track,” said Conley.
The last team PASTA member to ride over the finish line, Davidson came in at one hour, 29 minutes. His first question — did Gregory come in yet.
“Not yet, but there’s a shower in the gym, if you’d like,” said event staff.
“My wife would appreciate that,” replied Davidson.
As he headed off to the showers, Gregory crossed the finish line, a scant five minutes after Davidson with a time of one hour 34 minutes.
“All he (Davidson) wants to do is beat Craig,” said Moliter’s girlfriend Amber Bucanek.
Looks like he did.