More than 200 mountain bike riders met up Saturday morning to take on the challenging Fire on the Rim race.

After last year’s race was canceled because of the coronavirus, everyone was glad to be back in the saddle on the mountain for the race, which raises funds for Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction, Inc. The group works to improve the health of the forest by adding new sustainable trails, improving existing trails and educating the public on wildfire prevention.

This was the 10th year of the event which started in 2011.

Riders took off in three stages, encouraged and cajoled by the master of ceremonies, Cory Stem. The first group rode 45 miles, the second group, 30 and the last group completed one 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+ along with 39 others. He proudly finished second with a time of 1:43:31. His son, Guillermo Escalante Jr., took first out of 48 participants in the 15-mile Open Men class. His time of 1:15:11 was amazingly 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 starting line.

“I may not be a smart man, but I’m not an idiot,” he laughed.

His last mountain bike race was at 15. Now 41, he questioned his decision to ride again as he remembered back to how his last race ended. Within yards of the finish line, both tires went flat and instead of walking across the finish line, he walked the other way and away from the sport. But it called him back and he decided to give competition another try.

“I’m happy. I’m not last,” Graham said, smiling at the finish line, tires still intact. “It’s a butt-kicker, no doubt about it.” He took 40th with a time of 2:58:16.

Relay teams also competed. The PR or ER team consisted of Dennis Webb, Ryan Suess and Guy “Taco Beer” Bell.

Webb explained their name is indicative of their racing style, Personal Responsibility or Emergency Room. Personal Responsibility is a term used in mountain bike racing for your best times. Each team member ran one lap of the 15-mile trail. As the first rider, Suess, crossed the finish line, he headed straight to Webb. A quick fist bump set Webb on his lap, leaving Bell to wait for his return.

The men are members of the Arizona Single Speed mountain bikers. They ride “mechanically challenged” as they have no gears to change into to attack a change in grade.

“We do it partly to have fun and to suffer,” said Webb. “Team is also tough because you have to wait for your teammate. You do not have a known start time.”

“I took my anti-aging medication,” said Bell about his preparation. “It’s called ibuprofen.” As a team, they placed fifth out of five teams with each completing their 15 miles in under 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 female rider, Mindy Janzer, 51, was all smiles with her 2:30:15 time. She took first place in her division. She was the only rider in that class.

“Being old gets you first place,” she joked. She said she was thrilled to have completed the trail, often described as one of the roughest in the state. She took up mountain biking 11 months ago, and this was her first race.

“This is my nature’s therapy,” she said. She lost her husband to cancer a year ago. She also sold their summer home in Pine when he was ill. This race gave her a chance to come back to the mountain hamlet she misses.

“This place has the best vibe,” said Rick Snyder. At 61, his fifth place finish (time of 3:04:52) in the 30-mile Masters Men 45+ surprised him.

“I’m 110% on this course the whole way,” he said. “There is not even time to reach down to grab a water bottle and take a drink.”

Snyder said the course takes all your attention and focus as there are no easy straightaways where you can just, “spin.”

“It’s very different here. People are sitting in their yards ringing their bells. It’s so much fun,” he said.

Parts of the trail passed through residential areas. Many spectators rang red cowbells to encourage riders on.

At the Big Red Barn on Old County Road, spectators cheered as riders finished. There were food vendors, a beer garden, live music, a children’s area. One young local painter captured the finish on canvas.

While it was scaled back because of COVID, the plan is for a full return to all the events next year. And you are all invited.

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