Bikes, Planes, and Bikes: Flying and Cycling in Eastern Arizona

Words: Alex Steadman; State Bicycle Co. Sponsored Rider
Photography: Alex Steadman

A week before Interbike, I was looking at my trip itinerary:

  • Ride a motorcycle through the desert for five hours (possibly with a bicycle on back).
  • Sleep on the floor of a hotel room for a few nights
  • Have a constant headache
  • Deal with the absolute filth of The Las Vegas Strip
  • Ride back through the desert inferno for another five hours...presumably after a night of heavy drinking. 

I’d like to make some sort of parallel to “riding through the gates of Hell” but I realize that between Las Vegas and Phoenix, there are no gates. We’re in the depths of Hell and the exit sign is a long ways off in another direction.

While debating whether or not I should deal with this suffering for a sustained, air conditioned bike chub, I got an Instagram notification from Billy “Cyborg” Westfall; a classic

Arizona cyclist and buddy. His plan, as a pilot, was to rent a Cessna, pack our bikes in, fly to the White Mountains (Eastern Arizona) and ride some dirt. Turns out the gates of Hell are much closer if you take to the air. Looks like my Interbike considerations will have to wait another year. 

On Wednesday morning, I was up at dawn packing my motorcycle and headed to the airport. I met up with Billy and we started taking bikes apart for the flight. For those who don’t know, the storage area of a Cessna is similar to that of a two-door Geo Metro with a broken hatch. Sliding the seats forward, pushing the back seats down, wedging the bikes past the door: it was a blast.  After all the pre-flight checks and a top off from the gas truck, we were ready to take off.

You alright back there, boys?

Flying in a small propeller plane is a lot of fun compared to a passenger jet. We stayed lower to the ground and I could see my house and all the local trails. There was terrific turbulence our entire hour-and-a-half flight. After my last flight in a passenger jet, I thought I was finished with motion sickness but that was incorrect. I was comforted by Billy telling me that this was the bumpiest he’s flown in so at least I filled the barf bag for a good reason. At one point Billy asked “do you smell smoke?” and made me forget about being air sick for a second until I realized he was talking about a (hopefully) controlled burn in the forest...not about our engine dying.

Woah! They have trees out here?

Captain Westfall

Coming around to the airport in Springerville, Arizona, we could still feel the wind and knew that we wouldn’t be protected from it by any mountains or trees. The airstrip sits in the middle of a prairie and the wind was blowing with the landing strip, allowing for a safe landing.

As soon as we got out of the plane and saw the airport, we realized how tiny this town is. They had one “terminal” that was under construction (closed during construction) and there were two people on the tarmac other than us; both working with a medivac helicopter. As we started pulling the bikes, the pilot came over, obviously interested in seeing bikes coming out of a plane. Turns out he rides bicycles as well, and after chatting a bit, he gave us a lift to the trailhead in his truck.


Once at the trails, it was exploration time. I had barely read anything about the trails since they’re fairly new, so we looked at the map and decided to wing it. Well, new trails usually aren’t the smoothest and this was no exception. There were plenty of rocks and all the trails that weren’t rocky had been used primarily by horses or whatever other animals run around there. There had also been a recent fire so a few times the trail disappeared in the tall grass around a fallen tree. 

I don’t think Homestead Trail is our best bet. 

Riding out in the meadows and in the trees was a great getaway from Phoenix which, even though it’s starting to cool down, is still right around 100 degrees. We rode most of the trails in the area (as far as we could tell), which ranged from single track to double track to horse trails to hiking trails to bushwhacking through grasslands and enormous, painful sunflowers. Who knew that sunflower stalks could be so strong? The last bit before the road really improved with some faster, flowy stuff, except when the trail was blown out from a wash. 

No really, he’s on the trail. 

Think you can make that?

Back on the road, we blasted downhill with a tailwind to the helicopter pilot’s restaurant recommendation:  the aptly named Trail Riders. Based on all the camouflage clothing, I don’t think they’re used to spandex clad guys in loud shoes that slip every other step. They did let us put our bikes in the back room, which was nice, and even refilled the toilet paper for me. Nothing like small town hospitality.  Billy then bought me lunch to make up for the breakfast I lost. Thanks!

Personal airstrip.

On the way to the airport, we stopped for some Dramamine and coffee to keep my guts in and Billy’s eyes open. This time, the airstrip was completely empty, so we looked at the handful of other planes, popped some wheelies, packed up the bikes, stretched out, and filled up the tanks. At this point, the wind had died down to something much more manageable so take off was easy and flying was smooth. With the help of my pills, I slept almost the whole way back with visions of singletrack still in my mind. 

Oh, thanks!