Enjoying summer: Monument Valley bike race sees more than a hundred competitors
In the early morning of Saturday, June 25, NavajoYES hosted the Monument Valley bike race for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago.
With cloudy skies and more than a hundred participants in the adult’s and children’s races, director Tom Riggenbach said it was a good turnout.
“It’s really awesome,” Riggenbach said. “And I think a lot of people were really excited to be back live and in person and also to be, you know, just kind of with their family and friends, you know, their, their racing community, their riding community again.
“Like everybody’s really, really grateful for that opportunity again,” he said.
The adult race was 13 miles and began at 7:30 a.m. and went along Valley Drive, where participants rode among the rock formations of Monument Valley.
The road includes a number of turns, an even roadway and a sandy section.
The riders rode 6.5 miles out before turning around and coming back along the same route, with the first and final mile being a steep incline.
Most of the riders finished before noon while cloud cover provided relief from the 90-degree weather. A few accidents occurred at the start of the race when the first bikers hit the sandy portion of the track, but on-site paramedics provided aid.
The children’s race started at 9:30 a.m., but their route was on level and maintained roads.
The first 60 riders received medals and plaques were awarded to top riders in the overall and age-group winners in youth, master’s and senior divisions.
‘A beautiful race’
The first biker to come in was Tom Preller of Page at 47:44.25, two minutes ahead of the next competitor.
“It’s a beautiful race,” Preller said. “It’s a really challenging course. I love it. I’ve done it before. It’s a lot of fun. And I’ll do it again in the future.”
Preller has competed in other bike races, enjoying the ride and the challenge of beating his previous times. He raced at Monument Valley in 2019 before it was cancelled by Covid.
He competed in the virtual races and other NavajoYES races since then, but he said nothing beats riding in Monument Valley.
Preller has been cycling for years, enjoying the outdoors while staying in shape. This year he just wanted to have a good time and “finish strong” in this race.
“There’s not a lot of anything near us (Page),” Preller said. “So, I love these NavajoYES races because they’re close to us. And it’s a small grassroots event, it’s a lot of fun, good atmosphere, they really do a good job and Tom (Riggenbach) does a great job putting all this on.”
For females, Gina Parrish of Kayenta was the first woman overall to come in at 1:09.53.
She is Ma’ii deeshgiizhinii, born for Kinyaa’áanii.
Parrish said it felt good coming in first, she had a great time with course.
The first mile with the incline was exciting going down, challenging to avoid and walk on the sand and tough going back up the incline on the journey back.
“It was pretty hard, but good,” Parrish said. “The views were amazing, and there was a pretty good turnout today.
“NavajoYES did an excellent job today,” she said, “they always do an excellent job. The volunteers were out there and we have the best plan out there, made it really exciting.
“It was pretty mellow when the clouds rolled in,” she said, “it was nice and cool.
“Rocky Mountain timing did an excellent job keeping time,” she said, “and I just want to congratulate everybody that came out today and supported NavajoYES.”
This was Parrish’s first race in 2022 and her first time biking at Monument Valley. She has been running, biking and hiking for about five years now, doing cross-training along the way.
She enjoys biking as it takes her outside, but also helps her to stay healthy and fit.
She was diagnosed with high-blood pressure and that was part of the reason why she started doing these races, but she also agrees with NavajoYES’s mission statement that promotes healthy living.
“That’s what I would promote,” Parrish said. “Promote cycling. Promote all my brothers and sisters on the Navajo Reservation.
“There’s an issue with diabetes with high-blood pressure,” she said. “I took care of family members that are diabetic and I witnessed it and I took care of them.
“And I wanted everybody, all my Native friends and my Native brothers and sisters to get out there,” she said. “Enjoy the summer enjoy the scenery, enjoying the nature.”
She thanks NavajoYES for the event and her family for their love and support. She thanks her parents, Teresa and Roger Parrish, who watched her race and her sister, Abigale Yazzie, who wasn’t present but still gave support.
She also thanks her friends at the Kayenta Service Area, which is part of the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Program. The staff there – Joan Grey, Dorothea Sullivan, V. Tsosie, Kristen Gorman and Virginia – loaned her the bike she raced on.
Coming in first in the male senior’s division was Gilbert Ben. The 61-year-old cyclist from Montezuma Creek came in 10th place overall at 1:5.23.
“It was pretty good,” Ben said. “It was a tough one, especially where all the sand was at, had to pushed myself a little bit.
“But it was a nice place,” he said. “I’ll come back and try again next year.”
He has trained for cycling since last year and has taken part in a number of races, often placing in the senior division.
Ben said he’s always been competitive and participated in track and cross-country in high school and collegiately.
It wasn’t until recently, with the encouragement from his friend, Delbert Dickson (who came in 5th in the senior division), who had been cycling for four years, that Ben and other friends started cycling.
“I’m enjoying this,” Ben said. “And hopefully I get to keep doing this for a long time. I feel good. I haven’t been in this healthy condition since high school, so I’m enjoying it.”
Nation slowly reopens
Riggenbach believes having these events again is great, especially as the nation slowly improves and opens following the tough two years of the pandemic.
He said events like this give people the chance to recuperate, show solidarity with one another and find a little bit of healing.
“It (the pandemic) made things more challenging at one level,” Riggenbach said, “but I think maybe it also highlighted some of our needs, and maybe motivated people to get off social media and more involved with, you know, improving wellness in their communities and whatnot.”
Through the pandemic, NavajoYES hosted virtual races and thought of other ways to create recreational activities for the people. One such way was helping to build trails for walking at state parks.
Still, NavajoYES is cautious and follows CDC guidelines and encourages everyone to take precautions against COVID-19.
Riggenbach thanks the Park Service for allowing the race, as well as support from local volunteers and workers from NavajoYES.
He also thanks the band, The Pinon Pickers, for providing music.
As well as Jon Tsosie of Ancient Dunes Bikes and Manny Chavarria of Mesa Edge Bikes for providing services.
Both men are members of the Silver Stallion Bike program based out of Gallup which supports biking for youth and their families.
“I just encourage everybody to get back out and enjoy the beautiful great outdoors of the Navajo Nation,” Riggenbach said. “We’ve got some of the most amazing country all around the Southwest and we’re really fortunate to have a place, not just Monument Valley, but the mountains, Antelope Canyon, Rainbow Bridge, and all these beautiful spots around the Nation.
“So just keep it up and keep getting out with the family and having a good time,” he said. “Enjoy the summer.”