Video: Exploring Tucson, Arizona with Jeff Kendall-Weed in 'Local Loam'

Feb 28, 2019 at 19:42
by Jeff Kendall-Weed  


KOOKY TOOKY
photography by Chris Brus // video by Colby Mesick // produced by Jeff Kendall-Weed
Mount Lemmon stands proud over the desert floor, unafraid of the 7” of rain we received later that day.

As Tara laughs about the “desert kisses” on her calves, bright red hues of fresh blood and torn flesh, I wonder to myself, where the heck did she learn to ride like this?

We’re descending a club favorite: Bellota, a five-mile section of the Arizona trail. Tara drifts through loose corners, charging through trail chunder at a pace that makes me wonder if perhaps Rachel Atherton has not yet met her match. While never having focused much on racing, Tara Alcantara is the president of TORCA (Tucson Off Road Cyclists and Activists). It’s one of the two local advocacy groups, and it’s the only one dedicated entirely to working on the federally-managed Mt. Lemmon.

Tucson has been all over the mountain biking media as of late, with nearly every major media outlet posting content from the area. During my own Tucson pilgrimage in December 2018, I saw for myself just what makes this riding so special. With snow on the ground at home, I was itching to ride some good singletrack, and I really wanted to get to know the local advocacy group.

It’s this crew that will be paramount in ensuring continued trail access for generations to come. The amount of available riding in Tucson can well disperse increased trail traffic, and the diversity of the riding areas will accommodate riders of all skill levels. And since some of the most popular trails are actually non-sanctioned, groups like TORCA will be key in helping secure that these trails remain forever open to knobby tires.

Tara Alcantara, president of TORCA, is an absolute ripper on a bike! While she would never talk up her own abilities, she would certainly fit in just fine in a pro DH race.

Tara and her husband Art are among the group’s original, founding members, and Art was the president of the organization before Tara took the helm. Why form TORCA? Tara and Art loved riding Mt. Lemmon, whose 9000’ peak towers just outside of Tucson city limits. The mountain is best known for its big descents, jagged rock, spiny cactuses, and plentiful singletrack. But, they noticed a need for more maintenance and advocacy specific to these trails. They are well loved by the mountain bike crowd, and while they don’t see the same amount of traffic as in-town trails, their sheer ruggedness means unforgettable satisfaction from a clean run.

bigquotesThe riding on Mt Lemmon is special. And if you’ve ridden here, you know why; it’s not easy to access, there’s rocky terrain, there’s stuff that will tear your clothes or your skin, or break bikes. It’s rugged, it’s raw, and that’s why we all love it. But it also poses some real challenges in maintaining those trails.Tara Alcantara

The backcountry trails grant funded TORCA's efforts on the Bellota trail. This section descends towards Milagrosa trail from the East, and is quite remote.

Art Alcantara, former president of TORCA and a founding member, explaining how TORCA has had success while working with a federally managed forest.

Many Arizona trails are home to super fun bonus lines. The granite has a wonderful amount of grip and a rider is only limited by their imagination.

“Cat claw” is a bush that doesn’t really look like a cactus, but its small spines are shaped like its namesake. Hooked sharply, they don’t just pierce flesh, but rather tear through it--hence the desert kisses. Removing cat claw entirely would be impossible, but trimming the trails back goes a long way to allowing riders to focus on navigating the sharp granite and quartz and avoiding the vicious Cholla cactuses. After getting kissed in a few sections myself, where the bush had grown back over the trail, I was quite thankful for the rest of the trail that didn’t have the sharp spines.

bigquotesThere was a real need for maintenance. These trails can get overgrown; they get hit with a lot of water, and that makes them pretty tough. But these trails also happen to be amazing. Sometimes those rough and rugged trails are the best trails!Tara Alcantara

That sentiment, of gnarly trails being good trails, is excellent, and it’s one that I would love to see embraced by all advocacy groups.

For the mountain bikers of Tucson (and beyond), the riding community’s biggest challenge with Mt. Lemmon was with the land manager--the United States Forest Service, which falls under the Department of Agriculture. This federally managed land requires a very different advocacy strategy than state, county, or city managed land. Due to the federal hurdles, advocacy work, including trail maintenance, was non-existent for a long time. Trails were literally fading into obscurity.

From left: Juan Del Castillo, Jeff Kendall-Weed, Tara Alcantara, and Art Alcantara.

In addition to running TORCA and working as a personal trainer, Tara runs Homegrown, a company focusing on operating shuttles, guiding, rental, and skills company.

Juan Del Castillo has only been riding for 7 years, and he was lucky enough to spend a few of those years in Angel Fire. Juan has a background in racing motocross, and brings a playful and smooth style to the trail.

bigquotesBefore TORCA, there was one group managing all the trails, both in town and up in the forest. Dealing with county and city managers is not the same as dealing with the federal government.Tara Alcantara

A second advocacy group began working hard well before TORCA came into existence, so it’s important to remember that TORCA is not the only group around. As I understand it, the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists focus their advocacy efforts on city and county managed land; there are many more riding spots around Tucson than just what is presented here.

bigquotesWe’ve had lots of challenges, but the biggest one is working with the US Forest Service. [We all are seen as] just a bunch of rag tag riders and [the Forest Service] doesn’t care who you are. There is one person doing the job of four, and doing it with no money, so trails are not a high priority on their list.Art Alcantara

7” of rain all in a single day, in a town that receives 11” of annual precipitation, turned this small stream into a sketchy water crossing.


Juan finds some air time.

Looking at the map of Mt. Lemmon, it’s clear that there are quite a few trails already existing. But even though TORCA has not built trails from the ground up, there are so many fading ghost trails that they can easily expand riding opportunities just by reviving old trails.

bigquotes“Before TORCA, the trails on Lemmon were just blown out, just gone. The only people who would work on them were the hikers. There were trails that just shut down because people stopped riding them.Brannon Mamula, TORCA treasurer

All this talk about how great the trails on Mt Lemmon are is fine and dandy, but there is a catch: these trails are remote. The start of Bellota is located at the end of a 12 mile drive up a rough forest service dirt road. It takes well over an hour to reach the trailhead in a full size pickup. And performing maintenance on the other club favorites, Cañado del Oro (“CDO”) and Red Ridge trails, requires arranging either a 60 mile (yes, six-zero) paved road shuttle, or accessing the trails via the infamous Charouleau Gap Road. This “road” is a legitimate rock crawling route favored by local 4wd clubs, complete with a 4.0 difficulty rating. It’s literally classified as “Do not take trails this rating and higher unless you know what you are doing.” It’s a favorite Arizona 4x4 destination for a reason!

Tara, Jeff, Colby Messick, and Art. Thanks to Homegrown for both the shuttle and the loaner bike for Colby!


The lack of direct financial aid from the local Forest Service has forced TORCA to become as self-reliant as possible out of sheer necessity. The federal government’s budget for the department of agriculture--the parent agency for the national forest service--is suffering from a tight budget. The USDA’s budget has been cut nearly 20% since 2016. This means the ranger district is underfunded and, to make matters worse, local district turnover has been high.

bigquotesYou work and you find these people that get what you’re doing… but sometimes those people are good at what they do, and they get promoted. We’ve just recently have gotten a new district ranger, his name is CJ Woodward, he’s been amazing. He really understands us, and has helped us navigate the federal government. And that’s not always the case!Art Alcantara


The 50 Year trail network is a bit of a drive from downtown Tucson, but it’s the final bit of single track that awaits riders who descend Cañada Del Oro or Red Ridge trails.


bigquotesLuckily we’ve broken through the hurdles! It’s been 7 years, and it’s taken a long time to navigate the federal government. We’ve now earned our stripes and proven ourselves to the agency.Tara Alcantara

TORCA’s approach was simple: focus only on Mt. Lemmon. Sonora Desert Mountain Bicycles have been around for quite a while longer than TORCA, and they are doing great things within the regions other riding zones. But Mt. Lemmon is its own beast. Not only are the trails more rugged, but working with the land owner, the US federal government, can be akin to swordfighting a seven-armed dragon who missed lunch. And who lives on a bed of cactus.

TORCA had a huge victory in 2018 when they won both a grant from the AZ State Parks OHV fund as well as a grant from the US Forest Service in conjunction with the Wilderness Alliance. These form the “Backcountry Trails Project”, and focus on three excellent mountain bike trails: Cañada Del Oro, Red Ridge, and the Bellota portion of the Arizona Trail.

The gaps in the granite can be a lot deeper than they seem- this one was well over 30’ deep.


Duncan Caldwell, TORCA treasurer, enjoying an evening rip down The Chutes.


These grants enabled TORCA to purchase two off-road vehicles to better access these trails: a six-seater Polaris Ranger UTV, and an off-road built Toyota Tacoma 4x4. These allow the club to be self-sufficient with its trail days, key if they are going to rehab these remote routes.

bigquotesWe’ve now earned our stripes and have proven ourselves, which has really opened doors. We have grant opportunities, and we can get grants the [Forest Service] can’t, as we help them with projects that simply need to be done.Tara Alcantara



Like any hardcore mountain biker, I love challenging trails, and I hate to lose trails, so TORCA is going to be our best bet in keeping the gnarliest Tucson trails around for many years to come. Even with a few dessert kisses.

Local Loam: a series produced by Jeff Kendall-Weed that tells the stories of how successful advocacy groups build rad mountain bike riding communities through excellent trails.

A big question that rarely gets answered - why make this content? I just posted a video attempting to answer exactly this. It’s essentially the result of having been immersed in top level racing, working within the bike industry, and then looking at all that from the perspective of a parent.


Produced and written by: Jeff Kendall-Weed @jeffweed.
Video: Colby Mesick @colbias_funke.
Photography: Chris Brus @Chris Brus.

Supported by:
PNW Components
WTB
Ibis Cycles
Kali Protectives
Kitsbow Cycling Apparel
Trust Performance
Homegrown MTB

Follow Jeff on his Instagram, subscribe to his YouTube, or follow him on Facebook. Hope you enjoyed this video!


MENTIONS: @JeffWeed



108 Comments

  • + 90
 Thanks for the support Pinkbike! Working hard on episode 2 right meow!
  • + 16
 Keep them coming. This is a big boost to the communities and volunteers you spotlight.
  • + 11
 Super polished. Your content, story telling and presentation is really dialed and better than ever. Great work.
  • + 3
 @tbmaddux: Thanks man, stay tuned, I've got tons more in the works!
  • + 2
 @CarlMega: Thanks so much Carl!
  • + 9
 I would ask how you liked the Trust Message but looking at photos it appears you spent the weekend on the rear wheel.
  • + 1
 That's a big pack your riding with! How much gear did you have with you?
  • + 1
 @brncr6: So much! Seriously. Two GoPros, two karma grips, all kinds of batteries and mounts, two spare tubes, shift cable, shock and tire pumps, tire repair kit, leatherman/pliers, allen key tool, the list goes on and on!
  • + 3
 @JeffWeed: dam you carry alot!! Thanks for the reply. Love your riding style and videos makes me want to get out and ride.
  • + 3
 Not often I watch an 11 minute video, but that was well made with good riding and told a good story about the club. Well done.
  • + 2
 been following your channel for sometime now. Always have loved your videos but really bringing a message and highlighting advocacy groups is the absolute backbone of the sport. Without trails our sport does not exist! If trail advocacy half as good as Bellingham can exist elsewhere across the country I want to know! Keep doin your thing Jeff!
  • + 1
 @slickwilly1: Thanks Willy!!!
  • + 2
 @elchap: Thank you! Yeah moving here to WA really opened my eyes to what legit advocacy groups can do. It's not just about the groups though, it's about the community this all builds. Having a kid, and wanting her to have these same riding opportunities (and more!) as she grows up, it really helps seal the deal that this is an important thing!
  • + 43
 Apparently that trust linkage fork doesn’t work very well. Jeff has to keep riding on the rear wheel only!
  • + 5
 HA! This was actually my first time riding with the fork, and it worked great. Excited for many more rides to come!
  • + 2
 Just kidding ya know...@JeffWeed:
  • + 1
 Seriously ... I think there's exactly one riding photo with Jeff's front wheel on the dirt, but it's a distant shot, so we can't even be sure of that ... odds are it's not lol. Other than that, it appears JKW (Jump Kendall-Weed, Just KNeed Wheelies...) is a spring... soaring over gaps, off jumps, rocks, whatever. I love the 3rd pic... Jeff getting like 8 ft of air off seemingly nothing as Tara stares... Big Grin Hey @JeffWeed, can I have some of that secret formula antigravity juice you're on? Don't worry, your secret's safe; PM me and I'll drive up to pick it up... Razz
  • + 1
 @mtbikeaddict: Hahaha thanks man! I did do a tutorial vid of how to boost jumps a short while back, it's up on my Patreon page.
  • + 18
 Awesome video and riding Jeff. Every time I watch you ride, you make it look so effortless I feel I can go out and just do it too. Then reality hits! Keep doing you man!
  • + 3
 Thanks man!
  • + 10
 I've been living in Tucson for 2 and a half years - still absolutely stoked on all the trails! Breathtaking views and incredible gnar. If you haven't visited yet, be sure to put it on your list! Love all the great work TORCA does for us, thank you! Keep shreddin'!
  • + 1
 Right on Jake- Tucson has so much to ride, we barely scratched the surface!
  • + 8
 There's nothing quite as beautiful as the Sonoran dessert after a rain storm.
  • + 1
 It smells nice too!
  • + 4
 Mt. Lemmon is a special place. I've talked to both Tara and Art and have been travelling down to ride trails like CDO and others for years. It's awesome to see what they've done. Fondest memory was meeting a bunch of torca members after their friday night ripper ride down Milly's. While a buddy and I waiting for our buds to get back from retrieving the shuttle vehicle we left at the top from doing the "lemmon drop" they chatted with us, gave us beers and snacks and we talked bikes while the sun went down.
  • + 1
 Agreed! Lemmon is rad. I can't wait to ride CDO and Red Ridge- hopefully the snow melts soon! Art and Tara are great folks!
  • + 1
 @JeffWeed: just don't make the mistake we did and ride CDO in march lol Lots of downed trees and overgrowth, sharp overgrowth. We ran into almost 40 downed trees one year. If you can try and hook up with Lewis.. Tara and Art will know who he is. What a character! I look back on our CDO experience as probably the worst ride ever, but also one of the most memorable mostly because of Lewis haha
  • + 1
 @projectnortheast: Wow 40 downed trees?! Man, I wanna ride that trail- and now I want to meet this Lewis character too!
  • + 1
 @JeffWeed: Of course you'd want to ride it lol! Everyone else, oh what a headache. JKW hopping down the trail like Macaskill, Boing boing boing like a rabbit over every single durn one of those 40 trees... Here comes Peter Cottontail... lol I love that visual
  • + 1
 @mtbikeaddict: lol not exactly... pine trees make a mess and the razor sharp brush grows in thick due to the heavy fires on the back side of lemmon years ago...
  • + 1
 @projectnortheast: with the amount of work we (TORCA) have been putting into CDO you won't be encountering 40 downed trees anymore. Last summer we finally got CDO completely tree free and so now each year we only have to contend with the few that fall each winter. We have removed close to 200 trees off of CDO in the past 5 years.Torca VP
  • + 1
 @bigworm520: Next trip must include CDO and Red Ridge! Yew!!!
  • + 1
 @bigworm520: Thats Awesome! Ya Tara had warned us back then was probably 3 years ago now... makes me wanna head out there next year this time...
  • + 6
 It’s great to see people being recognized for all the hard work they put in to make a trail system great. They set a great example for others to follow. Well done.
  • + 1
 Thanks man!
  • + 6
 Hahaha, Loam and Arizona shouldn't be in the same sentence unless the sentence starts with "There is no".
  • + 2
 lol not entirely true! If you know where to look, there is plenty within the state!
  • + 1
 @JeffWeed: Haha, I'll have to look harder next winter I guess. I'm like you except I have a longer flight to Arizona every winter from NY, love it! And I only get to do it once per year :-(

Keep smiling and keep up the good work.
  • + 4
 Thanks for coming out and sharing the stoke. Loved showing you around! We only scratched the surface of the riding on Lemmon can't wait to get you back out here for some more. Vernie Aikins TORCA VP
  • + 2
 Vernie, bummer about your injury, I hope you can ride with us next time! Great work with TORCA, glad the MTB presence on lemmon is in good hands!
  • + 1
 @JeffWeed: I got lectured last night at the board meeting about not going to the next trail day so I can heal. I don't like not doing trail work its gonna make me grumpy.
  • + 1
 @bigworm520: hahaha sorry about the lecture but glad you're taking the time you need to get back to 100%! Thanks again for rallying the Ranger out to 50 yr, I think that was a great bit to include in the vid!
  • + 2
 Give Jeff some love on YouTube and let your friends know about him, so he can continue to gain more subscribers and create awesome content. He's one of my favorite YouTuber's to watch each week. Keep killing it man!
  • + 3
 Thanks man!!! I could definitely use some more YewToob love! Here's the link to my channel: www.youtube.com/c/JeffKendallWeed
  • + 1
 I have almost as much fun watching your videos as I do riding. You are always smiling when you ride and it's awesome that you respond to almost everybody who comments. Have you ever been to Kelowna BC, some great riding here and in Penticton aswell. Not too much of a drive, maybe you could meet up the Van Steenbergen brothers, they know the fun stuff.
  • + 1
 That's super nice, thanks Lex! Would LOVE to ride more in BC, hoping to make some trips north later this spring! I've never met Tom and Bas but they are total shredders!
  • + 1
 Heading to Tucson on the 28th and would like someone to show me around the Mt. Lemmon area trails. I am going to check these folks out as I don't want to get lost on the side of the mountain alone. If I am able to get a shuttle, is it still advised to have a guide on these trails or are the fairly easy to follow?
  • + 2
 depends on the trail, some have good markings and signs. Lemon is pretty easy to follow (at least the lower parts)
50 year and honeybee canyon can be tricky if your not familiar with them.(no signs or trail markers to speak of)
but with trail forks they are manageable.
  • + 2
 Have trailforks loaded on your phone and put it in airplane mode. That will save your battery and still give you GPS to find your way. I'd suggest keeping on the main route side of Mt. Lemmon aka bug springs, prison camp, millies etc.. I WOULD NOT venture onto the CDO, red ridge, or the other parts of the AZT off the backside alone... you are literally miles and miles from any kind of help.
  • + 4
 Tele, I'd say get a guide for sure. Trailforks is OK, but not perfect within the area. Homegrown would be a great option for a guided ride.
  • + 2
 @projectnortheast: And I've heard stories from a couple of folks that had difficulties finding Millie, if you miss the cairn for the split then you really do end up in the middle of nowhere!
  • + 3
 @BCpov rode with Homegrown as well early this year, check out his channel.
  • + 1
 @JeffWeed: Yeah I am leaning that way. I second guess my self way to much in foreign areas and end up staring at my phone too often. Route finding is fun and part of mountain biking but when you are alone in a foreign area it can be stressful. Much more fun to be able to just enjoy the ride knowing you will not get lost.
  • + 1
 It's tough to see how great these trails are when JKW is on the back wheel the whole time and all you see are the handlebars during his nasty manuals! Nice production JKW, can't wait to see where the loam takes you next!
  • + 1
 Hahaha thanks man!!! Stay tuned, next few episodes are gonna be way fun!
  • + 2
 @JeffWeed how was using the fork on the hd4? it would appear even by Trust's and Ibis's recommendation that it was too short for the frame or suggested travel.
  • + 4
 He short-stroked the frame using a shock from an hd3. His youtube series has the details
  • + 2
 @usedbikestuff I have been really enjoying it! I set the bike up pretty differently than normal, which means that the fork is now better suited to the HD4. See below for more info.

@phalley: Almost- the HD4 uses a 7.875 x 2.25 shock, so I used a 7.875 x 2.0 shock (from a Mojo 3, not the HD3) to limit the travel down to ~136mm. According to Ibis, this shorter stroke shock voids the frame's warranty. Kinda funny, but now I've got DW link BOTH front and rear! Anyhow, I still have about a 66 head angle on the bike. The seat angle got even steeper, and the chainstays are still nice and short. This smaller travel set up makes for a super fun bike, real easy to get off the ground. It feels like a slalom bike! The 130/136mm travel numbers aren't huge, but on both ends of the bike, it feels as though the suspension is very efficiently used. The rearward axle paths (on both ends) means that the limited travel goes a long ways.
  • + 1
 Sometimes I wonder why Arizona doesn't get any love for mountain biking. Kind of the same terrain as Moab, and the weather is nicer in the winter. (Although I don't think I'd want to mess with it May-September.)
  • + 2
 Doesn't get any love? Man, Sedona is HUGE with mountain bikers! And PHX is really well known, especially SoMo. Tucson has gotten tons of coverage lately as well. It's not as well known as Moab, but it's definitely in the winter lime light!
  • - 1
 As someone who lives in Arizona and more specifically the Phoenix area, the riding here sucks. Trails are lame and boring. No flow and no tech. Nothing to see here.
  • + 1
 @Douger-1: you know it Wink
  • + 4
 Can Jeff be Trusted? Apparently the answer is yes.
  • + 2
 Depends on the Message.
  • + 2
 In Weed we Trust
  • + 1
 LOL!
  • + 1
 Awesome vid...Rad riding by Jeff, as always, so much fun to watch. The other riders were fun to watch as well..Can we get more of this..?????? Wink
  • + 3
 Those trails handle the rain like a champ! They look bone dry!
  • + 2
 Hahaha right?! They dried out FAST!
  • + 2
 That Trust linkage fork is already starting to look normal to me! Will it make me manual like Jeff?? haha!
  • + 2
 Hahaha! The fork took me a few rides to get used to looking at, but now I only think about it when someone asks!
  • + 3
 Jeff is my favorite Jenner
  • + 2
 LOL!
  • + 2
 Long live Gnarly trails. Don't be skeerd, Desert Kisses Are part of the fun.
  • + 1
 Yesss!!! Go do some Milagrosa runs for me!
  • + 1
 Why no Milagroasa photos? I'd love to see what you could do with that terrain!
  • + 2
 It was a conscious choice, we wanted to focus on trails that were TORCA successes. Also, I already posted a bunch of stuff from Millie here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvEXtthoHOw
  • + 2
 Thanks for the great Tucson coverage!
  • + 1
 Thanks for watching!
  • + 1
 @JeffWeed I'm waiting for the videography "Who is Dan Baggs and Why DOESN'T He Make Videos" 6:24 just breaking rocks.
  • + 1
 Hahahaha I'm not sure Dan wants such a video to be made! But in all seriousness, as I was reviewing old media, Dan is in about half the stuff I shot through CPSLO and beyond! Both you and Dan are huge influences in my life, and I'm stoked to have been in the same town as ya'll for those years!
  • + 1
 @JeffWeed not only do you have mad bunny-hopping skills, but that was a rad video with a great message! Props!
  • + 1
 Thank you Larry!!!
  • + 1
 Dope Stuff Jeff. Love seeing the light shed on the often unheard heroes of mtn biking. Rad riding too!
  • + 1
 Thank you Brayd!!! Part way through your podcast, btw, and really enjoying it!
  • + 1
 Easiest YouTube sub of my life
  • + 2
 Sweet, thanks man! I should probably focus harder on growing the YouTube numbers, but honestly, I prefer to make content like this!
  • + 1
 great story great riding looks like a fun zone.
  • + 2
 Ya Jeff!
  • + 1
 Thanks for the support guys!!!
  • + 1
 Pretty awesome resume and incredible riding! Parkfield Classic RIP!!
  • + 1
 Thanks man- glad you got to the second vid as well!!!
  • + 1
 Jeff lives on his back wheel!
  • + 1
 Hey, if you only have one trick, just do it everywhere!
  • + 1
 @JeffWeed: We all know you have all the tricks Jeff! Thanks for all the content on youtube. It makes me stoked for summer to roll back around here in BC!
  • + 1
 Is that one them explainer forks he's ridin' lol!
  • + 1
 Hahahaha nice one!
  • + 1
 Love watching this guy ride. Great videos!
  • + 1
 Thanks man!
  • + 1
 Awesome!
  • + 1
 Thanks man!
  • + 1
 Well done ????
  • + 1
 I meant!!!!!
  • + 1
 @ninjatasic: Hahaha thanks Ninja!
  • + 0
 Jeff you’re a stud. Always happy, so smooth and fun to watch!
  • + 1
 Thank you Cliff!!!

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