Rezduro takes place in the remote community of Hardrock, Arizona which is located on the Black Mesa plateau/region on the Navajo Nation. What started out as a vision by Nigel James and friends has turned into the first and only Indigenous-led mountain bike enduro race. Nigel James dreamed of bridging his grandparents’ sheep herding trails with his passion for mountain bike enduro racing as a result, Rezduro was born in 2021. Rezduro is organized by Diné (the Navajo people) on Diné lands.
The community of Hardrock is adjacent to one of the largest coal strip mining operations that happened in the U.S. The community has seen the largest displacement of Diné as a result of coal-mining and the entire Black Mesa region continues to suffer from decades of coal mining with the depletion of groundwater (Black Mesa’s only source of potable water) and the disappearance of the natural seeps and springs within the region’s communities (the original water sources).
Given the history of resource extraction on Black Mesa, the James family knew that any alteration to the landbase would have impact years down the road. Therefore, in order to expand on these existing trails, Nigel knew he needed to consult with the original land owners, in this case, his grandparents who have utilized these lands for years.
An Introduction to Rezduro by Germaine Simonson
Biking has been a gift and a blessing for our family, as such the first year of Rezduro did not have a registration fee; it was our way to give back. This is the Native way. We say our prayers daily for good things and when we receive those good things we also have to give back. Giveaways are common in Indigenous gatherings and some of them are grandiose in which high-value items are given, including horse(s), star quilts, Pendleton blankets, turquoise jewelry, feathers, cedar, sweet grass and most times they are gift baskets.
It is said that wealth is measured by how much we are able to give, not the dollar amount in our bank accounts or the materialistic things we have. Since Nigel started biking, we have been blessed in meeting some amazing people that we have embraced as family. We have also been blessed in our travels, being able to experience bike parks throughout the US and Canada.
The event is sprinkled with many of these kind gestures – Rezduro Kitchen is the hub of the event where we provide meals to racers, volunteers, and spectators. This is a tradition that our family continues to carry on, “feed the people”. Food is not just energy to move, in our teachings, it is also medicine. Our cooks have been instructed and taught by their elders to cook with positive thoughts and prayer so that whoever consumes the food is given that energy and healing. This year we provided some traditional foods like blue corn mush, mutton soup with homegrown squash, Navajo Tea, and earthen corn cake.
The final gift was presented during the award ceremony. A brief time was given to our brother-in-law Scott Means who is of the Hopi and Lakota people to share a song. The following were the words shared by Scott:
“The song I sang for Nigel is an old Lakota honor song that is honoring a young person who has accomplished something. The song talks about how the mother and the father always recognized, since the day he was born, that he was going to be something special, that he was going to help many people. This is what I see Nigel doing, just by being himself he is affecting so many people in such a positive way. I felt the song was appropriate for Nigel and his character. I must also say that the song is a fitting acknowledgment of his parents, because they have recognized this in their son and they have made it possible for him to thrive in this way. In the traditional Lakota child rearing philosophy, children are not taught that they are the center of everything, rather, they are taught that they are a part of something that is bigger than themselves. So in that way it is appropriate not only to acknowledge Nigel but to also acknowledge his parents, thereby giving a nod towards his entire family/clan/people. It’s just a very good feeling all the way around.”
The hospitality and the protocols that we demonstrated have been taught to us by our elders and have been promoted through the generations. We hope that the brief connection to the land and the people brought a sense of renewal to all those who attended.
Germaine Simonson, author of this introduction, is Nigel James’ mother.
Reportage: Rezduro 2022 by Shaun Price
Rezduro did not come about in a vacuum. While the Navajo Reservation is 27,000 sq miles, no organization offered support in the form of bicycle repair, community ride programs, or youth cycling advocacy prior to just recently. This has since changed due to the efforts of several organizations operating on and around Rez. We’ve covered some of these groups here on the Radavist in the past, such as Silver Stallion Bicycle and Coffee Works, Dził Adventures, while others are also actively working to expand access and stoke around bikes like The SiiHasin Bike Program, Diné Bike Project, and others. It’s truly exciting to see Navajo youth and adults alike embracing the sport of mountain biking in recent years. Check out the related articles at the bottom of this story for more of our Navajo Nation cycling coverage.
Technically, trail development for Rezduro is generations in the making. The James family has been supporting their livelihood by utilizing horse trails and sheepherding trails for decades. More recently, the James family and others, Including Yazh Trails, have taken it upon themselves to learn the art of trail building through the mentorship of OZtrails, Dirt Tek Trails, and others. They brought this knowledge back to the Rez and with the help of those willing began rebuilding and converting the generational trails in the trails used to host Rezduro. Reduro is a celebration of the Nigel James’ family’s perseverance, resourcefulness, and dedication to their community, while simultaneously honoring their relatives that have come before them.
K’é – Community, Family, Kinship and the Land
Shiyázhí, shicheíí, shí-bro — these are words riders might have heard while exploring the course at Rezduro. On the Rez, it’s common to hear these words of kinship. They’re familial words, they capture and communicate the endearment, comfort, support, and love shared by the people using them. These words reflect a sense of pride, community, and connection to one another not only as friends, but as family.
Diné are matriarchal in nature, the foundations and identities of our families are rooted in our mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters. We have a clan system that’s passed down through the women in our families. For example, my grandmother is Tábąąhá, which is passed to my mother, and then to me.
Often when meeting another individual, names and clans are exchanged, and if two people have corresponding clans, they’re considered related — they’re family, they’re k’é. We as Diné people are born into a strong-rooted, but simple community, and we know we can always find family if we need it. And, for the most part, we’re willing to offer that same love and support with other people, too.
So, for so many of us pedaling Dinétah, Rezduro is more than a race. It’s our unique and special way of practicing k’é. This is our bike family — living, and thriving on Dinétah and flourishing within our sacred mountains, our home. We see old friends, make new ones, and our bike family grows with every conversation had and connection made. This ridership is familiar, supportive, and compassionate. The space created is one in which riders of all skill levels can feel safe, unjudged, and supported.
These characteristics are what make Rezduro a catalyst for rider development, and a way to encourage more experienced riders to lead, teach, and inspire (to become young elders LOL). This practice of passing learned skills and stories to help the next generation move perpetually forward is one that is embedded in the Rez cycling community, and in Diné culture as a whole.
At Rezduro, riders gain experience, confidence, and education on the bike, but they learn and grow as coaches and mechanics, too. And through this mentor/coach development, our youth and community leaders are empowered on every level. New riders who are eager to learn, practice, and ride now have an event in their very own backyard that’s founded, organized, and raced by people who look like them. Growing cyclists have a benchmark event to join in on, and they also have plenty of opportunities to continually grow both individually and as a community.
Nigel James’ family created an event that showcases the beauty of our people, land, and relationship with one another. They’ve created an opportunity for those living outside of Dinétah to experience what only few have. And there’s honor, respect, and humility in the way technical but non-competitive ridership has advanced on the Rez. There’s an abundance of talent, passion, and hunger brewing here — and kids, adults, and grandparents alike are emerging from all corners of the Rez to experience and connect with the land, people, and bikes like never before. There’s an overwhelming desire to exist in harmony with one another, as family, as K’e. The bike is what brought us here, and it’s what will take us forward, together.
Time to Ride!
Friday morning started with a bit of concern. Walking to basecamp, we were greeted by a volunteer, Andrew, whose bike was covered in caliche. It had rained through the night and the trails were soaked. The Rez had seen an unusually heavy and long monsoon season, and we were still in it. The rain was great for trail development, but not exactly what we wanted on race day. But all we could do was sip on our cowboy coffee, eat some blue mush, and wait.
With some luck, the clouds burnt off later that morning and the sun began to dry out the trails. The timing was a blessing, and we were met with hero dirt in the afternoon just in time for the youth grom stage. Austen of Slaughter Trail Guides set out to place timing hardware at the beginning and end stages of the Dirt Tek and Flow trail. Once the hardware was set, groms racing popped off and the stoke started flowing. In 2021 we felt like we did a disservice to our groms by only providing them with one trail to race. This year, we added 2 more trails to their race and we dedicated the entire day on Friday to their races. We were pleased with the grom turnout and we were happy to see more kids on bikes. Additionally, before the kids set out on trails that day, Ryan Geiger of Geiger Coaching provided a skills clinic.
When races for the day wrapped, we found ourselves gathered around a pop-up bike ramp cheering on an impromptu jump competition. With two categories in place, youth and adults, riders took turns charging the ramp and hucking their rig as far as they could. As the cheers grew louder the riders jumped even farther, with some of the little homies even out-jumping the adults.
After dinner — Navajo Tacos, fry bread, mutton stew, and Navajo tea — we convened under the big white tent for a showing of two films from the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival — “Trails Before Us” and “Trek – Diné Pathfinders.” And, as if they just didn’t have enough, the groms kept shredding and jumping around the expo grounds well into the night.
Saturday was expert groms and adult race day. Racers started their day on the Lookout trail, then on to Sheepdog, Flow, North Face, and Sunrise trails. When all participants were finished, everyone reconvened at base camp for lunch and awards.
It was a whirlwind of a day and was such a treat to see so many riders lapping the course and spectators looking on with excitement. There were even two safety patrols monitoring the course on horseback!
Rezduro is a celebration of the perseverance, resourcefulness, and dedication of the James family and the Diné people, while simultaneously honoring the relatives that came before them. The James family created an event that showcases the beauty of the people, the land, and their relationship with one another.
They’ve created an opportunity for those living on the Rez and outside of Dinétah to experience what only few have — a space for both parties to teach and learn from one another. As we look forward to next year’s Rezduro, we look forward to expanding our own horizons as well as the horizons of everyone who visits Diné and the spaces within our sacred mountains.