The history of Fantasy Island North Singletrack

FINS History for Flyer/Map

Years ago, Kim Doud and Murel Stephens bought a copy of Cosmic Ray’s Fat Tire Tales and Trails Arizona Mountain Bike Trail Guide and over the next couple of years, sometimes three time a week, rode most of the listed single-track in Maricopa County . We did a lot of traveling, but it was worth it.

The town of Buckeye wanted some mountain bike pictures for the Chamber of Commerce’s book that was being put together. We took the photographer to a spot where Joey’s Jaunt is today. Kim Doud and Brian Roberts, were the models. They rode the small trail, that we made, over and over for an hour, until the photographer got the shot he wanted.

I think that was when the seed was planted in Kim’s mind that this was a perfect place for a single-track bike trail.

Murel and Kim rode out on that jeep trail again the following week, and worked our way beyond the end of the jeep trail which became a game trail to the saddle we now call Vista View. We could see west, all the way to Buckeye, and east across the golf course to the Estrella Mtns. Sighting another saddle to the southeast, we hiked/peddled over, marking our way as we went. The following day we returned with a pry bar, a pick ax, and a rake and roughed in the first trail. We broke the rake in the process of putting in that short trail, so we propped up the rake with a rock base and named the trail, “Rusty Rake.” We roughed in a steep downhill “out” trail that was nameless at the time.

We were mostly riding in the Estrella Regional Park at that time, and we had built up quite a cadre of riders. But the horse’s hooves were chewing up the trails (dusty, rutted, and rocky), and we needed a trail nearby that we could dedicate to just bikers, hikers, and runners. We talked Brian “Harv” Roberts into riding up to our “Vista View,” and then across on our barely follow-able “Rusty Rake”. Harv hated it!!! The trail was only roughed in, and it was raining to boot. But knowing that Harv was really the Energizer Bunny, and that we desperately needed his help, we told him that we wanted to name the steep trail out, “Harv’s Howl.” We declared that anytime anyone rode down “Harv’s Howl,” the rider was required to “Howl like a coyote at the top of his/her lungs” as the bike tires hit the steep plunge into the canyon. We laughed ourselves silly at the bottom, and Harv was hooked along with us to build our own trail system. Why not?! We had ridden most of Cosmic Ray’s recommended trails, and we thought we could build something credible, worthy, and close-by for our riding buddies.

Harv brought up stories of Fantasy Island down in Tucson , and how much fun it was. We all thought, “Why not build a Fantasy Island-like single-track up north in our back yard.” FINS was the acronym that instantly stuck. Our dream of a trail system would be, “Fantasy Island North Single-track” or “FINS.” Harv, Murel, and Kim began cutting trails by hand. We rode out to the end of the trail, pulled boots out of our backpacks, grabbed the tools that we had hidden in the terrain, and cut as much trail as we could. We had carefully scouted the landscape and marked out the trails well before we got there. That allowed us to plan the flow of the turns and control the steepness of the climbs. Tools were all hand-powered: Pry bars, shovels, picks, rakes, brooms and nothing more. It really was blood (occasionally), sweat (lots), and tears (mostly of joy).

Harv began to invite out other riders to help with the task. Harv was out there constantly, at least 3x a week for hours at a time. Harv would always call me and most of the time, I was able to join him. Murel was there often, as well. Saturday mornings were known as “Trail Time.” Sometimes we had two or three dozen people out there working away. Some of the trails went quickly. Some, like Exposure, were tedious. Harv would call to tell me he just put in two hours and progressed only 25 feet. People found their “tool of choice” and became specialists. Harv was a pick-ax and sledge man, I was a master of moving big rocks with the pry bar, Murel a digger with either an ax or a shovel, Brian was the rake-man, Matt was great with a broom. Jim, Chris, Randy, Ray, and Dave put in the majority of the “up-top” trails of Jim’s Star Pass and North Star (which goes all the way to the top). Many others were involved whenever they could be. There are too many to identify them all. We even formed the Estrella Trails Club to promote the building and care of trails in the area.

The names of the trails grew from those involved in building them or some event that occurred there. Hurts Donut was named after it was cut and while grinding up the climb, I turned around and said to Murel, “Hurts Don’t It?!” So with Hurts Donut, the saddle at the top, just had to be Pastry Pass , and the down on the other side was such a bear that it had to be Bear Claw. Spent Spade has a broken shovel memorialized at a wash crossing. Grunt, with its many switchbacks, is just that. We even hauled lumber, screws, and power tools up the mountain to build a bridge across a gnarly rock fall near the top. Two of our riders got engaged at Proposal Pass. And Dead Digit Draw is where Brian’s finger got smashed with a rock we were moving. There are two signs at either end of a tough section of trail that read Kylie’s Crossing. To get to Kylie’s Crossing, from either direction, you have completed a pretty good climb. At the top of the Crossing, people often complain about being worn out or out of breath. We remind them to look at the sign which is named after a dear friend’s daughter who was shaken as a child and cannot walk, let alone ride a bike. We always turn back to the person complaining about the difficulty of the ride, and remind them to think about Kylie and her daily struggles. We agree that there is no whining in mountain biking, so shut up and pedal!

It literally took years to build our Secret Trail System, but people began to hear about it. Pretty soon, we would meet people on the trail who weren’t even from the area. They had heard about FINS from a friend or a Bike Shop. I began to make signs with a router to identify and rate the trails for difficulty. The signs tell you where you’re located, where you’re headed, and how hard the trail will be. We took a cue from Cosmic Ray’s Trail Book and rated the trails from one to four dots; four dots for expert riders only. The signs were all hand-painted by Harv and Marc, carried in, and installed on the trail by our riders. More recently, a couple of our riders, Mark Rayburn (Graphic Artist) and Brent VanDeman (Sign Company) helped us design and install “Mall-Style Trail Map Signs” and Murel got a friend to weld up some steel supports. Now, you’ll find professionally printed Trail Maps at strategic locations on the trail.

This trail system has not only affected our back yards, but it has deeply impacted our lives. So, get out there on FINS and “take a bite out of the desert!”