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    The Trails Before Us

    Specialized Soil Searching: Nigel James

    Nigel James, an 18 year old Diné mountain biker, hosts the first Enduro race in the Navajo Nation. Through revitalizing livestock and wildlife trails on his grandparents’ land, Nigel and a new generation of riders honor the connection to their land, community, and culture.

    The rhythmic beat of the water drum echoes over the vast plains of the Navajo Nation. It resembles the pulse of this sacred land and the people who call it home.

    Rhythm. Something ingrained in the core of Nigel’s being. Whether he’s out building features on one of his trails, carving a gourd, making a water drum or taking his favorite horse, Doc, out for a gallop, rhythm is Nigel’s ever-present companion. “Everything flows.” Nigel says, when he’s in that state of ultimate rhythm. “There is trust between me and the bike, just like the trust between me and my horse. It’s just smooth.”

    Nigel Horseherder James comes from four clans – Chíshí (Chiricahua Apache), Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water clan), Tábąąhá (Water Edge, from his paternal grandparents), Tł'ízíłání (Many Goats clan from his maternal grandparents). His love for mountain biking started at the age of 14 when he rode down one of his uncles' walking trails. As he rode and explored more, he realized he could make out lines that naturally exist – sheep trails. Nigel reckons that sheep chose “pretty cool lines”, which requires minimal alterations to get perfect flow. The James family, along with many of their fellow Diné, believe that using these ancestral trails with a new purpose, for mountain biking, is a form of respect to the family lineage, and helps to keep that legacy alive.

    But there’s more to this softspoken young man than “shredding sheep trails” and aspiring to become a top Enduro racer.

    Nigel comes from a community that continues to advocate for environmental justice, and he combines all his different passions to do just that. From a young age he has made numerous trips to the Navajo Nation Council Chambers to educate and demand the end of fossil fuel extraction in his homelands. In 2017, he led approximately 40 miles of bike riding to attend the Navajo Nation Council Summer session to demand “Just Transition”.

    Excerpt from the 2017 regarding the relay in which Nigel lead a section by bike:
    For over 45 years the owners of the Navajo Generating Station have generated electricity for the Central Arizona Project (CAP) using Navajo coal and Navajo water from Black Mesa. In addition, Navajos have had to make a number of waivers that secured Colorado River water for the plant as well as right-of-ways and other provisions. Salt River Project (SRP) the owner/operator of NGS announced that it will close the plant in 2017. SRP has not been explicit about its plans for the plant other than to decommission it by 2019, claiming gas is now more competitive than coal. Tó Nizhóní Ání, a grassroots organization based in Black Mesa is asking the Navajo Nation to take this opportunity to transition the Nation to a sustainable, renewable economy, away from coal and fossil fuels. Tó Nizhóní Ání will carry this message in the “Just Transition Relay”, April 14-17, 2017 from Hardrock to Window Rock, Az.

    The relay started with horse riders and then transitioned to bicycle. When talking to Germaine Simonson, Nigel’s mom, it’s clear where his zealous spirit for justice stems from – “Biking isn't just for the sake of biking”, says Germaine, “It’s a tool, a catalyst to educate, promote and advocate for issues that affect our livelihood and to ensure that we continue to maintain balance with the most powerful elements on this Earth: Fire, Water and Air.” How could anyone argue with that?

    The story of Nigel, his family, his passions, and his homeland will leave an indelible mark on the heart of anyone who is prepared to listen.

    “It’s good. We are connected. Related. Living in a duality between Mother Earth and Father Sky.” Marvin James, Nigel’s dad.


    Specialized Soil Searching is not only our way of supporting trail builders and advocates like Nigel, but is our connection to the soul of mountain biking – the trails. To those who make them, the land that shapes them, and those with whom we share them.

    Get Involved:
    Trail Work Weekend, July 19 – 22