Using his own manpower, along with a shovel, pickaxe and some water – water he carries into the desert using five-gallon (23l) buckets – Sammy Mercado has carved a slice of freeride paradise into the hidden hills of Southern California.
Mercado's passion for the sport is tantamount to the best riders in the world. Even if no one was watching, he'd still be out in the dirt, doing his thing.
We caught up with Mercado to find out what it takes to build a Red Bull Rampage-inspired run in the middle of nowhere – keep reading to learn more and watch the video above to see MTB pros Darren Berrecloth and Carson Storch ride the zone.
What’s your background on bikes, Sammy?
I started riding when I was young, but just random – no real riding or doing tricks. I just rode to cruise around… I never saw anyone doing tricks.
How did you find your spot to build?
We used to go out to this area and ride motorcycles as kids. At first, I pictured myself building jumps for the dirt bike, but all my friends stopped riding motorcycles – so I kept up with the BMX bike. At that point, I found out about downhill bikes and I began riding about five years ago.
Who else digs at your spot?
To be honest, it’s just me – all the time.
So what motivates you to be out in the hills, solo for hours?
I don’t know – every time I’m out there, and by myself, I’m just doing my own thing. I can get my ideas, build it, try it and try it again if it doesn't work... My motivation comes from being out in the mountains – I feel so relaxed there. Nobody telling me anything, it's just me.
It’s always hard to build something from scratch and then not know if it’s going to work, or notSammy Mercado
What else do you have planned to build in your zone?
I work construction, so when it rains I can't go to work. But that actually works with digging because that's the best time to build, when the dirt is wet.
What's your biggest challenge building in the desert?
It’s always hard to build something from scratch and then not know if it’s going to work, or not. In winter, it's the rainy season, and it's the best time of year to build. Once summer comes, there's no more rain – so I have to fill buckets at home and drive them out. I'll put 14 buckets of water in my little [Toyota] Yaris and then just carry them back to the spot, one at a time.
How was it to have Darren Berrecloth and Carson Storch come check out your zone?
I had met Darren and Carson at Rampage last year, and it was amazing to have them come out. I was nervous – I didn't know if they'd like the trail, struggle with it, or what. But those guys hit big stuff all day, so it was rad to ride with them on jumps I made and see them sending dumped 360s and backflips.