Dream Ride Week #2: Moab, Utah Part 1

Here is part two of my mountain bike immersion experience from last month. As I posted previously I spent a week in Copper Harbor Michigan for a work retreat and riding extravaganza. Before I left for that trip I had to pack up all my gear for a trip to Utah, since I was scheduled to drive 7 hours from Copper Harbor to Madison, get a shower and a (short) night of sleep, then catch a plane to Moab with my wife in the morning. We had been preparing for this trip since our good friend and my #1 riding buddy Jim got the camping permits for the White Rim Trail in March. So that made it all the more challenging when we landed in Moab without our checked bags. We each had our carry-ons, but no tent, sleeping bags, camp clothes, mess kits, toiletries, etc. I was lucky enough to have packed my helmet, shoes and riding kit in the bag I did have. We met up with the rest or our group and got to improvising.

Our original plan was to ride the White Rim Trail in four days. Once we landed in Utah the gang would pick us up at the airport, we’d load our gear into the rented pickup that would be our support vehicle and hit the trail. Since the trail was a 100 mile loop, once we started there was no backtracking. Therefore, it was not an option to start the ride and then go back to the airport the following day (when the next flight would come in with our bags). So a compromise had to be struck. We would camp that night near town right above the Slickrock Bike Trail. We’d have the opportunity to ride there that day and the following morning, then (hopefully) pick up our gear at the airport and hit the trailhead on the second afternoon, turning a four day trip into a three day rip. Win win right? It’s more riding, and now we had a chance to ride Slickrock, which has completely different terrain compared to the White Rim. So I’ll break the reports apart; White Rim ride report coming soon.

Slickrock is like the moon, at least to this east coast guy. Not many trees, just scrubby little bushes, sand and rocks. Big rocks. Huge, steep rocks that are like riding on sandpaper. The climbs and descents are not long but they are so steep there are times when you simply can’t believe physics will allow you to ride up/down/across the terrain. Slickrock Trail has a short practice loop in addition to the main route. On our rented Fuel EX 8s and GF Superfly 100 ALs, (thanks, Poison Spider) eight of us hit the practice course. Just follow a spray-painted white line out onto the rocks. And up the rocks. And down the rocks. And across off-camber sections of rock with nothing below you but a short, cruel lesson in gravity. I confess to getting a mouthful of sand when I “misunderestimated” the force with which I would hit the ground at the bottom of one tricky section.

These guys: no sand eating

After the practice loop the number interested in trying the main loop was smaller. I understand the sentiment; we had four days of riding ahead of us and there was no need to go all-in on the first afternoon. The rest of us followed the white arrow into the unknown. It was unlike any riding I’ve ever done. You simply cannot run out of grip. The surface of the sandstone is gritty and mostly free from debris, which is good for riding across but bad for falling upon. Avoid it if you can. The angles that you can attack are amazing due to the grippy nature of the rock. Drop down into the granny ring if you must but if you can keep spinning you’ll get to the top. Getting back down is another story. This trail proves the point that it is usually safer and more controllable to descend with a bit of speed; go down too slow or grab too much brake and you’re in for trouble. Just make sure your fork is up to the task when you get to the bottom of your drop and use a little finesse, otherwise you may become intimate with the earth in a bad way.

Constant happy for 10 days straight

Surprisingly after I became adjusted to the unique feel of the rock and the different techniques needed to traverse this strange land the riding became much easier. We came back to the trail the following morning after breaking camp and before attempting to reclaim our delayed luggage. The second time around the Slickrock was as gentle as could be, if you knew where to roll. We finished Part One of Moab mashing with no injuries or mechanicals. And we had a great time and built up a powerful thirst for getting onto the White Rim and starting our 3 day, 100 mile loop through this starkly beautiful desert playground. Part Two coming soon…

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