Tuesday, November 7, 2023


HWY 128 into N. Moab

I was going to just do a social post about our last minute trip last weekend to Moab, Utah, but it got us feeling very nostalgic so pardon my trip down memory lane (plus DGD needed a new post anyway)!

Simply driving towards Moab conjures up a mental movie reel of past trips we've taken here. Moab was one of my and Ryan's early exposure to the Great Wide Open from the viewpoint of a mountain bike saddle. Back in the early 2000s, before Ryan and I even met, we had been asked to join to the Bike Way mountain bike club, which also included an invitation to the shop's annual spring trip to Moab. Though we didn't know it at the time, this small gesture would fundamentally change us. To this day we understand how doing hard things with friends not only enriches the experience but forges long standing bonds. It was a gift we didn't know we were given until the shop trips ended years later. The grandeur, the rawness and the danger of the backcountry drew us with an incredible force. So, as was done for us, it became our mission to bring others to ride in these amazing places.

Fast forward a lifetime and here we are in living in Salida. One of the things we love about living here, aside from the obvious, is it's proximity to many other mountain bike trails and towns. I'd been eyeballing the weather in Moab (which now is only 5.5 hours away, instead of thirteen) and considering the possibility of shuttling the Whole Enchilada before winter really hit and mountain passes become less safe to drive. The weekend called for upper 60s with no precip, so when Ryan's work travel was cancelled, I gently brought up my idea, letting it settle in his brain like a virus that he wouldn't be able to shake immediately. The next day, I looked into shuttle services and only a few seats remained. I mentioned this to Ryan and he said book it! The rest of the trip, we'd have to wing, as sadly Moab has become very popular and unless you're self contained (including a toilet) camping off grid isn't allowed and first come first served spots are limited. 

We left after work on Friday (sounds familiar) and drove four hours to Westwater Ranger Station, just west of Fruita, Colorado, opting to get to a camp spot while we had some daylight, instead of the hope and pray option of driving all the way into Moab and arriving in the pitch black. I could see the concern on Ryan's face as we turned off of I-70 into the vast empty desert, the sun dipping quickly downward. Our campsite was ten miles from the exit but it turned out to be a fine place for the night. The parking lot was full of trucks hooked up to empty boat trailers, as it was also a ramp access to the Colorado river. Our spot was right on the bank, and the river idled by without so much as a ripple. Bird calls from flocks of ducks and geese filled the air. Though the sun had dropped below the horizon, the sky remained awash with color until Jupiter appeared in the eastern sky, like a spotlight. We watched all of this from a picnic table, as we ate our dinner of deli sandwiches. 

Then once the darkness settled in we set a campfire ablaze. With whiskeys in hand we watched the flames flicker, recalling memories of our first trips here to the Western Slope. On those early trips with the Bike Way, we'd usually stop at Road 18 first to do a shakedown ride before landing in Moab. Years later, some trips were just to ride in Fruita and Grand Junction and we'd never even get to Moab. (One of my favorite places to ride still is Rabbit Valley, in Fruita). Sometimes we'd add in a side trip to Arches National Park (you didn't need a reservation then) and hike 3 miles up to Delicate arch. I'll always remember the first time I saw it and the excitement Ryan had in anticipation of showing it to me. I think that was when we discovered our shared awe of nature.

Tired from the drive and comforted by the campside cocktail, we turned in for the night. We read books for a while and a few minutes after lights out, I heard it: the familiar sound of a critter crumpling some food packaging in the van. We had seen signs of a mouse in the van prior to leaving and thought we had remedied the situation. I got up and turned on the light. I woke up Ryan but the mouse we being as quiet as, well, you know. I put away a bag of snacks that I had left out and the rest of the night was still and we went to sleep hoping our stowaway was gone.

The next morning after coffee and oats, we headed to Moab. We decided to drive in via highway 128, the scenic route, to see if any campsites along the way had openings. We discovered new campsites farther out, and they looked to have open spots. Wanting to be closer to our ride finish on Sunday we kept driving. We went into the campsite where the Porcupine Rim trail actually terminates and holy grail, there was one spot open! We reserved it for two nights, left some chairs and a water jug to make it seemed occupied and headed off to ride. 

The plan was to ride a trail system called Magnificent 7 (more aptly known as Mag 7) north of town. Mag 7 trails were not officially around in the early days of our visits, their beginnings dating around 2011 but we absolutely did ride in that area known to most as Gemini Bridges, where we mostly rode bikes up and down technical jeep roads. It was still fun and sometimes we'd see a group of those crazy jeepers get their rigs up some pretty steep shit. Since it is so popular with the 4x4 crowd, Google even suggested an unpaved route to the trailhead that was a few miles shorter than the highway. I wouldn't call it black diamond or high clearance but there were some parts with high exposure. The van did great. Ryan did great driving it. I, however, do not have the stomach for it. My mind goes on red alert and I can't really relax. We eventually made it to the trail and not soon enough! 

The trail starts out with tech immediately so there's no "warm up".  I have no real memory of the trail from racing it back in maybe 2016 other than it was physical with a lot of pedaling due to it's technical nature. But today, I was not racing. It was all slowish technical riding and that's just fine with me. There's something very satisfying when I manage a tall step-up, where the back wheel floats up behind me without a sound. That's usually when I let out my barbaric yawp. By the end of 18 mile loop, I was feeling it. I was happy to be done when we pulled into the parking lot and happier still that we were NOT taking the same way back into town! 

We pulled into downtown Moab around four o'clock, perfectly timed, ahead of the dinner crowd- and crowded it was. Moab has been found! But it's a fun place, with its dirtbag vibe still intact, despite the clean cut tourists walking around. We went to a place called Trailhead Public House, right smack on Main St. Google maps showed not busy and we got a table immediately. As we were enjoying our margaritas and waiting for food, we hear "Is that Ryan?" I turn towards whomever is talking and to our wonderful surprise its two friends from Omaha/Lincoln, Kate and Allison! Kate was there to run an offroad marathon and ride bikes with Allison. Of all the places! But there's more. They were also in the same exact campground as us! These are two adventurous women who we've had the pleasure to travel with and it warmed our hearts to see them doing their thing on their own terms. We see many more women adventuring and doing rad things than we did in our early travels. Now, it's not unusual to have more ladies than dudes! 

If that rock could talk.

The next morning we were up early despite daylight savings giving us an extra hour. We were too excited to ride Porcupine Rim, but the shuttle pick up wasn't for a few hours so with coffee in hand, we hiked up the last bit of trail we'd be riding down later that day. We scouted lines and talked about some of the rides down Porcupine with different groups over the years. We came with the Bike Way shop guys of course, and in those days, trails above Porcupine Rim didn't exist, legally. The Whole Enchilada wasn't a thing yet. The Bike Way group was made up of mostly former motocross riders who'd taken to down hill and free riding and they were so fast. (Nebraska actually had a downhill team for a couple seasons). And all the shenanigans you can imagine with a group of rag tags like this, happened. Broken bike parts, skin lacerations, bruises and all manner of stinky boy locker room living, usually in a small rental house (pre AirBnB). Years later it was our turn and we brought friends from the next club we were a part of, Bike Masters. We brought newbs who had never set foot in Utah so driving up that same highway 128, we probably stopped five times to let them take all the pictures. And the riding just blew minds. Most of us were XC racers arriving on slim tires and wobbly suspension. Though more skin was probably lost on these trips, it was worth every scab! There was another group that Ryan and I inserted ourselves into as well, and these guys would come out in the fall when it was less busy with the 4x4 crowd. They were expert level XC racers and were all about getting in as many miles as the daylight aloud. It was on these rides Ryan and I found our love for the grind, the pay-to-play style of riding, where you put in the work to get to the good stuff, even if that meant climbing for hours or even hike-a-biking. This group didn't fuss around with having perfect camping spots or taking pictures. They would grab a spot and get on a bike, then go get food, drink a beer and go to bed. Then repeat it again over the next few days. We were still in 26" and V-brake days but that didn't keep us from riding everywhere. Eventually we stopped making the annual treks to Moab, especially as the riding in Arkansas started to blow up. But then the enduro scene hit the US and races like The Whole Enchilada, where you could race from the La Sals at 12K down to about 6k, was too good to pass up. We raced it in its inaugural year 2012? (and still have the sweatshirt). We invited a friend from Europe to come over and race it with us as well as a few more local friends just to ride the course the day before for fun (and also other trails). It was fall and the foliage up in the La Sals made us feel we were in the land of Oz, complete with all the fall technicolor. We went back a few years to race it again (Ryan missed that first year due to shoulder separation two weeks before) and invited my then coach in 2017 to come out and try it. We camped up on Sand Flats road and on race morning, we saw snow up in the high country. The race still happened and it was a shit show, but it's a tale we still tell with great excitement. 

Upper Porcupine looking back at the La Sals.

This time however, we were too late in the season to get up into the La Sals so we had to settle starting the day on the trails above the rim, called Upper and Lower Porcupine. The shuttle would leave from the Chili Pepper Bike Shop in town and we opted to vacate the campsite and move the van to an overflow parking lot so it would be right there when we finished. We rode the seven miles into town on a paved bike path that paralleled HWY 128 and the Colorado river before dumping us onto HWY 191 into Moab.

Upon arriving at the pick up a woman, who was part of another group, recognized Ryan and I from our enduro racing days and she ended up sitting next to us on the drive up. For an hour we chatted about places we've ridden, and invited her to come to Salida! Such a small world. Finally, the van stopped. At first I didn't recognize the drop off point because it was a legit paved turn out with a porta potty, whereas previously it was gravel with no parking lot and you peed in the bushes. Things have definitely changed! But what hasn't changed is the view of Castle Valley. It's like a dream, with all the bluffs and buttes silhouetted against the pale colors of the desert sky. It would be our view for most of the day.

Right after we were dropped off.

Literally riding the rim. Castle Valley in the distance

Nothing is smooth on this route.

The ride was everything we hoped, full of physical and technical terrain, danger and the welcomed edginess of being very far away. Our total ride time was around 3 hours, including stops. The sky was slightly overcast, keeping things just a bit cooler than the day before. Though we stopped a few times to see the sights, fuel up, or chat with other riders, the goal was to just ride. To take it turn by turn, drop by drop, step by step. Aside from the Notch, Ryan pretty much rode the whole darn thing. I was probably 80/20. Some of the taller drops and rock slabs still give me the heebeegeebees but I rode a lot more of the tech than I used to! We arrived at the bottom, 4500 feet later, stoked and dumbfounded once again that we get to ride this sick trail. After all of these years, it really hasn't changed, but it most definitely has changed us and probably thousands of other riders, for the better.

This was the first time Ryan rode this slab.
It's terrifying and very hard to walk down.

For all our friends in Florida, see, not much climbing! 

Somewhere towards the last third of the trail, we came upon four riders who asked to have their picture taken. Afterwards, two guys from the group sped off, and the other two seemed happy to stay back to chat, admitting excitedly, that they had invited the other two on the trip even though it was their first time riding mountain bikes off road. Ever. Ryan and I both looked at each other with sly smiles. We knew emphatically how excited they were. 

Monday, October 2, 2023

Rehoming in the Great Wide Open

This post is way past due but for prosperity sake, I'm catching myself up. This July the husboy and I moved once more to our dream location, Salida, Colorado. When we've mentioned this to some people outside of Colorado and our immediate friend circle, we get the question why...where again? We answer by listing all of the "-ings" that we have access to on a daily basis. When we tell actual Coloradans, we get one of two replies: "F-You. We love that place" or "Congratulations! We love that place. " Both mean the same thing. :) And so far, nobody we've met wishes they hadn't moved here. Bonus.

The move from Florida was challenging logistically and mentally. The courage to muster action was a master class in belief and I give all the credit to Ryan for drawing a line in the corporate sand. Florida wasn't home and never would be and we were feeling it in our bones. It was time to go no matter the job circumstances. 

Though we've done enough traveling to cool mountain towns to know Salida was "it", moving is always difficult, no matter. I'd claim this time around was much easier than when we uprooted ourselves from Omaha since Salida is a familiar destination, as opposed to going to the great flat Tropical Unknown. This time though didn't go totally as planned. Despite pleading with the Universe to keep the Parents in line for a few days, I evidently didn't speak loud enough. I got the call from one of my brothers when we were deep into Texas and a long way from Omaha that my dad had fallen hand inured his tailbone (you may recall about this time last year it was my mom that fell). It all got handled by the grace of my siblings, thankfully, but it did add an extra layer of anxiety and guilt! And Dad is doing just fine, even at almost 90! 

Fast forward, as we approach our 10th week in Salida, we've had many days of pure gratitude. From amazing mountain views out our door to now watching (and feeling) the seasons change is a blessing I never want to take for granted. I get to wear layers and socks! We've hosted a couple friends and even one racer from Iowa, Rick Blackford, who took on the Vapor125 race. We get to leave our house, on our bikes, to ride world-class trails–the same ones we've historically brought friends to over Memorial weekend. We get to fly fish gold medal waters when ever the fancy strikes. This all sounds like a lot of broadcasting but I assure you, it's more like a statement of disbelief. As in, really, this is our new home and these are our home waters, home trails? It's startling, honestly. 

Someone told me to be careful–because once the you reach the dream life, then what? Well, I'll let you know soon enough. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

GWO Tour 2022 - San Juan Huts Day 5 & 6: My Breaking Point

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’ ”
Hunter S. Thompson

The trip, by this point, had met all expectations: scenic, remote, dry weather, all the bikes were cooperating and everyone was healthy. However, remember the black cat I saw on the first day? Well, read on...

Day 5 - Breaking into Gateway
Total Mileage:31mi. Starting Elevation: 8700' Ending Elevation: 4500'

The group was more than ready to leave the goats behind, but even more so because the rowdy Ute Creek trail was on tap. For those with the wider tires, flat pedals and longer travel, this was a day they'd been waiting for.

I don't recall exactly how it went down, but at one point it was only going to be a few of us doing the single track and the others were going to continue on gravel. Some people were feeling the fifth day and wanted to keep it chill but by the time we actually all arrived at the trailhead, all of us were going to ride it! Woohoo! We'll sleep when we're dead!

Ryan and Andy took off, just like cartoon action figures --KWA-PING!-- leaving a small dust cloud in their wake. The rest of us picked our way down. Well, I should clarify: I was picking because the track was rough and steep and I just didn't have the confidence to ride it with all my gear on the front end of the bike. The Ute Creek trail sees way more uphill dirt bike traffic than downhill mountain bike, so upon looking back, my apprehension, though self induced, seems justified. We met back up with Ryan and Andy and again, but they disappeared in an instant. The track was narrow, below stands of aspens. It seemed more like a drainage be as how it was less contoured to the hill. I remounted and was able to ride a bit better and faster but still grabbing a bunch of break. I dropped my front wheel over a moderate rooty ledge, my butt rubbing the back tire. After passing it, I heard someone call out the drop and then I heard a loud crash and someone yelling and then a bunch of F-bombs. I immediately stopped, propped the bike and ran up the trail. Brian had gone over the handlebars on the root drop, landing on his bad shoulder and putting a pretty good gash in his shin. His helmet had markings that indicated he'd hit his head but he was on his feet and cussing like a sailor, so I assumed he hadn't lost consciousness. His wife, Sara, the nurse, was trying to calm him down and assess him at the same time. These were seasoned outdoors professionals, who have been in this situation with the public at large, so they knew what to do. It was assumed that when Brian's wheel hit the rock at the bottom of the drop it turned severely and quickly, the heavy weight from his backpack assisting in sending him down hard, onto another rock. His shoulder was in working condition, but the mental demon had settled in. So, we all walked. Eventually I met up with Ryan and Andy who were walking up the trail, worried something was up since we hadn't arrived when we should have. I told them what had happened and continued on until I reached the spot where they had left their bikes and waited until everyone was back together.

By then, we were past the steepest part of the trail, which quickly opened up and we could see the walls of the valley. It sorta reminded me of riding up the back side of Hazard Trail in Moab. The trail was benched into the side of the hill covered in dense brush. It was narrow but rideable with little punches across and down slick rock (look, cool rocks!) and boulders. 

At some point, I found Ryan and Andy, again below a stair step of rocks, waiting to take our pictures. Nothing as steep as what we had started on but it still took some finesse. I felt pretty solid, despite the weight on the bike. It actually kept the front end from bouncing around. It was like driving a tractor. 

With everyone safely down the descent, we were once again a posse out on a grand adventure, riding in the most remote section on the whole trip. We were away from roads, goats and humanity, on a Thursday afternoon. Life was good.

And then it wasn't.

The single track eventually became wide double track though was still rugged and demanded our attention. Lauren and I were riding together, Sara and Brian were close behind. Every so often we'd catch back up to Ryan and Andy. At one of those such times, I was riding close behind them as they ate up a rough section of a punchy climb. Seeing this, I ratcheted up my effort out of the saddle. After a couple pedal strokes, my back wheel lost traction over the baby-head rocks and I began to tilt. Thinking nothing of it, I put out my left hand. I wasn't going fast since I was climbing but as soon as my hand hit the ground, I heard a crunch. There wasn't much pain but I knew in my mind that something was broken. I stepped off the bike and was immediately very pissed off. Brian and Lauren stopped to ask if I was okay. I wasn't sure. Not far ahead, Ryan, Andy and Sara stopped to rest in the shade of a juniper tree and I walked up to Ryan and told him I crashed and that there was something wrong with my left wrist. Sara came over to look at it. She wasn't sure how bad it was or she wasn't telling me, but regardless, she wrapped it as best she could using gauze from her kit. Though we had started at the most remote segment of the route, by this point we were about 10 miles out from the only civilized stop, the town of Gateway, Colorado. From the Bike Bible, we knew there was a gas station where we could stop and assess.

The group had all stopped to take a break but Ryan, understanding that I'd be slow going, decided we should continue onto Gateway. I was able to hold on to my handlebars with both hands but only if the terrain wasn't too rough or steep. As long as I could stay seated, I could ride, unlike the last time I was in a similar situation. (It's been at least ten years now but a month before we were to go on the SJH Durango to Moab route, I fell during a race in Kansas City and managed to fracture the radius on my right wrist). 

But this was not that. In fact, though it was already starting to swell and bruise, I could rotate my wrist without pain and all my fingers could move. What I couldn't do was bend it or flex it. Ryan rode a ways ahead to scout the trail for me. There was only one section I had to walk before finally reaching a dirt road that would take us down a thousand feet in just a few miles. It was difficult riding. Ryan flew like nothing while I smoked my brakes, trying hard to stay in control on the loose road. The view was amazing. At one point I just had to stop, not only to cool the brakes but to look around. We were on a pretty precarious ledge that looked down into Unaweep Canyon. According to an online article in Colorado Magazine,
'“Unaweep” means “parting of the waters” or “canyon with two mouths,” depending on who you ask. But long ago, the Utes realized the important point, that Unaweep Canyon is the only known canyon in the world with a divide that drains water out each end. West Creek flows out one end and East Creek out the other. It’s not a radical divide visually, and if you blink, you might even miss it.'
The two creeks cut through the Uncompahgre Plateau where elk and cattle graze. From our vantage point we could see all the way to the horizon. The sky-scraping Precambrian walls, colored many shades of salmon, against the true blue sky never gets old. I've been coming to western slope of Colorado since the early aughts and its grandness humbles me. I'm in awe of it every time. Even then, when I was in pain, it brought me wondrous joy. 

Ryan snapped me out of my vision quest state quickly enough. We had to keep moving so we could get out of this blast furnace. The road turned into a sandy wash at the bottom, which was certainly not ideal when one's bike has a bag the weight of a newborn on its handlebars, making steering nearly impossible. But soon we were on pavement, cruising down the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. Hugging the right edge, I dropped the seat, tucked and pedaled as hard as I could, surprised that I still had the legs. The baking wind off the asphalt did little to cool us as we dropped down to just over 5K, to the canyon's bottom, near the Delores River. 

Just passed the town sign we rolled into an equally steaming black-topped parking lot of a newly-built gas station. We leaned the bikes against the wall and went inside. The rush of air conditioning was shocking and rejuvenating. My pours opened. The brightly lit cold cases containing bottles of every type of thirst- quenching beverage called to me and I wanted all of them. With my helmet still on, I opened one of the doors and just stood there, letting the air envelope me in a rapturous cloud. I grabbed a gatorade and a tube of Pringles and a Snickers bar. I think Ryan grabbed a coke and a beer. After paying, we sat at one of the two bar-stools and inhaled our snacks. While waiting for the rest of the group, I took a Zip-Loc bag out of my pack, and using the pop machine, filled it with ice for my hand. While loitering, we used our phones to check in with the world. I texted my mom and then my youngest brother who was tasked to relay my whereabouts to my dad. It was useless to say anything about my wrist, as it would have only lead to unnecessary worry. The tug of social media was intense, as I had to much to say, but in all honesty the last thing I wanted to do was rub my phone. Instead, I decided to send a bag of local coffee beans, on display at the end of the aisle, to our good friend Larry. (For the past few years, whenever Ryan and I come upon an interesting place selling roasted coffee beans, we buy a bag and send it to Larry, who lives in Harlan, Iowa, about 45 minutes east of Omaha. He shares our affinity for coffee and he can't ride bikes with us anymore due to a hip issue, so we remind him that we wish he was with us by sending him coffee). It just so happened that right next to the gas station was a postoffice that I'd seen when we pulled in so as Larry would say, it was a no brainer. I wrote him a quick note about my wrist and that we were in the town of Gateway, population about 80. There wasn't much to it in the way of development, but it was pretty spectacular if you took the time to look up. 

Eventually the posse arrived. The hut was a few more pedal strokes from the station and it seemed that's where the group was headed, so we ran out to the parking lot to wave them down. If the other huts were any indication, this one was going to be a sauna so there wasn't any hurry. As the group shuffled in and took over the tables, we chatted about what to do next. Brian was in good spirits but his nurse wife wasn't as positive. We had some decisions to make. There was a local, listed in the Biker's Bible, who shuttled riders back to Telluride if their ride ended there. He also shuttled riders to the Utah boarder skipping the near 2k of hike-a-bike out of the canyon. Lauren had already decided she was going to shuttle up the border and said I should go with and split the $100 shuttle fee. I thought the idea was good so Lauren called the shuttle driver and luckily he had an open spot for two that next morning but he had to be back by the afternoon to take the next group behind us back to Telluride. Ryan talked Andy into riding to the next hut and would meet us there. Brian and Sara weren't sure what they were going to do and needed to discuss it but not at the hut. Instead, they were going to get a room at the posh Gateway Resort we'd read about. Owned by the former CEO and founder of Discovery Channel, it's a luxury base camp designed for the well-off adventure set. Ryan thought it seemed like a place where the Hollywood elite went to detox! We bid a good night to Sara and Brian as we loaded up to leave our convenient store oasis. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous that they'd be getting a shower and good night sleep, in an air controlled room, under crisp white sheets.

The four of us cruised down a dusty dirt road to our hot box, which ended up being on another private ranch. No goats this time but there were lamas and horses in a lush pasture, near the river's edge. The hut itself was in a somewhat forgotten section of the ranch, with a broken fence, dead cottonwood trees and most notably, minimal shade. It was painted a pale pink instead of the dark green like the others. Same went for the toilet. We opened the hut and it was like walking into a dark shed, hotter inside than outside. And since there was no breeze, being inside was not an option. We all got out of our riding gear to wash them and hang them up to dry. We spent the next hour or so sitting on a picnic table drinking beer, recapping the rest of the ride after we'd last split up on the top of the canyon. The relentless sun really began to wilt our spirits, despite our best efforts. Ryan tried fishing on the nearby river with his Tankara rod but the water was just too muddy and difficult to get to. By late afternoon, we'd had enough and decided to crash the restaurant at the resort. 

The Gateway Canyon Resort sits close to the highway, beside lush green landscaping. Designed in classic Spanish stucco, the maze of buildings making up the oasis blended in perfectly with the canyon walls beyond its property. None of us had cleaned up much but we didn't care and to our relief, neither did the hostess nor waitress. We were greeted warmly, as if we had just came off the back nine instead of the back country. Our waitress was a transplant from another town, who lived on the resort's property, with roommates, whom together were all in this nowhere town in order to scratch out a living just so they could climb the ancient canyons. Ah, to be young and free! She kept us in margaritas and mules all through our meal. The food was five-star but then again, we had been eating canned meat for the last few days. 

While waiting for dessert, Sara and Brian arrived, all clean and looking fresh, but still uncertain to their plan come morning. All would hinge on how Brian was feeling. Our plan, however, was set: Ryan and Andy would be leaving around 6:00 a.m. while Lauren and I would take the shuttle a bit later. We left the resort buzzed and happy. But by the time we returned to the hut, we were no longer as happy (although Lauren would argue that the farm cat made her very happy). The hope for the air to cool at sundown was a lost cause. The overnight forecast was to be in the mid 70s, some twenty degrees warmer than what I expected, having always traveled to the desert in the spring or fall. We stayed outside as long as we could but one's ass can take so much sitting on a wood picnic bench or stoop. 

The night was tortuous. Worse than trying to sleep on an overnight flight. Worse than trying to sleep in a moving car. I got up twice to go to the bathroom, just to get some reprieve from the stagnate air trapped in hut. At least the hut had a screen door to assist with air movement, had their been any. Even in my sports bra and shorts, on top of my sleeping bag, next to a window, I was miserable. I even tried putting a blue ice pack from the hut's cooler on my chest but even that wasn't enough. My mind was too busy worrying about the lack of sleep and the condition of my throbbing wrist. Alas, despite my efforts, sleep would not come for me.

Day 6 - The Rescue
Total Mileage for Andy & Lauren: 11 Starting Elevation: 7400' Ending Elevation: 8300'

It was still dark when I heard Ryan's phone alarm, and soon thereafter the sounds of boiling water for oats and coffee. As soon as there was enough light to see, I was up, wanting to have a look at my wrist. And it wasn't good. The swelling had increased and all my fingers were turning three shades of purple. My hand looked like a rubber glove filled with air. I could still use my all my digits but my wrist was extremely sore. I was starting to rethink my decision to ride to the hut because it meant riding down to Moab yet the next day. I told this to Ryan even as he was all kitted up and ready to ride. He asked me if I'd rather have him stay to help me figure out what to do next. I reluctantly said yes. This sudden change of plans meant Andy would need to know if he was going to ride by himself or with the others, so he and Ryan rode over to the resort to discuss things with Brian and Sara. Brian came out to meet them to say they'd rather take the shuttle and then ride the rest of the way to Moab. 

The hut group arrived at the gas station around 7:30. Brian and Sara rolled up soon after. The shuttle was scheduled to leave at 8 a.m. There were a couple tables outside the closed gas station where we waited for our rescuer, further discussing our options. It was then that Brian and Sara realized that the shuttle didn't go all the way to the hut but just to the Utah border. If they were to continue to Moab on highways, that would require them to ride a minimum of five hours. Not impossible but it would be during the hottest part of the day. Now we had yet to discuss any of this with our shuttle driver. We knew he had room for four bikes. We also knew he had an afternoon shuttle scheduled to Telluride. We weren't even sure he could take us to Moab, our thinking being that at the very least he may know someone else who could or maybe take us another day. As we waited, a few cars stopped to fill up with gas but none came over to us. Then a small hatchback turned into the lot, with a bike rack on back for two and two racks on top. Surely, that couldn't be our shuttle? The car stopped in front of all six of us and our bikes. An older gentleman, wearing a sun hat and dirty jeans got out of the car, an earring glistened in the morning sun. 

"Good Morning, I'm John Stewart." He had the easy going demeanor of an old time surfer. "I thought I was picking up two riders and taking them to the border?" 

Then Ryan told John the situation--we had two injured riders that wanted to get to Moab. The other two needed to get to the border. 

"Well, this is a conundrum", said John, in his small town drawl, reminding us that he had an afternoon shuttle to Telluride.

"But, I do have a friend who helps me sometimes. Do you want me to see if he can help?" 

As if he needed to ask. We all nodded in agreement. 

"Jacob lives right over there. Has a glamping operation and I sometimes hire him when I need him. Let me go see if he's up". 

And with that, John got back in his car, crossed the wide parking lot and disappeared across the highway. About ten minutes later, we saw his car again, this time with another person with him. A young guy greeted us with a big smile in that very adventure guide sorta way. I felt a bit of relief because for a while I thought this person was going to be very upset that he was being called on last minute. But that was not the case at all. This dude seemed happy-go-lucky and ready for whatever. 

"How much will this cost?" Ryan asked.

John touched Ryan's shoulder in that very grandpa-like way. "Since I need to pay for my friend's time here, how about $400? 

"Done. But, none of us have that kind of cash. Okay if we pay in Moab?" 

"Yep. You'll just need to stop at an ATM. I trust ya."

So with the gentleman's agreement, the plan was in motion. But first John and his buddy had to go get another vehicle. John had a truck that could fit the two bikes for shuttling up to the border. The small car would take the four of us. "Better on gas", John said, giving his waste band a tug as he began into a diatribe of his adventures as a shuttle driver in the middle of nowhere. He was also a rider, on an e-bike of course, and just enjoys helping people. Finally he got around to the business of getting the truck. Once both vehicles were there, it was time to load up. The car had a pretty solid rear rack, which took Brian and Sarah's bikes. My bike and Ryan's went on top, using a tetris of bungie chords and rags to tether them in place. 

"Haven't lost one yet" said Jacob. Dude! Knock on something, I thought.

Once all the bikes were loaded, it was close to 9am. It was a bittersweet departure. Brian, Sara, Ryan and I along with Jacob headed south first, bound for Moab. Andy and Lauren with John, took a dirt canyon road up to the border. It was an ending nobody wanted nor could have imagined happening. But considering where we were, we got pretty lucky that we found a helping hand.

The drive to Moab was stunning. We stopped once at a look-out point near Paradox so Jacob could check bikes, but it was also a place he liked to show newcomers. There we could see a section of a gold mining operation from the 1800's called the Hanging Flumes. As their only way to move water at the adequate grade, unskilled minors built about ten miles straight into the towering cliffs. I stared at the decrepit architecture in complete awe, admitting out loud to Ryan that we are wimps compared to what these people endured. Today, it's considered an engineering marvel. 

Credit Atlas Obscura
The remaining two hours was spent telling tales of adventure. Jacob and his wife owned Gateway Glamping. They just loved to camp and they loved the desert so they bought some land in Gateway as it was cheaper than anywhere else. And business was good, thanks to the internet.  

"First time I've had to shuttle anyone all the way to Moab." Yeah, Jacob, we're glad we could oblige. 

When we arrived in Moab, we stopped first at a gas station to use the ATM. On the way, Brian told us that his debit card had expired and asked if we could spot them the cash. The problem was, Ryan had only one card and it had a $200 limit. I think he had about $100 on him and I had some but it was in the van. We convinced Jacob, which wasn't hard, to drive us to the MTBCRIB where we could get the rest of the cash. Once there, I jumped out of the car to locate my wallet and luckily there was enough cash to pay Jacob and give him a tip. I walked around the van to give him the money when suddenly out of nowhere our friend's college-aged daughter, Abbey, was standing in front of me yelling surprise and giggling! Ryan came around the corner of the van and I was like, look who's here! There were hugs and laughter and what the hells and we learned that she was traveling with a friend in the area. When she saw our van she thought it would be funny to take a picture next to it and send it to us and that's when she saw me. It was a funny, surprising encounter. We said our goodbyes too soon as we needed to get to the Urgent Care when they opened at 11am. But first Ryan bought a case of beer for the bike shop's manager to say thanks for the parking spot. She wasn't in but the girl at the front took the beer saying she had been worried about us. She didn't know that we had made an agreement to park there, and she thought we were a couple of mountain bikers from Florida, lying dead somewhere in the desert. Glad we didn't get towed! Bike shops--they are all the same.

We got everything loaded up and headed for the hospital. We thought we'd see Brian and Sara but they never showed up. (We found out later, they chose to go home and see their local doctor--he was fine, actually). I was first in line though the Urgent Care wasn't officially open. By the time I was lead back, there were half a dozen people there for a myriad of ailments. The x-ray confirmed a fracture, a minor one below the wrist. The tech made me a fiberglass sheath that molded to my hand and wrapped my entire forearm in Ace bandage. After the doctor came back to inspect his work, he said to keep it on for about ten days and then buy a spica brace to support the thumb and wrist, and wear it for 6-8 weeks. 

I was bummed. There went the rest of my Colorado GWO tour. I wasn't going to be healed in time for the Dakota Five-0 either. My only saving grace was that my fingers still worked so I still would be able to volunteer for the Breck Epic, which OMG we needed to get the heck back to Breckenridge because the race was starting in two days! Originally, had the trip gone as planned, we were going to arrive back in Breck as soon as possible on Saturday night, then grab the PA system and be ready to get after it on Sunday. Now we had a day to play with and it all worked out with flying colors. (Even with my broken wing I was able to contribute to the recovery of many, many racers).

Before leaving Moab, we stopped at the hotel where Andy and Lauren's car was parked. We left them a thank you note with the wish that they made it back and that we'd celebrate the adventure later that month. Soon after, taking the scenic route through Monument Valley, we looked off in the distance to the La Sal mountains, where we hoped Andy and Lauren were safe and sound because there was a nasty black cloud over the top and we could see lightening strikes. Our whole trip, we hadn't seen one drop of rain, and now on the last night, it looked like a deluge. I took a picture and sent them a prayer. (They actually had made it just before the rain hit. They also reported better dirt conditions the next day). 

Adventure in the GWO is always unpredictable. That's the draw for us and this trip was no exception. Riding multiple days in a row in the backcountry has its risks. It takes planning. It takes preparation. And it takes a lot of perseverance. Our final tally was around 150-ish miles. Had it not been cut short, it would have been closer to 205. We rode 5 of the seven days, averaging about 4-5 hours each day. With nothing on the agenda but pedal into the Great Wide Open, I don't have anything to complain about. I find that any time away from comfort and digital distractions galvanizes me to my true self, and doing hard things with other people adds depth and color to the story as well as to my own life. We are forever bound by the experience. Yes, it was a bummer I was injured but had it not happened, never would we have met John nor Jacob, nor learned more about Gateway, Colorado; a place where most people don't consider visiting. A place that takes effort to get there but are rewarded when they do. And you better believe it, we are already figuring out how to get back and finish what we started.

Total Mileage for Andy & Lauren:31 Starting Elevation: 7700' Ending Elevation: 4200

As we woke up in Breckenridge, Lauren and Andy were finishing the rest of the route strong, riding into Moab on service roads, skipping Porcupine Rim, which was the other option. They want to try the Durango Route.