|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!
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.