Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Six days in Moab

Another trip to Moab is in the rear-view mirror. We've been back for a week, but organizing the photos and doing a writeup took a lot longer than I thought it would.

Upon arrival in town, our fist order of business (other than a bite to eat) was the Slickrock trail. I've done Slickrock enough that it would have been ho-hum except that this was my first time on my 29er. All I can say is that the bike and trail seemed to have been made to go together. The big wheels made easy work of some of the trail obstacles that were challenging in the past.

One of the lines I had never cleaned before was a spur we dubbed "Road to Paris," since Chris Paris was the first person we'd seen clean it. I gave it a shot and didn't make it. Brad tried it and failed. Paul tried it and didn't get it. Chris took a crack at it and couldn't get over the hump. We were ready to give up and move on when Paul took another run at it and made it all the way up. Crap. Now I had to do it. After one more failed attempt, I nailed it, with Brad right behind me. Enough fun there, time to move on.

I've never not made it up Cogs to Spare, but I've never made it on my first attempt either. This time it was a piece of cake. The only thing hard about it was that it's a long, steep climb. But the little crux move was like running over a garden hose, where in the past it has been enough to knock me off balance.

The rest of the day went fairly smoothly other than Steve K's ongoing drivetrain problems. His chain and cassette worked just fine on the tame stuff at home, but when tested on the steep slickrock, kept skipping under load. We replaced it the next day, but walking was required on many of the climbs. Steve K made the comment "I've never wanted to climb steep hills so much until I couldn't."

On the home stretch of the trail, I decided to descend a little gap in the rocks rather than up top where the "trail" indicates. This was one of those gaps with little basins scattered throughout the bottom. Since there'd been rain earlier in the week, these little basins were filled with water. I rolled through the first one with no problem. Hit the second one thinking it was an inch or two deep--wrong. Some witnesses indicate the water was hub deep. Didn't matter, because I was over the bars and wet. No injuries to anything other than my ego, but it was enough to win the endo award for the week. Not really the kind of attention I wanted, but someone's got to win it I guess.

Thursday was our big shuttle day. Hazzard County wasn't open due to snow, so we had to settle for Kokopelli to UPS to LPS to Porcupine Rim. While this trail certainly would have been rideable on the 29er, that's not to say it would have been fun. So I went to Chile Pepper and rented a freeride bike for the day. It's been a long time since I've been on a big bike, and it was a ton of fun. Brad was on his 7 point, so I pretty much just followed him and tried to nail everything he nailed. Which is not to say that we did everything, as we had the sense of self preservation to watch and take pictures while others crashed down the staircase, without actually hitting it ourselves.

I'm always amazed, though, at how much worse a line seems when you're at the top looking down versus watching it on video or looking at pictures after the fact. This little drop seemed like a really big deal at the time, but now that I've watched the video, I'm surprised I balked at it at first and was still hesitant right up to the point where I nailed it.

When we were trying to decide what trails to ride before the trip, I was pretty lukewarm about doing a big shuttle on Porcupine Rim, mostly because it's a rough trail and can really beat up both rider and bicycle. But the consensus was to do this ride, so I embraced it, made the most of it with a big bike, and had a great time. Now I can't imagine going all the way to Moab and not riding that trail, nor can I imagine not doing it on a long-travel bike. It was that fun. Kudos go to Paul N, who flew (himself) in Wednesday night, grabbed a rental bike, and made the most of the shuttle trip with us Thursday morning. Paul is a roadie who hasn't ridden a MTB in 15 years, and this is how we introduced him to Moab.

After a bite to eat, we headed up to Arches so we could hike up to delicate arch. I have no idea how many times I have done this hike, but I never get sick of it. The arch is beautiful in photos (and there are lots of 'em!), but there is nothing like coming around that last rock and seeing it right there in front of you.

Friday we split up the group and headed in different directions. Paul N, having arrived later and missing Slickrock, wanted to ride that trail, so he and Mark P headed over there, while Chris, Steve K, Steve A, Paul, Brad, Eric, and I went the other direction for our own epic ride. (You'll notice that we have a real shortage of naming diversity in the group with two Pauls, two Steves, and two Marks; things only got worse the next day when my brother, Steve, showed up to ride with us. Perhaps next year we'll all just call ourselves Bruce.)

The intended route for the larger group was to ride Gemini Bridges to Gold Bar Rim to Blue Dot to Poison Spider, then back on the road. We saved ourselves a long slog on the road by having Mark P and Paul N drop us off at the Gemini Bridges trailhead. It was a tad hot, and by the time we got to the top of the first big climb on Gemini Bridges, Eric wasn't feeling well. He seriously considered bailing out on the ride, but decided to stick it out. He ended up being glad he did.

Gold Bar Rim was a lot of fun, with lots of chances to climb technical moves. Steve A really stepped it up and exhibited the typical Moab "day 3 mojo." It usually takes about two days to get used to riding there before a rider is comfortable opening it up and really being aggressive. Steve was on my wheel all day and cleaning some pretty impressive moves that stymied even some of the most experienced riders.

Blue Dot is a relatively new trail and probably not "official," much like Sovereign and UPS were not too long ago. It runs more or less parallel to parts of Gold Bar Rim and Golden Spike, but instead of winding back and forth across the top of the mesa, it runs along the edge, including being right at the edge from time to time. Everyone but Paul got off and pushed the bike at the spot where this picture was taken. We all know that it's as wide as a sidewalk and none of us would worry about whether we could ride our bikes on a sidewalk without falling off, but the exposure is just enough to prompt us not to test things. Paul was comfortable on the sidewalk and just rode across.

Besides riding the cliffhangers, Paul does some remarkable stuff on his stumpjumper. It's a XC bike, but he was still rolling it through technical lines and not really hesitating on anything. He's a funny rider, because he's pretty reserved when we're riding at home, but we get down to Moab, and it's as if someone else shows up and starts pushing the envelope.

At the top of Poison Spider/Portal trail, we ran into the Vehicross rally. We had seen them in town and were making jokes about how they had organized a rally and both of them had shown up. We were surprised to find more than a dozen at the top of Poison Spider. They were quite a bit more surprised to find out we had ridden our bikes there from Gemini Bridges.

As we made our way down Poison Spider, we rode along some slickrock that we thought was the trail but that turns out wasn't. When we finally reconnected with the actual trail, we couldn't tell which way we were supposed to go. We asked some guys coming up in Jeeps, who pointed one direction. We should have done just the opposite. The direction they pointed took us on Poison Spider loop, a piece of trail we were not familiar with. While it did in fact get us back to where we wanted to go, we had to cross several big, deep sand traps to get there, including one that had to have been a quarter mile long. Ick.

Once back at the Poison Spider trailhead, whatever it was that was making Eric sick earlier in the ride decided that it needed to come out. So we waited. And waited some more. I was out of water, and it was hot, so Brad, Matt, and I decided to take off down the road so we could stop at the spring on our way back into town. We got our water and cooled off a bit and then got back onto the road right behind the rest of our group. We spent the rest of the afternoon cooling off in the pool.

My wife and kids and my brother and his family arrived shortly after our ride, so the kids joined us for a nice soak before heading over to Pasta Jay's so we could carbo load and do it all again the next day.

Saturday was our last day of riding, and Amassa Back was our destination. Our original plan was to do Sovereign on Saturday, and I brought my rigid single speed with designs on riding it on Sovereign and letting my brother use my 29er. Amassa Back is less suited for a rigid single speed, but I brought the bike all the way down there, so I may as well ride it, right? Brad rode his 7 Point, making Brad's Yeti available for Steve to ride, which he (wisely) chose over my 29er hardtail.

I'm pretty sure the last time Steve rode a mountain bike was last year when we were in Moab. That didn't seem to slow him down though, and he didn't even hesitate rolling down this line that caused the otherwise fearless Mark P to pause.

The trail itself was a lot of fun, though I will say going up was more enjoyable than going down on the single speed. I was surprised at some of the moves I was able to do on the SS--I think the higher gearing forced me to go faster, which gave me enough momentum to get over some of the big step-ups. Matt's a strong enough climber that he spend most of the week off the front while the rest of us struggled along behind him. On Amassa Back, it was a bit different, since the single forced me to go faster up the hills. I yo-yoed with Matt most of the day, passing him, then stopping to catch my breath while he passed me, then repeating the process. He made the comment that he could always hear me coming because I was breathing so hard.

Once at the top of the mesa, we had stunning views all around us, including vistas of the world's most scenic potash plant (intentionally left out of the photos).

No photos of the way down, as Steve and I had to leave the group and book it back to town for the sake of marital bliss. Would have been nice to stick around, as Brad demonstrated his ample skills on the many drops and booters along the trail. On the way down, I got a shoutout from another rigid single speed rider coming up the trail. Rigid single speeds are like their own religion, though I'm not the most devout of members.

One of the cool things that Chris does every year is an awards ceremony on the final day. Chris organized the first of these Moab trips for our group eight years ago, and he has been back every year since, even though he moved away several years ago. Each time he puts together some nice awards and lets the guys vote on who the winners should be. This year's awards were:

Rookie of the year: Steve A
Climber: Matt
Descender: tie between Paul and Mark P, but since Mark has won this award pretty much every time he has come and already had some lock-on grips (the prize for the award), he gave it to Paul.
Endo: yours truly
Most Impressive Rider: Brad--he locked this up by day 2, but kept on impressing. Brad can do it all, uphill and down.

While I was hanging out with the family on Saturday night, the rest of the guys did a night ride on Sovereign. Mark P thought that was the highlight of the trip--I'll need to make sure and give that one a go next year.

The rest of our time in Moab was spent hanging out with the family. We did some nice hikes in Arches, including Park Avenue, which we had never done before.

We also took the kids to their favorite spot--the sandbox between two fins on the Devil's Garden hike. I think we have as much fun as they do just watching them play and run around in the sand.

Before heading home on Monday, we took the kids to hike up to delicate arch. Our youngest fell asleep in the car on the way there, so she and I stayed in the car while everyone else took off on the hike. She only slept about fifteen more minutes, so once she woke, I put her in the pack and hauled her up the trail. We met the rest of the family at the top. Now all of our kids have done that hike, but our oldest holds the record for doing it earliest, since we carried her up there when she was five weeks old.

On the way down, our one-going-on-twelve baby decided that she needed to get out of the pack and hike on her own. It was pretty funny watching her stumble along the trail and stubbornly refuse to hold a hand or receive any other assistance. Eventually I tricked her into getting back into the pack, which saved us from spending all afternoon hiking that last half mile of trail.

Going to Moab is like a ski trip with guaranteed powder. No matter how often I go, I never want to leave, and I always look forward to going back. There's just something magical about that place--even when it's hot and miserable from a weather standpoint, it's still fun. You just can't get much better.