Thursday, May 6, 2010

Virgin Gooseberry trip

Last weekend I was faced with a tough decision: go to Moab with Psycho Rider and the Boise crew, or go to Gooseberry area with Alex, Kris, and Alex’s hunky neighbor.

I’ve been to Moab a bunch of times over the years. It’s always fun. And it would likely be the one chance for the year to ride with the Boise crew, unless I take a trip up there (which I may). Problem is, they stay in hotels, eat out, and start the trip mid-week, so the cost in terms of actual money as well as the perhaps-more-precious vacation days is meaningfully higher.

Alex and his crew sleep on the ground, leave Friday afternoon, come home Sunday night, and effectively brown bag every meal. The trip is done on a shoestring. So I was leaning that way for that reason, but that wasn’t the real kicker.

The real kicker is this: until last weekend, I had never ridden Gooseberry. Moab is known as a mountain biking Mecca. And for good reason. But many of the Utah locals I know prefer Gooseberry. And now I know why. If you took the best of Amassa Back, Slickrock, and Sovereign trails, you’d have Gooseberry Mesa. It’s like a good parts version of Moab. And it’s singletrack. And there are no jeeps or motorcycles. In other words, it’s an unqualified awesome place to ride a bike. Nearby Little Creek and Jem/Rim/Goulds are spectacular trails in their own right.

So with apologies to my Boise friends, I’m glad I chose what I did. Even if it meant not witnessing what was one of the more painful-looking endo crashes I’ve ever seen.

We rolled into the Hurricane area just in time to ride along the rim above the Virgin River while the sun splashed alpenglow onto the adjacent bluffs. Not a bad way to start the weekend.

After trying to sleep through a horrific windstorm, we got up, ate some of Alex’s awesome egg and chorizo burritos, and headed to Gooseberry.

Alex did an awesome post about the geology of the area, which is academically interesting and mind-blowingly beautiful.

A dramatic lunch spot, perhaps more so because Alex, who isn’t bothered in the least by exposure, rode to the end of it and back.

I seriously couldn’t watch him do it (notice I’m turned away in the video). I rode partway out, just sort of following the trail. When I realized how exposed I was, I walked back.

That night we made camp on top of Little Creek Mesa. The wind was blowing mightily against the side of the bluff, but where we were camped right on the edge, we were in the slipstream. It was quite calm, though we could hear the wind raging right next to us. One of the questions we pondered is when you are sheltered from the wind by trees or rocks or whatever, how does the energy of the wind dissipate? Is it lost as heat somehow?

While the comfort of a hotel is nice, camping on a mountain biking trip is its own delight. Sitting by a fire after a great day of riding, knowing there’s another day ahead provides a certain satisfaction that can’t be had otherwise. It helps to have good food and good company. Hunky Neighbor made an awesome potato salad to go along with the steelhead baked in the fire. Kris is one of my oldest Utah friends, pre-dating my move to Utah, and always good company. And we were joined by Cory and Jill, some friends of Alex and Hunky Neighbor, for the evening and next day. Cory is already on my list of nicest people in the world, and his wife Jill kept us entertained with stories about her prior life being married to a Mexican drug lord. It was a fine evening indeed.

The views of the Pine Valley range were nice but the weather made it apparent that hitting Thunder Mountain on the way home wasn’t going to work. This shot was taken next to the primordial pond, which was teaming with tadpoles (or perhaps some other creatures that will fill the evolutionary void when we humans kill ourselves off).

The riding on Little Creek was nice—similar to Gooseberry but a little more pristine and a little less technical. I liked Gooseberry a bit better, but I’d never turn down either one. Of course it didn’t help that wind and even a skiff of snow dampened our spirits to the point that we cut the ride short and skipped riding out to the “big trees.”

The only downside to the trip was the most nearly-fatal crash I’ve ever had on a bike. There are several sections of both Little Creek and Gooseberry where you’re riding right on the edge of a cliff. None of these sections are particularly difficult, but an unlikely fall in the wrong direction would mean certain death.

While riding one of these sections on Little Creek, there was a small step-up onto what appeared to be a flat rock. It was an easy move that I should be able to nail every time. Except that I didn’t account for the fact that the flat rock was not so flat underneath and tipped to the side when my front tire weighted it. It was just enough to put me off my balance. I threw myself to the right, away from the exposure, then reached for my bike to keep it from falling the other way. No physical damage, but I was a bit shaken up. OK, I was a lot shaken up.

I keep thinking I’ll get over my fear of exposure one of these days. And while I’m not comfortable with it, it’s not like I avoid it either. But I keep having experiences like this and the slide down Little Pine chute last year that hack down any courage I may have built up. Perhaps I should just avoid locations with place names beginning with “little” during the month of May.

Dug says if he could have just one trail in his backyard, it would be Gooseberry. I have to agree, especially since if it were in Dug’s backyard, it would more or less be in mine. Gooseberry isn’t in our backyard, but a four hour drive ain’t bad (and it’s not like Corner Canyon, which is in our backyards, sucks either). I’m just a little embarrassed that it took me this long to get there. It won’t take me nearly so long to get back.


  1. "Last weekend I was faced with a tough decision: go to Moab with Psycho Rider and the Boise crew, or go to Gooseberry area with Alex, Kris, and Alex’s hunky neighbor."

    you also could have come and skied the new mystery chute and little superior with 3 feet of fresh.

    decisions, decisions.

  2. Good summary. I particularly enjoyed your photos - some really good shots.

    You rode smooth and confidently on trail that was completely new to you - impressive.

    I'm embarrassed that I haven't done a few notable trails in Moab like Bartlett Wash, Golden Bar Rim and Amassa Back. The upside is I love riding a trail for the first time, and I'm sure I'll ride these trails eventually.

    And finally, thanks again for the salmon. I still salivate when I think about it.

  3. Oh yeah, the drug-lord story. That was great. And didn't you just love that he's now a Mexican cop??

  4. Very nice. After reading your writeup and Watcher's, I have to ride down there one day. I'm even willing to camp and eat chorizo... It looks like a truly amazing trail. Brad N talks about what a great trail it is as well.

    We had a great time in Moab.