ONE OF THE MOST AWE-INSPIRING PLACES I’ve ever ridden a bike is Moab, Utah.
The red rocks are breath-taking. The trails, and there are dozens of them, range from easy, to challenging, to treacherous. It was 2005 and I was, once again, getting serious about the bike. I was still riding my old Haro mountain bike that I purchased in Phoenix 10 years before. But I had the itch to achieve bigger and better things on two wheels.
My sons and I had talked about going to Moab for years. I wanted to experience it before my back problems got any worse. Now was the time, but after a year of planning, only one of them could make the trip, and so we took along another buddy, Kris, from Florida.
Because Moab is not the easiest place for out-of-towners to get to, we flew into Denver and drove southwest over the Rockies. We rented bikes rather than shipping our own. That’s always a crap shoot, but we were lucky. A local bike shop set us up with some pretty decent Giant full suspension rigs—much better than the bikes we left at home. None of us were really strong cyclists at the time (some of us less strong than others) so we had an adventure ahead of us.
More work than we imagined
The first day out the wrench at the bike shop took one look at us, and suggested we try an easy trail. “I think you boys will like Klondike Bluffs”, he said. “It’s a little tamer than most.” We accepted his recommendation and headed north.
Klondike offers a little of everything for the mountain biker. You’ll encounter single-track, semi-technical sections, and slick rock sections that will test your climbing and downhill abilities. The locals consider it a starter course, I considered it moderate, and my ride buddies gazed up the trail and just said, “Oh crap!”
The elevation ranges from 4700-5400 feet. It’s 15 miles out and back, and about 20 miles outside of town. Like most first-timers, we got a late start; there was no one on the trail, and even in September the day was heating up quite rapidly. It occurred to me that a person could really get into trouble out here if he wasn’t prepared. We took off, first on a gravel road, and then onto a badly washed out fire road. We struggled with the trail for hours, made a wrong turn, got hung up in a sandpit, and laboriously made our way up some slick rock onto a rocky plateau—the end of the “out”.
We paused on top for a look-see. The view overlooking Arches National Park was spectacular and humbling! It’s just crazy beautiful! And the ride down was exhilarating! Loose gravel, steep grades and super fast slick-rock (complete with dinosaur fossils) made our return more technical that we expected. But we did it--two geezers and the kid--we made it! And we were proud!
Be prepared, then have fun
In my opinion, to truly enjoy what Moab has to offer it’s best if you’re a reasonably skilled rider and in better that average physical condition. It’s not the place for first-time riders wanting to try out that new bike they got for Christmas. I also think you need to know something about how the bike works so that mechanical failures don’t leave you stranded. You should also have some knowledge about nutrition, proper hydration, and how to handle strenuous activity in hot weather.
A sad story
We returned to town that evening, exhausted, and walked Main Street to a local brew pub for a beverage and a meal. There we heard a painful story. The year before, a young female cyclist died. Not from some spectacular crash over a cliff and down razor sharp rocks (an image that kept popping into my subconscious), but from heat exhaustion and dehydration. The red rock canyons radiate extreme midday heat in July and August. She was alone, lost, and without anyone awaiting her return. Her body was discovered two days later by a small group of cyclists.
You can’t go into these canyons ill prepared. First, you should have a ride buddy. Second, you should have a trail map. Make sure you take ample food, hydration, tools and at least a patch kit and an extra tube. If you have a mechanical breakdown you’d better know how to at least apply a band-aid fix. If you get hurt, it’s nice to have someone who can administer some first aid. And don’t count on a cell phone—coverage is sketchy in many areas.
Know your physical limitations
On day two of our Moab adventure my son and I took off for Amasas Back Trail, while Kris took in some other sights. Amasas is a more ambitious ride, 21 miles out and back from town, with a 1400 foot elevation gain, and lots of loose rocks and narrow ledges. By ten o’clock in the morning the temperature was already in the 90s, which means the radiated temps were well over 100--and there is no shade. We were both sore from the day before, and sweating heavily by the time we arrived at the trailhead. We started up the trail and within the first seven miles of the climb—after cornering a few ledges that were only a foot wide—we made a decision. We were too new at this. We were still fatigued from the day before. We were already overheated, and Amasas was probably a little more than we could safely handle that day. It would have to wait for our next trip.
That was nearly seven years ago. Today, I’m in ten times better shape (although still with back problems), and I write about bikes and cycling. I mentor anyone new to cycling that’s willing to listen, and I’m eager to plan my next Moab trip. Next time I will likely spend a week. The first order of business will be the Skinny Tire Festival, a 100 mile road ride through the red rocks of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Then I’ll spend a couple of days mountain biking. I still have to show Amasas who’s boss.