Moab – Road Trippin’ & Mountain Biking

MOAB

The following story has a few goals in mind. First, we want you to get stoked on the open road. Road tripping is easy; often much easier than one thinks. Second, anyone can ride Moab. There are a lot of different levels of terrain there. Three, the place is a trip. Riding around every blind corner, I thought I was going to see Jim Morrison wandering about in a daze, wearing jeans, no shirt and some aviators. Needless to say, I wished I were 15 years younger discovering my own psychedelic path through life… in Moab.

Our trip consisted of a Volvo wagon, some life saving Yakima racks, some camping gear and three good friends. Adam works in the gaming industry, Fanny works in a resort as a massage therapist and I work in front of a computer between rides, trying to put out magazines. The reason for the intros is I want everyone to know we are just 3 average people; none of us are superstars in the saddle. We’re just your average crew that likes to ride bikes. I purposefully set out with the goal of not telling anyone I was the editor for MB. I wanted the straight dirt (or sandstone, in this case), on Moab. No sponsors. No biased information. The real Moab.

PORCUPINE RIM

After 22 hours of driving, one fight between a couple and a lot of pressure from me to get there so we could catch a late shuttle up Porcupine Rim, we were there. I have been dreaming of my return to Moab for almost 3 years now. Previously, I had done a detour on another trip and got in one ride down Porc Rim. On that trip we showed up at three in the afternoon and managed to catch a late shuttle up. I knew if we hustled we still had a chance to ride on our first day.

As we pulled in to Moab I was slightly disappointed, they had changed the Moab sign; on the old one someone cleverly placed an “I love BJ’s” sticker on the “O.” The new sign was green and had lost its charm. We pulled into the Moab Cyclery, walked in like a stunned crew of yahoos and the nice lady at the counter said the shuttles were done for the day…bummer. But within a second, a young guy name Mat said he’d take us up. We were stoked! As it turned out Mat was the key to our stay. He gave us a lot of information on the trails we would later ride and places to stay for cheap, which was just what we were looking for. He also mentioned tales of shredding the La Salles on his snowboard the previous week, which I was extra stoked on, since that’s another mission I have on my list of things to do before I’m done.

You have the option to shuttle Porc Rim or you can pedal it from town. With desert heat being a little gnarly I suggest the shuttle if you’re starting late. It still has a bit of a climb to the top and there is a lot of pedaling on the way down too. The first three quarters of the trail is mainly double track jeep road. A lot of people bag on double track but here it’s pretty damn fun. Most of it is a choose-your-own adventure with rock slabs and various loose lines. Your mind and technique are constantly challenged; it’s not just a mindless pedal over dirt roads.

The trail was firing and everyone was stoked, until it happened again. I snapped my chain (last time here I had a similar mechanical). After digging through my bag I realized I switched bags last minute and failed to transfer my chain breaker. After half an hour of unsuccessful Macgyver attempts, I was rolling down the trail chainless. About ten minutes later, I flatted. I was just about to throw my bike of a cliff into the canyon. I was hitting the downhill as fast as I could but with my single wall tires it was inevitable that I was going to flat with the rocky and often sharp ledges. After a quick temper tantrum I fixed it up and selected my lines a little more carefully. I knew I just had to get through a few uphills and eventually I would see the “Singletrack” sign that has been in my dreams for the last three years.

Past that sign is what my brain compares all trails to; buff packed trail that rips along the side of a spectacular canyon ledge. It’s up to the rider on how to interpret a trail like this; my interpretation is to ride it fast, rail the corners and pop transfers off all the natural tables and hips. For me this is mountain biking. The fact that I had no chain just meant I would have to dig deeper and carry more speed. I did, and my hunger was filled. I arrived at the trail’s end to Adam grinning ear to ear. “Sorry, I just couldn’t wait,” he said. “Once I saw that sign. I was too deep in the zone to consider waiting.” I wasn’t too fussed.

It’s a bit of a pedal back to town and it’s even longer trying to skate your bike. Adam and Fanny went for the car as I started one footing my bike along a dark highway. I tried to hitchhike when a vehicle would pass but nobody was stopping. I gave up on hitching when a random guy in a big truck decided to slow down and take the time to laugh at me. Whatever dude! I eventually made it back, got a greasy Denny’s burger and called it at night at a local motel.

Moab Travel Tip 1: Most of the restaurants stop serving food at 10-ish. Unless you want to eat the gnarl they call food at Denny’s you best plan accordingly. Tip 2: Don’t go riding with out more than one spare tube, a chain breaker, a pump, levers and Allen keys. Moab had a way of beating up light travel bikes and it’s a long walk out!

AMASA BACK

We woke the next day to unpleasant housekeepers staring us down (not cool). Our plan was to hit another Moab classic, the Amasa Back trail. We also wanted to secure a campsite for the rest of the week. On the advice of the kind folks at the Moab Cyclery we decided to camp just to the west of downtown along the Colorado River in a tree-lined and shady area along Kane Creek Road. The campsite is set up for basic camping (no showers and no running water). At five dollars a night you couldn’t expect more. Across the road is another site, the Moonflower campground, an 8-site area that is quite the opposite of our choice. Moonflower is set in a typical Moab ambience, sculpted by bright sandstone formations and a moon-like landscape. I would much prefer this place to our spot, especially since it was free. However, it didn’t have much in the way of protection from the sun and it wasn’t lucky enough to be along the river. Escaping the sun in Moab proved to be a mission at times. Our location was well shaded and also offered us a dip in the river after a long hot ride. I highly recommended this spot if, like us, you’re doing Moab on budget.

The Amasa Back trail is an ‘out and back’ type ride. This area was the western edge of the continent 200 million years ago so it’s loaded with ledges of sandstone and amazing rock formations. We were advised of another trail off of Amasa named ‘Jackson’ which we decided to look for. After an hour of climbing technically challenging double track laced with more ‘whoa’ views than your camera card will hold, you will eventually cross a pipeline. While the pipe interrupts the naturalness of the ride, it sure makes for a good trail marker. You hang a right, punch up a small ridge and greeting you is an overview of the Colorado River. We didn’t know it at the time, but if you look to the right you can see where the trail ends up. In retrospect it was a long way away. The crazy thing is, when you realize that the miles of canyon wall you will be traversing across is the actual trail. Before you drop in though, go back to the double track, keep your legs moving and ride up to the top. It can get a bit tricky staying on the right trail but it’s well worth the confusion. At the end of the trail is a cliff-edge lookout. The lookout is on top of what is likely a few hundred feet of straight down cliff with a spectacular valley below. It’s a good spot to get some food and drink in you and take minute to get philosophical with your existence (whoa dude, we’re all so insignificant…). Now give your head a shake and head back to Jackson trail.

Jackson is one for dreamers like me. If you ever wanted to scare yourself while in the surroundings of one of the longest lasting and overwhelming views this is the trail for you, a photographers dream. We started riding later in the day with the idea of irie sunsets and light that changes lifestyles. When we pulled up to the Jackson trailhead, the golden hour kicked in (Ed’s note: late day light will make your ride one hundred times more epic). The trail dances along the side of a canyon wall. This trail’s a real mind f#ck. Pardon my language, but there are a lot of technical sections on the trail. While few I would consider very challenging, most are just your average random rock piles with a ride-able line through them. The problem out here is these seemingly “average” sections are often a wobble away from a hundred foot tumble in to the big brown drink called the Colorado River. I have to admit I walked more than a few sections of this trail and looking back I have some regrets, but whatever; at least I can look back and I’m not dead floating down the river…right?

After a few more ridiculously exposed corners, the trail finishes with long wide-open rolling singletrack, so really it could only be described as… perfect. At the trail’s end we we’re “haulin’ oats” when we were abruptly surprised to find a river crossing. I guess when the river is backed up it floods a low spot in the trail. After a lot of “this can’t be?” and “how deep could it be?”, Adam said he was going for it. The river had to be at least waist deep and with a Camel Back full of camera gear I wasn’t about to find out for sure. While Adam prepared for a wet crossing I wandered desperately looking for a drier route. The river’s banks were steep and mostly not walk-able but just when I was about to turn back I saw four dogs prancing around the banks. I hollered at the dogs hoping their owner would appear and she did. While she gave us enough info to lead me to believe we could skirt the edge of the banks out of here, she was one mysterious lady! She seriously left me stumped. For every question I asked she provided me with some sort of riddle to figure out. What a tripper… but a nice and helpful one.

After our less than graceful exit we hit Kane Creek Road and a quick and slightly dark road ride lead us right to our campsite. This was our first night out in the elements and Fanny made us some of the most gourmet salad I’ve had in ages. It was a perfect cap for a long day of adventuring.

SLICKROCK

No trip to Moab would be complete without riding the legendary ‘Slickrock’ trail. Of course it was next on the list of classics to ride. This is the trail that put Moab on the map so we were pretty excited to ride it and see what the legend was all about. Once again, the day proved to be more of a mini-adventure than simply going for a ride. The Sand Flats Recreation Area is an immensely elevated platform of sandstone surrounded by cliffs, canyons and massive rock formations. Ancient wind blown sand dunes have created this unique treasure. Simply put, it’s like riding on the moon.

We paid our $5 park fee, found the trailhead and started to pedal. The fact they have a practice loop to see if you’re ‘up for it’ lead me to believe I was in for a long day. We decided against the warm up and marched on. The trail itself is well marked with paint markings every so often. At first I wasn’t so stoked on the markings but later realized that they are needed. Not only is it easy to wander off the trail and get lost but it also keeps all the traffic on the trail, leaving the rest undisturbed. The actual trail is littered with hours of tough short climbs, followed by flowing ridgelines. When I say it’s like riding on the moon it really is. While I personally didn’t find the ride to be on my list of all timers, Fanny loved it. I think the ride is likely a favorite of those who thrive on challenging ascents. That’s not to say old lazy bones didn’t have a screaming time, it just doesn’t stack up to the “singletrack” section on Porc Rim that my brain uses as a measuring stick.

The loop is about 13 miles, which is pretty short by Moab standards. It can be ridden in 2 1/2 to 3 hours but you need to take into consideration the heat and the challenge of some of the ‘up’ sections. By the time we reached the halfway point nasty weather was starting to move in. We could see lightning striking in the distance above the glorious La Salle mountain range. While some might think this is a sign to hurry up and get out of there, I found it a good opportunity to absorb one of Mother Nature’s greatest shows, the lightning storm. I was in Moab, riding my bike on the legendary Slickrock trail while watching a magnificent lightning storm; how could that be any more epic? The haunting dark purple skies raved on above pink canyon walls and white snowcapped peaks; it was one hell of a show. But, perhaps I enjoyed it too long. Just as we got back to the car the downpour started, which was cool because we were done and in the car. We decided it really wasn’t that cool when we realized we left the tarp off the tent which was a 20 minute drive away. By the time we got back to the campsite the storm had passed, it was quick and to the point. I opened the tent to find a healthy sized puddle had formed on my sleeping bag. I zipped the door back up and a said “I’m willing to cut my losses here, let’s get a room.” Everyone agreed and as fast we arrived we were out of there.

Moab Travel Tip 3: We crashed at the Ramada Inn that night. The clerk was blunt with us and told us it is midweek and she needs to fill rooms. She discounted the rate to $79 for a double, other places asked for more. I think it was fair price for being located downtown on the strip; and it was a nice room to boot.

We were HUNGRY! So we went to a place that had all you can eat pizza. Other than the bus boys giving their best Jerry Seinfeld pant hike impersonations and 8-foot tall guy with a foot of ‘party in the back’ mullet action named Billy Bob, this place was a little less than charming. The pizza was a lure for hungry suckers like us. Lucky though the beers were gigantic and rinsed my memories of bad over priced pie away.

SOVEREIGN

The next morning we had smoothies at our new favorite stop in Moab, the Peace Tree CafĂ©. If you’re into organic food or tasty treats I highly recommend frequenting this place. After our smoothies, we headed back to camp to survey the previous night’s damage. With a quick trip to the 24-hour laundromat and the hot sun to dry things out and we were ready for the next adventure. We stopped at the Cyclery, and after talking to some seasoned visitors from Whistler (who I would later realize was the McSkimming family – Rob plays a big role in the Whistler Bike Park development) we decided our next ride would be Sovereign, a relatively new singletrack just north of town in the low mesas of the Klondike Bluffs.

The ride is less of an all day ‘epic’ ride like Porc Rim or Amasa Back but was still super fun. It offered us buff singletrack on rolling terrain, some nice sandstone features to climb and twisty singletrack to rip. We drove the 10 miles out of town, turned right at Willow Springs Road and found the parking lot. It was overcast when we got started late in the afternoon, but still really hot because the area is in the high desert. A short sandy double track led us to the trail, which started with a series of climbs up the mesa on some shale slopes. The trail is well marked with blue paint on the rocks to guide you. Sovereign is highlighted by a couple of grueling climbs and again, more amazing views. It’s generally pretty flat with not much in the way of elevation gain but every time thoughts of “when is this trail going to pick up?” entered my head, I would be treated to a high speed ripping section of singletrack, and I love single track, so yes I loved this ride too!

Just before the turn around point you’ll get to a ridge. You’ll see some marveling views that really make you wonder what’s going on in this world. After you’re done with deep thoughts the trail drops in and it’s a good rough and bumpy ride down with lots of corners to dig deep in. The only problem is, you have to make your way back up this section you just ripped. To me that steals a little bit of the charm of that descent. Not a big deal, but I think the climb up zonked me for my energy. Then there it was; that oh too familiar crackle of thunder. Just as we were pedaling our butts back, the skies changed. I have never seen skies change like they did early that evening. That rich shade of dark purple quickly filled the horizon, the bottom of the clouds were a watery yellow flushing rain from its bowels. It was a beautiful sight contrasted against the colorful rock and plant life that stood guard on the edge of our precious trail. We were going to get wet. I accepted it and was content with it, mostly because we only had about 5 miles to go and I remembered to put the tarp on the tent.

What I didn’t mention earlier was the first 5 miles up was mostly a gentle climbing pitch over mixed rock slabs and sandy singletrack. The 5 miles may have stole some of my mojo on the up, but like a good mojo; it was there for me when I needed it. The rain spotted the rocks to what looked like a giraffe’s coat. Eventually the trail and rocks would be covered in rain and that mojo thieving up hill would turn into the most refreshing downhill section of my year. Honestly, I was feeling so alive; bombing the trail and then hitting the nicest corner of my season. You know the feeling when you look back at a corner like it was an attractive looking lady you just passed and were lucky enough to make eye contact with? That’s what it was like…so stoked! After what seemed like half an hour we rolled into the parking lot. We admired the red sludgy muck caked to our wheels and bike frames. On the road back we were treated to a clearing sky and a triple rainbow over Moab. Do those even exist? It did that day in Moab.

Moab Travel Tip 4: The weekend is busy in Moab, plan ahead or get there early. People are after the campsites early in the morning and hotels are booked solid. We checked just about every hotel thinking we were going back to another flooded tent. Every place was booked. Plan smart!

As it turned out the rain didn’t make it to our campsite, which was a bit of a trip because the road, which is less than 60 feet away was wet and caked in sandstone sludge. We weren’t going complain and wrapped up another eventful day in the desert.

KOKOPELLI

On our first day in Moab, Mat mentioned some trails that were high above Porcupine Rim that eventually connected with the trail. It sounded unreal, some 9,500 vertical feet of trail sounded too good to be true. We booked a ride up early to the Kokopelli trail head, which is at about 8,600 feet. From here there was some confusion; another rider in the bus made small talk on the way up and mentioned how his crew was going higher to ride some new trail that connected with Kokopelli. Obviously, any chance to make the ride even more epic I was going to listen in on. He wasn’t shy on giving away his information but when it came to actually getting directions, he shut down. Whatever, no biggie. What we did learned was the trail ended at the drop-in at Kokopelli, so we just pedaled straight up until we hit the lush alpine meadows. The climb turned out to be my favorite of the trip, the singletrack was like no other in Moab; it was twisting and rolling through flowery alpine meadows; green, fresh and healthy, with stunning views of the snow covered La Salles.

We pedaled for about 5 miles until we turned back and ripped the same trail down. We were all in the zone on this one. This was as dreamy as single track comes and while totally different than Porc Rim’s track it sure gave it a run for its money. It never seemed to end and when it did we cried both from joy but also from the pains in our calves. Truly a must ride!

Here’s where there was some confusion. I thought Kokopelli was the actual trail you ride but you actually want to ride UPS and connect with LPS. Fanny who has to ride everything was a little disappointed when we learned this. But we would later learn from a local guide that UPS was actually closed. Which contradicted what the cowboy from Coyote Shuttles said when we were slightly lost changing flats on the road. We did manage to get confusing as hell directions back to LPS though.

While changing flats, Adam realized he had a bigger fish to fry when he noticed his sidewall was blown out and torn. He put a tire patch on it and chose to ride the road out because he had about 4 hours of trail left and felt it was a little risky (wise move). So Fanny and I continued on, we found our trailhead again and LPS turned out to be another astonishing ride. This trail tracked the rim of the canyon wall. On what seemed like every other corner we were literally looking at the valley floor hundreds of feet down, after a few bobbles from admiring the view and not the trail, I quickly smarted up and stayed focused on the ride. It was long and twisted and turned like one of the many snakes I saw in the desert. Eventually we met up with the lookout at Porc Rim. At this point, Fanny and I both sun burnt on the left side of our bodies, took a break and prepped for the final leg.

Today was the day, although a little nervous I packed 3 spare tubes, a chain breaker, extra links and a bunch of other stuff to insure that I was wasn’t leaving Moab without riding the Rim with a fully functioning bike. Fanny sensed my stoke and together we charged every uphill and absolutely bombed every downhill. The trail had so many sections where you dive into a line and you can’t get out of it until it lets you out; you just have to pray the exit is clean and head sized rocks don’t take you or your bike down. On more than a few occasions I felt like I was Rennie on a DH rig ripping apart DH trail. Quick reminders were often, when I’d get bucked on some loose stuff and look down and see my little 2-inch single ply tire begging for me to let up.

Once again I pulled up to the “Singletrack” sign, this time my heart was racing. The starting section I was forced to coast last time was now a full out assault on my cranks. I hit that section of winding corners so fast and out of control and I don’t even remember the rest of the trail as I was lost in trance. An accumulation of three years of anticipation, a botched ride just days ago and heat that was melting my brain had me zoned. As my brain oozed down my shoulders, which now matched the color of the red rock I noticed Fanny was nowhere near. I hid in a shaded cave and waited, she showed up with a story of three flats and no more tubes.

We continued on and ignored the people soaking in what seemed like a pool but turned out to be only a 2-foot in diameter puddle. Fanny coasted on her rim and I milked the last section for every bit of pump, bump and rip it was worth. I had a feeling our last day of riding was here and grinned my way down to the car. Adam who waiting in a 1 by 1 foot patch of shade handed me a Gatorade. I slammed it back, it was warm as p…! You gotta love the heat.

With mechanicals that were going to cost a hundred bucks or so we decided that we were content with our trip. We decided to get a good meal at an amazing Mexican restaurant called Fiesta. They have good prices and killer ambience. Across the street we found a classic iron-on shirt shop and bought retro Moab tees. It was such a chill night in Moab, but it was Friday and we could see things were starting to pick up. The 4X4 trucks got bigger and more frequent and after a bit of wandering we headed back to camp anticipating a long drive home the next day.

Before we hit the road home we stopped in for a quick tour of Arches National Park. Quick was probably the wrong idea; the park is huge and nothing short of spectacular. We checked out the Arches and Windows, and again I waited for Mr. Morrison to wander up to us, say something like “the windows are only gateways to your perception…” and then hand me a fistful of peyote buttons. But it wasn’t to be on this day. We hit the road before he could track us down and headed north.