[Note: When the holidays slow news down, we reach into Santa’s bag of tricks for a hearkening back to our favorite rides. This week we’re featuring a 2004 expedition to Moab, Utah, America’s mountain biking mecca and an international magnet for mountain bikers everywhere.]
What happens in Moab, in case it’s not blindingly clear by now, does not stay in Moab. My Turner XCE still has traces of red dust, which I hope will remain there through the summer. The frame also sports my mascot kokopelli and Poison Spider stickers, but the dust makes it truly organic. I’ve also got a kokopelli ring, two t-shirts, a baseball cap and various other remembrances, including these musings. Fortunately, what happens in Moab does not need to stay in Moab either…most of the time.
For some reason this trip I packed my digital camcorder. I’ve had the thing for several years now, but it’s a brick (nearly 2 lbs.) and doing video on a ride is even more logistically obnoxious than snapping photos. I remember after getting the camcorder being all hot to shoot MTB rides. After a couple attempts the camcorder went back to the shelf, and I haven’t really done much with video since.
The problem with video is that it slows you way down. You have to mentally compose the sequence, think through subject, framing, panning, length and other considerations, and do it all before the actual set-up so you have enough time to get it right. In the meantime, you’re hardly focused on riding. So the quality of the ride experience suffers. And anyone who knows me knows I like to say how it’s all about the ride.
I’d been to Moab enough, and knew that because it was Jim Lyon’s first time we’d have to do the usual routes, that I figured what the heck. Let’s focus on getting some video this time around, and if the riding suffers, at least it’ll be just a one-off disappointment.
I didn’t have a helmet cam, and in some ways am glad. We’ve all seen endless sequences of riders’ backsides along miles of singletrack. Two things are going on here. The helmet cam makes for monotonous composition. And the rider wants to enjoy the ride rather than concentrate on movie-making.
But with a helmet cam you never quite know what you’re getting, and even if it’s spot on you’re getting minute after minute of pretty much the same thing. With video you just can’t do that. The viewer’s attention span isn’t that elastic. Besides, a helmet cam severely limits framing and content. You can’t pan, you can’t do overall shots. You pretty much only see riders’ butts on the trail ahead.
Without a helmet cam, though, you have to pack your camcorder in your bladder pack and dismount, get it out, turn it on, etc. etc., every time you shoot. And all this slows you way down. It also tries your co-riders’ patience. When Jim suggested at one juncture on the 26-mile Race Loop that I was holding things up, I offered that perhaps he wouldn’t want to see the video. That’s pretty much the tradeoff in a nutshell. I was forever holding up the ride. But if you want the footage you have to pay the piper.
Day Three was slated for Moab Rim. I had wanted the day before to try for a jumbo combo of Poison Spider/Portal and Moab Rim in a day. It’s certainly doable, although Jim’s mechanical problem on Poison Spider had killed our chances. Jim, by the way, was made whole on a visit to Moab bike shops after Portal. First we hit Poison Spider, who suggested Dreamride. In the little incestuous world of MTB and Moab, Dreamride is Lee Bridgers’ local tour company. Bridgers, the Edward Abbey of mountain biking (actually, Bridgers is a cult unto himself, but that’s another story) and a great raconteur and writer, is the guy you’ll find on the Web denouncing the ruination of Moab by crust-busting tourists. Mountain bikers included, unfortunately.
In any case, it turns out Dreamride, a big Ellsworth supporter over the years, has switched to Ventana and doesn’t carry Ellsworth stuff any more. The reasons for the switch also would take another story, but it meant Jim was coming up dry in his quest for a new pivot bolt. Not to worry. We cruised by Moab Cyclery and noted a fleet of Truths and Ids out front. One used gold medium Id, fully tricked, was going for the drop-dead asking price of $2,750. It’d been ridden once. We all offered each other various rationalizations for an impulse buy, but better sense prevailed. Jim picked himself up a new bolt and was soon good to go.
Moab Rim, after the initial killer climb, is a fairly straightforward out and back to Hidden Valley (for some reason I always want to call it Heavenly Valley, but I think that’s because of the petroglyphs above it). A lot of slickrock, some sand (more sand if you take the gulley way back), and heavenly singletrack through the valley. But it’s all too short. The view from the Rim is soulful, as long as you ignore the chairlift, but Portal’s is better and neither can touch Porcupine Rim. The other thing going for Moab Rim is the petroglyphs. It gives you pause to think about how well they’ve stood up against the forces of time, and how much they communicate despite their first-glance crudeness.
We hit Hidden Valley a little early for the wildflowers, which are truly splendid. But the singletrack was its wonderful flowing, sashaying self. If it were only about 12 to 15 miles longer it’d be a world-class destination. As it is, it’s a testament to Moab’s lamentable dearth of singletrack, and a reminder of why we all love Washington State.
I’ll never ride Moab Rim without revisiting an incident Lenny and I witnessed a few years back. We were resting at the spot where the double-track curls around before hitting the final trail ascent when we heard something that sounded like screams, but not the panicked kind. Atop a pedestal rock toward the glyph walls we could see their source. Two women, assisted by apparatus we could only guess at, were intimately involved, to the point they didn’t really care who might be within shouting distance. I’ve run into occasional in flagrante delicto on the trails, but this had to be the most public I’d ever encountered. Later Lenny and I saw them trail-running through Hidden Valley, apparently heading home down over the cliff side. They had big smiles on their face. We thought about saying, “Hi again!”
Nothing quite that audacious happened this time out. (The aforementioned Lee Bridgers has a whole chapter on outdoor encounters in his Falcon guide to Moab rides, one of the best tour books ever written imho.) We ran into some Canadians – they were all over Moab, as they always are – and assorted other riders, especially on the climb from the trailhead. The locals are putting in a lot of singletrack between the lift and the climb/downhill. Well, a lot for Moab anyway. Jason took a tumble on the screaming descent, which I captured on video. Note the accompanying Midnight Oil soundtrack lyric, a line that had reverberated the day before when we read the Portal sign about three riders plunging to their deaths: “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” (Adapted from the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.)
We did derive one great nugget from a conversation up on the Rim. A rider we encountered told us about a new trail north of town, almost all of it desert singletrack. Jim’s ears really perked up at that one. After three days of mostly bare rock and jeep road, we were ready for some trail-thrashing.