[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.]
You might think that after riding 32-plus miles and climbing 4,000-plus feet on Porcupine Rim, a rest day was in order. But this is Moab, we’re here for only eight days, we can rest when we’re dead and besides, there’s a loop with the word “race” in it still awaiting our inspection.
The 26-mile Spring Race Loop has been around for awhile but I’d never dreamed of doing it. The high point, literally and figuratively, is Amasa Back. So why not just do Amasa and leave it at that? You can look out from Amasa and see a sizeable portion of the race course on the valley floor, and in the heat of the day it looks like something hospitable only to Ali Baba and his 40 thieves. Whenever I’d asked about it on previous rides I got blank stares.
But the word “race” is like waving a checkered flag at Jim Lyon. And this being his first trip there, he didn’t know enough yet to know that in Moab, “race” has its own idiosyncratic definition.
The route starts from the Amasa parking lot but instead of picking up the trail heads out Kane Creek Road toward Hurrah Pass. The road climbs and drops, and then you take a right turn and start the climb up a long winding 4WD road to the pass. There is some spectacular stark wind-sculpted scenery but the riding itself is fairly routine.
For some reason riding Moab always brings to mind the Meat Puppets song, covered by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana in their Unplugged concert, called “Plateau.” “Ain’t nothin’ on top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds.” On Hurrah Pass there ain’t even a bucket or a mop, but the same point certainly applies.
From Hurrah you get to rocket down the road to Jackson Hole. On the way I ran into a guy in a pickup who said there was water at his camel ranch that we were welcome to. I thought he was a local pulling my leg, but you get down on the valley floor and there it is: Camelot (camel lot). With real live camels! There’s also a sign pointing out, “Cold Water,” but it was yet another mild 75-degree day in Moab and we all had plenty of reserve.
Some sandy washes and rocky climbs punctuate the ride across the valley floor, but it’s still all doubletrack. At one point I heard some hollering from high above along Amasa Back. There were three ant-like MTBers hooting and waving their arms. I waved back and shot some video. All the times I’ve been on Amasa, I’ve never seen riders down on the valley floor. So I guess we made their day.
The real interesting part, if you can call it that, on the Loop is the rock climb up the Sisyphian-like Jacob’s Ladder to Amasa. It’s just a big huge long pile of big huge rubble. It’s not rideable. Hell, it’s barely walkable. At some points you lose the route altogether. You have to carry your bike most of the way, and at intervals hoist it up over six-foot boulders. Jim scampered up the thing like a spider, but I felt sorry for Chance, carrying a 35-pound Heckler up this stuff. Toward the end Jim came down and grabbed the Heckler, and Chance took my Turner. Sometimes being the last one up has its advantages.
It’s hard to imagine anyone racing up something like this. I’m not sure what to compare it to, because no trail would be built along a line like this. There are short little sections up by Cle Elum and Winthrop that are similar, and if you’ve done Devil’s Backbone by Chelan you’ve walked across a boulder field evoking something of Moab. But anything else is so much shorter and fleeting, the only way to know what Jacob’s Ladder is like is to do it yourself.
Once the climb was over we stood up there looking out, not quite believing what we’d done. I hoped for some riders down below to video, but nada. Nothin’ down there but the camels and the sand.
From the top you simply ride the Amasa route back. Amasa is fun but way too short. We’d done the ride two days earlier with Jean-Pierre on board as well, and what Chance pointed out this time around was how much the Porc Rim epic had improved our handling skills. Ledgy and droppy stuff we were slowing down for the first time on Amasa we just rode right through this time, and a lot faster. And we were picking the tougher lines.
That’s one great thing about Moab. One week of riding there elevates your skills a notch or three, and you return doing things on Northwest trails that had intimidated you before. In a few weeks the Moab polish wears off, but you never come back from there without a few new tricks in your bladder pack.