moab mountain biking – Bike Intelligencer http://bikeintelligencer.com All bike, all the time Wed, 11 Nov 2015 18:11:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 102563645 Does “127 Hours” Harm Mountain Biking’s Image? http://bikeintelligencer.com/2010/11/does-127-hours-harm-mountain-bikings-image/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2010/11/does-127-hours-harm-mountain-bikings-image/#comments Mon, 22 Nov 2010 18:25:37 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.com/?p=4870 Wincing at a film's depiction of our sport.

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The commercials say that “127 Hours,” the new movie about the Moab-area rock climber who cut off his hand to save his life, is based on a true story. But the mountain-biking segments won’t leave viewers with an accurate depiction of our sport — at least, the parts shown in the movie’s trailer. Unfortunately, most of the impression will be negative — of a reckless and not very bright rider — rather than building on mountain biking’s progress as an increasingly mainstream activity.

Of course, it’s not the purpose of the movie to burnish mountain-biking’s image. But we didn’t want to let its portrayal pass without defending mtb either.

It may be that Aron Ralston, the climber who got himself into a mess in Bluejohn Canyon west of Moab by simply neglecting to tell anyone where he was going, is the kind of guy who:

1. Rides without a helmet. In the movie, James Franco (who by all accounts gives a tour de force performance) is shown cruising across the desert in a baseball-type cap. It may well be that Ralston chose not to wear a helmet. But it’s something almost no mountain biker would do, simply because the risks are so great.

We’ve spent a lot of time riding the hard rock of Utah and can’t remember any time we saw a mountain biker out on the trails without a helmet.

2. Rides an outdated bike. The kind of Rocky Mountain hardtail shown in the film was a decent ride in the 1990s, but mountain bikers in the past decade went almost exclusively to dual suspension. Especially around Canyonlands, where suspension really shines in rugged trail slickrock country.

You do find hardtail holdouts from time to time, and maybe Ralston was one. (The argument for a hardtail is fewer things to go wrong, break down, etc.) The incident took place in 2003, when hardtails still popped up now and then. But we’ve been riding in Moab and vicinity since the early 1990s and by 2000 the scene was mostly full suss.

3. Rides with a backpack better suited to 50-mile hikes than mountain biking. Ralston’s orientation was to rock climbing, so his pack probably reflected that more than biking. No mtber is going to want the big, bulky thing that “127 Hours” shows on his or her back in the southern Utah desert.

4. Rides without gloves and other bike equipment. Again, maybe Ralston did so and the movie is accurate in that regard. But it doesn’t make for a very astute rider in the perilous back country.

5. The header Franco/Ralston takes could’ve been more realistically staged. We’ve seen lots of mountain biking crashes, and been in more than a few ourselves, and this one — where Franco flies off the bike for no apparent reason, having struck nothing or otherwise forced out of control — looks dumb. Franco, or his stunt double, lands neatly on his back. It’s a great way to crash, but hey, you don’t get to select technique when you go off the bars. That’s why all the broken ribs and separated shoulders.

Is any of this really germane to a film which is actually about getting stuck while rock scrambling? Probably not. It also may be the case that the trailer oversimplifies the film itself.

But if you’re a mountain biker watching the film, you may find yourself wincing at its characterization.

To the film’s credit, if everyone comes away from it with greater resolve to tell loved ones where they’re headed the next time they go out on a long ride — well, our other points are just nitpicking.

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Spring 2010: Moab-Fruita Videos http://bikeintelligencer.com/2010/05/spring-2010-moab-fruita-videos/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2010/05/spring-2010-moab-fruita-videos/#respond Sun, 09 May 2010 16:12:27 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.com/?p=2985 Eric Stobin put together a great group ride, and Doug Walsh captured it all on camcorder.

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The trick videos of slopestylers and freeriders are great to watch, but sometimes you just want to see some real riders doing real riding. Eric Stobin recently put together a monster trip to Moab and Fruita that videographer and fellow rider Doug Walsh captured magnificently on camera. Get ready for some laid-back, fun riding … and don’t you wish you were there now?!

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What Happens in Moab Day 7: White Rim and it's a wrap! http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-7-white-rim-and-its-a-wrap/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-7-white-rim-and-its-a-wrap/#respond Mon, 28 Dec 2009 10:45:21 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.wordpress.com/?p=1607 [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.] Planning our trip to Moab, Jim and I had talked about […]

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[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.]

Planning our trip to Moab, Jim and I had talked about doing White Rim in a day. It’s about 100 miles on the full loop, but mostly fire-road flat. Doable, yes. But we’d have to get as early a start as possible, and it would be a long, grind-it-out day. Chances were it wasn’t in the cards this time around.

We checked with Poison Spider, where a wrench told us to take it out to Musselman Arch and see where we were. The arch is a great gathering place and turnaround point if you’re so inclined. So that was the plan.

We debarked from the tourist-packed Island in the Sky Visitor Center parking lot. You descend fairly gradually down toward the valley floor, where signs direct you to Moab and the prosaically named Potash, a town built around whatever commercial value potash has.There are big ugly holding ponds which have to be toxic as all getout, especially threatening to the Colorado River.

A “fat tire century” ride would’ve been a nice physical challenge, but I’m glad we didn’t do it first time out. White Rim has amazing vistas, strange and ponderous rock formations, perilous outcroppings and all manner of geologic wonderment even for Moab, and to put your head down into the wind and just spin would be a tragic missed opportunity. There are viewpoints around every corner and sometimes you just want to stand or sit and soak it all in.

There were a number of tour groups out. These are sagged expeditions that do the Rim in 3 or 4 days, camping out along the way. At the Arch a woman pulled up with no rear brake and a pretty spotty front one. They’d tried to do an adjustment on the ride but nobody knew Hayes discs and they’d messed it up pretty bad. I’m not much of a mechanic but when it comes to Hayes I’ve suffered through enough “episodes” to at least keep myself from making any problem worse. So I agreed to have a look.

The first thing they’d done was to back out the little 2mm lever bolts. This had the effect of running the levers all the way to the bar, as though she’d lost pressure altogether. I tamped down the bolts and she now had stopping power. Too much stopping power. The calipers were out of alignment and the pads were giving her constant brake rub.

It can drive a sane man loco trying to adjust Hayes calipers. I generally back off both mounting bolts till the caliper is loose at each end. Then I eyeball the rotor-pad clearance and tamp down the lower bolt, not tightening it all the way but getting it firm. I realign the pad clearance and gently tighten the upper bolt, spinning the wheel to ensure rotor clearance. If everything’s going right and Irish luck is with me, I can continue to wrench down the bolt all the way and the rotor won’t scrape. Once the upper bolt is tightened I do the same to the lower (by upper I mean closer to the rim, lower closer to the hub, if that’s any help).

People often say you need business cards or whatever with Hayes to do any realigning. Not true, in my experience. If the brakes are set up right in the first place, the issue tends to be a goofed-up attempt at realignment. You can use business cards to assist but if you’ve watched Scott at the Downhill Zone realign a Hayes you know that with experience all you need is a clear eye and steady hand.

Anyway, after 15 minutes of tinkering she was good to go. She asked if she could give me anything for my trouble and I said she already had: My good deed for the day.

Musselman Arch is a narrow, three-to-four foot wide rock bridge crossing maybe 50 feet over a sheer precipice. It’d be nothing at all to walk without the yawning valley below, but something about a 500-foot drop gives one a second thought or two. I get vertigo and never did walk it, but Jason and Jim went over it without blinking. Jim even stopped my heart by tripping on the thing – check out the video!

Some day I’d like to do the whole Rim. Two days would be enough, I’d think. My motto – “It’s all about the ride” – doesn’t quite apply to White Rim. There it’s more about the vibe.

The next day was Sunday and time to pack up and head back to Salt Lake for the flight back. Jason, Jim and I pitched the bikes into the van and jammed across the flats. It was the first off-weather day we’d had since the day we arrived. We even ran into rain on the approach to Salt Lake City. But the clouds eventually parted and the flight back went fine.

Often I end a mountain biking trip thinking not about the rides I did but the ones that got away. If only I’d had another day or two I could’ve done this or that. It’s been equally true on past Moab excursions. But this time around I felt like I’d gotten my fill. Sure there are rides I haven’t done yet in Moab. Sure I’d like to go back. But eight straight days of ride, ride, ride…well, that’s plenty for mortal man on the road away from home. Thanks to Jim and Jason and Chance and JP for the great times and eternal memories, and let’s do it again as soon as we can!

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What Happens in Moab Day 6: Moab Race Loop (Jacob's Ladder) http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-6-moab-race-loop-jacobs-ladder/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-6-moab-race-loop-jacobs-ladder/#respond Sun, 27 Dec 2009 10:34:59 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.wordpress.com/?p=1603 [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 […]

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[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.

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What Happens in Moab Day 5: Porcupine Rim http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-5-porcupine-rim/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-5-porcupine-rim/#respond Sat, 26 Dec 2009 10:24:28 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.wordpress.com/?p=1601 [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.] Porcupine Rim ranks second, behind the Tahoe Rim Trail, as my […]

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[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.]

Porcupine Rim ranks second, behind the Tahoe Rim Trail, as my favorite ride anywhere. No matter how often I do it, I want to go right back the next day and try all those places I didn’t ride quite the way I wanted. If I lived in Moab, I’d be riding up on the danged thing every day. I mean, I love Tiger Mountain and all the Cascades rides we have in summer here. But for grandeur, technical challenge, endurance, speed and just plain fun, Porc Rim is in a class all its own.

I like doing it as a loop, admittedly not the preferred method. Most people are going to shuttle up Sand Flats Road to the trailhead, then ride down to the river, where another shuttle vehicle awaits. I like doing the ride as a loop from town. Yes the road climb up is a chore. And boring. Often there’s a headwind. But we’re talking process here, earning your verts, paying your dues. Heck, folks, it’s even paved now. The first times I rode it back in the ‘90s it was dirt and gravel most of the way. As for the river side at the end, yeah you’re whacked by then. But it’s a fairly gradual grade back up toward town. By the end of the day you’ve chalked up epic numbers, more than 5 hours on the bike and 4,000 feet of climbing. You feel like you’ve accomplished something.

I’d tried to talk Jason into doing the loop, but he was having none of it. He wasn’t big on doing Porc Rim anyway, so we waited till he left town for his grandmother’s funeral. Jean-Pierre was back with his family, so it was just Chance Richie, Jim Lyon and myself. No problem: We had lots of company on the trail.

It can get dastardly hot and dry up on the Rim, but the weather continued to bless us. One year I went through a 130-ounce bladder and was still dehydrated. I used only about half of my regular 100-oz. bladder this time. After the road ride up the trail bullets down a bit, deceiving you into thinking you’ve crested and can cruise the rest of the way. Uh-uh. There’s a lot of climbing left, much of it up risers and ledges and rockeries and whatnot. It’s all rideable, at least certain lines are, but even so you need some kick in your quads to get up and over the tough bits.

When you do top out at the Rim, you have one of the unutterably magnificent promontories the sport of mountain biking provides. Usually lots of other folks are gathered as well, doing lunch breaks and talking mtb. We ran into a group of big boingers, no one under 6 inches, about to head down the first bombing run. One guy was riding a Banshee, the Canadian outfit that makes among the toughest and heaviest and best-named bikes out there. My favorite is the Banshee Scream. Or maybe the Morphine. Anyway, he was on the “cross-country” model, the less spiky-named Chapparal, on which he proudly proclaimed he’d gotten the weight down under 40 pounds. It was brand new and he said he’d gotten a deal because he worked in a bike shop in town. His other job was in a restaurant. “I wait tables so I can afford to work in a bike shop” was the way he put it.

He was no Tinkerbell either. I wouldn’t want to get in his way on the downslope.

As gnarly as the Porc Rim climb is, the really rough part is the long descent back to the river. You can plain rip along numerous sections, but you can also get going too fast for your own good. And your equipment really takes a beating. Still, there’s nothing else quite like Porc Rim’s descent. Amasa Back offers a taste, but it’s much shorter and lacks the extended straightaways.

There are lots of drops on the descent which you can do or ride around, but the killer is a 5-footer at the end of a long bombing run. “Now that – that’s a commitment,” as Jim put it. I’ve seen guys ride off it, but you know what? That was several years ago, and they were on hardtails and a couple of what would today be considered “soft tails” – 2 to 3 inches of rear travel. Even with today’s big-drop bikes I see fewer riders doing that one — why is that?

One problem is that it’s usually wickedly windy at the big drop. The other is that it comes up on you fast and your instinct is to bear to the right and slope down it, not go off the front. By the time you reconsider at the foot of the drop, your momentum is gone and you’re starting to think a little too much. What I always think is, “Do I wanna try this, or do I wanna be 100 percent sure I’ll ride tomorrow?”

This time out the wind was whipping things around pretty hard and we bagged on it. I thought for sure the long-travel gang ahead of us would’ve gone off it, but there were no tracks below. Even with 8 or 9 inches, that thing is a commitment. And this may get at the point Craig McKinnon and others have made on the BBTC list: Big-hit bikes do little to enhance actual riding skills.

Following one long rip Jim stopped with that look on his face again. This time he’d lost a retainer from his brake lever, rendering it inoperable. So we did the funny penguin-walkaround thing, tiny little steps with our heads cocked. Miraculously, Jim found the barrel which, inserted, gave him back lever action. But the bolt was nowhere to be found.

We weren’t going to flag down any jeepers up on this section like we did on Poison Spider. And Jim runs Magura Marta brakes, so it was unlikely we’d find anyone with spare parts. Jim could continue with one brake, but on the hairball sections of the lower trail you really want both brakes. The solution: Duct tape. I always carry a few inches of the stuff in my bladder pack. Jim borrowed a slice, taped in the barrel, and we were good to go.

The ride along the river is almost as harrowing in spots as Portal. I rode more than I usually do, but not all of it. It’s a joy just to stop and take in the view every so often. You want to be able to call that slide back up in the camera of your mind.

Porc Rim always seems to serve up an unusually high percentage of bike Bettys, and toward the lower section we caught up with a number of them. Repeatedly Chance drew more than just passing interest, leading me to nickname him Chance Romance. He’s a happily married guy, but out on the trail they don’t know that. Jim’s married too, but on our first day out, up on Slickrock Trail, he mentioned to a group of riders that he was a Slickrock virgin. “We L-O-V-E our virgins in Utah!” one of the women riders responded — quite enthusiastically.

In any case, with Chance you’re always making new friends. I’d never ridden with him and was worried that Jim’s, Jason’s and my radical politics would put off a Texan Navy officer, but we never missed a beat. If you ever run into him on a ride, be sure to say hello. He’s on the shiny new Santa Cruz Heckler in candy apple red.

Back in town I hung out at Poison Spider bikes while Jim tracked down replacement hardware for his brake. There was a gnarly old guy with a bike-bus, a long trailer packed high with his life’s belongings, and two pretty tired dogs. I’d seen pictures of him around, and he’s in one of the guidebooks as well. “We used to cover 100 miles a day,” he said, nodding toward the pooches, which by the way were equipped with their own saddle packs. “Now we do 100 a week.” Hey, the journey is the reward. That’s what I always feel like after the Porcupine Rim loop.

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What Happens in Moab, Day 4: Sovereign Trail http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-4-sovereign-trail/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-4-sovereign-trail/#respond Thu, 24 Dec 2009 10:15:37 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.wordpress.com/?p=1596 [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.] The Sovereign Trail When we picked up our bikes at Poison […]

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[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.]

The Sovereign Trail

When we picked up our bikes at Poison Spider Bicycles, I’d noticed on the guide rack a new map called the “Sovereign Trail System.” I got to chatting with one of the wrenches, who said it was well worth the trip out, and made a mental note to follow up. In plotting a week’s rides in Moab, every day’s decision affects every day after that. I was thinking latter week, but when Jim got stirred up after his Moab Rim encounter, he was ready to rock the next day.

One good reason to jump on Sovereign was that by Tuesday we had our full complement of riders: Jim, Jason, Chance Richie, Jean-Pierre Chamberland and myself. Chance had rolled into town the day before while we were up on the Rim. I was expecting him to show any minute when a guy appeared with a wife and kid in tow, saying how eager he was to ride with us.

Man, I had no idea what was up. Chance (whom I’d not met) I knew was married — but he hadn’t mentioned any kids. And I certainly hadn’t counted on any of our party staying with their wife and kid. The condo wasn’t suitably equipped.

I was doing these mental gyrations and mumbling things like, “Glad to meet you” and “Great you could come” when finally I had to lay it out. “Um, were we expecting you?” I asked. Jim thankfully jumped in and mentioned that this was Jean-Pierre, who’d messaged earlier about hooking up with us on a family vacation trip bringing him through Moab. I hadn’t gotten any such message. The wonders of spam filtering: block the mail you want while letting the gunk flow through.

So then, after we’d sorted it all out, Chance walks in beaming like Jack Nicholson in “Easy Rider.” I had to laugh at my earlier flummox. Chance is a strapping good ol’ Texas boy, while Jean-Pierre is a compact French-Canadian. Even in the wee hours after a few too many at the local pub, you’d never get the two confused.

The next day was going to be our only chance to all ride together. Jason had unfortunately gotten word of his grandmother’s death and was having to depart the following day for her funeral. He’d be returning on Friday, but by then both Jean-Pierre and Chance would be gone. What better opportunity than brand-new singletrack for Team Moab to break in?

Sovereign is a pretty good drive north of town off the main highway. You turn right (east) at Willow Spring Road, open a gate and close it behind you, then drive in a couple of miles to a parking lot on the left by a pump house. You ride some jeep road up from the parking area and the trailhead is well-marked.

Sovereign comprises two sets of singletrack, and the southern one (the first you do) is the better. Ride the second – a full loop – if you have time and energy, but don’t do it first or you’ll get misled. The first trail is well-marked, well-designed and well-constructed. The second seems like an afterthought, a hodgepodge slapped together just to add miles.

Jason remarked that the first section was a bit reminiscent of Gooseberry Mesa down by Zion. There’s a lot of ledge-type riding, slickrock mixed in with sandy trail, all pretty exposed. Gooseberry may have slightly more vegetation. It reminded me also of Cottonwood Valley outside of Vegas, although Sovereign doesn’t have the extended roller-coaster rips of Cottonwood. Still, this is true singletrack unlike anything else you find around Moab. It’s well worth checking out, but keep in mind this is high desert. The earlier in the day the better.

Despite Gonzz’s meteorological trepidations back in January, we were having absolutely dynamite weather. After Saturday’s overcast and wind we’d seen nothing but sun, in the mid-70s. We were comfortably warm, not hot. You couldn’t ask for better Moab riding weather – any hotter and we would’ve worried about dehydration.

Climbing one riser I went over backwards after kicking out a rock and not being able to unclip from my Eggs. The sand gets into the cleats and frictions everything up. I scratched my forearm but it looked worse than it was. Jason had a couple of tire problems, pinch-flatting and then, incredibly, blowing out the sidewall of a Panaracer he’d bought two days earlier. Desert rock can be jagged and sharp, but Jason’s problem was strictly a manufacturing defect.

It was a great day to all be together. We found several rest points with sweeping views of bluish-green escarpments jutting from the desert. There were lots of riders out, mostly on the first section.

Not knowing what we know now, we automatically went ahead with the second loop. It had a lot of pushing up really rocky trails, and unrideable sandy sections, and it just wasn’t very interesting. Then there’s the long ride back on really sandy jeep road. I was more tired psychologically at the end than physically.

It probably would’ve been more fun to just head back the way we came out on the initial six-mile-or-so section. But now we know. As it stands, I hope they (the state, BLM and a group called Ride with Respect) continue to develop the system with more singletrack.

(Note: In the Sovereign Trail video, the soundtrack is by the Urban Bushmen. Which happens to be ride leader Jim Lyon’s band, and he’s featured on lead vocal.)

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What Happens In Moab Day 3: Moab Rim http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-3-porcupine-rim/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-3-porcupine-rim/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2009 10:27:10 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.wordpress.com/?p=1579 [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.] Moab Rim What happens in Moab, in case it’s not blindingly […]

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[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.]

Moab Rim

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.

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What Happens in Moab Day 2: Poison Spider and Portal http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-2-poison-spider-and-portal/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/what-happens-in-moab-day-2-poison-spider-and-portal/#comments Tue, 22 Dec 2009 10:21:35 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.wordpress.com/?p=1576 [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.] Portal and the Passion Sunday morning dawned crisp but sunny, with […]

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[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.]

Portal and the Passion

Sunday morning dawned crisp but sunny, with nothing but good expectations. We soon discovered the Red Rock Bakery & Café’s monster cinnamon rolls, the best in Moab, and just a two-minute stroll from our condo. After breakfast, the one meal where Mad Cow apparently did not eat nearly raw beef, we loaded up the van and headed for the Poison Spider parking lot.

There were still lots of jeepers out, but a moto at the trailhead told us most of them were well up the trail. Poison Spider is pretty much doubletrack – dirt interrupted by boulders and slickrock from time to time — till you get to the hairball Portal Trail. On my first visit to Moab in 1994 I’d done this ride on a then state-of-the-art Pro-Tec full suspension bike with elastomer rear suspension and a Girvin linkage fork, and let me tell you, when I wasn’t falling over I was terrified. It’s amazing how much better rider I am with four inches rear and five up front and years of watching the masters do it. Or could it just be the bike?

By the time we more or less crested on Poison Spider, we were in Jeep Country USA. They tend to creep along even in open terrain, and I find their camaraderie in tough spots inspiring. They all stand around and help, giving acceleration tips and stuffing boulders under tires and whatnot. It reminded me of an MTB curiosity: When I lived in Cali we riders would automatically spot one another in tricky or dangerous sections. The goal is to clean the stunt without laying yourself up, and sometimes that takes several tries, any one of which can end ugly. I’ve often offered and/or suggested spotting on NW rides but nobody ever wants to do it. I get the impression NW MTBers think it’s wussy. Getting skin gashed, breaking a shoulder or tearing out a knee is much more manly, and don’t you feel proud as you lie in bed recuperating while looking forward to hospital and surgery bills. Or maybe we in the Northwest figure everyone is on their own, come what may. Rugged individualism, NW MTB-style.

We were making great time churning our way toward Portal when we found Jim, up ahead as usual, off his bike looking somewhat consternated. He quickly identified the problem: the pivot bolt from his drive-side chainstay was missing. The bike was completely disabled. We tried to think of fixes but only one solution was obvious: Find the danged bolt.

We fanned out along the route and must have looked like befuddled or sunstroked nomads to the jeepers. When the leader of a three-jeep caravan offered to help, my first thought was, wish they could. Jeepers carry lots of stuff, it’s true. But the pivot bolt was metric, jeeps are pretty much all standard thread and sizing. There wasn’t much point in wasting their time.

But growing up, my Dad taught me never to fail to offer help or turn down an offer for help. It’s part of the thing called karma. I waved down the guy and told him what was up.

“Yeah, your friend didn’t look too happy back there,” he said, referring to Jim who by now was a quarter mile away. “Whenever you see a mountain biker walking, they never look too happy.” Jason and I had to laugh. He certainly got that right.

I wish I’d been rolling my camcorder, because what happened next was worthy of a Michael Moore documentary. All of a sudden giant toolboxes began appearing full of unimaginable gewgaws and widgets. Jason, who like Jim rides an Ellsworth Truth, plucked the pivot bolt from his bike for comparison. We watched enthralled as the jeepers started trolling through their glorious mechanical stashes.

Incredibly, it wasn’t too long before someone came up with a replacement bolt. Not quite an exact replacement, but the width and threading matched perfectly. The only problem was it was too long. No biggie there. Someone else came up with spacers and a nut. In moments the repair was in place and Jim was good to go. As Jason remarked, the fix looked “totally ghetto.”

I’m not sure how you thank someone in this situation other than to repeat it a thousand times, but the jeepers seemed amused by the whole thing and all too happy to have assisted. Just another day at the outdoor office. They waved us goodbye and we were on our way.

I suggested we revise our travel plans and split for Vegas the next day, while we were still hot. But with luck like that, we knew the coming week of riding was going to be worth more than anything we could take home from Sin City.

The Portal trail skirts along a ledge 1,000 feet above town. Portal is legendary for the deaths of three riders – and, apparently, many more near-deaths – but most of it is rideable and the parts that aren’t are well-marked. To qualify my above remarks, there’s not much point in spotting on the tricky sections of Portal. If someone biffed and you caught them, you’d probably both go over the side. As it turned out, Jason rode most of the section marked off by the signs and had designs on the rest, but we prevailed on his better sense. Jim took a spill, which I captured on video, and he wants you to know that I was never in place to shoot the many jumps, drops and rockeries he cleaned. (That’s because he was always riding too far off the front!)

On the opposite trailhead we met a couple of women hikers and chatted. One had spent several years in Juneau and could one-up any rain stories we soggy Seattleites could tell her. Near the trail sign there was a metal rod hammered into the rock. I asked her what it was for, and she said it was used to tie off search-and-rescue operations, going after riders who’d slipped over the edge but were clinging to life on an outcropping below. Particularly at night, the tie-off was vital.

I don’t even like to look over ledges that high up. But as the hiker put it, “For years the big thing in Moab was to do Portal without dabbing.” And if you missed, well, that’s what the S&R, emphasis on the R, people were there for.

From Portal the trail switchbacks down to the river on steep, drop-injected rockery that’s a challenge to walk, let alone ride. I used the excuse as ride videographer to take my time, but Jim and Jason were cleaning most everything. The thought of Jim losing his pivot bolt on one of those drops made me shudder, but luck had been with us this day. Too bad Utah bans casinos.

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Ride Classics: What Happens in Moab http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/ride-classics-what-happens-in-moab/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2009/12/ride-classics-what-happens-in-moab/#respond Mon, 21 Dec 2009 16:21:14 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.wordpress.com/?p=1573 [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: Getting Oriented When Jim Lyon first broached […]

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[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: Getting Oriented

When Jim Lyon first broached the subject last fall of going to Moab in the spring of 2004, I was less than eager. The last couple of times I’d been to Moab had fallen short of expectations. You get locked into a way of doing things and I felt I’d been just going through the motions. After half a dozen visits to Moab over the past decade I thought I’d been there and done that. This psychological block may be what Bob Bournique is getting at with his challenge for us all to do new trails this season.

But one thing about riding with the Lyon King – you learn to expect the unexpected. This time around, eight days from April 10 through 18, 2004, just about nothing happened according to plan. Which was good. Well, in most cases it was good.

Jim posted the ride early on the BBTC [Note: Now Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance] calendar but we didn’t get too many takers. I had talked with Gonzz and Art and others in January about the ride’s timing, explaining that Jim was locked into the April dates because of his teaching schedule and spring break. They were adamant that April was too early. It might be wet, it might be cold. Those are relative terms in Moab compared to Seattle, but in any case Jim and I both checked with the locals and found that weather is entirely unpredictable from April through May. Last spring the BBTC gathering ran the gamut from cold and windy to sunny and warm, and that went into the first week of May.

Jim had never been to Moab and this was the only time he could go. I told him I was in. We’d have to take our chances – with the weather, and with club signups.

When Gonzz posted his ride timed a couple weeks after ours, suggesting that our trip was far likelier to encounter inclement cold and wet, I figured we were really sunk. What Seattle MTBer wants to go all the way to Moab just to get rained on? Hey, we can do that at home…for free!

As it turned out, Jason Klecker, Chance Richie and Jean-Pierre Chamberland hopped aboard as well. We could’ve used a couple more, but we didn’t suffer from lack of numbers. Meanwhile, Gonzz’s ride piled up the signees.

We flew in to Salt Lake City early on Saturday the 10th and, while waiting for Jason to arrive on a separate later flight, killed a couple of hours in town. Mormonville was the longest two hours we spent on the entire trip. Enough said.

We picked Jason up in our rental van and headed off. It’s a four-hour trip on the map; we made it in under three and a half. By the time we’d picked up our bikes at Poison Spider Bicycles, which will hold UPS’d bikes and even assemble them at your behest for a small fee, we still had plenty of time for a ride up to Slickrock from town.

I’m not a huge fan of the Slickrock Trail. You have to do it if you’re in Moab, of course. But it’s a lot of ups and downs, stops and starts, with hardly any speed till the latter sections. It’s like riding in a glorified skateboard park. And it was a bit brisk up there, with stiff winds cutting the chilly temps even further. I liked being able to loosen up after the plane and drive but was looking forward to some real riding.

What really made that first day in my view was the final spasm of Jeep Safari. The annual festival draws jeepers from all over the place to Moab, and it’s a real hoot. They tool around half-crazed and full-on drunk. One kid who couldn’t have met his teenage years yet was carrying a case of beer on one of those little ATV 4-wheelers. Cops were everywhere and the route from downtown up to Slickrock was in total gridlock. Traffic jams in Moab. Ya gotta see ‘em to believe ‘em.

The townspeople don’t particularly like jeepers, and the irresponsible ones are tough on the terrain and tougher on the social graces. But I’ve never had a problem with jeepers. They seem to respect mountain bikers, and most of them are good ol’ boys soon to join the endangered species list as gas prices climb into the stratosphere. Still, I was glad they would be clearing out the next day. Moab was just too congested for comfort.

We got back to the condo we’d rented – room No. 1 at the Westwood Guest House — and began setting up. The caretaker had told me the room would sleep 8. But they’d have to be pretty intimate — there were only 5 beds. In any case the three of us (Chance arriving two days later and JP staying with his family) were plenty comfortable. We went shopping and discovered that Jason was the carnivore of our group. After a long philippic from me on the multiple hazards of red meat, Jim dubbed Jason “Mad Cow Klecker.” Jason remained unfazed, devouring a variety of choice cuts at dinner, lunch and even breakfast during our Moab sojourn.

Day 1 ended cool and gray but rainless at least. I was beginning to wonder if Gonzz, the self-anointed club meteorologist, the Jeff Renner of MTB, had known what he was talking about. Oh well. We were prepared for anything Moab would throw at us. At least, that’s what we thought.

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