Friday, October 07, 2016

[Travel] Cycling Through Moab

This was my second trip to Moab, UT. The first was quite a few years ago, but the good memories of that trip remain clear in my mind, so it was a logical place to revisit. Moab is in the middle of nowhere. The closest major airport is Salt Lake City, a four-hour drive away. The next closest airport is Denver -- 6+ hours away. So yeah, the middle of nowhere. But. In this middle of nowhere, there are two remarkably beautiful national parks, one excellent state park, mountain biking trails beyond the wildest imagination of anyone back East, the Colorado River and associated rafting/kayaking, four-wheeler trails into some of the most remote areas of the country, rock climbing, and on and on. You will not find a gym in Moab; their gym is the outdoors.

The town of Moab itself is a bit of a bubble. Supported by the ongoing tourism of the parks and its reputation as the ultimate outdoor playground. While the towns that surround it are much more hardscrabble desert outposts, Moab has a good amount of services, food outlets, motels, etc., all on the lower end of things. There is nothing approaching fine dining or luxury accommodations -- nor should there be. People come here to be active, not hang out in their hotel rooms or lounge by the pool.

The last time I was here I availed myself of the National Parks. This time was dedicated to mountain biking. Now, I am not a terribly good mountain biker. I have been mountain biking a total of 4 times and these have been exploratory adventures, mostly to see if I wanted to take up mountain biking more seriously, as in drop something shy of a couple of grand on a mountain bike. (There are good trails in my area, and they are generally easier than ones around Moab.)

Moab is the center of the mountain biking universe. Biking on the rocky outcrops, called slickrock, is very different from the groomed trails and grassy fields back home. Climbs can be extreme and require a good bit of jumping. Paths can narrow between sharp boulders or skirt the edge of deadly dropoffs. And that's just the easy trails. The great thing about these trails is that they are exceptionally well marked. These aren't just trails out in the middle of nowhere that are roughly located on a map, there is clearly a professional organization in charge of keeping everything well sorted. And there are a ton of them. Check out this site for the lowdown: Discover Moab. My plan was to spend three days on the trails. Since it was still hot in the desert -- upper 80s -- I'd hit the trails early each day to be done by 2:30-3:00.

Day one: I headed to Dead Horse State Park and rode a long winding trail up to an overlook with remarkable views of the winding Colorado River. There were a few of dicey sections where I had to walk my bike over obstacles -- some of which I could see how to surmount if I was more skilled, some seemed impossible. At the top I made the acquaintance of a woman who drove to Moab from Indiana just to mountain bike but had to leave that day because she got the word that her cat was suffering separation anxiety and had stopped eating, and a young couple from Spain, the male portion of which had just bought a super expensive mountain bike of a type he couldn't get back in Spain. He seemed to be keen on having his picture taken with the bike, his wife just rolling her eyes. From the outlook you got a seriously fast and fun downhill back to the start. I was digging it.

Day two: I headed to some trails in an area called Klonzo, which I would have avoided had I known how far down a four wheel drive road they were. I was driving a rented Equinox, which handled it fine, but that document you sign when you rent a car says you promise not to take it off road. I should have parked a shorter way in and just rode the bike in, but I didn't think of that. Once I did get to the trails they were a blast. I started out on a very thin single track that circled through some hills; a bit scary because the soft dirt seemed like it was ready to give way and have me slide sideways down the slopes. Once through that section I found my way into a web a flat fast trails that were so much fun I barrelled through them twice. Because to the remoteness of these trails, I never saw another soul. I could have crashed and cracked my skull and no one would have found me for days. Comforting thought. From there I stopped on the way back to ride the Brand Trails. This set of trails is closest to town and it's always full of folks. The terrain is varied from rocky to well groomed singletrack. I could have spent to whole day exploring these. At one point I got way out on the far western end of the trials. Out there there is a path that leads you along the edge of a sheer drop of hundreds of feet and certain death. That's a remarkable experience -- knowing if you lose your balance you are dead. I could be happy never having that feeling again. I also reached a spot where I couldn't figure out how the trail looped around back to the start. I spent a few frustrating minutes trying to find the right directions but in the end I had to backtrack. When you are already exhausted, facing a backtrack is truly demoralizing, but then I stumbled on a shortcut back to the parking lot that was a series of short rolling hills that could get one airborne. Nice.

Day three: This was really the only fail of the trip. I tried to ride the Hurrah Pass, which is not so much a trail as a long dirt road along Kane Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River. The problem was that it starts with an impossibly long climb (miles). Now, on a road bike I could have managed it but a mountain bike is simply not an efficient thing, I was fatigued from the previous day's escapades, and we were up at elevation and my sea level lungs were not happy. I struggled up to nearly the top, within view of the tantalizing downhill on the other side, then realized that were I to barrel down I would eventually have to climb back up on the return trip. I paused to admire the view, headed back to my car, and returned the bike.

It was quite an adventure all the way around. I really like Moab. Definitely a top five place for me. The commercial area of town is walkable. There are plenty of quirky places for food and a beer. The busiest place is the Moab Brewery, because everywhere needs a brewpub. There is also a character-bar called Eddie McStiff's. Years ago when I visited Eddie's there were bizarre liquor laws in place such that they were only able to serve as a private club. When you sat down at the bar an existing member had to vouch for you to join before you could drink, so the bartender would turn to another patron who had previously been vouched for and ask if he would vouch for you. The answer was always yes and you were granted membership and your drink order was completed. You were likely to be asked to vouch for the next patron to come in. It was comically delightful. Those days are gone so presumably they now have a public liquor license. Took some of the fun out of it, but the food was good and the beer was cold.

So that's kind of the icing on the cake. You rise early and play hard in Moab, and your reward is a comfortable and enjoyable evening. Then you come home exhausted. What else could you ask for? I hope it won't be so many years until I can return again.