Welcome to the wonder of rocks
MOAB, Utah – Mountain biking in Moab, Utah, is probably the closest a person can get to pedaling on the moon.It’s surreal in itself that here in North America, in the Utah desert, exists miles and miles of pure rock surface. But to ride a bike continuously for hours is whole new cathartic experience. The formations of the surrounding cliffs are about as otherworldly as earthly elements can get.Driving into Moab from Interstate 70 along the Colorado River on Highway 128, one’s imagination shifts immediately to ancient history, even without the sight of dinosaur prints and petroglyphs, readily viewed in sandstone areas and cliff walls all over Moab. It’s not difficult to visualize the landscape thousands of years ago in the presence of rock layers formed by prehistoric swirling water, stains imprinted on red cliffs and boulders balanced precariously on top of needle-like rock cones.There’s no question as to why Moab is one of the hottest mountain-biking meccas in the world. Rolling into town on Highway 191, bike shops are as numerous as hotels, some styled out with downhill-biker statues dropping off the roofs. Even small farms in the area have custom-built bike sculpture scarecrows among their crops. On any given weekend during ski area mud season, however, mountain bikes aren’t the only means of transport and recreation with which people escape to Moab. The dust clouds could be spotted across the horizon last weekend, when Moab was hosting its Annual Jeep Safari.It’s one thing to get your deraileurs all sandy and mucky, or possibly scratch your frame up a bit taking a digger on the rocks. But I couldn’t believe the terrain over which these Jeepers were attempting to drive. My friends and I took a hike up Moab Rim, a trail west of town that I’d classify as impossible to ride up with a bike. The trail is about a mile and a half, angling diagonally, straight up a series of rock ledges and boulders. Amazingly, there was a long line of Jeeps and goofy looking, custom-built suspension machines making their way up and down the trail. How this is fun is a mystery to me. Little puddles of oil and other signs of wounded vehicles lined the rocks. I could crawl faster than these things were going. At the trailhead, smoking cars stood with open hoods, wheezing and clinging to life.
Destroying Your Car 101I only guessed that this activity involved some sort of intentional sacrifice, something along the lines of people taking axes to copy machines and burning old furniture and cherished household items in huge bonfires.We ran into another bemused hiker on his way up the trail. He was miffed at his thwarted attempt to escape to nature.”So much for fresh air,” he was saying. “Nice to see all of this metal.”Many trails in Moab divide traffic into motorized and non-motorized sections. Some, like the famed Slickrock trail, even feature directive marks for “4 X 4s.”
Having rode Slickrock for the first time last weekend, I was definitely glad that the list of the trail’s challenges didn’t include dodging dirt bikes and Jeeps at the top of the many enormous rocks one has to hammer up. Most of the four-wheel drive traffic weaves through dried creek beds under the rocks. We saw one that was high-centered on a rock ledge, a couple feet above the sand. The roar of its helpless, revving engine reverberated across the plateau. Again, is this really fun?What is fun is marveling at the way mountain-bike tires peel onto the rock like stickers. Slickrock has far more traction than any steep trail you could find in an alpine area. Don’t leave your saddleOne learns quickly that Slickrock is much slicker if you try to climb up or down it in bike shoes rather than with bike tires. And also that taking a few switchbacks across the dotted line that marks the trail is sometimes a good idea. In full view of about 15 mountain bikers who were camped out at the top of one of the steeper rocks, I hammered about two-thirds of the way up before realizing I wasn’t in granny gear (highly recommended for climbing Slickrock), and came to a dangerous hover. I clicked out of my pedals and put my foot on the rock, only to have it begin sliding backwards like a billiard ball backward. Hoisting my bike in front of me, I proceeded to slide backwards until I was sprawled on my stomach, my bike in front of me on its side. Not fun, but great free comedy for my audience.After this my conscience repeatedly scolded its new motto of “Stay on Your Bike.” The satisfaction of completing the trail (there’s a practice loop for those who just want a little taste) was greater than multiple two-wheel trips up and down local ski mountains, which, by the looks of all the snow hanging around this spring, will be a long ways off. So you’d better get to Moab.
In most cases, I’d like to keep the allure of such places to myself and my friends – like a hidden powder stash on the mountain, some things are better hoarded among a small group. But the wonder of Moab is hardly a secret. Just be sure to take your trash with you when you leave your campsite and don’t step on the delicate, black mossy stuff around the rocks. Bring a pail for your engine oil, or for a better ride, take a mountain bike.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado