I’ve never had a biking trip quite like the Moab trip last weekend, and not just because of the weather or where we rode or having a great group of friends to ride with. I’ve been trying to figure out what made this one different, and I think I’ve got it figured out: It was great because I was determined to make it great. Now that I’ve got four kids, a fairly intense job, and live several states away, it’s not that easy to get away for a weekend. So I told myself I was going to make the most of it.
Yesterday, I talked about how other people rode. Today, it’s all about me.
Leading up to Moab this year, I have ridden my mountain bike a whopping five times. I knew I was out of practice and that the mountain bike would feel awkward at first. I also knew, though, that I had been riding my road bike every day; my legs were in good shape. I decided that I wouldn’t worry about whether I made lots of moves, but that I would at least try.
The first day, we rode Slickrock, which is possibly the most popular mountain bike trail in the world. It’s a massive sandstone playground. You can ride the entire loop in a couple hours, but we all preferred to go from one move to the next, with everyone getting as many attempts as they like.
The first move is located at a 20-foot-high round dome of sandstone, with an overhanging ridge at the top. The idea is to climb the dome, go under the overhang and then hop the final lip at the top. It’s a finesse move.
I should point out that the fact that most of the group cleaned this move within a few tries does not make it an easy move. I’ve been to this move with other groups and think I can safely say that most people would not clean this move, ever.
You start by approaching the dome, turning right as you begin climbing it — it’s too steep to go straight up — then pull a sharp U-turn left to get under the overhang. This is the tricky part, because you’ve got to stay a little crouched to not bang your head, your legs are giving everything they’ve got to make it up the steep pitch, and you’ve got a pretty impressive drop on your right.
I tried this move probably eight or nine times, each time losing traction and spinning out at the U-turn. Finally, it occurred to me: try taking the U-turn wider. It meant more time under the overhang, but I was less likely to spin out.
Once you’ve made the U-turn, the rest of the move isn’t very difficult — just scary, because you’ve got a wall going up to your right, rock inches over your head, and a big ugly fall to your left. Then, a quick hop at the top over a small step, and I was there.
I could tell it was going to be a good weekend.
My Head Commences to Swell
Next, there was an interesting move everyone called “The Crack.” The best line is up a crack in the sandstone as you lunge up the four-foot, slightly-inclined wall. You’ve got to be careful, because there’s a sandstone wall on your left side, and exposure everywhere else.
While some people made the obvious jokes (Have you ever wondered how middle-aged men act when they’re together? Just like high school sophomores, it turns out) about “cracks,” I watched others do the move, trying to see what worked. Then, I rolled up at speed, wheelied, and got half way up on momentum alone. I stood up, cranked twice, and was up.
Oh yeah, it was going to be a good weekend.
Ow! Ow ow ow ow.
The third big move is different — it’s just a steep slope — 70 degrees, maybe? — thirty feet down into powdery, soft sand below. From the top, it looks like you’re just rolling off into space and that you’ll fall the whole way down. Once you’re going, though, the real trick is to just manage your speed. You don’t want to skid, but you want to keep the wheels rolling as slowly as possible.
At the beginning of the day, I had not intended to do this move. It’s a pure “guts” move, and I tend to err on the side of caution.
The first few people had gone, and now there were three or four of us up top, looking at each other.
I decided to try it.
I rolled down, and could tell I wasn’t doing a good job of speed management — I was going too fast. I grabbed more brake, but not enough. I kept accelerating.
And then I hit the sand.
My bike stopped right away, but I did not. I shot over the front of the bike, mostly landing harmlessly in the nice, soft sand.
My right hand, though, landed in a cactus.
I had picked up two kinds of quills:
- Nice, easy-to-extract needle-ish quills: These were very easy to remove. Grab them and pull them out. I probably picked up fifteen to twenty of these.
- Nasty tufts of hairlike quills: I also picked up dozens — hundreds? — of tiny little quills as fine as hairs. These were easy enough to remove, if you could see them. Some of them came in little clumps and could be pulled out together. Others, though, came individually, and stung like crazy whenever I touched my palm to anything. I expect I have not yet removed all of these.
Strangely, this painful episode didn’t do much to hurt my confidence. After all, I had just had bad luck hitting a cactus; it’s not like the fall itself would have otherwise been painful at all.
All in all, I was pleased with myself: I had just ridden my bike down a thirty foot wall.
Gold Bar Rim
Gold Bar Rim is one of Moab’s best-kept secrets. This is because most people don’t understand the right way to ride it. If you ride it as most people do, it’s not a great ride — you’re just climbing, climbing, climbing, and then faced with the Portal trail at the end, which is an evil, murderous trail (there’s seriously a sign at the top with a counter saying how many people have died while trying to ride it).
What we do, instead, is ride as a group from one interesting technical move to another. We then stop and work on trying to clean it, giving everyone as many tries as they like (there used to be a three-try rule, but as the difficulty of moves has increased, that rule has fallen by the wayside).
As I noted yesterday, my technical skills aren’t even close to most of my friends’. But something had got into my head, and I found myself on a quest to clean certain moves.
- Staircase: This is just a massive progression of sandstone ledges, some just an inch or two high, some as high as a foot. Some people cleaned it and moved on, some people tried it once or twice and moved on. According to Rocky, who cleaned it his first try and then waited for me, I tried it ten times, and I had already tried it a few times before he even got there. The thing is, though, I finally got it.
- Grand Finale: I knew, going in, that I wasn’t going to clean this move. It’s three massive ledges (3-4 feet each) you’ve got to climb in immediate succession. Until this past weekend, though, I had never even tried it. Last Saturday, though, after watching everyone else make attempt after attempt, it occurred to me: I would never clean that move if I didn’t at least start trying. So I did. I never even got to the top of the second ledge, but I did make it past the first. For me, that’s a big deal. I probably tried this six or seven times.
I looked in the mirror today and I have five large bruises on my legs. I didn’t count how many times I fell during the weekend, but I would guess it was close to thirty times. Maybe fifty.
Maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t count.
The thing is, though, I would gladly have twice as many bruises, and fall twice as often, if that’s what it took to earn that feeling of approaching a move, attacking it, and having the uncertainty and apprehension turn to victory and elation as you finally — finally! — make that move yours.