Try, Try Again. And Again. And Again.

11.8.2005 | 5:12 pm

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.


Auspicious Beginning

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.

It worked.

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.

First try.

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.


  1. Comment by Zed | 11.8.2005 | 5:31 pm

    That’s awesome! Let your head swell, you deserve it after that crazy stuff. Way to get technical! So, the 29" companies (Gary Fisher, Surly, etc.) are claiming that the larger wheel size makes climbing and dealing with technical stuff easier. Would you say that’s true, based on your weekend? Or is it manufacturer-bred folklore? I just think I would look funny–a 5′7" guy on 29" wheels.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 5:34 pm

    What a great entry, Fatty! I can really see into the minds of men here and it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a kind of pure joy the way you guys just be and do. For your little hairy cactus, spread on a layer of Elmer’s Glue and then (this is the hard part) let it dry. Then peel it off and the hairy little beggars will come with it.One of my favorite sayings, which would seem to apply to your omega statements, is "Use the talents you possess – for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except for the best." Henry Van Dyke The roads and trails would be very silent (and lonely) if no one rode but for the best, eh?Hugs,MuMo

  3. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 5:48 pm

    i have owned 10 mountain bikes in the last 12 years, none of them with 29 inch wheels. some were rigid, some were hardtails, some were long travel pigs. i’ve tried most of the fads, but after riding a friend’s 29er a couple years ago on the alpine trails of the wasatch, i dismissed the "innovation" as a fad.this year, to add some spice and freshen up my whole mountain biking thing, i parked the pig, bought a 29 inch singlespeed off of brad, and rode monogamously all season. loved it.but in moab, where big drops are mandatory, where slickrock washboard is everywhere, and drops and climbs can be inches, feet, or yards apart, where big drops onto ledges with deadly upturned lips over big exposure are the order of the day, i became a believer.i will be surprised if every attendee at fall moab 06 isn’t on a 29 inch bike. the advantage in the rough is real, and obvious. and the singlespeed part adds the panache, the, uh, you know, the je ne sais quoi we’re all looking for.that and tequila. drunk from the bottle cap. good times.

  4. Comment by Kenny | 11.8.2005 | 6:13 pm

    Caloi,On the last day, riding up amasa back, I witnessed fatty clean a set if consecutive ledges on my hard tail 29er after multiple attempts without success on his fully suspended 26er. Sometimes it takes a few rides to be converted, but I’m sold. There is a smoother more comfortable feel to a bigger wheel, no matter how tall you are.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 6:39 pm

    It’s true. Brad did some moves on big wheeled thing that my little 26er wouldn’t do. The gap was too big. And they just roll, even the fully rigid ones, right over stuff without a hitch. The days of launching out the front might be done with the big wheels. I rode Rick’s for a little bit on Slickrock, and then Kenny’s. Rick’s is front suspended, and Kenny’s is fully rigid. Both were amazing. I ride a really sweet full suspension thing now, but I forsee a 29er in my immediated future. Here’s the wierdest part–the guys on the 26ers are the ones that look funny. The 29er looks normal.

  6. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 7:02 pm

    I feel your pain, pincushion boy. I fell about 30 feet while freestyle rock climbing on soft rocks in Southern Arizona roughly 20 years ago. Yeah, I’m a moron. I was doing a chinup on a crumbly outcropping, and as I got my nose up over the edge I spotted a rattlesnake there about 6” form my nose, which precluded quickly throwing my forearms up onto the flat part of the ledge to crawl up. So the outcropping crumbled in my hands, I fell about 30 feet, into the lush vegetation, which happened to be comprised of prickly pear, those flat, pear-shaped cacti with mostly long needles. You are right, the little ones are hard to get out. But if you land with a lot of weight on the cactus, the big needles aren’t easy to get out at either. I took a couple deep in the arms & hands, and a couple deep in my lower legs, along the shins. Yes, I landed face down. I can’t remember if I got any in the face but I’m sure I did. We were able to pull most of the big ones out with a Leatherman, but a couple were really deeply sunk and came out over a period of weeks. A few came out of my forearm around five years later – they just popped up one day looking like zits, I scratched, and out came these cactus needles. And there’s one in my left shin that went into the bone, where it remains lodged. It shows up on x-rays, and sometimes you can feel the bb sized lump where the bone calcified over it. So it was a real mixed blessing. The cactus cushioned my fall, but jeez. The bad part wasn’t getting stuck by the cactus, but hiking 10 miles back to the truck to drive to the hotel.

  7. Comment by Zed | 11.8.2005 | 7:27 pm

    How about for speed? You wouldn’t race a 29er in an xc race, would you?Hope you don’t mind my taking over your comment space for a little tech discussion, fatty. Sorry.

  8. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 7:43 pm

    I remember one section of sand on Goldbar that a group of five of us rode through together. The two guys on 26" wheels didn’t make it but the three on 29rs did.Caloi-Rider- My 5"7" wife loves her 29er, among other things.I’m the 6"6 rider that appears to be riding 26" wheels even though they are 29’s

  9. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 7:45 pm

    the nice thing about cactus encounters is you pretty much have to throw away whatever expensive gear you were wearing at the time, cuz there’s no way you’re getting it all out. ever. and the needles reappear at the most inopportune far as racing a 29er, you’re probably refering to the effort required to get a bigger wheel rolling. which really only matters when the gun goes off. and also only matters in a short race.but kenny races his rigid 29 singlespeed all the time. he’s the utah singlespeed champion. his team won the singlespeed class at 24 hours of moab, and their final time/lap count would have made them i think 10th overall. so yeah, i would race my 29er.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 7:47 pm

    Caloi-Rider- I was the 2003 30+ short track xc national champ on a 29er. Definitly faster.

  11. Comment by Kenny | 11.8.2005 | 7:50 pm

    I had my fastest leadville time this year on my 29er. My single rigid team was 7th overall out of about 400 teams at the 24 hours of moab, we were all on 29ers. cross country racing is about getting from point a to point b as fast a you can. 29er wheels hold your momentum by rolling over rocks, bumps, etc more efficiently. You keep your speed faster using less energy. 29er wheels are made for cross country racing.

  12. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 7:57 pm

    Great writeup today, Fatty! Dang, you make me wanna go nightride after work today, but it’s raining here in SLO, CA! BOO! HISS! I used to have no problem riding muddy trails after the rain, but now that I joined IMBA, it’s deemed as a sin…

  13. Comment by tayfuryagci | 11.8.2005 | 8:32 pm

    welcome to tayfurland fatty! pop. : many of the fatcyclists in the world. accepting the fact that you are the worst rider in the group lets you have a lot more fun than you would ever have otherwise. some of those moves sound awesome. I2m literally dreaming of going to a similar desert-like mountain bike resort this summer. with a 5 liter camelback of course!got your hand in the cactus eh? could it be more like a cartoon? a (formerly) fat man flying over his bike into a cactus. :) sorry but the picture is kinda funny. swelling and mild to moderate fever may be forecasted.

  14. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 8:36 pm

    I can tell you that on the "race" out, Kenny, dug, and Brad on single speed 29ers definitely set the pace. Mind you, those guys are super-fit. Irritatingly so. Two of the 26ers were in there, too. Fatty and Rick. But they spend a lot of time on the road. They jumped in the pace line, but remember, they (Fatty and Rick) have gears to allow them to stay with the group. It turns out that Kenny and Rick were duking it out for a photo finish…and well…there’s another story there that Fatty might want to tell. Anyway, the 29er is definitely fast. And those guys (Kenny, Brad and dug) did everything technical, climbing, and otherwise, and often more, than anyone on 26ers, but faster and smoother.

  15. Comment by Zed | 11.8.2005 | 9:22 pm

    Nice, y’all. Yeah, I read that article on I’ve always been a fan of hardtails, so maybe I’ll look into a 29er for my next addition. I’m not so sure on the singlespeed part of it, but that’s a whole ‘nuther discussion …

  16. Comment by TIMOTHY | 11.8.2005 | 9:38 pm

    Don’t the cacti suck??I live in Montana and the prickly pear are plentiful here too. I’ve gotten into them (bodily) twice now. The first time I was trying a super-steep but not technical pitch, lost my momentum and tipped over. I said to my friend Keith – "glad there were no cactus there!" Rode about 20 feet and felt something poking me in the side. Guess I was wrong – luckily my jacket and camel back caught most of them.The second time I wasn’t so lucky, and found out just how much my wife loves me. Again I was a super-steep pitch, but this move involves dropping off a ledge onto an off camber, gravel covered flat rock with a 10 foot drop into the river on your right. At the bottom you make a sharp right, and start climbing a 45+ degree hill (still with that drop to the river on your right) after about 20 feet you have to make a sharp left turn and get up over some buried rocks. If you miss getting over those rocks you fall. I fell…on the ONE cactus that can be found there…on my butt. I was still a mile from the car – I got the bigger ones out, rode back to the car, drove 5 miles home without putting any weight on the left side of my butt (hard with a stick shift!). And told my wife – "I need a favor…" True love is picking cactus spines from your significant other’s butt with a magnifying glass and a tweezers!

  17. Comment by Unknown | 11.8.2005 | 10:09 pm

    if there is anyone in the world more self-effacing, self-deprecating, or humble in the world than rocky, i haven’t met him. rocky came to moab and put on a clinic.and don’t believe fatty’s "i suck" diatribes either. he may be fat, but fatty’s got skills. all this fake humility makes me want to put a pump in his spokes.

  18. Comment by Robert | 11.8.2005 | 10:34 pm

    When we were riding down Gemini Bridges, Robert veered off the path and rolled through a cactus patch, which stabbed his clothes and body with all kinds of needles. Several of us plucked needles for about 45 minutes until Robert (aka "Cactus Bob") could continue. He was still picking out needles weeks later.

  19. Comment by Unknown | 11.9.2005 | 1:04 pm

    I was once told that you could remove the small cactus spines by running the skin upwards across the little hairs on the back of your neck. I have no idea if this actually works, but it might be wortha try. Sounds like you had an awesome trip, and it makes me miss being out west.

  20. Comment by Fat | 11.9.2005 | 1:25 pm

    I had the bad misfortune of finding my Grandma’s dead catus in the backyard when I was younger. I picked it up, not knowing what it was, and tossed it to the side under a pine tree. Once I went to pick something else up I felt little needle points of pain in my hand. I looked down and had about a million tiny catus needles all over my hand. I got most of them out that day but it took about a week to remove all of them. I do my best to avoid all foreign objects now, lol.~ Fat Chick

  21. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 11.9.2005 | 4:26 pm

    Hey there Fatty, it looks like you had a blast! I’m gona have to get out to Moab in the next couple of years! I’ll let you know and we can hook up! Then you’ll lose your spot in the Omega!::GRIN::


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