The Fall Moab trip has always been about tradition. The first day is for riding the Slickrock trail — the most famous mountain bike trail in the world. The second day is for riding Gold Bar Rim, the most technical trail in Moab (at least, it’s the most technical trail around the way we ride it). The third day is for riding Amassa Back.
This year, though, we changed things up a little bit.
Dug, in his pre-trip pronouncement of what we’d all be doing (which he always writes in the form of, “You’re all welcome to do whatever you want, but what I plan to do is…” format), indicated that we’d be riding Bartlett Wash as our first ride — aÂ trail most of us had never tried before.
To help make his case, though, Dug provided this link, describing Bartlett Wash. After looking at what the ride had in store for us — an endless expanse of freeform, exquisite, rolling sandstone, nobody had any complaints about Dug’s proclamation.
There’s a reason, after all, that Dug picks the rides: Dug’s good at picking the rides. I tell you, I’ve never seen him so happily absorbed as when he’s looking at a map. He’s as good at envisioning trails he’s never ridden as I am bad at it.
So a few miles before Moab proper, we pull into a dirt parking lot. “You’d better leave your car here,” says BotchedExperiment (who, for the sake of convenience, I shall henceforth refer to simply as “Botched”). “The road gets aÂ little rough from this point.”
That would be an understatement.
Riding in Kenny’s Jeep, we got bounced around as he navigated deep erosion trenches, big rocks, dry riverbeds and more. My car wouldn’t have made it the first 100 feet.
Then we got to the trailhead parking lot to find Rick’s Hummer already sitting there. It had been there 20 minutes. Turns out there’s an easier route (but my car still wouldn’t have made it).
Everyone quickly suited up and got their bikes ready, anxious to get going. As they did, I walked around, handing out sandwich bags with the Matisse & Jacks homemade energy bars Bob and I had made the previous night. Some people politely accepted a bag; most people declined. Nobody gets excited about energy bars. So I stuffed a couple extra bags in my jersey pocket to see if I’d get a better reaction when people were on the trail.
I now had to decide: singlespeed or geared bike for the first ride? Figuring that this was a ride without sustained climbing (and also bowing to peer pressure), I went with the single.
A quick ride along a damp, sandy streambed brought us to Bartlett Wash. The descriptions I’ve read don’t do it justice. It’s an extraordinary expanse of beautiful sandstone mountains. There’s no marked trail (eg, painted lines on the Slickrock trail), so you just tool along, looking for interesting things to do.
Bartlett Wash is, in short, an enormous sandstone mountain bike skills park. With hardly anyone in it.
At first we contented ourselves with riding up and over stuff, as well as experiencing the indescribable pleasure of the grip sandstone has on rubber. You can climb stuff — and descend stuff — that would be pretty much impossible on any other surface.
For example, there’s a nearly-vertical wall I would never have even thought possible to climb, on any bike. Before long, though, everyone was getting a good run at the thing and rolling right up it. Check out this video of Kenny zooming up — on his singlespeed, natch.
I never managed to get the courage to try that particular move — the image of me stalling out 2/3 of the way up, then falling over backward, was too strong to overcome. For what it’s worth, I did roll down that wall, which was plenty freaky, thankyouverymuch.
Sadly, I didn’t bring my own camera on this ride, which meant I didn’t get to capture some of the most aweome moments of the day:
- Dug nearly dies: Dropping down an extremely steep, technical basin, Dug’s rear tire lost traction as he tried to navigate an off-camber, downhill U-turn. He slid, overcorrected, re-corrected, and managed to stay upright. I’m pretty sure the penalty if he had fallen there would have been a concussion or broken bone at the very least.
- Dug is no longer used to big suspension: Dug was riding his rigid singlespeed, while letting Tom — who had flown in from out of state — ride his big-hit Canondale Gemini (which we all call “The Pig,” because it weighs around 400lbs). Dug swapped back with Tom for a moment, though, to tryÂ a technical ledge move. But when the fork compressed six inches, Dug wasn’t ready for it and did a face-first endo right into the corner of the ledge. To me, it looked like some giant unseen hand had just swatted Dug off his bike, just for laughs. Dug was looped for several minutes, and sported a scab on his chin for the rest of the trip. To his credit, though, Dug didn’t back down even a little. I don’t know how he stays aggressive after a big fall. When I go down hard, I’m timid for a month.
- Botched Can Fly: One of the things I like about Botched (apart from the whole working-full-time-to-cure-cancer thing) is that he takes requests. “Hey, go jump off that four-foot ledge,” you can say, and Botched will go do it. “Hey, go and drop off that wall,” you might say, figuring there’s no way he’ll do something like that, and he’ll go do it. Botched’s bike-handling skill andÂ apparent lack of fear of anythingÂ has made me involuntarily gasp at least twenty times by now. No exaggeration. To give you an idea of what Botched looks like, here’s a shot I got of him hopping over a crevice (which was deep and wide enough for me to stand in). This photo’s out of order (ie, not from Bartlett Wash), but I want you to have a good idea of what this mild-mannered, cancer-fighting, blog-commenting guy is like when he’s on his bike (and yes, he did clean the move):
- I’m getting better at the technical stuff: I was riding down near-walls, climbing up ledges, and descending scary technical stuff the whole day. I think there are two reasons for this. First, the tricks Botched taught me have really helped; I understand how my bike works better now than I used to. And second, I think I’m stronger technically on a singlespeed, because there’s just fewer things for me to worry about. I don’t worry about my bike ghost-shifting in the middle of the move. I don’t worry about whether having my fork compress at the bottom of the move is going to shrug enough momentum to pitch me over the front. And the bike just feels more direct / immediate somehow. I’m not going to say that I’m now a fully-committed rigid singlespeeder, but I can understand why somebody might be.
When you’re with a big group of guys on a big ride, the ride post-mortem can be every bit as important as the ride itself. This was particularly true for some of the guys on this trip, many of which currently hate their jobs (I’m one of the lucky ones; I recently switched to the best job at the best company I’ve ever worked for). Everyone was tossing around a football, some were having a beer or two (or three), and a couple of dopes were smoking stinky cigars. I made it clear to anyone smoking that I didn’t care for the second-hand smoke. Sorry, I just don’t get the cigar thing. Now, a nice pipe while wearing a deerstalker cap, that at least makes sense. Especially when sitting in a remote parking lot in Moab after doing a big ol’ mountain bike ride.
By now, people were hungry. Again, I offered up the home-baked energy bars. This time, people tried them.
And then, they devoured them.
It turns out that these Matisse & Jack’s Bake-at-Home Energy Bars are the best-tasting energy food, ever. Especially the chocolate chip ones. I’d suggest, in fact, that the Matisse & Jack’s folks shouldn’t call them “energy bars,” because we all know that energy bars are hard to chew, taste dry, and are generally unappealing. These should be called “energy cookies” or “energy brownies” or something like that. ‘Cuz these things taste like dessert. I’m a fan. And they held up just fine in my jersey pocket over a three-hour ride, so they’re trail-ready. Sixteen thumbs up: eight people tried ‘em, and we all liked ‘em.
Tomorrow: Gold Bar Rim (with lotsa pics and video) and the Best Restaraunt in Moab. Yeah, I know I was going to get to those today, but things are hectic at work; I’m lucky to get this much written.