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May 10 2014

Moab Book 2: Being There

I feel like like I skipped over so many things along the way to summarizing the first part of the trip… how the weather was (soooo much better than it had been when I left TO), what it felt like to be on the road (and on the road alone)… I am really getting to enjoy travel time but it’s very clear already that’s it’s more fun to share that time than it is to do it alone. Or at least that’s how I feel about it.

Anyhow… on to the second book in this trilogy: Being There!

To be fair and completely honest, I was “there” for a couple of days before Andrea arrived and I touched on that in the first part. I view the time Bob shared with me, and helped me learn about the area, as part of getting there… I suppose in my mind that simply makes the time easier to break down. I really hope there will be an opportunity for that timeline to blur and that there will be a chance for Andrea and Bob to meet. I have no doubt they’d connect on both the trails and at the campsites.  Something to look forward to.

The Road to Vegas
 I’ve never been there before, to be honest I won’t rush back either… it’s an odd place and left me with odd feelings. It was also a longer drive than I had thought it would be, close to 500 miles. I picked it as a flight destination because there were more options for Andrea to get there and they were direct rather than a two hop flight… her time saved at my expense. She’s the one who had limited time though, makes sense in my mind! 🙂

I left Bob’s company at the Klonzo trailhead and made my way west and south with a goal of getting as far as St. George before calling it a day. I had no idea about how stunning the scenery would be, the stretch heading west along I-70 past Black Dragon and the Ghost Rock is spectacular. Fortunately (?) I ended up driving that stretch 3 times during Book 2 and got to spend a little time exploring on the 2nd and 3rd times though. Babe wasn’t thrilled with 6+ miles of hard climbing and I had to pay attention to the various gauges. And I had to make use of my 4-way flashers as I wasn’t anywhere near the speed limit (who would ever think an ’82 VW could do 75 or 80 mph… I certainly didn’t push Babe to do that!).

New York, Vegas style

Once past this, with a highest elevation of almost 8,000 feet, it was a long slow descent as I headed south. By the time I got to Vegas the next morning I was almost a mile lower (it’s just over 2,000 ft). I also gained an hour as I left Utah so I got to Vegas with time to spare. Andrea’s flight was a little delayed too so I hung around until she arrived and then we spent some time exchanging emails until we were able to find each other… Andrea assumed I’d be driving Babe to the passenger pick-up area but I had parked and was on foot. This, plus the time change as we headed back to Utah meant less driving time so we decided to find a motel rather than looking for somewhere to camp. Which in turn meant we had time to enjoy the scenery the next morning (Good Friday).

Ghost Rock – detail

I had already decided that we would head to the north Klondike Bluffs trail head to find a place to camp and start our Moab riding trip. As we were there early in the day we had no problem finding a spot. From campsite to trail head was all of a minute on the bikes and then we were off and riding. The lower trails were a great introduction to the area with lots of flow and some technical sections to remind us of the skills we needed. Then we headed up Little Salty… up and up and up some more! When we got to the top we opted to head over to Mega Steps as our route down, which meant we had some double track on Baby Steps to ride… it’s amazing to see some of the things the jeeps and off-road vehicles go on, it was filled with rock gardens and steep climbs that tested us too. Then it was time for some slick rock descending, the first for both of us. That reminds me… I better check my brake pads before taking Stumpy out for a ride! And my hands are still a little sore from the combination of bumping down the rocks while applying the brakes.

Klondike Bluffs

Ready to ride!
Our first campsite

 The evening was spent relaxing by a campfire, a routine we got into for most nights. Then it was off to our next ride destination, Dead Horse Point. We took a detour into Moab to fill up on some supplies, and stopped in at Poison Spider as Andrea was having some chain skip. The combination of a new chain and old cassette… easily fixed by popping on a new cassette.

Parked at Poison Spider

I had enjoyed the DHP trails when Bob and I rode them and thought Andrea would enjoy them and the views too. They aren’t very technical, probably the easiest trails we rode all week. So it’s ironic that it’s the only place we had any crashes, with both of us making one mistake each and picking up some minor souvenirs.

Since we were up on the mesa we took a look in at Horsethief campground and found that there were a number of spots free so we decided to grab a site for two nights. I was expecting it to be full as it was Saturday on the long weekend so I was pleased to find a nice spot. We talked with a couple of Aussies who were traveling around in an old ’70s Ford camper and were headed up to Kelowna to work in the orchards for the summer.

Sunday’s destination was Sovereign and Klonzo… the map indicated it was a blue (medium difficulty) trail but I’d have to say it was one of the tougher trails we did… some incredibly steep switchbacks and technical sections. And it was my least enjoyable day on the bike… we ended up taking a double track route out because I was getting tired and cranky. When we got back to Babe I settled in to re-fuel while Andrea headed over to Klonzo to ride. She got another hour of riding in and by the time she got back I was feeling a lot better.

I had read that the national parks had free admission that weekend so we took the opportunity to explore Arches NP for a few hours. Stunning! Rather than write about it, here are a couple of photos.

Arches National Park
Arches National Park

 There are a few more photos in the gallery I put up on Facebook if you’re interested.

When we got back to Horsethief, we discovered a Eurovan camper and a monster truck across from our campsite. Andrea overheard french and ended up wandering over to investigate. The monster truck belonged to a french couple who had sold their home and were in the middle of a major road trip. You can read about Sylvie and Christian’s adventure on their blog (cisco-road-trip.t15.org). The Eurovan was a family from Quebec who were traveling to the west coast and the two couples had met up with a language in common. Very cool.

A language in common

On Monday we set about arranging for a shuttle to the top of Magnificent 7 and a dual suspension rental for Andrea. That was after we did some more riding of course… we headed to the Bar-M / Moab Brands area. There’s a really interesting mix of trails there including a lot of slick rock, only a few of them are really technical but even some of the easier trails were a good workout. After riding we went to Chile Pepper bike shop to arrange Andrea’s rental & then over to Coyote Shuttle to arrange that. Based on the weather forecast we decided to do Mag-7 on Wednesday. As for the Shuttle, Jesse uses Vanagons for his shuttles, including 2 stretch versions, so it was natural for us to pick him for our shuttle service. And he is a real talker… turned into a good 1/2 hour of conversation about bio-diesel and Vanagons.

We had hoped to camp along the Colorado River Monday night but couldn’t find any sites, probably because we were looking too late in the day. So we headed back to Horsethief and found a site there. A little later than we wanted, and without firewood too! Still, we had a flat spot to park and enjoyed the evening relaxing.

Relaxing at Sand Flats

 To remedy the late campsite hunt problem, we elected to head up to the Sand Flats area and booked ourselves a campsite for Tues & Wed early in the day. We looked around the various sites and as we were looking through one loop there was another Vanagon looking for a site. When we came back to that loop, they quickly picked a site they liked which just happened to be next to the one Andrea decided we’d use. Turns out they were from BC, and this was their first camping trip in their Westy. His parents, who had owned the Westy for years, decided they weren’t going to camp anymore and gave it to them. We spent some time talking about the delights of using one, something they’re just getting to learn about first hand. And cycling of course… they were there riding Slickrock on ‘cross bikes. Having ridden it later in the week I can’t even imagine trying that!

Our Tuesday ride was a short one, intentionally, as we wanted to save up some energy for Mag-7. We decided on M&M (named for the Monitor & Merrimac buttes, which in turn were named for the civil war warships). This was the first and only time we actually had mud as the trail rides alongside and across a small creek before heading up onto slick rock. It was probably only about an hour of riding but it meant we had time for things like laundry 🙂

Beautiful sunset on Tuesday

Tuesday night delivered a stunning sunset as a weather front moved through however it also delivered incredibly strong winds overnight… enough to rock the bus! And the temperature dropped around 20 degrees in the matter of an hour. Quite the night.

Our shuttle to Mag-7

We had booked an early shuttle on Wed. so we could make the most of the day and as a result we got up and out early. Andrea got fitted for her bike including getting her saddle put on it and then the bikes got loaded on top of the shuttle.

We were a small group of 6, including a father & son celebrating their 75th & 50th birthdays respectively. We all hopped out of the shuttle at the trail head and started shivering! It was bloody cold up there and we hadn’t come prepared for that so a quick photo and then down to the business of riding! Not that that really helped until we got lower, it was all descending for the first few hours.

Chilly at the top, time to ride

The trip down includes going past Gemini Bridges which is beautiful and a great reason to take a break. After than, we kept going down on slick rock and single track until we missed the cut-off to head to highway 191. This led to our first climbing of the day as we rode a few miles of Gold Bar before realizing what we’d done. Back down the trail to where we should have gone and then through onto some 4×4 trails that were very sandy at first and then a steep climb up the side of a ridge, to an equally steep descent down the other side. The trail pops out at Bar-M with options to ride the trails or the paved bikepath back to Moab. I would guess it’s close to 30 miles of riding in today although much of it is downhill, including the bike path to town. I think this was the best day of riding we had all week, although the next day was a lot of fun too.

We got back to camp with time to spare, and a good supply of firewood on hand. After watching the sun set, we settled in around the campfire with our neighbours and chatted the evening away. Next morning (Thursday) our plan was to ride Slickrock trail so we didn’t have far to go to get there.

After we packed up, Andrea rode her rental bike down to the trailhead while I drove Babe there. Loaded up with water and food and away we went. When we talked about it the day before we thought we might just do the practice loop but once we got there we just headed out on the main trail. Almost all of the trail is on slickrock with only a few sandy patches to cross. And while we’d ridden on lots of slickrock up until this point, none of it prepared us for this trail. Some of the descents and climbs are incredibly steep! Andrea got pretty good at climbing them, while I got much better at descending. Took a while to overcome the fear factor though… once I did I loved it (more than Andrea did).

Andrea on Slickrock Trail, with the Colorado River down below

Descending on the bike was easier than walking

After riding and lunch in town we headed back to Klondike Bluffs for our final night of camping in Moab. We looked around the southern trail head but didn’t like it as much as the northern part so we drove out to the highway and up to where we’d stayed the first night. We picked a nice campsite close to the trail head, which happened to have a vault toilet (bonus).

As I sit here writing this, I find it amazing at how quickly the time went. As it usually does when you’re doing something you enjoy. And in writing this, I realize how many little details I’m skipping over… this would really turn into a book if I tried to include them all.

Desert Camping

Friday was another beautiful day, we had been blessed with lots of great weather and classic warm days with cool nights for almost the entire trip. We had some breakfast and then got back onto Dino Flow, followed by Baby Steps up. When we got to the top we went a little further north and instead of coming down Mega Steps we took Alaska and Homer. These trails have lots of switchbacks along ledges rather than slick rock… a great morning ride to wrap up our time in Moab.

We had started riding early so we got on the road back to Vegas early too. I thought we could get as far as Arizona and we did, but once we got there I suggested pressing on a little further. We picked a motel near Overton NV and got there just around dusk. That put us next to the Valley of Fire and only an hour or so away from the airport. And left us both feeling a little blue… after all the anticipation since deciding to do this trip and the pleasure of sharing it, it was coming to an end.

Overton NV

After breakfast Saturday morning, I decided to ignore the GPS and take the back roads to Vegas. This led us to the entrance to Valley of Fire SP and so we took a drive through… beautiful! The weather was a mixed bag that day so my plan to go back and take photos didn’t pan out but Andrea took a few as we went through. And it was a nice distraction from the impending good-bye. Anyone who knows me knows I’m no fan of farewells, and really don’t like long ones, so the distraction was good for both of us.

Valley of Fire SP

And then we were back in Vegas… at the airport. At least this time we had been there before so there was no confusion. Just a short and sweet good-bye as Andrea took her bags and headed to her flight home and I closed the door on this book and drove off.

Which leads into the final book, the trip home. Stay tuned…

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