Over Labor Day weekend Rosie and I headed to Moab for a some camping and riding with friends from Dartmouth. Moab in the fall is an incredible place with cool night turning to to scorching days in the desert sun. Fortunately our campsite was located right on the Colorado River so we could jump in and cool off after hot and dusty rides.
After a couple days of hitting up the must do rides like Slickrock Trail we decided to get a bit adventurous. My old coach Ruff Patterson had told me to try to get out on his favorite long ride, Hurrah Pass-Jackson Hole and Amasa Back, but I never got around to it previous times in town. I had a general idea of where we were going from a trail description Ruff had given me earlier in the Spring as well as from a mountain bike guidebook Rosie had brought. The ride started out climbing up and over Hurrah Pass which was fast fun riding on packed dirt and mixed slickrock with a twisty rocky downhill into Jackson Hole.
It was only on the way to Jackson Hole that the ride went from a fun long cruiser to a true epic ride. Our guidebook was from 1997 which didn’t really worry me because most rides in Moab like the Slickrock trail haven’t been changed since the late 80’s. Not the case with this ride. Judging by the absence of tire marks the Jackson Hole section of the the trail had probably fallen out of favor a while ago and for good reason. We hit sand. Deep Moab sand and lots of it. After a considerable stretch of not so pleasant desert hiking and a flat from all the thorns by the trail we finally got to Jacobs Ladder, a really cool 500 foot vertical portage from the desert floor up a steep rockfall to the mesa above. It certainly felt a bit like Hannibal’s army crossing the Alps with our bikes slung across our backs stair stepping our way up a near vertical face!
After a quick breather on top of Amasa Back we headed down the fast technical decent to the trail head and closed out our adventure with burgers and shakes in town!
After our long day in the saddle Rosie and I followed John and Eric back to Durango where Jane and Pat Gerstenberger were kind enough to house and cook wonderful food for us. Of course no trip to Durango would be complete without actually going for a ride so on the morning of our last day there we all set out towards the local trails despite a light rain. The trails were fast and swoopy on the hard packed dirt and I felt like I could ride all day. Unfortunately as I began to recall from one of my “dirt” classes, the clay soils that make these trails so fun and fast when they are dry also makes them very gummy as the clay reaches saturation. How sticky? Well lets say I have never had my bike simply come to a grinding stop as the tires pick up inches of the trail like a iced up ski picking up snow on a tricky wax day
What was really amazing to me was just how quick trail conditions changed. We climbed over a small pass and the soil went from sandy loam to mostly clay. We started descending and my bike just stopped and I almost endoed as the wheels locked up. John and Eric laughed. Then their bikes and laughter stopped. Cue second portage in 3 days as we carried our bike down the pass we had just climbed minutes earlier. Then as we got back into sandier soil our tires freed up enough to roll again and we were off slipping and sliding like kids on ice.
So what did I learn from these two very new experiences biking? Don’t try to ride in Moab sand or Durango mud. Seriously. Wait for the mud to dry with clay and for it to rain with sand. Also this one seems obvious but bring lots to drink when you are riding in a desert. Pack you bag, then double the amount of liquid. Its better to push you bike through a mile of sand hydrated than not. And always bring a pack of Top Ramen for anti-bonk. The noodles are straight carbs and the flavor packet has all the sodium and MSG you could want on a hot day. This way you will be prepared for almost any unexpected addition to your ride!
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