Moab, Utah is bound on multiple sides by towering red rock formations. The Colorado River runs along the northern edge and Arches National Park just a few miles farther beyond. It is a mecca for people looking for adventure on the rocks and the river. Main Street is crowded with businesses offering rentals and tours for exploring the stunningly beautiful area – via mountain bike, 4×4 vehicle, kayak or raft. But no part of the culture is as popular as ripping up the rocky desert trails on a mountain bike.
As spontaneous travelers we rarely know where we are going next. Days before heading into Utah I did some research and stumbled upon Moab’s celebrated status as a mountain biking destination.
Back when I lived in San Luis Obispo, California I loved mountain biking. But when I moved to San Francisco I made a rookie mistake. I used a cable lock instead of a U-lock, and my mountain bike was stolen in a matter of minutes. Mountain biking was history for me and after meeting Alleah I took up road cycling. I’d been looking forward to getting back into it ever since and hoped that Alleah would fall in love with it too.
We planned to camp at Arches National Park, but when we drove through the gates we were told the campground was full because “all the old people are excited that the kids are back in school.” Luckily, there were Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campgrounds scattered all over. Several were on the banks of the Colorado River just a few miles east of town. We found a perfect site and ended up spending 3 nights there, flanked by 100 foot tall red canyon walls. The BLM sites didn’t provide water, but back in town we discovered an outdoor gear shop on Main Street that freely offered unlimited filtered water to everyone, a brilliant business tactic. We took advantage of it daily.
Finding a mountain bike was just as easy as finding water with so many rental shops lining the street. We randomly chose Poison Spider Bicycles. I weighed the costs and benefits of doing a half-day mountain biking tour versus simply renting two bikes and venturing out on our own. I chose the later, being the independent and adventurous type. Late the next morning we picked up two practically new, top of the line, full suspension bikes, along with a futuristic-looking suction-cup rack to strap them on top of the Prius.
Alleah had never ridden off-road before and we both wanted to take it easy on some comfortable trails while enjoying the breathtaking views. We had been advised to start with a beginner-to-intermediate trail called the “Lazy EZ” and then to check out a few others that it would meet up with. Alleah looked at me with uncertainty when we arrived at the trail head map, suggesting that maybe we start with something more basic. The Bar M Loop trail was described on the map as a “family” trail, which I took to mean it was for babies and not worthy of our time. I abruptly and insensitively made this clear, insisting that we would be fine and the “Lazy EZ” would no doubt be easy as the name implied.
It wouldn’t be the first time I had to eat crow. Mere minutes into the ride on “Lazy EZ” we had to stop and rethink what we were doing. This trail was one of the most technical I had ever ridden. It was hardly enjoyable even for me since I was rusty and every second of riding required completely engaged muscles to handle the endless drops, rocks, sandy spots, dangerous crevices and tight turns. By forcing Alleah along I was about to completely ruin the chance that she would ever get into the sport.
Fortunately, Alleah doesn’t hold a grudge, and we agreed Moabians have a different idea of “beginner” than the rest of the world. Though we were a bit shaken up, we carefully powered through having no choice but to continue until we met up with the converging Bar M Loop.
On this new trail we both started to have fun. We laughed and shook our heads in disbelief that this challenging, rocky course was described as “for families.” It wasn’t easy! But it was certainly doable, and after 10 minutes we were both acclimated and riding confidently.
Over the next 3 hours we rode the loop twice, with majestic views of Arches National Park in the distance and the snow covered peaks of the La Sal Mountains beyond them. At one spot the trail dangerously hugged the cliffs of Courthouse Wash, a deep canyon riverbed. We rode along the edge at least 100 feet above the canyon floor, holding our breath.
At the end of the day we were exhausted, covered in dust and ready for a shower, which the bike shop offered for $5 a pop. Thankfully, the first trail hadn’t soured the experience for Alleah. She expressed how much fun it had been and I was excited that our future would involve more mountain biking exploration together.