Monday, April 29, 2013

Dead Horse & Magnificient Seven

With the spill the previous day, Jeremy proved to us that he is in fact mortal by having a rather tedious, I imagine, strained elbow & having to opt out of the day's ride. We were intending to go & ride Captain Ahab, on Jeremy's exhortation; his ailment meant that we would save it for another day & instead go out & do a family ride at Dead Horse Point State Park (so-called because the point well above the Colorado used to be used to corral horses & once they got left there without any water, the rest is rather obvious) and then Alex & I would ride the top part of Magnificent Seven - this being my favourite ride on my last trip to Moab (I think mostly because I had a riding buddy).

Good views as I expected down to the Colorado River, the trail was rather flat - but as I was still on a high from yesterday's ride I had to keep reigning myself in so as to not get too far ahead of others. I remember there being enough on the trail to keep me interested provided I rode fast enough. A few breaks/catch-ups were provided by numerous viewpoints.

Feeling smaller than usual.

We desperately tried to time jump-shots with the self-timer; we met with resounding failure, but at least entertained Finn (& ourselves for that matter)
After that pleasant little ride, we lunched at the point & admired the views a little more - managing not to lose Finn over the edge.

Serendipitously, the Magnificent Seven theme song was playing on the radio as we pulled into the parking lot at the top of Gemini Bridges Rd - reminding me of Dad, as it's one of his favourite westerns. Megan had managed to blow the seal in her forks and had next to no brake pads left (always handy to discover in the middle of Porcupine Rim), so after dropping Alex & me off she headed to the bike shop for repairs. We trundled down the gravel road, me all too aware that last time the trailhead was very difficult to find. Not any more - there was a parking lot, mapboards & signs and everything. An opportune time to say that all the trails around Moab we were on are extremely well signposted & marked - I was most impressed.

I think I enjoyed the ride more the previous time, at least that's the impression my last ride report gives me; so I'm not going to spend too much more time on the ride details. Suffice to say, it was still a great ride out (& probably better than most I've done over England way recently); maybe a bit of Moab complacency was setting in already - at least the views were still worthy.  Bull Run is probably my favourite part of that which we did; I think there were still plenty of nice technical step-ups, as well as nice downhill parts & enough cliff-side exposure to keep us on our toes.

More canyon side riding.
We weren't ambushed by marauding Boy Scouts
Gemini Bridges
The gap between the two bridges above.
Alex on a typical piece of trail.
The ride out on the bottom of Gemini Bridges Rd to the Highway 191.
The 191 leading south in to Moab, the La Sals hiding in the cloud in the background.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Porcupine Rim revisited

We arranged to meet Jeremy, who had not quite achieved demigod status by this stage, Friday morning as he was camping (well as far as it can be called camping when you have a VW van) in the area.  I was keen to show Megan the famed Porcupine Rim ride later that day & Jeremy was keen to come with.

Alas, as we rode up to Campsite A (we were in C3, fwiw) Jeremy & his camper seemed to have ascended - so Alex & I went for a little play on the Slickrock Trail.  What luxury is it when you can just go & play on the Slickrock Trail - arguably the most famous mountain-bike trail in the world?  We didn't have a heap of time so contented ourselves with doing the Practice Loop (which is no easier than the rest, but a lot shorter) and then riding up the stick of the lollipop (the trail proper is roughly lollipop, or lasso if you prefer, shaped).  It wasn't long before I remembered just how grippy the rock is and had the confidence to ride across rather steep slopes knowing that my rear tyre wouldn't slip down into a chasm or such.  The middle of the stick has some nice steep descents & climbs (dependent on direction of travel of course) which challenged both of us.

Showing off my Combe Raiders shirt - I got it at the (pre-) Christmas CR party & this was the first time it was warm enough to wear riding!
Alex unperturbed by being on the edge of the Abyss (Canyon).
That's me following the dotted line (route finding is easy when there's a big line painted on the rock) down & then back up again, inevitably.

Returning to camp, we found Jeremy had got back from running errands - by which he means joining the Moab Bike Patrol, answering the prayers/requests of the mountain-biking flock and generally being worthy.  Alex & Finn kindly shuttled the other three of us up a long & winding gravel road (during which we wondered about the mental stability of those riding up) to the trailhead of the Kokopelli section of the Whole Enchilada on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road - we found the trail too wet & muddy so went back down to start on UPS (Upper Porcupine Section or some such) - with a 125 m climb over two kilometres to start.

Porcupine is another really famous Moab ride - mostly Jeep track - but there are some sections (UPS & LPS) above that are in a more forested area & provide singletrack & sufficient interest when you're not trying to ride off the edge of a cliff into Castle Valley.  Porcupine Rim itself is more open with fewer trees & actually gets away from the rim as you drop lower & lower.  Last time I rode it I rode alone and was on a bike with less suspension & remember huge amounts of cliffside exposure & really large drops on the Jeep track that I had to walk some of; consequently I didn't rate it as highly as the hype had indicated.  With this in mind & Megan's lack of recent riding on anything other than smooth, forgiving snow - I may have built up the challenge a bit much & freaked her out, just as well she was still willing.

It was good to follow Jeremy through the singletrack UPS & LPS sections & see what was possible to ride & push myself a bit over things I wouldn't normally ride (the bike probably had a bit to do with that - that'll get a post of its own later).  We stopped for the odd photo as the scenery was not to be sniffed at. 
Across Castle Valley
Still trying to comprehend the vastness after too long on the British Isles
A good spot to get off the bikes - trying to get a decent photo of Megan & me together for our families and posterity, we largely failed (unless we weren't facing the camera).

The rocky-ness of the Jeep track began & I really enjoyed chasing Jeremy down the hill.  We kept a good pace with few stops & I was surprised by how much more I could ride this time & how much easier things were.  After Jeremy had an unfortunate encounter with terra firma due to landing a jump in a sandy patch (which would later rule him out of riding the next day), I found myself leading for much of the rest of the way down.  That was fine by me as my confidence in my bike & my ability kept improving - gradually I found myself riding off & over obstacles that I never dreamed I would ever attempt, much less land.  Usually I will take an easy & smooth line with not too much of a drop; if there was a big drop coming up, I'd usually see it in plenty of time, slow down & inspect it & realise I'd lost too much speed, chicken out & walk it or take an easier line.  Not any more, I was carrying a lot more speed and had the confidence to just keep going over & off anything the trail would throw at me - much to my astonishment & delight I was soon riding off two-foot drops with a previously unheard of confidence & landing them (not always in style, but always cleanly).  I was thrilled.  It's hard to convey how exciting this was for me; you'll just have to believe it was a big step in my skill & confidence levels - which had been reasonable stagnant at a competent, but not too exciting, level for some time.

So it was with that development for me, that this became one of my two favourite rides for the whole trip & easily my best ride since Downieville almost two years prior.  Trumpet blowing over.

The Jeep track ran out & turned to the final section of singletrack down the edge (really close to the edge in fact) of a canyon to the Colorado River.  I remember this singletrack being well constructed, but really technical and with the exposure to certain death by launching oneself off the bike to the bottom of a large canyon, requiring a lot of walking.  Oh how things had changed.  The trail had been sanitised somewhat, but not in the usual detrimental way - it was exciting to find that this final part of such a good ride flowed well, I could ride all of it (except one handlebar pinching point & one wash crossing) at speed & it was no longer so technical I was worried about falling to my doom.  It was a great finish to a most excellent ride.  Jeremy & I had previously shuttled his VW to end of the trail & he rose higher in our esteem as he pulled out post-ride celebratory beers from the cooler (esky/chilly bin for those in the Antipodes).  

The problem with leading is that people don't have sufficient opportunity to get a good photo of you - this is the best I have of Jeremy - on the lower singletrack section.

Bikes + rocks + sun = fun for Megan

Back in town, we treated ourselves to showers and the celebratory dinner was a big feed at the local brewpub - Moab Brewery.

Will all of the post titles just say "More Moab Riding"?

Itching to get back on the trails the next day, I somehow decided on Garden Mesa in the Sovereign Trail system (just further north of town than the MOAB Brand trails) to be my more difficult ride of the day. As I remember, & it seemed a bit odd, I generally decided what I wanted to ride (especially when the weather turned less-favourable later in the stay) and then would see if anyone would ride with me. Generally, someone was keen for a ride (funnily enough) and I was satisfied overall that I was getting to ride enough of what I wanted - considering the expense of the two-week trip. When the variable spring weather rolled in, it was a little harder to get motivated - but I just kept reminding myself that I've ridden in a lot worse in England. A bit selfish of me perhaps (single & childless & used to travelling alone will do that), but I hadn't travelled halfway across the world to not ride decent trail!

That rambling over, Megan joined me for the Garden Mesa loop on the top side of the Sovereign Trail System.  We climbed up what I remember being reasonable technical (there was one big obstacle that promised over-the-bars action & great peril if we forgot it was there on the way back down) towards the top of the strangely coppery green mesa we had seen north of the previous day's ride.  The climb up was not nearly as bad as both of us were expecting, which is always nice.

Still in trousers.

The striking green is not so apparent here, but in parts it looked like someone had taken to spraying the trail with that spray-on grass seed that is used on the side recent cuttings for freeways.

On top of the mesa, we found it undulating until we got to the northerly most part of the loop (where we quickly found we did not want to be on the Fallen Peace Officers trail) and headed down a long, sandy in parts, gentle flowing descent in a wash.  There were two such sections on top of the mesa and they were most enjoyable.  We were still finding reasonably technical slow parts that needed careful negotiation/a bit of walking, but they were fine & there was always the vast spaces to look out over.

Before long we were descending off the mesa.

I had to pose like this just to show Chip I haven't forgotten everything.

Family ride for the day was a late afternoon ride up to Klondike Bluffs, well almost - the last little part is in Arches National Park, so we had to lock our bikes up & walk a little to get the views. The ride started off as a brief sandfest along jeep track before turning up the hills and getting more rocky. Before long we were just riding on huge slabs of rock - great for traction; it was a gentle climb that promised to be fun while descending.

It was not long until we had safely stowed our bikes - but being so late in the day, there was no one around to take them. On the climb up we saw a lot of people on ATVs coming down - the size of the people prompted much cause & effect debate. Finn with his new found freedom from the Tout clambered up & over everything up to the viewpoint.

The bluffs and extensive views were indeed impressive, as was the serenity (I think he just liked the word).  Various portraits were attempted in the light of the setting sun.  One of the four people involved managed to ruin each of them, so I'll just post the one where I look like a tool.

Back on the bikes, it wasn't long until I was enjoying hauling down the big smooth rocks.  Not many pictures here - suffice to say, it was fun.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Moab riding begins again.

With my bike picked up, we were off to find some relatively easy singletrack to test gear on - also, I was a bit rusty as far as singletrack went.  Alex & Megan had recently (a week before) received a Tout Terrain Singletrack trailer for towing Finn on singletrack.  With it being single-wheeled, cushioned by Rock Shox & quite narrow it enables towing a child on rougher terrain than a lot of/all other trailers.  Finn wasn't too happy usually to be put in it, but once the bike was moving he was content to look around at everything and occasionally go to sleep.  Anyway, this new acquisition needed proving and our bikes needed a shake-down - so we headed to the family friendly MOAB Brand trails.

With so much riding over ten days, hopefully my ride reports won't be as verbose usual as all the riding bliss blends into one big happy memory; rather they should be photo heavy as the scenery was spectacular and there were others carrying cameras for a change.  Credit for most photos of me will go to Megan or Alex, as will some of the better landscapes - as it's rare for me to find good riding photos of me & their panoramas are better than mine.

MOAB Brand trails
Alex getting used to the Tout
We pottered around a bit on the pretty easy trails enjoying being out on bikes in Moab (!) for a few hours.

10 April 2013
Follow the line, there's plenty of rock to get lost on. Clearly not that warm, as I wasn't regretting the bike trousers.

MOAB Brand trails

After our first little ride, it was off to set up camp above town in the Sand Flats area (close to the world famous Slickrock trail). As the cold weather seemed to have scared everyone else off too, we had our pick of the campsites. We settled on the first one we looked at - it had grand views of the La Sal mountains, a big rock for Finn to climb and was set well back from the parking lot. I was greeted with resounding laughter as I carried two suitcases in across all the sand - I maintain it was the most practical option of getting so much riding paraphernalia across the world.

Camp looking out to the La Sal mountains.

10 April 2013
It didn't look too bad at night either - not Montana, I know, but big skies all the same

I rather optimistically declared, not factoring in spring weather, my intention to ride twice each of the ten days - one family ride, one harder/more technical. With not much of the day left, Alex & I headed to the base of the ridge on the other side of town ride Pipe Dream (Megan had scoped this out for us the day before, itching to go for a run after days cooped up in the car from Alberta). Close to town, it's a relatively short trail that packs in a lot of up & down with plenty of technical challenges - mostly involving balancing. I was pretty happy to only dab (put my foot down while trying to ride) once.

Pipe Dream, above Moab township.
Across the south end of town to the La Sals

Pipe Dream, above Moab township.
Alex trying not to sneeze too hard, lest it all comes down

Back in Utah!

After a repeatedly & much-delayed flight from O'Hare, I was back in Utah for my fourth visit in less than four years - being one of my favourite western states, I was much excited.  That excitement was muted a little by the lateness of the hour, picking up the rental car & completing the easy drive across Salt Lake City to Jeremy & Pam's house.  It was fairly late in the planning of the trip that I realised I did actually, sort of, know people in SLC - having met Jeremy & Pam riding a very nice river trail in central Oregon two years previous.  They came through for us time & time again during our Utah stay.  With the late hour, there wasn't much to do apart from say hello to those I'd kept from sleep, make a bed and hit the hay.

Waking up, I was a little concerned & surprised that it wasn't much warmer than the dreary English weather I'd left behind.  After a brief, more awake, re-acquaintance with Jeremy & Pam they were off to work & we were out the door to a huge breakfast at a diner (complete with learn-your-US-presidents placemats - mostly remembered for the impressive quiffs of bygone centuries) chosen by Jeremy (as this trip progresses you'll see we began to take any of Jeremy's recommendations as gospel).  With a bit of faffing round looking for odds & sods for me, our small convoy (two Subarus) set off south for Moab.

It was a pretty leisurely drive down south over a pass as we struck off I-15.  The fresh snow was concerning considering ten days of mountain-biking & camping, but not too off-putting.
Driving over the pass through more snow than I was expecting, between Salt Lake City & Price.

We stopped in Wellington City, of all places, for a playground expenditure of energy for Finn. I think I may have been the most worn out. I should have mentioned by now that I flew to SLC to meet best-friends from living in Canada, Alex, Megan & their son Finn for Moab adventures - this time biking. Moab being possibly the most famous mountain-biking destination, I was thrilled to be back (I had been here with Valerie on the roadtrip two years ago) and salivating at the chance to ride proper bike trails with rocks, climbs, singletrack and all those good things.  The plan was to camp for our entire stay, but rolling into Moab it was much too cold to be setting up camp with a toddler (a handy excuse), so we got a cabin for the night.

In the morning it was off to Poison Spider to pick up my rental bike - more about that later (except to say it was at the low end of the Moab rental bike range and cost more to hire than a late-model Subaru Forester - cars are cheap in the States!). And off to ride!

A little bit more of Chicago

I know I said I'd post more on Chicago, but more photos will have to do.  As good as Chicago was for two days, Utah was exceptional & I'd much rather talk about the best holiday & mountain-biking I've had in ages than prattle on about a rather neat city.

From Willis (Sears) Tower

Downtown Chicago

Watching the tourists in a R44 watching us on the viewing deck

That's a hundred-odd stories down.

Wandering under the L on the way back from Wrigley

More photos of trains

Sue - the largest T-Rex

The infamous Tsavo Lions

Random sculptures near Grant Park