This past weekend was a blast. Thursday morning Maija, our 3 dogs, and myself headed west to Moab, UT. We left early in hopes of beating some traffic and having the latter part of the afternoon to relax and set up camp. The drive to Moab was interesting in terms of weather. Dry and cool on the front range, cold (10 degrees) in the high country, then hot and dry once over the mountains. The trip was easy with minimal traffic the entire time. We stopped in Vail to pick up some Starbucks and use the bathrooms. I wish I could have seen more of Vail. We turned off the highway into the town and were presented with unique homes and condos. The european style roads with various roundabouts and narrow streets gave a fresh experience compared to the jejune American roadways. After doing a complete circle around town we couldn’t find one coffee shop! Was this really Vail? So, we jumped back on the highway and got off at the next exit to pick up our yuppie caffeine fix. Once back on the road it was another 3-4 hours until Moab. After getting off I-70 you head down a two lane road for 30 miles which takes you past Arches National Park and right smack into the middle of the Moab town.
The town is small, bleak with a cardinal tourist feeling. The sun was shinning in a cloudless sky as we made our way to the nearest bicycle shop. Our first intention was to head to the meeting point for her team. Subsequently, we decided to rent a mountain bike for myself. I chose an Aluminum Trek Full Suspension. Although I had my eye on a Yeti FS it was a little too costly for our liking. After renting the bike we were presented with a slight problem; Our car was already packed to the brim! I definitely overpacked for this trip. Unlike our Pennsylvania adventure where we hiked into our campsite, we had our car with us the whole time. Sleeping bags, tent, bags of cycling clothes, food, water, toolbox, more food, small cooler, bicycle stand, Maija’s FS mountain bike, and my road bike. Not really sure why I brought my road bike to the desert but it was worth it in the end. (Keep reading to find out) If I remeber correctly I put the rented bike frame in the back seat next to two of the dogs while one sat on Maija’s lap. The wheels found their way into the car as well.
Maija had vague directions to where her team was camping. It was not her fault or anyone else’s. The campsite was so remote there was no easy way to give definitive and specific navigation bearings. Our directions and intuition took us down Kane Creek Rd where we followed a paved road that turned into dirt after a few kilometers. We continued down the dirt road with some amazing fews of eroded rock creations, canyons, and mesas. Some of the rocks had been morphed into peculiar shapes and sizes over thousands of years. The more and more we drove down the dirt road, the more desolate and inhospitable it became. I found out quickly the popularity of ATV’s, dirt bikes and other two and four-wheel vehicles. There was an abundant of mountain bikers but most others had a truck which was pulling some other type of motorized toy. I don’t have any particular dislike for those who use motorized equipment as a form of entertainment but I do have slight angst for the amount of noise it produces in the valley near our campsite. On the upside, the majority of those using ORV’s were friendly and always waved as they passed you.
There was an unspoken truth and respect by most people who used the dirt roads for leisure, and surroundings for tranquility.
The road to our campsite remained narrow with steep drop-off’s on one or both sides of the car. It was a bit scary at times to drive here. We neared our campsite and met a few of Maija’s teammates leaving the camp area. We arrived at the campsite, let the dogs loose to roam while I busied myself setting up the tent. It was already in the middle to upper 60′s and with no clouds in sight and a mixture of dry air I was roasting as I set up camp. The site from our campsite was priceless and unparalleled. The campsite tucked around a mesa which made you feel more grounded and stable. But, we needed to air on the side of caution as there was a cliff only 200 meters from our tent. As I went to relieve myself in the middle of the night I made sure I was extra alert.
Traveling with three dogs can be hard work. Three different dogs, wanting to go in three different directions, doing three different things. Even the most well trained pups use nature as their play ground. I found myself getting a little frustrated as it was hard to control three canine minds in the wild. Frito had the most wandering of minds as he searched out every nook, bush, and rock. Finally I tied him up to a rope so he could wander but not out of sight. He remained content with this as he kept a keen eye out for any game.
Once we settled into camp Maija and I decided to go on a short mountain bike ride. We didn’t know the area yet so we chose to ride on the dirt road which we drove in. Our biggest problem was finding shade. I would say 85% of the area was hit by direct sunlight, and another 10% were places we could not park a car. Lucky enough we found a small shaded area to park the car and leave the dogs to chill out while Maija and I headed out for a ride. The mountain bike I had was comfortable for the most part and after a short ride I realized it was easier getting used to a mountain bike fit than a road fit. It was almost as if things had to be off on a mountain bike for it to feel “correct”. No dirt trail is completely uniform and as such a mountain bike shouldn’t be either. We did a short out and back on the bikes and then returned to the campsite just in time to make a fire, eat some dinner, and watch the sunset.
The next day was quite epic. Sometimes you have a ride / adventure which turns out to be an experience to remember. Sometimes these experiences go as planned while others fall apart with great compulsion. Still, there is always a fragment of learning which can be applied to future training and racing. It was cold when we awoke on Friday morning but the temperature rises fast in the desert and before nine o’clock it was already in the 50′s. Everyone at our campsite was heading to ride a trail called baby steps. Sounded mild in terms of technical skills so why not try it out? Personally, I still have a lot to learn in terms of mountain bike riding as most of my riding and racing is on paved roads. Notwithstanding, I’m still able to hold my own on technical courses because of the skills obtained on the road. Maija and I got the jump on the rest of the group and followed another car to the trailhead. When we arrived it was already hot so we covered the car in blankets, cracked the windows, and threw water on the dogs to keep them cool while we rode. The trail started out easy except for the sandy sections where it was hard to remain control of the bike. A few turns to follow the signs and we began to climb over slick-rock. It was a steep climb on the slick-rock and I had some trouble staying upright. Maija on the other hand ran into some mechanical issues with her bike which included a loose seat-post / saddle combination, an issue with her pedal getting stuck, and an array of other small disruptions. This made it hard for her to concentrate on the trail and feel comfortable during technical sections. I too, would have felt the same way. We continued riding up, down, and through some straightaways. After a while of continued bike mechanical issue Maija and I decided to turn around and head back to the car. As we turned around and headed in the direction we just traveled Maija encountered an issue (I don’t exactly remember what happened) and flipped over her bicycle. Crazy! She was determined to finish this route so we could make it to our pups before the hot hot weather came. I give her a lot of credit for trying this loop. Both of our riding abilities and made me realize it’s better to start off with easier routes and then graduate to more technical paths. We got back to the car, relaxed for a few, cleaned up some cuts, and headed back into town.
Later in the day we headed down to the river closest to our camp. It was a tough regression to the river but the dogs enjoyed the adventure. I even got to snag a picture of a tiny lizard. Apparently the lizards were the one’s responsible for Frito’s infatuation under the rocks! Once we reached the water it was short lived as there was not much room for us to hang, plus there were giant red ant hills everywhere.
The day was still young so we hiked an out and back trail with the dogs. We snagged some cool shots of nature and found out Mickey can swim! In fact, he loves the water so much I had to call to him just to come out. Mickey is growing up fast and likes to try and control our pack. I reprimand him when he gets out of place but for the most part he is mindful of my guidelines and obeys my commands. He is a loyal dog who is finding his place among Cooper and Frito.
Dog or Wolf?
Each night brought beautiful sunsets with cooler weather. There was always a fire burning at the campsite (at night) which kept us warm during the nightly hours. Once the sun goes down there is an supernatural feeling of sleeping in a large area with nothing around you but thousands of stars filling up the sky and a dim silhouette of the mesas and rock formations. Although around others I felt alone in a vast environment. The past couple of days I gained a better understanding of the desert and it’s natural character.
The third day in Moab Maija and I got up early, ate some breakfast and headed out to a challenging yet do-able ride. There was no shade for the dogs in the car but because we made an early start they were cool the entire time. The ride started out on the main highway and quickly climbed through the valley of rocks until you were up and away from the site of any paved roads. We started early enough to be some of the only people on the trail. On the way back ATV’s, Jeep’s, and other motorized vehicles started making their way out on the trail. This ride had some beautiful views of rock evolution and mountains. This ride was more up our alley as it was psychically and technically challenging but not out of our realm.
Once back to the car we drove back to the campsite, ate some lunch, and headed out for some more adventure seeking with the pups. The afternoon was spent taking the dogs to Ken’s lake. The lake was at the foothills south-east of Moab. The lake itself seemed to be dried out but still held a respectable amount of water. Maija wanted to go for a run so I tailed behind with Mickey and Cooper as we hiked up to a waterfall. The hike was easy but after a tough ride earlier in the day, my legs were definitely feeling it. Also, in this specific section of the foothills there was a hot dry air blowing through. Maija ran back to me a few times to switch out between Mickey and Frito and to give me a heads up on what direction to take on the trail. Once we got to the waterfall I took my shoes off, and walked right in. The water was cold yet refreshing. I dunked some water on my head, took a few pictures of the surrounding area and then headed back to the lake. Ken’s lake and the nearby area was nice but wasn’t the best of sites. Maybe the heat was getting to me after a few days of camping and riding.
Our last day in Moab was short lived. With a 6 hour ride back to Highlands Ranch, a tired couple, and three worn out dogs, it was time to say goodbye to the desert. We ate some breakfast and I started packing the car while Maija went on a mountain bike ride. I didn’t realize how long it would take to pack up a car. We had so much stuff. After a while, we were on our way back to Denver. The plan on Sunday was to ride the Colorado National Monument. I had mixed feelings about doing the ride. I was sunburnt, sore from sleeping on the ground with no sleeping bag pad (until the last night), and eager to rest up. The closer we got to Fruita and Grand Junction the more I wanted to see the monument from a bicycle. The decision was made. I would climb the monument. We stopped off at the visitor center where we picked up a map of the national park. The ride was easy to figure out as it was a point to point ride. You climb for a while then ride the rim of the monument until you get to Grand Junction. All in all it’s about 22 miles. I paid my entrance fee ($4.00 for bicycles, $7 for cars) and made my way up the climb. Since we were coming from Moab it made sense to ride from the west entrance. The east entrance is a bit more difficult with steep pitches and switchbacks. The west entrance was just as beautiful. I only saw half a dozen cyclists out on the road and a few dozen cars. For most of the ride I was alone. I climbed for a few miles and then hit a series of tunnels carved out in the mountain side. Cool stuff! I stopped a few times to snatch some pictures of the landscape and continued on my journey. Maija met me on the other side at the east entrance. I’m glad I got to experience the monument. Sometimes it’s important to view historical landmarks from a cycling perspective. Unless I’m on my own two feet it’s hard to obtain the same feelings if I were in a car.
Moab was a great experience. I learned a lot about camping, myself, and how unforgiving the desert can be to humans. The desert is there for us to enjoy but if you play with fire just be careful you don’t get burned!