Continued from Part 1.
March 26, 2017
After the previous day’s dehydration and vomit debacle, I got some fitful, sub-par sleep in my car, parked at one of the many BLM campgrounds outside Moab, UT. I had a bike rental and shuttle lined up through Moab’s Poison Spider Bikes later in the morning, and at 5:30am I decided I couldn’t sleep any longer. The town was dark and very much not awake, so I waited for Eklectica Cafe to open, and went over some trail maps.
Eklectica Cafe has become a staple of Moab for me. I would eat there several more times on this trip, including once when I returned to Moab with Maura. The hearty breakfast food and solid coffee is the fuel for tons of Moab’s down jacket-clad adventurers. Since I walked in as soon as they opened at 7am, I didn’t have to wait in the usual lines.
Being cautiously optimistic with my food-energy levels, I took a quick trip over to Arches National Park, and shot a few photos for a film swap I had been working on, while the sun was low in the sky. I’d been to Arches several times before, so I didn’t feel too bad about staying close to the park’s entrance.
Poison Spider Bikes is one of many mountain biking outfitters in Moab, but it’s the one I had a fantastic experience at a year before, when I rented a full-suspension bike to ride the infamous Porcupine Rim. Not a whole lot had changed when I walked into the shop with my bike reservation for this year. They gave me a Trek Remedy 8 to ride the also famous Magnificent 7 trail system. Unlike the ultra boulder-y and exposed Porcupine Rim trail, I probably could have gotten away with riding my Kona Honzo ST hardtail on Mag 7. However, it was a 27 mile ride with around 2000 vertical feet of decent – full suspension made everything more comfortable.
Poison Spider also handles booking for shuttles. Many of Moab’s trails are point-to-point and end in the town proper, so you can shuttle to the trailhead and ride the bike all the way back to town. Moab is just one of those places that has biking tourism on lockdown. The price for the bike and shuttle wasn’t bad at all either, especially considering the quality and quantity of some of the most insane singletrack in the country.
On the ride up to the top of Mag 7, I made conversation with a nice family from Calgary, who gave me hiking suggestions for Banff National Park (a major bucket list location for Maura and I). The trailhead is on the plateau due west of town, near Dead Horse Point State Park and Island in the Sky, and cascades down the desert canyon country from there. The trail system gives riders options for their day trip – it forks several times, making it impossible to ride all of the trails in one trip down. Living my best life, I took Bull Run, Great Escape and the end of Little Canyon trail. All of the trails were similarly ledgy, with lots of slickrock. Interspersed among the canyons were flowy sections of sandy, Moab-red dirt lined with scrub brush.
I met two similarly skilled riders on the trail, and we all happily barged down drops and fast, swoopy sections together. The end of Little Canyon was particularly fast, and after a punchy climb or two, we found ourselves in a borderline unrideable, sandy, 4×4 road. Had I been provisioned properly at this point, I could have taken Gold Bar Rim, supposedly an incredibly beautiful but technical trail that towers above town and eventually leads to the legendarily exposed Portal Trail. I wish I had been prepared with more water, food and riding buddies, because Portal and Gold Bar are on my bucket list.
Instead, we would push our bikes through deep sand for a bit, and take Gemini Bridges Road back to 191. I felt like I was in a whileoutriding Instagram post. The road was rugged dirt that slithered around a canyon wash, surrounded by massive walls and spires. A long climb out led to a fast descent, and I bid my riding partners farewell as I dipped below Rt. 191 and got on Sidewinder – a super fun trail that’s exactly what it sounds like.
On the gorgeous road back to Moab, the clicking of my hubs and the massive red canyon walls added to my MTB high, and I sure had the munchies after my 27 mile ride. El Charro Loco served me up some enchiladas in spinach sauce.
For some reason, I felt I should ride my bike even more, so I got around 6 miles in at Dead Horse Point State Park. Famed for its spectacular views rivalling Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point recently added some mountain biking singletrack to attract people like me. The trails led to some high views and weren’t too difficult for my weary body. The sun dipped below the clouds along the horizon, creating some unreal light that was parallel to the ground.
My previous scouting of the campgrounds on top of the plateau revealed no empty sites, so once again, I had to sleep in my car. This was fine though, because I wanted to wake up early to see the world famous sunrise at Canyonlands’ Mesa Arch.
March 27, 2017
Just after 6 am, the sound of my footprints pierced the near silent dawn. The sky was a deep, purplish blue still, and the dirt’s coloring wasn’t showing quite yet. Unfortunately, my abundant optimism and excitement was about to come down a few notches. Completely obstructing the opening below Mesa Arch were about 40 photographers, their backpacks, and their gear-bragging voices. Every single one had their camera on a tripod, staking out their spot for what they thought would be their most liked photo to date. As I would learn later from one of them, they were all on a guided photography tour bus, and had been there since around 3 am.
They beat me there fair and square. But while I wasn’t going to get the desolate shot I was envisioning, I did end up making the best of the situation. I sat down to the upper left of the arch, with it not even in view. I grumbled some half-kidding remark about how much I hate photographers to the young group next to me, fully aware of the Ron Swanson-esque irony. I made myself comfortable, just as the sunbeams did the same through the La Sal range to the east. I quickly threw my 135mm lens on and snapped a few shots, just as several of the digital photographers were fretting about, wondering if they should lose their spot to photograph the insane scene unfolding before them. Just as quickly as it began, the sunbeams disappeared, and the sun fell behind the overcast sky. Satisfyingly to me, the sun wouldn’t even hit the arch that morning.
Even more satisfying to me was the abundant, hot water coursing over my body two hours later. One of the best tips I had found prior to this trip was that you can pay $5 for a shower in Moab’s local Rec Center. Later in the trip, I would take the other most-needed shower of my life here, but for now, I bid Moab farewell and steered my hatchback-turned-living-space to Goblin Valley State Park. Over the next few days, I would finally get to camp in my tent, bike below Molly’s Castle, and explore unnamed canyons, but I would find myself isolated and alone, without cell coverage for most of it.
Continued soon in Part 3…