(Moab Day 1)
Monday dawns bright and blue, but we rest and start slow. The continental breakfast at the Super 8 is OK - I had a donut, some cold cereal, half an english muffin and some orange juice. We dressed in our riding clothes, loaded up the bikes and headed to the Slickrock trail. We've done the Slickrock trail many times and we thought about doing something different, but there's something magical about this ride - it always puts a smile on our faces.
Arriving at the parking lot my wife lets out a strange giggle - I know it means she's nervous. I have to admit I was too. And just moments before I was wondering why I felt anxious. I've done this many times. One reason is the challenges that still remain. I've cleaned every obstacle on the main trail except for the Woolly Gully. But last year we both made it up Cogs to Spare after years of failure, so now we HAVE to climb it - we can't go back to NOT making it. So that was a main component of the anxiety, but there are many tricky section and you always wonder if one of them will be your undoing this time out. But as is usually the case, once we got ready and started riding, the butterflies vanished.
The first substantial climb (Hurry Up and Wait) went well - I was pleased my legs felt good going up. Then we took the turnoff (left) for the main trail and climbed up the rolling short climbs to the first steep climb. It's a fairly short, but steep ramp that I get up most recent years without trouble - and this year was no different. My wife, on the other hand, has had her battles with this little beast - but this time she climbed it strong. She commented that the new tires (Kenda Small Block 8) stick better to the slickrock - makes sense since they have a tight knobby pattern and Dual Tread Compound with softer, stickier rubber down the middle.
After the ramp you're on top of a slickrock hill and headed to one of the trickiest sections. After descending a slickrock ridge a ways you make a left turn and do a short traverse across a sideslope then make a right-hand switchback to descent a minor ridge to the saddle below. It's intimidating and tricky, but pretty cool if you make it. This year I decided to take a different route - one I hadn't done for years. If you keep going down the ridge a bit farther, you can take a left off the ridge and zoom down to the saddle below and up the face of a knoll on the other side - it's a slickrock halfpipe! I was apprehensive, not in my ability to negotiate the "stunt", but mostly concerned that the g force at the bottom would cause a tire to blow or some other mechanical mishap would take me down. But the bike ran great and I enjoyed the thrill of diving down the drop, feeling the g's at the bottom, and rolling up the other side (with a few pedal strokes to make the top). Nothing like doing something a little crazy to to get you loosened up and feeling good.
After some more moderate slickrock fun we arrived at the Wooly Gully. I looked it over but ultimately wimped out and walked through it. My rationale? If I get injured here the the ride will be over or less fun. That's my cowardly story and I'm stickin' to it.
Then some more fun riding and we arrive at the loop junction. We toyed with going counterclockwise since we hadn't gone that way in many years, but we wanted to prove we could do Cogs to Spare again so we went left (clockwise). Soon enough Cogs was upon us.
Cogs to Spare was three parts. The first part is a "knob garden" - a rough spot of rock with many bumps the size of cantaloupes the rider must negotiate while not drifting too far left or right so as to stay lined up for the next part. The second part is a short, steep ramp that looks too steep to bike up and requires the rider to hit it with as much speed as they can muster and lean way forward to keep from wheelie-ing over, but not too far forward or you'll loose traction on the rear wheel. The third part is a steep, long-ish slope with one little rest spot, so after you've given all you've got to clear the first two parts and your heart rate is maxed and your panting like all the oxygen has left the air, you have to keep the pedals turning to make it to the top. And there's no cheating on Cogs - it goes up a ridge so there are no cheater routes left or right - going straight up the beast is the only option.
I stopped at the bottom, but only for a short rest, feeling I might do better to just hit it right away. Unfortunately I got bounced off the line and didn't even make it to the ramp. The second try I spun out just before the ramp - my tire pressure was too high so I let some air out. The third try I got on a bad line and when I hit the ramp I stalled and fell over. But the forth time I nailed the line, blasted the ramp and kept going. At the top I was spent. I stopped, leaned over my bars and panted for a full minute until I had recovered a little. Then I went down to support and photograph my wife's attempt. But before I continue, I present this:
What kind of freaky Hulk thing is going on with my lower legs! Not big bulging muscles - scrawny wiry alien-worms-under-the-skin things. I guess my steep climb overdrive is those tiny balance muscles. Either that or I'm about to blow a few blood vessels. Frightening.
I told my wife, the line just left of the white paint marks was the the way to go. She got psyched up, clipped in and went for it. She threaded the line through the knob garden, then spun up the cadence and powered up the ramp and kept going. She cleaned Cogs on the first try! And let out a triumphant yell on the way up the third part. The riders waiting their turn cheered. It was a good moment. And this, my friends, is the face of determination:
The cruise along Swiss Cheese Ridge was pleasant, with the great views, light breeze and Cogs behind us. This back side of the loop is my favorite - a swooping downhill roller coaster ride peppered with a few climbs. Then a good climb up to Natural Selection Viewpoint for a bite to eat.
Along the way I'd developed some problem with my rear derailer. At first it sent the chain into my spokes when in the lowest gear on a climb. Then it would stay in gear for a while then start jumping. Upon inspection it appears to have been hit (probably bent the derailer hanger), most likely when I tipped over on Cogs. I adjusted it a few times and then just settled into 2nd gear for rest of the way back since I had the least trouble with that gear.
I usually dread the ride past Shrimp Rock back to the loop junction, but it seemed to go faster this time. I took a few laps around Baby Bottom Bowl and horsed around at the junction trying to catch a little air.
Coming back along the out-n-back part I at least did the drop off the ramp into the Wooly Gully, but didn't even attempt to pedal through the deep sand and climb the ledgy exit on the other side. I goofed up on the steep ramp just past the Gully, but made it on the second try. The last serious obstacle is the climb back up to and beyond the halfpipe. This year and last we've been in pretty good biking condition, but other years this climb is shear torture with legs burning from so many exertions up so many climbs. But I felt pretty good and motored right up it - so did my wife. Oh, it's still had our full attention and got us breathing hard, but it was nice to not have the lactic acid burns. We both made the switchback and finished out the ride back to the parking lot. It always feels good to finish the Slickrock trail - it's part adventure, part challenge and part play (like a kid at the playground).
While we rested and enjoyed some cold drinks we discussed what we should do next. The choices came down to Fins n Things or Bartlett Wash. Fins n Things is a mile or so from the Slickrock parking lot. I rode it with some locals a few years back and quite liked it. I also wanted to check out Morning Glory Arch. But there was a lot of deep sand and I couldn't find the view spot and we were getting hungry so we cut it short and headed back to the car. Yea, we should have done Bartlett Wash.
We headed back to town and ate some McFood, yes it's not healthy but man that Big Mac tasted good! We stopped in the center of town so my wife could look for a sweatshirt while I talked with Matt, the owner of Desert Highlights, about canyoneering and his Slick (retrievable anchor system). I talked too long and my wife couldn't find me (sorry dear), but eventually we met back up and headed for home. It was a nice, peaceful drive and we talked about how fun the trip had been and how it had given us the boost we needed. If you want to refresh your body, take a swim in a river or lake, but if you want to refresh your soul, go to the desert. "My heart cries out over Moab" - Isaiah 15:5
(Moab Day 1)