Moab has been on my mind since my last visit in 2009. In particular I wanted to ride the Whole Enchilada which is a combination of 6 trails that span ~42kms and over 7000′ of vertical elevation drop. Due to the high elevation of the start at over 11,000′ you have to ride this trail in the late summer or ideally the fall when the snow is gone from up high and temperatures at lower elevations aren’t too hot.
So the last few years in the fall I’ve made some plans to head to Moab, but for a variety of reasons they just haven’t come together for me. It was looking like 2012 would be another wish-I-had-gone-to-Moab year with nobody I know wanting to go and being able to commit to a trip. I looked at flying there by myself, but with the cost of the plane ticket, bike baggage fees, rental car, hotel and food I didn’t have the budget for a trip.
My friend Scott was visiting Vancouver Island to kiteboard during the month of September and I happened to mention my desire to mountain bike in Moab to him. He offered to give me a ride to his home in Salt Lake City and lend me a cargo van to drive the rest of the way to Moab. That cut out a major portion of the trip costs – especially once I decided to camp in the van rather than stay in a motel.
The offer was sounding pretty sweet indeed. Scott is a pilot for Delta Airlines and also said he would get me an $80 flight back home. Awesome! The only trouble is I would end up missing Sharon’s birthday. Some girlfriend negotiations ensued which were aided by the fact she had missed my birthday this year for a trip home to the UK. Eventually I got permission to go to Moab.
I literally went from wishing I could visit Moab to hitting the road in less than 24hrs. That required a flurry of packing of my bike, gear, clothes and enough work stuff [computer, data files, etc...] I could handle anything that might come up.
It was fun to hang out with Scott and his dog Yuki on the ride down to SLC. I got to experience a VW van roadtrip for myself. I’ve been stoked about these vans for a lot of years, but had given up on the idea due to my limited mechanical skills. The trip confirmed both that I really enjoyed the VW “experience” and that I didn’t have the skills to keep a vanagon running.
One pit stop along the way proved to be fateful. I was walking across a mall parking lot when I tripped over a handicap access ramp and went crashing to the ground like a ton of bricks. At first I thought my right knee and ankle were hurt badly, but it turns out they went back to normal within a few hours. On the other hand my left big toe felt like it was broken and that didn’t improve for my entire trip.
You read that right I was headed to Moab to ride some of the gnarliest trails in the continent and I got hurt walking across a parking lot. **sigh** Sad, but true!
I did all the usual stuff like icing the foot and taking anti-inflammatory drugs, but my toe ended up feeling broken the whole week I was in Moab. I could barely walk, but miraculously I could ride mostly pain free – well until I fell off the bike anyways!
Rolling into Moab in my borrowed white panel van I grabbed some maps and power bars at the Poison Spider Bike Shop aka PSB. They are a friendly bunch of folks with the best mountain bike swag in town if you are looking for a souvenir. My initial attempt at setting up a shuttle to the trailhead for the Whole Enchilada via PSB did not meet with success. I realized that was probably a good thing and I should start off on something less demanding and remote to test out my injured toe.
So I headed out for a leisurely breakfast at the Moab Dinner and read my trail guide to see what sounded good. On my way back to camp I passed the Moab Cyclery and noticed some activity inside so I stopped to see about a shuttle for the next day or the day after. The mechanic I spoke with said they had a spot in a shuttle going to the Whole Enchilada trailhead that was leaving in 20mins if I wanted to jump in. Impulsively I said yes!
The thing was I hadn’t been planning on a big ride and my gear wasn’t ready so I rushed back to the van and packed everything crazy quick while trying not to forget anything vital. I made it back to the Moab Cyclery just as they were ready to leave. I paid my $25 shuttle fee and hopped in with a group of 5 guys and a couple. The drive took most of an hour and we climbed and climbed and climbed. I definitely didn’t feel bad about spending the $$ to get driven to the to the top. Chatting with the group of guys it turned out 4 were from the east coast of Canada and 1 was a SW US local they had befriended on previous trips. I didn’t really want to ride alone all day so I asked if I could tag along – assuming I could keep up. They were kind enough to say yes.
The guys I was riding with wanted to ride the Moonlight Meadows Trail rather than the Burro Pass Trail as the start of the Whole Enchilada. They had been on both and said Moonlight Meadows was a nicer option. I didn’t really care. As it turns out the start we took was an incredibly beautiful ride through an Aspen forest and bucolic cow pastures. The only downside was the fact the trail was muddy and featured some very very slippery roots. Frankly I felt right at home with a solid season of BC winter riding under my belt.
These guys were pretty fast and had the tech skills to keep moving through all the obstacles the trail threw our way. I’m happy to report that I was able to hang with them no problem, but I had to really focus my downhill skills to keep my speed up and my braking to a minimum. They weren’t much into stopping or photography which is why I’ve got so few ride photos to share. So I’m throwing in photos from other Moab rides to give you an idea of the scenery and terrain in the area. I definitely want to go back and ride the Whole Enchilada at a slower pace with loads of photo shoot time.
The first real problem for me happened at the end of the Moonlight Meadow Trail where we had to undertake a 30-40min hike-a-bike at over 10,000′. Recall I am from sea level, my toe felt broken and this was my very first ride in Moab. I was literally gasping rapidly like a fish on land, but there simply did not seem to be any oxygen in the air. My toe was complaining every step for the whole ordeal so I can tell you I was incredibly happy to finally get to the top.
If I have one complaint about our local South Shore Vancouver Island mountain biking it’s that it doesn’t go anywhere. Riding areas tend to be very dense with interconnected trails and rides have a hamster in a habbitrail feel as we loop around and around to build up mileage. Well that was not an issue on this ride. The trail kept going and going. As we descended it was fun to notice the change in vegetation from the high altitude Aspen forest down to the rocky desert at 4,000′. To cover 42kms in any reasonable time you have to keep moving.
It was cool to hammer away hour after hour and realize you were only just making progress towards the finish.
Riding as fast as I ever have for a sustained period of time over some uber chunky rocky terrain with a broken toe was a lot better than I would have thought. Other than the odd tech section I had to walk I rode 97% of the trail and my toe didn’t hurt too bad while riding until the last hour or so. I had planned to pack some Advil for the last part of the ride, but forgot it due to my hasty packing process. That’s too bad because after 3-4hrs of pounding it would have been nice to dull the pain a bit at the end of the ride.
Having said that I must thank the Bike Gods for ensuring that my injury didn’t ruin the trip. It was just bad enough to make me appreciate my generally excellent health and to ensure I didn’t take my ability to ride a mountain bike for granted.
This video gives you a good flavour of the lower section of the ride.
It was just as we got to this part of the ride that our local US rider crashed hard damaging a tendon in his hand and cutting himself enough to generate a serial killer worthy puddle of blood under him. As luck would have it the 4 Canadian riders I was with were all ER doctors. Sadly between them they didn’t have a single band aid. Not to worry; I was carrying a small first aid kit which I gave to the medical team. They quickly dressed the wound as best they could in the field. We had cellphone coverage so the injured rider’s wife was called for an evacuation and two of the doctors accompanied him slowly off the trail. Sadly that meant the end of their ride.
The three of us left finished the ride on our own. Enjoying the techy rocky goodness that is Porcupine Rim Trail. Although I had been smiling most of the day as we approached the end of the ride fatigue set in and I had to be really careful I didn’t crash. There were lots of opportunities to fall down a long way to a hard landing and I didn’t need any more injuries!
Eventually we arrived at the finish of the trail and the van our group had pre-positioned at the end. Yup – not only did I get to ride with a fun bunch of guys who would have had my back in case of a crash, but they also gave me a ride back to town saving me a hot boring 10km pedal on the side of the highway. Thanks guys!
Back at the van with an ice cold beer in my hand I was exhausted and fully satisfied. If that was the only ride I did in Moab it would have been a worthwhile trip. Getting to ride hard at high speeds for hour after hour is just not an experience I get to have while mountain biking at home. The quality of the trail was high, but it’s not that any one section of the Whole Enchilada was the best riding I’ve ever done. What really makes the experience special is that the trail just keeps going and going and going. Describing this trail as EPIC is not an overstatement.
If my toe hadn’t been so screwed up I would have ridden the Burro Pass version of the Whole Enchilada later in the week. However, there were lots of other less epic trails that needed some love such as: Slickrock, Amassa Back, Magnificent 7, etc… I was really barely able to walk so I figured it was smarter to stick with trails that offered easier evacuation options and leave Burro Pass for my next trip to Moab – when I’ll hopefully be fully mobile.
Speaking of Slickrock Trail on my last trip to Moab I actually said I would never ride Slickrock again. I changed my mind and gave it another shot. I’m glad I did. With 3 years of BC riding under my belt I discovered a whole new love for the bizarre techy goodness that is Slickrock. It also didn’t hurt that I had the whole place literally to myself which was fun. My idea of what’s hard and what’s doable when it comes to technical mountain biking has totally changed over the last few years. That’s made trails that frustrated me super fun and also made trails I used to enjoy seem boring.
Flying home after a week in Moab my only regret was that I couldn’t stay for another week. My toe was just starting to improve at the end of the trip and my lungs were finally finding the oxygen they needed to prevent me from gasping on every climb. It took a few days to get my suspension dialed into the higher speed chunky style of riding that Moab offers. In every respect things had just gotten awesome as I packed up the van and headed back to Salt Lake City.
The Lazy Rando Moab 411:
- the two bike shops I like are the Poison Spider and the Moab Cyclery
- the Moab Cyclery has a convenient easy to use shuttle service
- Rider Mel’s Mountain Bike Guide is worth the $17 price [get version 5] – all the trails listed as “classics” are worth riding
- I stayed at the Canyonlands Campground which is right in the center of town and has showers, electrical hook ups, wifi and water at reasonable prices. There free and rustic lower cost camping options outside of Moab as well.
- I ate breakfast at the Moab Dinner and dinner at the Fiesta Mexicana
- McDonalds has gnarly food, but the best free wifi in town
- best time of the year to visit is October as temps will be cool and crowds will be less
- ideal Moab bike is a 6″ full suspension all mountain rig