11 October 2008

24 Hours of Moab and Bartlett Wash 2008-10-11

The trip is coming to a rapid closure, and I today is my last day for riding. Even so, I was a bit saddened by my loneliness as stayed in bed until about 10. I then decided I'd go off and check out the 24 Hours of Moab race because I was hoping that there would be a big vendor area and the opportunity to get gear at a discount.

I headed south out of town, knowing only that the venue was about 12 miles south of town. But, did that mean 12 mils south of Center St. or did it mean 12 miles south of the edge of the city. Regardless, I assumed it'd be well marked. As I drove south on Utah 191, I just happened to see a plastic ribbon strung to a bush and as I looked back in the mirror, I saw a sign that simply said "24". That was it. It seems like I wasn't the only one who missed the entry, as three other cars turned around with me at the turnout just down the road.

The drive from the highway to the actual venue was down a dusty dirt road. I was in a long line of cars, and when I finally made it to the entrance, I was required to cough up $10 to get in. I continued on, found a parking spot and walked around looking for a vendor area. Amazingly enough, there wasn't one. You'd think that with all the racers, biking families and other bike people, that this would be a great location to at least take orders for items, if not have a stock of various items to sell. But, the only ones who were really there in that regard were the light people (NiteRider, PrincetonTec, etc.)

The wind was whipping up all the sand and the entire area was like a giant dust cloud. Everyone who had a face mask or Buff or bandanna was wearing it. I saw the race get started and then I left to go do my own riding.

I drove north, wanting to ride at Bartlett Wash. I had seen some pictures and I was impressed by the steep bowls and interesting Slickrock formations. About 18 miles north of Center St. I found "Blue Hills Road" (some of the hills here really are "blue") From there, I navigated my way out to the parking lot and campground. I kitted up, as usual, alone, and started my ride. The ride took me through a stream bed and then up what appeared to be an unrideable incline (although from the tracks on the hill, it obviously does get ridden by some.

Unlike the "Slickrock Trail" just outside of Moab, this trail has no painted lines or cairns to locate in the distance. On the one hand, this makes the ride as free-form as you'd like. On the other hand, there was this nagging feeling like I was missing something because I didn't know where to go.

The wind was very strong although there wasn't the amount of dust in the air as there was at the Behind the Stones trail (24 Hour venue). I couldn't help feeling like I was climbing a very steep hill as I made my way horizontally along one of the stepped ridges that ran the length of the finger of slickrock. I zigged and zagged my way upward, always looking for areas in the stepped ridges where I could manage to manual up and over. In some instances I traversed almost the entire length of the finger to find a spot that I was capable of riding my bike to the next higher ridge. In other instances the shortest steps from ridge to ridge were very close, getting me closer to the boulders and trees that lined the top of the finger.

When I finally made my way to the last ridge, I discovered that the area with the boulders and trees was also covered with sand that somehow was very moist (I don't think it rained recently, but maybe it did last night while I was sleeping), and my wheels didn't really want to move through it very quickly. Plus, I was still fighting the wind.

As I made my way along this top ridge, in the direction from which I had started the ride, I noticed two riders making their way up the stepped ridges, but much less eloquently than I had--they just got off their heavy downhill bikes and lifted them up and over the steps. I turned around when I came to the end of the trail--a spot where it appeared that other riders had simply descended straight down the stepped face of the slickrock. Since I wasn't interested in trying my luck and skill on 100cm-150cm hucks, I decided that I'd chase after the two other riders and possibly tag along with them.

Even though we were on a trajectory that would bring us to the same space at the same time, and given how I made repeated attempts to show them that I saw them, they failed to acknowledge my presence even when we were all within just a few feet of one another. So, instead of meeting up with them and chatting and possibly riding with them, I navigated past them as they ignored me. At this point I was on a "flat" section of slickrock, past the finger and the wind was fierce.

I rode into the wind to the edge of the slickrock to find myself high above the sandy wash. I hadn't realized I was so high up, but when faced with what appeared to be a cliff, I decided I'd keep my distance. I turned and followed the countour of the ridge, but the wind was so strong that it was very difficult to keep the bike going in the direction I wanted. After a few hundred meters I decided to give up, and turned the bike in the direction of the wind. WOW! No pedaling needed. I was being blown across the slickrock, my back acting like a sail to the wind. The only time I had to pedal was when I needed to manual up a small step. When I got back to the finger area, I found a few really interesting dips and bowls to ride. One of the hills was so steep that I was a little scared to descend. But, I knew it was smooth and slickrock tacky, so I rode down. About half way down there was a change in the rock, with pockmarks all over the side of the steepest part of the hill. I lost my nerve, and it's probably a good thing, because the trajectory that I had been heading would have put me right in line for the largest of the pocks that might have stopped me and thrown me over the handlebars. To be honest, my leg still hurts and that's giving me some hesitation to try anything that's outside of my known ability level.

I played around on the hill for a while, but I was unable to actually ride back up. So, using the pockmarks as footholds, I walked the bike back to the top of the hill and then continued along the finger toward the place where I started the ride. At one point I was moving across a very steep slope and the bike slid on some sand. Fearing that it'd be a long slide down, I unclipped and tried to catch myself before I fell. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get my foot down. Fortunately, I was wearing my knee guards because landed squarely on my knee. My slide down the hill was avoided, my knee was uninjured and I was soon on my way.

The two other riders I had seen were already back at the parking lot when I got there. I tried to make conversation with them, but they simply grunted and moved out of view. Oh well.

I think Bartlett Wash might be a great place to ride when there's no wind, and if I make another trip to Moab in the future, I'll be certain to go back and explore more.