There are two ways to defend yourself against cabin fever. The most obvious is to head off to a sunny climate in late winter, once you’re past the point of tolerating cold, damp gray days. The other way is to do what we did and delay the onset by finding some place sunny and warm to ride before winter sets in, and then your warm memories might tide you over at least ’til the ides of December.That’s what we chose to do last year, when we packed everything up and headed out to Moab, Utah, for a week of trail riding in early November. Who are “we”? We’re a group of like-minded souls, seven of whom work every day in an eastern jungle called New York City, one who hides out in New Hampshire and, for international flavor, one worldly Canadian off-road addict.Leaving the gray city streets was not a difficult thing to accomplish. One of our group volunteered to drive out a truck and trailer containing all our bikes and gear, and the rest flew into Grand Junction, Colorado, to join him. We rented a condo in Moab for a week and filled it with bodies, gear, junk food and drinks. By doing it this way expenses are reasonable—for those of us spending the whole week, the cost for the condo and bike transportation was $600. A mere pittance, considering the fun we had.If you’re a trail rider and you’ve never been to Moab, you owe it to yourself to plan a trip and go there. Especially in the off-season, for two reasons: First, Moab is a true desert environment, and in the summer the temperatures regularly spike into the “life-threatening” zone. Second, the fact that Moab gets so hot in the summer is the reason the weather can be so fine in late fall or early spring. For us, from the East Coast, it meant leaving cold, rainy late-October days with a high temperature of 45 degrees to a dry, sunny environment where midday temps were right around 75 while the nights dipped down to a bracing 35 or so. That means plenty of warm sun on the slickrock and perfect temps for sunset in the hot tub!If you’ve never heard of Moab, this is all you have to know: It is the off-road Mecca of the southwest. Moab is the principal town in a region laced with riding opportunities. It’s somewhat unique because nearly all of the trails are multiple use, and you can be sharing them with jeepers, mountain bikers, quad riders and hikers. Better still, all the users accept that multiple-use fact, and we found they all seem to get along while sharing the trails.One good example is the legendary Slickrock Trail, which is possibly the defining trail of Moab. It was laid down as a motorcycle path back in 1969, and because of the terrain it’s limited to two-wheeled vehicles and hikers. Further, since it’s a fairly easy trail, the dirt bikers tend to shy away from it while the mountain bikers have embraced it as their own. We rode Slickrock one afternoon in the company of a load of pedal mashers, and they were all quite friendly and, like us, were quite happy to be there. Conversely, we rode a gnarly jeep trail earlier in the day that was absent of mountain bikers, for good reason. That trail was studded with sand sections and loose rocks that are more of a problem for the skinny-tire set.So it seems that even though the trails are mostly multiple-use, folks gravitate to what’s more fun, maybe easier, for them. That means you might have to be a little gentle on Slickrock Trail in deference to the many mountain bikers, but on Poison Spider you can just let it all hang out, if you dare.So you hear a lot about slickrock, with a small “s,” not the named trail. What is it? Well, slickrock is the thing that makes Moab what it is. In layman’s terms, the solid rock hills that surround Moab are primarily sandstone, and the “slickrock” hills themselves resemble little more than petrified rolling sand dunes. The most interesting trait of slickrock is that it’s not slick at all; as a matter of fact, traction is near 100 percent with the right tires. With a trials tire on the back, which we all mounted before the first day, your ability to climb steep sections of these hills is mind-boggling.The rest of Moab is characterized by huge, huge sandstone cliffs, especially along the Colorado River, which winds through town. These cliffs make up the rest of the Moab experience, since you’re either down in the valleys looking up at smooth red rock or perched on vertiginous trails on top of them. There are innumerable places where a little bit of sloppy skidding could have you sliding right off the top of one of these cliffs. I was going to say “tumbling,” but there would be no tumble; just a fairly long free fall before a sudden stop at the bottom. Not a good way to end a fine day of riding.Our group gathered in Grand Junction, the closest major airport, and after a short night there started the circus rolling toward Moab. We stopped at a place called Rabbit Valley on the Colorado/Utah line to ride some western single-track as a warm-up. Since it happened to be Halloween, one of the guys broke out a bag full of thrift-store ladies’ dresses and informed us all we’d be riding in costume this day. It was kind of eerie how quickly and easily everyone accepted this idea and suited up in their chosen Easter finery. This sort of thing may make one pause when considering that we’d be spending the next week in close quarters.
Rabbit Valley was a fun warm-up—especially in view of the fact that we received an unusual rainstorm the night before—and our riding outfits were the envy of all the other riders there, without a doubt. One KTM rider came over to our group and said, “I saw all you guys in dresses and just had to come over to shake your hands!” Hmmm?Well, from there we rolled into town, trashed the condo the first night (nine guys?), and quickly mounted new trials tires on all the bikes that didn’t already have gummy rubber installed.The first day featured a shakedown ride on Steelbender Trail, which started conveniently right from the back of our condo complex. Since the majority of our group were desert riding novices, this “quick morning loop” stretched into the early afternoon before we dropped into town and had a late lunch. That put us into a perfect position to run up and do a quick loop on the Slickrock Trail, Moab’s most touristy trail location. When the sun fell too low in the sky, we rode back and jammed nine bikes into the condo’s one-car garage, ruining it, and then headed downtown for dinner.Our group fell into a pattern the rest of the week. Get up semi-early, root through the locker room cum condo for riding gear, parts, food and whatever, then head out on the bikes to ride for the rest of the day. We rode trails with names like Poison Spider, Golden Spike, Gold Bar, Hell’s Revenge—all variations on the theme of solid rock hills and sandy two-track patches. The terrain suddenly alternates between mellow and severe, and when you don’t pay attention you collect injuries. John went over the handlebar, Gregor pulled muscles in his back, and then Flanny flirted with disaster with a backward fall that wrenched his knee and sent him to the clinic for an X-ray. On another day, Flanny caught a rock on the back of his hand that did crack a bone. To his credit, though, his injuries didn’t keep him off the bike for the rest of the week.We found a good example of the way the terrain sneaks up on you at the start of Cliffhanger Trail. There was a ledge section that was like the steps of a giant courthouse, and of course we went down them before deciding to not take the trail because of the late time of day. Getting down was only scary. Getting back up was like trying to build the pyramids with a limited collection of slaves. Tally: One mangled knee retweaked, at least two bikes ridden up by more experienced members of the group, and one Husaberg gloriously looped and caught on film. We finally got out and headed back to what was left of our accommodations to crank up the hot tub and try to soak away the pain.Even though two of our guys, James and Christian, left for home Wednesday morning, by then the interior of the condo had deteriorated into a steaming wreck, with clothes, motorcycle parts, empty drink bottles and video and camera equipment everywhere. The most impressive was the mass of laptop computers and smart phones humming away in the evenings. Everything we do during the day appears within hours on ADVrider and Facebook, to the delight of friends and loved ones back home.It wasn’t all trial and tribulation, though. Kane Springs Canyon delivered a mixed terrain ride down a creek bed that was pure fun. Also, a morning spent at White Wash ORV area revealed some sand dunes and epic creek trails through solid rock. Not difficult riding, but awe-inspiring to a bunch of city slickers more used to canyons of dirty concrete.By the end of the week our group had dwindled down to four guys, with three riding and one bike broken. We spent our last morning on local trails, making sloppy mistakes and upping the injury tally. Six days of riding is definitely going to tire you out, and our favorite phrase on the final Saturday was “No trail too easy.” The rock is not a forgiving riding partner.Following our mutual crashes we returned to the condo and worked on cleaning it up after a week of debauchery. Interesting to note that nine guys worked on wrecking the condo and four worn-out cripples had to clean it.We drove back to Grand Junction that night, and John (a genuine secret agent and by far the Mr. Gadget of the trip) used his iPhone to find us a Mexican restaurant that was inarguably the best food we had on the trip, if not ever. The place is called El Tapatio, on North Avenue, and the guacamole dip just about made us cry. The margaritas were fantastic as well. Highly recommended. A fitting end to a great week on the slickrock!“It is the off-road Mecca of the southwest.”“The terrain suddenly alternates between mellow and severe.”
The best time to visit is late fall or early spring, since the summer heat is deadly and winter brings snow and cold to the high desert. Moab’s base altitude is about 4,000 feet, which may be a factor in two-stroke jetting but most four-strokes should be fine. We used street-legal enduro bikes, which made getting around very simple, but Utah offers a non-resident ORV sticker for folks interested in trucking their rides to the trailhead.
Tire choice is a constant controversy with all trail bikers, but we were happiest with a trials tire on the rear and a good rock tire on the front. Run your pressure a little high to avoid pinch-flats on the ledges.
Grand Junction, Colorado, is the closest airport. Chances are you will need lodging, maps, maybe a guide service and local knowledge to plan your trip; fortunately there are a wealth of websites available to help your planning. Try www.moab.net, www.utah.com/moab, www.discovermoab.com,and www.moab-utah.com
. (And for another bike transport option, check back to the Dr. Dirt “Bike Shipping” in the March 2011 issue of Dirt Rider.)
For all the fun it affords, remember that the slickrock is hard as stone; and when you fall it’ll hurt. Wear a lot of padding!