-Grand Canyon and Moab offer the opportunity of exploring one of the natural wonders of the world, and one of the best mountain biking locations – all in one 15 day adventure. That what the brochure said and after stumping up the required dough I just turned up at the airport – it was that easy, I even persuaded my girlfriend to come along. This brochure was from ‘Saddle Skedaddle‘ that had passed my way one miserable morning in Derby and this particular trip caught my eye. The only question one needed answering was -can I take my SPD’s ? (Yes) – everything was provided, along with food, transport, accommodation, etc.
Arriving at Heathrow we met our fellow companions and spent the next 15 hours consuming alcohol and watching ˜Telly Tubbies’ courtesy of British Airways until we arrived at our starting point – land of perpetual flashing lights -Las Vegas. Although we would be camping the whole trip, the first 2 nights accommodation was actually in a hotel and were pleasantly surprised that they charged by the night and not the hour, maybe Las Vegas wasn’t going to be that bad… Wrong ! Three hours was more than enough to empty your wallet, besides we weren’t fat enough to stay any longer. Met up with Andrew our guide for the trip who we soon discovered must be convinced there’s 30 hours in a day due to the huge variety of things he was suggesting we do. We managed to do most of them, but were always late.
The first nights camping at the Grand Canyon (literally on the edge – i.e. 10 metres away) set the pattern which was to reoccur on a virtual daily basis – find a viewpoint (usually high up) to watch a fantastic sunset, stumble round in the dark (consumption of alcohol didn’t aid this process) until you found the campsite again and stuff yourself stupid on whatever exotic delight had prepared by your colleagues. Then it was up before dawn to see a glorious sunrise and make the most of the day.
So what about the biking? Well although – Saddle Skedaddle a specialised mountain biking company this trip is about their only one that isn’t totally mountain biking. If you want to see all that Utah / Arizona and the national parks have to offer you can’t always bike. In readiness for the biking we spent several days acclimatising to American Culture (it does exist and it’s not just yoghurt) by exploring the depths of the Grand Canyon, the history of Indian Navajo Land and the grandeur of John Wayne country in Monument Valley (spectacular sandstone formations). We even prepared our buttocks for the pounding one gets constant downhilling by sunset horseriding round Monument Valley on a bunch of deaf horses (well mine didn’t understand the word ˜stop’). ˜Totally awesome’ scenery.
So by the time we hit Moab we were raring to go hit the trails. Having never been to Moab I didn’t know what to expect. In fact it’s just a dusty little town that has been livened up by the expanding mountain biking scene because of the fantastic scenery surrounding the town and gets invaded every weekend by rednecks from Salt Lake City in their RV’s (basically 4 bedroom mansion on wheels). However the ˜liveliness’ has yet to reach the bars as Moab is in Utah and Utah is run by Mormon’s (God bless ’em) who don’t really like alcohol. One bar we visited is best described as a ‘rough’ and the beer didn’t taste much better – good job we bought our own.
Anyway, the biking – I got fixed up with cool little number – a K2 ProFlex and boy did you need that full suspension. The joy of these organised trips is that we got taken up several thousand feet and then it’s mainly downhill all the way. Gemini Bridges was our first destination – 23 miles downhill. I don’t remember much of the scenery all I remember was that it was fast, damn fast. Soon discovered one of the problems of riding in the desert – sandpits (it’s like riding through treacle though not as messy). Moses, one of the two ˜roadies’ on the trip who were being initiated into real biking, eventually got to master these sandpits (after a minor mishap – welcome to Mountain biking!)
The next day was spent doing ˜Onion Creek’. Never did find out why it was called that – certainly didn’t see any onions. This is a brilliant all day ride that starts high up and is then a hard technical, but fast mainly downhill (i.e. 80%) route and ends up with 28 creek crossings (too wide to bunny hop, but it didn’t stop you trying – by the 28th my technique had improved such that I only got one foot wet). For the first few miles there was the added interest of biking past thick redneck hunters shouting ˜don’t shoot we’re not deer’ – it was hunting season and the Homer Simpson’s of the hunting fraternity have difficulty telling the difference. There’s one word to describe this route and it was used quite a lot – awesome’.
The following day we hit Slick rock Trail big time. Despite being experienced mountain bikers you really have to learn afresh on the slick rock. You can get up and down slopes previously thought impossible with total ease, it just takes awhile to get confident with the bike on slick rock – last thing you want to do is fall off onto what is effectively a human cheese grater (for those not familiar with the slick rock it’s petrified sand dunes and it hurts). After spending the morning playing around on the practice courses our instructor left us to it, leaving us with the option of going home or doing the real Slick Rock Trail (13 miles in all). There was no option – it had to be done even though we had only 2 and half hours to do what they say allow 4-6 hours for. Words cannot describe this route all I can say is it was one of the best days biking I’ve ever done. Fun, fun, fun all the way until there was an ominous clunk from behind me. My rear mechanism had swung into the spokes on my rear wheel and broke off – this was not the best place to break down, three miles short of the finish and only 30 minutes remaining if we wanted to get back and up to Arches National Park to see sunset. The team effort of bodging one gear didn’t work so I ended up scooting back and threw the two rules we were told about slick rock, (don’t go too fast and stay in control), out the window in order to get as much speed as possible up the uphill bits. We made the sunset (and associated feast) just in time though we got some weird looks wandering round in muddy mountain bike gear.
Our last day in Moab was spent doing Klondike Bluffs which is a mellow 15 miler and great way to finesse those skills learnt over the past few days. You get great view point over Arches National Park and the dinosaur tracks found on the way really give you a sense of perspective. Despite having been in Moab four days I’d only had half an hour to explore Moab – too busy biking, eating or drinking.
After Moab we then had several days to rest our buttocks before we went biking again. Instead we were out trekking every day through some fantastic scenery including Needles – basically some pretty wild rock formations. Also learnt an important lesson – when you’re out in the middle of the desert, blue skies, 80+ degrees and half a litre of water between four of you – don’t lose the path…
Upon arriving at Zion National Park we were once again united with mountain bikes and had just had enough time to cruise up & down the valley before we lost daylight. We also met Fidel Castro (disguised as Dean the mountain bike guide / mechanic / shop owner) who is one of main guys responsible for making this an up and coming mountain biking area and he showed us why. The biking here is single track and when I say that I mean trails six inches wide. Look up at the view and the next moment you’re eating bushes. We spent a day exploring nearby Gooseberry Mesa and I ate bush /dirt / rock more times in one day than in fours days in Moab. It’s very technical, but hugely enjoyable with fantastic views across Zion.
Coming back into Las Vegas after being out in the wilds was a bit of a culture shock (so was coming back to Derby), but it put the trip into perspective. What I would say is that if you want to do two weeks solid mountain biking – jump on a plane and go to Moab. However if you want to have fun, make good friends, explore the fantastic scenery of Utah and Arizona as well as do a weeks worth of mountain biking I can truly recommend Saddle Skedaddle. It’s a friendly down to earth company and it won’t leave you out of pocket (and I’m not being paid to say this, unfortunately).
Jon Ward “ New Zealand