The previous day’s ride was hard both on my body and my bike. I crawled, almost literally, into camp at about 10:00 pm, but Jess’ yummy Indian dinner really hit the spot, and Elijah’s fire helped me fight off the shivers as I drank copious amounts of water. Sadly, Pete downed the entire Poweraide® I’d been looking forward to, but a nice porter more than made up for the sugar water. I slept pretty well, and a super breakfast of cheesy, eggy yummyness also helped.
Unfortunately, all of this great food and drink did nothing for my bike. I still had a chain that was skipping in all but a couple of gears and a detached cleat on my left bike shoe. I decided to simply ride with the chain. The day’s journey would start with a big climb followed with a big descent into Moab. My gears weren’t optimal for the climb, but they’d suffice. I’d just be slow–forced to ride the granny for most of the climb. The cleat was a bigger problem. When it came loose for the 2nd time on Sunday, I was slow to fix the problem. This lead to me losing one of the fastening screws. With only one screw, I had to remove the cleat, and riding the bike became difficult as my foot just slipped off the pedal. Fortunately, Jess brought the entire tool box. I was hoping that I could find a suitable screw, but to my delight, I had an entire spare set of cleats! Who knew? With new screws and a full-sized allen key, I torqued the bejesus out of the cleat, determined they’d stay put throughout the remainder of the ride.
After breakfast I made a trip to the lovely outhouse and down-selected from the previous days’ kit what I thought I’d need for the day’s ride. After much deliberation, Jess, Pete, and I decided that the best course of action would be for Jess and Elijah to drive up to the Sand Flats Recreation Area, just above Moab and the “World’s Most Scenic Dump,” to meet up with Pete and me at the Slickrock Trail parking lot. The plan was to ride at least the practice loop portion of the Slickrock Trail, which Pete hadn’t ridden before. Of course, the original plan was to ride Porcupine Rim, but Pete wanted to ride the official trail, which I was surprised to see came down the dirt/paved roads through the Sand Flats Road into downtown Moab. An additional complication would have been getting back to the car after finishing Porcupine Rim. Since I’d been planning on Jess riding with us on the final day, we’d have had to negotiate several miles of Utah highway 128 and all of the previous night’s ride up Castleton Road.
With the gear all sorted out, we saddled up for the final day of riding. It was nice to jettison all of the weight I’d been riding with. The bike handles pretty well at speed with the rack and panniers, but this felt like regular mountain biking with a light Camelback®. After reaching the edge of the tiny Rock Castle campground, we hit the La Sal Loop Road. From there it would be pavement all the way to the top of the day’s climb. I stopped for a minute along the way to grab some pictures of the Castle Valley from a new angle.
A bit farther along the road, the view of Castle Valley drifted away. We could see where the road would gain the shoulder with the sandstone cliffs up ahead. That’s where we’d make an abrupt right-hand turn and begin our final descent into Moab. About that time, I was beginning to realize I’d made a critical planning error when sorting out gear earlier in the morning. In fact, the error was really a judgment call I made several days earlier when I suggested Jess bring some spicy Indian food. Last night’s dinner was causing some discomfort, and I’d left the roll of toilet paper with all of the other camping gear.
I’d had a similar experience several years ago up on the Colorado Trail near Kenosha Pass. On that day, I learned two important lessons. A pine forest offers little in the way of natural toilet paper, and the corollary, always bring a little TP with you on a remote mountain biking trip. It’d taken me a couple of years, but I’d finally forgotten my own rules. Luckily, I had plenty of water to clean things up with and I felt much better after taking care of business. Back on trail, we reached the top of the road by about noon.
We stopped to grab a quick snack, and I walked the last few yards to the crest of the hill. From there you could see all the way to Telluride. You could also see a large microwave repeater on a giant tower. Suspecting that there were cell antennas as well, I suggested to Pete that he might want to call Kelli. I hadn’t realized how many times he called her the previous night, so I thought she might be worried. During what I thought was their last conversation, Pete had to shoo away a coyote.
After a few minutes, Pete got through to Kelli’s work only to learn that she’d been in a car accident. I grabbed the camera and set off to photograph the mountains so Pete could have some privacy. When I returned, I learned that she was ok, but at the hospital with a badly broken foot. Pete was supposed to be giving a talk in Aspen a couple of days later, but now he wanted to cancel the talk and get back to Boulder as quickly as possible. I certainly understood. Since our quickest route back was the trail, we finished off our snack and set out for Moab.
The beginning of the trail was super muddy. If there’d been any recent snow/rain in the La Sals, it likely fell there. We walked a few sections in attempts to keep things relatively clean. Nevertheless, I picked up so much mud on my tires that on a couple of occasions I could swear the rack and panniers must be on the bike. Eventually, the mud abated, and we settled into mostly 4WD road. There were a few rough sections, but most of the trail was fun and fast. I’m sure we’d have taken loads of photos and videos if we weren’t in a hurry. We also started running into some other mountain bikers. To be honest, with Slickrock and Porcupine Rim so close at hand, I’m not sure why anyone would choose to ride this particular 4WD road unless they were doing the entire trail. We also had a couple of run-ins with the same Range Rover. Most of the super muddy trail higher up was extremely rutted from recent 4WD activity, so I wasn’t very excited to see another selfish driver further damaging the trail.
After what seemed like a few more miles of fun riding, we dropped off the 4WD road and made a right-hand turn onto Sand Flats Road. From here it was several miles of dirt road to the Slickrock Trail parking lot. I pointed out a few landmarks like the trailhead for Porcupine Rim as the scenery just kept on going. While the riding certainly wasn’t technically challenging, it was fun to just cruise for miles. I shot a few more photos and a couple of little video clips along the road. We even got another awesome view of the La Sals. Already they were beginning to look distant.
We covered what was certainly several miles, making excellent time. We passed the Porcupine Rim trailhead, but after a few miles I was beginning to wonder why we hadn’t come through any of the numerous campgrounds along the road. I guess I’d forgotten just how long the ride is to get to the trailhead. Eventually my fears of a missed turn were quelled as the familiar campgrounds began to come into sight, and before long we rolled into the Slickrock Trail parking lot.
Given the circumstances, I knew we wouldn’t be able to ride any of Slickrock, so I’d been hoping we could beat Jess and Elijah to the parking lot and continue down the road. If we could beat them to the gate at the entrance to the Sand Flats Recreation Area, we could save a few bucks. Alas, it was not to be. Jess and Elijah timed things perfectly. Just as I was approaching the parking, they were coming up the road from the opposite direction. I pulled up alongside the car as Jess was turning off the engine. She was bummed about the riding, but even more upset to hear about Kelli’s accident. She asked a bunch of questions, but I didn’t have many answers. Pete didn’t either at that point, as everything was quite hectic.
We disassembled Pete’s bicycle and managed to stuff everything into the car. It was a jam-packed ride from Moab back to Fruita where we’d left Pete’s car several days earlier. With two bikes on the roof and one in the trunk, there wasn’t enough space left for the cooler, so it had to site on the rear seat between Pete and Elijah. We also had a number of extra wheels. Our roof rack has fork mounts, and I’d forgotten to add the extra wheel carriers to the rack, so Pete and I each had a wheel on our laps. Elijah was also pretty walled in. He didn’t have a bike wheel, but he had some other luggage piled around him. Only Jess was comfortable, which was fitting since she was the driver.
Luckily it’s a short drive back to Fruita from Moab. When we arrived, we pulled everything out of the trunk and partially reassembled Pete’s bike. We ran to the restroom and shuffeled gear between vehicles. Within a few minutes, Pete was driving back to Boulder. The rest of us stopped in Grand Junction along the way for some dinner. Despite the hectic ending, it was a great trip, and best of all, I have something else to write about besides the great Winter Park trip.