I am not (yet) a mountain-biker. I’ve ridden maybe a dozen trails, all involving involuntary dismounts when the going got more than straightforward. But I’m keen to keep trying.
My bike is built for adventure-touring. It’s steel-framed (read ‘heavy’) and has no suspension. It’s tough, and can be welded, if necessary, in just about any Indian village. The same is not true for the more usual alumin(i)um-framed bikes.
I have seen videos of riders, much more skilled than I am, doing amazing things on heavier, clunkier bikes (fat-bikes) than mine, walking up one metre steps or jumping on and off picnic tables. So, it’s not the bike that’s the excuse when it comes to my trail-riding limitations.
A little north of Moab is trail riding area known as the Bar-M. I picked out a loop comprised of two routes that looked my style: “EZ” and “Lazy,” both marked Easy (Green). But I hadn’t ridden over rocks like these before so it was quite a surprise. At one point, I fell off the trail sideways, landing in a heap with my bike coming to rest a few metres from the trail. A good place to sit for a while, I decided, a let my heart-rate return to safe levels. A foot, knee and elbow scraped up. A water-bottle cage demolished. I did learn a couple of important things, though:
- I need knee and elbow padding/armour.
- While Chacos, my favourite brand of sandals, might be fine for dirt-road touring, they might not be the best choice for technical riding :(
Klondyke Bluffs has riding through an environment that reminded me of Drumheller in Alberta. I patched together a loop composed of parts of named trails, staying out too late and returning, tired, by the light of my Petzl headlamp attached to my helmet. It was pitch black when I arrived back at my truck, heart pounding and full of joy. This was fun stuff!
My new front bag (an Endover, made by Tribulus) seems to be working out well. Most bike-packing handlebar bags have side access to a drybag; the Endover has quicker and, for me, more functional top access. The speedier access is useful for grabbing a camera when a photo has to be taken in a hurry as is often the case, grabbing people shots, when riding in less-developed parts of the world. I’m using a down jacket as padding for my camera. (I’ve just been taking one camera body and one lens on these short rides. I don’t want to risk both in one fall. And, although I haven’t had much use for the bar ends while trail-riding, I think they provide some extra protection for the Endover and its contents.)
Also, I really like my new frame bag, made by Scott & friends at Porcelain Rocket in Calgary. No zips to fail :). Mine has been personalized with an X of Gorilla tape over a hole which was the result of kissing a rock during my first tumble. (I wonder if Scot’ll make me one in green, or camo, to match my other bags…)
Navajo Rocks area had trails that were a mix of sand and slickrock. Again, sticking to the easiest trails I could find and never too proud to get off and push, Ramblin’ and Rocky Tops made a good, challenging (for this 66-year-old newbie) and exhilarating loop.
My last ride was in the Horsethief area. Chisholm trail, followed by 7-Up, if I remember correctly. What I do remember, quite vividly, was going down some rocks, over the handlebars, and landing on my back across the sandy trail, my bike on top of me. I scrambled out from under the bike, and there it remained: upside down, balanced on saddle and bar-ends. I bet I couldn’t do that again.
Maybe all this solitary riding, in the late afternoon and into the dusk, is not the safest way for me to learn new skills. I would message Bev before the start of each ride and again when I returned, battered and tired but safe and excited.
Like many, I grew up riding bikes. In my case, back in the ’60s, these were road bikes but roads were all we had to ride on and I’d never seen a mountain bike; they didn’t exist then. What would I have made of those fat knobby tyres? I would have scoffed, probably.
Bikes were important: they gave us the freedom to escape from the streets where we lived, to explore further and further afield with our gang (not a bad word in those days) of friends. It was an important part of growing up.
But, in my mid-teens, rock-climbing became my passion – and the bike was pretty much forgotten. Rock-climbing defined who I am today, for better or worse. I moved to Canada and married a wonderful woman. We traveled in India, using buses and trains for transport from city to city, typical (if somewhat older) backpackers. One day in Rajasthan, we rented local bikes and rode out into the countryside. It was a revelation: quiet, we could stop wherever we wanted, follow side roads just to see what was around the corner. We’d seen all this countryside from the train but now we were in it. I decided, then and there, to return to India with a bike and touring gear.
The following year, 1991, I rode out of Mumbai (this would not be my suggestion for anyone wanted to experience touring for the first time) and headed inland and southward to commence a 4000 km cycle tour of southern India. The motivation wasn’t really to cycle but to see India with my own transport, at ‘ground-level’ and not constrained by the beginning and end of train or bus journeys.
Then, in 2012, at 60 years of age (and to see if I could still do it), I rode down the east coast of India. In the intervening 20+ years, my two children had grown up, I went to university to gain the credentials that would allow me to exchange the manual labour of construction work – which had been taking its toll on my back – for something more cerebral, skills that would allow me to work until retirement age. Climbing was still a major part of my life but the bike only came out a few times each year.
The switch from carpentry to college teaching cured my back problems but had the unfortunate side effect of turning the muscle on my shoulders into fat on my belly. Climbing became more and more difficult and I returned to cycle touring as a means to lose over the summer what I had gained in weight during the rest of the year. I did a wonderful tour through the Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir; at this point, all my 9000 km of touring had been in India. Since then, I have toured in Spain (along the Camino del Norte) and in France (through Brittany and up the Loire Valley and various other waterways to Basel in Switzerland) with my wife Bev. And a very pleasant trip in England, from my Mum’s house, up the Thames river valley and finally across into Wales, on dedicated cycle trails or quiet roads. I camped or got a room in a pub, and fell in love with the English countryside, enjoying areas that, formerly, I would race through on my way to rock-climbing locations.
I sometimes question my motivation for cycling. There are, admittedly, times when it is enough just to see my front wheel spinning along in front of me. Long days in the saddle along pavement, though, do not excite. I find it an effort to get out for a ride in my home environment, akin to going to the gym. Often to be endured rather than wholeheartedly embraced. A way to enjoy the countryside but not a thrill in itself. At best, time to think.
My limited successes and improvements over the last couple of weeks have added a new dimension to my riding; on these trails, I am riding for riding’s sake, not just to appreciate the surrounding countryside or a new culture. Trail riding, even when I have to push over obstacles others can ride with ease, has me enthralled. Maybe it is the thrill of learning new things, maybe it’s getting over a rock that I couldn’t a few hours before, maybe it’s the required concentration. There is no denying that technical riding, with twists and turns, climbs and drops, requires full attention and is very different from a meditative ride in the countryside.
I did a few gentle hikes, around Dead Horse Point and along the west and east rims in the Canyonlands. One I particularly enjoyed was the 1.5 mile approach to a couple of arches (Bow-Tie and Corona) that I had never visited. Lying outside the Arches National Park, it was not crowded although there were a few Mexican families enjoying the Thanksgiving Day holiday.
At first approach, Corona Arch blends into the background, given away only by its shadow. But it soon becomes visible…with a couple of people sitting on top of it.
There is an old signed photograph on the wall of the Moab Diner, showing an airplane flying through the arch.
Bow-Tie arch is less impressive but features a nice skylight.
Some days, I just took my camera for a drive.
After several days of false weather forecasts predicting snow, the meteorologist finally got it right and I woke up to 2 inches of snow in Moab. It continued to snow during the day and I drove up into the Canyonlands where the roads were 6″-8″ deep. There was no-one about, the cloudy landscape just eerily empty.
The following day, the skies were clear and sunny, and the landscapes stunning.
I came to Moab for a few days and stayed more than two weeks. I never made it into the Arches National Park, never went on the long hike I had planned. But I enjoyed every minute and it will all still be here in the spring!