This year we didn't even have miles of sticking green clay! Easy, no sweat at all, right?
Oh baby. Other than my failed attempt at the '07 Vapor Trail, I'm not sure I've ever had a more intense ride, or conquered a bigger challenge. Wow, is that course big.
I bailed last year at about mile 65, and still got in around 80 miles when I counted in getting back to town. This year I was determined to make the grade. What just another 25 miles over what I did last year? Big deal.
The ride started out a bit more gracefully than last year, when I forgot my water bottles and had to swing into camp; which allowed the pack to put a quarter mile gap on me right from the start. This time I rolled with the group north out of Moab as the dawn twilight developed. It was a beautiful morning, and warm enough to start before dawn with just a wool jersey and arm/leg warmers. Luxury.
The first job was tackling some rowdy slickrock on the Rockin' A trail. It was a real suspension workout--but of course as I rolled off it onto the slightly less rowdy Circle O I noticed that I had my fork locked out since the climb out of down. Dingbat! The fox blow-off works really nice though. I'm sure the fork was soaking some of it, and I know I saw near full travel at least once.
Sovereign really is beautiful, and what a great bunch of singletrack! I probably expended too much precious energy hammering the climbs, but it was too fun. The final descent to the crossing underneath 191 was so technical, my hands, arms, and shoulders were stressing. Too fun.
I did stop for pictures a few times. Couldn't be helped.
Matt from GJ rolls by with Manti-La Sal in the background
Climbing rim riders on the Sovereign Trail
After crossing 191 it was on to the Cottermine Road, then 7 Mile Rim Trail, then Wipeout Hill. Very climby, temperatures beginning to be noticed. I peeled off the leg and arm warmers, slugged water and electrolytes, and mixed up a fresh bottle of food. Another beautiful, rugged chunk of terrain. Got to hwy 313 at about mile 42 starting to feel a little bit mortal.
Then it was 5 miles of grinding into the wind up the pavement. This was some of the worst of the day actually. Seemed much longer than 5 miles, and I was tired of the flat pavement almost immediately. I was really happy to see the Gemini Bridges Road heading back down toward Moab.
As I left 313, I pulled out my queue sheet for the first time. I just hadn't needed it yet, between other riders being around and copious blue flagging. But I needed to know just how far it was down this road to the start of Metal Masher. I pulled out the queue sheet and it came apart in my hands. I had sweated on a seam of the folded paper and it tore easily as I pulled it from my jersey pocket. Luckily it tore right down the center, so I needed to look at two different pieces of paper to get the complete queue description for the rest of the day.
But it was easy to tell that I needed to go 4 miles to the left turn that starts Seven Mile Rim/Metal Masher. Off I went, with a crowd of junior high kids swerving down the road on crappy bikes that had been shuttled up to descend the Gemini Bridges Road. Shortly my turn came and it was time to suffer climbing up to Seven Mile Rim.
I ran into Matt and Cat sitting in the shade drinking water and swallowing electrolytes. It was really pretty hot by that time, or at least the sun was shining hard. It was around 2 or 3 pm, and as I told them, I was feeling pretty mortal. I passed them sitting, and then 2 minutes later they caught me and passed me. I was really crawling right then.
Seemed like it took much longer than I remembered to get through that bit and back to the Gemini Bridges Road. I was trying to make it to the beginning of the Gold Bar Rim Trail before 4 PM, and it looked like I had pretty good slack on that, but I kept not getting to the end of Metal Masher.
Eventually I made it to Gemini, and shortly after that descended to the turn-off for Bull Canyon Road. Around this time I started crossing paths with a dude that I later learned was Josh Tostado. He's a majorly fast pro rider who apparently had started the race late. Both of us were confused about the route. I took a wrong turn after referring to my (ripped) queue sheet several times. As I concluded that I was going the wrong way and was riding back out, I met Josh who was on his way into where I had just gone. I explained to him that I'd seen bike tracks that circled back and headed out, he agreed that we must have missed a turn. He turned back and I followed him, and after a minute I saw him point right at an intersection and then go that way. When I got there I saw the blue flagging and went that way as well.
That was the last I saw of Josh Tostado.
But soon I did catch up to Adam Lisonbee. Adam and I have known each other for a year or so. During last year's Vapor Trail we found that we pace together pretty naturally. Adam climbs better than I do and I descend a little faster, but it usually washes out to where we leapfrog all day. That had been happening all day yesterday. We had ridden together and talked several times.
Adam was riding with a GPS with the course loaded. And he had pre-ridden almost all of it. He explained things to me that I did not know. And he warned me about a trail up ahead called the Golden Spike-blue dot trail, how it was hard to follow. He also explained that we had not yet reached the final bailout point, one marked on the queue sheet with a warning not to continue the course if you reach it after 4 PM. It was about 3:45 at this point, and we were not yet to that intersection. I remember thinking that Adam might be a good dude to keep nearby. I also had assumed we'd already passed the bailout I thought that I'd been there with half an hour of slack. Nope. Hmmm.
We got to the intersection with the Gold Bar Rim trail. It was by my watch 3:53. I was tired, but feeling OK. Adam and I talked, and both of us were a little concerned about the time, but neither was willing to just give up and DNF. As Adam said, "there's no reason I can't do this." Off we went past the point of no return.
Adam fell back right away, and I decided that I just had to move at my pace. Adam was free to turn back just as I was. But I really wanted to finish this thing. Soon I got to the bottom of an endless slab of canted sandstone. I started to granny gear up it, but quickly found that it was too steep. I got off and started marching next to my bike. Turns out that I marched for about an hour. I looked back several times to see if Adam was close behind. I couldn't see him, and it felt like I could see pretty darned far. I felt pretty sure that he was not back there, and that I was on my own. Fair enough. That's the game we're playing here.
I couldn't believe how high I marched up before I found the right turn to the Golden Spike Trail, another 4wd route. Right away I crossed a ledge and gap where a kid who looked less than 17 seemed hopelessly stuck trying to get his Jeep Cherokee up onto the ledge. His rear tires were just turning with a chattering screech. Seemed like getting up on that ledge was pretty much required for getting out of there. Good luck kid.
Golden Spike was a mix of traversing and climbs that made me walk. It was supposed to be 3 miles to the beginning of the blue dot singletrack. I was having a hard time judging distance by time, because I was moving incredibly slow. I wished I had brought my GPS just to help me with distance. I left it behind because the battery is only good for about 7 hours. Live and learn.
After what seemed like an incredibly long time on Golden Spike, the road lead right up to the rim, and I found myself looking down off a shear cliff to Moab, thousands of feet below. I had never seen the turn onto the singletrack, which was supposed to be a left even though that made little sense to me. It was 6 o'clock. Less than 2 hours of daylight left.
I started to freak. There was a faint singletrack going to the right from this rim, but it was supposed to be a left. And there was no blue ribbon. And it did not show at all on my Latitude 40 map. And I was burning daylight. Not much time to flail, I needed to figure this out!
I desperately fought the urge to panic. But I was really loosing my cool. Going back seemed like a huge undertaking, and it would have been! There should have been only 20 or so miles of course ahead of me, and obviously most of it would be down, since the finish was Moab and I could clearly see that Moab was down! If I had had a parachute I might have seriously considered using it.
Even though I hated to go back down something I had already bothered to climb, I felt that I had no choice but to find a blue ribbon marker and then search for the one that lead to the intersection. I must have missed something!
As I headed down, what do you think I saw? Adam Lisonbee! I almost hugged him. I don't think I've ever been as happy to see anyone. I was babbling incoherently about how the queue sheet made no sense and there weren't any blue flags...
Adam took it all in, but he seemed very calm. The reality is that he was calm, because he was too tired and worked to be anything but calm. We climbed the quarter mile back to the rim and he calmly explained to me that the faint trail to the right was our trail. We started riding it, and lo and behold! There were blue dots!
I didn't find the blue dot trail all that hard to follow. It reminded me of do-it-yourself trails from around Salida. It was full of crazy double drops from boulder to boulder, super tight switchbacks, gaps between rocks that were too tight for my big handlebars to pass through--but we were on the route! Adam saved my butt!
Here's a picture of him on the blue dot trail:
This is the man who saved my bacon
Shortly Adam and I made it to the Poison Spider jeep road. All we had to do was follow that out to the Potash Road, then it was pavement all the way back to Moab. I knew then that I was not going to spend the night lost in the desert. This made me very happy. I decided that Adam and I would finish together (unless he dropped me).
Poison Spider was much farther, much more work, and much more technical than I remembered. But it had been probably 15 years since I last rode up here. It took a really long time. It got dark on us. Eventually Craig Tuttle and another Matt (not my friend last seen on Seven Mile Rim) caught us. Craig is a local, so he knew some short cuts for getting back to Potash Road with a little less beach sand. We all turned on lights and started down the last half hour of Poison Spider in increasingly dark darkness.
At about 8:30 Craig, Matt, and I made it to Potash. Adam was still up there, so I told Craig and Matt to go on to Moab and let people know that Adam and I would be in shortly. Maybe 10 minutes after Matt and Craig left Adam showed, and he and I spun up the Potash Road to Moab. It was about 9:15 when we got there. That was just fine. Down. Done.
We don't do these things because they are routine. This one was not routine. It was friggin' hard. Mentally, physically. But what memories.
For the record, I'm kind of tired of sandstone.