After much consideration for my skills, navigation ability, familiarity with the Rocky Mountain Element 29er hire bike and chances of being eaten by a bear/mountain lion I bit the bullet and booked a shuttle to the top of Burro Pass for 7:30am. I was going to do The Whole Enchilada solo. I had a map and the trail on my GPS and decided "how hard can it be?" The La Sal mountains are only 11 500ft high and the trail starts at 11 200ft!?!
I was awoken at about 4am by a crisp, deafening crack of thunder right overhead! It was so loud that even in the comfort of the RV I was frightened! What would it be like at 11 200ft on the La Sal mountains? Over the next couple of hours I tossed and turned as storm after storm scraped over our roof. Did I mention that Moab is at 4200ft? High elevation storms always seem so much more ferocious, especially in the dark and especially when they are all headed toward the mountain that you are supposed to be standing on in a couple of hours.
I was torn with what to do and after much more consideration I took the boring, sensible step at 7am of cancelling my shuttle to the top of Lightning Rod Peak. I just wasn't comfortable with being at 11 200ft, hugging the ground in a thunderstorm, with the chance of being rodgered by a nasty bear thrown in to boot. No sir...thats just not cricket!
As the wife and kids were going rafting, I was a bit lost now, so I had to come up with a plan "B". I decided to ride out Sand Flats Rd to the head of the Porcupine Rim trail. If, when I got there I felt good, I would ride a bit further and join onto The Whole Enchilada trail a bit higher up.
Just as I was about to pedal off in the RV park, a guy asked me where I was heading. I mentioned how I had chickened out of the Whole Enchilada ride because of the storms. He said "yeah, it would be real nasty up there in that". It sure helped me feel better about my decision.
Did I mention earlier that Moab was surrounded by huge red hills? Any attempt to escape town requires a substantial uphill slog. So slogging it was to be, which I honestly don't mind. I have developed a strange kind of self hypnotism where I see any climbing as good exercise, not a form of punishment. This allows me to actually enjoy the climbs for what they offer. What they offer is a good close look at the scenery. There is plenty of time to take in the view, snap pictures, watch that ant crawl across the road, get passed by a butterfly etc, etc.
While I was in good spirits the climb did seem tough and a bit unrelenting, with lots of false flats/downhills where I looked like I should be coasting but if I stopped turning the pedals the bike ground to a halt. That meant it was still uphill!
Arriving at the Porcupine Rim trail head I stopped for a bite to eat and to assess the chances of heading higher up into the hills. The altitude was getting to me a bit and the next trail head was about another 3-4 miles and 1500ft up the road, so I decided to get off the road here.
After a short downhill the trail again tilted up. But to make it so much harder it was lined with rock ledges. Anything from 5cm to 30cm high and at around 6000ft elevation this was sapping the energy from me. I was absolutely dripping with sweat and just had to take a break at one stage.
However, perseverence paid off as I came across this promising sign.
What lay beyond really did blow my mind! Holy cow! What a view!
Riding some of the trail along here was heart in mouth stuff. As well as the rock drops the trail actually touched the very edge of the cliff! There was a several thousand foot drop just 2 feet to your right!! It was only brief but it really made you pay attention to your riding!
Looking back toward the La Sal mountains and the storms had cleared to the east. Perhaps it would have been ok up there this morning? (the next morning after another stormy night they were covered in snow)
From here the Porcupine Rim Trail followed some double track with lots of sand and ledge drop-offs. With the overnight rain there were only two sets of tyre prints on the ground this morning, meaning I was the third rider up here (late morning) and the sand was nice and firm to ride on.
The speed picked up through this section despite the rock and I must say the sandy, bermy corners were my favourite as was the odd larger drop-off that I managed to time right. "Plushing" up the rear shock a lot certainly helped with the ride comfort through this section, but I would have loved another 60mm of travel to help smooth things out.
The final section of the trail is the single track and it did not disappoint! Rocky ledges that you had to ride along the length of before dropping off the end, a mad drop into the river about 1 foot off the edge of the trail for a few minutes and some super technical rock gardens that were 2-3 foot high in places and mega techy winding downhill rock gardens that I am not ashamed to say that I walked...just! In the photo below the trail enteres that dell just below my right ear!! Suffice to say I rode to the edge of the drop, then walked around the lip of rock to the right (behind my head). That is a 15ft drop into the creek line. There was plenty of pedal/chainring strike evidence on the rock to suggest that people can actually ride this! WTF!!
I have some good video footage that I will have to edit when I get home as I have no editing software with me on the laptop.
After a short section of more fun single track the trail ended at the Colorado River, 5 miles north east of Moab.
I stopped for a bite to eat in the shade, then pedalled back into town. I was turning over in my mind what I had just ridden. There was lung burning, high altitude ascents. Rocky, jarring doubletrack. Slick flowing, momentum-required-singletrack-heaven that led into f#cking terrifying rock gardens, almost certain death drop-offs into chasms/rivers/desert!! Take your pick!
Oh, and if you are wondering about all the self portraits this post, well, I just wanted to give the landscape some scale. It is just so vast that it has no meaning in a photo without something to compare it to. Shame I didn't have Brad Pitt with me....
In the end I did 5 hours(3:40 moving) and almost almost exactly 50km(32mi) with 1100m (3400ft) of elevation gain, but at this altitude, combined with the rough trails surface, I was pretty sore from it. A bit more than the Whole Enchilada distance, but nowhere near as tough I am guessing. The only time I wasn't grinning like an idiot was when my heart was trying to beat it's way out of my chest.
And the smile still lingers........