This is the doozie. The big one. The week before I arrived Twitter was awash with comments of people riding the trails in Moab and here I was. Mountain bike between my legs, sun overhead and legs tensing and pumping up and down as I rode the trails.
Crashing within the first three minutes sucks
My first experience of slick rock wasn’t what you’d call successful. I fell off at the very first obstacle. I can’t even pretend it was difficult, it was a 2” drop, some sand and a 2” climb on the other side. Yup, you read that right, two teeny-weeny-itty-bitty inches. I came around the corner, dropped the 2” into the sandy bottom, pulling back on the handlebars ready for the climb, the suspension compressed, the front wheel caught and I went straight over the handlebars. I thumped hard into the ground smacking my elbow and knee. The bike came with me, trapped my legs and hit me in the back and head.
It hurt. It hurt a lot.
I picked the bike up, moved off the trail and composed myself walking around to make sure nothing was broken and to free the joints up. Visibly there was only a couple of small holes in my skin, but dang, my elbow and knee ached like a very sore thing. I took the camera out and snapped a few shots still moving the joints when two young lads came past with their dad. The lads flew across the obstacle, the dad went down the 2” drop, he pulled back on the handlebars, the suspension compressed, the front wheel caught and he went straight over the handlebars. He however, unlike me, winced, picked the bike up and rode on.
Crashing so soon dented my confidence as you can imagine but I jumped back on the and gingerly continued down the trail. It was very technical and not been used to the immense grip levels offered by slick rock wasn’t ideal. I ended the trail slowly and wondering if my biking day was over. My knee hurt every time I turned the pedals or bobbed. My chipped ankle started to give me discomfort again. My elbow felt as if someone was jabbing me with a knife every time I bent it or compressed it for a bump. I’d only ridden for ten minutes and completed one trail but I was hurting.
This is the point where my stubborn streak comes into it’s own. I wasn’t about to give up. I was in Moab, the mountain biking mecca. The only place on earth you can ride slick rock. Give up? Get real!
A simpler trail please
I went to the next trail and paused taking on board some water and relaxed a moment. With a little trepidation I joined the trail and found it so different and confidence inspiring compared to the first trail. The bike wasn’t the best (although it wasn’t about to fall apart like the one in Huaraz) but I was having a blast. The rocks just kept going rolling, dipping and climbing as far as you can see. The only reference point you have is the mountainous cliffs to left of the site and a little coloured line painted onto the rocks. My aching knee started to give me some respite. My elbow ache dulled to just an annoyance. The adrenaline flowed. My legs remembered what it is to pedal hard. My face was stuck in a permanent grin. The sweat flowed. The trail flowed beneath my tyres as I tore through the desert.
I got to the end of the trail exhilarated and paused for a moment surrounded by a family who were eyeing me suspiciously for some reason. They all had the “right” gear with the racing tops, biking shorts, clearly expensive (but in perfect condition) bikes, racing helmets, camel packs… I on the other hand had a pair of trainers, walking shorts, a t-shirt, my small rucksack with water, gloves, sunglasses, rented helmet and bike. I let them go on first and gave them the customary 3 minute gap.
I overtook them after the first corner. For all the correct gear, they didn’t have a clue what they were doing. I’m not going to pretend I do either (I did fall off within three minutes remember!) but heck they were the visualisation of “all the gear and no idea”.
The second trail was much the same as the first, lots and lots of fun! I rode it quickly enjoying the exertion and paused a few times to take pictures (do you realise how hard it is to take a picture of you riding using a camera on 10second timer?!?) and then took the long way back to the car. At one point I challenged myself – get to the car fast. I dropped the gearing and pushed hard flying down the road, head tucked down, knees bobbing leaving a dust clouds billowing behind me. I roared past other bikers and only stopped when I got to the car a mile later. It felt great as I’ve not ridden a bike properly in over a year!
Riding slick rock proper
Moab is famous for The Slick Rock trail. A punishing sequence of rolling rock which offer extraordinary levels of grip. You plummet down on hills which seem crazy and then have to power up short (50ft or so) inclines of seemingly impossible angles.
Back home I have ridden mostly gravel, slate and mud trails and I never seem to get the right technique for climbing on the loose stuff – lean too far forward and the rear wheel gets no purchase, lean too far back and the front wheel leaves the ground and makes it difficult to pedal / steer. Here, on the slick rock, lean forward a little, pump the legs and away you go. Any angle, all inclines, whoosh up you go. There were some I failed on, but that is to do with my lack of biking fitness if I’m honest.
I only managed to ride the “practice” loop due to time constraints and the pain I had in my knee, elbow and ankle but I was hooked. I’m looking forward to organising a return visit sometime when I can ride the whole loop along with many of the other trails in the area!
More pictures of mountain bking in Moab can be found in the Digitallery album USA – Utah – Moab
Click here to load a map showing you the location of this post and images from the digitallery taken nearby.