This past weekend, I took some friends up on their invite for a weekend of mountain biking out in Fruita, CO (which is about 4.5 hours West of here, and just about 16 as-the-crow-flies miles from the Utah State Line.) I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something new, and do so with some friends who know what they are doing. Even though I've put several thousand miles behind me whilst in a bike saddle, the lion's share of those have been on a road bike. On a paved road. With relatively few obstacles in my path (save for the occasional squirrel darting out.) Though a novice, I knew enough about the sport of mountain biking that I shouldn't expect such conditions.
My friend Carl and I drove out Friday to an area called the Bookcliffs and met up with some other friends who had driven out the day before. When we arrived at the campsite, they had just returned from a ride, so Carl and I changed around and did a short "get my feet wet" ride before dinner. I quickly came to learn that except for there being a chain and a place to sit, there are very few similarities between a mountain and road bike. It is a completely different feel on a mountain bike and requires a different set of bike handling skills. For example, on a road bike, if you feel your back tire sliding out, you may tend to freak out a bit and may end up in a world of hurt; on a mountain bike, you just keep on pedaling.
Another difference is not only looking at things that might impact your front or rear tires, but also what you might hit your pedals on. A lot of the trails we were on are "single track," meaning they're wide enough for only 1 biker to be going on (i.e. no 2-abreast riding). So, the trail is relatively narrow and usually lined with rocks, boulders, trees, tree stumps, roots, etc. I can't tell you how many times I banged my pedals on those kinds of things because, previously, I never really had to consider them when thinking about ground clearance for my pedals.
On Saturday, we biked near camp and made our way to the the Zippity Doo Daa trail. Despite the name, this was, I would find out, no kiddie ride at Disney. First clue: the "experts only" sign at the trailhead that my friends said I should not be freaked out by. And, by the early going, they were right. Relatively mild terrain, but nothing too extreme. I was still having my usual troubles of being in the right gear for the short, steep climbs, and whacking my pedals against things. And I did my fair share of "hike-a-bike." But all in all, not too bad.
Then we got ourselves to the section that this trail is known for... the "knife's edge" ridge riding and the "steeps." I've hiked on terrain like this before, but to have a bike trail traverse it was pretty spectacular and unlike anything I had ever done on a bike before. The ridge riding didn't bother me too much (despite the threat of one bad turn and I'd be tumbling down the side of a pretty long, steep hill.) The steep descents, though, were something else. They, too, usually involved a ridge of some kind, but because of their nature, usually involved much greater speed and hence even less room for error.
At the first steep decline, we all stopped at the top to check out the trail and to do a gut check. Experienced riders Carl and Neal went first and made it down safely. I was next. And nervous. I'm not sure why, but I didn't feel like thinking about it too long, so I just went. And picked up speed quickly despite feathering the back brake. The bike drifted right and almost went off the trail before finding its way down the center of the trail and to the bottom of the descent. Carl and Neal were stunned – they couldn't believe a) I attempted it and b) I kept the bike upright after nearly going off the trail.
And frankly, I was in complete agreement. I was so startled by what had just taken place that my legs were shaking for a couple of minutes afterward. Much like at the top of the hill, I had another "didn't feel like thinking about it too long moment" at the bottom, but this time it was: I don't want to do anything like THAT again soon. And even though opportunities presented themselves, I was more than glad to do the "hike a bike" down some of the remaining steeps.
(Here's a link to a video someone took while riding this trail. I don't know this person, but I found it on YouTube and it gives a pretty good idea of what the ridge riding is like at times. It doesn't do justice to the "steeps" though. At about 4:15 into the clip, you'll see the descent that got my legs shaking. Again, it's tough to discern from the video how steep the trail is at that point.) After the steeps and ridge riding were over, we made our way back to camp via a trail called Prime Cut. This one was much more "tame" as it was mostly a gradual climb up to the camp.
On Sunday, we loaded up the bikes and headed to the Kokopelli trail area about 30 minutes away. The first trail we got on was Mary's Loop and it was wonderful. It paralleled (at a pretty safe distance) the canyon cliffs along a stretch of the Colorado River, providing excellent views practically the entire time. After about 2 miles, we did a side trail called Horsethief Bench Loop. To get to it, though, required a hike-a-bike down a boulder-strewn trail. Once at the bottom, more fun was ready to be had as we got ourselves lower in the canyon and got some even better views of the river and canyon walls. It was still mostly single-track riding but it wasn't as treacherous as some of the stuff from Saturday. That said, though, it was on this trail that I happened to do my first "endo." Thankfully, it was a relatively slow event and one from which I came relatively unscathed. Another great feature of this trail was the return to the beginning of the loop... it followed a dry, twisty creekbed along some sandstone walls
After finishing the loop, we hiked back up to Mary's Loop. At this point, the guys who came Thursday had to head back to the Boulder area, so Carl and I continued on our way on Mary's Loop – again, riding the rim of the canyon and enjoying the scenery – and eventually did part of another side trail called Steve's Loop. This, too, was another great side trail with little risk and great reward.
There was no time to ride on Sunday, so Carl and I decided to drive through Colorado National Monument on our way back home. And what a wonderful side trip this was. The canyon walls and rock formations were incredible and the road through the monument skirted the rim, yielding sights and views practically the entire way.
For pictures, follow this link.