With a loose outline of a plan and an interest in riding a few different places, I set off Vegas-bound to pick up Jesse for the start of our second bike-centric van trip in 8 months, this time a bit further afield. After an excellent trip to Moab and Grand Junction last September, and a long winter blighted by injuries, Jesse and I were ready to get back on the bikes.
After picking up Jesse at the airport we immediately stocked up on groceries at a Whole Foods and hit the trails of Boulder City, just outside of Vegas where the Hoover Damn is.
We were pleasantly surprised by the trails in Boulder City. The area outside of Vegas is beautiful and a steady breeze kept us cool as we took our first ride of the year. We rode East Leg to Boy Scout all the way to the high point in the trail network, then descended Boy Scout to Mother Connector and POW, and then back to the car. POW was a ripping, mellow downhill in the twilight hour. It was a short ride of roughly 7 miles and 600 ft of climbing, but a nice bonus to the afternoon we hadn’t counted on.
We did this on peddle bikes after the electric bike I was on went kaput in the first 5 minutes. I most likely bent the seat post in an ill-advised drop that was much bigger than I anticipated, plus the rear tire got a puncture and the battery was dead. I have to remember this when I’m being critical of my friends for not having their shit together! Thankfully and amazingly this was the only time we had issues with the bikes the entire trip. And lucky for us we had access to a really nice, attentive Specialized dealership just down the street. The guys there even stayed late to help us sort things out.
We then drove to Laughlin, NV and posted up at an AirBnB for two nights while Jesse competed in the UTV world championship desert race, part of a series he’s been competing in. I ripped around the race track on a bike and watched the event, taking photographs of the actions. It was pretty cool being a spectator. The scene was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. The desert was filled with heavily modified cars racing to breaking point all over the place, getting huge air and drifting around sharp corners, taking a beating in the woops. There were no less than 5 choppers in the air filming the event and huge rigs and spectators lined the race course for miles.
After a good nights rest Saturday night and a leisurely Sunday morning doing some bike maintenance, we left for Sedona, AZ to see what all the hype was about.
Armed with a super detailed synopsis of the trails and recommendations for rides by a good buddy, we started checking off the trails that afternoon. We started with The Old Post to Ridge Loop, taking Herkenham to the highway and then up Girdner. We then thought we were being smart by taking Upper Lizard Head Trail to the start of Thunder Mountain Express, but the trail was crap for biking. If we had bothered to read the description on the Mtn Bike Project app, we would have seen the one and only comment “terrible trail for riding.” It was most certainly not a bike trail, and required us to carry our bikes up steep, slick red rock onto the side of a cliff, then traverse across and down. It wasn’t so bad and I was actually in a trance from the great ride we had had up to that point, but it was obvious the trail had be rerouted and was no longer suitable for bikers. After the difficult hike-a-bike we decided to call it for the night and leave the fun Thunder Mountain Express downhill for the morning. It was a solid 16.5 mile ride with 2000 ft of climbing.
We started a trend that night of making ourselves at home in the Whole Foods parking lot by laying out yoga mats and foam rollers and bike stands on the tarmac.
The next morning we had a really fun time on Thunder Mountain Express in the cool morning air, then took a break before hitting a big loop that afternoon. We did Chuckwagon to Mezcal to Aerie to Western Civilization to Last Frontier. It ended up being a 23 mile ride, making it 30 miles on the day. I felt really good for the first half, but by the time we hit Western Civilization late in the afternoon I was pretty worked. It was the hottest day of the trip and I was knackered. By the end I had nothing left and was hanging on by a thread, willing my empty, powerless legs to get me back to the road.
As would become a recurring theme on the trip, just like the Specialized dealership mere miles from where I had done damage to the seat post, the thing we need most magically appeared when we were totally exhausted, still 2 miles away from the car–a smoothy shop. Making it even better was that we had made it with barely 15 minutes until close. I was able to take a much needed break and consume some sweet, delicious calories. We split a decadent vegan chocolate pudding and I downed a mint chocolate chip flavored smoothy. The 2 miles back to the van weren’t all that bad after the stop.
The next morning we rode Slim Shady to Hi-Line to Baldwin to Templeton. It was a really nice loop that totaled about 11 miles. It was another superb day on famous trails. We met a funny guy on the way up who had gotten stitches riding the very same trail the day before, yet was back for seconds. Hi-line had some really nice sections and was well built, but it pays to become familiar with it and project the tricky parts a little. The ride back to the car was smooth with some ripping downhill sections and a nice swimming hole in Oak Creek.
That night we broke out the E-bikes and went back to do a similar ride to the one we did on the first day, this time ending with Skywalker, which was a brilliant downhill on the e-bikes with tremendous vistas. We took a nice break at a bench with sweeping views and got to really appreciate how beautiful Sedona is, especially in the spring. A friendly Canadian joined us and he probably thought we were assholes because of how taciturn we were being, but we were both exhausted and incapable of conversing.
The next day we did our final ride in Sedona, hitting the same loop from our second day, but this time on the e-bikes. We crushed the 23 mile loop with ease and had tons of fun. We met a funny Canadian couple, the man on a sweet and silly recumbent mountain bike. It was goofy but he was good on it, evidenced by him being there in the first place. He let us ride it and we had fun struggling to keep it straight and upright. It only weighed 33 ibs. and was really cool. It also snowed on us at this stop, which was totally nuts in the warm desert.
We did one more ride that afternoon, this time on the Twin Buttes Loop. It wasn’t our favorite ride, but still mightily enjoyable. It may have been the most scenic part of Sedona. It was the only trail we hit that had jumps and a more freeride feel to it, though that sort of riding is tough when it’s all slippery, loose rocks.
With four full, awesome days in Sedona under our belts we packed up and sped off towards Hurricane, Utah and the renowned Gooseberry Messa. We drove along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and despite being ready for bed, we pushed on for another half our to get down from the 7,500 ft of elevation and sub-freezing temperatures. We woke just outside of Hurricane and headed into the prairie where we would set up base camp for the next two days. We were lucky to have stalked up on food and water the night before.
I think we had the two best days of the trip in Hurricane. We were all alone in a beautiful desert that was fully in bloom, with the green canyons of Zion to the North and the snow covered peaks above St. George to the west, and the Grand Canyon somewhere to the south. Our trail for that day was also only a stones throw away.
At this point we had settled into a really nice rhythm and reveled in the simplicity of being off by ourselves with incredible riding all around us. Contentment was at an all time high and would continue for the rest of the trip.
The first bit of JEM was rocking, and the Hurricane Rim Trail as a whole superb. Towards the end we met a funny local on a KTM 450 hanging out in a big drain pipe that ran beneath a road and ended in a big cliff. He was ripping cigs and drinking beers (he made sure to emphasize he had more than one) and told us about growing up there, when they use to take inner tubes through a big underground canal, which sounded wicked cool and scary. Goulds Rim was fun and fast, while the finale of the downhill portion of JEM was just fantastic–definitely one of the highlights of the trip, going flat out on the e-bikes, getting air and banging turns at max velocity. The ride was roughly 22 miles with 2,000 ft of climbing.
The next day was our grand finale. We finished the same way we ended our epic trip the previous fall–with a grand loop requiring two batteries on fantastic, remote trails. We rode out JEM and Dead Ringer to Highway 59, then crushed some miles on pavement before cutting through Apple Valley and a community of Fundamentalist Mormons that still practice polygamy. For reasons I can now clearly understand, the community was barred by locked gates throughout and Jesse and I did our best to be quick shuttling our bikes and ourselves over them as fast as possible.
The town gave us a very spooky vibe and we rode as fast as we could in turbo with our heads down. I saw one women dressed in a long dress as if she was a settler from the Oregon Trail days. We vowed to take the long way home after escaping a weird and uncomfortable situation.
I had read Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven” about FLDS communities along the Arizona strip and was aware of how bizarre and strange this place was. I even joked about it with Jesse the night before, but didn’t imagine it would be so sealed off and spooky. From Google maps it looked like we could cut off some highway time but cutting through the community, and I certainly didn’t foresee the gates and security that in hindsight should have been expected. These people live in constant fear of being raided by the authorities for their practice of plural marriage and treatment of underage women, among many other things. Just down the road about 5 miles is the town of Hilldale, the seat of the FLDS church and where Warren Jeffs, now in jail and still running the show from behind bars, used to reside. He was said to have had up to 70 plural marriages and is just about the creepiest mother fucker in the world. I think we were a little lucky and I never want to be back there again.
We rode up to Gooseberry Messa after the harrowing experience in the FLDS town and discovered we were riding along the route of an ultra marathon that was taking place the very same day. It was inspiring and interesting to see up to 600 people running an ultra. We had nice chats with a few of them and tried to stay out of their way. I was struck by the diversity of the runners, not just in terms of color, but also in age, size, and athletic ability.
We did the loop in a clockwise direction and spent some time on the messa rim taking in the views. The riding was slow and technical, sort of like trials riding. We were both able to climb some wickedly steep rock walls that would have been impossible on regular bikes. We ripped out on a double track and back out to the highway in no time on a long descent. The highway portion sucked, with no shoulder and rude truck drivers, but we made it back to the JEM trail for our second crack at the funny, flowy downhill through the prairie.
We were out of water when we got back to the van and neither one of us wanted to leave our temporary home for the night. Miraculously there was an aid station for the ultra runners about 100 yards from where were were camped. We didn’t take all their water, but did borrow a couple gallons to help us cook dinner and clean up a bit. It was another example of things serendipitously working out.
We drove to Zion National Park the next day and took e-bikes into Zion Canyon to the trailhead for the Angel’s Landing hike. It was full of people, but still spectacular. A couple people from the ultra 100k were out there, which was very impressive. And riding in and out was nice because Zion NP bans cars on the roads and requires people take shuttles. Not a single car or bus passed us in the 6 mile approach. I think GTNP needs to do something similar.
We then drove North to Draper, UT that night and camped at Point of the Mountain flight park. In the AM we dropped the van at the dealership for some maintenance and rented a car to drive home in.
It was another spectacular trip in the van. I returned home feeling at ease and content. The next few days were spent in a tranquil reverie of dreamy bliss. Being self sufficient, getting away from people, going on long rides, eating good, clean food, surrounding yourself with natural beauty, good companionship, and truly letting all cares fall to the wayside is a heady drug for happiness and a good time. It doesn’t get any better.
I especially enjoyed cooking all our own meals and eating super high quality, nutrient rich food. We didn’t eat out once and still ate like kings. We tried lots of new recipes and were never hungry or unsatisfied.
I got home and wanted to get back on the road immediately. But my body was tired and needed a good rest. I also have a big trip coming up next week that I should plan for. The good things about trips like we just had is that it helps generate new ideas for things to do, gasoline for the brain’s dream center. It also makes you realize how special such trips are and motivates you to get back out on the road as soon as possible.
We talked a lot about kitting out new vans for adventures and riding dirt bikes in Baja next year, which will happen this fall as long as we are healthy. We also have a slew of missions for this summer ranging from adventure motorcycling to long bike rides and backpacking trips.
As Jesse noted, it sort of felt like we were living in an alternate reality, being one of the few people on e-bikes in all theses meccas of trails and riding. Jesse turned to me at one point and said “mountain bikes are good for exercise, but not much fun compared to e-bikes,” I and knew what he meant. E-bikes enhance the mountain biking experience in every way. They are faster, more solid, more capable machines in every regard. Better on descents, and offering superhuman powers on ascents, e-bikes take the cake.
You certainly work hard, but you never get that heart beating through your chest sensation as from regular bikes. Nor do you hit empty with the absolutely nothing left in your legs. They get you up and over things you could never get through on a regular bike, and help you carry momentum through technical sections, generating an ear-to-ear grin even for big, steep uphills. There is never a moment you have to wait to build up speed to truly enjoy a trail section, enjoying every bit to its fullest.
The way I see it, there is literally no down-side and all up-side the e-bikes. Without e-bikes we could never have ridden 50 miles on that last day without suffering and beating ourselves to death. Hell, we may have been capture by the FLDS and flayed for being infidel spys or something. Instead we had an awesome adventure that left us tired, but super fulfilled and happy. The riding was far more enjoyable, we got to see more, and ride stuff we couldn’t have on regular bikes. And after a long week of riding, we never had to take a rest day, and we could go for two rides a day. It’s clearly the way to get the most bang for your buck on these road trips, and just have the most fun period.