Pilgrimage to Moab

For the avid fitness and outdoor enthusiast, winter presents many opportunities for fitness and excitement, but after five months of snow and ice, even the most diehard snow junkies pine for the warmth of the sun and days of hiking, climbing, running and mountain biking.

Dead Horse Point is a promontory of stone surrounded by steep cliffs near Moab

Dead Horse Point is a promontory of stone surrounded by steep cliffs near Moab

For the avid fitness and outdoor enthusiast, winter presents many opportunities for fitness and excitement, but after five months of snow and ice, even the most diehard snow junkies pine for the warmth of the sun and days of hiking, climbing, running and mountain biking.

For many Canadians, an early spring pilgrimage to the desert climate of Utah is just what is needed to shake off the last remnants of a long winter. With the hopes of warm sunny days, my wife Dee, daughter Marni and I loaded our minivan and hit the road south for 10 days of fun in the sun. Well, actually, six days of fun and four travel days.

For Albertans, the trip south is easy, a ribbon of four-lane blacktop snakes its way through Southern Alberta, Montana, Idaho and Utah and leads to one of the best mountain biking areas on the continent, if not the world. As Marni worked on homework in the back seat, Dee and I shared the driving, taking in the scenery as we went.

After two days on the road and 23 hours behind the wheel, we settled into our cozy cabin accommodation at the Fruita RV campground just off I-70 and soon mounted our bikes for the first ride of the trip to loosen up the legs. Two flat tires later, it was time to buy some new rubber for the front of my almost-20-year-old Rocky Mountain Hammer Race mountain bike.

I looked into picking up a new full suspension bike prior to heading south, but thought it would be fun to take the old Rocky for one more road trip. Mountain bikes have come along way over the past 20 years, with shock absorbers on the front and back, offering 10 to 20 cm of travel — and with the new disc brake technology, riders can literally float over the trails and stop on a dime.

But for the hardcore riders (or those too cheap to replace what works) the hard-tail design with old style brakes makes for a more pure ride, albeit one that can leave you feeling as though you are riding a jackhammer and not a bicycle.

Fruita, Colo., just east of the Utah border is home to some fantastic mountain biking trails along the Colorado River, a few bike shops and the all-important cafes for your pre- or post-ride caffeine fix.

Fruita was not a disappointment — the riding here was challenging and scenic, with singletrack trails climbing, plummeting down and along the Colorado River. With only two days in the area, we only scratched the surface of the trails and will definitely head back for a longer stay. Perhaps we will take in the Fruita Fat Tire Mountain Biking Festival on our next trip. In its 15th year, the festival attracts riders from around North America at the end April.

Our next stop was Moab, Utah. Known as the mountain biking mecca of the world, the area boasts some of the most challenging and scenic riding anywhere. From the long downhill rides to Slickrock, mountain bikers come from around the world to test their skills on the trails around this mining-turned-tourist town.

However, so do off-road vehicle users, including rock-crawling jeeps and dirt bikers who have developed many of the trails in the area. For their differences, however, all trail users seem to get along and respect each other. It’s not uncommon to see mountain bikers and jeeps using the same trails and for the week before and after Good Friday the “Jeepers” all but own the town as they host the Easter Jeep Safari.

Our first riding in Moab took us up into the Sandflats Recreation Area above Moab to ride the famed Slickrock trails. The 17-km loop takes riders over a landscape of petrified sand dunes and the eroded remnants of ancient sea beds.

This area is an absolute rush to ride but on this trail expert bike handling skills are essential to stay in control and rubber-side down.

The Slickrock trail is in fact not slick at all, but has a surface much like sandpaper, which makes for a surface that mountain bike tires stick to like glue, enabling riders to climb and descend all but the steepest hills. Skin, however, sticks to the rock just as well and many riders have lost large portions of it when they lose contact with their bikes. Fortunately for our group, no blood was shed here — but that’s not to say we did not leave some skin on the other trails through the week.

“You’re not having fun until you’re bleeding,” I have often heard people say.

Our second day in the area took us hiking into Arches National Park, where about 2,000 natural sandstone arches dot the landscape and attract thousands of hikers each year.

On day three in Moab, our family group broke up for the day with Dee and Marni heading north of Moab to ride the Klondike Bluffs Trail while I hooked up with some friends from Canmore for a trip to the Porcupine Rim Trail. Rated as a classic trail, a guidebook says the ride has a grunt factor of 10, a techno factor of 10 and a fear factor of 11.

The trail was a must-do for our group and judging by the excitement of the other riders in the shuttle van, this trail was going to be a blast.

Descending along a precipitous ridge line, the trail makes a 34-km route through some of the best scenery that Utah has to offer before finishing with several kilometres of singletrack down through Jackass Canyon and ending on the highway beside the Colorado River.

After a run like this, the only thing left to do was to recount the day’s adventure over a few cool cervezas. With local labels like Scorpion Pale Ale, Dead Horse Amber Ale, Polygamy Porter and Porcupine Pilsner to choose from, you just can’t go wrong.

The rest of the trip involved much the same itinerary: wake up, eat, ride, get coffee and chill until the end of the day.

As for the 20-year-old hard tail, it performed like a trooper and only bucked me off a few times, but I guess spilling a little blood in the desert is the price you pay in the name of fun.

If you go:

• For information on the Moab area, log onto discovermoab.com

• For more information on riding in the Fruita area, log onto http://www.peterbeers.net/fruita/

Jeff Stokoe is an Advocate photographer and fitness fantatic.

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