Mastering Moab

Moab bike rides leave former pros sore, grateful

Scott Mercier, with Scott Fortson behind him, cycle on a trail in Moab. Mercier and some buddies took in a weekend of fantastic views and great riding recently by traveling to Utah. Amasa Back, Pothole Arch, Rock Stacker and Jackson’s Trail are some of the rides to enjoy in the area.

The view looking down on Fisher Towers while riding road bikes on La Sal Mountain Loop.

Training camps were always some of my favorite times as a professional cyclist. It was a time to hang out with your teammates and ride a bike for five to eight hours a day without the stress of racing.

Last weekend, some local friends and some of my former teammates met in Moab for our own mini-training camp. None of us are training for anything specific. We just thought it would be fun to get together and reconnect while spending six hours a day riding road and mountain bikes.

Three of my favorite rides over the weekend included Amasa Back and Slickrock on the mountain bikes and the La Sal Mountain Loop on road bikes.

We arrived late Thursday afternoon and decided Amasa Back would be a good warmup for the weekend. It is a loop consisting of four separate trails — Amasa Back, Pothole Arch, Rock Stacker and Jackson’s — with a nice combination of jeep roads, slickrock and singletrack.

The views are terrific, but as roadies, we had to walk significant portions of the trail. The risk/reward of a crash in several places was just too much for us. We had one minor crash and a flat, and the 9.5-mile loop took us about two hours.

Near the end of the trail, the runoff from the Colorado River had flooded the final section, so we had to wade across about 25 feet of water. Luckily, there was no current, because it got to a depth of five feet. Later, I learned most maps clearly indicate that this can happen in the spring, but we hadn’t done our homework.

Day 2 began with The Big Nasty. That is the nickname of the La Sal Loop road in Moab. I had never ridden this loop but heard it is a classic road ride. The loop includes more than 5,400 vertical feet of climbing and is 62 miles long.

We rode the route counter-clockwise. From Moab, start riding along Mill Creek Road and head south. This road becomes Spanish Valley Road, and it takes you directly to the La Sal Mountain Loop road.

The ride begins climbing right from Moab, and before you know it you’ve climbed 1,500 feet. It is not steep yet and provides a good warmup for the climbs that lie ahead.

We had a nice tailwind, so we clipped along at a pretty good pace for the first hour. At about 12 miles, the road begins to pitch up steeply. Once the road starts climbing in earnest, prepare yourself for about six miles of relentless climbing. Some of the pitches are more than 14 percent. It is reminiscent of Little Park Road but longer and harder.

At this point I realized why the ride is called The Big Nasty. About 18 miles into the route, the road reaches a false summit, and you have climbed about 3,500 feet, which felt like a great accomplishment, but it also meant we still had 2,000 feet of climbing remaining. When we finally summited at an elevation of 8,400 feet, we took a moment to drink and enjoy the view of the Fisher Towers below us and the La Sal mountains above us.

The road plummets quickly and is very rough in stretches with many blind corners, so use caution on the descent.

The descent was fun, but it seemed paltry considering all of the climbing we had done. We were faced with a stiff headwind when we made the left turn along the Colorado River to ride back to Moab.

We were sore, stiff, tired and out of water, so we put our heads down and clipped off the remaining miles as quickly as possible. There are no services along the route, so be prepared with extra water bottles and plenty of food. It can also be quite cool along the top sections, so a light jacket or vest may be a good idea.

After a quick lunch and a few beers, we thought the Slickrock Mountain bike trail would be a good way to end the day. We were all pretty tender from nearly four hours in the saddle, but we had come to ride, so that’s what we did.

We started our ride at around 6 p.m., and the trail was empty and the wind was howling.

Slickrock is one of the more distinctive mountain bike rides in the world. It feels like you are on Mars with miles and miles of rock and sand. Most of the trail actually is ridden on sandstone. It is amazing how much traction the rock provides; it is almost like riding on sandpaper, which is not so nice for the inevitable crash.

And sure enough, a few of us crashed. Early in the ride, we arrived at the base of a steep climb. I was leading, and just as I was about to crest the climb a gust of wind surged and caused me to stop. I managed to clip out, but I went sliding down the hill, and my bike slid into Peter Stubenrauch and took him out.

Halfway through the ride we heard a buzzing noise from above us. We looked up and saw someone zipping overhead on the new zip lines. I guess they were installed by our own locally owned and operated Bonsai Designs. I promised myself that on my next trip, rather than ride a second ride, I would spend the afternoon zipping over the rocks.

By the end of the weekend, the muscles in our legs, backs and buttocks were so sore that even walking hurt. We had a great time catching up, riding into a minor semblance of shape and drinking a few beers. We all miss the fitness that we enjoyed as professional cyclists, but we were thankful we don’t still earn our living on a bike. It’s a hard way to earn a paycheck.

Good riding!


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