Day 2 of our trip to Moab: The itinerary called for “The Whole Enchilada,” which is a series of trails that starts high in the La Sal Mountains. It is an epic adventure that requires you to shuttle your vehicles or hire a commercial shuttle service. It peaks at 11,200 feet and descends 7000 feet to the Colorado River over the course of 33 miles.
Due to the snow at the peak and the road closures, our route had to be shortened a bit. But don’t worry, it was still unforgettable. We rode 25 miles and dropped over 5000 vertical feet.
The trail is a cool mix of flowy singletrack, rugged jeep roads, super-technical drops, exposed rim trails and amazing scenery. There is something for everyone and only a small subset of riders that can handle all of it. For you mere more mortals, plan on hiking at least a few gnarly sections. …or go for it and die. Your choice.
We started at the Jimmy Keen Trail, which is a windy, open piece of singletrack on dirt with a light smattering of rocks that stretches for a few miles. This was the easiest riding of the day and was a great way to warm up. We dropped a few hundred feet and were able to coast and weave across a fairly open plateau with the La Sal Mountains as our backdrop. At this point, due to the elevation, the trees and bushes were low and you could see all around you. My Garmin had us at 8300 feet and a few people commented on being winded from the elevation even though we were mostly going downhill.
“Now this is where the shit gets real,” I heard someone say. “It’s about to get gnarly.”
When we hit Upper Porcupine Rim, it was like someone flipped a switch. It was a completely different trail. All of a sudden their were more rocks than dirt and instead of flowing and weaving, the trail stepped up a couple technical notches. Unlike, the riding in Ohio, where most of the trails are really tight and there is only a couple of narrow lines to take, these large boulders usually had several ways you could ride them.
Since this was my first time here, and I have limited experience riding on rocks like this, I was riding with a lot of caution. I would only give myself a B- or C+ on line selection. I’d be riding along and go left and stop because there was a huge drop. Then I would look to the right and see the rideable line that I wanted to be on. This was a consistent theme for me throughout the day and I wouldn’t say I “pwned” the mountain that day.
I was amazed at some of the trail features I was seeing. They looked unrideable to me, but I know they were doable because of the tire tracks that I saw on the rocks and the videos I’ve seen on-line. It was insane.
Twice, there were long steep rock descents that required you to commit. I went for it after I watched the guys I was with ride it safely, but I ain’t gonna lie, I was freakin’ out. My brakes were dragging hard and there was no way to back out of it. My tires were skidding on the surface. This was going to happen. About 2/3 of the way down I let go of my brakes and zoomed out of the hill with a huge sense of relief. Happy I went for it, but hoping there wasn’t much more like it.
Despite the fact that I’m a sissy, this was truly a really cool place to ride. I’d love to do it over and over and get better at riding it. …and if I was going to do that, I’d definitely want a different bike. I’m riding my 2012 Specialized Stumpjumper Evo hardtail with 1X10 gearing. It’s a XC race bike. And, I will say, it’s doing the job but it’s not the best bike for rides like this. I’m riding it because this is a “budget tour” for me (free flight, free bike shipping, split the cost of house and vehicles), but I highly recommend a full-suspension all-mountain bike. There were certain sections that I had to ride more slowly than my fellow full-suspension companions and several drops that I probably would have gone for if I had more travel.
The views from the Porcupine Rim Trail were awe-inspiring and postcard-picture worthy. The trail routinely runs within a few feet of the cliff’s edge, which sounded scary, but the exposure didn’t bother me at all. I kept stopping to take photos and to appreciate the natural wonder of this place.
The trail then turns from rocky singletrack into a rocky jeep trail. The exposure went away for the most part and the vibe changed completely. It went from being a tight, technical challenge to an open opportunity to bomb down the hill. This may have been my favorite part of the ride. I loved going faster, but there were still plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself and make you think. That speed came at a price though, the smaller rocks on the trail rattled the bikes and gave your torso quite a workout.
The trail then changes personality again and becomes the “Porcupine Rim Singletrack.” This trail is cut into the sides of the mountain and has lots of exposure. It’s a good mix of soil and rocks and some of the area’s best riders just fly though this section. Check out this video to get a taste of what can be done:
Our crew was a little worn down by this point in the ride, and we walked a few sections. One rider, Ken Gunn, had crashed pretty hard 5 miles earlier and his knee was swollen. We were focused on getting him back to the car safely. We’ll find out this morning if he’s done riding for the trip.
The thing I like about this section is getting closer to the Colorado River and how the landscape changes with the elevation. Instead of being on top of the rim, the cliff is now towering above you and showing off its majesty.
The ride ends with a 3-mile ride along a bike path back to the parking lot and even this section is really cool. After two days of hard riding I was happy to take a light spin back to the van and just soak in the scenery.
Tomorrow’s adventure: Captain Ahab, HyMasa and several of the trails in that area – a loop with a lot more climbing. I can’t wait.