Day 5 on our Utah mountain bike trip: We spent the night in Washington, just west of Hurricane (pronounced her-i-kin).
I woke up early and cooked breakfast for the whole house. This isn’t important for the story. I’m just bragging about how awesomely helpful I am.
(Ken did a great job cooking pancakes. Thanks for stepping up to help!)
We drove 18 miles to Virgin, Utah, which is where the Redbull Rampage is held. Our goal was to ride the Hurricane Rim Loop, which is an IMBA Epic trail (and nothing like the Redbull Rampage). The route is 24 miles long and has 1900 feet of vertical. The maximum elevation is 4,319 feet.
We pulled our van and trailer slowly along a rough gravel road to the lower JEM trailhead. We unloaded in the middle of seemingly flat desert with mesas surrounding us in the distance. (A mesa is a mountain with a flat top, which I just learned on this trip.)
It was windy and cool in the parking lot, so I opted to keep my base layer on.
After taking a group photo with a mesa in the background, we headed off single file and the first thing that struck me was how much different this trail was than the others this week. Instead of jamming a trail along the edge of a cliff, this trail had plenty of room to breath. It lazily weaved across the landscape on the rim of a canyon with plenty of views but not much of the exposure. (For the sake of perspective, I’d just like to point out that the word “exposure” is not used in Ohio mountain biking.)
Desert foliage was spread evenly across the plain as if it had been sowed there by a farmer. I don’t know the names of these plants, but they all seemed to have huge thorns to protect themselves. Back home in Ohio, I never thought of cactuses as beautiful plants, but they had some of the most colorful flowers in landscape. I quickly fell behind the group because I was taking photos of nature’s wonder.
And then I fell behind further to remove my base layer and add sunscreen. The desert had quickly heated up. It was only in the 70s, but the radiant heat bouncing off the sand made it feel much hotter. …or maybe it was the climbing.
And then I fell behind again because I got some pebbles in my shoe. …and then I realized the tether wasn’t attached on my GPS. …and then I wanted to repack my base layer. I had multiple prima donna moments that set me back and this was a theme of the day. I wasn’t feeling slow, but I spent most of my day towards the end of the group. I wasn’t rushing this experience, I was taking my time and savoring the moment.
The trail was much smoother and had more flow than we had grown accustom to on this trip. The soil was a loose mix of sand and gravel over hard pack and our tires lost traction on the steeper parts of the climbs. I had to change my climbing style from standing and billy-goating to sitting with a high-tempo cadence to get a better grip in the soil.
There were plenty of rocks, but they came at us less frequently than on most of the trails we had ridden. They felt like the occasional fun challenge, rather than an endless grinding hard effort.
I would recommend this trail to mountain bikers of all skill levels. Beginners could walk the harder technical stuff and some of the climbs and still have plenty of time in the saddle.
We spent the first two thirds of the trail doing more climbing than descending. As we got higher the views got bigger and more impressive. The scope of the landscape made the riders ahead of me look like ants marching to their hills.
About half way through the ride, we had a long climb up a jeep road to an impressive lookout spot. We sat for lunch, and except for a little grumbling about the difficulty of the climb and yearning to get back onto singletrack, this was the happiest I’d seen these folks. Everyone was digging the Hurricane Rim Loop …and it was only going to get better.
We finished eating and started descending at top speed for about a mile down the Jeep road back to the singletrack. We were at higher elevation now and the tops of the mesas felt much lower. The trail changed character and the arc of the curves we rode got shorter and more playful. The smile on my face doubled in size. I thoroughly enjoyed this romp. My speed crept higher and higher and I started passing folks, not out of any sense of fitness or competition, but just because I was enjoying going fast. After 4 and half days of riding, when my legs should be weary, I was hit with a burst of energy inspired by one of the best trails I’d ever ridden.
There was less climbing and the trail was undulating quickly up and down. I powered up the short climbs, so I could shoot down the descents. When I reached the end of this section of trail, the guys were regrouping at the road.
“Woo! I’m mountain biking! Hell yeah!” I exclaimed, “I’m in Utah, America! I love it! Woo!!!”
The guys laughed with a sense of understanding. Their legs were tired, but they were beginning to feel the stoke too.
It seemed like we were getting close to the end of the trail, just a few miles left. I looked at my Garmin 2100 feet of ascent and 1500 feet of descent. Hmmm… We have about 600 feet of downhill coming. What’s this going to be like?
The trailhead said “JEM Trail: Downhill Only.” We descended down one hill and then another. Then there was that expert rocky downhill that half the group, including myself, walked. This was fun, but just ok.
Then the desert opened up all it had to offer to our group. The longest, most enjoyable downhill I think I have ever experienced. Not too steep, not too rocky. Just miles and miles of free speed through the open desert. And just when you had to start pedaling and thought it was over, it would open up again. Go, go, go! The trail was a little rough, from pockmarks left by cattle hooves, but it was oh so fast. And I wasn’t even trying to go fast. I was just coasting with a big-ass grin on my face. Somehow, I fell behind the group once again soaking in the glory of what we were experiencing. This amazed me because I thought I was going fast, but I didn’t care. I was doing my own thing. We had worked for 20 miles to earn this payoff and it was so worth it. The breeze cooled you off from the desert heat. Down, down, down! It was mountain biking heaven. On and on I weaved. I jumped. I enjoyed.
I was the last one to reach the group.
“Woo! I’m in Utah, America! I love it! Woo!!!”
And the rest of the group agreed. This was the first time in the trip where there was complete consensus. It wasn’t the scariest or rockiest trail. It was the one that induced the most smiles per mile. The Hurricane Rim Loop was a hit and seemed to be everyone’s favorite. It’ll be hard to top.
But tomorrow we will try…
Up next, the Gooseberry Mesa (Big Loop).