Utah: Gooseberry Mesa MTB Trails

Day 6 of our mountain bike trip to Utah: After 5 days of riding I was still excited to get up and see a new trail.  We headed to Gooseberry Mesa, a trail system on top of a mountain at around 5000 feet above sea level according to my Garmin.

Road to top of Gooseberry Mesa

We were told that the rough dirt road had been “improved” recently and that it used to be much worse. It was still painfully slow pulling our trailer up.

The road to the top was rough and the u-Haul trailer rattled behind us as we slowly crept along.  We parked at the Gooseberry trailhead because we didn’t want to drag the trailer all the way to our intended destination.  We could have made it all the way, but I think we were just sick of sitting in the vehicle.  We logged a lot of van time over the last week, and although it went well, I think we had grown weary of staring out the window at amazing rocky vistas.  It sounded easier to just ride our bikes to the trail and escape the tight confines.

The Gooseberry Mesa trailhead

The Gooseberry Mesa trailhead was cold and windy that morning.

The weather in these mountainous deserts is very unpredictable.  The day before was comfortably warm, but now we were shivering as we unloaded our bikes.  I ran to the pit toilet for shelter from the winds.  Our ride began with a 2-mile ride on gravel to the trail.  We started with the South Rim Trail, a highly-rated 5.5 mile slickrock route.

Ed Braunbeck rides the gravel road to the South Rim Trail.

Ed Braunbeck rides the gravel road to the South Rim Trail.

South Rim Trail: so many ups and downs. Despite being made of smooth-ish rock. The trail undulates quite a bit and it’s hard to maintain much speed.

Pretty flowers.

Pretty flowers.

It’s hard to describe the mixed feelings I had about this trail.  For one, it is an amazing slickrock trail that I think every mountain biker should experience.  It is probably too overwhelming for beginners to enjoy it.  It is a demanding ride that requires a lot of mental focus.  There are not a lot of big climbs and downhills, but there are relentless amounts of short, technical ups and downs.  Even if you nail the technical aspects, following the line of the trail can be a challenge for first time riders.  A dashed white line shows you where to go but sometimes when you crest on top of the hill you can’t see where you are supposed to go before you lose your momentum.  There are a couple of big drops, that I chose to walk, but everything looked like it was rideable (at least be someone more talented than me).  Plan on going slower than you expect, I think we averaged 6 mph or less.

Tim Carley muscles up a steep climb

Tim Carley muscles up a steep climb and shows us how it’s done.

After 5 hard days of riding though, most of the riders in my group did not have the focus required to give it 100 percent.  I was well aware that most injuries happen when you are fatigued, so my main goal was to not do anything stupid.  If I wasn’t feeling it, I walked and I’m not afraid to admit it.

When I started the ride I was tense.  If you’ve ever ridden in a group, you can probably understand that feeling of anxiety you get when you feel like you are in everyone’s way if you stumble or stop to look for a line.  After stopping several times to take photos, I quickly fell to the back of the group.  Honestly, I had way more fun when I was going slow and joking around with friends. I also enjoyed riding by myself and focusing on finding good lines to ride.

James Knott rides Gooseberry Mesa

The trail follows the south rim of the mesa and you frequently find yourself riding along cliffs with views that go for miles.

Ken Gunn on the edge of the south rim

We almost lost Ken Gunn. Next time I’ll push harder.

The slickrock was super sticky and your tires held firm on slopes that would never work back in Ohio.  I loved the challenge of trying to ride right up the face of a rock.  Exhilarating.

The wind was lower and we started to warm up.  I took off my jacket and basked in the glory of my environment.  Beautiful flowers and funky cactuses found crevices between every boulder to grow out of.  The lumpy slickrock horizon looked like an alien landscape from a movie.  It was hard to believe this was our last day of riding.  We had experience so many different trails and I loved every minute of it, but I was also excited to see my family and sleep in my own bed.

James Knott climbs the slickrock at Gooseberry Mesa

Slickrock is fun to climb!

Trent List shows Ed Braunbeck how to attack that rock. Crush it bro!

Welcome to the alien planet of Rocktopia.

Cactus on Gooseberry Mesa

Pretty cactus. Look how long those needles are! I’d hate to run into one of those suckers.

Where’s the line?  Follow the leader.

The difficult ride started to take its toll on the group and at each intersection a few guys opted to take a shortcut back to the car.

We stopped for lunch after we finished the South Rim and ate at the top of a cliff with a beautiful view.

James Knott has a lunch beer

Having a lunch beer was one of my favorite traditions of the trip. It always tasted so good after two hours of riding.  And the smaller 4 percent Utah beers were perfect mid-ride.

Bryan Pack on Gooseberry Mesa

Bryan Pack, our fearless leader, sits on the edge of the cliff after lunch and surveys the land he has conquered.

After eating we rode the Windmill Trail to the Gander Trail, which I believe both follow the north rim of the mesa.  These two trails felt way different from the South Rim Trail, and I thought they were more fun to ride.  The tread was made of dirt and gravel with the occasional rock feature and our average speed rose dramatically.  Everything on these trails was easier and within my skillset. But, when I say easier, don’t imagine beginner trails.  These trails still made you work.  It was fun hucking off some of the smaller drops and racing up the climbs.  I thought these trails were a blast and it was a great way to end the trip.

Bryan Pack mountain bikes at Gooseberry Mesa

I believe the second half of our ride followed the north rim of the mesa. The trails had more dirt and gravel and felt much different.  We went a lot faster and I think everyone who survived the first half of the ride, thought this stretch on the north rim was more fun.

This section of singletrack is newer and not as well marked.  We had to stop more often for navigating and regrouping.  At one point our ride leader, David McIntyre, missed a turn and we lost touch with him for 30 minutes.  Luckily, cell service works on the mesa and we were able to guide him back to our position.

After several hours, 19 miles, and just over a 1000 feet of vertical, we called it a day.  The mileage didn’t sound like a lot to me, but we really worked for those miles.  I was spent.

Cactus spine in my toe.

Just when the ride was almost over, I kicked a cactus. The 1.5 inch spine was stuck a quarter into my toe. OUCH!  (On a separate note: I need new shoes.  Notice how raggedy mine are.  Look for a future episode of Quickdirt where my shoes fall apart mid-race)

We drove back to the rental house and had a bike packing party with pizza.  After getting everything cleaned up, we sat in the living room and rehashed our trip.  So many wonderful memories.  What a blast!

Good times, man.  Good times.

I’ll miss the epic landscape of Utah. So long for now, but I promise I’ll be back.

 

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