Day 7: La Sal hut to Moab

Starting elevation 8,120′
Ending elevation 4,010′
Total ascent for the day 2,000′
Cumulative ascent 11,860′ (15,860′ including the jeep ride)
Total descent for the day 6,110′
Cumulative descent 20,250′ (20,600′ including the jeep ride)
Distance for the day 33.20 miles
Cumulative distance 177.70 miles (199.52 miles including the jeep ride)

For the first several days of the ride I wondered whether I’d make it all the way to Moab. A long list of motivators kept me going, including entrenched stubbornness, an unwillingness to admit defeat, curiosity about what each day held, the difficulty of getting to civilization without the assistance of cell-phone reception, and a friend who has completed the Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day (RAMROD)—154 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain—two years running, the second time in under 12 hours. Perhaps the biggest motivator, though, was this last day, the ride into Moab, Utah, mountain-biker heaven.

Day 7 started the way most days had started: with an uphill. God, I was sick of climbing, but, unlike other days, this was just a couple of miles, and the reward was considerable:

Fisher Valley

Fisher Valley, with Fisher Mesa on the left and Fisher Towers in the background

Fisher Mesa

Fisher Mesa, with Fisher Towers on the right

Closeup of Fisher Mesa

Closeup of Fisher Mesa

Fisher Mesa and Fisher Towers

Another closeup of Fisher Mesa, again with Fisher Towers in the background

A half mile later the gravel ended, and a screaming downhill began. When I hit 25 miles an hour while coasting, I scrubbed off some speed. Loaded with 40 pounds of gear, the bike was starting to shimmy, and I could too easily imagine the pain of hitting the pavement at that clip. The road leveled out some, and I got my first view of Castle Valley:

View of Castle Valley facing west

Castle Valley looking west

More screaming downhill brought me to the intersection of Castle Valley Road and La Sal Mountain Loop Road. The queue sheet said to turn left, up a hill that looked bad from the get-go and that, according to Hlawaty’s elevation profile, entailed some 1,500 feet of almost continuous elevation gain over six miles. I dug out the SJHS topo map. Yup, as I suspected, if I skipped the turn, I could cruise through Castle Valley, turn left at the Colorado River, and ride all the way into Moab with naught but a gentle rise to slow me down for the next 30 miles. Then again, the SJHS route would take me on the Kokopelli Trail, and this was supposedly a mountain-bike ride even though I’d ridden nothing but roads all week. I also still felt guilty about skipping the previous day’s ride altogether, and wimping out again didn’t sit well. Moreover, I crave new vistas, and from the topo map I could see that going straight would mean I’d be looking at the same valley for another 15 miles, while the turn would take me to the other side of Porcupine Rim and, on the far side of the Rim, through more varied terrain. Finally, I’d saved track files from the GPS for the previous six days, and I wanted a full set for the entire, official route. A sense of completion, the polite way to describe compulsion, won. I turned left.

The intersection of Castle Valley Road and La Sal Mountain Loop Road

The intersection of Castle Valley Road and La Sal Mountain Loop Road. What to do?

The start of that hill was as bad as it looked: over 400 feet of elevation gain in a little more than a mile, or about a 7% grade. I tried to convince myself that this was good because the climb would become easier, but it was the views that won me over.

Castle Valley and my bike

The bike sneaks into yet another view shot.

Castle Valley and monuments

Castle Valley

Castle Rock, also known as Priest and Nuns

Castle Rock, also known as Priest and Nuns

Some of the switchbacks on La Sal Mountain Loop Road

The grade had become less severe by the time I got to the last set of switchbacks on La Sal Mountain Loop Road, but they still look impressive.

Halfway into the day’s ride, I finally reached Kokopelli Trail, the jumping-off point for my introduction to Moab mountain biking. After a brief chat with some bikers who were splayed out on an embankment resting, I proved myself not a mountain biker by walking the bike down a short, steep slope and then riding off at a leisurely pace with my seat set way too high for proper off-road riding.

Not much later, a half-dozen riders, including the folks I’d left at the road, hurtled past me as I stood by the trail taking pictures, and launched down a rock-strewn hill at a pace that I didn’t even bother aspiring to. Before the last of them had disappeared around a curve, I had an epiphany: I’d never be a mountain biker, I’d only ever be someone who owns and rides a mountain bike, and I didn’t care. They were doing what they enjoyed, and I was doing what I enjoyed: taking pictures of a place that, almost incidentally, I’d arrived at by mountain bike. After a few more pictures, I rode away, slowly navigating my way over and around the rocks.

The Kokopelli Trail

Epiphany Hill

Had the rest of the day been like Kokopelli Trail, I wouldn’t have made it to Moab until after sunset, but a couple of miles later the trail dropped me at Sand Flats Road, a wide gravel road in better condition than most of the roads I’d ridden that week. Sand Flats Road continued all the way into Moab, and for the last six or seven miles it was even paved.

Whimsical rock formations followed one after another almost all the way into Moab. Many of them have names, I’m sure, but not on my map. I’ll just give their locations with respect to the day’s starting point.

Rock formation

Rock formation at mile 19.4

Rock formations

Another rock formation at mile 19.4

Rock formations

Rock formation at mile 20.5

I don’t recall where for certain—maybe on the downhill pictured below—I started hearing a faint buzzing noise whenever I applied the brakes, and I remembered a Car Talk show a few weeks before on which a caller asked about a buzz coming from their car brakes. Tom and Ray concluded that the brakes had worn down to the warning strip, which brake-pad manufacturers mold into pads to indicate when the pads should be replaced. I wondered whether brake pads for bike disc brakes had the same warning strip; when I got home, my bike mechanic confirmed that they do. Keep in mind that the bike was nearly new, the terrain in Seattle is not nearly as hilly, and my training regimen had been…limited. I had, in effect, worn through a set of disc-brake bike pads in one week of riding.

Sand Flats Road carved into the rock

Sometimes enough room for a road had to be carved out of a rock face.

Rock formation with weird strata

Fascinating, to me, anyway, was how the strata sometimes run in different directions.

Rock formation in the shape of a ram

Does this look a lot like a ram, or is it just me?

After a week of travel on seldom-used roads, I ended my journey in heavy traffic on Main Street in Moab, content to be mixing it up with cars again, euphoric to be back in civilization, and relieved to be finished with the ride. I checked into the motel, reveled in a hot shower, sniffed out the cleanest clothes I could muster, headed down the street to Back of Beyond Books to snag the latest edition of the New York Times so I could start to catch up on what I’d missed, and settled in at Cassano’s for a lasagna dinner and some reading.

I’m still working on being able to say I’m glad I did the SJHS Telluride to Moab ride. The closest I’ve come is saying that I’m satisfied that I completed it, the ride in a Jeep on day 6 notwithstanding. SJHS also runs a ride from Durango to Moab, which the SJHS website describes as more remote, more rugged, and more difficult. I’ve ordered the friends I’ve spoken with about this adventure to commit me to an insane asylum if I so much as hint that I might be interested in trying the Durango ride.

On to Annotated gear list for the Telluride-to-Moab mountain-bike ride

Back to Day 6: Gateway Canyons resort to La Sal hut by Jeep Commander

Back to Mountain biking (and walking) from Telluride to Moab