I woke up the Sunday after Thanksgiving feeling exhausted and refreshed.  Hard to explain, but imagine your whole body feeling worked but relaxed.  And imagine waking up among miles and miles of sand but never feeling cleaner.  These are the reasons for my pilgrimages to the Moab area time and time again–soul refreshment.

Sunday morning was beautiful–sunny with blue skies, few clouds, low winds, and a nibble of cold in the air.  Still, I always seem to know when it’s time to leave the desert before I do something stupid like get hurt or lost.  It was time to go.  I said goodbye to my friend the crow/raven (grr, why don’t I know the difference?),

 

Farewell, desert-friend

Farewell, desert-friend

who just happened to be picking over last night’s grilled salmon

 

Mmmm, crusty, desert-dried fish for breakfast

Mmmm, crusty, desert-dried fish for breakfast

and headed to Fruita.  Fruita has become, along with Salida, Moab, Winter Park, Sedona, and other places I’ve never heard of, a mountain biking mecca.  Dirt lovers descend upon Fruita in droves, drawn to it by its pristine singletrack.  This would be my third visit to Fruita, albeit my first (and hopefully last) alone.  Since the biking accident last summer, I have become incredibly cautious about riding alone.  Some would say I’ve finally smartened up.  Nope.  Fear and fear of pain are running my biking decisions these days, and I’m not exactly thrilled about it.

I digress.

For those of you who have a favorite place, a place where you go to gain peace and solitude, one of beauty that overwhelms you no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you know what I’m about to write.

As I drove the thirty miles or so to I-70, an east-west ribbon of road that cuts the northern section of Colorado from the southern, I felt sad.  I was leaving a place of contentment, never mind the rrrrr, rrrrr from the dirt bikers and the ATVers.  I was nearly brought to tears by every sunset.  I sat by the fire at night, just breathing and drinking green tea, exhausted but invigorated by the day’s adventures.  Now all that was over.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, until next time.  But it sucks that I even have to leave.

I-70 in eastern Utah is desolate.  There are instructions on what to do in a sand/wind storm alongside the road.  There’s one exit with services and many other exits with only ranches.  Fruita is about 90 minutes from Moab, depending on speed and exact point of departure.  Fruita boasts two great ridng areas, one on each side of the highway.  The northern section of trails near the Bookcliffs, which houses my favorite Chutes and Ladders trail, was too muddy, the folks at Over the Edge bikeshop informed me.  I was disappointed but understood.  Mother Nature had pounded moisture into the area over the past few days.  It’s not like water evaporates or nuthin’.

So I set off for the southern section of trails.  The temps were in the mid 50’s, but I suited up with wool, long-fingered gloves, and tights under my riding skort.  I hate to be cold.  I had 100ml of water with me, two Clementine oranges (a compact source of food and liquid), and two energy bars.  I would ride Mary’s Loop, part of the Kokopelli Trail System out by exit 11 near Loma.

 

Mary’s Loop is strictly intermediate stuff and leads into Moore Fun.  Mary’s Loop is unspectacular but safe, except for this section of trail.

 

Don't look down

Don't look down

Truth is, I’m deathly afraid of heights.  Fear of heights (which is genetic, I swear) kept me from snowboarding for ten years (couldn’t get on the lift) and induced a severe panic attack in the towers of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona a few years back.  I hyperventilated the entire staircase climb up then had a nervous breakdown once back on the ground.

But that’s a post for another time.

So, I’m either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.  Here’s a look from the other, safe side of the precipe.  Look at the right center of the photo

Should we stay or should we go?

Should we stay or should we go?

Yup.  That’s a couple on a TANDEM mountain bike.  I had passed them a few miles earlier but had paid them no heed I didn’t even notice they were two people on one bike.  Musta been all that *&^%$ climbing I was doing.  Anyway, I think they turned back.

Too bad.  They missed out on this view, which was just around the corner.

Overlooking the Colorado River from Mary's Loop in Fruita

Overlooking the Colorado River from Mary's Loop in Fruita

After this the trail gets fairly technical–lotsa skinny singletrack fraught with rocks, roots, and off-camberness.  I walked more trail than I usually do (fear and fear of pain kicked in).  But when Mary’s Loop turns into Moore Fun, things get a little less technical and much, much closer to the parking lot, which is where I ended up eating my Clementines.

On my next trip to Fruita (this spring), I’m doing Steve’s Loop and Horsethief Bench.  And I’m bringing posse with me, even if I have to drag them.

SheSpoke

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After a frosty night of camping, I was ready to begin the mountain biking portion of my trip.  The desert sand, I surmised, would surely be dry (enough) to ride.  I was a little exhausted, after working my little tail off the two weeks before I left and after two days of moderate hiking.  Anemia is a constant concern for me, so I wanted to take it easy.

I opted for a beginner ride in Moab.  Wow, but have I come a long way.  Three years ago I wouldn’t be content with a Moab trip that didn’t include some combination of the following: Porcupine Rim, Slickrock, Bartlett Wash, Sovereign Trail, and Flat Pass.  But I was alone and tired and frankly a bit gunshy about being solitary and gnarly.

So I opted for the Monitor and Merrimac trail.  This trail provides amazing scenery but is sand-laden.  Somewhere in the back of my overwhelmed mind I convinced myself that the sand would be more ridable if just a little wet.  I had spent the prior night by the fire, poring over my outdated Moab maps and had made the choice of the nearby Monitor and Merrimac trail.

So I drove toward the promised land:

The promised buttes, off in the distance

The promised buttes, off in the distance

In the trailhead’s parking lot, off-road enthusiasts were gathering.  I counted: dirt bikers, ATVers, and Jeepers.  None of my own kin.  I knew the ride was not going to be a pristine wildnerness experience, but I was not prepared for the glut of gas guzzlers and noise polluters who were gathering about.  A couple of dirt bikers asked me why I wasn’t riding nearby Fruita.  I began to ask myself the same question.

The Monitor and Merrimac trail meanders through a couple of miles of dirt roads until it starts to do something interesting like provide you with excellent scenery or turn into ridable sandstone.  

The Monitor and Merrimac trail, right before it gets interesting

The Monitor and Merrimac trail, right before it gets interesting

Determination Towers and the buttes lie in wait ahead

M & M gets interesting: Determination Towers and the buttes lie in wait ahead

 I didn’t pass too  many steel and aluminum behemoths on the trail but I did lose the trail shortly after the above picture was taken.  Many of the gas-powered vehicles who pass this way do not stay on existing trails.  They’re too stupid to do something like respect nature.  So I turned off onto a non-trail and got turned around in circles.  I stopped and made my way toward one of the coolest rock formations in the area, aptly named Determination Towers:

Determination Towers, surrounded by ridable sandstone

Determination Towers, surrounded by ridable sandstone

The stereotype of mirages in the desert is an accurate one.  Even though the towers look a mere dozen or so pedal revolutions away, they were actually much farther away.  Plus, I was convinced I was going to get to the buttes and back before nightfall, so I passed.

I got back on the yellow-sand road and beelined for the buttes.

Not Oz, but close

Not Oz, but close

Somehow I got turned around again, lured away from the main trail by some careless ATVer.  All was not lost, however, as I happened upon a tree person.

On guard! A tree person in the ready stance

On guard! A tree person at the ready

 I had no watch and hadn’t turned my wireless cycling computer on until well into the ride.  Thus I had only a fair idea of how far I still had to ride (6 miles) and even less of an idea of what time it was (2:30PM).  Here’s what I did know: I was over halfway through my water and tired, very tired of riding on the sand.  Much effort = little gain.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s a visual.

Tire depressions from all types of tires, except, of course, mountain bikes

Tire depressions from all types of tires, except, of course, mountain bikes

So I turned around and bid the buttes adieu.  Did I reach the buttes? Heck, no.  I didn’t even reach Determination Towers, which were halfway to the buttes.  Did I grind my way through sand for two and a half-hours for nothing? Heck, no.  I got to look at cool stuff and enjoy the desert scenery in 50 degree weather.  Plus, I got sweet helmet head.

Post-ride satisfaction and helmet head.  All in a ride's work.

Post-ride satisfaction and helmet head. All in a ride's work.

Read about nearby camping in the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands.