Thursday, May 28, 2009

Moab Mountain Biking: Porcupine Rim Trail

On my first Mountain Biking Roadtrip to Moab I biked, for the most part with the Mudsluts, so-named due to a mountain biking website named Mudsluts.

Mudsluts was a Cool Site of the Day back when that meant something. The author of Mudsluts was a guy named Jack.

I was on another group trip, this time Las Vegas over Thanksgiving, with Jack and others. We pigged out at buffets over and over again, when there was one epic pigout at the Luxor buffet where one member of the party, Wally, started popping out sweat bubbles on his forehead. At that point in time Jack made a remark along the line of saying we were all nothing but buffet sluts.

As short time after that Jack made a website about mountain biking, primarily Pacific Northwest mountain biking, where you do a lot of biking in mud. And so he called his website Mudsluts. I've got a Mudsluts t-shirt and baseball cap. But, the Mudsluts website is now gone.

So, back to Porcupine Rim. I'd already survived the Gemini Bridges Trail. I'd also survived the Slickrock Trail, I'll get to that one later. My plan had been for just Big Ed and me to ride down the Shafer Trail in Canyonlands and bike the White Rim Trail back to Moab. I guess I figured I could get someone to drive me back to my van. Well, Jack and his very opinionated first wife, Lulu, were convinced this was too dangerous to do without a support team. In hindsight I believe they were probably right.

I then agreed to ride the Porcupine Rim Trail with the Mudsluts. This ride involved logistics more complicated than the Gemini Bridges logistics. I was not involved in logistics planning. In the morning Jack and Big Ed took my van up to where the Porcupine Rim Trail ended, on the Colorado River.

Fewer were going on this ride than did Gemini Bridges. Lulu, Leo and Daniel opted out. The other Mudsluts were staying in a campground south of town. We headed there to join up with them, me, Jack, Lulu and Big Ed in one vehicle, Annette, Brian, Craig and Jim in the other. Once we got everyone and every bike loaded we headed up the Slickrock Trail Road to Sand Flats, heading up the La Salle Mountains looking for the Porcupine Rim Trailhead at about the 11 mile mark. It was a very slow, very rough road.

Lulu took the group picture you see above and then she drove back to Moab, to spend the day in solitude, having been told by Jack that driving the vehicle back to Moab would need be her only contribution to the logistics. However, later we were to learn Jack had a flaw in his plan.

Now, I need to interject here, prior to that morning I really knew nothing about the Porcupine Rim Trail. On the way to the trailhead I was informed it is widely believed to be one of the most difficult in the world. That people come from all over the world just to ride this trail. And that people regularly get killed on this trail, as recently as a couple months prior when 2 teenagers from Iowa went off a cliff to their deaths.

Here is how the Porcupine Rim Trail is described on another website...

The Porcupine Rim Trail is the "other" famous ride at Moab. At 15.6 miles, requiring expert technical skills, this ride is for advanced bikers who are in good shape. It's one-way with a shuttle car, or a 34-mile loop for the truly insane (10 uphill miles from Moab to the trailhead, 8 flat miles from Jackass Canyon back to the middle of Moab).

The real ride begins at the Rim. This is primo downhill advanced technical stuff, dropping off a gazillion small rocky ledges, with the last 3 miles a hairy single-track on the edge of deadly cliffs. From the Rim, you'll drop 2,700 vertical feet to the Colorado River over 11 unforgettable miles.

I'd only been riding a mountain bike for a couple years, my skill level was definitely not expert, I definitely was not an advanced rider. The only thing I had going for me is I was in good shape. All I had had for breakfast was a muffin and orange juice, I was not well-fueled for the amount of calories I would be burning.

The trail started at around 8,000 feet elevation. The trail would eventually take us thousands of feet downhill, back to the Colorado River. But, before you could begin that fast descent, you had to climb another 700 feet of elevation. The first 2 miles were fairly easy, then a short, fast descent, which was fun, followed by a very taxing climb. Ahead I could see a lot of bikers, stopped. Soon I saw why.

We were at the summit. High Anxiety Point, on the edge of Porcupine Rim, which is a 2,000 feet high cliff looking down on the Castle Valley, a valley that sort of looks like Monument Valley.

At High Anxiety Point there is a famous Utah photo op. A rock sticks about 10 feet out from the cliff. Bikers go out on that rock, some holding their bikes, and get their picture taken. I did not get near that rock. Jack has a way worse case of acrophobia than I do, as in he pretty much went into high anxiety on High Anxiety Point.

From High Anxiety Point is when many say the real Porcupine Rim Trail begins. I had no idea what I was in for, I assumed I would be riding my brakes a lot. I was right. So, we began the descent, with me and Annette in the rear position.

The trail changed character several times, it'd be real rocky and jarring and then soft sand that was hard to pedal through. You had to stay totally focused, never letting your attention be diverted. After a lot of terrain change and seeing the Slick Rock Trail and the cliffs of Moab in the distance we came to a canyon edge. The trail followed the edge. It was narrow, steep and scary. I was sure this was the dangerous fall off the cliff and die part I'd been told about.

And then the Colorado River appeared, way below, in the distance, but at least seeing it gave me hope, even though it seemed a long ways away. Then it got worse. I thought the previous cliff was the dangerous part, then we came to very narrow single track that sort of followed a very narrow ledge, with steep cliffs rising on the left and a steep long drop off on the right. I could not believe I was riding a bike on such a thing. Jack had to take a couple time outs to calm down.

When we left the danger zone the Colorado seemed way closer. But it was a trick. The trail entered one more canyon that had to be traversed, with a narrow stream crossed, having to carry the bike at times. I was nearing total exhaustion, was horribly hungry and had a splitting headache. Yet, at the same time I was having a great time.

Finally the trail turned into an easy descent to the end. Once there I could not get Jack or Big Ed to focus and tell me where my van was. All I wanted to do was sit in that van and turn on the A/C and drink water. It took 10 minutes for me to learn where'd they put the van, because they could not remember. All of us were suffering from a lack of cerebral bloodflow by then.

By the end Jack had realized his logistics mistake. He knew he had to have Lulu drive to our current location, to haul the others from the end of the trail. The bikes and everyone could not fit in my van. But, Jack's cell phone had no service. So, I headed back to Moab, found Lulu reading a book by the pool, told her she had to drive the Isuzu to the end of the trail, so the others could be rescued. Lulu got real mad, ranting about Jack always screwing up like this. Eventually she calmed down and followed me back to the others. Lulu then came with me, as did Brian and Jim and their bikes. I took them back to their campground, then Lulu and I went back to Moab to get ready for going to dinner again at Rio's. But not before I soaked for awhile in the hottub.

The next morning I was a bit sore, everyone else headed back north, Big Ed and I headed towards Bryce Canyon.

Go here to see a YouTube video of mountain biking the Porcupine Rim Trail.


twister said...

Sounds like a lot of fun...if you're a masochist and you have a death wish! =P

Durango Roadtripping said...

Looking back on it I can't believe I rode that thing. And unlike the Slick Rock Trail, I didn't have any wrecks. There were parts of it that were fun. And other parts that weren't. By the end I was probably more worn out than I have ever been by anything.

Bryon Trott said...

My name is Bryon Trott
I was on both rides. The Porcupine rim ride and the Gemini bridge ride. I meet Jack there in Moab. I went there with my friend Bill Jung!

He is in Blue in the Middle and I am on the far left!

Great article. This was fun trip and ride!

Durango said...

Howdy Bryon----
That's well over 10 years ago, now, that we rode the Porcupine Rim Trail. I drove you and Bill back to your campground in my van. Ring a bell?

Anonymous said...; You saved my day again.