Friday, May 29, 2009

Moab Mountain Biking: Slickrock Trail

Biking the Slickrock Trail was the main thing I was looking forward to on my first Mountain Biking Roadtrip to Moab. Soon after checking in, Big Ed and I got the bikes out and pedaled to downtown Moab to seek info as to how to find the Slickrock Trail. This info was very easy to come by. Apparently it is the most frequent question asked of locals. You can also easily get directions and all sorts of other information at the Moab Visitors Center.

We learned it was possible to bike up to the Slickrock Trail, but that wasn't recommended. Better to drive up the steep, heavily trafficked road to the Sand Flats Recreation Area where the Slickrock Trail is located. We decided to wait til the next day to hit the trail. Instead we biked all over Moab.

By the time we got back to the Super 8 some of the others in our biking group had arrived. The rest of the Mudsluts were staying at a campground south of Moab. I explain who the Mudsluts are and why they are called that in the story of the Porcupine Rim Ride.

The next day Jack, the self-appointed Mudsluts Leader, had scheduled an early morning ride up the Poison Spider Mesa Trail. The early morning thing had me opting out. So, Big Ed and I headed up to the Slickrock Trail after breakfast. It was easy to find the road that takes you up to Sand Flats. It's a paved switchbacking road going up the canyon's walls. Part way up you go by a very steep rock formation called the Lion's Back. There were a lot of Jeef Safari Week Jeepers doing their jeep thing on the Lion's Back.

You come to a paybooth where you pay $5 per vehicle, good for 3 days. In a couple more miles you come to the Slickrock parking lot and trailhead. It's a big parking lot with a lot of vehicles. Not surprising, since the Slickrock Trail may be the most famous mountain bike trail in the whole mountain bike world.

We got out the bikes. I got out my camera. My camera's battery was dead. Big Ed got on his bike. Both tires were completely flat. Loaded back up and headed back to Moab. Found a bikeshop, not a difficult task in Moab, left Ed's bike to get fixed, then went to find a battery. Half hour later back at the bikeshop, with Ed's bike having 2 new tubes. We learned he'd ridden over something called goatheads, that had punctured his tubes. Later on this trip, in Torrey, Utah, I was to have the same thing happen. Goatheads are a curse in the mountain biking world.

Got back to the Slickrock Trail, again, unloaded, again, and took off towards the trail. The trail is indicated by markings painted on the slickrock. White dashes point the way. Yellow indicates you need to be careful. Trail intersections are clearly marked.

I was not liking it at first. I somehow thought it would be real smooth. It wasn't. And it was hard work. A short distance in you come to the first intersection. The Slickrock Trail goes one direction, the Practice Loop goes another to make about a 2 mile loop.

I figured the Practice Loop was the way to go. I figured it'd be easier and a good way to get used to biking on this type terrain. I was really hating it at first. It was being way too steep, both up and down. I thought if this is the easy trail what sort of living hell is the real deal?

And then, about a quarter mile in, I suddenly got how it worked. The sandstone 'slickrock' gives you incredible traction and control. The tires don't slip easily on steep parts, you keep applying pressure and you keep moving. A half mile in, or so, I was going like a maniac, fast down the steep parts, fast up the steep parts.

It took around 2 hours to do the 2 mile Practice Loop. Then it was back to the Super 8 and lunch. After Jack and the Mudsluts got back from Poison Spider Mesa we all went out to Rio's for an early dinner. Then everyone, but Lulu, went back to the Slickrock Trail to ride the real deal.

Soon after we passed the Practice Loop turnoff the trail got way tougher than anything on the Practice Loop. You come to a point with yellow markings indicating trouble, made even clearer with "Caution" and "Danger" written on the slickrock. When I saw what the danger was I was not pleased.

The "Danger" came from a very narrow section with a very steep dropoff, traversing a slickrock dune. You have to make 3 tight turns on the descent. At one point it is so scary bikers usually let out a yell or scream. A photographer sits at the panic point and snaps your picture, available for viewing later. You don't see the photographer when you begin this section. I don't think I screamed. I never saw the picture. The danger section actually turned out to be fun. Scary, but fun. I can see where if you panicked there could be trouble.

The Slickrock Trail is one surprise after another, some are good surprises, some not so good. The trail gradually gains altitude til you are at the top of the cliff looking down on Moab.

We were only 5 miles into the Slickrock Trail. Sunset was an hour away. We needed to head back, no time to complete the entire trail.

All of us got scraped up. Everyone had at least one wreck. I had two. Big Ed had a good one that had his knee all bloody. I somehow had scraped the entire backside of my lower left leg and didn't know it til later. Slickrock is quite abrasive.

I've been back to the Slickrock Trail one more time. That time I didn't ride the trail. Instead I had fun just sort of going off trail, riding on the Slickrock Dunes, like you see in the picture at the top.

Of the 3 trails I biked my first Mountian Biking Trip to Moab I'd say I enjoyed them all, Gemini Bridges was the easist, Porcupine Rim was the most exhausting and the Slickrock Trail was the most difficult. The Slickrock Trail is the only one of the 3 I had wrecks on.

Go here to watch a YouTube video of biking the Slickrock Trail.


twister said...

Since I'm such a mountain bike newb, I'm wondering, in your experience, how does Slickrock Trail compare in difficulty to Sansom Park in west Fort Worth? (because S.P. pretty much beats me up)
That's quite an adventure.
Thanks for sharing.

Durango Roadtripping said...

I've never biked Sansom Park. I've hiked it. Some of it appeared like it'd be pretty easy to bike, but there a lot of trail on the north end that did not look possible to me. So, that area looked worse than the Slick Rock Trail.

But it's pretty hard to compare the two due to the terrain being so different. Slick Rock gives you incredible traction. Some of Slick Rock was not possible for me to bike. I pushed the bike up the hill, like the one in the last picture.