Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A fat bike desert tour....on not-so-fat bikes

With more stellar weather in the southland the last few days we decided that we are opportunists, and as such decided to take the "opportunity" of a nice springly winter weekend in the desert again.  Since we had just been in the Zion area we thought that the Moab area would be a good option, and while generally we are good with heading down there to slay the copious singletrack that has emerged there over the last few years, we knew that the mild weather and holiday weekend would mean that it was going to be pretty crowded on the trails and in the town.  Then Ash surprised me by saying "how about Beef Basin?"

In 2006 we did a bike tour that was planned to go from Moab south to Bluff via Lockhart Basin and Beef Basin, but we got hit by the epic rainstorm that flooded out the 24 hours of Moab race and sent the Escalante river to over 6000 cfs.  The Beef Basin road is notorious for two things:  sand and mud, so for that tour we bypassed that section via pavement for a day or two 'til the dirt dried and it worked out fine, but Beef Basin has since held some appeal for me.  And Ash's interest was piqued long ago by a route described in "Above and Beyond Slickrock" - the mountain biking guidebook published in nineteen hundred and ninety one - that has a 74 mile loop going from the climbing area at Indian Creek up into the base of the east side of the Abajo Mountains and then back around to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.    74 miles is a reasonable distance to do in a day (the White Rim is 100, and we've done that many times) but the terrain didn't sound conducive to a day and we wanted to spend the night out anyway, so we packed up the bikes with warm clothes and lots of water and merrily rolled out.

We immediately proved that the guidebook was pretty dated when we dundered around Dugout Ranch looking for the road and the gate that the guidebook described before realizing that in the last 25 years a new road was put in that bypassed the ranch, likely to keep the likes of us from dundering around a private ranch!  

But soon enough we were rolling up a fine graded road up Cottonwood Canyon (how many of those are there in Utah?)

We had been warned that despite the warm temps that we'd likely encounter some snow on the high north slopes of the Abajo Mountains, and sure enough as we climbed patches of snow appeared and started getting more plentiful.

 At one point we were faced with a fork:  to the right lay a "very technical" 5 mile double track that was mostly descending but with a mean last hike-a-bike that was 5 miles, and going straight added three more miles and over 800 feet of elevation.  We didn't care about the climbing, but late in the day the snow was melting fast and the small patches that we had bypassed had created some pretty good mud as it was, and 800 more feet upward was either going to get us into sloppy snow or awful mud, neither of which was very appealing.  So we headed right.

It was pretty clear that even in an area that has a lot of intrepid motorized adventurers, our chosen route has not seen much/any traffic in the last 25 years.  The route down was steep, rocky, ledgy shaded and featured some high quality water ice, which made for exciting walking, much less riding.
the really good stuff was back a ways....
Ash pointed out that we very well might have to walk most of the 5 mile section, and....sure enough, we mostly did.  Between steep climbs, gnarly descents, baby heads and the last climb that necessitated one trip with the bikes and one with the gear it took us a few hours to do the "short cut".  

Upon meeting the Beef Basin road again we were not too surprised to see that there were no tire tracks; it was clear that no one had been on this road for a long time.  Generally this is a good thing:  "oh, we are so intrepid, so tough, so cool" but this time we were hoping to see at least a tire track that would have beaten down the sand we knew loomed ahead.  But there were no tire tracks, just cow tracks that pockmarked the sand, so it was soft, but at least it was bouncy!  And thus began more pushing.
Not sure if that's a smile or a grimace! 
There were sections that had some nice riding:
the views were sublime
and some fairly gnarly riding:
Baby head capitol!
Until we stopped for the night.  We "rode" most of the day and had done less than 30 miles!  And were pretty whupped.

We got a bit more riding the next morn,

and found a pretty big Anastazi ruin:
On one hand these are impressive, on the other they were "built" about the same time as the great cathedrals of Europe were also being built.....but a different set of resources, for sure.  
and then we had....more pushing

But finally we got into the park, the riding improved a bit, and the scenery went off the charts:

And soon enough we ground over the infamous Elephant Hill and hit the road for the 20 mile spin back to the car
First time in a while that I've been happy to hit pavement
which we hit just at dark and as our toes and fingers were going numb with the cold front moving in.  

Ash's steed is a cross bike, with wide 'cross tires, but they aren't even mountain bike width, much less "fat".  Mine are standard 26" mountain bike tires, and neither did well in the sand.  I've not had much use for a fat bike, but given this progress, I am starting to think twice if we continue to do these trips! That said, we knew what we were getting into, and we knew we'd be hiking a lot, and "hiking" is actually nice in and of itself, but we just did it with our bikes along!  

Here we are after a section that involved more riding than pushing:

And indeed, it was another fine adventure in pretty remote and awesome country.  

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