It’s been about four hours since we started our early morning descent at eight thousand feet. A rickety old van loaded up with us and our mountain bikes, slowly climbing the dirt road leading to the trailhead that marked the beginning of the days ride. It’s mid way through our trip to Moab, Utah in the south-western United States. For years, this trip has been at the top of the list for both my father and I. In North America, there is no better place to ride than here, and we have been looking forward to this week since the day our flights were booked nearly a year ago.
The day started with a slow descent through the high altitude and gradually increased in pace as we gained both confidence and adrenaline from the successful traverse of the rocky trails. Every so often we stop to take in the beautiful sights, landscapes similar to that of the Grand Canyon further to the west. Late morning was met with a brief stop for lunch at the start of the cliff-side trail that will make up the majority of the afternoon’s ride. At 16, I am the youngest in the group by nearly two decades, and have been quietly keeping up to my father near the back of the pack. During our lunch, in their typical Australian nature, the two leaders of our group insist that I come to the front with them for the next section of downhill. Nervously I agree, and once we are all packed up, I head out down the trail right behind them.
The wind is rushing past me so quickly that my peripheral vision is nothing but a blur. I am focused on what’s ahead, with only a few meters of path visible behind the two adrenaline-crazed Australians I am following. In the few split seconds I allow for myself to break focus I can see that on either side of the trail is a few short feet of untamed brush, following by what must be at least a thousand foot drop. Each glimpse reminds me of the importance of keeping my eyes on what’s ahead. Despite the harrowing nature of the current nerve-wracking downhill I am facing, the surrounding beauty of the southern Utah badlands is not entirely lost on me. To either side, the vast expanses of canyons can be seen with flowing rivers, cacti and the red sandstone arches that this area is so famously known for.
Normally adrenaline seeking is not exactly in my wheelhouse, but a place like Moab brings it out in people. It also brings those types of people into it. Moab is a small town, about a four hour drive south of Salt Lake City, which is also the nearest major airport. The drive starts out surrounded by the snow capped Rocky Mountains and transitions into a desert scene straight out of a Roadrunner cartoon. It can be quite startling to fall asleep in the middle of a blizzard and wake up passing by cacti and dustbowls on the highway.
My focus is once again broken when I realize that both riders I have been following have suddenly vaulted into the air and then dropped out of sight. Realizing quickly that there must be a drop up ahead, I have no choice but to commit and hope I can pull out the landing. According to my speedometer I hit the drop at around sixty kilometres per hour, launching into the air. The brief few seconds slow down to feel like hours and for that brief time I feel like I am flying, the view of the surrounding landscape even more beautiful as I soar through the air, coming to a slightly bumpy but stable landing several metres down the trail. I pull up next to the Aussies as my dad catches up, having seen the drop in time to avoid it. The force of the impact causes my rear tire to deflate, and as we stop to repair it, we examine the drop and estimate it’s height to be at least six feet. No wonder it felt like flying. I chalk this one up as the first of many times I have nearly died at the hands of an Australian.
As you wind into town from the North, crossing over the Colorado River, numerous campgrounds start to appear filled with cabins, tents and camper trailers. The town has a few small motels, but most visitors tend to “commune with nature” by tenting or renting one of the small cabins my father and I had opted to take up as our home for the week. By the second night I had wished I had brought a tent to sleep in as my father’s legendarily loud snoring was at it’s all time best. In the cabin next to us are my Dad’s friends Neil and Pritchie, who had invited us along on their annual pilgrimage to the red rocks. Due to the generational gap between us all, I had been given the nickname “Spongebob” early on, as that was dubbed to be something I could relate to. I returned the favour by taking every opportunity to remind our companions of my youth by racing past them on the trail every chance I got, often with a grab of the brake on their handlebars as I sped past.
Moab itself sits in the bottom of a canyon surrounded by burnt red rock walls and with numerous flowing rivers winding their way through the quiet town. It is no coincidence that with such a backdrop, the majority of people who make the pilgrimage to Moab are adventure seekers. Rock climbers, white water rafters, hikers and mountain bikers can be found aplenty, as well as numerous shops selling and renting the gear to go with them. The beautiful little town manages to find a way to keep itself away from the fast food chains and commercial shops that dot so much of the United States. Restaurants are family owned, each with their own specialty. Much to my chagrin, having to share a small cabin with him, my father opted for a delightfully authentic Mexican joint called La Hacienda on our first night. Despite the noxious gasses that would no doubt pollute our small but functional homestead later that evening, we gorged ourselves on platters of enchiladas, tacos and burritos. The food was so good that we would return yet again later in the trip for a repeat indulgence.
I have travelled to many places in the USA, each with their own fond memories, but Moab will always stand out to me as different. Many travellers who make the trip to the US and visit the cities often comment on how big, busy and loud it is. The same could be said about many of the people who live there. What makes Moab stand apart for me is that in a country where cities like New York and Los Angeles dominate the tourism market, there is this little town in the middle of nowhere that attracts people from all over the world without the tacky traps and gimmicks that so often comes with the tourism industry. Moab sits in the middle of the desert, offering up its natural beauty and providing the basic necessities to enjoy it. It knows what it has to offer and if you’ve come to enjoy it, it’ll welcome you with open arms. Just make sure you keep you eyes on the trail ahead.