Originally we were set for a September Gooseberry Mesa trip but that fell apart at the last week before we were to leave. Two broken riders + one broken bike equals 0 road trips. Still wanting to get one trip in before the snow flies...well, not in So Cal, but it will be flying somewhere...we set our sights on a bit lower elevation, St George/Hurricane, Utah. I had come across a few write ups on the 'big loop' that tied together several trails in the Hurricane Cliffs Trail System and together made for a 20 mile or so loop that seemed to take 3-4 hours and was nearly all singletrack with little climbing. Cool. If I am going to drive most of the day to get somewhere, it needs to be more than a 2 hour ride.
We watched the weather as the date came near and it looked good. Highs in the 60s and no rain. Reservations for camping were made at Sand Hollow State Park, a fairly new park that caters to OHVers and is just a few miles from the trail head.
Time to hit the road.
I had built a removeable bike stand out of a spare front door threshold and some fork holders I had laying around and the bikes sat in the Surburban nicely upright and out of the way.
The coolest thing was that every time I looked in the rear view mirror, I could see the outline of the handlebars and brake levers with the road behind them disappearing into the distance. Road trip.
Across the Nevada desert through Sin City and into Utah, we arrived at Sand Hollow and found that we were one of the very few to be camping there. It was quiet and had great views, huge pull throughs with hook ups, and a very open, expansive feeling to it. Nice. All set up, we checked out the red sand that was everywhere in small drifts. Buddy Steve checking it out: "Hmmm...we wont have to ride in that deep sand, will we?"
That night, after a hot dinner of chicken, onions, and various veggies all tossed in the skillet, we were hanging out around the campfire to stave off the cold when in the corner of my eye, I caught the shape of a small object moving behind and off to the side of buddy Steve. I said. "Steve, don't move! There is an animal behind you and I am going to get the flashlight." It never occurred to me what this sounded like from Steve's perspective. I left out the fine detailed adjectives like small, cute, fuzzy, and mostly small. For all he knew there was a Cougar behind him and I was practicing the technique known as "I don't have to be faster than the animal trying to eat me, I just have to be faster than you" ploy. Flashlight indeed.
Coming back I was surprised to find a small fox sitting about 6' away and very interested in our dinner scraps. He was getting none of that cuz we had eaten it all. He checked out our camp pretty well before looking for better diggings somewhere else.
I had done all my research online to get trail head locations, ride descriptions, etc, and I had purchased one map from www.utahmountainbiking.com. With that, we set out in frosty but clear weather to find the trail head. On the road up to the mesa, we got behind a very large, very slow truck. This made us cranky and such that we completely missed the dirt road that we wanted to begin the ride on (shown as arrows in the pic...arrow one, big, slow truck...arrow two, road cut into hillside). Arriving at the top of the mesa and at the real trailhead, we realized we never saw the road cut and turned back in the truck to find it. How did we miss that? Oh yeah. Slow truck, cranky us. Back to the trail head at the cell towers and the kiosk, trail map, and plaque about the historic Hurricane Canal.
We had decided to ride the trail loop counter clockwise based on advice from local riders, although it was pretty evenly split on which way we should go around the loop. To do that, we parked at the Hurricane Hill/ Rim Trailhead and rode back down the highway towards town about a hundred yards or so then turned left onto a graded dirt road and began climbing in the 45* morning air. It was not long before we were peeling layers. I had decided to take the Karate Monkey set up as a 1x9 (no granny ring) and a hardtail of course. I really wanted to ride the big 29" wheels on ths type of ride to see if it was still good or not. More on that later, but the lack of a tiny gear had me warming up pretty fast.
On this ride, you really are never very far from town or the highway that you cross once or twice. Despite that, it can feel like you are waaay out there, all alone at times. Nice feeling with a comfortable reality in case things get messy. With the town of Hurricane below, we rode the fireroad till we came to the Gould's Rim trailhead. Gotta love the sign.
The trail runs along the rim of the canyon, not really exposed too much, but fun and mildly techy, Mostly, just windy and fun. If this was a portent of things to come, we were gonna be stoked. The cold wind was kinda nasty at times and we were playing the layering game for awhile.
More Gould's Rim.
At a dirt road crossing, we picked up Goulds (not Gould's Rim) and the trail took on a different character. It snaked and climbed its way around a bluff and finally over the top after enough dips and twists to make ya dizzy. My back was beginning to feel the effects of the heavy pack and that had me a bit concerned as we were not quite a third of the way done. We shall see.
After about 2 hours of riding, picture taking, and gawking at the cool views, we hit the J.E.M. trailhead, across hwy 59 and at the corrals. Lunchtime. Finding a spot to hang feet over what must be a waterfall when it rains enough, we dug into Chunky Chicken spread and bagels. Ambrosia, I tell ya. I was really looking forward to J.E.M. as one reason I rode it this direction, was to ride 'down' J.E.M. which was supposed to be uber-flowy and fun. It was. There were a few sections of the steeper parts that presented you with a ledge and nothing but air beyond as you rode closer and closer and then juuust before you locked the brakes in panic, would reveal the trail dropping off and down. Good fun. I cannot believe how good the bigger wheels of the 29er feel when dropping off those ledges. I was not jumping off them, just rolling off at speed, but it was pretty amazing. I like it. We walked one really nasty spot, but the rest was flowy and smooth. Definitely the highlight trail of the trip. Not too many pics, just too much fun to stop. We made up a lot of time here after the very slow Gould trail. The lunchbreak and J.E.M. had revived me and things were moving along nicely, back, legs and all. One pic below is a Where's Waldo moment as brother Steve rails the downhill ledges on J.E.M.
J.E.M. ended too soon and we followed the map past the intersection of J.E.M. and the China Wash trail and found the Hurricane Rim trail. It was interestiing how each trail had a unique personality. Gould's Mesa was a mix of everything and very mellow. Goulds was tight, slow and twisty, but fun. J.E.M. was fast and smooth with a couple of heart in throat moments on a few ledges that really were not all that bad once you hit them, and now the Hurricane Rim trail. It was quite difficult, actually, at least after 3 hours of riding and with no granny gear, it had a fair amount of climbing overall, nothing reeeal steep, but it was a bit of a workout. Also, it has large sections of trail that seemed like someone had poured concrete slabs, broken them into 3 foot pieces and then separated and tilted them ever so much. Now, a few inches of travel on each end and a fat tire and it is no issue really, but I was on a hard tail and I have gotten lazy over the years from too much time on FS bikes. I pinged the rear rim a few times until I remembered how to ride a hardtail again. Once I smacked it really good (strong rims, those DT Swiss TK 7.1s) and surprisingly never flatted. 29" wheels not withstanding, I would have liked a bit of rear squish here. I would run bigger tires than the Maxxis Ignitors for my 200lbs of rolling weight if I were to do it again.
Rim Trail and the Virgin River.
Supposedly one of the mesas in the distance is Gooseberry. I will take their word for it.
Soon enough we hit the peak and could see the Suburban in the distance. A quick section of downhill and we were back, 4 hours and 15 minutes later. Considering the moderate pace, picture taking, lunch, one detour that did not work out and the resulting retracing of steps, we probably could have pulled it off in 3 hours and change if we traveled light and pedaled faster.
A few thoughts on the day: 29ers are made for this kind of riding. The longer the ride, the better it felt and the big wheels were fast, secure, and great in the desert terrain. The Thudbuster seatpost kept things sane for the old bum and back, but I really need rear suspension to get the most out of a day like this. It would have saved a lot of energy on the Hurricane Rim trail as we climbed up all that broken rock. 1X9 is surprisingly versatile. I pushed a few sections for maybe 10' to 30' but that was about it. On the fast responding hardtail with the big wheels, if you could push the gear, it would just motor up the trail at a good pace. I would love to do this ride again on a light 3-4" travel 29er and take no prisoners.
Back at camp, we fired up some steaks and taters (vegans, look away!) and watched the sunset do its thing. The fox came back to see if we felt like sharing, but even the apple pie plate was clean. Sorry little dude. Too much riding today to leave any crumbs.
Drive, ride, eat, sleep, drive back.
Road trip accomplished.