Written by Paul Wojciak Monday, 23 April 2018 00:00
Canyonlands National Park in southeast Utah offers the visitor 300 million years of geologic marvels. Sited on the park's eastern edge, Moab is renown for "slickrock" sandstone and the wondrous recreational opportunities it affords. Mountain Biking in Moab is recognized across the world as an experience like no other. Literally hundreds of miles of trails await your exploration. No two trails feel the same yet each of them schools the rider in what Moab riding is all about. I was lucky enough to experience Moab back in 2013 during a vacation across the southwest United States. Always wanting to return, I seized the opportunity in 2018.
Each Spring, TransRockies hosts the three day Moab Rocks race. This year's installment was held April 14-16. Trails for the race are selected from the choicest Moab has to offer. This year encompassed Porcupine Rim, Klondike Bluffs, and Mag 7 (short for Magnificent). Each day has a distinctly different feel with plenty of slickrock riding. All race categories are solo and the number of participants is under two hundred. I brought the Bikeman threads to Moab and raced men's 50+.
Porcupine Rim describes a 14 mile descent over almost 3000 vertical feet along a dramatic, and sometimes scary, cliff edge. The views along the cliff are amazing. For the race, we started in Moab at the Grand County High School. Everyone was psyched on a clear, crisp day yet the race vibe is distinctly low key. A handful of name recognition pro riders were on hand, e.g. Geoff Kabush and Justin Lindine. The starting music was AC/DC Highway to Hell which seemed appropriate since we were to invest the next 13 miles climbing Sand Flats Road to the top of Porcupine Rim. The fireroad climb saw riders pace lining until the last couple miles. That's when the pitch increased and the freshest legs of the year at the start began to complain a bit. I followed the lead woman pro over the top and into the single track. She quickly disappeared ahead of me. I picked my way along the trail taking in the views, the features, enjoying the experience, but getting passed a lot. Apparently never having ridden Porcupine Rim was going to cost me a bit more time than I expected.
There was only one hike a bike section near the top and that switchback would have required trials bike riding skills and nerves of steel. The first few miles are right along 2000 foot cliffs. Yep, you're racing along the cliff. The majority of the terrain is rock, a theme in Moab you'll quickly recognize. Much of the rock is not particularly smooth either. Sometimes the rock will look smooth but your suspension tells you otherwise. I was cranking along feeling the flow. I felt good and the bike was holding up well. The finish line came up quick and I was in tenth place for the day men's 50+. The finish pulled up four miles before trail's end. There was no doubt why that decision was made as the last four miles included some of the trickiest, most technical cliff edges of the entire trail. All in all, Porcupine Rim was a great way to start the race.
Day two saw us out at Klondike Bluffs, a collection of slickrock trails 16 miles north of Moab on highway 191. I had ridden these trails before. They have you going up and down repeatedly rather than one big up and one big down of the first day. We again started by riding in pace lines up a fireroad towards the single track. I was with the same group of riders as the day before (funny how that happens). The course winds all over miles of slickrock.
This is where you get a real sense of what slickrock riding is all about. Great grip with micro grooves in the surface, weird undulations that can swallow all your suspension, and no two sections ever the same. A smattering of scrub trees and bushes dots the trails but this desert climate doesn't have enough moisture for much to grow. This is also a good time to mention that you must stay on the trails for legal as well as practical reasons. Leaving the trail can lead to punctures from cactus and other sharp, prickly things and signs explicitly warn you about the fragile land to be left undisturbed. My Bikeman Schwalbe Racing Ralph's with Stan's NoTubes fluid proved invaluable for these conditions. Slickrock trails are marked with four inch wide, foot long, colored paint blazes. During the course of the race the colors changed several times marking different named trails.
As the race progressed, I had settled in with a handful of fellow racers. We were navigating the terrain, exchanging positions depending on whether the trail trended upwards or downwards. I was really liking the course and hadn't lost more than a few positions along the way. Again, the finish line came up more quickly than expected and I rolled through eighth on the day in 50+.
On to Gemini Bridges and Mag 7! With less climbing than the previous two days but just as much single track, the lollipop course would prove to be the best of the series. Starting with the obligatory AC/DC, we set out on the fire road climb that would separate the groups. Riding with familiar faces, we entered the single track slickrock after about seven miles. We then wound our way around, over, and through a delicious array of trails. The trend was decidedly upwards, but deceptively so. You would get a bit tired but then have a minute to recover. The purpose of all this was soon to be revealed. A remarkable ten miles of downward trending, technically challenging, visually stimulating slickrock single track. This was the absolute best section of trail all weekend.
As we eventually emerged from slickrock bliss, we passed right into a section of sandy road that threatened to suck what remaining juices our legs contained. This quickly turned into the "stick" of the lollipop along the fireroad exit to the finish. I was feeling good and pushed with what I had left. I caught a couple other riders in my age group and moved past them cranking up the last climb and roaring descent. My Bikeman sponsor Stages power meter registered some of the highest averages of the three days right here. One rider passed me back on downhill and I came in sixth on the day and ninth in the general classification. All in all a great experience.
Looking back, I got everything out of my mind, body and bike that my training prepared me for. The trails of Moab are like no others and some of the best anywhere. The town and the people are welcoming and friendly. The TransRockies race crew puts on a fun, affordable, and challenging event in Moab. Should you be thinking that a three day mountain bike stage race could be something for you, Moab Rocks should be on your short list. You can make a story of your own that you can retell for years to come. I certainly intend to return to Moab and write another chapter.
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