Moab and the Monumental Southwest

After a few days in town we got a hold of Matt Hebberd, my friend Nicole’s Uncle. She said he was super into mountain biking and a way cool guy we had to meet. Stopped by his place, and he said that he knew we were coming, got some Pabst for us and it was keeping cold outside. Matt fits the archetypal heroic bachelor quite perfectly. Maybe he’s 45 years old, but you would never know it. By the time you sit down at the kitchen counter he built and start chatting, you’d swear that you were back in college. He moved to Moab to ride bikes and now runs Rim Tours, which offers some of the best guided adventures around (as voted by National Geographic Adventure Magazine). Mountain Bike Hall of Fame recently inducted Matt because of his contributions to the whole fat tire scene at it’s early stages. With a bit of research I was able to scrounge up an article about him in the Fat Tire Flyer, that said something to the effect that you are liable to injure yourself if you try and keep up with him, and that bike manufacturers are all trying to get him to test out their bikes. If that isn’t enough to cast him as a core mountain biker, then the rotation of 20 odd bikes sitting outside his house just might. Ranging from some of the earliest models of fat tire bicycles up to state of the art full suspensions models (which he seems to favor over the others). In fact, while flipping through a book about the history of Specialized Bicycles, I turned to a page with a bike on slick rock. I look up and see a beautiful old bike with wooden rims and look down and see the same bike. “Hey Matt.. This your bike???�

“Yep.� He said and continued to give the background about the bike.

There was another book called the history of Fat Tire Bicycles, and while flipping through that one, I saw a bike that looked remarkably familiar. I look outside amidst the collection of bikes neatly hanging from racks and see the same bike. I look closer at the picture and there’s Matt, sporting a white baseball cap turned backwards with curly blond hair.

He asked as us about our trip and our plans, and we had said that we were planning on staying in Moab for a bit, possibly even get jobs to earn some extra money. “Sure, you guys are welcome stay here, make the trailer a homebase, for as long as you need.� And he showed us a nice streamliner that he seemed to use for guests and for accommodations at the annual 24 Hours of Moab racing event he’s involved with.

A few days after we arrived he invited me to head out to some trails. Met up with a bunch of folks. It was the first time that I had used a short bike in about a year and it felt incredibly awkward. My front wheel would pop up without any effort, even when I was on the gravel road headed to the trail. I foresaw a difficult ride for me, quite possibly embarrassing.

The first words somebody said to me as I turned onto the trailhead was, “Be Careful. If you’ve never been on this trail.� And so I promptly and quite naively blasted myself down a series of steep and increasingly large steps. On an Xtracycle there is not such thing as an endo, you never have to worry about your back tire flipping over your head. They just barrel through. And so I bounced on my fork down a few steps and instantly flew over my handlebars, fortunate enough to land on my feet. I really wanted to give it a whirl on my loaded Xtracycle, but was committed to experimenting with the short bikes. Challenging and technical, if not IMPOSSIBLE sections lined the route. Yet Matt and his friends would scamper up and through and down and around with such ease it was maddening. Very interesting riding with such a large group, and really just riding with somebody other than Sean and Goat. Mobilizing 14 or so people on a bike trail is quite a task. Often we just waited for everybody to rejoin before heading on. Ride 15 minutes, stop wait. Hang out. Eat snacks. Ride another 20 minutes, eat another snack. Actually quite luxurious. Our usual days incorporate solid 4-5 hour rides with maybe a 5 minute snack break, often our munchies consumed straight out of the handlebar bag. The highlight of the ride was a stretch of smooth slickrock dotted with various sized potholes filled with water and frozen over. Then an insanely steep slickrock dome with an incredible view and on towards a smallish arch with a pothole on top (more or less a cave with a round hole in the roof). Then back down to the city, winding down epic slickrock singletrack, forcing me to dismount both voluntarily and involuntarily at various sections. My lack of short bike experience was made brutally apparent by the dog that could descend faster than I could, taking the ledges and cuts with considerable ease. When I tried to get my weight behind my seat I would get my pants stuck and be forced to continue with my stomach pushed up against the back of my seat.

Soon enough we managed to get comfortable with our domestic existence. Every night was long because it was so near the solstice, and wound down with a movie and cocktails. Every morning I would concoct the perfect cup of coffee, making it marginally better each day. Sean and I attempted to type away a few articles with grandiose dreams of publication. I was ecstatic to hear back from Adventure Cyclist who was willing to publish an article I wrote about the wolf chase up in Alaska. Our attempts to find any kind of temporary work pretty much drowned in each successive cup of coffee I drank from the town’s coffee shop that stayed open, not because they made money, but because the locals appreciate their service in the off-season. Moab is deserted in the winter.

Unknowingly, we filled up on our stagnate existence in Moab. We had needed the break from the daily 60 mile grind, but were unable to recognize that until we were neck deep in luxurious domestic accommodations. We had collectively decided that there are probably very few people in this world that could have put up with us for a solid month, and appreciated Matt’s hospitality to no end. He made sure our bikes were up to snuff. If we needed a tire voila, he made it appear. If we were having trouble with flats, voila, our tubes were filled Stan’s Slime Protector. After a month of still life in the streamliner, we were ready to go, and I don’t doubt that our endlessly benevolent host was probably ready to have his house back.

Matt charted us an off-road route that would take us into Monticello, the next town south. Maybe 65 miles out of our way on 4×4 roads. So eager we were to get back out there, that we hardly consulted and considered the route for logistical planning. And we set off with a grand total of about 4 meals. We escaped the syrupy molasses pull of civilization late as usual and could account for very few miles by the end of the day, but the landscape was incredible and we were on the road again.

The condition of the road devolved throughout our trip. Beginning with accessibility to any SUV, it turned into something that only jeep enthusiasts and atv’ers could dare traverse. We harbored a new appreciation for the rockhoppin’ “Jeepers� who are generally the antagonist to the mountain biking community in Moab. Nothing you want to see less biking out in the middle of the beautiful desert than one of those ugly jeeps whorred out with large stickers as if it was a mobile billboard. Anyway, it seemed impossible for them to navigate some of the sections, and I was secretly impressed that they could actually manage. Overall the toughest thing about the route for us was the boggish sand and mud, depending on the temperature. Towards the end of the day it would freeze on top only to crack under our weight. These conditions forced a belabored movement through the desert, and while we could keep our balance just enough to keep moving, it was slow enough that I could scan the earth under me for signs of arrowheads (I had recently found one in Moab hiking around, and was temporarily obsessed with the prospect of finding another pointy little treasure). One stretch of sand, about a mile long, forced us to dismount and arduously push our bikes while the sun colored the desert sand. Rock gardens were covered in snow and required immense concentration to maintain balance. Incredibly difficult to ride up, but never as difficult as having to push your bike up, so we struggled. And by the end of our relatively short 4 hour day of riding we were thoroughly wiped out, unanimously agreeing that there was not a pedal stroke more left in us. Either that or we were trying to justify our pathetically long mornings, sleeping in and lounging around until about 1 or 2.

By the end of the second day when we had fully faced the fact that we were still a good 2 days ride from civilization and were going to be mighty hungry, having eaten the last of our food stuffs. Nothing we could do but keep riding, after, of course, we attend to our ridiculous leisurely mornings. We got creative with our cooking and mixed trail mix with oatmeal, downed protein powder shakes proclaiming to add “rock solid mass� to our brawn. Anything that was edible we consumed.

By the end of the third day we were seeing signs of life, which then occurred to me how little of it we saw on the trail. There was but a few rabbit tracks in the snow, and very little else. The human footprints raised our spirits with optimism. A bizarre assemblage of mushroom shaped rocks towering overhead asserted a nice camping spot below them, and we regrettably had to keep moving, search for calories. At the edge of these we saw a creek, the first since we left Moab. We had been reduced to filtering water from ponds and melting snow to get water, which consumed much of our daylight. Our water had not frozen solid just yet and did not require the creeks offerings. But it did prove a tricky crossing. Thin ice covered most of it, and a Jeeper would happily mash on through, without fear of the elements, yet we were humble bicyclists, completely lacking the artificial climate offered by the V-8’s heater. A bit of teamwork got our bikes and selves over the creek where we saw more human footprints. Then port-a-potties, then I rolled up to Goat talking to a car camper parked alongside the dirt road who was kind enough to give us some quinoa and instant brown rice, enough carbohydrates to get us into the next town. That night was a cold one. Had to clear off snow for a spot to pitch our tent, before we woke up and had to cover the remaining 40 odd miles into town.

We arrived just after dark and were able to belly up to a truck stop diner. Two girls and a mother hung out next to us in a booth and the waitress (the older daughter) would simply turn from her seat and ask if we wanted any water, passed it over to us without getting up. Redefined my understanding of a mom and pop establishment, and we were overjoyed to sit there in the warmth and chat with them. Midway through our meal, a cowboy type in stylish boots and ten gallon hat appeared, “How’s ya’lls food?�

“Outstanding,� I replied quickly, thinking it was funny because we had all just commented seconds ago on how good the food was.

“That’s what I like to hear.� He said and patted me on the shoulder. “Let me know if you want any more tortilla’s.�

The mother of the place asked us where we sleeping and after seeing that her words lingered in our thoughts, recommended that we camp at a ballpark field just up the road.

Blanding was the next town, where I fondly remember an all you can eat buffet of chicken wings, pizza and salad. Somehow Sean and Goat passed up this morsel of never-ending food and bought groceries to cook up. I made sure to rub it in when we met back up. Fueled by a platter of chicken wings and pizza I pedaled onwards towards an off-road section that would take us towards Goosenecks State Park and the town Mexican Hat. A lengthy hill reached its peak at a formidable geographic formation, a sort of fin shaped mountain winding north to south, that in the past presented an impossible section to travelers headed towards the sunrise or sunset. Modern man managed to blast a canyon through a section and pave a nice road defying the power of nature. Exiting the narrow wound in the rock, a steep hill took us to Comb Wash road, where we hoped to cut across the dirt path to the next highway. There was theoretically cliff dwelling nearby, but we sure couldn’t find them. We camped there a night and followed the well graded and surprisingly solid surface, easing our fear that we faced another grueling 20 miles of sandy biking. We splashed out onto the road and saw a tremendous hill that would take me a good hour and a half to see flatten out. A plateau, stood in front of me like a table missing a leg that tilted downwards rolling the contents into the wash that we just pedaled through. And like one of those rickety café tables with a roll of receipts and paper trying to stabilize the surface, after reaching the top it leaned the other way, sending the three of us rolling down the table like spilled coffee. Into the Valley of the Gods, where huge monoliths and spires reached for the sky and dotted the flat desert surface, remaining like a child’s mashed potato sculpture on a plate of uneaten vegetables. Sagebrush and a few odd trees dotted the landscape uniformly, like the freckles of redheaded child, as the sun set and flushed the earth’s surface with an embarrassed hue, as if we caught it involved in some mischief.

And from there, we left, still mystified by the beauty of this nook of the world to the Goosenecks State Park, where the San Juan River folded itself like ribbon candy, winding itself impossibly back and forth. A rather adventurous hike took us to a land bridge in between the river where we could look to our left and right and see the same river going different directions. Like the comments from Stan Hinkle in the visitor’s registry, it was “a nice meander,� to say the least.

The next day took us into Monument Valley, where the monoliths seemed to aggressively challenge the sights we saw the day before, rising up even higher and more magnificent than the “Seven Sailors� formation or “Women in a Tub�. These perpetual cliffs seemed to commune with the sky as if you could walk off the cliff and onto the clouds. The atmosphere was preparing a good chuckle for us that evening, as the sun dropped in the sky and my shadow raced off into the distance, hoping to escape the sub-zero temperatures that were falling on us. With the last ray of sun, went the last positive degree of warmth. Set up camp and hustled around to keep circulation going while the food that we had, (5 minute rice and chili due to negligent planning once again) warmed up. We had a few beers, but found myself too cold to consume more than one and the other exploded, frozen in time in a fizzy slush.

“Damn it is cold,� I said. Over and over again, much to the annoyance of my companions who would rather not hear my endless whining. Oh and so cozy in the tent that night. I wore every article of clothing I owned and still tossed and turned all night. We survived the night and rushed towards a rumor of food just a few miles away. The pleasure of a downhill was missed when the freezing temperatures and wind chill, took away the circulation to my feet. I sought refuge in a diner where I employed the joys of another all you can eat buffet. This area has been favored for moviemakers for it’s incredible scenery, Hollywood has used it for films such as Forest Gump, Thelma and Louise, and most notably for How the West Was Won. Long before the sun went down we arrived in Arizona and in the small Navajo town of Kayenta.