New Adventures in Familiar Surroundings Part I (aka Farewell 2016!)
Although I was sad to see 2016 go (read about the highlights from the year here), I’m happy that it’s 2017. I’m not going to go into my goals for the year in this post (I might write another post about goals but I’m not certain yet). So far the year is off to a great start! We ended 2016 (this post) and started 2017 (next post) in one of my favorite places on earth – Moab, UT. In the past, I have spent the majority of my time in the Moab area exploring the national parks (Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are both within a 30-minute drive of town). This time we brought Moose and our fat bikes, both of which are not allowed in most areas of the parks, so our adventures would be a little different.
We started off the trip with a stopover in Grand Junction in an attempt to break up the drive a little bit. I found what looked like a great deal for the Days Inn, $49/night. It turned out to be a complete rip off since we arrived they said they did not have any more queen bed dog-friendly rooms (what we booked) so we need to pay an extra $20/night to upgrade to the king bed dog-friendly room. On top of that, they charged $15/night/dog. None of this was listed on their website so I didn’t call ahead to request a dog-friendly room So it total we spent almost $100 on a room where we barely got any sleep because of the other dogs barking incessantly in the rooms surrounding us – although to be fair Mr. Moose was also barking at them in response. Lesson learned – a cheap Days Inn room probably isn’t all it seems to be at booking.
After a less-than-ideal night of sleep, we packed up and drove the remaining 1.5 hours to Moab. We had plans to stop at Fisher Towers for a hike on the way out until we realized we hadn’t filled up with water and were down to half a water bottle between the two of us. This normally would not have been a problem, but we would have to go almost all the way to the Moab exit on I-70 to find a gas station where we could get water and then backtrack to the highway along the Colorado River. We decided we could hit it up on our way out of town and drove into Moab. Since we were earlier than anticipated, our room wasn’t ready so we picked up water at the City Market in town and headed over to the Poison Spider trail network.
We headed out on the Poison Spider Overlook trail, a hiking only trail that was also dog-friendly. The trail itself was a little bit of a disappointment because the best viewpoint was from about the halfway point which looked back on the La Sal mountains and the sea of fins east of Moab. The view at the end of the trail overlooked the river, which was pretty, but you could see the Potash Road (paved) running along the river and the view was probably only marginally better than the one you can drive to. After dropping Moose off at the car, we headed to check out the dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs and then continued up until the hiking trail reconnected with the Poison Spider Road. The dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs were really cool, but the best outcome of the hike was that it convinced us to come back with our bikes after we checked in to our hotel.
After checking in to the La Quinta Inn (on a side note this hotel was completely worth the $$ – and Moose stayed without any additional pet deposit!), we headed back to Poison Spider and pumped up our bike tires for Jason’s first fat bike ride on dirt. The trail that seemed to climb steeply when we hiked down wasn’t that bad on a bike, except for the couple “surprise” sections where I didn’t anticipate a steep section was geared incorrectly. At the top of the climb, we enjoyed true desert fat biking, blasting through the sandy sections and right over the tracks of “skinny tired” mountain bikers that wobbled all over the place. After the sand we explored a couple different offshoots of the jeep road, eventually finding ourselves on top of sandstone hump for amazing bike photos! Although I could have stayed up there forever, we decided to head down and beat the sunset since we didn’t have lights and the thought of biking down loose sandstone in the dark really didn’t appeal to me. Plus we had a long ride planned for the next day!
Since Jason and I are not your typical couple, we decided to say adios to 2016 (a big year for us) by riding the Hurrah Pass/Jackson Hole Loop. When we woke up, I told Jason that I would be perfectly OK with riding our bikes to the top of Hurrah Pass and then riding back the way we came. The top of the pass was our decision point and if we went down the other side we were committing ourselves to biking on trails in unknown conditions and carrying our bikes up a 500′ hike-a-bike that the directions describe as “the only weakness in an unbroken sandstone cliff”. We ate breakfast, quickly changed into our biking clothes, and were ready to go at the trailhead at 9:30 am. We headed up Kane Creek canyon with the sun still firmly buried behind the cliffs. After a chilling descent down the switchbacks to the bottom of the canyon, our average speed increased trying to warm up until we finally hit the sun. Eventually, we passed all of the campsites along Kane Creek and the road turned abruptly upwards. Luckily the really climby sections were followed by flatter sections so we were able to catch our breath on the move and only actually stopped once so I could use the facilities. By the time we topped out on the top of the pass I was down to my short sleeve jersey and only kept my leg warmers on because I knew dropping down either side would be a little chilly. At the top, I did put on my sparkly new years eve dress (that is also the dress I was wearing when Jason first asked me out on New Years Eve 2013).
After stopping to enjoy the scenery we discussed whether we were doing an out-and-back or the whole loop. We decided to do the whole loop and headed down the backside of Hurrah Pass. We spent most of the descent in the cold shadows of the rock walls and even crossed ice a couple of times. Even though I was freezing, we did have to stop a couple of times for me to shake out my wrist since it was still pretty sore two weeks after I fell skiing the weekend we went to Leadville. When we got to the bottom of the pass we followed the road until I looked down at my watch and realized we were off course. We backtracked until we saw a gated road with a sign saying “come on in”. The route said we went through the gate so that’s what we did, quickly passing the “inn”. The road turned into a mix of very sandy sections (luckily we had fat bikes) and really weird rock (unluckily I don’t have any suspension on Hellga). After what seemed like never-ending rollers we found the start of the Jackson Hole Loop trail/road that circles a large butte in an otherwise flattish area (besides the huge cliff face of Amasa Back). For the half of the trail we followed, it was very sandy and had lots of PUDs (pointless ups and downs). From what I’ve heard, the rest of the loop is even sandier! As we circled Jackson Hole, the “only weakness in an unbroken sandstone cliff” came into view and I wondered how the heck we were going to lug our fat bikes up it.
We took a break at the bottom of the hike-a-bike section (known as Jackson’s Ladder or colloquially as Jacob’s Ladder) to regroup, rehydrate, and refuel. Since our bikes weren’t going to carry themselves up the trail, we repacked our supplies and headed up the ladder. The report I read said the trail was hard to follow at first and became increasingly easier to follow the higher up you went (although not easier effort-wise). After the first couple of cairns, I realized there was white and black striped flagging (which I’ve since realized is probably left from the Tour of Canyonlands multi-day bike race although I can’t seem to find anything about this race online). We took our time going up the ladder, alternating with carrying our bikes, pushing them, and dragging them over rocks. All-in-all it took us about 40 minutes to go 0.4 miles and 563 feet.
At the top we skipped the celebrating, choosing instead to cycle along the aptly named “Cliffhanger” jeep trail. Although I don’t remember it, I’m pretty sure Cliffhanger is where I sprained my ankle during the 2012 Moab Trail Marathon and hobbled the last 10 miles to an almost-last place finish in a time of 7 hours and 36 minutes. This time around the trail was much nicer on my body, although I did have an awkward almost fall when I was incorrectly geared for the terrain and literally stopped in motion. The trail itself was amazing. There were lots of sections that were beyond my technical ability, even when we were past the “cliffhanger” section, but I was able to test my skills on some of the smaller but still impressive for me obstacles. I picked some lines that were more challenging than the ones Jason picked, mostly because I sort of ended up on them and wasn’t in a position to stop. The trail was a playground and we played our hearts out! Six-plus hours after we had last seen the car we rolled back up to it, packed the bikes, and headed into town for showers and food (hint: half a waffle with PB and jelly, some oatmeal, and 3 sleeves of clif shot bloks are not enough for 6 hours in the saddle).
Moose was beyond thrilled when we finally returned and practically did flips for us at the door of the hotel room. He was quickly disappointed when we showered and headed back out for dinner (after walking him of course). We celebrated our epic farewell-2016 ride with pepperoni cheese bread, huge bowls of pasta, and dessert-to-go at Pasta Jays. We were tucked in bed before 7 and asleep before my parents called me at east-coast midnight (10 pm MT). 2016 was a big year for Jason and me, and we celebrated it’s end in the biggest way we knew how. Stay tuned for our “start of 2017” adventures.