Driving south on Highway 191 into Moab is a sure sign that I’m almost there. Just pulling into town I can feel my stress level lowered by 50%. Then, after a ride and a cold beer, it’ll will go down a bit more. What is it about Moab that’s so special?
Is it the two national parks surrounding it? All the other public land? The red rock canyon country at the base of the mountains? The dirt and sand that gets into everything, only to remind me a month later when I’m cleaning it out of my washing machine of how awesome of a weekend it was? Maybe the memories stirred up every time I visit, of Ed Abby and the Monkey Wrench Gang and all the havoc they caused in the name of environmental protection. I love Abby’s famous quote about how to enjoy the public spaces, “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.” Which is particularly poignant being in Moab, Abby’s home for many years.
It’s the combination of those things and more. It’s the people who come together from incredibly different types of life and what they do for fun. Certainly you have the mountain bikers, but then you get mixed in road cyclists and rock climbers and ultra runners. Rafter and jeepers and motorcyclists and national park lovers and people just there to dry out, get out of the chill of wherever they’re from, and then those looking for a cheap place to camp and party their asses off. It’s a great melting pot.
But it’s also the spirituality of the place. It’s not just normal canyon or desert country. The US government doesn’t put National Parks just anywhere, so to have two in very close proximity to each other is really amazing. The ancient tribes of America ventured all over these rocky formations, putting up their art and marking a place in history.
The stars shine a little brighter here. The air is a little fresher, the sun burns a little hotter and the Colorado River feels a little colder and more refreshing. When you go off trail on a bike ride, the rock and cactus bite a little more painfully. But it’s all good, because you know you’re alive. And wow does it fell incredible.
Moab sinks into your makeup after only one or two trips there. You want to go back. The riding is fantastic, but not the best. Any number of places are much more fun and hospitably welcoming. But riding here teaches you many things, certainly the least of which is why to stay on the trail. The sun causing the sweat in your eyes to burn with salt and the taste of that first ice cold beer post ride are simple pleasures leaving deep marks on your brain. You want them in the present. When you’re sitting at your desk at work, it’s the sweat and the beer your remember the most. As real as any memory can be, if you close your eyes just for a second, you’ll be taken quickly away to how hot that day was, when riding Porcupine Rim with your best buds, and not a breath of moving air anywhere to be found. Your water was lukewarm and you weren’t sure you were going to make it out alive. When that big, salty drop of sweat hit your tongue as you stopped for the 13th time to “just take a quick breather” and you curse over your own Mother’s grave that you would never do this God-forsaken ride again. That’s what you remember. How it burned. And how much you’d give to get back there and do it again. Because you know how good that beer tasted. The one sitting in the ice, in the cooler in the back of the car. And you remember all the stories your crew started telling immediately, almost before you even popped the first cold one. Just like fishing, the tales get more flabbergasting every time told. The descents get steeper and the drop offs get bigger. The cactus gets sharper and the sun gets hotter. But nothing can ever compare to that cold, refreshing liquid hitting your lips after a long, hot ride.
Moab and your best friends. Yes, it becomes a part of you. You’ll go back. Maybe five times a year, maybe once every ten years. But each time back will be better than the first. Broken bike parts be damned, this is a proving ground and you have some features to get revenge on.
Words, Photos: Daniel Dunn
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