Thursday, March 29, 2012

Moab Part 1 - The Moab Brand Trails

The trail map, found here

Since Moab really needs no introduction to the mountain biking community, I'll get straight to the story. It had been three years since we had made our first journey to this mountain bike mecca in the desert, and when that trip was over we all agreed that we wanted to return. Fast forward to spring break 2012, and our crew had plans to do just that. From Corvallis we would have Sandra & Tait, and from Eugene we would have Kim & Randy, Roland, Davey, as well as Emily and myself. Furthermore we would be meeting up with some old friends who are ex-Oregonians in Salt Lake City, Arthur & Emily, who we were all looking forward to seeing again. Since it's ~20hrs one way, we planned to stay for an entire work week, as well as the two adjoining weekends. Just as with three years ago, the weather forecast looked somewhat spotty, which can only be expected for this time of the year. Not to be deterred, we stayed the course, and headed south on a Saturday morning.

Since there was really no need for us to caravan, each couple took separate vehicles leaving at different times. We would meet up and stay the first night at Arthur & Emily's house, before departing the next morning and finishing up the final 4-hour push to Moab. The drive from Eugene was long indeed, with some very interesting weather to spice it up a bit. Near Twin Falls, ID we ran into a pretty heavy storm of sleet and snow -- for some reason this is not how I had pictured spring break! Luckily the squall didn't last for too long, but even so, by the time we reached Salt Lake City, Emily was ready to be done driving. When we finally got to our crash pad for the evening, everyone else was pretty much ready to hit the hay, and I really couldn't blame them, since it was pushing midnight.

Gettin' gas in Nowheresville, Oregon...
or are we in Idaho at this point?!?

Isn't there a cartoon out there starring this thing?

Spring break, here we come!

The next morning we all awoke feeling rejuvenated and ready to hit the road. Arthur played cook and made a mean batch of pancakes while the rest of us filled our faces. After everyone was well nourished we hit the road. Once again we hit some snow on the drive, this time going through the pass between Salt Lake and Price. Although the snow was heavy, it was also a bit wet and wasn't sticking to the roads, which was good since we were in the Corolla with no supplemental traction devices. With a quick stop in Price for lunch at Subway, we motored on, reaching Moab around 3pm. The group decision was to find a campsite, setup camp, and then head-out for a quick ride (hoping the weather would hold out).

Basecamp on our first leg of the journey

Sweet, more nice weather!

Getting closer...


Randy waits for a decision on whether to ride or setup camp first

After scouting a couple of campground options we finally decided on Granstaff, at the bottom trailhead of Porcupine Rim. The site we put our flag in was nice and big, perfect for our equally large group. Setting up the sleeping quarters went fairly quick and soon we were back on the road, headed to the newly developed singletrack trail system, the Moab Brand Trails.

Okay, this will work!

By the time we reached the trailhead for the Brand Trails the weather had gone from fairly pleasant to basically a snowstorm -- Ah, life in the desert. Hoping that the storm was more of a squall, we piled on our winter gear and headed down the trail. As we hung a left on "North Forty" the sleet and wind really kicked into high gear, and we also appeared to be pedaling into the belly of the beast as the sky in front of us was pitch black. After about a mile Kim, Randy, and I had had enough and turned back while the rest of the crew powered on. The ride back to the car was just as miserable, with the cold wind blowing so hard it was giving me an earache as well as making it hard to stay on the trail. Back at the parking lot I quickly loaded my bike on the car and jumped in for shelter while I waited for the crew to finish their mission. Before long the storm subsided and the sun came out. Just as I was starting to get a little FOMO, Emily pulled up and said that they had just finished North Forty and were planning to do another loop. With that I quickly grabbed my bike off the top of the car and headed back to the trailhead with Em.

Setting off into the unknown at the Moab Brand Trails

A quick climb right off the bat

Hmmm, that looks like more than a squall...

"Okay, you guys have fun, I'm headed back to the car now."

For this loop we turned right onto "Lazy" where we rolled along some super fun and mildly technical singletrack. It took a bit to warm up the legs and get into a flow, and even once I had, I still couldn't quite keep up with the crew, which is understandable since I hadn't been on my bike in over four months. Luckily the crew was good about waiting up and also allowed me to jump ahead to take photos. Since we were burning daylight we finished our loop using "EZ", which had a very similar character, but riding along the base of the bluff as opposed to on top.

Shall we try this again?

The gals starting another short climbing session

A typical view on the Brand Trails

Taking it "EZ" back to the car

Sandra enjoys a bit of sun on EZ

Yay, clear skies ahead!

Reaching the car again, we packed up the gear and bikes for the evening and headed back to camp for some grub and relaxation. Kim and Randy cooked up a delicious gypsy stew and then we all sat around the fire discussing what we had just ridden as well as what we planned to get on in the following days. At one point in the evening we got sleeted on again, which had the consistency of Styrofoam and about the size of BBs. Before long we had about a half inch covering the ground, which allowed for a very pathetic snowball fight – it was actually quite entertaining. One by one we tired out and retired to our respective sleeping quarters.

Another squall on the road back to camp

The clouds seem to move pretty quick in the desert

The calm before the storm

The buildup to the snowball fight

About 20 minutes after the snowstorm

The last day of the trip, we actually went back to the Brand Trails to get in some more miles before we headed back north. This time we rode EZ over to "Deadman's Ridge", which supposedly serves up the best techie stuff of the whole trail network. We were not disappointed and found ourselves riding some incredibly fun ups & downs with lots of rock gardens and slickrock. About halfway through Deadman's we did a quick detour on "Bar B", which started out as doubletrack, taking up about half the trail's length. The singletrack on Bar B seemed just as good/difficult as Deadman's, which we hooked into once again after finishing up Bar B. The second half of Deadman's continued its technical nature all the way to the paved bike path at which it ended. The bike path made for a great cool-down spin all the way back to the car.

Emily gets in some climbing somewhere on Deadman's Ridge

Apparently people get hurt riding in Moab

A typical scene at the Brand Trails parking lot

In summary, I would have to say that the Brand Trails proved to be a great system of intermediate trails (depending on where you're from), and a perfect warm-up for the harder stuff in Moab. They are also relatively new and a welcome addition to the growing number of singletrack trails in Moab, not really what area was known for in the past -- they really complement the classic jeep road trails (e.g. Porcupine Rim, Amasa Back, etc.) and make for a more complete package.

To be continued (it only gets better from here)...

Some head-cam footage of our ride at the Moab Brand Trails:

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