Final day and a long ride out of the Canyonlands to Hite at the north end of where Lake Powell used to be before it dried up and shrunk. We packed up camp – enjoyed the final views from our amazing campground, breakfast, and some stretching, then loaded the support truck to head out on our long but mostly downhill ride.
The riding was pretty easy, though on tired legs, even a small climb turns into a real effort, and there were plenty of climbs as we passed through washes and over rolling hills. The views were as spectacular as we’d seen over the last 5 days, with some broad vistas of the Henry Mountains to the North West.
We made a few quick stops to regroup and take in the views but mostly hammered toward our goal. The goal was Stan’s Burger Shak in Hankersville which serve the best / only milkshakes for a hundred miles – good to be back to cold and creamy civilization.
Another early start for a long day of riding. Heading back into The Maze and the Land of the Standing Rocks – some cool rock formations we could see in the distance from Camp on the first night.
Our guides had warned us about the out-and-back ride today – strenuous and very technical for the first 2-3 miles – with chunky rock gardens, punchy climbs, and numerous rock steps. I really like technical trails, and my personal goal was to ride everything cleanly. As it’s an out and back route – hitting the rock gardens the second time after a day of riding would be the biggest challenge,
After passing Mother and Child, we stopped for lunch in the shade of The Wall. Then continued a few more miles to Chimney Rock where we stopped for a little hike and climbed up a bit to get some more views of The Maze.
According to Strava it was only 27 miles and only 1700ft of climbing, but everyone was pretty crushed at the end of the day – it’s one of those epic rides that gives you a full body workout and apps like Strava really don’t capture the amount of exertion you’re under.
I didn’t quite achieve my clean run goal – I dabbed a foot a couple of times towards the end – a combination of exhaustion and very tight technical step ups that appeared around a blind corner and left no time to prepare or build up any momentum.
This was also our final night camping and my bladder forced me to get out and see the stars at about 2am – absolutely mindblowing.
I’ve made a couple of these trips before (White Rim in 2016, Kokopelli in 2022), and I prefer this format – camping at two sites for two nights each vs. a new campsite every night – camping and decamping is a lot of work – especially when you’re already exhausted after a long ride. At this point – it’s worth pointing out that these back-country campsites are nothing more than an area marked for camping. There are no facilities – no water, bathrooms, seating, shade, fire-pits, nothing but boundary markers. But what they lack in amenities, they more than makeup for in location and stunning views. The Maze Overlook is one of the most incredible places I’ve camped at, and even the privy (aka Groover) spot has breathtaking vires while you contemplate the day ahead.
We hit the trails after packing our gear, de-gunging the bikes, doing a little bit of recovery yoga, and helping load the truck.
The morning entertainment was reversing our ride from day 1 – climbing back up the Golden Stairs, and regaining 800 feet in the process. After a quick photo op overlooking Canyonlands and Bagpipe Butte while we waited for the support truck to pick its way through the fairly technical uphill we bombed down and had lunch stop in a dry creek bed with little shade. Hot, hot, hot !
Post lunch was a leisurely cruise down to Teapot Campsite – our home for the next few nights. We had a big day of riding tomorrow on very technical trails. so we walked over to check it out and pick out some lines through the rock gardens.
Today was a “rest” day – meaning a rest from riding. Instead, the plan was to hike/scramble/climb down into the canyon below our camp to view some of the world-famous Barrier Canyon pictographs and petroglyphs. The pictographs are believed to date from 2000 BCE to 500 CE (Common Era), but not much is known about who created them or their exact meaning.
After drinking plenty of the best coffee for 50 miles in any direction and a cooked breakfast, we set off. It took us about 90 minutes to scramble down into the canyon, and unless you know exactly where you are going, I will not attempt this – there are plenty of places you could go off course and get into trouble. It’s a very exposed descent, the trial is not well marked, and a slip or fall would likely end in severe injury. There are some primitive Moki steps at a couple of points if you can find them. Getting out of the canyon with any kind of injury would be impossible without assistance and the right equipment.
It was a toasty hike to the main Pictograph canyon with full sun, no shade, and no breeze. Once we got to the canyon floor, we were treated to an explosion of desert plants. There’s been a lot of rain in the area, and this was apparently one of the best spring blooms in living memory.
There’s not much online about these pictographs other than people’s accounts of hiking into the canyon to visit them. They are the same Barrier Canyon style as other sites in the area – nearby Horshoe Canyon being one of the most extensive sites.
The hike back up to camp was much quicker and easier but still pretty strenuous, and we even found a little shade. Fortunately, there were no injuries aside from a few scrapes, and it was great to spend time in an area that very few people will ever have the opportunity to visit, given its remoteness.
Returning to camp for a few beers, another excellent dinner, and a spectacular lighting and rainbow show was a good end to the day.
We had an early start, but as we’re all East Coasters – we were all wide awake before the 5.30am alarm. The Sunrise in Moab is always special – the red sandstone cliffs glow red, and you can start to feel the sun’s heat. We packed up the rental car – literally packed it to the gills, and headed off to Green River to meet our Rimtours guides and fellow explorers. We caffeinated on the edge of town at Horsethief Coffee and arrived at Green River in time for breakfast at Tamarisk, where we watched the very swollen Green River rush by.
The start of our ride was at the Hans Flat Ranger Station on the western boundary of the Canyonlands. Getting there was an adventure – 46 miles of washed-out Jeep trails through barren BLM-owned high desert. Once there, we met our guides and fellow travelers (Donna and Sue), got our gear and bikes ready, transferred our packs and camping gear, and reviewed the route for the rest of the day.
Saying goodbye to civilization and the extensive facilities at Hans Flat – a shaded picnic table, a vault toilet, and a map. From here on – there’s no potable water, bathrooms, or electricity, and the only shade is provided by stubby Juniper trees and your own headwear.
The morning ride was a pretty easy, flat ride along the top of the Orange Cliffs, stopping for pictures at the Bagpipe Bute overlook; we then dropped down the Flint Trail switchbacks and had a quick lunch break at the bottom.
After lunch, we dropped a few more hundred feet and entered the Canyonlands NP, where we encountered our first Canyon. As impressive as it was – we’d discover in the next hour or so that it was barely a ditch at the side of the trail compared to The Maze.
Day 1 – mission accomplished – 28 fairly easy miles. The final destination for day 1 is Maze Overlook, Camp 1, and our base for the next few days.
My son and I are trying to hit all the best North Carolina trails over the summer and made a start last weekend with a trip to the mountains. The wish-list was Warrior Creek (conveniently on the way), a day a Beech Mountain and then Rocky Knob on the way home.
Day 1 – Warrior Creek.
We loaded-up and headed out midday on Friday with the aim of riding Warrior Creek on the way up to Boone. It is part of the Kerr Scott Reservoir trail system and we recently raced in the Southern Classic at Dark Mountain and heard good things about Warrior Creek. We arrived about 3pm which was good and bad timing; bad because it was still in the low 90F’s and humid; good timing – for reasons I’ll get into later.
Warrior Creek is a really well-designed trail in a really pretty lakeside location; it’s a mix of hard-pack, rock-gardens and lots of huge, fast berms. There’s nothing too strenuous (even in 90F’s) as the trail mostly follows the same contours – just enough rise and fall to make it fun and fast. There were a couple of large trees down which meant we had to walk a two of the faster sections but otherwise the trail was in good condition.
At about mile 9 you can add the extra 1.6 mile Headwaters loop (Black Diamond) – we opted out because we were out of energy and out of water so we headed back to the parking lot. An unfortunate wrong turn towards the end added a couple of (downhill) road miles.
The trail is great – will head back in the fall and do the whole 18+ miles. The parking lot is worth a 5-star rating in itself – bike (or human) washing station, vending machine and bathrooms / changing rooms.
After re-hydrating, loading the bikes we hit the road – just 45 mins to our campsite near Boone. The first rain-drops started as we left the campground parking lot and within minutes we were in a full-scale storm – driving rain, lightning, trees down – probably the worst weather I’ve driven through. After 90 minutes, we arrived at the campsite unscathed but our camping spot had turned into a small river. With rain forecast until 4am; we put plan B into action and after a bit of last-minute hotel shopping, headed back into Boone for the night – most of which was in darkness due to the storm. Many of the restaurants were closed but we found a decent Mexican on the edge of town that still had power.
Day 2 – Beech Mountain
My son has been raving about Beech mountain for months – and it really was the main goal of this trip. Beech is pretty typical of the small ski resorts in the area – a couple of chair lifts and half a dozen runs and in the summer you can park right in the village at the bottom of the mountain. There’s also a bike shop in the village where you can rent enduro / XC bikes as well as protective gear. We decided to use our own bikes though I’d probably consider renting to get some extra travel next time – my Specialized Epic took a real pounding – really not made for the kind of terrain at Beech.
All-day lift tickets are $35, $28 for kids under 12. Loading your bikes on the chair-lift is pretty straightforward and there are a couple of guys to help if needed, you ride in the chair-lift behind your bikes and someone unloads your bike at the top; you can also ride down if you break your bike while on the mountain.
There are 3 green trails, a couple of blues and some black and black diamond – they are interrupted a third of the way down by an access road which allows you to mix and match trails. We mostly stuck to the greens and blues – nice, fast and flowy with a some technical sections – but basically everything was easily rideable; there are a few big drops and tables towards the bottom if you like air. We gave the black and black-diamond a try as well but being in the woods they really hadn’t dried out from the previous days storm – walking / sliding down was hard enough – riding would’ve been suicidal. Gives you some perspective though – these are actual Downhill Championship courses – amazing to see pros. fly down this stuff at full race speed in any condition.
Despite not actually pedaling much – I was surprisingly tired at the end of the day – you’re mostly out of the saddle and on your breaks. We did about 9 runs and a break for lunch in about 6 hours. Fortunately I was able to rehydrate and carb load with a 5506 Pale Ale from the excellent Beech Mountain Brewing Company at the bottom of the mountain and there’s a bike stand and hose to clean your bike – handy if you’re staying in a hotel.
Here’s Jack’s 5 minute video showing the green and blue runs – starts off slow but the pace picks up about 2.30 as we gain confidence – crank it up to 1080p if you have the bandwidth. You won’t see much of me in the video – as usual – I’m struggling to keep up !
Day 3 – Grandfather Mountain and Rocky Knob
After a lazy morning watching the TDF in bed and breakfast we packed up for our journey home. Just two stops on the way. The first – Grandfather Mountain via a cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a beautiful clear day and you could see forever. The area was pretty busy due to the Highland Games (who knew ?) – lot’s of red hair and sunburn.
Next stop was Rocky Knob Park just outside Boone – there’s about 9 miles of trail here and there’s a bit of everything – some short climbs, rock gardens, skinnies, epic downhill, a skills area and pump-track. We only rode about 6 miles on the main trail – we climbed up Middle Earth and Boat Rock stopping at Stone Binge skills area then raced down the aptly named PBJ (Pump, Berm, Jump) – Jack burped a tire so we had to stop for some field-maintenance midway. Trails were in great condition aside from the large fallen tree blocking the last berm on PBJ.
In the parking lot there’s a fun little pump track with probably one of the best views in the state – Jack spent a good 40 minutes finessing his track skills while I chatted with some other riders from all over the southern US.
This is a really well maintained trail system – kudos to the trail keepers – wish it was in my backyard !
We’re planning another weekend in the mountains – would love to hear some more recommendations – Pisgah is on the list – what else ?
I’ve been mostly happy with my Specialized Epic Carbon 29er except for a few minor niggling things which I’ve corrected over the last year or so.
The stock Formula brakes were not great. Fortuitously I snapped one of the levers off in the first few months and rather than replace just the lever; I fitted Shimano XT brakes on front and rear – they have better stopping power, less fade and are infinitely adjustable. They also use mineral oil instead of the nasty Gycol-based stuff.
The Epic’s stock tires were clearly made for speed above all else – I was never comfortable with the grip at the front. While the bike was having some down-time due to the rear shock getting serviced I added a bit more volume – Maxxis Ikon 2.2 on the back; Maxxis High Roller II 2.3 on the front – the bigger front tire really makes a difference. For what it’s worth – you might just be able to go up to 2.3 on the back and 2.4 on the front . I also went tubeless – I don’t know why specialized fit tubeless rims and tires but also ship with inner tubes – I suspect tire sealant doesn’t travel well and gets a bit messy while in transit.
Another thing I found is that the design of the front QR through-axel means it quickly degrades if too tight to the point where its no longer able to function and you have to use a hex wrench – somewhat negating the idea of a quick release. So I replaced it with the non QR version – the Maxel.
Finally I used the same maintenance window to fit a dropper. Without manually dropping the seat-post – my saddle is constantly butting me in the arse mid-jump – making for exciting nose-down landings. I do realize the Epic is a pure-bred XC bike not a dirt jumper – maybe at some point I’ll buy myself an old beater for the jumps.
Getting the right dropper for an Epic Carbon was a challenge due to i) the 27.2mm seatpost and ii) the shape of the frame which severely limits travel. The only dropper Specialized will recommend is the Command Post XCP 350mm – which is pricy and only has 3 cm of travel – that’s $15 per millimeter ! I tried the 500mm version but that rode way too high for me and would’ve resulted in a riser; not a dropper. KS now do a 27.2mm internally-routed dropper and that might have been a better option but hard to know if the bend in the Epic’s frame would’ve restricted travel. Seems to be a fair amount of trial and error with droppers. Either way, you’ll probably want to have your local bike shop fit it because the internal routing is pretty complicated; but in my opinion – well worth it.
So with these new mods in place I hit the backyard trails before dusk. Nice to have a working auto-sag again (the Specialized / Fox Brain really is a decent piece of engineering) and the front tire running about 30 PSI handled really well – feels a lot more confident.
I hit one of the jump-lines and felt much more in control – no saddle tipping me forward mid-air and the trigger is really smooth – feels natural already.
Feels great to have my bike back working better than ever – now I’ve got to rack up some miles before it gets too hot and humid !
After 5 days of riding, Jack and I still had a bit more ride left in us – our fellow explorers decided to try something different for the day but we were determined to make the most of what Moab has to offer in the shredding department. Our RimTours guides recommended a couple of local rides. The HyMasa / Captain Ahab and the Mag 7 seemed like the best options and we chose Captain Ahab because Jack thought we really needed to do a double black diamond after five hard days of riding and I’m an irresponsible father.
We re-rented the same bikes we’d been using for the last four days and were dropped at the start of HyMasa by David – one of our Raleigh compadres. It was around 10am and already fairly busy (probably due to OuterBike).
HyMasa is a slow 3 mile grind on a mixture of rock and dirt and is mostly pretty straight forward but you have to keep moving to ascend the numerous rock steps that take you up to the start of Captain Ahab. This really is some of the best mountain biking I’ve ever experienced – slow going but fulfilling.
On the way up my son and I passed a pivotal moment in our father son relationship – given his superior fitness going uphill and fearlessness going downhill – he became the leader; and me the follower. Of course he didn’t notice – he was too busy racing some of the local hammerheads to the top of the mountain.
After you’ve enjoyed the amazing view you start the Capt. Ahab descent – it’s all very technical though most of the big drops have an alternative line so you can make the ride as hard or easy as you want – there were only a couple of places we had to dismount and walk. But this really is a very technical and unforgiving trail – if you take a fall you’re going to get hurt and you’re a long way from anywhere – I never ride in knee or elbow pads but would definitely do that next time. Jack came off twice and was lucky to only loose some skin – we slowed our pace after the second tumble.
When we got back to the parking lot (after a short traffic jam due to 4 wheelers) the mountain rescue team were heading into HyMasa with a stretcher – a rider had fallen and broken his arm (compound fracture) – a good reminder that while this is some of the best MTBing on the planet – it’s not without it’s risks.
This is a trail I would definitely ride again – with fresh legs and some armor it would be a blast !
After the evening’s star, satellite and ISS spotting we woke to a beautiful calm and clear morning. Being next to the Green River where there’s a little more moisture – we got a mild frost and the Sun took a little longer to rise over the surrounding mesas but once it did we had coffee and a decent last day breakfast in the (relatively) warm morning sun.
First task of the day was to reclaim all the height we lost tearing down Murphy’s with a tough couple of climbs straight out of the camp (Hardscrabble) – no chance to warm up the legs or lungs.
The next 7 or 8 miles along the Green River were mostly flat and fast with some interesting stops on the way to view some old Anasazi Indian ruins and artifacts the guides had discovered over the years.
Between us a lunch was our final and toughest climb of the week – Horsethief Bottom up to the Island in The Sky – it’s not technically hard – just soul crushing as the alpine-style switchbacks seem to go on forever. The kids practically sprinted up leaving many of the adults in the dust. My plan was to start last and attack from the back – I didn’t quite pull off the second part of that strategy ;(
Our ride finished with another great lunch in the parking lot at the top of the climb – more stunning views and a great place for some group pictures. But there’s more …
It was great to wake to a warm sun rising and no wind and a good opportunity to dry and air our gear before packing it away. Day 3 mileage is about 22 miles but it’s either downhill or flat and pretty fast.
After we’d eaten breakfast, caffeinated and decamped we hit the trail which starts with a fast and long down hill section giving up about 900ft of altitude. At about mile 6 we stopped take take in the views of the Green River and White Crack – a long fissure on the White Rim which is a few hundred feet deep and 6″-12″ wide. At some point a huge section of the White Rim will sheer along this fissure and a couple of millions of tons of rock will crash into the valley below. Fortunately not this day.
At about mile 13 we stopped for lunch and a quick detour to explore Holeman Canyon – an interesting and fairly accessible slot canyon that ultimately drops into the Green River.
How far you can explore really depends on the level of the floor which rises and falls depending on what storm wash-off leaves behind. Pro-tip for exploring slot canyons – wear regular shoes – climbing in cycling shoes is a little tricky.
I left my phone in my pack so didn’t get any pictures but this Google Image search will give you a good idea of what to expect.
The last few miles roll fast and slightly down hill to Potato Bottom campsite. It was a cold and clear night – perfect for some star gazing after dinner.