He sits there...... reading his paper and watching the flow of traffic passing by. Despite the temperature being in the low thirties, he is still out there. I hit the turn signal and take a right onto the Fellsway as I nod in his direction silently giving thanks for teaching me one of life's greatest lessons.
Last April my daughter and I completed a fantastic road trip covering Valley of Fire, Zion, Bryce, Escalante, and Capitol Reef. Scenic Byway 12 was an incredible driving experience. On the red-eye home, I was already committed to returning to Southwest Utah for some high desert riding.
Fast forward to this October.....While drinking my coffee and booking my flight the text message came. "Dude, I got the green light. I can do the trip!" Jesus Montoya, aka Zeus, was now joining the party. It wasn't long after that we consulted trail forks, watched many a YouTube video, and finally locked down the logistics.
The flight to Vegas was relatively painless, especially for Zeus who fell asleep at the flick of a switch. We loaded up our steed (White Lightning), filled our bellies at the Whole Foods hot bar, and hit the road. Roughly two hours later we had arrived at the Zen Trail "parking lot" located just outside of St. George, Utah. After building up the bikes and rocking a little boob sweat, we soon found ourselves on a somewhat technical climb to the top of a mesa.
Sketch and consequence aside, we had a blast on the climbs, techy downs, and big rock rollers that Zen had graciously served up. With barely enough daylight left, we made it back to the van and found ourselves some pretty killer pizza at the 700-degree Artisan Pizza shop in downtown St. George. As we raised our Four Play Porter and Hazy IPA the obligatory toast was made.
As the title of this article states, it is a tale of TWO epic rides. Not that zen wasn't, but Gooseberry Mesa and day three were proof positives. The Goose is regarded as one of the best in the country, consistently making the top lists for mountain bike destinations. Day two would find us there, but first, coffee!!!
|This place had it all from smooth cold brew, delicious bacon cheeseburgers, cold Agua del Diablo, and probably the best bread pudding I have ever had. We enjoyed talking with the wait staff, perusing the local artwork on the walls, all while taking in the view of the Virgin River below.|
Let's get to the good stuff already!! From River Rock in La Verkin, we traveled east turning onto a gravel road with ferocious washboard. Once the bone-rattling 5 miles per hour drive was completed we had finally hit the trailhead.
Based on TrailForks, MTB Project, and intel from the locals we decided to initiate this journey on a trail called the Practice Trail, connecting with Bowls and Ledges, finally dumping us on to the North Rim Trail. Our ultimate goal was to reach the famed Gooseberry Point vista. After some initial adjustment, we finally started to find our groove on the moon like slick rock. Bowls and Ledges was a playground while North Rim kept things real with exposure and views for days.
Sick I tell you, sick!!! This ride was certainly living up to its reputation. More climbing was to be had as we stopped frequently to take in all the glorious views. An hour or so later we had reached the pinnacle. Gooseberry Point was beyond words, however, Zeus did say, "if you don't believe in a god with these views..."
After eating our lunch and face timing our families we packed up and began the trek back. Here is where things turned interesting. We had every intention of taking the South Rim Trail the entire way back, but our curiosity got the best of us. Per the advice of a random rider, we decided to bypass a section of South Rim and hit the Yellow Trail leading to Hidden Canyon. That ended up being a fantastic decision! We even shared our experience with a rider named Kelly from Wyoming.
The legs were certainly feeling it at this point, but the views and challenging terrain kept things super fun. The sun was starting to set on this epic day as we re-connected to the South Rim trail. With salt-encrusted sweat on our gear and the bikes caked in sand we had finally completed the Gooseberry Trail big loop.
Zeus and I both agreed that Gooseberry Mesa was probably one of the most beautiful trails we have ever ridden. It is absolutely mandatory if you ever find yourself in Southwest Utah. As Zeus and I were destroying our post-ride burgers at Rim Rock, I asked our waitress to summarize in one word what life was like out here. She replied "peaceful." I peered down at the Virgin River below and thought.......peaceful.
Later that night as we decompressed and re-lived our big day, I told Zeus that we needed to head north. I never told him that during my trail research I had come across something spectacular, something quite different than the desert landscape. It was roughly a two-hour drive from Hurricane, but something told me it would be well worth it. He saw the look in my eyes and quickly acquiesced. Tomorrow we would be heading to Thunder Mountain outside of Bryce Canyon!
After fueling up at Rim Rock and the gas station, White Lightning was cranking out the RPMs. We stopped at a bike shop in Cedar City to pick up a few things and we chat it up with the owner. He asks where we are riding and after hearing our destination he says, "You better get up there soon, there will be snow up there in no time." Reaching therapeutic caffeine levels we climbed northeast through Scenic Byway 14 dodging random patches of ice on the road. The scenery and views around 9300 feet were worth the white knuckles. Finally, were reached the trailhead and my anticipation of awesome was at a fever pitch.
We began by pedaling on this beautiful bike path which led us through some of Bryce Canyon's perimeter. It was a great way to warm up and take in the atmosphere. Once off the bike path, we then began the climb up to the trailhead. I was grinning the entire way feeling as if I was finally home.
I clipped in and began climbing breathing in the fresh air and feeling the altitude just a little. My good friend and fearless Racer-X leader Dave Alden-St. Pierre would be elated to know that there was a crap ton of climbing on this trail. You paid to play, but the return on investment was incredibly high!
Overall the climbs were smooth and sometimes fairly steep, but not too long and painful. Each time we were rewarded with a flowy down and a touch of exposure. Adrenaline soared as we reached the first set of Hoodoos. We all know that pictures never do the actual scenery any justice.
Was I soiling myself?! Why yes, yes I was, but in a wonderful and figurative way. I could not believe what I was seeing and feeling. Gooseberry Mesa was truly epic, but my nirvana was right in front of me. The colors, the wind, and panorama all completed this euphoric experience. The Yeti and Ibis were now pointing down and soon things would get real.
I distinctly remember one moment when I was on top of the ridge and I heard Zeus talking to himself before the above decent. He said something about dying and how he loves his family. I couldn't help but smirk, I mean if we did die here at least it would have been doing something we loved with a view that was heavenly. Zeus actually had a different take on the view of the ridge, but I will let him tell you in person.
The last third of the trail included more amazing views, very spicy switchbacks, and literally a no brakes decent that left me feeling the most alive I have in a long time.
Of course, Zeus's GoPro battery died just before the descent, but none the less he was in his glory. Once I regained feeling in my legs I turned to look up at what we just completed. It was now time to celebrate as the sun was setting on our incredible trip.
The rest of that night included dinner at Charlie's Southern bbq in Cedar City, laundry, packing, and basking in our accomplishments. I called an audible that day to head north and it put some big points on the board. Zeus mentioned something about gratitude and how he was truly thankful for this entire experience. This is why I mentioned that gentleman at the beginning of the post.
Our time on this earth is rather ephemeral. If you don't decide what you will do with your life, someone else surely will. As far as I know, we only get one go-around at this and it is our duty to make it what we wish. You see, what I didn't tell you was that man was wheelchair-bound. He doesn't walk, nor will he. His life consists of sitting in that chair every morning and reading his paper while the traffic passes him by. So does each day, but he seems grateful to be outdoors even if it's thirty-two degrees. Every time I see him, I feel blessed to be able to ride and see places like this. He teaches me one of my greatest lessons, one that Zeus humbly spoke of. Gratitude......
Until next time my fellow Racer-X'ers.......
Keep it Classy and Keep it Real,