Monday, December 13, 2021

Cornucopia of Awesome: A Southwestern Utah Sequel

Cornucopia of Awesome:

The Southwestern Utah Sequel 

Yes, Yes I know.....another post on the Southwest, but hear me out on this one. In my previous article, "The Goose and the Hoodoo," I highlighted Jesus and I's adventures on Zen, Gooseberry, and Thunder Mountain, but it left me incomplete. Was it more exposure? More climbing? or more cowbell that I needed?

For my repeat offense, I brought along my good buddies Matt Beattie and Steve Camp. Two fine lads who were willing to help me raise the bar in mountain biking mediocrity. I decided to rent a bike this time around, mainly because I broke my Ripmo. The idea of packing light was appealing, however. I chose an aluminum Ibis Ripley from Over the Edge Sports in Hurricane. 

The Usuals: Jet Blue to Las Vegas and a Toyota Sienna minivan as the trusted steed. Side note...the minivan's offroad performance was surprisingly good and the storage options were baller. Matt and I flew out together with Steve arriving the next day in St. George. On the approach to McCarren, Lake Mead was looking awfully low......

En route to Hurricane, I recommended we take a brief detour near the Arizona border. Valley of Fire is well worth the extra miles. You must hike Pastel Canyon and Fire Wave and check out the petrified wood and Native American Petroglyphs!

The rest of the drive was fairly benign. After a half-decent gyro and an ice cold root beer, we arrived at the Air BnB. Technically in the city of Washington, this place was located in a townhouse-like community complete with a pool, hot tub, and fire pit. Strong work Steve-O! Matt and I rounded out the night with some trail forks reconnaissance while enjoying a local microbrew.

After indulging in some River Rock Coffee Roasters the next morning, Matt and I were in the mood for some guacamole. Guacamole Mesa that is...located just west of Zion off of Dalton Wash Road in Virgin Things were already spicy as we climbed up a very narrow road with a few white-knuckled moments, but the minivan got the job done. My advice would be, and for this area of Utah altogether, is to rent something with four-wheel or all-wheel drive. The dirt/clay out here can be challenging and the trailheads are often not the easiest to get to. Our mission was to hit Margarita, Salt on the Rim, Guacamole, Lime with a Twist, and Holy Guacamole. Mission accomplished.....

This network was not the easiest to navigate as some of the intersections were not clearly marked, but you really couldn't screw up the loops. This area was a nice mix of slick rock features, intermittent tech, and stunning views of Zion National Park. Although my least favorite ride of the trip, it is definitely worth the pedal. 

Our third Amigo had finally joined the party and now it was time for some street tacos! Angelica's Mexican Grill in St. George served up a nice atmosphere and a semi-decent salsa bar. It is here that I enjoyed my favorite libation of the trip and I also introduced the boys to Horchata!

Politics, Bitcoin, and all things COVID-19 were discussed as we enjoyed the hot tub and outdoor fire pit. Matt and I laughed over the old surly bastard in the grocery store who looked at us with masks on and said "I am glad you two are muzzled." I wish you the best of luck during this pandemic random stranger. 

Day three's target was Gooseberry Mesa. This was the one ride I had to show the boys for its exposure, killer views, and endless slick rock features. We put the minivan to the test with some legit clay bogs and water fording on the way to the trailhead. I pretty much replicated the ride I did with Jesus, but this time I included the section of South Rim. That trail had some legit spice so keep that in mind if you are already gassed from the Practice, Bowls and Ledges, and the North Rim trails. It was a killer ride but it still was not my favorite of the trip!

We returned to River Rock for some post-ride burgers, beers, and my favorite bread pudding on the planet.

Rinse, dry, and repeat with the microbrews; hot tub, and fire pit. My thought for tomorrow was to change up the pace and flow and check out an IMBA Epic.

We called an audible and decided to cut out Goulds and Hurricane Rim, but instead curate a 30 miler to hit Deadringer, More Cowbell, JEM, Goosebumps, and a touch of Hurricane Rim. Before the rubber hit the ground, we met Jimmy...

Jimmy was a lumberjack from upstate New York who was donning regular sneakers, light-colored jeans,  and a beard that would make Paul Bunyon envious. Jimmy tagged along for the ride. A ride that ended up having very little risk but a crap ton of reward. 

Dead Ringer was the best climbing trail I have ridden in a long while. More Cowbell, insert Christopher Walken Saturday Night Live skit, was labeled as a green trail. It was truly green level, but this trail was fast and smooth with amazing views. Goosebumps was an absolute roller coaster. The JEM trail was a legit no brakes, and I mean no brakes trail that was incredibly fast, smooth, and one hundred percent flow! It terminated on the Hurricane Rim where we stopped and enjoyed views of the Virgin River. It was at that moment we realized we lost Jimmy. Not deceased, but disappeared. Jimmy, if you are out there brother it was great riding with you, and thank you for the work that you do. I now wipe myself with greater appreciation. 

The climb out on the main fire road was an absolute beat down. We were all completely smoked, however, those 30 miles did not suck. A huge shout out to the local trail builders and the Dixie Pizza Wagon for some of the best Pizza I have had in a long time. It's a Father/Daughter operation located in some sketchy parking lot off the main strip in Hurricane. I recommend the Italian Cowboy.

Deep thoughts with Jack Handy were the theme of this night's conversations. More beer, more Haribos, more fire pit. It's a life I could get used to. It may be Thursday or Friday at this point, but either way, we were going to take a "Gander" at the other side of Gooseberry Mesa. This involved a long fire road climb from a parking area located in between Gooseberry and Wire Mesas. The legs were tired and the lungs were burning but such is the life of a mountain biker. First up was a trail named Windmill which required some navigation through several boondocking campsites, but once we found the connection to Gander it was time to party.

If I recall this was around eight or so miles, but dip me in mustard and call me hot dog it was the best eight miles of the trip! Yup, Gander was my favorite trail of this trip. For biking that is, wink wink. It was the absolute perfect cocktail of exposure, tech, flow, slick rock, and desert singletrack. As with any great ride you have to pay to play. In order to get back to the minivan we had an almost brutal hike-a-bike to get to the top of the mesa, but so worth it. Steve even took one to the chin. We then hit the road towards the JEM trailhead where Matt and Steve wanted the no brakes experience one last time. I met them at the bottom after I gave a random dude from Colorado a ride back to his truck after he blew out his rear wheel. 

It was time to pack up, clean up, and plan our last adventure before returning home. I told my fellow hermanos that we were going to do something very scary. At first light, we drove to Zion National Park where we would tackle the infamous Angel's Landing hiking trail. I believe someone mentioned that only thirteen people have died on this trail since 2010? Fact check me on that. 

We hopped aboard the shuttle where I may or may not have repeated an Our Father and/or a Hail Mary. We all sprinted across the street to the trailhead and carried a decent pace up the relatively wide and smooth trail until we couldn't. We started gaining some significant elevation once we hit switchback after switchback after switchback. Diaphoresis and mild tachypnea aside, I was emotionally preparing myself for what was to come. 

There was a brief decent into a beautiful canyon and then came more switchbacks and more heavy breathing. We reached a false summit where there was a sign warning us of what lay ahead. One young lady looked up and began having a full-blown panic attack. "Only thirteen people"....."Only thirteen people"...I got this. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. This was indeed the scariest thing I have ever done. I felt something in the middle of terror and euphoria each time I grabbed the chain and pulled myself higher and higher. Matt and Steve were right there on my six and the three of us reached the summit. We were all blown away by what our eyes were seeing. Enjoy.....

Pro tip.... hit this trail super early to avoid as many hikers as you can on the way down. The congestion of the bidirectional traffic only added to the already high pucker factor. We celebrated with lunch at a tavern in Zion and made a toast to what we couldn't believe we had just accomplished. We cranked up the Phish on the way to the airport in St. George where Steve was grabbing a puddle jumper to Salt Lake and then a connector to Logan. Matt and I headed southwest to Vegas, but not without another adventure before our red-eye. We drove up to Mt. Charleston just outside of Red Rock Canyon where the landscape quickly changed from the desert to high desert alpine. It was wild! In one day we started at 2500 or so feet and hiked up to 5790 feet only to come back down to 3300 feet, and then drive up to over 9000 feet back down to 3000 feet and fly home back to sea level. 

Cornucopia of Awesome was the only way I could describe this trip. So many different landscapes, with breathtaking views and incredible challenges.  The Southwest is never a bad decision. Grateful to have enjoyed this adventure with some quality Human beings. You missed a good one Dennis, but you were there in spirit. Cheers Mates! Until next time my fellow Racer-X'ers...

Keep it Classy and Keep it Real,

Jason "J-Bone" Fitzgerald

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