Love Risks But You Go First

“Faith in Friction. Steep Creep. Baby Bottom Bowl. Everyone has heard of the Slickrock Trail. I mean, not everyone everyone, but practically everyone. At least everyone who mountain bikes, and then some. The trail, all 12 tortuous miles of it, is like a mantra among bikers, a sort of against-all-others gauge. Slickrock, they ask, as climbers might ask K2 or Kilimanjaro, or as kayakers might ask Cataract Canyon or Zambezi. Slickrock is, in a word, both beginning and end, first and last. Yes and no.” – Slickrock Article Contributor


It was our day to try Slickrock and day six of our travels in Moab, UT. We had already tackled Cataract Canyon on a four day, three night whitewater rafting excursion and had hiked through Arches National Park on the ‘expert trail,’ so we felt invincible. Two twenty-something girls out exploring in uncharted territory for two weeks as a way of escaping the drudgeries of reality – we were ready for Slickrock, the center of the mountain biking universe.

My best friend Melissa and I awoke with the sunrise, climbed out of our pop-up tent, and ate our Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries cereal before loading up the Camelbaks and sliding into our bike shorts. Waddling into the local bike shop as they opened, we signed waivers to rent mountain bikes for the day, and Melissa inquired about mounting her own pedals onto her bike. This was when we found out that the bike mechanic had not showed up to work yet, so she stepped into the shop and used the tools herself. Hoping the guy would arrive soon, we paid our deposit, mapped out directions to the trail, and began attempting to mount the bike rack and bikes on the trunk of our rental car. Finally, Big Dave pedaled in looking ragged, wiped the sleep from his eyes, and helped set us on our way by ensuring us of his expertise.

Excited and cocky, seeing as though we were avid mountain bikers – I used to go almost every college weekend in the mountains of Virginia, we followed the route through a residential area that would take us to the trailhead. Then it happened. The Taurus hit a speed bump, and all I could see through the rearview mirror was a set of bike wheels flying end over end and splashing onto the pavement. The bike thud could be heard over Fergie’s "Big Girls Don’t Cry," and we slammed on the brakes while simultaneously belching expletives. What an ‘expert’ Dave proved to be. Idiot. Quickly, we remounted the bikes in the middle of traffic, chuckled a bit at the situation, and headed toward the trail praying the bikes would be intact.

Cycling around the parking lot as a test run, my bike went unscathed, much to my surprise, but Melissa noticed hers suffered a bent wheel. Her diagnosis was that it was ride-able – sort of – so we set off. The 2.3 mile practice loop was our first destination, and we immediately saw that the name Slickrock was no misnomer – the trail consisted of pure, naked sandstone. I was mostly used to riding dirt trails and rocky inclines that wound around mountains, so the fear of a new surface crept in and the all too familiar “I love risks but you go first” escaped my mouth. Melissa led the way and slowly my confidence increased.

Then everything started to wane. The inclines became more vertical and the declines more treacherous. It felt like we should be riding up enclosed and seatbelted into a gondola and sledding down on pillows to avoid injury, not scaling walls on two wobbly wheels and recreating the Olympics’ perilous skeleton event on the way down. To endure the challenge, I made mental goals. I climbed “until I reached the arrow up ahead twenty yards” or “until the bend in the trail.” This worked for a while, but eventually my burning legs overpowered my will. Not that dismounting the bike made it any easier though. I had to climb the same steep vertical, only this time it took longer and I had to push a steel apparatus. And this happened over and over. Make mental goal. Legs burn. Dismount. Push bike up vertical. Repeat. I felt like Sisyphus, eternally damned to push the same boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down.

It seemed like water breaks and snack breaks became more frequent. Every hilltop was a respite and a chance to vent. How is this possible? Can anyone do this? This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done! And then we saw them. What we deemed professionals – they had to be in order to do this – were scaling the rocks with ease and shooting down and around like pinballs. So…it could be done. We became inspired. Briefly. Melissa went first – she pedaled up the slick sandstone hill and without dismounting rode backwards down said hill only to crash. I laughed and snapped a picture. She was not happy and that proved the last straw. We had had enough of Slickrock and turned around to escape, which took us two painstaking hours.

We returned the bikes to Slacker Dave with “no idea how the wheel got bent” and asked for directions to the best burger joint in town. Always, always, always. I crave cheeseburgers after a hard workout, and I definitely deserved a quadruple-cheeseburger after facing Slickrock.

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