The Ultraknuckle: The Best Worst Idea Ever?

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“Are you friends with the guy wearing the yellow trash bag?”

By Lukas Brinkerhoff — We are at the Catholic Thrift Store in Hurricane conveniently located across the street from the Main Street Café. It’s been raining off and on for the past hour or so and we’ve just finished up passing an hour of that tucked in to said café warming up and eating some well-deserved lunch. Rain was in the forecast, but only one of us brought winter gloves and those were not waterproof. After warming up and thinking the rain had stopped, we all walked out just in time for it to start drizzling again and made our way to the thrift store to see what we could do about some gloves and possibly some warmer clothes.

Her question made all of us break out laughing as we knew exactly who she was talking about and could only answer honestly, that yes, we were friends with that guy.

The Ultraknuckle is not your ordinary bikepacking route or event (it’s not a race). Starting at the Mooseknuckler Cycling Alliance Social Lounge on a Thursday at 5:30 pm (we gotta sneak in work that day), it takes or drags, followers over some of the chunkiest terrain in Southwestern Utah only to end up right back where it started by Sunday. As most good things are, it was hatched over a couple of beers, was first deemed the worst idea ever and then, of course, the best idea ever.

It still hasn’t been determined which it is.

Solo view from Gander. Photo by Lukas Brinkerhoff

John Taylor is sitting waiting for me in the dirt. The ride started with 6 and we lost 2 Thursday night. Over the course of the weekend, we had ridden together, alone, in duos and every other combination as different rider’s strengths were emphasized by the terrain. I am just finishing up Gander alone and this meet up means we are about to drop Grafton on loaded hardtails. One of the many highlights of the route.

Taking the lead, John drops in and we are quickly in flow mode dodging rocks, rolling through rough sections, and even managing the drops. About 2/3 of the way down and we see two teenagers pushing their bikes up the trail. There’s not much of a chance for us to stop and luckily, they step out of the way. As we bomb passed them, the one in the lead turns to his buddy and yells, “They’re on hardtails!”

At 215ish miles, the distance isn’t insane for three days and one evening. However, the route can be described as convoluted, contrived, and challenging. Attempting to wrap as many killer trails as possible into a weekend will do that. Starting off with a mile or so of pavement, it hits dirt by jumping on the chunky red sandstone of City Creek. Follows that same sandy formation over T-Bone then climbing a couple thousand feet around Lange’s Dugway and then heads over to Ice House for a ripper of a descent and another one of the downhill highlights of the route. For this year’s edition, this was camp one.

Harrison Shotzbarger enjoying some mesa riding on Little Creek. Photo by Lukas Brinkerhoff

From there, it continues over to Prospector through the Harrisburg Gap following singletrack around the lake. Then there’s some questionably legal dirt roads for a backway into Hurricane. To gain some elevation it climbs up the Hurricane Cliffs (first hike-a-bike) on the Goulds Connector and then follows Goulds to the base of Little Creek (second hike-a-bike and camp two). Then it’s Little Creek, Gooseberry, Gander, and Grafton to check off most of the mesas. A section of always windy pavement over to Guacamole. And ends with an “easy” ride up the Hurricane Cliffs (camp three), JEM and Dead Ringer to get to dirt roads that will take you back to St. George.

John Taylor walks toward the top of the mandatory hike-a-bike up to Little Creek. Photo by Lukas Brinkerhoff

At least those are the highlights.

Sunday breaks with clear skies and cooler than expected temperatures. Pete, our trash bag wearing friend, wakes up with a serious fever and John’s knee gives him a hard no for the rest of the route leaving two of us to attempt to finish.

At the top of the Honeymoon Trail Drop, I stop. I can see Little Creek behind me, all the St. George valley and I can’t help but feel a bit amazed by this whole thing. My body hurts but I can’t help smiling and feeling privileged to have a weekend to wander around the desert with some good friends, riding bikes and hobo camping wherever we feel like it. I snap a couple photos and drop in. If this section of “road” wasn’t so isolated, this would be a popular downhill shuttle.

Water refill out of the Virgin to get us home. Photo by Lukas Brinkerhoff

My legs are toast as I make it to what turns out to be the last section of singletrack on the route, the Airport Trails. I look around hoping no one is watching and step off my bike. Under normal circumstances, I would never walk this, but, embarrassingly enough, I find myself pushing my way up the rutted grade and cursing this whole damn thing. Then I’m stoked to be on pavement, spun out and whistling to myself as I wind myself through town. I pass the turn off to Kentucky Lucky Chicken and give it a hard no. Another half hour and I roll into the Lounge thankful this thing is over.

A few hours later and the Alliance is gathered to celebrate. Was the Ultraknuckle a good idea? After one beer, no, but after a couple of beers. Well, that’s how we got here. I guess we’ll have to try again next year to find out.

Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.

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