When in Moab, Make Lemonade…

Slick Rock Moab Utah
Heather Gilbert experimenting with grade versus traction.
Photos by Lukas Brinkerhoff

By Lukas Brinkerhoff

4:14 AM – The wind that has been howling all night, ripping up the tent stakes that would keep things from flapping, is now accompanied by a torrential downpour. If the wind hadn’t been keeping me up all night, the nervous excitement of attempting to ride the White Rim in one day would have. Every rain drop, every gust of wind was just another reason that that ride was not going to happen. We all knew that this was a possibility, driving hundreds of miles with a forecast that, for once would be spot on, stating that the weekend would be dowsed in precipitation.

Wake up was at 6. The group slowly gathered around, everyone giving their opinion on the prospects. The rain continued to drizzle until the time had passed for even having sufficient daylight to complete the ride. And then it stopped. Once it was painfully obvious that no one was heading out on the White Rim, Plans B, C and D were thrown down on the table.

The forecast gave us a window of little or no rain for a few hours with thunderstorms dropping in the late afternoon. As we drove out of the muddy mess we had gotten ourselves in, someone made some calls to the local shops to find out what rides were possible given the circumstances. It wasn’t on the top of everyone’s list, in fact it was sixth on Heather’s, but the obvious choice was Slickrock. Given an hour or so to dry, the trail would be left unhurt by our tires.

Slick Rock Moab Utah
Slickrock, sometimes the classics are the best. Photos by Lukas Brinkerhoff

In the last five or so years, Moab has seen a resurgence in legal trail building. Many of the newer trails have surpassed the old classics. I don’t know anyone that still rides up Amasa Back when Hymasa is there for the pedaling, but there is certainly something to be said for the trails that started it all. And Slickrock is on top of that list.

My favorite trails are known for their hurt to mile ratio. They aren’t long on miles but can make you feel like you’ve pedaled much farther than you have. Slickrock falls squarely in that category. Depending on your turn choices, you should end up with somewhere around a 10 mile ride. The sandpaper like surface allows for grades that far exceed what you would ever be able to ride on dirt. This allows for crazy steep rollers, but also for very steep climbs. Combine the two and you have a trail that feels longer than it is.

As we hit the trailhead, the sun had poked its head out from the clouds and we quickly forgot about our early morning disappointment. Instead of pedaling through caves that are dark with pain, we were standing on top of rollers encouraging each other to ride them by saying things like, “It rolls way nice at the bottom.” Or “Just stay back and keep your tires turning so you don’t lose traction.” As we made it back to the trailhead, the ominous clouds were hanging heavy over the sandstone cliffs in all directions. We made our obligatory after ride high fives and then split.

The rain set in heavy in the afternoon keeping us hunkered down in the tent hoping that our choice to stay through the weekend wasn’t another bad decision. The thunder head would move through dumping moisture and echoing its fury off the canyon walls and then be done allowing the sun to lure us back out of our nylon cocoons.

The motivation for our trip to this side of Utah was renewed as we sat around the camp fire analyzing the day and the decisions made. Everyone agreed that there was no way we would have been able to finish the White Rim, but that didn’t help ease the pain of knowing that big miles were promised and big miles were not had.

The solution – a biggish ride taking advantage of the 3-4 hour window of mostly sunny that was forecast for the next day. We assumed that if we began the ride as it was raining in the morning, climbing the 15 or so miles to the top, would put us at that perfect time to have some rays bounce off our helmets as we made the drop. And like that it was settled, we would ride 7 Up to Bull Run and make a loop out of the Mag 7 trails network.

7 Up is mostly an old dirt road. There are several sections of singletrack that intertwine the double that keeps you climbing. The recent rains left the soil damp. Our tires were not collecting any mud, but it felt like riding through sand. Every pedal stroke was a challenge and the energy put in didn’t always equate to forward motion once again creating a ride that felt longer than it was. By the time we hit the upper trailhead to drop into Bull Run, I wasn’t just ready for a beer and lunch, but was looking for the easiest way out. Luckily, I’m a sucker for singletrack and having ridden these trails before knew that the descent was going to be worth it.

Bull Run is a blast. There’s some uphill, but it is far outweighed by the down that you think that it is all downhill. There’s sandstone, there’s dirt, there’s tech and there’s flow. There’s a little bit of something for everyone. We then dropped into Great Escape continuing our fun as the trail continued toward its maxim where we would be forced to climb back out and to the car.

The weather held and we enjoyed the final pedal strokes to the top of the Gemini Bridges road. The wind was howling, but the rain never came. We regrouped and then bombed our way back to the cars.

As we rolled out the sleeping pads in the parking lot and opened the olives and beer, there was nothing about this weekend that was a disappointment. Sure, we didn’t get to ride what we came to ride, but riding is the goal and we chased the sun all over Moab with smiles on our faces.


Slickrock Trail

$5 fee to enter Sand Flats Recreation Area.

Both directions are fun, but clockwise is my preferred direction.

Mag 7 as a loop

Park the car at the info kiosk at the bottom of Route 313.

Pedal about 4 miles up the road past the first switch back and then watch on your left for a sandstone slab that drops off the road.

Follow 7 Up to the upper trailhead. There are several spots where you can take singletrack or dirt road, obviously always take the narrower route.

Once at the top, ride Bull Run to the Great Escape and then follow the road out to the Gemini Bridges turn off.

Use the paved bike path to pedal back to the cars.

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

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