GJ Offroad – Trails are the great leveler

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The Grand Junction Offroad is perhaps the most technically demanding race in the US. Relentless desert riding under a beating sun slowly wears you down. If the rocks don’t get you, the sun will. The climbs are steep and rough, the descents grin-inducingly fun. The trails are the leveler in this race. Once the support crews have melted away and the photographers are jettisoned at the trailhead, it’s all down to the rider.

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The Whiskey Off road – 2015 edition.

 

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Another year in the high desert of central Arizona to really kick-start the mountain bike season. I’ve told everyone in the last few weeks that it’s a nice time of year to come down to the desert – that starting the season among the cacti is a good introduction to the new year. But the truth is that the high desert surrounding Prescott is anything but forgiving. The arid hills get little moisture, except in the spring. Last year we dealt with unlikely snow, but this year the weather wasn’t that far from normal for the region; on and off thunderstorms for three days straight. The crushed granite hills take the moisture well, though, and we rode some amazing under threatening skies.

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Moab in Bloom

The mountains parted, letting us escape their grasp as we drove west. The finger like cliffs of the western slope releasing us into the reddened desert beyond. The wintry clouds hung over the book cliffs. We ignored them. We were Moab bound. The junction off of I-70 towards Moab is indistinct. Don’t expect any services on the drive towards Cisco Landing, a once-upon-a-time town, now left alone by the highway which was built as a teasing 10 miles to the North.

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Utah state highway 128 drops towards the Colorado river, a view of the La Sal mountains hanging above. They’re snowy; covered in low clouds. We wind down to the river, crossing Dewey Bridge and then following the river thirty miles southwest.

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We arrive in Moab in the between season. The weird time when the red dusty hills are soaked in their once a year bath. The greenery is subtle and sparse. Sitting in gaps on the canyon walls. The cactus are in bloom, but you can’t tell that from a distance. You must get up close and personal.  Smell the scent of rain on the rocks. Christa and I had come here to ride bikes, drink beer and remove ourselves from society for a couple of days. We started the adventure by riding down the river towards Moab, the riparian vegetation a huge a contrast from the desert above.

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The moody clouds somehow made the hills seem friendlier – the wide open sky was now boxed in close to the canyons. It muffled the sounds of the jeeps in the distance. We could hear water flowing in the slots. The washes and creeks were flowing.

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We rode to the top of the Amasa Back trail – a rough jeep road climbing a mesa above the Colorado river. As you climb away from the river, the walls of the canyons climb around you, the echo of the walls making the space seem almost cosy. It was in this little cavity of Utah that the cacti were really singing.

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And then we reached the top, where we took the necessary photo hanging over the edge, looking down into Jackson’s hole, with the meandering Colorado river below, and the Potash mines on the other side, a manicured incursion on the floor of the desert.

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We relaxed at our campsite in the evening. Utah is known for its dearth of beer. Mormon derision of alcohol in general means that for a long time the only alcohol allowed was 3.2% or less ABV. I don’t know exactly what has changed, but now you can find some rare gems of good local beer. We picked up some Uinta brewing beer, made in Salt Lake City. It was fitting.
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Day two of our short incursion into Abbey country. We awoke under rainy skies – the clouds finally heavy enough to drop their weight down to the ground below. We made egg and avocado sandwiches, a couple of pots of coffee, then set off to ride some trails. Slickrock trail is high above Moab up on a lumpy Mesa of sandstone. The trail meanders around the rocks, climbing ridiculously steeply up and down between sandy washes. The porous rock gives you great grip, even in the wet. We tested that theory to the maximum.
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As we were sat, huddled underneath a sparsely branched juniper bush, with hail lashing down upon us from all sides, I realised that Christa must really like me. I couldn’t think of any other explanation as to why she would choose to be sitting under tree with me, on a mountain bike ride, in the hail. These are the things that make memories.