A cycling trip to Moab, UT (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1.

MOAB, UTAH IS VISITED EVERYDAY BY PEOPLE FROM around the world. The Moab Century Tour is no different. There were riders from lots of interesting places, making it a great experience. We met several of them the night before the ride at Moab Brewery. We talked it up, got ourselves psyched for the event, then turned-in early -- sort of.

We didn’t really sleep well, and were awake and getting prepared for the ride before dawn.


As I said earlier (in Part 1) I’m “Mr. Prepared”, most of the time. For this ride I had my bike clean, adjusted, new tires, and with the necessary tools, clothing, food and hydration. But there were a few things I overlooked.

  • I should have considered appropriate gearing for the ride. Either a change to a triple crank or a bigger cog on the cassette, or both.
  • I should have trained more, and better.
  • I should have rewrapped my handlebars with some cushion under the tape.
  • I should have had a better, earlier breakfast.


At day break we were ready to ride. My son, Barry (a 34 year old Recon Marine) and I rode down to the starting line about a mile north of where we were staying. My other son, Sean, a commercial pilot, had the important job of managing our gear and taking some photos of our adventure. The morning air was cool, somewhere in the mid-40s.

At the start location we were pointed in the right direction by the officials, and we were off for a day of riding in Canyon Lands National Park. For years I’ve know that it takes me about 10-miles to get my body warmed up, my lungs functioning easily, and feeling comfortable and confident.

On this day, I didn’t get my 10-mile warmup
Right out of the gate we began climbing. A long upward trudge, at times gradual and at times steep. For nearly 10-miles we climbed on a trail that ran parallel to the highway. Within 15-minutes I was breathing deep, my heart racing at 170 bpm, and within 30-minutes my lungs were on fire.


I’ve ridden my bike in numerous states, including Arizona, and I’ve never had my lungs burn as they did on this ride. My throat soon felt raw also. The throat pain was exacerbated by a canker sore located far back in my mouth. That pain made sense, but the burning lungs concerned me. My only explanation was the huge differential in humidity. Florida summers were often in the 90% range, and on this ride, we started out at less than 20%. Additionally, this ride started out at around 3000 feet of elevation and climbed from there. And did I mention it was windy?

Surprisingly, we found the first rest stop as close as 10-miles out, and what a relief it was! I got off the bike and spent about five minutes getting my breathing and heart rate back to normal, and stretching the tightness out of my quads.


The next leg was painful
Back on the bike we started the next section of the ride, a 22-mile stretch up to Dead Horse Point State Park. I could see the incline ahead of us. It looked manageable. Then about a mile in, there was a road sign that read: Steep Climbs Ahead. I thought, really? We need a road sign to tell us about a climb? I had never seen a warning like that before. Well, around the next turn I began to understand. We were about to climb several leg-busting grades.

Once again my legs were feeling the strain. Barry was struggling too, but his drivetrain had a better setup, so he could have dropped me, but didn’t. He sort of hovered around me on the slower climbs, which in itself makes for a more strenuous ride.

At this point I was really upset with myself for not changing out a chain ring or cassette. I was riding alongside some folks older than me who were spinning right along with a smile on their faces, while I was struggling with every rotation of my slow turning cranks. I called out, “wish I had another gear or two!” They laughed. I couldn’t manage a chuckle.

The climbing ranged from mild slopes to steep inclines around turn after turn after turn. The entire climb took over three and a half hours before we had any significant relief. For the entire time I kept saying: Shut up legs! Shut up legs! But my legs weren’t the worst of it. My lungs were in significant pain, and every few minutes I would cough with a raspy, dry throat.

My strategy was to keep my head down, and keep cranking without letting the view in front of me destroy my will. After nearly four hours of riding we reached the summit at Dead Horse Point which overlooked the Canyonlands.


Spectacular views made the struggle worth it! And that, for me, is mostly what cycling is all about, a way to be outdoors, pushing my body, testing my will, feeling alive and experiencing the planet in a way that is unavailable by car or plane or reading books. To be close to the earth and see, and hear, and smell, and touch nature so intimately that you know you are fully alive, yet you’re aware of how small you really are. That, for me, is as close to a religious experience as I have ever had.

I’m a climber, not a downhill rider

After visiting at the top with Sean, who drove up, and other riders, we refueled, rehydrated and started our descent. And what a ride it was! It was mostly downhill for about 20-miles. There were steep downs and sloping downs and hairpin turns. There was also a crosswind that gusted to 40 mph at times. We flew, white knuckled, reaching downhill speeds of 48 mph on pavement that had occasional cracks and patches of loose gravel. I feathered my brakes in an effort to keep my speed down. On a couple of long descents I passed Barry without even trying. Later he would say, “I tried, but I just couldn’t catch you!” I told him the secret: You can never out-race a fat guy on a downhill.


It was an intense ride coming back into Moab. There was only once, on a steep, tight, hairpin turn that I almost lost it. We were focused on possible oncoming traffic coming up and around the bend. I was trying to ride with a flexible posture, and in an instant, felt my back wheel slip on the pavement. I think my heart stopped for a second! I felt a tightness in the back of my neck. It took my brain a few more seconds to realize that I was still upright. But I recovered and kept following Barry’s lead. What took over three hours to climb, took about 45 minutes to descend. Once again at the first rest stop, we saw three emergency vehicles racing up the mountain. Someone wasn’t as lucky as me.

At this point we had only ridden about 55-miles. We were now tracking back across the first 10-miles that we had started on--only this time it was downhill. We reached Potash Road which was a turn-off into a huge canyon that would be the final leg of the ride and about 40-miles to the finish.

The final leg
As we turned into this enormous canyon the headwinds were fierce. The afternoon temps had also increased significantly; the burning in my lungs and throat had never let up; and the unrelenting sun, radiating off 200 foot walls of red rock, made for a canyon that was hot, dry and windy.


I was in the lead cranking for all I was worth. The best I could do was 11 mph, while my heart rate was at 177 bpm. I was quickly becoming exhausted. We stopped once and discussed calling it a day, but we both had our minds set on completing 100-miles.  We continued for another six miles and stopped again to rest for a few minutes. Again, we played with the idea of stopping and short-cutting to the end. We were both tired, wind-burnt and sore. I said, “ya know, I think we’ve done some good work here, let’s call it a day, and go get a cold one.” Barry agreed. We turned around, and still had nearly 10-miles to ride to reach the finish.

Getting back was bitter-sweet. We had failed the century, but we won the day and I considered it a victory. I got to spend some quality time with my two sons: 3-days in Moab, UT, and there was beer and conversation involved. I was able to ride my bike in one of the most ruggedly beautiful areas on the planet. And we participated in a benefit ride for cancer patients and survivors with a share of event proceeds going to the Moab Regional Hospital’s Cancer Treatment and Resource Center. I can’t find fault in any of that.


I also reaffirmed some universal lessons

  • Be better prepared next time.
  • Keep your head down and don’t stop crankin’ till you reach your destination.
  • Know when to quit, but never give up.
  • Enjoy every ride your body allows you to do.
  • Crosswinds and downhills can be a dangerous combination.
  • You don’t have to be a hero. Live to ride another day.
  • Have a crew you can depend on.


Sean was our crew
He handled the logistics of getting me to Moab. He handled our gear, while Barry and I were out riding. He took photos of the ride and surrounding landscape. He met us at Dead Horse Point with beverages, and he had cold beer waiting at the end, when we were parched and exhausted. You couldn't ask for a better crew chief! Thanks, Sean, for your humble service.

The Moab Century Tour, I recommend it.

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A cycling trip to Moab, UT (Part 1)

(I had hoped to get this story out sooner, but the Universe conspired against me. The trip was during the last week of September.)

I’D BEEN PLANNING A TRIP TO MOAB for several months. It was complicated by the fact that I was meeting one son from San Clemente, and another son from Denver. There were grandkid visits involved, and brief pauses of family renewal. Also, Moab is not the easiest place to reach without spending my entire budget on airfare. Then, to complicate the plan even more, heavy rains that poured in the region for weeks put the red rock area in southern Utah under an almost continuous flash flood watch.


Long story short. We made it in time for the Moab Century Tour, a road ride through the red rocks of Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, and the flash floods were deemed non-threatening to the riders.   

I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that, I, aka “Mr. Prepared” was less than prepared for this ride. That is so unlike me. But here are the mistakes I made:

I didn’t train right
Here I am, a Florida resident (our humidity is typically above 80%), riding in very dry conditions, with long, steep climbs, and altitudes as high as 6000 feet. Maybe not high by Rocky Mountain standards, but still quite high for a guy who normally rides at, or below, sea level, save for a few bridges.

I didn’t adapt my bike for the terrain
I could have installed a triple chainring. But I didn’t. Or, at the very least, I could have changed out the cassette to provide some pedaling relief. But I didn’t do that either. Why? I have no excuse other than… maybe I was consumed by logistical details?

So, my route took me to Denver for a brief stay, then on to Moab by car. FYI: TSA has made some changes at US airports. You can no longer store baggage for a few hours. Thus, I had to drag my bike box and duffle around DIA for several hours until my ride arrived. I must admit, that wasn’t much fun.

DenMewaiting (1)

The drive to Moab, was beautiful--even better than I remembered it from my 2005 trip. We took our time and enjoyed the mountainous terrain past Vail, skirting Leadville and Aspen, through Grand Junction and into southern Utah.


Sean and I arrived in Moab in mid-afternoon, and Barry, who was driving in from San Clemente, arrived within 20-minutes. (How’s that for logistical planning?) We checked-in at ride headquarters (to receive our bag o’stuff, and then made a joint decision to find the nearest watering hole, where we would enjoy a frothy beverage, and discuss ride strategy among ourselves and other friendly patrons who we met at the bar. I didn’t want to over-do the IPAs and make my ride the next day uncomfortable, so I used restraint and kept my pre-ride hydration to a minimum -- although I wasn’t in much danger of over-indulgence, because the Utah liquor laws won’t allow for anything more that 3.2 beer to be drawn from their taps.


We sat at Moab Brewery for a few hours sharing war stories with other riders and decided we needed to get a good night’s sleep to be in top form for the next day. (That wasn’t exactly a mutual decision, but the old guy prevailed.)

Back at the room we sat around talking about old times and other fun stuff, until it was getting late. That didn’t matter much, because we didn’t sleep well anyway. That’s a common problem among some cyclists. I’m sure it has something to do with pre-ride anticipation. Lying in bed, I pondered the tough ride ahead of us, but was completely surprised by the pain and suffering I was about to endure.


...to be continued.

Click here for Part 2.