Friday morning, 10:30 A.M. We loaded up
bikes on the Xterra and
headed over to our friend J.D.’s
house where we met up with a crew of about ten riders. After a brief
meet and greet, we loaded back up and
headed south out of town towards the Escalante Canyon, but not before
passing several things that at the time seemed interesting, but in
retrospect were OMENS of IMMINENT DOOOM.
We had to stop in town to make way for ducklings. A mommy duck was
shepherding her li’l ducklings right across the road in front of us,
and when they got to the curb they were to little to hop up over it,
but they kept trying. They kept flinging themselves against the curb
even though it was pointless and futile. I would like for you to keep
this image in mind.
Finally she headed down the curb towards the handicap ramp at the
sidewalk. Hooray A.D.A. Your tax dollars at work.
Then we saw a teddy bear just abandoned in the road. It wasn’t a pink
or blue or otherwise garish stuffed animal, it was a classic brown
forlorn teddy bear. This was a powerful omen that we blithely ignored.
Then we had to stop and wait for the world’s longest and slowest train,
and it was slooooowwwwwlllly going by and kept going slower and slower
and right when it was about three cars from passing the crossing it
stopped completely. Then it started going backwards. This too was a
powerful omen…and this too was blithely ignored. We turned around,
drove back past the abandoned Teddy Bear and headed out to the
The ride was going to be a 30 mile loop, starting with a 15 mile, 2800
foot climb on jeep road, at the top of the climb we were going to
traverse the top of a mesa on another jeep road to access a 12 mile
singletrack descent. We began the ride at around noon.
It started out well enough. It was a nice social climb, with several
good viewpoints along the way. Almost right off the bat as we were all
riding along together we passed a big mud puddle and Pete roared
through it right next to J.D., splashing the both of them liberally
with mud. This in it’s own way, was the most pointed of the OMENS of
Along about mile 12 it started getting really steep. Really, really
steep. And the soil was softening up a bit. Before we knew it we were
in thick clayey mud. The worst, thickest mud I had ever seen. It caked
up on the tires and completely stopped the wheels from spinning. And
this was the steepest part of this jeep road. So we were carrying
mud-laden bikes up a steep, muddy road. With every step we would slide
backwards about half a step. It was torture. But we kept persisting.
At one point during this I turned to Pete and said, “It’s hard work
loving a sport this much isn’t it?”
Then it started to snow. We kept going.
A few yards later we saw a fresh bear track right on the edge of the
road. Not a teddy bear this time.
Pete had a pack with...well...a fair amount of really nice camera
equipment in it. With that pack it was pretty difficult to carry the
bike in any sort of comfortable manner. Finally he got close enough to
the top that he figured he would leave the bike, walk up and drop off
the pack, then return for the bike. He let go of the bike and it stayed
upright. Basically glued in place by the mud. He dropped off the bag,
walked back, hit the bars a few times and it still stayed upright. This
mud had an attitude.
At the top, we regrouped, cleaned off the bikes, rested and generally
commiserated in our misfortune. Despite the arduous trek up the
mountain, this was not yet at fiasco stage. We were still gamely
looking forward to the rest of the ride. After a session of actually
beating on our bikes with sticks in order to clear off some of the mud
from the tires, we pressed onwards. It was 4:30.
We headed across the top of the mesa on a road that was alternately
rideable and mud clogged. We found what looked like the turn and began
our descent, which was really muddy, but at least it pointed downhill.
Still, it was bad enough at times that I was on my bike, pointed
downhill, and it wouldn’t roll.
After about a mile or so of this I rounded a corner to find Pete
walking back up the trail, arms waving.
“Dead End. Bentonite.” Bentonite is a clayey soil that puts all other
clayey soils to shame. It is so retentive of water that it is used in
drilling processes because of it's essentially muddy nature. It
was odd to think that people would come up here for the sole purpose of
quarrying this mud. Relishing in their good fortune and undergoing some
considerable effort to remove this mud from the mountain and take it
elsewhere to be enjoyed at leisure. Out came the map…yep. We’d erred.
Back up the mountain we went. It was hell. Bikes don’t like to do much
other than be ridden. They are awkward to carry, and they seem to get
caught up in every branch. We were quieter now. There was less joking,
a slightly more serious tone overcame the group. I think that at that
moment that I saw Pete waving me to a stop in the trail that fiasco
stage was achieved. Back up at the top, at the wrong turn we stopped
and took stock of our food and water. Luckily I had several cliff bars
in my pack, so those were doled out. Matt had some raisinets too. Brian
had not yet re-joined the group. I took off the camera bag and pack and
walked back down the path to meet him. Before I did so I said to J.D.
“there’s no harm in turning back. We could backtrack from here and be
back to the trucks in an hour or two.”
I headed down the trail and found a weary Brian resolutely carrying his
bike up the trail. “Gimme the bike, it feels much better to just walk.”
There was no argument. “have you been drinking water?” “yep” “Have you
eaten lately?” “Nope, I had my last powerbar on the climb up.” Out came
a clif bar, “eat half of this now” I said, “save the rest for later” We
headed up to meet the group, and talked photography on the way. I
determined to press my case for beating a retreat back down the road we
Unfortunately for my resolve In our absence, the rest of the guys had
found out location on the map and scouted out the correct turn, which
was just a few hundred yards further down the muddy road. We pushed on.
It was 6:30
It started to rain, but the soil had turned into a much firmer sandy
structure that was mercifully rideable. We descended into the gathering
darkness. The descent consisted of about 8 miles of twisty doubletrack
and three miles of very technical singletrack. From her eon out it was
just a push. We were on the right track, but we didn’t know it, so our
mental state was shaky at best. The weather was not at all
accommodating for an unscheduled camping trip. The prospect of
hypothermia was very much present in my mind. At about a half hour
after dark we finally reached the singletrack, which for me was pretty
much all walking. About a half hour earlier I had stuffed the front
wheel into a little erosion gully and went over the bars. I wasn’t
hurt, the camera wasn’t hurt, but it knocked the wind out of my sails.
At that point I decided that this trail was no longer worth riding. I
just wanted to get back to the truck without getting hurt or damaging
anything. The amazing thing is that no one really did get hurt, and no
one broke anything on their bikes. Instead we suffered small, mocking
indignities. I tore off a chunk of skin from my knuckle while carrying
my bike. Rich had a slow leak. Nothing major, just a steady hum of
minor. At sunset we were descending through a beautiful sage filled
headland. The sunset was gorgeous and laid out before us was a jaw
dropping view, drenched in lovely evening light. I was too tired and
worried to take a photo. I was still unconvinced that i would be seeing
a warm bed that night, and I just didn't care. This is what irks me the
At about 9:30 we finally got back to the trucks. I had some snack food,
and a cooler full of beer,and we stood around in the dark, eating,
drinking, rehashing the whole thing and almost, but not quite
convincing ourselves that we had fun. We had been on the trail for 9
hours and 3 minutes.
Despite how I felt at times, this was not a death-defying experience.
Eventually we would have made it out, it was just a question of on what
day that would happen. If anything, this was an
Postscript: No one can tell any of any mud stories ever. This trumps
all. This was the worst mud ever. It’s what delayed us, exhausted us
and benighted us. It was the Mud of the Niebelungen.