Slickrock Rapture: A Family Van Trip to Moab

words & photos :: Colin Field.

Return to Moab

On April 1 we bugged out. April is miserable in Ontario; nothing but greys and browns, trails too wet to ride and not enough snow to ski. Our escape vehicle was a 1985 VW Vanagon Westfalia that became known as Moose. This 35-year-old home on wheels was our main wild card, but we’d done everything we could to prepare for the unknown. Thankfully, places like GoWesty are still manufacturing parts for these beloved vehicles.

The idea of a trip to Moab inspired the purchase of the vehicle. Eighteen years before, Rheanna Kish and I had travelled to Moab with three bikes in a two-door, 1988 Honda Civic. This time around we’d be bringing our nine-year-old son Taj with us. We wanted a bit more comfort this time.

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Van Maintenance + Local Tips

On day five, after crossing most of the continent, we limped into Loveland, Colorado; we could barely shift into first gear, and our fuel pump rattled like a coffee grinder. Thankfully we found Pat’s Vee W-Unlimited.

“Come on in. Our policy is to drop everything for travellers,” they said.

Every dollar earned (and now spent) had brought me to this point in my life and it all finally came together in this instant.

Pat fixed our shifting issues (air bubble in the clutch line) within five minutes. He installed a new fuel filter and we were on our way. We were $85 down, but seriously stoked to be back on the road. The Westfalia community is amazing. We soon picked up Grampa at the Denver airport, crossed the continental divide (in third gear!) and rolled into Fruita, Colorado. The guys at Colorado Backcountry Biker didn’t hesitate to tell us where to go: 18 Road. For the Pump, Bumps and Rollers trail. And boy were they right. 18 Road may be one of the funnest places to ride ever. Flowing downhill trails zigged and zagged along ridgelines and my whole family whooped with joy all the way down. And when we got tired, we just started doing car drops.

After a couple nights in Fruita, we made the final push to Moab. Of course, once we were in Moab, it was all about riding. We rode a trail a day for the next nine days. Here are some highlights.

 


Moab, Utah: 7 Highlights

Navajo Rocks

For our first ride, we met up with Charlotte Batty and she showed us around a quick loop of Navajo Rocks. And while we thought the trails were amazing, we really had no idea of what was to come.

Klondike Bluffs

There’s no escaping dinosaurs in Moab. And with a child with you, there is really, really no escaping dinos. The trail at Klondike Bluffs blew our minds; a half hour hike off trail was the largest concentration of dino tracks in the area: 2,300 tracks in two square acres. These are thought to be theropod tracks from about 160 million years ago. Crazy. Oh, and the trails here are seriously fun too: fast and flowy, with very few painful ups.

Slickrock

We attempted the infamous Slickrock full trail. It was ambitious. It’s over 10 kilometres long. And we really weren’t prepared. But we got to see some cool Jeeps and dirtbikes ripping through. And since we were now camping at the Slickrock trailhead we decided to make it our mission to come back and try again.

Porcupine Rim

Eighteen years ago Rheanna and I rode Porcupine Rim as a full loop. Some masochist from Uxbridge told us we had to do it as a loop. And for some reason we agreed. It was a heinous 40-km ride, mostly uphill, mostly on the road. This time Grampa and Taj dropped us off, and we mostly descended for 27 km back to town. It felt like redemption. We both had fun, despite the scary no-fall zones.

Captain Ahab

I’d been hearing about the Captain Ahab trail for years and it was on my must-do-with-or-without-family list. Thankfully Grampa was keen. So after checking out some petroglyphs, Grampa and I said goodbye to Moose and headed up, up, up and then up a little more. The great thing about Moab is that the scenery is stellar; grinding uphill becomes pretty easy, and you tend to not even notice how painful it is. Of course the down is why everyone loves Captain Ahab. And I’m fully converted. It’s an amazing run. Technical drops, exposed trails, and good old-fashioned downhill fun.

Slickrock Revisited

Even though they told us Slickrock wasn’t a trail for a nine-year-old, we did it anyway. We packed snacks, lunch, water, sunscreen and as much determination as we could muster. It’s a freaking difficult trail. Heinous ups, terrifying downs, windswept peaks and everything in between. There was nearly an emotional breakdown, but a good break (some salami and olives) soon turned it around. I’m super proud of my boy for getting this done. He worked hard, pushed through and conquered the “impossible.”

Gemini Bridges

After nine days in a row of riding, I sort of took a break. Taj and I dropped Rheanna and Grampa off for a 17-km, father-daughter downhill run called Gemini Bridges. Taj and I went and hit some of the raddest “city-approved” dirt jumps I’ve ever seen. When we picked up Rheanna and Grampa they were ecstatic; they absolutely loved this trail. Next time I’m in Moab, I need to ride it.


 

 

“A Beautiful Feeling”

The problem with trips is that they come to an end. Even when you don’t want them to. But there are moments in your life, hopefully, where you have absolute certainty that everything you’ve done up to and including that moment in time, were the right things to do. When you know each accumulation of decisions led to that single instant. And that instant is right. It’s a beautiful feeling. And a rare one.

 

 

I had that feeling in Moab—atop a ridgeline on the Slickrock trail, when I could see my wife, son and father-in-law cruising down into the desert. I knew that each bike ride had led to this moment; each mile we drove pointed us here. Every dollar earned (and now spent) had brought me to this point in my life and it all finally came together in this instant. In this place. On these machines.

I feel truly blessed to experience such a moment. Even once in my life. Moab is an incredible place for a mountain bike adventure. It’s an incredible place to spend time with family and push yourselves in some of the most scenic terrain on the continent.

So guess what we’re doing as soon as the border is open again? Driving back to Moab. —ML

 

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