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May/June 2005 | Sweat - Pedal to Rock

May/June 2005 | Sweat - Pedal to Rock

Exploring the legendary Canyon country of Moab, Utah, with queer mountain bikers

I'm at a brew pub in Moab, Utah, with 30 other queer cycling enthusiasts--probably the closest this small town gets to having a gay pride celebration. Moab doesn't exactly possess the allure of the Greek island Mykonos or Paris for most gay folk, but for mountain bikers, it's a veritable Shangri-la. To be fair, most of the people at our table belong to Out Spokin', a group of Colorado road bikers in town to participate in Moab's annual Skinny Tire Festival, but I'm here escorting a trip built around the region's real claim to fame: mountain biking--road biking's scruffier, fat-tired cousin. Our group has only just arrived, from places as far-flung as Santa Barbara, Calif.; Atlanta; and Brussels, yet we already feel like old friends, exchanging tales over numerous pints of "three-two" beer (3.2% is the highest alcohol content allowed to be produced in Utah, guaranteed hangover-free).

Moab is Hebrew for beautiful land, and even the most jaded visitors will admit that it lives up to its name. Spectacularly situated in the Colorado River Valley in dry southern Utah, surrounded by towering peaks, red sandstone cliffs, and two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands), this tiny town has been home to Native American farmers, Mormon polygamists, and uranium miners. Now, thanks largely to the legendary, outrageously challenging Slickrock Trail, outdoor sports constitute Moab's latest raison d'?tre. Thrill seekers come from all over the world, and locals will tell you that this phenomenon has transformed Moab into the most liberal town in this reddest of red states.

I have been a cyclist for years, taking an around-the-world bike trip with my boyfriend a few years back as well as working as a guide for gay bike tours in Europe. But this landscape was nothing like I had experienced. For our first day we head north out of town to Klondike Bluffs, considered an ideal place for beginners, with a challenging array of terrain and considerable hills. Our superb guides for the day, Colin and Angela, explain mountain biking basics: how to drop into a lower gear before starting a climb, how to keep control of the bike on the downhills by using both brakes, the importance of maintaining a "9-and-3-o'clock" pedal position while coasting, and the challenges presented by various surfaces and obstacles. Soon we're up to our spokes in sand, swerving through it and standing in our pedals to struggle through it. A little farther on comes an uphill slope of the smooth red "slick rock" the area is famous for, complete with dinosaur tracks and deep cracks to jump over--or at least try to. The trail looks like it's on Mars, and we follow a dotted white line up and over the bulbous rock formations, often on the very edges of white-knuckle precipices.

A sweaty hour or so of riding brings us to the border of Arches National Park, where we dismount our steeds and scramble to a lookout point with a jaw-dropping view. A vast landscape of pointy red rock formations stretches before us, with the snow-capped,peaks of the La Sal Mountains behind them.

One member of our group--Martin, an Englishman living in Brussels--has a nasty spill ("endo" in mountain biker speak). Accidents are inevitable in this sport, whose devotees tend to be marked by numerous scabs and scars--all worth it, they claim. Luckily, Martin and I discover the friendly little hospital where they're used to dealing with such issues, but I can't help worrying a little when I think that for the following four days the group will be much further afield, riding and camping along the remote White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park.

I fret some more the next morning as we set out for our prolonged plunge into the wilderness. After the initial drop into the canyon, which we'll be paying back "with interest" at the end of the trip, guide Robby assures us, we're chugging along the banks of the Green River. Unlike a single track, the jeep road along the White Rim affords conversation between riders, at least on the smooth bits. The road goes up and over some rocky ridges as well as through numerous sandy washes called bottoms, eliciting numerous jokes. After Upheaval Bottom and Hardscrabble Bottom, we get off our bikes for a hike to Fort Bottom, a well-preserved Anasazi lookout tower. A little while later we're setting up our tents at Potato Bottom as Robby prepares a delicious feast. It hardly feels like roughing it with such good food and company, and even the ground feels soft after a hard day of riding.

Mornings are chilly on the White Rim, but Robby has risen before dawn to make coffee. With four days to cover something like 90 miles, we've got plenty of time to savor it all. Highlights of day 2 include exploring a slot canyon, stumbling upon a miniature rattlesnake at our campsite (luckily it slithered away), and listening to satellite radio while chowing down on fajitas. On day 3 we revel in the unparalleled vistas from a magical place called White Crack, squint at fancifully named rock "castles" like Washer Woman Arch and Monster Tower, and reveal our deepest secrets playing "I have never" under a canopy of stars.

Our final day of riding comes too fast, though after four days of heavy-duty perspiration we're all looking forward to hot showers. Silence reigns in the van on our way back to town. Has that last hill knocked the speech out of us, or are we all processing our encounter with the sublime? For my part I feel fortunate to have had shared such an experience with a great group of fellow homos, and I'm ready to take on the civilized world with renewed gusto--plus a few minor cuts and scrapes.

Broan is based in Tucson. See photos of his worldwide bike trip at BikeBrats.com.

NUTS AND SPOKES

Alyson Adventures (800-825-9766) has a one-week gay Moab trip with mountain biking, hiking, and white-water rafting. In Moab, also try the straight but gay-friendly Rim Mountain Bike Tours (800-626-7335) or Nichols Expeditions (800-648-8488). Rock on!

The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at update@outtraveler.com if you have any new information.


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