Stage 15: 18 Road Trails

The trails in Fruita have a big reputation. Zippety Do Dah might just be the crown jewel of the 18 Road trail network. It lies a few miles past the last farms surrounding the little town of Fruita, out where the rolling desert meets the steep slopes of the Book Cliffs, and was chosen as one of the three trails with the best “flow” in North America by Bike Magazine. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of “flow” in a trail, think of a wild mountain stream running along the valley floor. It makes graceful, smooth turns and S-bends, humps up and over undulations in the terrain, and keeps its speed and momentum going over or around whatever obstacles lie in its path. The concept is the same for a trail, a skatepark, a winding road, a racetrack, or a set of dirt jumps. As long as you are able to tap into it as a rider, flowing trails like this one have the capacity to put you in touch with a higher power. Call it enlightenment, awakening, Buddha-consciousness, salvation, or whatever you like. This kind of trail can inspire the sense of interconnectedness and oneness with the universe that yogis, gurus and spiritual teachers have sought throughout the ages. But I don’t think Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Mohammed or the Virgin Mary have ever ridden this particular trail.

Like any journey to glimpse enlightenment, this ride would not be easy. But we didn’t know that yet. Zippety-Do-Dah is a relatively short section of trail - only about 6 miles - so we thought that we’d add another section called Chutes and Ladders to stretch the ride out a bit. We climbed the gravel 18 Road up to the top of Chutes and Ladders, hooked a right, and got ready for what we thought would be a nice little descent. Most of what we received was super-technical descending on steep sidecuts and down rutted ridgesides all the way to the wash at the bottom,

Then back up on loose, abrupt climbs that had both of us pushing our bikes.

After we got down from the steeper slopes right at the foot of the cliffs, we got into some fun, smooth, rolling desert terrain with swooping lines of nicely hardpacked trail that we could really whiz down.

We made it back to the trailhead mostly unscathed, with lactic acid already eating our legs, and slightly humbled by the difficulty of the trail we just finished. But, we had come for Zippety-do-dah, and we weren’t done yet.

To get to the top of the trail, we had to climb back up to the high point of the trail area in order to descend back down Zippety. With our legs already tenderized by the viciously steep uphills on Chutes, we decided to take the “easy” way up and climb the doubletrack on the western edge of the trail area rather than climb up a section of windy singletrack. The climb wasn’t too painful, and we made the traverse across to the top of Zippety-do-dah, where we were greeted by a small wooden sign staked into the sandy ground with two black diamonds on it. “Advanced Experts ONLY,” read the warning printed on the sign. A little antsy, we rolled in. We soon found ourselves on the edge of the knife, on the top of a ridgeline so narrow that there was barely room for the trail, with sides so steep and loose that there was no way for even the most tenacious scrubby plant to cling to the slope.

The trail tread itself was fairly smooth with only the occasional loose rock, but the consequences of any misstep would be dire. After this point, there is no photographic record of the trail. I was in survival mode. Making sure my tires stayed on track was more important than snapping pictures. “Don’t look at it, look at the trail, look where you want to go,” I told myself. I had to keep reminding myself not to look off into the distance at the expanse of desert while riding the humped ridgetops, but all distractions were wiped away when the trail pointed downward. Holy crap, is it too steep? Just a straight shot, you’ve got it. No turning back now, way too fast to stop, are my brake pads going to melt? Oh god, BUMP! Phew, made it. Lean back, here comes the bottom…” The speed and steepness of the drop-ins left my heart in my throat and it landed with a thud in my gut on the tight transitions at the bottom.

My arms were shaking with adrenaline and fatigue as I rolled the last few giant piles of desert to the trailhead. India navigated some of the trail, but the steep descents were a little too much and she was forced to walk her bike, which she later admitted may have been harder than actually riding on slopes that steep. She trooped on, held it together and made it back to the trailhead with no major hurts. In hindsight, she was probably the smart one. There were at least three times during the course of those six miles where I really thought that if I screwed up, lost focus for even a second, my life would have been on the line. It was awesome. I'm not sure if I glimpsed enlightenment or not, but I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone, but an experience mountain biker with some nerve and confidence on steep slopes would love this trail.

We made it back to the trailhead and up the gravel road to our car and campsite and made dinner.

We were also treated to a beautiful double desert rainbow after a few sprinkles of rain.

I had never seen a rainbow inside a rainbow before and we sat and watched as its colors faded in and out of focus. The sun set soon after, and we crawled into our tent for a good night’s sleep.

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