By Brenon Savell
5 minute read
Walking up the two-track wasn’t too bad. Flat and open all the way to the La Sal mountains ahead, and Grand View Point behind. But I was looking intently at the ground, on my knees a couple of times. A little more than half-way through the iconic Porcupine Rim trail, before the really fun part — my rear derailleur fell apart.
I’ve ridden this trail several times, before and after this incident. The climb winds through pastel domes of Navajo sandstone, home to the world-famous Slick Rock Bike Trail, and up to the very edge of the Porcupine Rim. The ride along the edge of the rim is casual, but the views will take your breath. The lush green of the valley is refreshing to see after so much sand and stone. Above it, Castleton Tower looks like a dark red exclamation point, the perfect punctuation for the moment. From the crest of the rim it’s almost a straight shot, gently downhill for a mile to the start of the exposed single track down Jackass Canyon.
That’s where I found myself crawling, studying the sand to find my track with the very small shred of hope it would lead me back to that small black gear wheel. And the screw that holds it on. It took me 45 minutes, but I found that gear. After another 45 minutes looking for the screw, I walked back to my bike, resigned to coasting and pushing my way back to Moab. I fumbled with every MacGuyver solution I could imagine to get the wheel to stay on and spin. It occurred to me that if I had a piece of thin wire, there was a way to keep the mousetrap together and salvage this ride.
I stood up. Bikes come through here, jeeps come through here, who knows what might be just laying on the ground. Right now you’re thinking, “no way he found a piece of wire just the right diameter and malleability to fix this tiny little machine.” That’s exactly how it happened. I stood up, took a couple of steps and found a foot of bailing wire poking out of the sand. It worked so well, in fact, that I was also able to ride Poison Spider Mesa the next day. I did bring some parts though. I’m not doing that again.
When I lived the nomadic existence of the seasonal guide, it was easy to overcome a situation like this. In fact I chased trouble back then on the bike, climbing rocks, skiing the backcountry. Good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement. I gained a lot of experience and got lucky more than once. Now that I have good judgement (and a year-round job) I travel differently. Jeep-supported mountain biking with dinner service? Sign me up. Boat ride and resupply to hike into a wilderness so strange they call it the Dollhouse in Canyonlands National Park? I’ll take the help.
Adventure travel can be easy if you have lots of time to plan, train, prepare and then handle all of the unforeseen obstacles. I once spent a whole day driving around a mountain pass I didn’t know was closed. But now I have a family, and a job, and a home, and all of that changes the way I travel. We still go on adventures, we still roast marshmallows over campfires and sleep in a tent on the weekends. Our vacations are a time for us to be together, uninterrupted by cooking and cleaning and finding a parking spot and finding a bathroom and making sure we have enough ice, and snacks, and water and . . .I’m done with that. Travel is best when you can immerse yourself with no stressful distractions. The best way to do that is to spend months or years in a place. But most of us aren’t ready or willing to live that lifestyle. Most of us have a limit on time. The thing is, you don’t have to let that limit the experiences you can have. The desert is a special place for me. I know I can never relive the moment of topping out on my first desert tower climb. What I can do is share my love of these places with my family by giving them all of my time while we are there — by traveling with a guide.