Up early on Thursday to go & ride before it got too hot on the JEM trail – one that came highly recommended. At the trail head just after seven, a couple from San Diego (of all places) – Mike & Annie – pulled up & had the same riding plan as I did. I waited around a little so I had some riding company & we took off up the first part of the loop – Gould’s Rim Trail. This climbed a bit up on to a plateau & as the sun was still rising (no daylight saving in Utah) the spectacular scenery was cast in even better light than I had previously seen it.
While the map we had was great, unfortunately some of the trail markers were annoyingly absent. We skirted around the side of a canyon & it was mostly nice twisty, but not too difficult single track.
There was one really rocky & gnarly downhill section – Annie must have been feeling it on her hardtail. As we got closer to the highway, we lost the trail again – we split up, they went down & I went up a dirt road trying to find the JEM trailhead. In the end, I did a few extra miles uphill & couldn’t make it across to the highway so had to backtrack – unfortunately I never saw Mike & Annie again. I made it up the highway & hit the JEM. What a fantastic trail! It was on another exposed plateau, but overall it lost altitude. It was more of the same great single track that weaved around, but it had plenty of little rises to hop off, plenty of bermed corners & was generally a big chainring flowing singletrack. The most difficult bit was when it plunged down in to a small canyon with a series of very tight & rock singletrack.
As I was beginning to discover & appreciate with a lot of the riding I was doing in the Southwest & California, babyhead rocks could appear at any time & completely change the trail. One thing I will say about the fireswamp – it definitely keeps you on your toes. Near the end of JEM, I joined the Hurricane Rim Trail – it basically followed the top of the gorge formed by the Virgin River back to Hurricane.
It was starting to get a lot warmer by now & there was quite a bit of climbing considering I was following the river down – but there was still the odd cool downhill & rocks to negotiate (they always make the climbs more challenging than back in NZ – it’s always nice to conquer them). Due to my little detour, I ran out of water with about four or five miles to go – how I wish they were the much shorter kilometres! I eventually made it back to my car – another great high-twenty mile ride under my figurative belt. Back to the motel to clean up & then off to explore Zion National Park.
Once again, I joined the masses at another popular national park. Due to its popularity, the park has a great shuttle bus system – you park your car at the bottom & hop on & off for free as the whim takes you. The day had clouded a bit (when I left the motel, I couldn’t believe the amount of cloud that had come from nowhere & how much the wind had picked up), but the canyons on either side of the Virgin River (upstream tens of miles from where I was riding earlier in the day) were still vividly red-brown. Every twist in the road or path showed a different side to them & I was enthralled. I went on a few little walks, some only five minutes or so to get a bit of elevation to look out at something, one about an hour loop that took visitors up a side stream to a series of rather tranquil ponds & stunning waterfalls. Completing all my little walks, it was back in the mighty Avenger to drive to the east edge of the park. The geology here was a little softer, with some nice patterns in less steep cliffs. There was also a very impressive 1.8 mile tunnel that was blasted out in the 1920s. As awesome as the Grand Canyon was (& I really liked it) – for some reason, Zion was that little bit more enjoyable – perhaps because at Zion you are in the bottom of the canyon looking up at the immense rocks above you. Back to Hurricane to do some much needed washing & have an early night – big drive the next day to meet up with some more MTB internet friends back in California for a weekend of camping & riding.