Porcupine

Three years ago, our planned Porcupine Rim ride got rained and snowed out. We drove up to LPS that day and played in the snow, but left without riding. Last year, I wimped out on the climb up Sand Flats Road and we were unable to arrange a shuttle so we could ride Porcupine. So with two trips to Moab under my belt and I'd yet to experience one of the classic rides - still no Porcupine. This year we made it the priority. We wanted to explore Moab a little more and ride some new trails, but first - Porcupine. I even took a day off the bike on Tuesday to ensure that I would be ready for the rough, challenging terrain and long, technical ride.

Before the fun of Porcupine comes the long grind up Sand Flats. We didn't even bother calling about a shuttle this year, figuring we'd get the same answer as last. Time to ride up the road. With our early start and the chilly temperatures, the road was quiet. There were only a few cars in the Slickrock parking lot and even fewer further up the road. Despite the sunny skies, it wasn't warming up and a stiff wind kept us cool. Clouds lurked behind the La Sals, hinting at the possibility of bad weather. We took our time on the climb, riding steady but somewhat easy. Nick made sure I wasn't pushing the pace, reminding me frequently that when I needed the power and spunk to ride, I would need it and not to waste it on the road. About two miles down from the main Porcupine Rim trailhead, the shuttle van came roaring down the road - the only traffic we'd seen in miles. Guess they had enough people to run today! Oh well. We would do it the classic way, earning our descent. We kept climbing past the Porcupine trailhead. Our goal was at least some of LPS - maybe all of it or even UPS depending on the snow and how we (I) felt.

Sand Flats road with Arches NP and the desert far below us
 

Still heading up, surrounded by huge rocks

At the main sign post for the Whole Enchalada, we stopped. I had a snack and Nick looked at the map. There was snow in the shade all around and we decided to jump on LPS there and start the descent. I wanted to keep going and at least ride all of LPS. I really wanted to go all the way up to UPS, but Nick vetoed that. He told me this chunk of LPS and Porcupine would be enough. No sense pushing higher then we needed to go, only to have something happen later because of fatigue. I was still reluctant, but followed Nick onto the singletrack.
 

Let's go! Finished with the easy part - the climb!

LPS was great. Right along the edge of the rim, in and out of the pines, up and over rock gardens, down sandstone slabs, the kind of riding that I'm starting to really enjoy. We took the Notch option off LPS proper, leading away from the edge of the canyon. Once we hit it, I took one look and chickened out. No way - wasn't happening at all. Nick studied and picked out the line but decided not to ride it. With it being an off season weekday and just the two of us it wasn't worth the risk. Then back to LPS, carefully over the patchy ice covered trail in the shadow of the cliff edge. I was having fun, finding the flow over the chunky rocks and drops. It was awesome, challenging and lots of work to ride. Perhaps I was getting a little cocky...

That's a long way down into Castle Valley...

And then I was flying. But my bike wasn't. The front wheel was at a dead stop and the rear of the bike rising up, bucking me into the air. With my arms outstreched ala Superman, I only had seconds to react and establish a landing spot. There really weren't any good options - there was going to be damage no matter what I did. The trick would be to minimize it. I didn't quite get my hands in all the way to be able to roll out of the flight, jamming a finger into a rock. My right shoulder hit another dust covered rock, with my face finding a third. Adding to the insult, my bike clattered to landing halfway on top of me. Ouch. But there was no searing pain anywhere - just dull aches from the rocks. My chin hurt and my shoulder stiff and covered in dust, but I had full movement and all my teeth. I picked my bike up and checked it out, then coasted down to where Nick was waiting for me. Pride was shaken and it took a little bit for me to regain my confidence on the slabs of standstone jutting up into the path.

Riding back up to work on some skills and get my mojo back
 
 

We caught the first two shuttle bunnies midway down the motorized section of Porcupine. Classic flat tire posture with one bike upside down along the trail. Nick slowed but they waved us along with a smile. The second group was near the end of the road, also with a bike upside down. They also waved us by, assuring us they were fine, seeming content to enjoy the views and take their time with the repair. A few more minutes of bone chattering descending over rocks and the road ended. Barriers preventing jeeps and motos from going any further. We took a few minutes to look around and then it was time for more singletrack.
 

We were way up there - at the La Sals not that long ago
 
Nick waiting for me to clamber over the rocks - another long way down...

Time to focus on the ribbon of trail in front of me. No more sightseeing allowed. The trail was narrow and rocky, with cliffs stretching for 100s of feet beside it. The exposure was unnerving in places, so close to the trail with such huge consequences for even a simple mistake. I kept my eyes on the trail, my one woman conversation loud enough for Nick to hear. There were only a few spots that I decided to walk for sanity's sake and a few others where Nick warned me to be careful. Despite the exposure and the occasional surges of fear  - heights and exposures were a huge challenge for me when I was little - I was having fun. I was on the limits of my trail reading ability and pushing the speed as much as I could. We reached the canyon crossing and I thought better of trying it - my chin was an oozing reminder of how much overconfidence can hurt. Nick gave it a solid go, almost cleaning the entire thing.

Nick working the canyon crossing near the finish of the trail

And then we were at river level. The trail dived under the highway and popped out on the westbound side. Save for a short distance, there was a bike path all the way from the trail head back into town. Awesome! The feared death march along the highway was replaced with a casual pedal separated from speeding cars. While we cruised back to town, I pondered the luck - had the weather not prevented us from riding Porcupine three years ago, we would have attempted it. I would have hated it and the classic "take your wife mountain biking" scene would have ensued. Even last year, with how tired I would it would have been a struggle. This year was perfect - except for the bruise on my hip, bleeding chin and torn backpack...

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