It was months ago that our friends Sarah and Carl casually mentioned that maybe we should all take a trip to Utah after they got hitched in September. “Like, for your honeymoon?” we asked. And that is how Kyle and I ended up accompanying two of our besties to Utah on their honeymoon.
You don’t really want to hear about Saturday, the first day of our trip, when we drove 12 hours to Salt Lake City in a fart filled car, ate a lot of snacks and listened to The Bone Clocks on Audible. Sunday was a much more eventful day though – we drove four hours south to Zion National Park but before reaching the entrance we turned off on a dirt road to look for camping. We had decided one of the ways we were going to save money on the trip was to camp for free on BLM land. We turned down the first side road we found and pulled into a campsite just ahead of a giant truck towing a giant trailer that should never have ventured down that road.
It was a fine campsite but I just felt like we could do better. There was supposed to be another side road a little further on with more camping. Kyle and Carl left Sarah and I, the cooler and a couple camp chairs in the spot we had secured, just to be safe and drove off in search of something better. Maybe twenty minutes later they peeled back into camp, spraying red desert dust behind them and hollered, “Get it, we found a way better spot!”
We ended up in site 24 with a gorgeous view of some mountains to the west and not another camper in site. After getting camp set up we headed into Zion to inquire about permits and rent canyoneering gear and maybe get a little trail run in. At the permitting office we learned that we would have to come back on Monday to pick up our canyoneering permits and at the Zion Adventure Company we made reservations for the gear we would pick up the next day as well. Then we jumped on the Zion shuttle and headed into the park for a quick run up to Emerald Pools and out to the Grove of the Patriarchs. When we made it back to camp it was 6:00pm – the sun was still hovering above the horizon and we had jambalaya whipped up before it went down. Almost immediately the moon was rising from the opposite direction and we were enjoying a crackling fire.
The next day was Monday and on Monday we decided to go mountain biking. At that point we had permits to canyoneering Tuesday and Wednesday and were hoping to get another one for Thursday. So why not rent some bikes on Monday and see what the area had to offer? We were picking up our bikes at 9:30am and headed straight to Gooseberry Mesa.
Gooseberry Mesa was an area that had been recommended to us to camp at but it ended up being a little too far away from the park entrance. However, it was supposed to have excellent mountain biking. We drove up a wide spine to access the huge mesa that towered over the area we were camped in. From there we could see directly into the park. It was gorgeous. We decided to head out a green trail to the far point of the mesa to check out the view and then take a mix of green and blues on the way back depending on people’s comfort level. Mountain biking trails are rated the same as ski runs, green being the easiest, black being the hardest. It was Kyle and mine’s first time mountain biking and the last thing I wanted to do was break a collar bone on the first day of our vacation.
The green trail we took out to the point was wide and a mix of sandy road and technical little ledges that you had to climb up or down. I loved it – perfect mix of tiny challenges and cruiser trail. The last little bit out to the point was a black so Kyle, Sarah and I left our bikes behind and Carl rode out to the point. The views were expansive in every direction. On the way back Sarah and I decided to take the green trail back to a turn off onto a blue trail called Slick Rock Practice 101. The boys took a different blue to meet us there. The route they took appeared to bike next to the edge of the mesa, something I was wholly uninterested in.
Sarah and I ended up waiting for them at the beginning of Slick Rock Practice 101 but once they caught up we cruised off over the slick rock, dipping in and out of rollers, stepping our bikes down big ledges and scraping our pedals. What is mountain biking like? Well, it’s a rush, one that you can stop at almost any point by putting a foot down. For someone like me, who isn’t a great biker to begin with, it was scary but once I was in it I enjoyed it. It was amazing to be on a full suspension bike – looking back on some of the trails we have ridden our gravel bikes on full suspension would have made those experiences significantly more comfortable. The full suspension made for such a smooth, comfortable ride. I had one scary moment where I went down something that was probably a little too steep and struggled to stop at the bottom, squeezing my front brake a little too hard. I certainly haven’t mastered the ability to isolate which break I am squeezing…
After we got back to the cars we had a quick lunch of left over jambalaya and loaded everything back up. Next we were off to spend the second half of the day biking around the Jem System – which surrounded our camp. Carl dropped Sarah, Kyle and I off at the top of the Jem Trail which was supposed to be a flowy green. He would meet us on our way down. The Jem Trail turned out to be a completely different style of mountain biking. Instead of the slick rock steps we had been navigating up on Gooseberry Mesa we were met by a dirt single track that curved around sage brush and climbed gently up just to take huge drops down the other side. We cruised along and I almost felt like this was cheating. Such a different experience than the first half of our day.
Toward the end of the trail we ended up riding next to a little canyon with a river down in the bottom. I walked my bike a couple of times, not yet comfortable with riding next to a cliff, no matter how short or tall the drop. We made it back to the cars and waited maybe thirty minutes for Carl to get back. Then it was back to the bike shop to drop off the bikes. I was spent after a long day in the sun, pumping my legs up and down hills. We busted out some dinner and were sitting in our chairs around the fire making s’more as the sun was going down and the moon was rising, the same dance we had witnessed the night before.
As we lay in our tent that night going to sleep I felt a wave of nausea and fear thinking about mountain biking. How had I done something so crazy all day? I told Kyle this and he just laughed, “You did a great job mountain biking! There’s nothing to be scared of now!” I fell asleep feeling stretched and full to the brim. The next day we would be trying out a new sport: canyoneering, and I couldn’t wait.