Desert riding season arrives as quickly as it is whisked away by the hot winds of summer. Trip planning and packing in this micro season is always delightfully frenzied and urgent. Preparation for this trip began in exactly such a fashion during a wet spring blizzard sitting behind the sewing machine. The plan: an overnight bikepacking trip into Moab's Cane Creek Canyon. The complication: The construction of a pair of frame bags to house our gear for the tour. The next level of delightful frenzy to be sure. Fortunately wet heavy spring snow is a productivity aid for all things indoors and necessity is the mother of innovation or something like that.
With the gear creation part of the equation complete all that stood in our way was the post-work gas burn over the mountains and out to the Desert. Mercifully, on this particular evening the spirits of the road had our backs and fair winds had us falling asleep to coyote song out in the big empty Desert after a mere six hours of contemplating the center line. Sleep, then time to ride.
The next morning there were rumors of rain and generally finicky spring weather moving in over canyon country. But rumors are rumors and you don't dare stop trip momentum once it has reached velocity. Saddling the rigs with 24 hours worth of sundries we couldn't help but notice the grey wall of precip starting to obscure downtown Moab's red rock sentinels as it drifted our way.
The cell unleashed just as we had lashed the last bag in place. Nothing to do but retreat to the back of the truck and watch our bikes and gear get washed clean by the heavens. An auspicious beginning but nothing more than a fleeting desert squall. We hoped. As the rain pelted the truck roof noisily I reflected on the reaction of the visitor center staffer to our intended route: " You don't want to go up there. It's going to be a mess with all this mud. I'd head out toward Chicken Corners." Nope. No Chicken Corners for us.
As the patter on the roof slowed we pulled on rain gear, locked the truck and pedaled our laden and water logged rigs out on to the main drag of 191 toward the mouth of the canyon. All the while visions of drivetrain clogging mud danced in our heads. At this point the tail end of the cell was passing over pelting us with intense bands of rain and wind followed by tantalizing interludes of blue and the desert sun we had ventured out of winter to find.
By the time we reached dirt the sun had won out and things were drying quickly as they do in this part of the world. As we pealed off of the main dirt road and onto the double track of the canyon proper it became apparent that the bulk of our route would be on sand nicely compacted by the rain and the mud monster would be more cosmetic than halting. By now our entire outfit was completely covered in earthy red mud. We had joined the desert.
Peddling south we watched as the storm moved up canyon darkening the horizon and filling the creek next to us with a brown silty flow the color of chocolate milk ;The tenuous flow that would enable our overnight presence in this arid land.
With the improving weather the whine of gas powered engines begin to ring through the canyon. Other users enjoying their public land. We instinctively peddled away from the racket branching off on a narrow track on the west side of the creek seemingly taking us away from the main route of the gas powered crowed. As we moved deeper into the canyon it became increasingly apparent that our biggest challenge in locating a nice place to camp for the evening would be finding somewhere the cows had not been. Dried cow pies were distributed in a seemingly systematic maner across the desert floor as far as we could see. With daylight beginning to run low and energy even lower we decided to gamble and follow some lone bovine tracks up out of the sandy lowlands adjacent the creek and on to a rock shelf just above.
Our faith in this lone cow paid off and we pushed our bikes into a perfect campsite overlooking the wash just as the light began to soften into the hombre hue of desert evening. A few marks of the heard remained but this spot had been visited by far fewer cows than the flood plain below.
Our home for the night sat at the boarder line running through this valley. Below us the heavily used canyon corridor scarred by vehicle tracks, litter and the impacts of cattle. Land pulled in too many directions. Above and behind us a gentle slope leading up to the vertical untouched domain of the raven. No cow tracks through ancient cryptobiotic soils. Just the quiet desert quiet existing as it has for thousands of years without worry of 2 stroke engines and grazing rights. As the stove hissed warming dinner I felt fortunate to be sitting on this particular boarder watching the oncoming dusk. We belong on this side, in the impact zone, among the cow pies but being able to look across that boarder from time to time into another world all together is what it's all about.
Morning dawned clear and blue. To the sounds of the canyon waking up we broke camp and filled our water bags with a silty slurry of water and desert for the down hill run back to town. As we cruised out of the canyon playing on the sandy berms and rollers we marveled at the beauty of the canyon mouth, a zone we had only driven through in the past. The slow, open air perspective afforded by bike travel revealed the expanse of the sun lit spires above the road allowing us a final stare across that boarder just as our tires hit pavement blasting the red dirt of a night in the canyon up into the warming morning air.