I wake up, roll over on the slick rock. Thought I saw a camera flash. No, probably wasn’t anything. Back to sleep. Then another one. Headlights from one of those stupid side-by-sides?
A rumble. Lightning. I roll over to look at the La Sals. My eyes adjust to the dark. There was some good moonlight when we laid down, but nothing now. Another flash. The wind gusts, and junipers creak. Oh boy. I crawl naked out of my sleeping bag and put on my riding shoes.
“Where are you going?” Colleen asks sleepily.
“I’m gonna set up the tarp real quick. Might get damp.”
I set the tarp up badly a few minutes before the rain hits, stretched between some scrubby trees on a steep hill side. I spend the rest of the night scooting up the hill on my slippery sleeping pad to keep my feet from poking out into the rain.
The next morning, it’s still pouring. During a quick break in the storm, I reset the tarp so that we can sit under it, and gather enough rain water off the corner to fill our pot in two big splashes.
I heat up the rain water for instant coffee. The idea was to ride the Kokopelli back from Outerbike. It seemed like a perfect plan- right time of year, and one of the guys from the shop was able to drop Colleen’s car in Loma at the north end of the trail.
“I forgot my rain jacket,” Colleen says.
“Oh, come on man.”
“It’s the desert! I wasn’t thinking rain.”
I look out at the soaked slick rock for a while. I definitely don’t want to climb up into the mountains and get stuck in the mud. Some guys ride by on motorcycles. “They’re going for it.”
“We could go for breakfast in town.”
“Yeah, let’s go for it.”
We wait for a break in the rain, then pack up and coast down to town on the Sand Flats Road. Drink coffee in the packed cafes until almost two. It’s pouring again when we ride out of town Highway 128, the Colorado is deep and green.
The days before, I rode a bunch of stuff at Outerbike. I got on every 27.5+ (650b rims, 3.0” wide tires) that I could- the Salsa Pony Rustler, Devinci Hendrix, Rocky Mountain Sherpa, Jamis Dragonslayer, Spot Rocker.
The 27.5+ full suspensions were sluggish, and the traction was worse than a normal 29er with a good trail tire, because all that rubber floated on top of dusty soil instead of digging in. The hardtails I could live with, but they still felt worse in every way than a 29+ hardtail.
They lack the extra-tall roll-over and efficiency of a 29+ tire, but still have all of a 29+ bike’s drawbacks- heavy rubber, tires that squirm on corners, and off any sort of drop. To make things worse, every manufacturer except Devinci specced their bikes with wide rims (45mm internal width or more) that squared off the tires, and made them self steer like a fat bike at lower pressures.
Cat in crotch picture to break up too-long block of bike geeky text.
Things I knew, and now am extra-certain of- rims wider that 35mm make plus bikes handle like fat bikes, which handle about as well as a canoe in a lake of Slurpee. I like 29+ bikes because they’re sweet for my favorite type of riding, which is on slow, steep, rocky trail. On full suspension cross country bikes, 29-inch wheels feel the fastest and most efficient. If I had the skills or desire to go to the bike park and do big gap jumps and flow like a bro, or the face for a flat brimmed cap, I might ride a longer travel 27.5 bike. Fat bikes are for snow. And for me, 27.5+ doesn’t fit anywhere.
All that said, Colleen has a custom 27.5+ Waltworks on order. But she’s real short. On her extra small Surly ECR, the wheels are so big for that tiny frame that she rubs her knee on the tire when she’s climbing. She still wants the cushiness of a three-inch tire, so in that case the smaller wheels make sense.
I also rode an e-bike with bunches of travel and a Yamaha motor. On full pedal assist I was able to blast up a rocky climb at 20 miles an hour, boosting off ledges as I went, which made the e-bike guys claim, that it “rides just like a bicycle,” seem ridiculous. It was fun for a second, but it probably would have been more fun on a real motorcycle.
Motors are fine, motorized singletrack is great, e-bikes are dandy if that’s your bag. There’s enough outside for everybody to get along. But trying to argue that an e-bike is just a bicycle makes as much sense as trying to argue that a hamburger is vegetarian because it’s made out of a cow that only ate grass.
Anyway, I’m mostly happy that I get to spend my time thinking about the merits different bicycle tire widths and motor configurations. Plush living.
We make it to the campground before Dewy Bridge after a few hours of rainy riding. Colleen “The Flying Pumpkin” O’Neil is not happy with the disposable orange poncho that she bought to stand in for her rain jacket.
I stop to laugh and take a picture of her billowing pumpkin suit so that I can make fun of her on the internet when we get home, just like I would any other riding partner.
Instead of telling me to screw off like she would any other riding partner, she looks at me like a wife who’s ready to use a big rock to knock the teeth out of her husband’s shitty grin.
I let my laughter trail off, a little afraid. I remind myself that she’s very small and probably can’t throw a big rock far. I take a quick picture, then just to be safe, I put my camera away and ride out of range.
Morning the next day is better.
Clouds clear, and we’re able to ride part of the trail from Dewy to Westwater before storms move in again.
We finish out the rest of the ride on Old Highway 6, and Colleen only has to put on her pumpkin suit once.
I buy a big Corona at the only liquor store in East Mack, which is also the only store in East Mack.
“Do you want a sleeve?” asks the clerk.
Since it’s the first time I’ve been asked that question, I think about it a second, and imagine walking out the door drinking my brown bag covered Corona as soon as I hit the mean streets of Mack. I may have taken my last shower three weeks ago, but I’m not that kinda bum. “Nope, that’s ok, I’ll put it in my bag.”
Five miles later, I open the big Corona in the parking lot. It’s skunked and horrible.
“That smells terrible,” Colleen says. I frown, take another sip. I gut it out for half the bottle, trying to imagine that it’s the nice celebratory cheap Mexican beer I want it to be.
“Seriously, stop drinking that,” Colleen says. “It’s gross.”
“Ow.” I dump half of the bad Corona on the ground. Such an amateur.
This was the third time I’ve tried to ride Kokopelli’s- never hit it at the right time to cross the La Sals. Someday.