I didn't have a plan, because I never have a plan when it comes to ride weekends like these. Others like to salivate over trail maps fantasizing about the future pain of masochistic expeditions. They set their sights on a lofty goal and don't flinch no matter how much beer is consumed the night before or how appealing it is to crawl back into the tent for a little more sleep. It turns out my road trip co-conspirator is one of those people.
"Let's ride the Whole Enchilada," he said. "From town."
Like most iconic trails hours from my home, I knew this classic Moab trail by name only. With a few dozen miles of technical riding that start in the La Sal mountains and slowly descend thousands of feet, the Whole Enchilada is a big day of riding on its own. Adding 5,000 feet of climbing beforehand was a stupid plan, especially given that a much shorter ride completely destroyed me only a few weeks earlier.
For better and worse, stupidity has never made my list of reasonable grounds for rejecting plans, or people for that matter.
"Ugh, fine." I reluctantly agreed.
As Saturday morning rolled around, the process of caffeinating, breakfast burrito-ing and general procrastinating was punctuated by a single question: "Are you ready for this?"
"We'll find out," I said, knowing that if I let the other answers rattling in my head escape my mouth, I'd doom any chance of finishing. Stubbornness only goes so far, and then it's a matter of waiting to see whether the brain or body quits first. I could always hitch a ride from one of the passing trucks with bikes hanging over the tailgate. Or do the ride of shame back down, succumbing prematurely to the siren call of trailheads littered along the route.
Desert heat fueled my denial that the snow-capped peaks in the distance were merely the halfway mark. My legs, being the insolent jerkwads they are, tested my resolve immediately by whining, "Are we there yet?" before the car was even out of sight.
It was slated to be hot, not middle-summer-Moab hot, but hot enough that heatstroke was on the list of outcomes I feared, sandwiched between falling crotch first onto a cactus and consuming enough energy gels that they'd leave my body through the nearest exit without warning.
Somewhere between climbing and more climbing, my audible mouth-breathing was broken by the rumble of official-looking ATVs heading toward the trails. Word was that someone broke a leg. Like everything else in the desert, rocks have their own unforgiving plans.
Hours ticked by as cool mountain air replaced the arid morning heat. Trailheads came and went, but none called my name loud enough to answer.
I pedaled until I couldn't, then pushed until I could pedal again. I'd mentally committed to the fact that slogging uphill was my new life now, when we came to a stop. "We can drop in here and save another hour of climbing," my adventure cohort informed me. "But we'll miss out on a few miles of trail. It's up to you."
Unlike the morning, this time I didn't have to filter the thoughts rattling in my head. I knew I couldn't go fast, but I could keep going.
"Let's stick with our original plan," I decided. When we reached the top and settled in for lunch under a sliver of shade, I ate the finest smashed-to-hell PB&J that ever existed, and you can't convince me otherwise.
I expected to tackle the long downhill with exhausted reservation, but instead I cruised through sections that would have given me trouble had my legs been fresh and my mind still encumbered with doubt.
Wide-open, rocky runs gave way to singletrack that weaved through giant rock outcroppings that offered traction in exchange for blind trust. Even now, when I close my eyes to relive hours descending toward the spires surrounding Castle Valley, I don't see a linear recording of the ride, but a buckshot of memories.
Smells of juniper and sunblock mix with palpable temperature changes as my eyes adjust between shade and sun. There's the fear-born darkness of being unable to open my eyes, death-gripping the ground several feet from a sheer drop-off where everyone and their mother takes a picture. Next to that is the feeling of confidence I have riding my bike over rocks next to the same cliffside, not entirely surprised that I'm more confident on my bike than on my feet.
I can hear the hard thud of pushing my limits too far and the echo of laughter after stuffing my front wheel into something hard enough to leave a visible bruise on my lady junk. Resilient desert flowers and expanses of sky commingle with trees scarred from years of handlebar kisses. All these memories and so many more swirl together until they become almost indecipherable from one another, a bittersweet reminder that everything I experience in this life is fleeting.
The sun hung low as we negotiated the final turns before dropping onto the bike path for an easy spin back to the car. Rolling next to the Colorado River amid touristing Texans and dog walkers, my legs struggled to keep my speed in the single digits.
I found my breaking point.
As I eyed a comfortable rock beneath some shade, my speed began creeping back up as a hand attached to legs fresher than mine pushed against my back. I wouldn't have done this ride without a little push, so it was only fitting that I finish the ride in the same way.
Pulling back into town with nearly 50 miles under my legs, I sprawled on the ground next to the car with a smile on my face and a cold beer in my hand. There's much to be said for feeling yourself break. It makes ice cream taste a little better, sleep feel less restless, and the next big adventure seem that much more doable.
On the drive back home, ideas for the next adventure were already churning.
"We should ride Monarch Crest," he said. "From town."
"Sounds like a plan."