Common Tread

Riding lessons on the road to Gemini Bridges

Oct 27, 2015

It was already mid-afternoon and the rain, albeit light, wasn’t relenting.

Being a Seattleite, a little sprinkle never stopped me, but Moab had a whole different kind of weather pattern. If our 11-mile hike in and out of torrential downpours and flash floods the day before was any evidence of what was to come, taking on a new trail with our Yamaha XTs, ominous clouds overhead, may not pan out.

But we couldn’t help ourselves. It was my first trip to Moab, and we weren’t about to waste an opportunity to traverse the giant masses of red-orange stone, looming over the wide valleys and narrow roads. If there’s a God, he must have modeled the colorful, sparkling terrain after heaven’s profile, the arches after its gates and the columns and ridgebacks after the angels left to watch over Earth’s creatures. I’m not religious, but this place makes you reverent.

Moab is otherworldly. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

The wind picked up through the canyons as we raced to find an ambiguous dot on the (m)app. An empty parking lot on the left marked the entrance to a road that disappeared from sight behind tall grass and brush. I was a bit hesitant. To be fair, I hadn’t ridden dirt — like really taken on ruts and rocks and hairpin turns — in two months. But can I use that as an excuse for not feeling truly comfortable off-road? No. Because in the short time I’ve been riding off road, though I may appear at ease, I was no better at feeling “at ease” before an unfamiliar ride.

The dirt road ahead of me was flat, but twisty and wrought with jagged baby-head rocks. Justin took off, and I rode cautiously after him before psyching myself up. I didn’t spend the last year constantly covered in mud, crashing (occasionally) and partially severing my Achilles to start riding like a “Nancy.” So, as it would be for most of the ride, I tried to catch up to Justin. In his typical fashion, he pinned his XT’s throttle in its highest gear trying to kill it... or himself. I can never tell. Still apprehensive, I let his silhouette drift away until we hit the first rough patch.

The climb was steep, and the baby-heads turned to what looked like boulders buried partially in the ground. Lucky for us, the rain was still a drizzle, so nothing became too slick to handle. 4x4s of varying shapes and sizes gingerly descended past us with a wave and the typical trail-appointed hand signals. I sweated profusely from the challenge at hand, but maybe even more from the unknowns that lay ahead. It wasn’t long before my feet swung freely on either side of my bike like a child sitting on her father’s chair — or like myself (at five feet, one inch) always and forever on any chair made for an adult.

With views like this just off the trail, Moab is about more than the ride itself. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

The front wheel popped up onto a low ledge; the back wheel halted by an invisible obstruction. I found out the hard way that the speed I had chosen was not quite fast enough to get both of my tires over the rock, and so I teetered back-and-forth in limbo. D2 (that’s the name I’ve given to my XT225) doesn’t have the sort of power needed to get me out of such comical situations, and the obstruction behind prevented me from rolling backwards and trying again. I was stuck, helplessly waiting for Justin to turn around, hoping that this wasn’t telling of the rest of my ride to Gemini Bridges. If it were, it would be a long damn day.

Monumental Moab. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Though our ascent had its obstacles, our adventure of sorts turned out to be just what I didn’t know I needed. When the ground leveled out, we left the clouds and only blues skies and an exquisite horizon could be seen. Unlike my similar experience during the Barstow-to-Vegas dual-sport ride, my nerves were settled each time my eyes glanced from the ground to my surroundings. The breathtaking landscapes were a distraction from typical inner monologue of doubt. We went from climbing massive slick rocks around a twisty mountain pass — the ledge beside us was fatally steep — to drifting across a silty, heavily rutted and occasionally “whooped” path snaking its way through the plain. These couple of miles served as a moment of relief and helped cool my core temperature. And though I cursed my lack of skill and courage, I started to feel that familiar bubbling in my stomach that fills up my chest and soon flushes my face: joy?

After the climb, a sandy section feels like a break. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

When we reached the end — past the beach sand, up the switchbacks, over the bedrock gardens and through a cloud of lightweight sand — I was presented a choice.

There's always the bail-out paved option. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
“Do you want to take the (paved) highway? Or, turn around and go back?”

I only had a split-second to think, but it felt like dialogue from a British melodrama.

Logical me: That shit was hard! Do you want to go through that again? Your heartbeat is finally at resting pace, and the highway would be sooo easy. You could just relax...

Determined me: Pull yourself together! When will you have the chance to ride here again? You got through it, didn’t you? You can do it again! Don’t let him see you think so hard, just turn your bike around before anyone can tell you’re anxious!

Yes, ma’am. So I turned around and took off before I could change my mind.

It was then that the unrealized lessons I had learned started to take over. No worrying, I knew which lines to take. No searching or wondering, I just stood tall and scanned the road. I loosened my grip, absorbed with my legs, and shoved my hips against the gas tank. All those things you forget when you’re facing a challenge. Because I knew a little about where I was going, I was able to push myself further than I had before — faster and bolder.

Moab. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
It turned out the road to Gemini Bridges became the mentor I hadn’t asked for, but sorely needed. It taught me my limits — frightening me just enough to become courageous. We had zipped past the actual Gemini Bridges the first time and so we stopped for one last chance to see my “teacher’s” namesake. And as we approached the dizzying cliff edges, I felt emboldened. My toes stretched over the absence of land and a rush of what I can only describe as “freedom” overwhelmed me. For a moment, I felt powerful, invincible as if Moab bestowed me with some of its godly gifts.

Something was different then. Something is different now. I may still be the same person, cautious and neurotic, but since my trip to Gemini Bridges, I’ll never again be the same rider.