Riding Free

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Winter trips into the lower valley often yield firmer sand and easier travel. Without fail, the best lines are found in the winter when they cannot be ridden. Each warm spell mandates a return visit with our two-wheeled friends. This system of “roads” that we explore is a once-graded two-track that the Department of Transportation must be blissfully ignorant of. It travels down a valley wall and lands abruptly in a maze of sandy washes.

Each branching valley has a narrow passage of sand that erupts into purple, gray, and brown rocks that form the valley walls. Some of these valleys are home to small oil wells and their endless thumping and hissing. Interestingly enough, according to tight-lipped archeologists, one of these valley walls is home to an ancient carved staircase that descends to a cliff band hundreds of feet above the valley floor. It was once the end of a ceremonial forty mile overland hike made by prehistoric inhabitants. They would carry large clay pots along an ancient road that ended atop the staircase. The pots would then be thrown over the cliff for reasons we still don’t know. One day I would love to find this site, but archeologists are quite the secretive bunch.

The riding in the area was far from fruitless; Hazard and I have discovered many smaller lines that permeate the upper half of the valley. Obstacles such as the Notch, Sand Chute, and the Ski Jump simply do not exist outside of this place. I sat atop “The Notch,” squeezed the brake levers, adjusted goggles, and took the mandatory deep breaths.

Ten feet in front of me sat a cliff that seemingly dropped into nothing. Brakes were unlocked, feet touched pedals, and the bike rolled down the fall line. After a brief second I unweighted the front wheel and dropped eight feet through the air into a forty degree chute of sand. Sand sprayed across my goggles as I landed and brakes became useless for anything other than injury. Speeding ahead was a sandstone channel roughly forty-eight inches wide enclosed by forty foot stone walls. This channel turned twice and narrowed drastically; a crash here is something that is not considered an option. I turned left around the first, right around the second, and felt both pedals scrape the rock through the narrow exit. I finally got to breathe a sigh of relief and was sure to stop before riding off the eighty foot cliff that blocks further progress. The next twenty minutes were filled with my pulse thumping in my head as I pushed, carried, and heaved the bike back up the steep sand.

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