MAAP in the field: Until the road ends

A little earlier this year, a group of nine MAAP ambassadors from around the world converged on Moab, Utah to explore the roads and sights of the mountainous U.S. state. In the opening days of their adventure the riders wound their way along the Colorado River and explored the rocky formations of the Arches National Park.

In this second instalment of MAAP’s In the Field series, the riders head for the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains near the Utah-Colorado border.

Words by Andy Bokanev | Images by Jeff Curtes & Erik Jonsson

The concept for the trip was simple: MAAP would bring a few people together, under the same roof, in a lesser-known cycling location, to explore new roads and terrain. With a mixture of riding styles, language barriers, taxing conditions and wholly foreign terrain, it’s not hard to imagine things going awry. With this group, though, something just clicked.

Maybe it’s because we all had to sacrifice something to be here. We might be pros in our own minds but in reality we’re just somewhat nutty when it comes to riding bikes.

For me, as a father with a full time gig (or three) back in my home state of Washington, it’s always difficult to leave home. Spending a day away from my daughter at this stage in her life can feel like I’m missing an entire lifetime in her world.

All of us had to make sacrifices to join this trip, whether it was coordinating time off from work, leaving family, or tabling any number of other priorities. But we all wanted to be a part of the experience, so we figured out a way to make it happen.

Meet the MAAP crew

On our final day in Moab we were leaving behind the Mars-like views we encountered at Arches National Park a day earlier and trading them for the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains. Those peaks had been taunting us just outside our windows every morning and night since we’d arrived.

Monty, who’d got to the house a few days ahead of the group, had a chance to pre-ride some of the route. He’d kept dropping ominous hints throughout the previous few days: “You just wait!” “Better save your legs for tomorrow!” “Better eat a good breakfast!”

The route itself was a fairly straightforward 100km loop through the mountains, for a total of around 1,900 meters of elevation. That in itself wasn’t too much of an issue. But our tired legs and the fact that all of this climbing would eventually top us out at around 2,500 meters made our lungs burn that little bit more in anticipation.

We rolled off and pointed ourselves towards the mountains. The ridiculously straight road disappeared into a vanishing point many miles ahead of us. It took a few minutes to realise that we had already started our climb on what was a deceptive false-flat. Just as we started finding the morning rhythm I felt the road start to feel bumpier than it looked. A quick hop revealed a slow leak in my front tyre.

Just a few hours before, as I was taking my bike out of the garage I discovered a flat rear. The culprit? A goathead thorn, so ubiquitous to this area. Before we left for the ride, I made sure that everyone knew to stay off the sides of the road to avoid flats. Naturally I was the first one to puncture.

As I was finishing my tyre change someone else’s tyre went “pffffffftttttt” and our mechanical delay got extended by a few minutes. No worries though — a little snack, a sip of water, a bit of conversation and a quick trip to the bushes all helped pass the time before we got back on the saddle.

A few miles later the road turned into a valley and started to point aggressively upwards. Straight up. We were rolling through in complete morning silence, the warmth from the spring sun balanced out by the occasional chilly breeze being carried down off the snow-capped mountains.

We kept climbing until the snow on the side of the road no longer seemed a fun and novel thing, but just an indicator of our ever-increasing elevation. Conversation faded as our lungs started to feel the burn of the thinner air.

The only sounds to interrupt the surrounding silence were our tyres rolling across the tarmac, the switching of gears, and the occasional unzipping of jerseys.

A steep and twisty descent dropped us into a deep valley and I found it hard to decide whether to enjoy the screaming descent or the views to my left. After a few turns we rolled by, inexplicably, a porta-potty placed precariously on a ledge, overseeing a sweeping view of snow-capped pines. “Hey, when you see this, you’re gonna lose your shit!”, I muttered to those next to me for a little laugh.

The climbing plateaued into a steady sets of rises and dips, prompting accelerations and a handful of strokes out of the saddle. Virginia flew by like she was riding a motorbike. I got on her wheel as we crested another roller.

I sat back down as Virginia continued to power away. “Ok, I’ll just hang out back here,” I thought to myself. Then suddenly: ROAD CLOSED.

We’d heard a rumor from locals earlier that morning that a combination of recent weather, the toll of the winter, regular maintenance and a recent accident made the road impassable. We let out a collective shrug and settled down to grab a bite to eat, drink a coke or two and, in our minds, retrace the route that brought us up to this point with all of its ups and downs, knowing we were about to do it in reverse.

Looking around the bunch it was hard to catch a moment when someone was not smiling. And why wouldn’t we be smiling? We were in the middle of nowhere under a cloudless sky, surrounded by snow and mountains on our bikes with new friends that, after just a couple of days together, started feeling like extended family.

We all had separate paths that brought us together from all over the world. Some of us had to take time off work to make the trip, others were about to start a block of training for an upcoming race season at the highest level of the sport.

We’d had deep conversations. We talked about helping your partner get over a life-threatening crash, we compared notes about terrible relationships, and we discussed the balance between following your passions and maintaining a family. Life is too short for small talk.

On reflection, I think we all knew we’d walk away from this trip with the kind of stories that only get better as they age. It’s why we did what we could to make it work.

Just the night before we’d had a Russian living in Seattle drinking sake with a bike shop owner from Tokyo while listening to a Swede talk about the future of AI with a Scottish Dubai resident and an American living in Melbourne. Yeah, it’s tough to get away. But, just as life is too short for small talk, so it’s far too amazing to not experience it to its fullest.

We packed up, zipped up and headed back downhill enjoying every metre of the road. “I like descending,” Jane had said with a shrug the day before as we were making our way back from Arches. The wide, sweeping roads coming off the La Sal Mountains must have been like a candy store to Jane, because she, Fiona and Virginia all took off on the descent as if they were weighed down by cement blocks.

We never saw them again until we were back at the house.

As I was flying down the last few kilometres, aided by equal parts false-flat and tailwind, I started to realise that it would soon be time to pack up our bikes, check into our flights and get ready for our last dinner in Utah. The sadness was fleeting however, as we all reunited in the house and compared notes, still in awe from the last few days together.

Can we do this again? Let’s do this again.