How to be Thirsty in the Desert

Jun 12, 2012
by Beth Parsons  
We were almost ready to go. I had just finished final exams and was doing a really good job procrastinating writing my two essays I needed in my portfolio for music therapy. Adam finished the last day of “tear down” (where they pull all the fences off the ski hill) and is sitting in my living room saying “How bout now?... Can we go now?”

I stuff too many warm clothes (typical) into my rolly suitcase that Duncan gave me, his name and address still written on the tag in green felt pen. Duncan was my last roommate in Whistler before I moved to North Van for school. He was also a pretty darn good friend. He died this year at Christmas time in an avalanche near Pemberton, maybe you remember that.



We pack my little Golf to its poor little brim, and hoist up 2 bikes on my new roof racks and one on my old $50 special clamped to the hatch. The rear suspension looks unhappy. Here we go.

The states are a funny place.

“Why do you guys have so much stuff?”

“We are heading down to Moab for mountain biking, we’ve got camping gear and bike gear…” The border guard looks like a serious guy who’s trying to look even more serious “How do I know you aren’t going to stay down here?” He gets us to roll down the back window so he can see our messy piles of camping gear and shoes tossed about. I’m tempted to say - "because I live in BC - dummy!" But I remember how well that went over when I was flying to Belfast for my brother’s wedding and they detained me for 7 hours. “I can show you our insurance that runs our on the 11th when we have to be back, and we have to work?” He waves us through, Adam is laughing. “what?” he nods at my plaid shirt. “oh, damnit!” That stupid shirt’s buttons always come undone; I’m throwing this thing out. I was giving the border guy a full on show… but we’re in, so there you go.

After a stint at my sister’s house in Tacoma, shopping and finishing my essays, we are on our way to Moab at 6:30. I have officially applied and submitted my portfolio for music therapy, it feels good. We sleep once in a hotel (Adam’s Idea) and once in our new tent just off the highway (my Idea). Here’s a tip - don’t panic and wake up your boyfriend saying you think that huge military helicopter you saw earlier is now landing on your tent, it’s probably just the train, or the other train, or the one million massive trucks gearing down and roaring past.

Moab finally. We roll into Moab, it’s dry and red and beige. We are tired and cranky. I need a new xc helmet, so we stop in at Poison Spider. All the bike shops we went to were amazing and friendly.



We explore by car a little and find a good campsite. Someone sent us down a narrow little dirt road, “between McD’s and Burger King”. The terrain sort of reminded me of the grand canyon, red and steep. The tops of the canyon walls are hard looking red-orange rock, with crumbly sides that looked like the sluff from a snowy ridge. “This whole area used to be underwater” someone said.

We see this house built into the rock. It is being lived in by Russ. He likes us and shows us around, he even gives us some free firewood.



We give him a beer and a pineapple. He is stoked. He says he took the advice in Spanish Pipedream - the John Prine Song.



After some more exploring, we round a corner and past a parking lot. There is a Tacoma with a Chromag sticker and two shirtless guys drinking beers “I bet I know those - Is that Woody?” It is! Woody and Billy Stiles, (who I didn’t know yet, but now know is one of the funnest people on the planet.) Those boys are fantastic! We decide to camp with them, and tomorrow we ride. They have plans to meet up with Sarah Leishman and Katrina Strand (both RaceFace riders) and their crews.


Our campsite (Canyonlands) is less of a campsite and more like a windy, dusty parking lot with a pool, BBQ, showers, laundry and a place to do dishes. It works. And with neighbors like Billy and Woody, we’re living like kids, or kings, or - we’re freaking happy. We are really roughing it with our fancy lates every morning - check out the "hand-presso"!

You get 16 bar pressure using a bike pump. (If you're a coffee nerd, then you are impressed right now) BTW we do find this campsite a few days later, which was much nicer.




Day one

First, let me just pull out my excuse book. Ok, so I’ve been sitting on my butt studying all year, so I’m weak (excuse #1) and I’ve never been in the desert before (#2) and (#3), I didn’t really realize we were going to be pedaling ALL day (with National cup racers). Now before you start giving me a hard time for not bringing enough water, let me tell you I may be an idiot in the desert, but I can hold my own in the wilderness. Really! I can build a fire in the rain; I know about digging down in the sand for dry wood and looking under beached logs, I can build a shelter out of cedar branches and a bed with leaves. I can catch Dungeness crabs with a long pointy stick, I know when not to eat shellfish and how fry oysters in their shell on a fire and I bet I could even tickle the belly of a salmon to catch it for dinner if I had to… But I am not used to five and a half hours of biking in the heat of the desert, with no streams, no shade and no Canada. Idiot.


“Is that ALL the water you brought?” Woody asks and Billy looks calmly concerned. I have one liter and Adam has 2. We have just been dropped off by the good people at Chili’s bike shop.

We are with a Whistler crew - Katrina Stand, Sarah Leishman, Paul Stevens, Gunner and some English guy who I never caught his name, but is so funny Leishman says "You are definitely earning your place here".



Billy asks if everyone has full packs of water, they do he says “ OK, we might all have to share a little bit with these two” no one says anything as they zip up backpack pockets and bounce their front forks. We’re idiots.

Anyway. The ride is better then you can imagine. Strand and Sarah are laughing and exchanging words as they ride “Epic”, “Magical”, “Amazing”, “nope, I already got that one”. I would play, but this is more a gasping pace than a speaking pace for me. In Moab the sun is hot, the views are unbelievable and the air is dry. If you are sweating, and you must be sweating, you can’t feel it. Your skin is dry to the touch and no sweat runs in your eyes. I love it.



We finally stop for lunch. I have about 500ml of my water left. Everyone else is eating, I got a flat when I ran over a thorn that punctured my tire, but really everyone is so much faster they are half way done lunch by the time Adam and I saunter up. It is the hottest part of the day and we have just done the steepest stretch of the climb. We chill under a big rock, each person fitting themselves into the cracks to find shade.

Man I love biking.



This place is like Mars or something, it’s neat to be able to look across the land and see how much distance you’ve covered. Adam and I swallow down our salty crackers, salami and cheese, carefully sipping just enough water to keep the whole lunch from turning into an unmanageable paste in our mouths. I have 1/3 of my water left now. Adam shares some of his with me. It seems like everyone else is making electrolyte cocktails with those little pills you drop into water bottles. Then they’re up and ready to go. I zip up my backpack and pull on my gloves with a cracker and cheese in my mouth, breathing the hot dry air through my nose. Already?! I think, but this is what I wanted - to be pushed, and I have a lot of catching up to do if I want to be as fit as I need to be this summer. Woody tosses me the last couple sips of his water bottle electrolyte mixture, heaven. Game on. The views get more incredible.

This is not as scary as it looks. When you're on it, you don't really notice the edge, but it really does just hang over a massive free fall.


All down from here.

It's just a narrow awkward path, with about 15 feet of rock debris gently sloping towards a 200 foot fall to death. We walk this part.



The DH is far from BC hero dirt, obviously. The descent winds along the edges of the canyon like a 2 foot wide goat path. It has long but sharp switchbacks, narrow easy riding, but lots of angry looking rocks, loose patches of sandy-wish washy debris. Adam’s leg is cramping from lack of water. We are close to the river now and the ever enthusiastic Billy Stiles is yelling from the road “Still looking strong! Yewww!” I feel happy and more energetic as I rumble in the couple last hundred meters. I am exhausted fulfilled and alive. The crew is lounging, smiling and drinking water under a shady rock. They greet us “weew, you did it!” and some high fives. Billy looks like he’s about ready for another 6 hour ride, he hops up “It's about an hour ride back to town, we’ll stop for smoothies”.

They do stop for smoothies. But we don’t make it in time. Adam is dehydrated, he’s not talking and I am trying to get him to ride behind me to block the heavy wind that rips though town everyday at about 6:00. But he’s not really pedaling either, his legs are cramped. Normally I'd just give him a hard time about his old heavy Kona, but I’ve never seen him like this. I take him to the first spot we see that has water. The Marriott. He half sits, half collapses in the shade of the hotel entrance. I run inside and explain I really need water. We drink 2 liters quick, then a little more. He’s alive again, smiling, talking. Whew!

When we meet up with the crew they are just finishing their smoothies. “That was a nice relaxing day,” says Strand. Sarah assures me she’s just saying that. Sheesh.

That night Adam and I take Billy and Woody out for real 1950’s style burgers and milkshakes (YUM!) at Milts diner to say thanks for putting up with us and sharing their water and showing us around. Billy laughs and says “oh shit! Now I feel bad - I even had a little left in my water bottle, just in case I got stuck on the road.” Ha.


Day Two

Needless to say the next day when we got dropped off near the top of Hazard, we had more than enough water and a new Camelbak to boot.



That ride was so good we did it again a few days later.


The decent was epic, and long. Poor Gunner keeps breaking his chain.



We stop for lunch where you can look over the edge of this cliff.

Billy Stiles is a mad man, a legend.



Every time you roll up on him, he’ll be talking to randoms - pointing out directions, giving advice on routes, explaining the delicate ecosystem of the Moab ground cover, taking people’s pictures and generally bringing people together. He’s not afraid to huck to flat, and he charges harder than you.

The views are very nice.


There are a lot of people on the trail that day and even Jeeps coming uphill at one point. Adam was so surprised to find himself face to face with a vehicle that he went flying over his bars, to the horror and delight of the old guys in spandex picking their way carefully through the maze of etched away rock. One of those guys saw Sarah flying by and said “any girl with tattoo’s like that is going to be faster than us!” Later I watch a German tourist fall 7 feet off a ledge - he got up, could have been a lot worse.

That night we had French cut rib steak, with sautéed mushrooms and onions, corn on the cob and of course, beer. It is SO good. Everything feels just right. We swim and lounge at the pool. We shop at the local thrift shop, Adam buys a gross old man, light yellow, nerd shirt to keep his farmer tan from getting any better. I didn’t need to bring 3 toques. We hear it is raining in Vancouver. I am coming back next year.




63 Comments

  • + 36
 Everything a MTB blog should be - just like someone telling great stories about their trip in the pub. Good to see their were no Wiley Coyote moments around the cliffs. Nice to see the informative Beth P the Science Gal notes on the photos.
  • + 8
 sure! especially notes on photos! i like it veru much. it is so cool to watch them.
  • + 7
 could you write a book in this style and obviously about bike!? I rarely read any books because I get bored easily, but if something like this was published I would read it without stopping until the end. One of my favourite blogs, keep the good stuff coming!
  • + 6
 I love the MS Paint annotations on the photos. Sick blog as well, so entertaining.
  • + 3
 I like when I can understand a girl. It doesn't happen often haha.
  • + 13
 nice pictures! i love the editing...
  • + 33
 He used Microsoft paint quite effectively.
  • + 7
 She, I think you mean, Tate.
  • + 3
 Woops
  • + 2
 Lol, Tate was all excited about the hairy chest at the boarder scene!!
  • + 11
 Earths atmosphere ! hahaha nice!
  • + 4
 Yeah! Good one... And the VW golf as an ATV. Wish i was there.
  • + 2
 only one handpresso photo. and no pics of gia. good thing he gets lots of practice with that thing in the winter and had the skills to at least get his product in the edit. nice stainless espresso cup. good times. Remember. hot water is the nemisis of crema.
  • + 1
 Moab is the best. We've done the 24 hours two years in a row and it is such a blast. The drive down from Vancouver in a 37" RV is always epic and almost as scary as racing in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert all alone. It really is a magical place. Put a team together and get down and race this October. We'll be there representing Canada!
  • + 2
 Moab is one of my favorite places in the world, made the 24 hour drive three times in one year, and stayed at the same campsite as these guys. Love it! Really makes me want to go back.
  • + 2
 She did a great job of capturing the essence of biking and camping. You have to go a little light on the water now and then to remind yourself why you sometimes have extra at the end of the ride..... Love it!
  • + 3
 Next time eat at one of the killer Mexican restaurants. And wash it down with a Margarita.
  • + 1
 That's hilarious! A group f us from North Vancouver were down there just a month ago and what you've described may as well have been our trip. Too funny - and I support excuses 2 and 3. We'll know better for next time, eh?
  • + 2
 Nice writeup. Jesse from Coyote shuttle is a total nut. Our crew just worked on D-Mac's trail 2 of the past 3 weekends.....it's getting close. Miss that dude.
  • + 3
 Wow. That's an epic riding location Smile
  • + 2
 Real cool write-up, nice photos and funny to boot, what more could you want in an article?
  • + 1
 Great article. Kinda creepy though. Last time I was there (late April) Woody and Bill were hanging out in that same parking lot!
  • + 2
 Any more pics of Strand? She looks mint B-) really wish I had a riding partner like her !!!
  • + 3
 Hahaha hand spresso! Great article hope to see some more of these
  • + 1
 Thanks for pointing things out (literally)!LOL! Nice story and great pictures. Shaka Brah!
  • + 2
 Loving the "hand-presso"!
  • + 1
 Yeah, please share how you made it!!
  • + 1
 Ahh we were there when Woody and Billy were riding. Played leapfrog with them on Amasa Back. Great guys. bikeco!!!
  • + 1
 Nice one! Which specialized is that lime green/black beauty manhandled on the roof?
  • + 2
 SX trail. Not sure of the year.
  • + 3
 2011 sx trail 2
  • + 1
 Awesome!! Thanks for that. Brings back memories of my own Moab trip - have to get back...
  • + 2
 Great story they should have stuff like this more, really interesting!!
  • + 2
 wicked awesome stuff BP! bummed I missed out on this trip!
  • + 1
 That was awesome. We were literally less then 4 - 5 days behind you. It was so nice to escape the rain
  • + 1
 Best ride report I've read!! Gotsta go to Moab soon cause I'm done hearing about it, I want to live it!
  • + 1
 Thoroughly enjoyed those pics
  • + 1
 Poison Spider is the best shop!
  • + 1
 Cool story. Is the guy with no shirt drinking a hopslam?
  • + 1
 Yes I'm a coffee nerd and yes I am VERY impressed right now.
  • + 1
 "because I live in BC - dummy!"
Ha! Love it!
Great story
  • + 1
 awesome trip and great write up!
  • + 1
 Woah, I need that epic VW bus. Seriously!
  • + 1
 "How to be thirsty in the dessert" - Uh, that doesn't sound to hard
  • + 1
 Can someone explain to me what "hero dirt" is?
  • + 5
 Hero dirt is called hero dirt because it lets anyone ride like a hero. It is usually a nice loamy soil that, when cornering, lets you do beautiful drifts but the tires never let go. This is because your tires dig in and a mini-berm builds up on the outside of the tire as you corner - the harder you corner, the more dirt builds up and so you never fall down. It is found in forests where decomposed leaf litter mixes in with the soil to provide the softness required. We get it here in Canberra after rain. Santa Cruz redwood riding and PNW is almost always hero dirt because of lots of moisture mixed with lots of trees. Saying that, you can find it in gravel trails after rain.
  • + 4
 And when you fall on hero dirt it doesn't hurt quite as much as when you eat it on Moab rock
  • + 2
 More of this!
  • + 1
 Missing Moab.. Enjoyed the story and photos.
  • + 1
 Hey i see that big bike on top of the car. U should use it lol
  • + 1
 I would like your lime fox forks Big Grin Great pictures!
  • + 1
 I love this! Super entertaining.
  • + 1
 Latte.
  • + 1
 looks like fun lol.
  • + 1
 Wow I miss those trails!
  • + 1
 Thanks for sharing!!!
  • + 1
 that is very kool
  • + 1
 nice story
  • + 0
 I love your story! You are so cute! And I am inspired.
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