Paul Andrews

What Happens in Moab, Day 4: Sovereign Trail

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips on December 24, 2009 at 2:15 am

[Note: When the holidays slow news down, we reach into Santa’s bag of tricks for a hearkening back to our favorite rides. This week we’re featuring a 2004 expedition to Moab, Utah, America’s mountain biking mecca and an international magnet for mountain bikers everywhere.]

The Sovereign Trail

When we picked up our bikes at Poison Spider Bicycles, I’d noticed on the guide rack a new map called the “Sovereign Trail System.” I got to chatting with one of the wrenches, who said it was well worth the trip out, and made a mental note to follow up. In plotting a week’s rides in Moab, every day’s decision affects every day after that. I was thinking latter week, but when Jim got stirred up after his Moab Rim encounter, he was ready to rock the next day.

One good reason to jump on Sovereign was that by Tuesday we had our full complement of riders: Jim, Jason, Chance Richie, Jean-Pierre Chamberland and myself. Chance had rolled into town the day before while we were up on the Rim. I was expecting him to show any minute when a guy appeared with a wife and kid in tow, saying how eager he was to ride with us.

Man, I had no idea what was up. Chance (whom I’d not met) I knew was married — but he hadn’t mentioned any kids. And I certainly hadn’t counted on any of our party staying with their wife and kid. The condo wasn’t suitably equipped.

I was doing these mental gyrations and mumbling things like, “Glad to meet you” and “Great you could come” when finally I had to lay it out. “Um, were we expecting you?” I asked. Jim thankfully jumped in and mentioned that this was Jean-Pierre, who’d messaged earlier about hooking up with us on a family vacation trip bringing him through Moab. I hadn’t gotten any such message. The wonders of spam filtering: block the mail you want while letting the gunk flow through.

So then, after we’d sorted it all out, Chance walks in beaming like Jack Nicholson in “Easy Rider.” I had to laugh at my earlier flummox. Chance is a strapping good ol’ Texas boy, while Jean-Pierre is a compact French-Canadian. Even in the wee hours after a few too many at the local pub, you’d never get the two confused.

The next day was going to be our only chance to all ride together. Jason had unfortunately gotten word of his grandmother’s death and was having to depart the following day for her funeral. He’d be returning on Friday, but by then both Jean-Pierre and Chance would be gone. What better opportunity than brand-new singletrack for Team Moab to break in?

Sovereign is a pretty good drive north of town off the main highway. You turn right (east) at Willow Spring Road, open a gate and close it behind you, then drive in a couple of miles to a parking lot on the left by a pump house. You ride some jeep road up from the parking area and the trailhead is well-marked.

Sovereign comprises two sets of singletrack, and the southern one (the first you do) is the better. Ride the second – a full loop – if you have time and energy, but don’t do it first or you’ll get misled. The first trail is well-marked, well-designed and well-constructed. The second seems like an afterthought, a hodgepodge slapped together just to add miles.

Jason remarked that the first section was a bit reminiscent of Gooseberry Mesa down by Zion. There’s a lot of ledge-type riding, slickrock mixed in with sandy trail, all pretty exposed. Gooseberry may have slightly more vegetation. It reminded me also of Cottonwood Valley outside of Vegas, although Sovereign doesn’t have the extended roller-coaster rips of Cottonwood. Still, this is true singletrack unlike anything else you find around Moab. It’s well worth checking out, but keep in mind this is high desert. The earlier in the day the better.

Despite Gonzz’s meteorological trepidations back in January, we were having absolutely dynamite weather. After Saturday’s overcast and wind we’d seen nothing but sun, in the mid-70s. We were comfortably warm, not hot. You couldn’t ask for better Moab riding weather – any hotter and we would’ve worried about dehydration.

Climbing one riser I went over backwards after kicking out a rock and not being able to unclip from my Eggs. The sand gets into the cleats and frictions everything up. I scratched my forearm but it looked worse than it was. Jason had a couple of tire problems, pinch-flatting and then, incredibly, blowing out the sidewall of a Panaracer he’d bought two days earlier. Desert rock can be jagged and sharp, but Jason’s problem was strictly a manufacturing defect.

It was a great day to all be together. We found several rest points with sweeping views of bluish-green escarpments jutting from the desert. There were lots of riders out, mostly on the first section.

Not knowing what we know now, we automatically went ahead with the second loop. It had a lot of pushing up really rocky trails, and unrideable sandy sections, and it just wasn’t very interesting. Then there’s the long ride back on really sandy jeep road. I was more tired psychologically at the end than physically.

It probably would’ve been more fun to just head back the way we came out on the initial six-mile-or-so section. But now we know. As it stands, I hope they (the state, BLM and a group called Ride with Respect) continue to develop the system with more singletrack.

(Note: In the Sovereign Trail video, the soundtrack is by the Urban Bushmen. Which happens to be ride leader Jim Lyon’s band, and he’s featured on lead vocal.)

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