Highway to hell

As clearly as if it were yesterday, I recall the moment when I wanted to punch my friend, who was sitting next to me in the car. The problem was, he was driving—or I might have. As we crested a mountain pass somewhere in the middle of nowhere Nevada, he said something—I can’t remember exactly what—but it brought out the worst in me. We were not even a day into what was a dream mountain bike road trip across the West, and at that moment I knew it was going to be a long one. I had made a massive mistake.


We were two kids in our early 20s on what every mountain biker would consider to be a dream, two-week-long road trip, hitting every epic destination along the way. Our plan was to hit all the must-ride spots I had read about in the pages of this very magazine, Mountain Bike Action. Moab, Crested Butte and Vail were all on the list, and we had yet to visit any of them. There were a few races along the way that we were going to hit as well. We were traveling in a very small white import with our race bikes strapped onto a cheap, Hollywood-style rack. We had been racing and riding together for a few years and knew each other well—or so I thought

I still do not know why, but we were acting like the odd couple, bickering over the smallest things, like when I was trying to stuff a week’s worth of riding gear and clothes into my medium-sized duffel bag, and he critiqued me on how I packed my clothes. The now-engineer for a major bike component brand, who was probably smarter than me, was right and I knew it, but the immature side of me just kept stuffing things into the overflowing bag. The awesome rides and races were all overshadowed by the negativity that I just couldn’t get past. Yes, it was me. I couldn’t let it go and rise above our differences.


It was my first time in Moab and my first time riding the Slickrock Trail. I can still remember the chatter from my super-stiff aluminum hardtail race bike and how, as with every part of the trip up to that point, nothing was as I had expected it to be. Bikes and suspension back then were very different from today. The skatepark-like experience that I expected and have experienced today on modern bikes was replaced with a rattle-fest that made my hands hurt and blurred my vision.

Then there was a magic moment—one of the most oddly memorable events of my life. We were camping somewhere off of Sand Flat Road, far from anyone, above the town of Moab. The midsummer Utah desert weather was scorching hot, yet a repair stand and solar shower setup in the middle of nowhere provided what is to this day the most amazing shower I have ever had. As I stood in the open desert, rinsing off the Slickrock-induced salt and uncomfortableness of the trip, I felt at peace for the first time on our journey, as flashes of a thunderstorm raged in the far distance. Later that evening, as I was strewn across the top of my sleeping bag, trying to sleep in the hot desert night, the first massive drop of rain that hit my body took me right back to that dark, negative place. That distant thunderstorm was now upon us. Instead of just being hot and unable to sleep, I was now hiding from the pounding rain in a hot, humid tent. Today, I would laugh it off, but on this trip, I just couldn’t.


Decades later, my friend and I crossed paths again on an off-road camping trip with mutual friends. It was good to see him, and we had both changed. We were both fathers with kids of similar age, and all of those little things that bothered me on that trip were in the distant past. We had both matured and seemingly gained perspective. I enjoyed his company as if nothing had ever happened. He asked me why we lost touch long ago, and I think he knew why, but maybe he didn’t? Maybe it was just me? I avoided the truth, saying, “I don’t know,” but wish I would have been honest. I bet that if the two of us were to get in that same small car today and set off across the country on an epic road trip, it would be different. Would I risk a dream trip to the best riding destinations like that again? No way!

Happy Trailsmountain bike road tripRon Koch