Tabeguache Trail Thru-Hike-a-Bike

Or, “How I Learned to Hate Adobe Mud in 128 Miles”

Did you miss me?

3:30 AM. My alarm won’t go off for an hour, but I’m wide awake. Christmas morning syndrome. Soon I will be pedaling the Tabeguache Trail from Grand Junction to Montrose. My bike, Beatrice, leans against the window, heavy-laden with gear but light of heart.

Ahead of us: 142 miles of dirt and 14,800′ elevation gain across the Uncompaghre Plateau.

Jeremy and I hit the road at 05:00 and pedal a few miles on pavement. On my loaded singlespeed (30:20), I was cutting switchbacks in the road, but the climb went smoothly. (He lives on the backside of Lunch Loops so we skipped the proper start).

At sunrise, we hit Bangs Canyon and got first tracks on some primo downhill slickrock.

Little did we know this would be the last ride-a-bike for hours.

Eventually we bottomed out and started climbing. Wet conditions from the previous night’s surprise rain quickly turned the trail into adobe mud. We pushed on (literally), confident that the rising sun would dry the trails.

Jeremy loves hike-a-bike. No, seriously.

Time slowed and the world adopted a claymation filter. Thick, sticky mud clogged everything: fork, chain, (Jeremy’s) derailleur, our brains. We resorted to spanking the clodden tires with sticks every hundred feet… Try it sometime, it’s really therapeutic.

Whack-a-bike. We each carried our favorite sticks for frequent demudding.

Finally we reached the top of whatever and things dried out. We enjoyed a blazing doubletrack descent down to Whitewater. I punctured a sidewall but the sealant clogged it up quite nicely.

Best water on the Tab! Cattle trough.

We joked about carrying our bikes across 141 so they didn’t touch pavement but then decided we would just “let on” that we did (see also, Huckleberry Finn).

Next up was a long dirt road climb. 30:20 was sufficient, but I would’ve downshifted given the opportunity. We took a quick nap in the shade and then pressed on to meet Jeremy’s wife at the Dominguez-Escalante. She brought blessedly pure water, a new tire for me and cold zucchini egg casserole (baller!)

At this point, Jeremy headed home. Had I known what lay ahead, I may have joined him. Instead, I pointed my knobbies westward, cranked the Darkness, and rode off to my doom like a lamb to the slaughter.

Outrunning a thunderstorm felt pretty good… Mostly due to changing wind patterns and not my blazing speed.

The riding was good until Cactus Park, a veritable sand trap. I felt pretty goofy pushing flat terrain, but at least it was pretty.

They’ll soon be back, and in greater numbers…

Eventually I dropped down to Dominguez Campground, ate garlic mashed potatoes and summer sausage, and slept under a picnic table that I stretched my tarp over. A good thing too, because it rained a half inch.

Day one complete. Fifty miles in fourteen hours… As Jeremy said, a ten-year old Kenyan in homemade sandals could’ve outrun us. 

The next morning, after a dry night albeit cramped night, I scarfed down some oatmeal and rolled out at 06:00, ready to make up for lost time and pedal myself silly.

Duel with gravity: wheelbarrows at dawn.

Perhaps “roll out” is a bit optimistic of a verb. I pushed up the initial hill, then ran into showstopper clay mud. Unlike the mud outside GJ, this stuff was unwhackable. I eventually removed my front wheel, clipped it to my pack, and dragged my bike uphill for decades.

Some good came out of the experience. I discovered three new hike-a-bike techniques:
– “The Manual.” Remove front wheel, pull bike on a never-ending wheelie.
– “The CBL.” Remove front wheel, flip bike 180, push backwards from the handlebars. Experience backing a trailer is handy.
– “The Drag Queen.” Flip bike onto side, nonfunctional-drivetrain-up, and drag on sidewalls.

Hours later, I encountered a rancher in a truck. The driver assured me that it would dry out soon. It did… an hour of pushing later, it did. Relativity of travel time aside, it was a beautiful sight.

Riding at last.

At long last, I hit Divide Road. It took me six and a half hours to travel fifteen miles. During this time, I decided to forgo the fun(?) parts of the Tab and just ride gravel back to Montrose. I also decided “screw ethics” and accepted cold, pure water from an ATV rider. Oh, and a five-mile ride in a Polaris to expedite the Divide segment. Thank God for rednecks.

Divide Road – the long, green, gravel-strewn tunnel.

The rest of the day was a beautiful blur. Lots of pedaling, some pushing, handfuls of peanut M&M’s and dried papaya. Midday nap, repeat.

Overlooking the La Sals

I eventually hit a sign marking 39 miles to Montrose. I was low on water and getting bored with my snacks, never a good proposition for a hypoglycemic. It was then that I had a spiritual experience.

At Columbine Campground, I encountered two angels (and their mom and grandma). They gave me ice-cold water and a Holsum turkey+Swiss sandwich with sour cream and onion Pringles. If you guys are reading, thank you again for reviving me.

Trail magic.

Many miles later, I crested Divide Road and saw Montrose on the horizon. All downhill from here, baby. I blasted down the dirt at 30mph, dropping a couple thousand feet of elevation in the blink of an eye.

One of my climbing club kids (now a blessedly licensed driver) picked me up just outside of town and promptly escorted me to the Horsefly for a Bavarian bacon beer cheeseburger on a pretzel bun.

I fell asleep that night with visions of the Colorado Trail flitting through my mind. No adobe mud there. Maybe it’s time to go big *and* go home…

Colorado Trail

Afterword: As I ride the bus from Montrose to GJ to pick up my car, I recall that these experiences were almost exclusively Type 1 Fun, even the vicious, viscous mud. I had a great time in God’s own backcountry. Singlespeed was a winner; rigid would be even better. Water sources would be doable provided that you’re not stuck averaging 3mph for 12 out of 26 travel hours. I skipped what is supposedly the hardest section (the Roubideau, 21 miles of steep jeep trail through 15 major drainages) but it’ll still be when I come back for the Grand Loop.

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