Thursday, November 11, 2010

Drop-In Sometime

Words and photos by Greg

Scattered around the edges of our valley are some amazing places to ride. There are smooth, easy trails. There are difficult and challenging trails.

Our taste in trails tends to run toward the more challenging end of the spectrum. But that being said, a fun trail is a fun trail. Some "easy" trails are super fun, while some are tedious. But both of us tend to prefer trails where the "moves" challenge us, where we need to learn and practice to be able to ride them smoothly, and where we'll often have to walk a section and leave the challenge for another day.

It should also be said that the spectrum of trail difficulty goes far beyond what we can ride and what we even aspire to ride. Though we both like rough, rocky trails, neither one of us is particularly interested in flying through the air. And there's a limit to the roughness and rockiness that we are interested in being challenged by. We do, however, fully support the sections of trail that are beyond our abilities, since we know that better riders are out there and that they are up for those challenges.

This past season, it seemed like our interest in staying challenged was taking a beating. There were changes happening out on familiar local trails that seemed to prove that someone didn't get it. Tough sections were re-routed. Interesting and gnarly obstacles were dug out and moved. Where the trail squeezed between a rock and a hard place, someone cut away a tree and turned a dicey move into a walk in the park. Whole lengths of new trail appeared that were neither challenging, nor particularly interesting, and which weren't even very fun.

Trina and I found this trend to be irritating. As did many of the valley's riders. We wanted to know who was behind these changes and how we could stop them. Our research indicated that the attacks were coming from two separate directions. One, rogue trail sanitizers who were illegally modifying the trails and screwing up signature moves. And two, official trail sanitizers who were "just making the trails more rideable."

And here let me explain that "sanitization" of a trail is not a good thing. It's not like wiping an infected tabletop with bleach. It's more like wiping everything interesting and fun off the face of the planet. If mountain biking has anything to compare with basketball, it might be like lowering all the hoops to 5 feet so the game would be easier for everyone. If mountain biking has anything to compare with mountaineering, it might be like blasting the top 15,000 feet off of Mt Everest to "make the top easier to get to." If mountain biking has anything to do with tourism, it might be like removing the Eiffel Tower from Paris. "We came here to see the Eiffel Tower." "Well too bad. We took it away."

As mountain bike riders, we don't really really appreciate the bar being lowered. Neither to accommodate us nor to over-accommodate others. We like the challenge. We like to know that a move we've been working on will be there until our practice pays off, until we finally manage to ride it, until we get past, wheels still under us and give a shout of satisfaction, riding onward with a grin. And we don't think it's too much to ask that other riders deserve the same respect, whether their skills are more or less advanced than our own. We're happy to walk what we can't ride -- for now. But we expect the same from others on the trail. And from those who are officially designated to maintain and build our trails.

So there's that rant.

Lucky for us, there are still heaps of challenging trails and challenging moments on those trails. One that looms large in the local psyche as well as being anticipated by visitors and being frequently photographed in mountain biking publications is the infamous Horse Thief Drop-In. Years ago, this section of "trail" was blasted out of a cliff to accommodate livestock, to give stockmen access to the grazing on a grassy "bench" overlooking the Colorado River. Today, it also connects two fun mountain bike trails. But the connection is somewhat dubious to most of us.

Meaning, that most riders walk/clamber down The Drop-In. They ride the lower loop. Then on their way back, they walk/clamber back up. But there are those who ride down it. My friend Landon is one of those. He has studied it and practiced it. He approaches it with caution and skill. And he nails it, almost every time.

For most of us, one glance is enough to know that it's not worth trying. And many would just wonder "Why?" Why would anyone even try to ride such a "trail" on a mountain bike? It just doesn't make sense. Nothing waiting there but bike damage and injury. Walk it and move on. But others see the challenge and try to face it.

On Monday our November Summer ended. Grey clouds rolled in. Light drizzle fell briefly. Temperatures dropped. Landon and Max invited me and Sprocket along and we headed for The Drop-In. Max was seeking Landon's wisdom on the best way to ride it. He listened. Studied the lines. Then gave it three good tries.

Final score: Horsethief Drop-In: 3. Max: 0.

I'm sure Max will be back to try another day. And someday he'll probably nail it.

In case it looks easy to you, come out and ride down it. Then, ride back up. I've never heard of anyone doing that.

We rounded-out our ride on one of the tougher longer trails in the valley. A steep step-y climb with lots of tight twists and challenging moves. Followed by some steep descending with lots of tight twists and challenging moves. Overall, a really fun trail that I haven't ridden enough. Lots of moves that push me right to my limit. A few that egg me into the attempt and find me wanting. And some opportunities to walk.

A very refreshing trail for the times I feel like the trails are being sanitized out from under me. And someday... Maybe, just maybe... If I ride enough rough trails and ratchet up my skill to a new level... Then maybe I'll try the Horse Thief Drop-in.

Landon and Landon.


  1. I'm picking up what you're laying down.

    BUT. In my current neck of the woods, we have flowy tacky trails through the trees, upon which frequently blow down rotted trunks. These I consider to be not bona fide trail features, but unwelcome roadblocks and so I remove them. Sometimes they're big enough to require me to stop and think and use levers. But I remove them.

    See what I'm saying?

    And, plus- the inlaws live in Whitewater, so we get out to ride Mary's/Lions several times a year and they're my favorite, with Horsethief being my favorite of the favorites.

  2. Very nice series of photos.

    I have yet to clear the drop-in and I have also wondered if anyone's cleared it as a climb.


  3. RD: Our desert trails don't suffer much from blow down. We're kinda spoiled in that regard. I hear what you're saying regarding the difference between trail-blocks and features. And I'd personally be thrilled if you'd keep trails clear of annoying deadfall -- especially if I'm going to show up and ride.

    But I promise I won't show up and move a log that annoys me that happens to be a bridge over a creek. Which is more like the dumb-assery that's been going on around here.

    Ed: Thanks. I may have to ask around to see if anyone I know knows anyone who has ridden it up. Seems impossible to me, but people do things I think of as impossible all the time.