Route 6, from Spanish Fork, UT, to Interstate 70, seems to the familiar driver an ordinary, even dull stretch of road. Of course, the mountain biker familiar with the area knows it well as the main artery that pumps the region’s biking blood straight to the heart itself: Moab. The stuff of countless daydreams, photos, videos, and personal high points of riding for so many, Moab is The Destination. Route 6 is only a seemingly endless stretch of road, an obstacle for impatient riders hellbent on getting that Slick Rock lap in time for sunset. The mile markers that pass distance seem to offer nothing but gas, or a Subway sandwich.
I know that route well, and its reputation as one of the deadliest in the country. I’ve made that trip more times than I can remember, jacked on caffeine, fighting not to take a little nap on that final southern stretch, so flat and beautiful and yet seeming to be so ordinary and repetitive as to refuse description. It’s deceivingly meandering straight stretches, only a single dashed line between its two lanes, coupled with the promise of that intense Slick Rock sunset, had led me more than once to push it past a Texas sized R.V. , almost becoming another of its hundreds of fatalities.
But every one of those drives, something gnawed at me besides arriving alive, the promise of riding, cold hops and a hot fire. It was a nagging sensation that I was missing something. As I lofted up and over Spanish Fork Canyon, past Price, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the hills rolling and climbing. I knew, instinctively: there was riding to be had-good riding. So, one day, on who knows what number of that mind numbing drive, I stopped in Price, to see what was just off the beaten path.
“The Dirt is Different Here”
Same as Price itself, I drove right by Fuzzy’s Bicycle Works without even noticing it. Tucked away in a strip mall just off Route 6, the mothership of Price’s mountain bike scene didn’t have much in the way of signage. Inside, Fuzzy’s mom Shirley, who was manning the counter, brought me up to speed. Noticing me eying something I’d never seen in a shop before, a pile of well used shovels and rakes, she offers, “The dirt is different here. It’s got white stuff in it, like chalk, tougher to clean than normal dirt.” Fuzzy confirms this on arrival, explaining that sand and silt washed down from the Wasatch Plateau, containing healthy amounts of alkali. As a result, the T-9 lube we both swear by is useless here. It took him a couple of toasted drive trains before he figured out to switch to Finish Line. “It’s the only one. White Lightning is ok, but only for about an hour”. Of course, I didn’t make the trip just for a lube clinic, and Fuzzy is more than happy to use my visit as an excuse to leave his most trusted employee in charge, and go ride.
This’ll be fun, I’m certain after only a few pedals into Luke’s Trail, the crown jewel of Fuzzy’s nearly ten years of digging efforts. It’s the buttery smooth, just wide enough kind, true single track, and it doesn’t take long before it demands attention to keep from busting the constant blind turns. It’s probably easiest to describe this as Mesa riding, it’s not the grind-it-out climb before dropping-
The trail winds, and winds, and winds, an erratic zigzag puzzle, as if it had been designed by a hyperactive trail dog – which it was. Every trail worth riding has its name and story, and this one is Luke’s, the four legged architect for whom it was named, Fuzzy’s now past riding partner. When he first arrived in 2002, and asked about trails, he was told there were plenty to be had, but all the directions brought him only to jeep roads: hammer head, cross country stuff. So he set out, following Luke the Pit, who possessed an unusual canine 6’th sense for seeking out perfect trail lines. Fuzzy simply set him loose, and like any good ‘ol boy who’d grown up in Hurricane, Utah, he dug first and asked for forgiveness later. Luke had a fondness for tight, technical flow, and an appetite for mandatory moves. As I drop one short, steep pitch and immediately have to hammer up another one, I slam my bicep into one of the countless thick junipers that keep riders honest. My first bicep injury biking! The trail continues this way, each section more demanding and more fun. With each seamless transition, Fuzzy tells the history behind their name. “Therapy” is a highlight that forces out the “Hell Yeahs”. He explains it’s the post divorce trail: “Just me and Luke out here, digging and riding-Therapy”. It makes me feel better, and I was feeling fine to begin with.
“The Shop is Here to Support the Trails, not the other way around”
Along the way, we encounter other riders. Fuzzy knows them all by name, and gets a field report from each on trail conditions. Recent rains have demanded attention, and Fuzzy, the self appointed trail maintenance crew, has dutifully responded to needed repairs. In the beginning, it was just him and Luke, and local resistance seemed to come from everywhere. The BLM director at the time was virulently anti-land use, and he found himself asking for a lot of forgiveness. Weeks of work were plowed under. The ATV users would trash trail work, the County Commission was spooked by liability issues, and even the local shop where he was working at creating a scene was sending riders south to look for trails. With the owner content to stock Fisher Price bikes and resistant to a real trail system and selling real bikes to ride it, things reached a head. If Price trails were going to grow, Fuzzy decided he’d have to open up his own shop.
“The shop is here to support the trails, not the other way around”, he explains. For Fuzzy, the trails were always first, and although it was paying the bills and bringing quality bikes to Price, the shop was robbing him of precious dig time. He realized if he wasn’t going to get support, he’d have to create his own, and so P.A.S.S was born, Price Area Single Track Society. At a city sponsored “Trail Use Meeting”, he noticed Alan Peterson eying him suspiciously. Alan was an old school hammerhead, and he initially had the long haired Fuzzy pegged as “an Environmentalist Commie. By the end of our first conversation we were best friends”. Alan became the second member of P.A.S.S, and he started digging immediately. “He didn’t really get my permission (or even include me) in building Alan’s Alley. We’re a lot alike”. More heads got involved, one of the more demanding sections actually built by a six year old and Pete, a local wary of being tied to a pirate trail. Consistently claiming “it’s not my trail”, it became known as “Knot Pete’s” section. Legal or not, a trail system was growing.
With time, Fuzzy’s outreach efforts started to pay off. Names changed at the BLM and County Commission to include sympathetic ears. The trails got official approval and the “Knot” got dropped from Pete’s trail. I.M.B.A. got word, came in and knocked out a month’s worth of work in a weekend. Local ATV riders were beginning to respect his efforts. Private land owners that he came in contact with were actually pleased: what had formerly been White Trash Point, a dumping ground for mattresses, refrigerators, whatever, was now cleared and serving as trail head camping for respectful bikers. Out of the trail system, a riding destination was being created.
The Future That Is, and That Could Be
Early the next day, I jump in with Fuzzy and we head out towards the mesas, a series of book cliffs. They’re nameless, for the most part. He’s pored over the old maps and found only numbers for them. They’ll have to be named, and Fuzzy is excited. He’s finally managed to gain approval from a private land owner to access them, and is planning the epic ride he feels is missing from his resume. A no turning back, commitment ride: it will be around 27 miles, climbing up and then along the rims to connect three different mesas. It’s lush up there, the dirt is perfect, and the views are epic. If all goes right, I’ll be back in a year to ride it. “Ten years”, he tells me, is how much longer he plans to dig for. I’m trying to imagine what that effort will yield.
That thought remains with me as I start up Dead Dog Trail by way of Ben’s Switchbacks. Ben was an Eagle Scout earning a badge when he worked the initial climb on Dead Dog, and right now I’m getting schooled by a boy scout. It’s a short but stiff climb with punchy, technical switchbacks, and I’m blowing more than one of them. You might not need you’re A game here, but, like that extra tube, you should probably bring it with you. When I clear the last pitch, it’s more technical mesa riding, but yesterday was only a warm up. The moves here are more demanding, and the options are more fun. More than once I have to unclip and hit the rewind button to clean a section, and I find myself hitting pause to suss out lines before taking them.
The trail continues this way to its crux, Dead Dog Spine. Years ago, while working his trail design magic, Luke managed to dig up the long past skeleton of another, very large dog. It would have taken a serious effort to have gotten it that far for its memorial, and so Fuzzy and Luke took the time to give the anonymous canine an improved resting spot, along with a pretty serious namesake section. The beautifully exposed section is pockmarked with chest high boulders, transitioned by trials planks and ladders, and not recommended for the nervous. Rolling up on a decent sized step down rock gap to ladder hit, I understand why one of the riders I met yesterday was rocking the full face helmet.
For Dead Dog, you’ll want to come prepared.
It’s past two in the afternoon, Friday, and as I descend back down to Spanish Fork, there is a steady stream of traffic heading the opposite direction, towards Moab, and probably past Price. Every third or fourth car has mountain bikes. If they hustle, and don’t hit the traffic just outside of town, they’ll pay the fee and make it up to the Sand Flats in time to ride for an hour or so. Or, they could take their time, drive an hour and take in the sunset playing on Luke’s trail. Maybe we don’t owe it to Fuzzy and Luke, but we owe it ourselves as mountain bikers to take a turn (just) off the beaten path and see what’s there.