It started with an ending.
Last month my husband, Darin, and I found ourselves on Porcupine Rim in Moab, Utah, finishing a mountain bike ride I had started last fall during a bikepacking trip from Durango, Colo. On the last day of the trip you are suppose to ride the Whole Enchilada, which ends with 13 miles of Porcupine Rim (the complete route is 32 miles). Due to several different circumstances our group had opted to ride out on Sand Flats Road, a less technical fire road. Even though it was the safer thing to do that day, I felt defeated.
Fast-forward eight months. Darin and I decided to drive cross-country to Asheville, North Carolina. We would mountain bike in as many spots as we could along the way. We had 16 days to do it. We decided to take the northern, I-70 as we headed east, so we put Moab on the list as our first stop for a ride. I would be able to finish what I had started.
The trail was technical and beautiful, with the landscape changing all the time as we made our way to the output at the Colorado River. About two-thirds of the way down Darin had a pretty major crash, endo-ing as he came off some rock drops. He collected himself and after taking inventory, determined he may or may not have broken his wrist. Second full day of the trip, first real ride and we could have a serious problem.
We finished the Rim and headed back to our campsite to pack up and head to Fruita, Colo., Darin’s wrist swelled slightly. He iced it and took some ibuprofen and we decided we would see how he felt in the morning and go from there.
The next morning, Darin’s wrist was still painful and swollen. He started to think about trying to find a hospital to get in X-ray so we would know one way or another. I left him alone for a bit to get some work done, and let him think about what he wanted to do. While I was gone, Darin started talking to the people in the campsite next to us. Turns out, one of them was an ER doctor. He did a quick assessment of Darin’s wrist and didn’t feel, in his opinion, that it was broken. He said Darin should keep riding.
That was the confidence we needed. We grabbed a brace at Walgreens and headed out to the Area 18 Trails in Fruita to get back on our bikes. It’s amazing how quickly things can change and how big of an impact people on the road could make. Our list of mountain bike stops for the trip ranged from the well-known, top spots to lesser-known areas that we had to seek out.
We started, as mentioned, in Moab, Utah and in addition to Porcupine Rim we rode the Practice Loop on the Slickrock Trail; a surreal experience of riding straight up grippy rocks. In Fruita we rode Prime Cut and Joe’s Loop. Following a quick stop in Denver we drove across Kansas and Missouri, stopping only for food, including our first ever Sonic experience as well as authentic barbecue at Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, and to stretch our legs by biking on some dirt roads off of the highway. We had heard there was some good mountain biking in Lawrence, Kansas, but we decided to push through to Nashville, Tennessee for our next riding experience.
Nashville is a spot that holds special meaning to us because it’s where we got engaged seven years ago. In Nashville we found Percy Warner Park, seven miles of trails for all ability levels bordering the Percy Warner Golf Course just 20 minutes from downtown Nashville. We took the Boulevard out to Hop Project, Humdinger and a few more trails for some fun riding through trees. The dirt was muddy and slick in spots because it had rained the night before, and felt completely different than the pumice we ride at home.
It was here that I really started to notice the vibrant green vegetation. This was a different type of green than the mountains that surround us in California. This green seemed to glow.
After our ride it was on to the Promised Land and our furthest point east — Asheville, North Carolina. Here we planned to slow down the pace and spend three and half days. We met up with some good friends from Kentucky who had been to Asheville many times before and would act as our tour guides.
Up to this point we had been splitting our time between camping and hotel rooms but a special treat awaited us in Asheville at Engadine Inn, Cabins and Venue.
This 12-acre spot just outside of Asheville in Candler, NC is an historic bed and breakfast, plus it has six private cabins scattered across the property for additional lodging. We stayed in the cabins and loved the tiny-house feel they provided. Owners Rick and Tom purchased Engadine in 2014 and are steadily turning it into not only a lodging property but also a wedding venue. With its views of the Blue Ridge Mountains it’s quite the rendezvous point.
As for the biking in Asheville, I can honestly say it did not disappoint. We checked Pisgah National Forest as well as DuPont State Forest, and at the end of every trail we rode I found myself grinning from ear to ear. My favorite ride was definitely Ridgeline. The dirt was wonderful and the other people out riding were friendly. Plus, the selection of breweries and the places to eat at the end of each day’s adventure were plentiful and delicious. We even snuck in some rafting on the French Broad River. I told Darin he may have to go home without me.
After three days of fun with friends we were pretty tired, which is why things fell apart in Memphis. We drove from Asheville to Jackson. Tenn. and stayed the night. As we drove into Memphis the next morning we didn’t have a clear game plan for where we would ride. The lack of direction and the fatigue overcame us. We drove to three different spots, Nesbit Park, Wolf Creek and Shelby Farms but couldn’t decide on which one to try.
As we started to bicker in the car, I remembered some lines from 20th century overlander, John Steinbeck, in his classic, Travels with Charley. “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away.”
So I told Darin I thought we should just skip the ride. After some hesitation he agreed and we went to the giant pyramid Bass Pro Shop, instead.
As the saying goes, when one door closes another opens. With the little bit of extra time afforded to us from skipping the bike ride we were able to eat lunch at a great little spot called the Lunchbox. Plus, we had time to tour Graceland. We had debated whether or not we would just drive by or actually go inside, but once there I felt lame not going past the wall. So we were able to check out Elvis’ home in all of its 70s glory. It had turned into a lovely day.
We drove on to Arkansas and were able to ride bikes the next day at Cedar Glades Park, which had a bike wash station, and was minutes from downtown Hot Springs, with its beautiful and historic bathhouses.
Following Arkansas, the last place we biked on our way home was Albuquerque, New Mexico. We found a set of trails just off the highway. It was a completely different landscape than anything we had ridden to that point. It was steep and rocky, and cacti lined the trail. Falling was not an option.
We camped that night and when we woke up the next morning, Darin’s bike tire was flat, most likely from a cactus the day before. We counted ourselves lucky though; we only had one full day left of the trip and this was our first flat. So we packed up camp and decided to go see the Grand Canyon to cap off the trip.
When we weren’t on our bikes we were racking up the miles in a 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4. If you are going to drive cross-country, this is the car to take. Not only is it comfortable, making 8-10 hour driving days completely bearable and even enjoyable, but it takes the stress out of driving with all of its bells and whistles. Basically all you have to do it steer.
We got a kick out of the adaptive cruise control and the fact that the car was its own hotspot. This was a huge benefit since we had to work along the way. Whoever wasn’t driving could catch up on emails in the passenger seat.
Another great feature was the automatic high beam headlamp control for those late-night drives. I often forget to turn down my high beams when another car is approaching, but this car did it for me.
In fact, the car played such a big role in our trip that when some of our friends asked us what we had talked about during all that time in the car that we never thought we would talk about as a married couple, our response was, “The car!”
Driving cross-country is a rite of passage for any American, no matter what you drive or how you do it. The opportunities are endless, but I for one walked away feeling much more familiar with my country after 5,850.4 miles and 106:16:18 hours in the car.
Having the mountain bike focus helped to ground the trip. Our country is huge and if you have limited time, as we did, it can get overwhelming. You could spend years on the road trying to see everything, and while that’s not a bad thing, most people have to get back to work.
Using mountain biking to guide us, and then working in iconic spots along the way, helped us make the most out of the time we had.