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Biking

The Nine

It’s unlikely that if you have ever driven by 9th and 9th on a Thursday night you haven’t noticed an assortment of bicycles. Similar to what you’d see at a dog park, you will find bikes and their owners from every spectrum of the community. Heavy duty mountain bikes, racing bikes with colorful LEDs, even vintage Wheelies that look like they belong more in an art museum than in a bike stand lining the area starting at 9 p.m. every Thursday.

The 999, more commonly known as “The Nine,” is an all inclusive bike ride that traverses the moonlit streets of Salt Lake City.  It welcomes people from every skill level, to the point that they follow a “no-drop” rule, which means they go no faster than the slowest biker. Like many of my college friends, I look forward to Thursday nights when bicycles reclaim the roads and my commute to school becomes a kind of playground, forcing automobile traffic to yield.

The Nine gather in mid-January on the corner of 9th and 9th just before 9 p.m. Photo by Conner Ashton.

“I bet it was just two guys drinking on their porch one summer night who came up with the idea, or some biker junkie with piercings that started the ride,”  some participants theorize. The truth behind the story is that it started with a man named Naresh Kumar. Kumar is 33, handsome, tall, slender, with dark brown hair in a bun and warm brown eyes. He has a degree in bioengineering and chuckles when I tell him how some people believe “The Nine” started. Five years later, Kumar is happy there is still a mystery behind the origin story of the nine because he started the event with the intent of making it leaderless, where the people riding were in control.

The cruiser ride in Boulder, CO inspired Kumar to try to start something similar in SLC. Kumar didn’t have much riding experience before he started The Nine. In fact, he remembers that he had to go to his mom’s house and dig through the garage to find the rusty bike that he’d used as a teenager. Kumar and his good friend Skylar then began to meet every Thursday on the corner of 9th and 9th at 9 p.m. and the two would set off. Slowly the word spread and the two-man team grew into what it is today, with nearly 200 people some nights.

Some of the bikes gathered before The Nine sets out. Photo by Conner Ashton.

Originally called “An Evening in the City with Naresh,” the popularity of the location and time quickly caught on and the name 999 stuck. In the winter months the numbers of bikers wane, but there are still people who are willing to brave the weather all 52 weeks of the year.

Each person creates their own meaning as to why they ride The Nine, using it as a way to socialize, exercise, or even to protest our current air pollution. T.R., suited up in a retro purple and green ski onesie to brave the 32 degree weather, leans on his bike and says, “this is my time. My wife knows that Thursday nights is when I get to socialize and get out the funk of routines.”

Kumar hopes to create an environment that brings people of all ages together; a place without the daily distractions of phones and media that often keep us less connected, and hopes that this event is one way to make our community more welcoming. Kumar compares the ride to having a child: you set guidelines, hope that people listen to them, and cross your fingers that the original idea doesn’t stray too far from the core values. So far, that’s what has happened. Despite there being an emphasis on making the event leaderless, there are “administrators,” which are some of the original members that model bike etiquette and help up a rider who might have taken a spill on the TRAX lines.

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Conner Ashton, c.ashton@wasatchmag.com.

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Remembering a Past Victory: Utes make a strong showing at their first Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championship

Contributor story by Michael Polei, of the U Collegiate Cycling Club, who can be reached at michaelpolei@gmail.com or 720.210.4740. 

The University of Utah Collegiate Cycling Club placed 4th at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championship in Missoula, Montana on Oct. 31 of this year.  Seven racers from the U travelled to Missoula to compete in Downhill, Dual Slalom, Cross-country (XC), and Short Track XC events.  Racing occurred at a former ski resort—Marshal Mountain—under grey skies and plenty of snow.  This has become the expectation for Collegiate Mountain Biking National events, as they typically occur in late October due to a race season that doesn’t start until September.  

The IMCCC is a regional conference that covers the Utah/Nevada area.  At these races Category A, B and C races are held in each discipline (DH, XC, STXC, DS).  It takes a handful of races at Cat C to work up to Cat B, then a handful of podium spots in Cat B races to qualify for Cat A.  Typically it takes racers 2+ seasons to work though the ranks towards Cat A.  Cat A racers qualify for nationals if they race in 3 Cat A races throughout the season and are top 5 on their team.  The Nationals race is held by USACycling, which overseas all of the various leagues (such as IMCCC or colorado’s RMCCC, etc.).  So, in short, we qualified for Nationals via the IMCCC league races.

Celebrating its 20th year this year, the U’s club had its largest mountain bike club season ever, with 63 registered mountain bike members.  The U competed in regular season races during the Fall Semester with the Intermountain Collegiate Cycling Conference, which hosted three races at Sundance Resort, Nordic Valley, and Brian Head Ski Resort, involving participants from    Westminster College, Utah State University, Southern Utah University, Utah Valley University, and Dixie State.  The U team claimed the conference title this year, winning all three events, largely due to the team’s high turnout for the racing season.  

Cross-country racing occurred early Friday morning, with racers lining up at the start in sub-freezing conditions half an hour before sun crept into the valley.  The U’s’ Zach Calton finished 5th in the grueling XC race that covered 14.5 miles and 4,500’ vertical with an overall 3-lap time of 1 hour 44 minutes.  Snow persisted through the event, with over an inch of accumulation by the last lap.

Friday afternoon the dual slalom racing kicked-off what would become a long and muddy battle. In this race format, riders pair head-to-head on 2 side-by-side courses that wind down the mountain, with average lap times around 20 seconds.  U racers Team President, Dakota Janes and Calton finished 12th and 13th respectively.  

At the end of Day 2 Practice, the sun snuck out for a quick minute, giving riders one chance to practice the course without the snow and rain that was otherwise consistent with the week. PC: Danny Fendler.

Saturday morning, heavy snow and rain postponed the short track XC race, and gave racers a chance to warm up on the newly constructed downhill trail.  With over 130 downhill racers competing, the conditions of this newly built trail varied from run-to-run during practice, with the course getting more packed in, firmer and faster as the day wore on.  Utah racer Michael Polei finished 6th in the Downhill race, followed closely by teammates Calton, David Dickerson, and Janes, securing four Top 20 finishes for the team.  Strong finishes came from racers Josh Graber and Danny Fendler in the downhill event.

 

 

 

 

Zach Calton participated in all 4 events and achieved the highest overall score to secure the title of Individual Omnium National Champion.

Saturday evening the U’s XC racers lined up for possibly the toughest event of the week, short-track XC.  The 1.1 mile course was lined with fans and spectators as racers competed in a 20-minute plus 3-lap format.  Calton, a Business major, competed in all 4 events and placed highest combined score to secure the Individual Omnium National Title.  

Representing the women’s team at nationals, Freshman Ellise Shuman had a stellar first season of collegiate racing, finishing 14th in both the XC and short-track XC races.  An experienced racer with 4 years experience in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) high-school league, racing for Alta High School and the competitive ProXCT series, Shuman dominated the regular season, securing the Intermountain Club D1 Endurance Omnium Leader award before travelling to Missoula.  Shuman compared collegiate to high-school or pro level racing, saying, “[Collegiate racing is] more fun!  Everyone is pushing each other to go a little faster, or try a downhill race, and there’s less pressure than the other races.”  

 

The IMCCC expects to see collegiate mountain biking grow substantially over the next few years, as Utah’s NICA high-school racing program (utahmtb.org) is one of the largest growing leagues in the country.  Students and Alumni interested in racing or supporting their team are encouraged to reach out to their respective clubs. Contact info for each team can be found at IMCCC.org.  

 

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A Different Outdoor Adventure

I’ve always loved the feeling of going fast, whether it be repelling quickly down a 180 foot crevasse or driving down a desolate stretch of desert highway. Now, as we enter into the peak of climbing season, I’ve started to combine my passion for climbing with motorcycle riding.

There’s nothing like sitting on an engine, gripping your handlebars, wind whipping against your body, and ground passing beneath your feet. Motorcycle riding is an environment of the senses, and if you’re into nature, hiking, or any sort of outdoorsy activity, motorcycles are a great way to extend this lifestyle.

It’s pretty cool to hop onto a machine that demands every ounce of your attention. You become more aware of your surroundings, the smells in the air, and the outdoor temperature. There is no other way to put it; riding is full of fun and adrenaline.

It really doesn’t matter what kind of motorcycle you have. Whether you ride a vintage cafe racer or an Enduro bike, keep pushing yourself and think of new ways that you can enjoy the hobbies and sports you love.

My preference is an Enduro 650 CC bike, which gives you the option to ride on highways or take on some challenging dirt roads. REI is the perfect store to purchase any compact, light-weight gear you might need to strap on your bike. I prefer Enduristan Monsoon 3 for saddle bags, a tank bag, and dehydrated food when I go on long adventures. It’s true that we live in a time where comfort is often our first priority — with a bike, you don’t get that luxury. You only have room for the essentials. But don’t worry, you can still have that perfect trip. Just avoid packing everything you think you might need, and instead plan to pick things up along the way or restock things you do have as they get low.

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

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BikingFeatureGearHow to

Learning Proper Bicycle Maintenance

Maintaining a bike is similar to the practice of warming your body up for a big race with a proper cool down afterwards, or preparing for an important exam by regularly studying; and it all comes down to proper, regular inspection.

A bike gets a quick checkup. Photo by Peter Creveling.

There are four things to check before every ride you make, regardless of if you are a frequent visitor to your bike seat or someone who just decided to brush off the cobwebs of your grandparent’s Schwinn.

First: Check the air in your tires. Make sure the tire pressure is optimal as suggested by the manufacturer, and be sure to check that all release levers, tire caps, or thru axles are properly tightened. Be sure nothing is loose before you start to ride.

Second: Inspect your brakes. Squeeze both the front and rear brakes to ensure the pads engage your rims properly and evenly. Good breaks are essential, they can make the difference between having the ride of your life — and the last ride of your life.

Third: Clean your drivetrain. This is essentially the transmission of your bike, so a clean and well lubricated drivetrain will make your ride easier and extend the life of your bike. Take a dry, or damp, rag and run along the chain to clean up any dirt accumulated between the linkages. For very dirty chains, I highly recommend using a chain cleaner that allows for a deep clean between the linkages. These are very easy to use devices that latch onto the chain and are simple enough to use by holding the device in place while you peddle.

A bike gets a quick checkup. Photo by Peter Creveling.

Fourth: Keep all of the parts well lubricated. A well lubricated bike is the equivalent to doing a warm-up lap around the track and stretching before you run the 100 meter dash. Running cold turkey is asking for something to be torn, and the same thing goes for any bicycle! But remember, too much lubrication can lead to a decrease in bike performance, and even damages. This is because lubrication can attract abrasive material that can get in-between parts and decrease their integrity. Give lubrication ample time to soak in, and simply wipe away any excess, before going on that bike ride. Key areas to focus on for lubrication include: breaks, derailleurs, cassettes, chain rings and, of course, the chain. For the breaks and derailleurs, this includes any levers, cables, and their entire assembly.

These are only the basics towards bike maintenance. Supplies you will need include: clean rags, brushes, soap, water, lubricant, degreaser, and a bike stand.

The most important element is to take your time; don’t rush your way through this process. Take care of your bike and it will take care of you. Also, don’t underestimate the advantage of taking your bike into the shop. These tips will help you keep your bike on the road or on the trail more often, but it’s important to get your bike a full checkup every once in a while in addition to these regular efforts.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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A Gem in the Pacific Northwest

In southwestern Oregon, amid rolling hills of vineyards and proud forests of ponderosa pine trees, is Crater Lake National Park, the remnants of the former Mount Mazama Volcano that erupted over 7,700 years ago.

Crater Lake NP is Oregon’s singular National Park and with every passing year its popularity increases. Just last year, a recordbreaking 756,344 people visitors to the park had a chance to take in its gorgeous vistas.

Crater Lake owns the accolade of being the deepest lake in the U.S., and that’s not the only thing that makes it unique. If not for precipitation, the lake would be a giant hole in the earth, devoid of any moisture, as there are no inlets or outlets to the lake. This is also the reason for the lake’s existence, as that lack and its location in the rainy Pacific Northwest ensures that the water remains. For an average of eight months out of the year the park is covered in snow; during the other four months rainy days are frequent. When I visited at the end of July, there was still snow covering mountain tops as well as trails that led to higher elevations.

Don’t let this deter you, the rain and snowfall only serve to enhance the park’s beauty. When the sun shines across the lake, the translucent blue water practically sparkles as it contrasts with the lush green and brown forests that surround it. In the middle of the lake sits Wizard Island, the volcanic cinder cone standing as a reminder of how this piece of earth looked so many thousands of years ago.

What to do

There are many wonderful ways to take in the views around this lake, including a boat tour out to Wizard Island and summiting its mountain peak, a spectacular way to see the lake and watch the water as it surrounds you. These tours are $41 for adults, and $27 for children.

If a relaxing scenic drive is more your thing, though, you’re in luck: The park offers a trolley that provides a 2-hour tour and travels the entirety of the rim trail. The ride comes complete with a park ranger to answer all your questions and educate you on the history of Crater Lake. The trolley is also much more affordable than the boat tour, starting at $17 for children and ending at $27 for adults.

Last but not least, for those that like to go it alone there are a plethora or hiking and biking trails to choose from. Occasionally parts of the rim trail are closed to motor vehicles to allow bikers more space for themselves. This year those days will be Saturday, September 9th, and Saturday, September 16th. There are 16 different hiking trails with an almost equal selection of easy, moderate and difficult trails.

Fishing and swimming is allowed on certain parts of the lake, and from Monday-Saturday there are ranger talks, hikes and other activities to participate in.

How to prepare

If you plan on visiting Crater Lake soon, it’s best to make reservations ahead of time. As the popularity of the park increases it’s becoming ever more difficult to find lodging. There are 111 rooms total to be found at the two hotels inside the park, Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village, and campers have 230 sites to choose from at either Mazama or Lost Creek campgrounds. Backcountry camping permits can also be obtained in person, on the intended day of camping and free of charge, for backpackers that want to get away from the crowds.

As the number of visitors to Crater Lake National Park steadily climbs each year, this caldera lake becomes increasingly recognizable as a gem in the Pacific Northwest, and an icon of the always amazing creations of Mother Earth.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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Coping With FOMO

I ran into my buddy at the climbing gym the other day. He was planning a weekend trip to Arizona to kayak, and this was the first I had heard about it. He didn’t even think to invite me, and perhaps with good reason. I had my own plans to canyoneer in Hanksville, Utah with my UExplore class.

Most of the time, I think taking eight outdoor education classes in a single semester was the best decision I made since coming to college. But sometimes, I realize that while I’m practicing rappelling with my classmates, my buddies are out kayaking. While I’m learning quinzee construction in the Uintas, my friends are shredding eight inches of fresh powder at Alta. While I’m topping out on my first ice climb in Ouray, Colorado, my dorm friends are splashing around in the Subway in Zion National Park. Yes, it’s a little ridiculous to regret missing kayaking with your friends when you’re descending a canyon with other friends, but it’s hard to avoid; Utah is jam-packed with opportunities to have wild adventures. And the FOMO — the Fear Of Missing Out — can be all too real. Just look at the steady stream of ski hills and climbing routes inundating any outdoorsy Instagram feed.

Should we, as “outdoorsy millennials,” plunge headfirst into every random outdoor sport that comes our way — even if this means we won’t necessarily become expert or even proficient in any of them? Or should we focus our energy exclusively on one or two of our outdoor passions, sacrificing new and novel opportunities in other venues? There’s really nobody to tell you how to enjoy the outdoors, and moreover, no perfect recipe to balance your professional and academic careers with your outdoor passions. Sometimes, when you enjoy climbing,

mountaineering, canyoneering, skiing, ice climbing, kayaking, hiking and mountain biking, it’s a struggle to live in the moment — to fully appreciate the slope you’re skiing or the slab you’re climbing — because you’re so ensconced in indecision, in fear of missing out on other adventures. And don’t forget that finals are coming up and you’ve got a paper due Monday and you really should be studying. So how do you balance it all?

First of all, still go outside this weekend — even if you have seven papers due Monday. It’ll keep you sane. There’s no “recipe for recreation,” so go out and build your own adventure. Take eight UExplore classes if you want to — or maybe take two — or maybe take none. Let yourself be fully swept away when you’re kayaking and let climbing completely rock your world. Personally, the best means I’ve found to really live in the moment outside is to push myself as hard and as far as I possibly can. I want to be sure I am fully appreciating, exploring, and living in whatever space I find myself. There’s no use thinking the grass is greener or the peaks are higher somewhere else.

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Claire Simon

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Moab: the Mountain Biker’s Mecca

Moab is home to some of the highest quality mountain biking trails in the country. About four hours southeast of Salt Lake City, over 100 miles of trails sit, begging to be explored. From short tracks just over a mile to overnight rides taking you deep into the desert landscape, you will likely leave addicted to the red rock landscape. Break out that dusty bike of yours, give it a shine and tune up, and dirty it up with some red mud.

If you are new to mountain biking but are looking for a little bit of a challenge, ride the 20 miles of Klonzo trails just north of Moab. Drive two to three miles along Willow Springs Road toward Arches National Park to find the seven Klonzo trails. They range in difficulty, but they are geared toward intermediate riders. Ride along petrified sand dunes with a stunning backdrop of the La Sal Mountain Range.

For the skilled and technical riders, the Porcupine Rim Trail needs to be on your Moab itinerary. It includes everything you love about mountain biking: tight edges along cliff sides, stunning scenery of red rock in a vast desert landscape, and fast single-track drops coupled with ledge drops. Most importantly, there is only 1,000 feet of elevation gain over the entire ride. The 15 miles of exhilarating terrain will take you about four to six hours to complete, depending on how many stops you take for photos. Or, start in Moab for a 34 mile out-and-back.

The Whole Enchilada, located at Burrow Pass Trailhead along the La Sal Loop Road east of Moab, is one for the record books. Originally designed to be an entire loop, the trail now boasts about 25 miles, and it helps to have a shuttle car. This is no walk in the park. Anyone who has been to Moab before knows that the hill climbs and the descents are not to be taken lightly. If you find yourself walking some of the technical portions of the ride or to cross a couple streams, don’t feel too bad. Tricky spots shut down some of the best riders. Nonetheless, weaving between sandstones and lush forests keeps riders coming back hungry for more.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Peter Creveling

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Get a Job Outdoors This Summer

Birds are chirping, flowers blooming, and the stress of finals and unsolved summer plans grow with each passing day. Yes, spring is finally here. As students around campus scramble to bump their grades up just a few more points, the professional world is gearing up for the summer season. Entry-level jobs pop up faster than wildflowers, and the good ones are taken just as quickly. If you’ve ever considered working outdoors, get your resume. This list will convince you to snag that summer dream job.

Explore More

Melting snow and warmer weather unlock an entire realm of Utah activities. Peaks are begging to be climbed in the Wasatch, trails ridden in Moab, and canyons descended in Zion. While you can (and should) jump at these opportunities during your off-days, you will discover all the hidden nooks and crannies of these places, squeezing every drop of adventure from it. You get to spend way more time rafting down rivers or climbing rock faces and you’ll get paid to do it!

Add Some Spice to Your Resume

Eventually, college will come to an end and the years of work we put toward a degree will hopefully go to use in an actual career. On that day, we will be reduced to a paper of accolades stacked in with hundreds of others. Having an interesting summer job on there, like Kayak Guide or Vineyard Assistant, will set your sheet apart from the others. Plus, it will open the door for you to share a sweet story and connect with your employer.

Mold Your Job to Your Liking

Anna de St. Aubin landed a job on a local farm last summer. Her daily duties involved everything from feeding goats to selling vegetables. Each morning, “[she] woke up early, made coffee, and watched the sunrise,” and every evening she would time her chores, “so the sun would be setting just as I was finishing milking, so I could watch the bats come out.” This is a whole lot better than waking up to a screaming alarm and bussing tables until it’s too dark to see outside.

Live Outside

While there’s always an allure to showers and a soft bed, there’s hardly a better experience than weeks on weeks of camping. Backpackers pay no small amounts to go do it all around the world, but finding a job that lets you camp for the season means you’ll be the one filling their pockets rather than emptying them. If your goal is to dirtbag through life, make your mom proud and earn cash while doing it.

Pro Deals

Loving the outdoors means you probably love gear too. All of the greatest recreational opportunities require a boat load of expensive equipment, most of which marks well beyond the salary of a college student. As a guide, or affiliate of a guide company, companies will set you up with deals to get everything cheaper. They know that clients will see you use it and be more likely to purchase that brand over another. Score garage sale-like deals so you can adventure on.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Chris Hammock

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Hold onto Your Handlebars- Here Come the Chargers

Hailing from Corner Canyon High School in Draper, UT, the Chargers constitute the largest high school mountain biking team in the country. With 138 active riders in 2016 alone, this fine-tuned trail-carving machine is continually on the rise. Through unassailable devotion and vigor on the behalf of its members and supporting staff—all of which are volunteers, including head coach Whitney Pogue and the nearly 30 adults that facilitate each practice—the Chargers and other teams like it are dissolving boundaries and raising high school sports to dimensions previously inconceivable, off the field and into the outdoors.

More unbelievable still, the Corner Canyon HS Chargers are merely a constituent vessel of an extensive network supporting over 80 racing teams in Utah alone. The Utah High School Cycling League is the fastest growing program in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), with 2,400 participating athletes and 856 coaches just last year. To compensate for this colossal turn-out, teams are divided between size-determined Division 1 and Division 2 in tournaments.

Since the Chargers’ inception in 2013 (only a single year following NICA’s arrival in Utah), it has been among the most contentious teams in the league. Through fervent practice and cooperation, the Chargers reigned victorious at the 2016 State Championship in St. George, where they placed first in Division 1 against fifteen other teams and was later featured in an ad campaign for Trek Bicycle. This achievement is undoubtedly influenced by the momentum accumulated and upheld by their first-place victory in 2015 and second-place victories the preceding two years.

The Chargers train primarily along the extensive trails of local Corner Canyon Regional Park three times a week. “With a group as large as ours, we aren’t able to train elsewhere without a major circus to get everyone there,” Pogue recounts, “we do pull off the circus weekly during the season when we go to pre-ride race courses, and then bring our army to race venues every other week in the Fall.” Despite the team’s colossal size, members still manage to grow close through routine informal meetings and team-building exercises. “Our team culture is like one family,” Pogue says, “these kids are family.”

The Chargers’ close-knit family dynamic is tangible and authentic, to say the least. The team sticks out boldly in the school as if a separate tribe, often adorned in their tee-shirts and gear. “Being a part of the MTB team has defined the high school experience for so many of these kids,” Pogue says.

Photo courtesy of Tyler Doman

Senior and longtime rider for the CCHS team, Tyler Doman, endearingly reflects, “I don’t even know how to describe my love for the mountain bike team.  It has been everything to me in my high school career and it’s been really sad to watch it slip away as I completed my last race, and graduation creeps closer.” A beginner to the sport when he started at the school, Doman came to embrace mountain biking and the Charger team fully, continually ascending in skill and rank while developing invaluable friendships along the way. “The sport of mountain biking and being on the team has changed my life.  There’s nothing that I’ve been more proud of than being a part of it— I will definitely be biking for the rest of my life, and will remain close to my group of friends that I’ve made for forever.”

Like any family, the CCHS Mountain Bike Team has faced profound challenges along the way, particularly last year when one team member and a classmate tragically died in a roll-over car accident, in the presence of several other team riders in the car. It had a profound effect on the team, but further united them to help one another through the grieving process.

“The kids worked really hard to make some good come from this,” Pogue reflects. “They worked hard to put together a service project in December to support local ER’s, as many of us spent that night in the ER.”

This family is inclusive as well, meaning although there are hefty fees associated with joining, scholarships are available and students can check out “loaner” bikes if they don’t have their own equipment. Plus, there are no try-outs and no real parameters aside from the desire and physical ability to participate.

“Our league is founded on five core principles that guide everything we do, every decision we make: Equality, Inclusivity, Strong Mind, Strong Body, and Strong Character,” Pogue says. “We are not only trying to make these kids bikers but more importantly, we are striving to help shape them into good people.” This outlook of positivity and inclusivity is exemplified by all involved. “The best thing about the team is the people,” Doman says. “I’ve gotten to know some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life.”

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Whitney Pogue

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Beyond the Wasatch: Arches National Park

Over President’s Day weekend, I packed up the car and left town early to escape the overcast grey skies of the Wasatch Front. As I drove southeast, each passing mile of the three-and-a-half-hour road trip down to Moab meant less snow-covered peaks and more red rocks sneaking into the terrain.

The promising forecast of 55 degree weather and the off-season crowds made it one of the best times to intimately explore Arches National Park. With over one million annual visitors, you are bound to see other people on the trails, but visiting this park before the peak season (April – September) is a great way to escape the crowds.

There are over 2,000 natural arches, making the grand landscape of Arches National Park home to the greatest concentration in the country. Beyond that, the beauty of the balanced red rocks, sloping sandstone hills, peaks, spires, and slick rock canyons of Arches make this park an ultimate destination for desert rats. Inside the park, there are 14 hiking trails to choose from, along with areas for rock climbing and canyoneering. Surrounding trails just outside of the park give you access to mountain biking and ATVing.

The entrance fee is $25, so shelling out $80 for an annual parks pass is worth it for the chance to visit this part of Moab again, or any of Utah’s other national parks. You can’t live in Utah without seeing the iconic Delicate Arch that appears on Utah license plates, but once you get away from the ant march of traffic on the trail, try some of the lesser-known hikes such as the Fiery Furnace. You’ll need to purchase a $6 permit in order to navigate the sandstone fins of the furnace, and if you need a helping hand, rangers are always available for guided tours. With 76,000 acres of Arches’ delicate desert ecosystem, you can have hours of fun exploring the park.

SPRING BREAK ITINERARY

MONDAY: Moab is a popular tourist destination, which means planning ahead is crucial so you don’t end up  driving around trying to find a campsite at the last minute. Inside of Arches, Devil’s Garden Campground is often full. Instead, take advantage of the many surrounding campsites outside of the park for cheaper rates. I’d recommend the Sand Flats Recreation Area, just eight miles south of Arches. There are 120 sites to choose from at $15 a night. Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table, and all are within short walking distance of a vault toilet.

Once you set up camp, go for a scenic drive through Arches to take in the sights of Delicate Arch and the Windows section. Here you can see some of the largest and most iconic arches in the entire park. Check out the historic Wolfe Ranch, home of the first family of settlers to live in Arches.

TUESDAY: Start at Devils Garden campground and hike the 7.8-mile primitive trail loop. The farther along you get, the thinner the crowds become. You’ll see seven arches on this hike, starting with the 290-ft. span of Landscape Arch. Hiking the primitive trail is a great way to break away from the crowds while taking in the beautiful scenery of the park. Just make sure you’re prepared to do a bit of scrambling and sliding as you navigate over the terrain. As you traverse farther along the trail, enjoy the seclusion of the surrounding valley of desert life and geological formations.

WEDNESDAY: When your body is good and sore from the previous days’ hike, head over to Moab Main Street to visit the in-town attractions. Get your feet off the ground at Raven’s Rim Zip Line adventures and catch a birds-eye view of Moab for $129. If heights aren’t your thing, at the same location and for the same price, you can book a 2.5 hour 4WD adventure tour through the high desert. There are many shuttle services in the area to drop off and pick you up at the end of the day if you choose to try out river rafting or mountain biking.

THURSDAY: Finish your trip hiking some of the moderate trails. Trek a mile to check out historic rock art panels at Courthouse Wash (one mile), gaze in wonder at Balanced Rock (0.3 miles), or navigate sand dunes and slick rock as you make your way to Broken Arch Loop (two miles).

FRIDAY: If being surrounded by million-year-old rocks makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, then it’s worth it to make a stop at the Moab Giants Dinosaur Park before you hit the road home.

The attraction is conveniently placed just nine miles north of Moab on Hwy 191 and boasts a large concentration of fossils. Tickets are $22 to enjoy all the indoor and outdoor activities of this mini Jurassic park. Roam along the dinosaur trail to discover over 100 life-sized dinosaur models, check out ancient sea creatures in the paleoaquarium, and browse the museum to learn all about the animals that lived in Moab centuries ago.

e.aboussou@wasatchmag.com

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