The La Sal Mountain Loop – Among Utah’s Most Challenging Road Bike Rides

When people think of Moab, they do not often think of road biking. My day started out at Chile Pepper Bike Shop, where I watched vans depart with groups of people and rented mountain bikes as I got my bike prepared for this ride. These vans could have been going anywhere, as the options for mountain biking in the area seem endless.

Moab is surrounded by all kinds of magnificent scenery, from the La Sal Mountains, to the unique natural features in the National Parks, the beautiful rock structures and the Colorado River Valley. I wanted to experience it in a way one can only experience a place using their own power, on the seat of a bicycle.

The La Sal Mountain Loop Ride is a 62 mile loop that can be completed in either direction out of Moab.

Trusting my instincts, I decided to start the day headed South out of town. The climbing starts immediately, headed towards a development area called Spanish Valley.

By the time I had reached the end of this area, I had already climbed over 1,000 feet (300m) in elevation. This is where the challenging part begins.

This ride was even steeper than I thought it would be. Before I knew it, I was overlooking the town from above and viewing the rock structure that follows highway 191 from a whole different vantage point.

A couple of switchbacks later I was nearly 2,000 feet (610 m) above town, at an elevation just over 6,000 ft. (1.85 km).

I passed by a couple of campers who yelled out some words of encouragement that reminded me of last year’s Ride The Rockies event. I responded that I still had a long way to go, as I knew the ride topped out over 8,200 ft. (2.5 km).

More exhausted and dehydrated than expected, that one moment arrived. Anyone who has ever done anything challenging knows this moment all too well. It is when we receive some kind of a reminder that there is always the option to quit. The reminder can often come unexpectedly, or in a form so subtle that it is hard to see why this temptation to quit has suddenly entered the mind. For me, it was a road sign near where my camelback unexpectedly ran out of water.

This sign reminded me that in terms of distance, I was still only 1/3 of the way through the ride. It also reminded me that I could turn around and get back to Moab without having to do any climbing. It would all be downhill.

Although it was almost too convenient not to turn around I pressed on. Snow began to appear more and more on the side of the road despite the temperature still being around 60°F (15°C) at this higher elevation. The relatively cooler air did make the ride a bit more pleasant

After a few more rolling hills and climbing another several hundred feet, suddenly it was there, the view that made the whole thing worth it. The La Sal Lookout Point. The highest point of the ride. This moment was kind of like the inverse of the moment where we are reminded we can always quit. It’s the moment where something appears, reassuring us that it is all worth it. It’s that reminder we get about why we took on such a challenge in the first place.

The entire Castle Valley suddenly appeared like a scene out of a western film. It is the kind of place the Native Americans have tons of stories about, explorers used as landmarks and office workers filled with wanderlust go to in order to feel truly alive and connected to a planet larger than their 6 by 9 cubicle and 1,000 square foot apartment. Just looking onto the horizon makes a story come to life, about people, nature, history, hopes and dreams.

My instinct to ride this loop in the counter-clockwise direction proved to be the right instinct. I would have this view for my entire descent, gradually getting closer and closer to these iconic rock structures.

Until, I was finally in it, at the base, in the Colorado River Valley.

The final part of this ride, along highway 128 headed back to Moab is a bit busier than the rest of the ride. This scenic highway following the Colorado River is full of resorts like the Red Cliffs Lodge.

Campgrounds and access points where people visit beaches or pull their rafts in and out of the water.

Luckily, the last few miles of the highway have a bike trail, which connects back into town.

Oddly enough, this bike trail was the only point along the entire ride where I encountered another cyclist. After all, while this is an amazing ride, and there are other great places to bike around Moab, Moab is still primarily a place for mountain biking. When we trust our instincts, are not afraid to go against the grain a little bit, and persevere through some challenges, it often produces amazing results.

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