45 mi. 4,440 ft elevation gain. This was, without doubt, a mountain bike epic through two of Las Vegas’ trail systems; Bear’s Best and the Cowboy Trails.
I haven’t done a mountain bike ride like this since my days of working for Escape Adventures in Moab, UT in the mid 2000’s. Those were the days when Landon Monholland, now manager of Over the Edge Sports in Fruita, CO, and I, would push each other as new kids on the block to hang with the actual riders. Actual riders? Yes. We both came from opposite ends of the country as self-ascribed cycling kings in our respective circles. We both thought we brought the goods on the bike, and when we met in Moab, were immediately humbled. Competition and daily one-ups between us both lasted until life took us different directions. Solid dude. I miss that guy.
Quick note: Landon is the better rider. He is. But it’s also true that I can get under his skin because he can’t shake me. . .the me on a hardtail. The me on his fancy, full-suspension wheel. Don’t believe it’s true? Ask him about the La Sal Mountain ride. Ask him about the BMX track. His smile will confirm I tell no lie.
Anyway, Moab rides were long. Hard. I haven’t ridden like that in 15 years, until now.
After searching various routes on Trailforks, one caught my attention: Ring Around the Cowboy. 32.4 mi and 3,918 ft of climbing. I committed to it immediately, but with slight modification. Harder, of course. My start and finish were at the hotel with trail access from the Bear’s Best side. I also threw in an extra 13 mi and 500 ft of climbing because, why not?
By the way, need a nice place to stay away from The Strip? Element Las Vegas Summerlin is the one you want. It’s a solid Marriott property with great staff, is right next door to Las Vegas Cyclery, and most importantly, is 1 mi from the trailhead.
Brokeback mental state. Brokeback is the trail that connects Bear’s Best to the Cowboy Trails. It’s long. It’s a technical crusher for the first 1/4 mi north of the dam, then slow, uphill, and meandering. Regular stops to check my location interrupted flow, interest, and motivation. Trial and error eventually got me to my first checkpoint; the section of trail that runs parallel to HWY 159.
Checkpoint 2 was the Cowboy Trails trailhead. Along the way I passed a Greater Short-horned Lizard soaking in the sun with little concern for me. So little, I got within a foot and snapped a few pics. Awesome! Confusing. This was one of those sightings that challenges everything known to be true about the natural order of things. As in, it’s known that these creatures aren’t real, but abominations cooked in a laboratory for pet-shops and 11 year old boys. To actually see this kind of lizard, in its natural habitat, was shocking; and welcomed. This site put a grin on my face that I didn’t know would be necessary to get through the next few miles.
The ride along HWY 159 is relatively flat, but required extended time riding through a rocky, sandy, creek bed. Not fun. I put up with it because I wanted to complete The Ring. Though, my resolve was certainly challenged.
The creek bed was the kind of place where desert boogeymen exist; the kind that get your mind all kinds of paranoid. Seeing old sweatshirts and worn pillows near trees adjacent to the trail, didn’t help. That’s not totally true. It help in one regard. I was moving! Distorted thoughts and an elevated heart rate had my legs pumping! I made it to the Cowboy Trails.
Let the ascent commence! Goat Roper required a quick stint on Kibbles-n-Bits. It was every bit as good the second time around for the short time I was on it.
Goat Roper wasn’t technical; or flat. At all. It climbed. And climbed some more. Tight switchbacks over both smooth rock slabs and jagged rock crops interrupted long stretches of straight. Strava said I reached an elevation of 4,459 ft at the peak of the rim. I believed it.
The view from the top was special in only the way colorful panoramas can be. Green, red, orange, grey, beige, brown, light and dark. All mixed to create a surreal experience. A new perspective and new world opened up at elevation. The desert is absolutely stunning. God knew what He was doing. Especially for the group called mountain bikers.
The descent was no less special. From elevation, the trail can be seen as it contrasts and cuts through the desert floor. I found myself assuming I knew what the trail would do and when it would do it. I was wrong. Every time. The guessing game was part of the intrigue and excitement; along with riding next to sheer cliffs. Rim riding has a special way of making you wide-eyed and aware. Every sense was hyper-sensitive. The adjacent landscape moved in slow motion. I was in The Matrix.
The decent dropped me off into Blue Diamond where wild donkeys and cold drinks at the local market were very much welcome.
And Back. . .
Tunnel Trail out of Blue Diamond had me in another dried up creek bed. Surely Trailforks was wrong. . .
Deep pebbles, a few curses, and another moment of paranoia about desert boogeymen set in. Once Blue Diamond Rd was crossed, the trail only kind of emerged. A brief land survey, along with innate ability to scout trails, had me on the right path. Trailforks helped too.
It was relatively easy. Not too many ups. Not too many downs. What was noticeable was the expanse of the desert and the trail that meandered in unexpected directions. With the finish in sight, literally, I found myself frequently questioning why I was only kind of getting closer as the trail seemed to veer all ways but the the one I wanted to go. At 37 mi in, it was time to be done. I eventually made it to the base of the climb up Kona and Yellow Hoe. The decent on Gnarley couldn’t have been more welcome.
Sore, spent, waterless, and shaking. Squeaks and a dried up drivetrain. Salt rings everywhere. Sweat mud on my legs. Burning eyes and sweat smudged sunglasses. Arrival at the hotel.
The perfect ending to an extended work trip in Las Vegas.