Roaring west on Interstate 70, passing through Glenwood Springs, the excitement builds inside the Tacoma. It was later than we wanted it to be, somewhere around 8 pm on a Friday. Earlier we weaved, gassed and slugged through the typical weekend traffic Colorado experiences on its main east-west artery that allows access to what is arguably the greatest playground in North America: the Rocky Mountains.
The traffic thins out just after Vail, it typically does at this point because not many go past that exit on the average weekend. However, my three amigos and I were going further. Leaving the pine and aspen covered single tracks we usually shred, we decided to head to Colorado’s Western Slope around Fruita and Grand Junction for adventure, scenery and most of al solitude.
Pulling into the campsite on the west side of town, I stared at the inferno-like glow from the Western Slope sunset that was just waning from the horizon: fire red light blending perfectly upwards into shades of purple, blue, deep blue then black speckled with stars. In the distance stood the silhouettes of the iconic Book Cliff Mountains that are seen all throughout this side of the state. We unloaded the bikes and set up the tents in no time. With the weekend laid out in front of us, we relaxed around the fire and over a few Upslope brews, we chatted about the morning’s upcoming ride.
We decided to kick off the weekend at 18 road trail, a system of trails slightly to the North of Fruita that is known for its technical rock sections, fast flowing down hills and climbs that get your heart pumping. Our main focus was to ride Zippity Loop, an advanced 8.5-mile route that offers killer views, mainly due to the trail being on the ridgelines of rolling desert hills. We ride this loop clockwise for the best experience and fastest downhill. After Zippity, we checked out Sarlac, a detour trail off of The Edge Loop, 10.1-miles of single track that is exposed in parts and has striking views thanks to its locale on the north-side of 18-Road on the cliffs.
We began our day super early to allow us to get to 18-Road before the heat got too intense. As such we got to the trailhead around 7:30 am, loaded up with a few liters of water and snacks, rolled out. With punchy climbs, fast flowing descents and some technical riding mixed in with stunning views, 18-Road was exactly what we hoped for in a ride.
We got back to the trucks ready for lunch. Our Yeti Tundra 45 cooler had all the goods chilled and ready for us. I always love traveling on trips like this with my Yeti, because when I finish a longer ride I crave ice water something the Yeti never fails to deliver. After refueling, our next stop was the Mack Ridge and Kokopelli area. This is the most well-known area of Fruita for riding with trails like the Kokopelli, Moore Fun, Mack Ridge and of course Horse Thief and “The Drop.” This area is mainly blue and black marked trails, different from 18-Road, so if you check it out, make sure to study your app or the trailhead maps located in the parking lots before you get in over your head, which isn’t hard to do.
Around 1 pm we reached the Lions Loop Trailhead. It was hot, but we figured we could cool off later since we’re just here for the weekend, so we embraced the midday swelter and mounted up. Before we left the truck, I needed a change of gear quick. My old riding shorts weren’t cutting it anymore, so I reached in my duffel for my Haskell Shorts and Merino Ride Tee V2 by Kitsbow. I was so pumped to try the gear. I’ve heard a lot about Kitsbow and their level of quality and care that goes into every stitch, plus in this terrain and heat, I needed something that’ll last and breathed well. The second I pulled the shorts and shirt on I felt the difference. The items felt durable, not heavy, fit perfectly and looked awesome. Something a rider could shred the trails with and head to a brewery after and still blend in, but stand out. I was happy.
Riding southwest from the lot on Mary’s Loop, we had one trail in mind: Horse Thief. Mary’s loop is a quick 2-mile pin that gets you back to Mary’s, a great loop, which connects riders to Horse Thief and the iconic Horse Thief Drop. We reached the entrance to HT in no time and there it was, laid out in front of us, the rock infested, smooth moon dust-covered slabs twisting their way down a 320-foot long, 70-foot gradient known as The Drop that has left many riders broken, bike-less or both. I watched tons of videos online to prep for this section in advance, wanting to know how riders who conquered it in the past did it.
I approached the staircase on the left, which seemed like the right move, then I quickly switched into survival mode and just did the ol’ point and shoot technique. Weaving over to the right side for around the last 100 feet I hammered down up to 2-foot rocks, slid sideways across slabs and rolled out on the bottom through a rock wedge, almost ripping my derailleur off…I won’t do it again, but I’m glad I did it once. From the bottom, I watched my buddies navigate The Drop. After it was over, we rode the 4-mile loop which comes right back to the base of The Drop, none of us climbed it, but we didn’t feel defeated. The majority of the Horse Thief Trail runs right next to the Colorado River, through the Horse Thief Canyon, offering killer views and single track the entire loop. Next, we took Mary’s down to the entrance of Moore Fun, a 5-mile stretch that has a 2.5-mile climb, and very techy descent; before you ride this trail, do your homework. We finished Moore Fun, which led us right back to our truck, it was only around 4 pm, so we thought, let’s get in one more quick 3-5 mile ride. We chose Mack Ridge, then about 1.5 miles up the trail, we saw the sign for Hawkeye.
We made a game-time decision to rip down it. Hawkeye is a 3-mile descent from our current spot, if we didn’t take it we’d be adding about another 8 miles into the ride, with a lot more climbing, and after a hot day in the desert, we felt we earned a little downhill. Hawkeye, to put it simply, was awesome; a great way to wrap up our day, speedy single-track zigzagging through rock formations, trees, and boulders to crawl and roll out on. We arrived back at the trucks just as the sun was starting to dip lower in the sky, which was our sign to crack a cold one and talk big about our rides today. Then we grabbed a bite to eat in town and made our way back to our campsite. By the time we kicked our feet up the night sky was showing and the desert cool set in. I reached for my Kitsbow Icon Shirt V2, a breathable flannel that moves with you. It’s an athletic fit shirt that feels like nothing at all. We threw back a couple rounds before calling it a night. We needed some rest for the next day when the plan was to bag between 15 and 20 miles, then hit the road, back to the Front Range.
We woke up early, around 6:30 am, to the sun pouring onto our site. We all threw together some peanut butter and jellies for breakfast, swigged a few cups of coffee and then just like that we were off. Around 8:45 am we rolled into the recognized Tabeguache Trailhead parking lot, home of Lunch Loops, southwest of Grand Junction. The plan was set to ride Lunch Loops-Gunny Loop, with Andy’s Loop tossed in, which would give us the 15 to 20 miles we were after. It wasn’t getting any cooler, so we headed out. At the 4 mile mark, Andy’s Loop branches off the published Lunch Loops-Gunny Loop and basically takes to back north almost to the parking lot. We knew about this but didn’t care, as we were well rested and hungry for miles.
Andy’s Loop is fast single track, pretty much all downhill, so a nice way to break up the climb. We started the climb up Lunch/Gunny Loop again after our detour, about 5 miles into the loop you reach the highest point on the loop and have fun single track to navigate — downhill for 2 miles then pedal desert terrain, filled with rock booters and dusty fast single track. We took our time, taking lots of photos, and made it back to the lot around 2 ½ hours after we started.
With the sun right above us, we decided to eat again off the back of the truck, nothing fancy, just straight up cold cuts and veggies, thanks again to the Yeti keeping things cool. After lunch we all took in the book cliff views and hung onto the moment for as long as we could until one of us broke the silence and said:
“We better get rolling, gotta love the return traffic.”
Heading back into real life, we watched the scenery change back into the Rocky Mountains, pine trees, and aspens, as more and more cars began to join us on our voyage back to our homesteads. Luckily, traffic wasn’t bad and we made it home in about 4 hours.
That night I washed the dusty remnants off my Specialized Enduro, thinking about the trails we rode, the laughs and smack talk throughout the weekend. It was good to be home as after leaving my family for a few days I am always reminded of the best things I have in my life. I can’t wait until my son’s old enough to show him the trails our beautiful state has to offer. There is an old phrase I’ve heard many times, “The Mountains are calling, and I must go.” Personally, I think I’ll be adding the Western Slope to that too.