He said “you won’t find a root or wet rock within a hundred miles of this place.” The crew at Las Vegas Cyclery were giving this east coast rider some local pointers and even hack-sawing an inch off a perfectly good Thompson seat post in order to fit me on the Ellsworth Epiphany rental. After nearly a week in the man-made-spectacle we call Las Vegas, I was heading to the mountains for my first ever desert ride. The drive into the mountains was breath taking. I had rented a convertible so the view was 360 degrees, the radio was cranked to 11, and the mountain air was clearing the casino fog from my head.
Everything I had read online pointed me toward the Late Night Trailhead and the trails south of route 160. The out-and-back route would include a view of Las Vegas at the turnaround point and an awesome return descent on "Three Mile Smile." Of course every good descent has an equally good ascent, so the first 5 miles or so was real work. It didn't look to me like much of a climb, and a couple of miles in I was wondering if I had gone all flabby after a week on the strip, but when speaking with the guys at the bike shop afterward, it turns out to be >1,000 foot climb (starting at >3,000 feet), which is more climbing than I would normally see in a week of riding in PA.
The climb up Dinosaur Teeth Trail was stunning in so many ways. On the macro scale, the mountains were so massive (by east coast standards) and the air so clear, it was hard to grasp their sheer size. On the close-in micro scale there was the crunch of the sand and gravel under my tires, the cactus and Joshua trees as far the eye could see, patches of wildflowers, and the occasional lizard or squirrel (?) scampering off the trail in front of my wheel. But the wildlife encounter I will never forget was with a lone wolf crossing the trail in front of me. When I first saw the motion out of the corner of my eye I thought it must be a deer (size, color) but
when I stopped I realized I was staring at a wolf the size of a large German Sheppard loping across the trail. He knew I was there but never broke stride, just kept moving up the side of the valley. By the time I had stopped, fumbled for the camera, and locked on him he was a hundred yards away (see if you can find him in the 3rd picture).
Thirty minutes later I was at the top of Dead Horse Trail with a commanding view of Las Vegas 25 miles in the distance. Sin City never looked so good. After a rest and some pictures it was time for the return trip and of course the descent. The middle section of the descent is called "Three Mile Smile." Enough said. The Epiphany was sooo sweet on the descent, eating up everything that came at me, including a couple of drops that I really had no business riding. In fact the three mile smile
was more like a SEVEN mile smile as I barely turned the cranks all the way back to the car. The big payoff for me on the descent was what I had always seen in pictures – that thin ribbon of twisting undulating single track stretching a mile or more into the distance. This is something I've never seen first hand even after 5 years of east coast riding.
Overall the trails were in great shape - well maintained and marked. The moderate difficulty trails were no problem. I think that east coast riding - with all the roots and wet rocks - develops solid technical skills that really paid off. After a week of 100 degree days, the temps had dropped to perfectly acceptable mid-80s. And another unexpected benefit of desert riding was no sweat. I mean if I had exerted myself like that at home, I would have been drenched. But in the dry desert air, and perspiration evaporates instantaneously so you never seem to get wet. Bonus (as long as you have ample water).
After two hours of riding it was back to the strip for a final night of debauchery (not). I will tell you that after those few hours in the desert, the return to the Venetian Hotel was a little jarring. The stroll through the Casino (all paths lead through the casino) to my over-the-top 18th-floor split-level suite with 3 flat-panel TVs, remote control curtains, and two-room marble bathroom overlooking the three hotel swimming pools left me a little disoriented. I will admit however that the marble shower felt great but even as a lay on the comfy 1000-count Egyptian cotton sheets, I was thinking about how to get back into those hills one more time before my plane departed at 2:30pm the next day.
...so after another too-late night (10:30pm local - 1:30am biological) I arranged for a 4:30am wakeup call so I could get in one more ride before Mike and I would shoot out to Hoover Dam for some sightseeing. 4:30am came up on me pretty fast, but I made it out to the trailhead by 6:00am and was treated to more mind-boggling scenery, miles of wicked fast tight twisty single-track, and the occasional jackrabbit or lizard.
This time I rode "Mustang Trail" on the north side of the trailhead. The WOW factor had not diminished one bit, I still found myself having to stop occasionally to gawk and try to soak in the magnificence of the surrounding landscape. But this alternating gawking and riding was not very efficient, so I finally threw in the towel and just rode because I knew how to do that, and I think I could have gawked all day long and still not wrapped my head around that scenery. I rode the short loop because we had
laid out an ambitious schedule for this last day (ride from Late Night trail head, shower, return bike, drive to Hoover dam, return to airport in time for 2:30pm departure).
Now it is 4:30pm, I am sitting on the plane writing this blog entry, still digging the sand out of my ears, and scheming about how to get back out west for some more riding. Hmmmm, turning 50 next year. I wonder…