Think spaghetti Western, think Clint Eastwood, think amazing desert landscape, then saddle up and head off for the distant horizon! But I am not talking about a cowboy's best friend as a means of transport, instead imagine a sleek shiny Mountain Bike, full suspension cross country steed, and you are nearer the mark.
Moab in Utah, in the good old United States, is without doubt a mountain bike mecca. Having heard 'riders' talk about Moab in hushed, awe struck tones for many years I finally took myself across the Pond and headed for the desert. Moab is a 'one horse' town in the desert, near Arches National Park, which appears to have been taken over by the mountain biking community.
Why? It's simply the best riding around, and with 100 km's of trails to go at there is enough for everyone, and then some. I was worried that my 'basic' level of riding would be insufficient to enjoy the trails, but no way! Riding all day, every day I quickly became used to the rocks, and dry trails of the desert. It is world famous for Slick Rock, the name of one of the 9 mile long loops on the outskirts of Moab town. The rock is petrified sand dunes, and it grips like a grippy thing, so although the name Slick Rock might suggest you will be sliding down it, it does in fact stick to your tyres, provided you keep your 'behind' well behind the saddle on descents.
Porcupine Rim is the other world famous ride in Moab, taking an incredible line along the 'rim' of the canyons, and companies like Rim Tours offer a guiding service if you want a shuttle to the start of the ride, and a local expert to introduce you to the area. In fact many rides in both Moab, and the other mountain bike mecca of Fruita, Colorado, are called 'rim' something or other as the most stunning lines are often along the top of the plateau, with the rivers below. For instance, Western Rim, in Fruita is fabulous with incredible views of the Colorado river. Fruita is the new challenger to Moab for the title of best mountain biking destination on the planet! The two venues are only about 80 minutes drive apart and ideal twin destinations, with Fruita the more laid back and unassuming of the two. If in Fruita do check out 'Over the Edge' bike shop as the gang there are brilliant for local info on the trails and they provide an excellent service with cracking hire bikes.
But I digress, Porcupine Rim, in Moab, was mind blowing....a roller coaster of a ride with staggering views and rocky technical trails that went on for mile after mile. I don't think I have ever concentrated so much on a ride ever, but it was totalling engaging and a fantastic way to empty your head of nothing but the feeling of the elements and the terrain. The other riders, depsite my poor technique, were friendly, helpful, tolerant and smiley. It was indeed inspirational to chat to a group of women from Alaska who were at least in their late 50's. Apologies girls if you were in fact younger, but you made me think that I had a few more years of learning new tricks and skills on a bike before I had to hang up my 'full suss' friend. In fact the last I saw of you, you were kicking ass and I was eating your dirt!
Eight days of riding and it was time for a break and a bit of 'tourist action', so off I set for Arches National Park, and an afternoon of more 'awesome-ness'. A totally staggering desert rock-landscape of massive red sandstone walls, and towers, and yet again I felt like I had fallen into a 'cowboy' movie. If you make it to Moab do take time to visit the Park, it is absolutely worth the experience.
So in short, if you fancy the mountain bike ride of a lifetime, get yourself across the 'Pond', head for Fruita, Colorado, then drive another 80 minutes south to Moab, Utah, and get onto those trails. If you fly into Denver, then on the way back north, take time to ride at Gunnison, near Crested Butte, for some mega swooping dirt trails. I had the pleasure of riding with Arnold Schwarzenegger's ski instructor, Todd, who referred to the swoops as 'whoopity doo da's' which about summed it up. I wonder if he gets Arnie to 'whoopity doo da' occasionally! Lindsay :-)
The phones have been ringing off the hook! Not sure we have 'hooks' in 2013, but you know what I mean. Travel writer with 'The Sunday Times', Jez Lazell decided that our epic cross country ski journey across the Jura mountains in France was just the ticket for a feature for last weekend. I can see it now, a log fire, a cup of something warm, the dogs lying across the hearth, and feet up with the Travel Section dreaming about winter mountains and sparkling snow crystals.
The trip which caught the fancy of Mr Lazell was the long distance 'Grand Traversee du Jura'. At 112 miles across the Jura plateau it's definitely something you can get your teeth into. Every winter we are joined by passionate cross country skiers, and if they aren't passionate at the start they are at the end, who have decide their goal will be to complete the legendary GTJ. However, it's not something just for lycra clad super athletes, reminiscent of the winter Olypmics, our version is for those looking for a stunning holiday experience, but yes, you do have to be relatively fit and capable of cross country skiing all day. But, given the views we stop for views, coffee, cake, and general 'oohing' and 'aahing' over the scenery and the special shared moments of this winter wonderland.
As stated in 'The Sunday Times' - Following a well-established, cut and pisted route along the French/Swiss border from Morteau to Giron, you don't have to be Amundsen to do this, but you need to be fit, and need to know what you're doing – the trail dips and rises for five hours per day like a gnarly dragon's tail." So yes, we can take anyone who has mastered the basics, and can ski in control and for most of the day. But you do need to be able to do the following "the GTJ traverse is designed for those that can confidently get on their skis and go! We grade this trip as an intermediate/advanced trip. On our first day we will spend time to find our ski legs but we do expect participants to be able ski a variety of terrain and longer journeys of 20-30km in length. Participants should be able to ski at a good pace and have mastered a controlled snowplough for both undulating and any steeper descents." A 'controlled' descent is always a useful tool in the skiers kit box, we are never too happy to see you disappearing into the woods like an 'extra' from 'Bridget Jones'. Though, unlike the film, we don't expect you to end up skiing straight into a pharmacy and demanding a pregnancy test kit! Bridge Jones fans will understand what I mean. It's more likely that on the GTJ you will be skiing straight off the tracks and into a coffee bar for a large slice of home made cake.
Of course, with Tracks and Trails it's all very civilised and your bags are taken round by taxi each day, while you carry just a small day sack with your comfort items. In the main the tracks are all cut and pisted with just occasional non-cut sections. It all makes for a fantastic journey in the spiritual home of French cross country skiing. Needless to say it's not news to the French and Swiss who live on and around this frontier ridge line. Each spring normally in February they stage the famous long distance race the Transjurassiene which attracts thousands of cross country skiers from around the world. Both Julia and myself have taken part in the race and the experience is really something to be savoured, not sure I did feel like I was having a totally savoury moment while climbing the dreaded 'hill', but hey ho.
So this winter - what's your challenge going to be? According to 'The Sunday Times' -
"British cross-country ski experts Tracks & Trails (020 8144 6442, tracks-and-trails.com) runs an eight-night GTJ for £1,295, half-board, with a four-night introductory Jura Highlights Weekend teaching novices the skills needed for a GTJ costing £595, half-board. Transfers arranged on request from Geneva airport, which is served by several UK airlines, including British Airways, Flbye and Easyjet."