By Karen Wang
I spent all of 2018 taking care of my health and the early part of 2019 getting my life back after Topical Steroid Withdrawal, so it had been well over two years since I stepped foot onto an airplane or booked a vacation for myself.
Although I was a bit anxious about flying to the desert, because dry air in the cabin can cause skin to flare, I felt like I was finally mentally and physically ready to step outside of my safe zone for this press trip.
Moab is a place that I had always dreamt of visiting. As it turns out, the land of dry desert, Native history, and the bright sun was just what my skin needed.
During this trip we had the privilege of riding through Ute Territory in Moab, Utah. One of the most useful tools I have used to educate myself on the history of people and land is the Native Land app. The map shows what territory you are currently in, and provides links to learn more. The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture has also put together a comprehensive guide on how and why to honor Native land to show respect, and take a step towards repairing relationships with the community and lands. I still have so much to learn.
We were invited on this trip by Escape Adventures—a biking, hiking, and multi-sport touring company focused on creating valuable experiences in Western North America and around the world. Founded in 1992, they are committed to providing personal, hands-on service, and have been taking approaches to reduce their carbon footprint onto the planet. I’ve only ever taken one other guided tour in my lifetime and similarly, I left the trip feeling completely fulfilled, supported, and with a new found perspective.
During our bike tour, we were provided with e-bikes. Mine was the bright yellow one! These are pedal assist, battery powered bikes. We had three settings and could adjust accordingly as needed. I was able to leave the motor off and rely on my legs for most of the flat roads, but by the end of the third day, my sore bum had me kicking the bike into turbo. The e-bike is one of the coolest bikes I’ve ever ridden, and I was definitely grateful for the battery power on the inclines.
I had flown into Moab a few days early in order to spend time with some old trail friends, so I didn’t get to meet everyone until we met up at the Moab Brewery for introductions after checking into our lodging at the Big Horn Lodge. It was great to finally meet the trip organizer, Jen, and our guides, Merrick, Will, and Ian.
We woke the next morning to a bit of drizzle and overcast skies. After breakfast, we got fitted for our e-bikes at Moab Cyclery, and the team provided us helmets, water bottles, and snacks for the first leg of the tour.
We started off riding alongside the Colorado River via Potash Road through Wall Street, one of the most popular places in Moab to crack and sport climb. We rode past these incredible 500-foot-tall cliffs and ended at a lunch spot viewing Native petroglyphs on the rock. By now, the clouds finally parted, and the sun graced us with some blue skies. Merrick was our support van and had arrived at the site early to set up a full buffet lunch for us. He made up a fresh salad, cut up fruit, cold drinks and catered to our dietary needs. We felt so spoiled.
After soaking in some sun and letting our legs rest for a bit, we headed to Arches National Park for a hike to Devil’s Garden and the Windows for sunset. Our guides were so generous with us with their time and let us stay out there until dark.
We arrived back in town and had Mexican for dinner. It was a long day, and I was just blown away with how much energy our guides had the entire day, and they still had to do our dishes after they dropped us off at our hotel! I was over the moon grateful for their incredible service towards us.
On this day, I wanted to be more aware of the land we were on and asked Ian, one of our guides who is a Moab local, questions and he provided us with so much information about the history of the places we were seeing and walking on.
Just a bit saddle sore on our second day of riding, most of the views were expansive open road vistas through rolling hills. We rode to Dead Horse Point that looked down into the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. I took the time to enjoy all of the dramatic desert views that are so rare to me living in the northwest.
We ended our ride with a little scramble off the highway to view thousands of year old Native pictographs and petroglyphs. They were so incredible to see in person. I also observed so many forms, layers and variations of the soft, fragile sandstone all over the desert. This material is so fragile, so we always made sure to be gentle around the rock.
One of the most talked about topics in Moab is the Cryptobiotic soil. It is a crust formed over desert soil that can take decades to form and is easily killed by stepping on it without knowing and can contribute to an earlier than usual spring runoff. This living biological soil reduces erosion by holding the desert floor together, stores water and fixes nitrogen to plants for regrowth. It is highly advised to always stay on trail when traveling on these delicate surfaces.
Our wonderful guides then took us to another nearby spot for sunset at the Sand Flats Recreation Area. The road took us to the heart of the Colorado Plateau where Jurassic-aged sedimentary rock layers are exposed from what was once huge sand dunes that eventually became “petrified” to form the Navajo Sandstone. The diagonal lines on the rock called cross-bedding are evidence of these 150 million year old surfaces migrating downward now formed on the cliff walls of the Sand Flats.
It was our last night together, so I was reminiscing on our last few days with everyone as I watched the sun set behind the layer of clouds. We ended our evening with a delicious Thai dinner at a local restaurant in town.
I woke up this day feeling a bit saddened knowing it was our last day with the team and being in Moab all week but this day by far, was my most favorite ride. Though I mostly used turbo the whole time being on the last day, Castle Valley was incredible to ride through and reminded me so much of being in the Grand Canyon.
We didn’t put in as many miles but enjoyed each others’ company and laughed on all of our breaks together until it was finally time to pack up our bikes into the van for the very last time. We said our goodbyes to Ian and Will, and Merrick drove the rest of us back to Salt Lake City to catch our late flights back home.
As I sat looking out at the road during the four-hour drive back to the city, I felt so grateful to be on this trip representing She Explores and our place in the outdoors community. I’m incredibly proud of the work we do, the women we represent and the positive culture we instill onto others. I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be on this little trip that made such a huge impact during my journey in healing.
I arrived with an open mind and left with a new understanding and perspective of the people, the land and the community that we choose to surround ourselves with.
Additionally, I felt a huge connection to our guides who made this experience so valuable, educational and rewarding for me. They had 100% energy even when I was feeling socially exhausted at the end of each day, and I always felt so supported the entire time. Their kindness and open heart on why they do the work they do was apparent to all of us, and we were all so lucky to have them show us the best of Moab with Escape Adventures.
Editor’s note: Karen attended this e-bike press trip with Escape Adventures as a representative of She Explores, in exchange for documenting the experience. All opinions and photographs published here are honest and all her own. To learn more about booking your own e-bike tour, find more information here at escapeadventures.com.
Karen Wang is a Texas-raised, Seattle living, long-distance hiker, aspiring mountaineer, and photographer that loves telling and hearing raw stories from passionate people. See more of her work at karenkwang.com and find her on Instagram.