I remember sitting in the back of a hot shuttle van one spring day, sputtering up the windy Sand Flats road to ride the Whole Enchilada for the first time. My friend and I had started mountain biking just a year ago and over the winter, we’d bought our first full-suspension rigs and decided to take our first bike trip.
Stoke spilled out of our souls and into our smiles. As I double checked my pack and riding kit for the 30+ mile ride, my buddy said something that’s always stuck with me.
“This is it man, our bike experience is already about to peak!” I understood what he was saying. We were new riders about to ride one of the world’s most renowned trails without having to pedal to the top. People travel all over the world to ride these trails. How exactly would a 10-mile loop on a trail I ride once a month back home ever match this level of excitement again?
Being new and all, we were cracked the next day. Our legs were heavy and our forearms hurt. It was our third day in a row of riding and we didn’t feel like doing much of anything. So for our last morning in Moab, we grabbed some burritos, loaded up the car, and drove home.
That summer, I rode a handful of new trails and at a lift-served bike park for the first time. I’ve also planned dozens of mountain bike trips since then–back to Moab, to Crested Butte, New Mexico, and eventually all over the world. But my home trails are where I ride the most and ten years later, I still get excited to ride that 10-mile loop I’ve ridden a hundred times.
What’s the purpose of a mountain bike vacation?
Usually, there are three seasons when I take a bike vacation and each season has a different reason: In spring, I’m itching to ride because my local trails have been frozen for four months and I’m going a little crazy. In the summer, trails are generally in great condition anywhere on the map or at least the Northern hemisphere and any destination is accessible. This is the time to visit that bucket list destination. In the fall, I am dreading the incoming snow and want to give the season a proper sendoff.
The weather factors into traveling to mountain bike, but it’s not always the primary factor. Traveling to ride is the antithesis of mountain biking at home. Traveling is a gateway to new experiences and experience shapes perspective. I’ve always been under the influence that traveling is a great way to grow as a person and traveling to ride is a great way to grow as a mountain biker.
On one of my first media trips five years ago to Vermont, I landed with this underlying belief that I was going to crush the trails on the East Coast. The air is thicker and the mountains are flatter. Little did I know how much rain could accumulate on the skinny nets of roots woven all over the singletrack and how terrible I was at riding anything wet. To this day, I remember that week of wet riding whenever I find myself in slick soil and need to reign in my skills.
Lastly, traveling is a break. It’s a break from your routine and monotony at home and if you can plan a trip with your friends and all experience something new together on your bikes, then you create the currency of great memories which never lose value.
Why home trails are always the (next) best thing
If we only did things when we were excited about them, what would be the point of doing them at all? Work, exercising, doing something spontaneously for your spouse… riding your bike? Sure, you can do these things only when you feel like it, just don’t expect it to help maintain your progress. Without commitment, there is no progression. While trips to another riding locale may help you develop your skills, it means nothing if you’re not riding regularly–on your home trails–to keep you at the proper level.
Not only are your chances better for maintaining a better level of fitness and technical skills on your home trails, there might be a better chance of progressing overall if your riding network is strong enough. How many times have you nabbed a PR on a segment at home because you were chasing a friend down a section they felt more comfortable on, and how many times have you pumped the brakes on a feature out of state because you didn’t want to ruin your trip? There are obviously exceptions, but I know for me it’s far more often.
While new trails are exciting to experience there’s something to be said for riding a trail you’ve already ridden 50 times on good days; you know every crevice, rock and berm, when to lift and when to pump. That’s the benefit of having accessible trails close by. The trails we want to ride often present barriers of time and money.
Lastly, home trails provide that little bit of escapism on a regular basis. Vacations are a nice, complete pressure release from home responsibilities and routine but weekend or pre-work rides are that little bit of pressure release we need during the week to keep our pipes intact.
I get excited any time I start stuffing socks and jerseys in a bag to go on a trip and I think about putting my skills to the test on new terrain or the people I’ll meet. It’s a different kind of excitement I get when I’ve had a crappy week for whatever reason, but I’m meeting up with a friend for a ride and I can vent about it or we just happen to both have a Wednesday free of responsibility. Home trails always provide the space for it to happen.