Trip Report: Comfortably NUMB in Vernal, Utah, Part I

I’ve always thought attending a mountain bike festival would be a lot of fun. However, I don’t care much for hordes of people or crowded trails. Sounds like a conundrum; what to do? Is it possible to find a bike fest that won’t turn your singletrack adventure into riding a human slalom course punctuated by …

I’ve always thought attending a mountain bike festival would be a lot of fun. However, I don’t care much for hordes of people or crowded trails. Sounds like a conundrum; what to do? Is it possible to find a bike fest that won’t turn your singletrack adventure into riding a human slalom course punctuated by frequent dismounts and “on your lefts”?

Indeed, it is. I found just such a bike fest in Vernal, Utah, a small city at the junction of the northern Utah desert and the remote Uintah mountains. Vernal is home to a good quantity, and an excellent variety, of mountain bike trails.

Looking at "The Corral" from the Retail Sale trail

Vernal is close to . . . well, not much of anything other than this wonderful collection of singletrack and Dinosaur National Monument. In addition to the world’s greatest collection of paleontological sites and some pretty keen biking, there’s also rafting, rock climbing, four wheeling and virtually any other outdoor activity you can think of. Still, Vernal is in no danger of becoming the next Moab anytime soon.


Held on Memorial Day weekend every year, I had missed out on previous NUMB Fests due to other requirements.  This year, Miniskibum and I met up with an old riding buddy from Ogden, and the three of us set out for a long weekend of singletrack bliss.

Father & Son on sweet new Rocky Mountain Altitude 770 MSLs

On Saturday, we started with Vernal’s most popular trail system: McCoy Flats. This trail system sports dozens of miles of desert singletrack, all spider-webbing out from a central parking area, which makes it easy for anyone to pick both a distance and level of technical challenge to suit their tastes. The central gathering area had a total of two vans, one from Rocky Mountain and one from Cannondale, both with a good fleet of demo bikes. So, Miniskibum and I decided to try out some sweet new Rockys for our first ride.

Rocky Mountain Altitude 770 MSL

Miniskibum finds the shiny new demo bike much to his liking as he hits the first techy part of the ride

We only put about six miles on Rocky Mountain’s newest offering, the new Altitude 770 MSL, which sports a full 6” of travel paired with 650b wheels. The short duration of the ride would make for an unfair review, so I’ll just share my quick impressions.

The combination of the big (for me, I’m still a 26er guy) wheels and 6” of travel made for an ultra-plush ride. Singletracks recently shared a Rocky promo video for the Altitude, which had a few of us scratching our heads as one of the professional riders pushed the bike up a hill. Having ridden one, I’m even more confused. Despite the travel, the light carbon frame and the big wheels flew up hills with minimal effort.

Look at all that tasty bikeflesh--I think I'll ride one!

The only drawback I noticed was that the bike seemed to lack maneuverability in tight, technical sections; I’m guessing this is a function of my lack of familiarity with the bigger wheels. The proper technique on the Altitude might be to rely on the unique combination of big wheels and lots of travel to simply roll over trail obstacles, rather than around them.

The Altitude’s true innovation is in the suspension, which has two adjustments, each of which can be put in three positions for a total of nine possible geometries. Just the head tube measurement alone can vary from 68.3 degrees at its steepest setting to 66.6 degrees at its slackest setting. Rocky is clearly trying to make this bike a quiver-killer.

As for our ride, the suspension was set in a middle setting throughout the ride, so I can’t attest to the effectiveness of all these adjustments. While I was quite pleased to get back on my Yeti Five at the end of the demo, I wouldn’t mind throwing a leg over the Rocky one more time.

Another lesson learned: don’t let the boy ride a $5,000 bike unless you are prepared to either buy him one or listen to him nag you to replace his old clunker!

Vernal Singletrack

More fun on the Fire Sale trail

As for the trails themselves, we rode Retail Sale, Fire Sale, and Slippery When Wet. Retail Sale is the McCoy Flats centerpiece which circumnavigates the western side of the network and provides access to all the other system trails on that side. This trail is fairly-typical desert singletrack. When I say desert, I mean it—there’s not a single tree, not even a stunted juniper or pinion, and even the scrub brush is sparse. What’s under your knobbies here is nicely-rolling and wonderfully-narrow singletrack, but the area lacks the views you will find on similar trails around Fruita.

Having been a little underwhelmed by the trail so far, we were very pleased to detour onto Fire Sale, a 2.5-mile chunk of techy fun that forks off and then rejoins Retail Sale. There’s plenty of rock ledges, narrow singletrack with exposure, and short, but intense, climbs here. This is where we found out how plush those shiny new Rockys were.

After rejoining Retail Sale, we then took a connector trail back to the corral and turned in our demos, recharged our energy cells, and headed back out, this time on our usual steeds.

Miniskibum scopes out his exit line on a rocky drop sequence

Just outside the corral area where we were parked, we witnessed a rather testy bit of controversy. It seems a local rancher had chosen this day to move a large herd of cattle through the area, which is all BLM land. He was very disturbed by the fact that there was a bike festival in the area on the day he was moving his herd. I found this interesting, since NUMB Fest has always been held over Memorial Day weekend. Even if NUMB Fest wasn’t being held, why would one choose to move one’s herd through a popular recreational area during the first three-day weekend of the summer season?

The good folks from Altitude Cycle began contemplating moving NUMB Fest to a different date so as not to interfere with the rancher in the future, but I lobbied for them not to change. Even setting aside the precedent that NUMB Fest had established, I noted that Vernal is a long way from most anything else. To make it worth the drive for most folks (roughly 7 hours in my case) would require a three-day weekend; a normal weekend just isn’t long enough to justify that kind of trip or give adequate time to hit enough rides, let alone enjoy the other attractions that Vernal has to offer.

Another tasty bit of singletrack in the McCoy Flats trail system

Heading back out on Retail Sale, we soon diverted onto Slippery When Wet, one of the more advanced trails in the area. Most of Slippery was novice-friendly, and even the tougher parts wouldn’t spook an adventurous intermediate. While Slippery was slightly less technical than Fire Sale, it had significantly better flow (riding the loop portion clockwise) than Retail Sale, and this became our favorite part of the ride. After rejoining Retail Sale, we completed the full Retail Sale loop, the last portion of which also provided exceptional riding.

Over the course of the day, we got a good sampling of the McCoy Flats system, but again, I wouldn’t mind going back to sample the other trails, including Jackalope, Serpendipity, Milk and Cookies, More Hoes, and More Pimps.

Judging by the topography, it doesn't look like "Slippery When Wet" gets wet very often

Vernal’s Amenities

Once back in town, we had two must-dos to accomplish. The first was a stop at Altitude Cycle, home of the great folks who put on NUMB Fest. Second was a stop at the Field House Natural History Museum, which pays homage to the paleontological bounty of the area. The educational movie that runs continuously at the start of the museum walk does an exceptional job of explaining why the area has such a concentration and diversity of fossils.

Altitude Cycle has the best mascot! If I was a Kokopelli . . .

Before departing for the day, we got the scoop from the locals on where to ride the rest of the weekend. Although we had already ridden Vernal’s centerpiece, the guys from the shop assured us even better singletrack awaited tomorrow if we followed their recommendation.

Were they right? Click here to read Part II and find out!

One of Vernal's "older" residents

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