After a great first day in Vernal at NUMB Fest, we were stoked for day two. Our new friends from Altitude Cycle said the best itinerary after McCoy Flats was to ride the even-better Red Fleet area on Sunday and the Flume trail on Monday. We decided to do one better: we would ride the Red Fleet trails Sunday morning, the Flume Trail in the afternoon, and we’d have Monday free to ride something else before the seven-hour drive home.
Timing Is Everything
The locals raved about one of the Red Fleet trails called “J Boy.” They emphatically praised it as a “must do” and gave us all sorts of unreasonable guarantees that if we rode it, we’d love it. The funny thing is, despite all my research, I hadn’t heard of this trail, and it wasn’t on any of their maps.
Now here’s the cool part: as I mentioned in part one, I had tried unsuccessfully to make it to the NUMB fest the previous two years. My lack of success turned out to be a good thing: J Boy was new and, had I made it to previous NUMB Fests, it wouldn’t have been available.
I can say without reservation: it was worth the wait! With over 350 trails on my completed list, including most of the marquee rides out West, I never expect a ride to vault into my top ten, let alone a new and obscure trail like this. Still, J Boy most certainly did, taking its place alongside the likes of the Downieville Downhill, Monarch Crest, Porcupine Rim, and the Kokopelli Trails.
The drive from town to the trailhead was spectacular, going through one geological wonder after another. Gone was the barren desert of day one, replaced by a beautiful pinion-and-juniper forest punctuated by fantastic rock formations. The area brought to mind a cross between Sedona and Cortez.
Upon arriving at the trailhead, we were greeted by some locals who were hitting a series of jumps on a short trail across the street. They invited us over to share the joy. It turns out there is a short (1/2 mile) flowy bit of downhill peppered with jumps of various sizes, all with cheater lines should you wish to safely abort launch. Miniskibum was keen on giving it a run, so we let him go, but just once as we wanted to make sure we hit our loop. The jumps would still be there when we got back, provided we still had the legs and the wits to hit them.
The prescribed loop was to run the perimeter of the Jass Chrome Moly trail (signed as “Jazz” out on the trail) until it hit the road, take a short jaunt on the pavement to the new and highly-touted J Boy, and finish up on what was left of Handsome Cabin Boy (signed as HCB on the trail) back to the trailhead.
The first mile of Jazz was a wicked-fun bit of low-angle, flowy, high-speed singletrack which bobs and weaves through the pinions. No pictures here, there was just no stopping anywhere along this first mile as the flow was too special to abandon. Of course, what goes down must come up, so this wonderful descent was followed by a rather stiff climb up to the BLM property boundary. At this point, the trail followed a fenceline, dropping into and out of many drainages–again, very reminiscent of Cortez’s Phil’s World. At the eastern end of the trail, the singletrack turned right and followed a fantastic ridgeline downhill, again with indescribably good flow, and punctuated with a couple very airable jumps which Miniskibum made excellent use of.
A short jaunt on the road took us to the entrance to J Boy, which didn’t look like much at first. But after veering right at the now blocked-off junction to the old Three Amigos trail, J Boy took a turn for the better. For most of the next mile, the trail climbed at a pretty stiff pace, but it was a most entertaining climb with a few techy bits, nice switchbacks, and ever-improving scenery. If there is such a thing as uphill flow, this trail has it! At the top of the first big climb was a perfect spot to down some energy bars while marveling at the wonderful countryside. Then, it was yet another screaming-fun downhill, including some slickrock, all the way to the road.
Where J Boy crosses the road also serves as the parking area (complete with restrooms) for the hiker-only Dino Tracks trail. There were lots of families starting the hike, but it’s only about a hundred yards before J Boy branches off and begins the stiffest climb yet. It’s sustained and sometimes quite steep. The switchbacks are broad, yet we found ourselves near the top quicker than we expected. As we made the final push to the top, we rode a slanted rock slab with a vertical drop on our right side hundreds of feet above the valley floor. It was quite exhilarating, reminding us very much of the more exposed parts of the Porcupine Rim.
Once at the high point, we rested in the shade of a huge rock wall with a curious hole. Miniskibum stuck his head in the hole and jerked it back out quickly, screaming. I’ll say no more other than, if you ever go here, you must have a look for yourself!
By this point, we were hugely enamored with this trail, but amazingly, the best was still to come. The final descent was the best we’d seen yet, and ranks with the best I’ve ridden anywhere. Technical, flowy, varied in both terrain and challenge, including steep singletrack, rock gardens, huck opportunities ,and slickrock, this descent had it all!
At the bottom of the descent comes the merge with Handsome Cabin Boy, which provides a tough, sandy wash climb back to the road and the parking lot. Thankfully, it’s not too long; upon completion, our insane grins were still firmly planted on our faces. We still had the legs and wits to hit some jumps a few times before calling it a ride.
If you’ve ever sought one ride that has it all, this is truly it. I give the Jazz/J Boy/HCB loop my highest possible recommendation, and I give my thanks to the BLM and the folks at Altitude Cycle for making it possible.
That afternoon, we made our way to the highly-recommended Flume Trail. Again, in stark contrast to the raw desert of McCoy Flats and the juniper semi-desert of Red Fleet, this trail traversed truly lush subalpine terrain. The singletrack parallels a forest road, so you can ride it as an out and back or a loop with the road. The bottom portion is low-grade and moderate-tech. The middle portion is more smooth and flowy and has one difficult creek crossing.
The upper portion has a lollipop loop on the end passing by what’s left of the old Flume, from which the trail takes its name. The upper portion also makes a foray higher up on the mountain, making for a positively sick climb from either direction. Along all portions, the woods are gorgeous, and all that running water is welcome after so much time in the desert.
While flying down a heavily-rutted, baby head-infested portion of the trail, my pedaling ceased to have an effect. A brief inspection confirmed I had dropped a chain–no biggie, just reload the chain. Well, there was a reason the chain jumped: the rear derailleur hanger had snapped and thrown the whole derailleur into the spokes. No biggie, I always carry a spare derailleur hanger. I had recently swapped all my components from my Yeti 575 to a new Yeti Five Carbon . . . which uses a different derailleur hanger. I was now up the creek without a derailleur hanger.
After a bit of quick chain surgery, I had my black beauty converted to a singlespeed and we were back on the trail.
To wrap things up, having busted a bike and not wanting to chance further disaster, we decided to forgo a Monday ride and simply head home with a detour through Dinosaur National Monument, which also proved to be quite rewarding. Despite my catastrophic mechanical, we still managed a full itinerary.
My first trip to a mountain bike festival proved to be everything I hoped it would be–and then some. Thanks for the great times, NUMB Fest! I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other such low-key events in the future.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite mountain bike festival?
OK, now I HAVE to ride J Boy!
*starts conniving to include Vernal in summer road trip*
I want to ride that trail if for no other reason than to know what is in that rock hole. Dang it man! I hate mysteries…but the trail sounds uber-awesome. 🙂
BLM now has a current map:
Simply do the outermost possible loop clockwise. Possibly the most diverse — and fun — 12 miles I’ve done.
Got to ride McCoy Flats several years ago. Will just have to find a load for my flatbed going that way again. Got to check out J Boy!!!!!!!!!!!
So I just spent the week in Vernal and rode the Red Fleet trails twice while there. Your report was very helpful. Let me caveat the trails are good riding. They are fun, flowy and just enough tech to keep them interesting. The climbing is pretty moderate so a wide range of riders can enjoy them. I think comparing them to Downville or Porcupine might have been the down fall setting the expectations a little too high. While this is good riding its not in the same league as those trails listed. My Nomad was overkill, even the guys at Altitude Cycles said it was overkill for the riding out there. I happened to break a spoke. I thought it was important to provide another view so people don’t get their expectations too high and miss the quality trails for what they are not how they don’t measure up to Moab or Downville.
Thanks for rounding out the assessment. I did rather gush about my Red Fleet day as it was sheer nirvana for me. I did try to relay that I put it into my upper echelon–which doesn’t mean it would actually go in anybody elses.
While Porc and Downieville remain my favorite downhills and Red Fleet will never challenge them in that regard, but what makes Red Fleet so special is the variety–it gives you a good dose of everything all in one trail. On the whole I found it to be as good a “complete” ride as any I’ve encountered.
I get your point about the Nomad as well. I own a Yeti Five and a Yeti Seven. I took the Five on this trip and it was perfect–the Seven would have been overkill.
What other trails did you ride while in Vernal? If the Nomad was too much for Red Fleet, it seems like it’d be way too much for the other trails in the area.
Thanks for the Review! J-Boy adds pieces built into Handsome Cabin Boy by Legends of Fruita Kevin Christopherson (now of St. George, Utah, Dr. Ritch Etchberger (Utah State University professor) and BLM Recent Retiree Steve Strong (the Old Man of the Mountains) now of Parts unknown – but can be seen on bike frequently in Oregon). The new pieces of J-Boy were the Brain Child of #1 Evan Glenn, formerly Rec Planner at the Vernal Field Office and Jason West (myself) currently at the BLM office in Vernal, Utah. For more Great rides, Call or email me. For information about our latest Project (Red Fleet Dinotrax Downhill trail) email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (435_781-4501. Currently my bike inventory contains a Yeti 7, Two BLM Cannondale Jekylls that just stay in the BLM shed full time, and My new Specialized P2 DJ. I picked that up two days ago, and I’m launching it daily at red fleet until the paperwork is done for major overhaul on the trail. LETS RIDE!
It’ll probably be a while before I get back to Vernal. Hopefully others will take you up on your offer and check out that awesome riding area. Thanks to you all for your hard work!