The Balance: Great Trails and Better Friends – Making an Effort to Ride Again

Life is busy, but often it's easier than not to ride with friends. Matt reflects on a trip years ago that formed lasting friendships.

Chris, Alan, Will, and Brandon stopping for pics on Porcupine Rim. Photo by Matt Miller.

Most of the time, the only person you can count on to ride is yourself. All of us have bike friends, but most of our bike friends also have lives of their own and sometimes those lives involve kids, and overtime at work, family, a yard or vehicle to maintain, dishes to wash, and the list goes on. While it’s a poor excuse to not ride because you have dishes to wash or a lawn to take care of, you get the point. People are busy and while it’s frustrating at times to put yourself halfway out time and time again, sometimes we have to go alone.

I’ve always had one other friend I can count on who is down to ride whenever our schedules align, and although it generally works out, the ride doesn’t always happen. When it does and we can head to Utah or Crested Butte or somewhere else cool for a weekend, we make a point to see if anyone else we usually ride with or have ridden with in the past can come. It’s not always that others do, but it’s never stopped us from packing up and leaving anyway, nor should it.

Two and a half years ago, my friend Brandon and I were in said scenario. It was August of 2016 and a new semester loomed over us like a storm cloud closing in with every gust of wind. We had a weekend window that we could go crush the Monarch Crest trail, which we had never ridden before. We asked a handful of friends if they wanted to join, but they politely declined, of course.

So, we packed up a tent, set it up on the Arkansas River, rode the Arkansas Hills trails in Salida and booked a shuttle for the following day. With burritos and coffee in hand the next morning, we crammed into a white Econoline with our elbows pinned to our ribs and hydration packs between our feet.

When we pulled into the parking lot on top of Monarch Pass, we unloaded our bikes and put our packs on. The driver went over the route once more, including every available option, which confused me more than it clarified anything. Then he pulled the doors closed, hopped in the van and took off, leaving us with 40 miles between us and our cars.

Will and Alan leading up Monarch Crest in 2016. Photo by Matt Miller.

One group was already pedaling up the trail before I could cinch the hip strap down on my hydration pack. I looked at Brandon and then we looked at two other riders who were visiting from the East Coast.

“Wanna team up?” one of them asked. “Absolutely,” we replied.

Will is a photographer, podcaster, and all-around media guy, who coincidentally put out his own mountain bike podcast. 

Alan is from England and was working at a global non-profit that deals with government corruption. Both of them live in the D.C. area.

The whole day, the four of us leap-frogged each other on the trail, going ahead of others to crouch and get a picture when someone caught up, or we stopped at the bottom of a steep descent to wait and hi-five another when they made it down. None of us cared that we didn’t know a whole lot about one group or the other. It was enough to be on an epic ride with other mountain bikers regardless of who they were or where they came from.

When we got back to the shuttle parking lot, Brandon and I loaded our bikes on top of the car. Alan and Will mounted theirs on the back of Will’s truck. We exchanged e-mail addresses, added each other on Facebook and took off.

I blogged about that ride after it happened, and then went back to school to learn how to polish up my writing a bit more. Brandon also went back to school, and Alan and Will returned to their professional lives in D.C. Our friendship with Alan and Will turned into long-distance Facebook communication with the occasional “like” when one of us posted something, whether it was Alan posting a pic from a ride in South America, a photo that Will shot at a race, or a picture of Brandon and I on another ride in the Rockies.

It never seemed likely we would go out to D.C. to visit after only spending a few hours with them, or that they would come back to Colorado to ride with us. But, meeting up in a mutual destination wasn’t out of the question.

“Hey, Will and I are thinking about going to Moab in March. Want to join?” asked Alan over Facebook Messenger, two-and-a-half years after we last saw them.

It had been the wettest winter in Colorado I’ve seen in years and I felt like I was doing time. A Moab trip would help free the soul a little bit.

I asked Brandon. “Hey, man. Alan and Will from that Monarch Crest ride are going to Moab and wanna know if we’re up to ride with them.”

“Sure, what days?”

On the second weekend in March we drove over Vail Pass, on top of snow from an avalanche that was packed down from bulldozers and cars. Hours later, we pulled into a trailhead to meet up with Alan and Will.

The trailhead was busy with an event, and honestly, neither Brandon nor I could remember what Alan and Will’s profiles looked like with mountain bike gear on.

“I think that’s them,” I said to Brandon. We walked over to Will’s truck and gave them all bro hugs. This time, Alan and Will brought their friend, Chris, who also lives near D.C. It was both Chris and Alan’s first time in Moab.

Alan, Will, and Chris were just finishing up a ride and ready for another so we headed to Hymasa. On the way up the sandstone climb, we all got acquainted with each other again and caught up on our work lives, relationships, and how much we’d all been riding lately — which wasn’t a whole lot. 

Photo by Matt Miller.

The next day, we piled in a little pink Volkswagen van and rambled our way up the road toward Porcupine Rim, knowing this time that we were all riding together.

Alan on his way down Porcupine. Photo by Matt Miller.

Since we were the first shuttle up to Porcupine Rim for the season, we had the trail to ourselves. We did what we did a few summers ago on Monarch Crest. We slapped palms with each other, stopped for photos and selfies, and sessioned features. Regardless of how long we had known each other, we were all best friends for a day.

Before the final section of Porcupine Rim, we stopped to suck down some energy gel and snacks.

Chris sending it down some Porcupine tech. Photo by Matt Miller.

“Hey, thanks for not giving us hell about our age,” said Will. “You guys are so kind!”

Brandon and I laughed. “Honestly, we’re stoked to ride with anyone. It’s usually just the two of us that make it out for trips like this.”

When we rode through the tunnel at the end near the Colorado River, we all pedaled back to our rooms, showered up, and met back later for dinner and drinks. After heaps of pasta and cold pints, we all felt like a bag of mashed potatoes and went back to our rooms and fell asleep.

The next day was the last day in town for Brandon and I, and we would need to leave early to get back Sunday night. Alan, Will, and Chris planned to take a crack at the first half of Mag-7, though. Before they hopped in another shuttle, we had another round of bro hugs and hi-fives.

“Man, it was awesome riding with you guys. Thanks for letting us know you were coming out here. We need to do it again!”

Brandon carving through rocks. Photo by Matt Miller.

And just like that, we all scattered back to our normal lives across the country, after solidifying our friendships a little bit more. It’s easy these days to rack up Facebook friends, but it’s not as easy to maintain relationships with people you actually want to see and ride with again. It takes effort on both ends, and our East Coast friends could have easily made the trip to Moab without mentioning it to us and we wouldn’t have been that offended. Likewise, Brandon and I could’ve said that we didn’t have enough vacation days at work and they wouldn’t have known better.

Instead, everyone put a foot forward, and I think we’re all wondering when we can catch the next shuttle.