When I first moved to Moab, I was skeptical that Pipe Dream would be an interesting ride. The trail is literally inside the valley — not out on the fins and terrain of the Sand Flats Recreation Area, or the open spaces out near Dead Horse Point.
Of course, I was wrong. Not only is the ride itself a fun time, but the scenery is something you don’t really get anywhere else around Grand County.
On Slickrock, riders get a few glimpses of town from a high angle, and if you wander far enough afield, you could probably get a full overlook of town and possibly some of Spanish Valley. On Pipe Dream, riders get a pretty constant look at the city. It’s not the bird’s eye view that you would get at the top of the rim, but it gets you high enough to see all the way down 400 East, the straight part of Main Street and 500 West.
As someone who sometimes longs to return to the big city — something that is a lot less tempting amid the pandemic — I enjoy getting to take in urban environments. Obviously, I also have a taste for rurality having chosen to live here, but I like both. Riding Pipe Dream and overlooking the City of Moab, I think about that.
Ostensibly, the distinction between a town and a city is somewhat meaningless, but it does matter to me. As I was growing up in North Carolina and my family would drive through West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and other states to get to my grandmother’s former house near Indianapolis or my grandfather’s house near Boston, I always got better vibes from the cities than from the towns. I’ve heard of ghost towns but not ghost cities.
Regardless, I’m drawn to population centers. Where there are people, there are fun things, and biking Pipe Dream to overlook Moab reminds me in one, high-level picture that there are people here gathering together to have fun and do cool things. Many of those people are not physically gathering right now, but the communities still exist despite the pandemic, and work and play goes on.
From where the city is visible on the trail, much of it is obscured by trees, but the larger buildings and properties stick out as a reminder of the human civilization that occupies the valley. Grand County High School and nearby construction of the new middle school are clearly visible; cars on Main Street and the businesses they are passing are visible from the right spots. Houses, the hospital, gas stations, hotels and office buildings all appear in the picture when you look north from Pipe Dream.
I like seeing that. I like being in the middle of nowhere, also, but the mere existence of Pipe Dream — this opportunity to ride a black diamond trail from which I can (almost) see my house — I like that experience, too.
The no-dab challenge
I didn’t learn until recently that Pipe Dream has a no-dab challenge, a challenge to riders that they not put a foot down at all during the ride. There is a helpful FAQ about the challenge at the start of the trail, and I find some of the answers funny, although I think they’re meant to be serious.
I like the idea of completing the no-dab challenge on Pipe Dream, but I also like the idea of stopping to breathe.
In any case, the challenge exists because — at least in my estimation — Pipe Dream is short (five miles one way) and surmountable (black diamond rating) enough that anyone with ample motivation can do it. Maybe I underestimate the learning curve, but to me, the trail seems like one of the more accessible rides I have taken in Moab.
With that said, I am drawn to Moab’s harder rides, and plenty of people get injured on Pipe Dream each year. It is rated black diamond for a reason: It can get technical. The trail gets narrow in spots, and rocks jump out at riders to try to push them down the steep, rocky slopes that lay inches away.
In some spots, riding Pipe Dream feels like I’m bouldering along a ledge that is only wide enough to get my toes on the rock, and I’m hugging the rock closely to make sure I don’t fall backward. Imagine that feeling while biking.
With enough strength and balance, though, Pipe Dream can be a fast, flowy ride — the kind that requires no bike-walking and is not such a grind the way Slickrock is. I just hope to get back the conditioning I need to attempt the no-dab challenge.