The cool desert breeze rises over the sheer cliff overlooking Moab, Utah’s pristine Castle Valley. The only sound is the crunch of gravel and sand as my mountain bike tires roll through the faint trail. It’s just me, my mountain bike, and the Whole Enchilada.
My 20-mile solo ride is part of the famed Whole Enchilada in Moab, which begins high in the La Sal Mountains and combines some of the world’s best mountain biking trails — Burro Pass, Hazard County, Kokopelli, Lower Porcupine Singletrack, and Porcupine Rim — with breathtaking desert landscapes as far as the eye can see.
I only encountered four other riders on the unseasonably warm fall day as the unique trail sections descended more than 4,000 feet, covering everything from fast, flowy dirt singletrack to technical rocky terrain along Porcupine Rim.
The remote trail traverses some of Moab’s most varied desert terrain: full of spires, buttes, and buttresses in endless shades of red. The ride descends into Jackass Canyon before mercifully spitting you out at the Colorado River.
If the Whole Enchilada is not on your must-ride list, add it now. This trail is famous in the mountain biking world for good reason.
To do it alone takes an extra level of grit and guts, but the reward is well worth it.
How to Mountain Bike in Solitude
Mountain biking is typically a group sport. Having a crew fuels your stoke — it’s always great to have someone to share the experience and a post-ride celebratory brew with. There is also the safety bonus of having a buddy to watch your back when you crash, pick you up, and dust you off. As great as buddies are, there’s something freeing about just grabbing your bike and hitting the trail alone.
Mountain biking solo is a form of escape rarely found today. You can go as fast or slow as you want. You can stop and sit and enjoy the views whenever you want.
When you ride alone, you don’t have to keep up with anyone or slow your pace as the crew catches up, and you have the freedom to re-ride fun sections of the trail. You can get away, from everything. The ride is all yours and you can do whatever you like.
To ensure that you stay safe and return home with stellar stories, not injuries, there are some basics to keep in mind.
Initially, there may be a bit of trepidation. The “what ifs” can get in your mind, however. Over time, the fear is squelched by the silence of riding through nature alone.
Lesson #1: Do not start riding alone by going to Moab and attempting the Whole Enchilada unless you are already an expert-level rider.
This was not the first time I had ridden the Whole Enchilada. I was familiar with the trail, already having ridden it with friends. I worked my way up to the ride knowing I had the skills and fitness level to safely ride it.
Take time to get comfortable with being on the trail alone by doing short out-and-back trips to start. This gives you some degree of cushion. Trips closer to town typically have more people on the trail who can help as needed.
As you grow more comfortable with solo rides, you can start going further into the wilderness and take on more technical trails. Soon you may feel more comfortable riding solo than with a group.
Know Your Limits
Know your limits. Mountain biking alone will help you find a good comfort zone for your fitness and skill level. When I ride alone, I tend to err on the side of caution a bit more. It’s OK to dial back the stoke a bit, and there’s no shame in walking sections of the trail.
At the same time, get to know your bike and make sure you carry the proper tools to fix common malfunctions such as a flat tire or broken chain. Have a small medical kit in your pack to help you or other riders if something goes wrong. When you mountain bike solo, you are your own first responder, so be prepared to deal with safety or medical issues alone.
As you ride alone more, you will find that your confidence and comfort level grow as well. Before long, trails that may have once seemed impossible, are a simple solo ride for you.
Common Sense = Stay Safe
The same rules apply to mountain biking solo as any other sport when it comes to taking the proper precautions in advance. Make sure to let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.
Bring enough water and food for the trip and carry a map or GPS device on longer rides. A cellphone is good to have in case of emergency if there is coverage.
I download maps from the Gaia GPS app to my phone for my rides. That way, even if I don’t have service, I have a topo map with GPS on my phone. On longer rides, I even carry an external battery charger, just in case.
Basic first-aid and wilderness medical skills are also good to have. Consider taking a Wilderness First Responder course so you know what to do in an emergency. The same goes for basic bike maintenance 101.
While mountain biking alone may not require a lot of gear, you carry everything you may need on a solo ride just in case. From a flat tire to a broken chain, mountain biking in remote areas alone means being prepared. Here is a list of some basic gear to have on you while riding solo:
A good, well-maintained, and trusty mountain bike is a must. Make sure the bike is built for where you are taking it. Front suspension may suffice, but full suspension and a dropper seat can make a rough ride manageable. Make sure to do an inspection every time you get on the bike.
It’s a good rule of thumb to always wear a properly fitted mountain bike helmet when riding, and especially when riding alone.
A good hydration pack is key to ensuring that you carry enough water to keep you going, along with all your gear. Make sure you get a bag big enough to hold everything, but not so large that it weighs you down.
Always carry a couple of spare tubes. Just throw a couple in the pack, even if you ride tubeless, just in case you get a flat.
Shock Pump/Tire Pump
Shock pumps and tire pumps inflate and deflate shocks and tires as needed. Often on a single ride, I will inflate and deflate my tires several times based on trail conditions. Also, if you get a flat, having a bike pump is key.
There are some basic bike tools you will always want to have on hand. A good multitool will take care of everything most of the time in a small kit.
Jerseys and shorts, such as the PNW Components line, are made specifically for mountain biking and will make your entire ride easier and more comfortable.
A good pair of sunglasses is a must when riding in the sun. Polarized is even better to cut down on glare.
Energy and protein are key on long solo rides. Make sure to carry bars, GU, Clif Shot Bloks — whatever you like to avoid the dreaded bonk. Longer trips can require more food such as trail mixes or a sandwich.
A small med kit with basic first aid is good to have on hand in case of an emergency.