By Lukas Brinkerhoff
The trail was vacant of human beings. When we left the trailhead, there were multiple cars in the parking lot and we could see people riding across the wash on the next mesa over. In fact, the trail looked as if no one had ridden it since the last rain. The last rain was three weeks ago and the tread still held the rain drops that had fallen. We had the trail all to ourselves. Five miles of riding bliss on a trail that felt like it was virgin singletrack and no one around, I guess god does love Mooseknucklers. Where did we find this heaven? You ask. Well, to be honest, it was about ¾ of a mile from one of the busiest trailheads in Southern Utah.
It’s an interesting phenomenon and one I like to call the Couple Mile Rule. The CMR states that about 85% of people using a trail system will be found within a couple miles of the trailhead. Go a little past that couple of miles, and you lose another 10% of the people. Push it just a little farther, you know, a couple miles more, and there are only about 5% of the users who will ever put rubber on that portion of trail. It’s not because the trails are bad, or too hard, it’s just because the barrier for entry is slightly higher and the majority of folks find what they are looking for just a couple miles from the car.
If you are a seeker of solitude or just like to ride farther than most, you’ve probably witnessed the CMR in full effect. You probably also love the CMR and seek out trails and places that are just beyond the masses. Sure, there’s a bit more effort required. You need to be more self-contained and be able to deal with things without the help of others, but the payoff for pushing past that point where others turn around and return to their cars is always, yes always, worth it.
There are a few basic barriers that should be pointed out to help you seek and ultimately find your solitude if you wish to be part of the 5%.
This is the most obvious one. Regardless of who you are, going 10 miles takes longer than going 3. If you are limited on time, which most of us are when riding our bikes in the mountains because we have to get back to our work and lives, then your ride will be
determined by the amount of time you have to spend. Assuming most people who ride only have 1-2 hours of free time means you will see them close to the trailhead. Overcoming this barrier is simple, you ride farther.
I’ve always claimed that I pedal half the time so I can coast the other half. This does imply that at some point I will be going uphill. Most people avoid going uphill. Even if there are some sweet views, solitude, killer trail, all of which gets followed by a thrilling
descent, you will find less people at the top of a climb. The harder the climb, the less people at the top. The trail I described above is literally ¾ of a mile from a busy trailhead, but that distance goes down into a wash and then back up a steep double track. That short distance isn’t what keeps people from riding the trail, it’s that short, steep climb. Overcoming this one is a bit harder but comes down to learning to spelunk in the pain cave with a giant smile on your face.
I have never ridden the Flying Monkey and ran into someone that wasn’t in my group. Never. Maybe I’m just lucky or maybe the filter is set high. If the trail starts with an inverted roller with a wall on one side and a serious drop on the other, you will most likely find yourself alone on that trail. The harder the trail, the bigger the effect. This is also the hardest of the barriers to overcome. Back in the good ol’ days, we kind of just had to figure out how to ride. There weren’t classes or defined skills that one would necessarily practice to become a good mountain biker. Now that the sport of mountain biking has evolved and we are more mature, there are plenty of clinics you can take that will teach you the skills to blow past this barrier.
Trails that combine all three barriers into one ride are what I like to call Once-a-year Trails. These are trails that will challenge you, require you to go farther and give back solitude in spades. They require a time commitment that you probably don’t have on a regular basis. Seeing that you only ride them about once a year, the technical sections will always challenge you because each time is like the first time. It’s almost a guarantee that you will be required to leave a blood sacrifice and when you get home you will collapse into your favorite lounging spot and hopefully have someone there that can bring you your favorite recovery drink.
You could argue that laying out the CMR for you is counterproductive. And you might be right, but having bounced around in the desert and watched the trends come and go, there are places I know will always have an extremely low population density. The barriers to enjoying them are too high and the reward may seem too low for the 95%. However, for those who push through, they will find that view that you haven’t seen on Instagram, they will ride that techy descent that no one talks about and doesn’t have a segment on Strava. The trail will feel like it was just built for them and maybe they won’t go back the next day, but they will certainly commit to the required effort to experience it all again.
Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.