By Lukas Brinkerhoff — Some people call it February. Around these parts, we call it Goose season.
When I was a kid, it had a lot do with a round ball with black and white pentagons sewn together that we chased around on a big, deep green, grass field. And when we were done with that, we would strip off our jerseys and lay down on the grass that we knew was recently cut because you could smell it. We knew it was going to make us itch and turn our skin red, but we didn’t care. The cool feeling of the evening approaching after a long day of playing soccer defined this time of year for me all the way through my teens. The smell of a recently cut field brings me crashing back to that time, shirtless, blown and enjoying the cool grass as I cooled down.
I haven’t kicked a soccer ball in way too long.
Now it’s more about finding that one perfect spot on the North Rim of Gooseberry Mesa where I can sit and watch the sun set over Zion National Park. It’s a spot that just happens to be right next to the Gooseberry Yurts. It juts out past the rim putting you right over the hundred or so foot drop that borders the mesa. It’s perfect, perfect in the sense that it feels like you have snuck on to god’s front porch and are stealing a view from a place too awesome to be real.
It is possible to drive to that place, but you won’t find it in all of its perfection, unless you get there the long way.
The long way starts at the Windmill Trailhead around 11. Well, everyone says they will be there at 11, but by the time everyone stops to get gas, food, drinks and actually gets to the trailhead, it’s more like 11ish closing in on noon. That’s ok because there is nothing that says that if you are punctual you can’t have a pre-ride beer while you wait for the others to get ready. While you drink said beer, the temperature will be hovering just below 60. Cool enough that the warm sun feels really good on your back.
By the time you finish your morning beer, everyone is ready and the slow moving mass that is a group on a group ride will begin to roll out on the singletrack. The most obvious place for the first regroup is just past Mount Everest. No, I’m not suggesting you ride to the other side of the world, although that’s not the worst idea, there is a rollover, a cattle guard that is about fifty times higher than it needs to be. We call it Mount Everest because it’s tall and just past it there is a great little rock outcropping where you can take your first regroup and watch as those who don’t want to ride the rollover attempt to walk it. Trust me, it’s easier to ride.
This is also a great spot to talk about playing soccer as a teenager.
Once everyone is over the tallest rollover in the world, you can continue up the North Rim. It would seem that the next spot for a rest is where Bowls and Ledges and the North Rim come together. However, if you go just past that spot and you know where it is, you can experience the Gravity Cavity. This is a steep roller followed by a descent G-out and steep uphill. It really is a cavity. If you play the brakes just right, you can smooth over the bottom and actually air out the other side. It’s also fun when done in trains. You’ll want to stop because the whole group will look at, contemplate and eventually ride the Gravity Cavity.
Continuing up the North Rim you will be headed toward the Point, which could be confusing because it’s not the spot we will be terminating at, not the one that this journey is all about, but rather the point of the mesa and a great place for lunch.
After lunch, you turn east and head down the South Rim. With the warmth of the sun at your back and a slight breeze hitting your face, you get to roll down the hardest moves on the mesa. Which is a good thing as your legs are starting to feel a bit burnt. You’ll pick off Rattlesnake, the Wall of Considerable Consequences and the infamous Wall of Death. From the latter, with a smile on your face and the feeling that the Goose has been ridden, proper like, you’ll make your way back to the Windmill Trailhead.
As the feeling of sweet success surges through the group, there will always be one person coming in hot who after skidding through the parking lot will let the bike go rolling through riderless to crash down to the ground. This person usually immediately demands their adult recovery drink which is waiting ready in the ice chests. The Doritos (which have been scientifically proven to be the best recovery food) are pulled out along with some olives and usually crackers and cheese. This isn’t the first time this rodeo has happened and it sure won’t be the last.
And soon the group feels like a bunch of teenagers who just finished a soccer game. Their faces are glowing from the desert’s sun that has been roasting them all day long and despite the fact that everyone is an adult with real life problems, real life work and worries, the world seems right. At this spot, this point in time, there is nothing any of us would have rather done.
Yup, it may be February with inverted air and days without sun in some places, but in St. George, it’s Goose season.
If you go:
Regardless of how many times I ride this trail I always find something new. It has endless possibilities and views of Zion National Park that are just the cherry on top.
Southern Utah, about an hour from downtown St. George.
Camping on the mesa is allowed in any previously disturbed location or you can reserve some higher class accommodations with Gooseberry Yurts at www.gooseberryyurts.com.
The Goose isn't long but also isn't a quick jaunt. Plan on spending between 3-5 hours to ride the whole mesa or better yet stay for a few days and really take it all in.
Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.