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The Slickrock trail: so much for club sports. In Moab, Utah's mountain-biking mecca, CEOs come to 'shred.'.

A little more than a mile into the Slickrock Trail in Moab, Utah--one of the most breathtaking mountain-biking rides in the world--my nerves began to fray. As I approached a mounded lip of the canyon, the stencil lettering between the white lines that mark the trail gave me fair warning: DANGER. Maybe the guidebooks were right. Maybe the Slickrock is only for expert "shredders," as mountain bikers are known.

I took a sip of water from the hydration pack strapped to my back, breathed deeply and swallowed hard. Slowly, I rolled over the DANGER sign, lifted off the saddle and hung back over the rear tire of my 27-speed Specialized FSR to transfer weight where I would need it most.

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I plunged over the edge, made the sharp left-hand turn into the canyon and rode down the steep rock face. Looking ahead of me, I saw a technical hairpin turn. Some-how, I managed to control the full-suspension bike and swing wide enough to nail the turn. Then I skidded down the face of the trail, turned left again and surfed across the slickrock, a sandpapery surface that provides traction that is positively unreal. Given the steepness of the trail and the fact that you're riding across the slope rather than down, you expect the bike to slip out from under you. But the traction of the rock keeps you upright. It felt like riding a 9-foot Pacific wave. Exhilarated, I smiled and exhaled.

With its potential for serious spills on rough terrain, mountain biking would seem more suited to twentysomething thrill-seekers than buttoned-down executives twice or three times their age. But, as it turns out, more than a few CEOs answer the call of the trail. And nowhere do they like to shred more than in Moab, a stunning moonscape of red rocks, deep folded canyons, mesas, spires and the towering La Sal Mountains.

Dick Marriott, chairman of Host Marriott, the largest real estate investment trust in the United States and a sister company of Marriott International, has been riding in Moab for 15 years, and he still can't get enough. "The terrain and scenery in Moab are spectacular; it's like no other place in the world," he says. "We go in early spring or late fall when the weather is perfect."

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Marriott has ridden just about every trail, but he prefers trips into the backcountry, where he goes each year with a group of 15 friends and relatives, accompanied by a local guide. "I personally love the riding, all the exercise, the companionship and getting away from the office," says Marriott, 65. "I just love being outside for several days."

Payten Yates, executive vice president of Yates Petroleum, based in Artesia, N.M., is another annual pilgrim to Moab. Like Marriott, he books remote journeys. "The multiday trips allow you time to relax, let down and not worry about business," says Yates, 63. "At the end of every ride you are physically exhausted. It is a great feeling."

Moab sits at 4,000 feet in a valley along the Colorado River, 250 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. Arches National Park is five miles north, and Canyonlands National Park, site of many multiday rides, is 50 miles southwest. Moab is unique among biking meccas because of its nearly unlimited access to public land: More than 90 percent of surrounding Grand Country is open to the public. Knitting it together is a diverse web of roads carved out in the 1950s when uranium was discovered in the area. The roads, abandoned in the 1960s when the mining dried up, have supported Moab's mountain-biking reputation for decades.

While for many riders the rugged backcountry holds an unequalled appeal, others are content with day trips. Not even a soft spot in canyon country can coax Kevin Bouley, CEO of Nerac, an information technology firm in Tolland, Conn., to commit to a backcountry trip. A veteran Moab daytripper, Bouley's idea of camping "is a room without room service," he says. He has visited Moab for the past six years to reconnect with the Slickrock Trail and hammer out other epic rides. "There are an infinite number of great mountain-biking spots, but there is only one Moab and one Slickrock Trail," says Bouley, 46. "You owe it to yourself to go there at least once."

Riding Options

If you're planning a trip to Moab, there are a couple of basic choices: Reserve a backcountry trip with one of the top tour operators (Rim Tours or Western Spirit Adventures) or stay in or around town and do many of the popular day rides.

Most of the three- to six-day trips cut through Canyonlands National Park. Popular rides include the White Rim Trail, the Maze and a tour from Needles to Moab. When you take a backcountry trip, you don't have to sweat the details. The journeys are supported by trucks that shuttle your camping gear, food and spare bicycles and parts to the next night's destination. You spend the day in the saddle with a guide, logging anywhere from 15 to 30 miles a day, drinking in the scenery. "CEO types like the multiday trips because they can get an honest-to-goodness break from their daily lives," says Ashley Korenblat Sevenoff, owner of Western Spirit. "They go where their cell phones don't work--or where they can pretend they don't--and they can live in the moment."

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If day rides are what you want, book a room and hit the more than 30 local Moab favorites. The two most popular trails are the Slickrock and the Porcupine Rim (see sidebar, left), both of which have rides for all skill levels. If you're not up for the entire Slickrock, go out and tool around on the 2.5-mile practice circuit.

Be forewarned: Many trails can be difficult to follow. It's best to hire a guide for all but the most well-marked routes. "It is big country out here and there are hazards and rough trails," says Kirstin Peterson, co-owner of Rim Tours. "Going out with a guide can enhance your experience. They'll give you riding tips and help you see things along the route you might miss on your own."

The best time to visit Moab is early spring (April and May) and early fall (September and October). Summer is an option as long as you hit the trail early, when the sun is low. Hard-core shredders tackle some of the trails during the winter. But stay off the Slickrock in the rain or ice, which makes the grippy sandstone truly slick.

I conquered the entire 12.5 miles of the Slickrock Trail that afternoon in mid-April, but my riding wasn't always pretty. I got off my bike and walked up and down a few of the perilous ledges and steep pitches.

During three spectacular days of riding in Moab, I got a strong dose of what mountain bikers crave about the mecca of fat-tire biking--rough roads, slickrock and single track that ring the arid land outside of this enthusiast town. In other words, a world removed from the boardroom or executive suite.

RELATED ARTICLE: THE PORCUPINE RIM TRAIL

THE SLICKROCK may be Moab's most famous trail, but, according to locals, there's even better: the Porcupine Rim Trail.

A point-to-point ride that can stretch up to 20 miles, the Porcupine begins just 10 miles from Main Street. It offers technical challenges for advanced riders, yet, with effort, intermediates can conquer it, too.

The ride is rare among mountain-bike routes: There is more down (10 miles) than up (four). "It is like cheating the mountainbike gods," says Kevin Bouley, CEO of Nerac, a Connecticut-based IT firm.

At the trailhead, our guide warned us that we'd climb a rugged jeep road for a vertical rise of 1,000 feet. Every inch is worth it when you finally reach the rim and stand on the aptly named High Anxiety Viewpoint. The snow-covered La Sal Mountains loom over the canyon country and the mesmerizing Castle Valley sits 1,500 feet below.

The trail parallels the rim before it pitches off and the ride really begins, dropping 3,000 feet over the next 10 miles. The descent is awesome--fast and bone-jarring, with plenty of jumps.

The route later turns single-track and skirts the edge of a cliff overlooking the roiled waters of the Colorado River. Caution is strongly advised. The final pitch is extremely rugged. Don't feel bad if you walk the worst sections; most people do.

--S.H.
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Title Annotation:Travel
Author:Henjum, Scott
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Geographic Code:1U8UT
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:1421
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