“I BET SHE GOES,” Doom says, peering down the dusty trail we’re currently riding, a trail which, technically, doesn’t exist. It’s not on the National Geographic map, and registers only as a faint line on his GPS, like a ghost, disappearing abruptly in the middle of a canyon.
This situation is nothing new; Doom uses plenty of trails that were originally scratched into the desert by motorcycles or cowboys but have never been made official. But this trail is supposed to be our exit strategy after four days of hard biking, and if it doesn’t go, we’re going to have to make some painful adjustments.
“I don’t know. I hope she goes,” Doom says with an uneasy laugh as we cross an active creek and push our bikes up the sandy bank. We hop over a downed tree and…the trail vanishes in a wall of thick sage.
She doesn’t go.
We’re in Bears Ears National Monument, in southeastern Utah, trying to climb out of a dusty gorge choked with head-high brush. The mystery trail was great for 6 miles or so, a wide path that dropped elevation fast and narrowed as it crossed the creek a half-dozen times before it unceremoniously died.
It’s a good news/bad news deal. The good news is that the creek is the most reliable water source we’ve seen in days, so we won’t die of thirst.
The bad news? We’re cooked. Four days of big miles have turned our legs into noodles and our asses raw. The idea of backtracking when we’re so close, just a few miles from Doom’s truck, is disheartening. There’s cold beer in that truck. If we turn back now, who knows how dark it will be before we crack those beers?
Here’s the weird thing, though: This is exactly what we signed up for. We’re on a bike packing and packrafting trip with a man named Doom (real name: Steven Fassbinder), who is known for creating multi-day routes all over the world that require mountain bikes, packrafts, and the occasional llama. His exploits are legendary and borderline nuts: a fat-bike journey across towering glaciers in Northern Pakistan, a 1,000-mile bike and rafting trek across Tajikistan. The Sierra Nevada featured him in a beer commercial. The guy has fans.
Doom and his partner, Lizzy Scully, started a new guide service last spring, Four Corners Guides, to introduce those fans to his unique style of adventure inside the dusty, canyon-rich backdrop of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. The signature tour is “The Full Doom,” where clients spend several hard days riding and paddling in the desert. It’s a serious affair, and prospective clients are subject to a shakedown in which Doom and Lizzy assess their physical prowess and mental fortitude. I was told I could join an outing only if I guaranteed I wouldn’t “be late, shitty, or not up for the trip in any way.”
Not that you have to be a total jock to enjoy a Doom adventure. Doom himself is notorious for his less-than-hardcore training regimen. “I love it when people just go for it,” he says. “What’s the worst thing that could happen? You get tired. Or hungry.”
I’m tagging along with Dave Martinez and Chad Eagle, two longtime friends from Southern California. They signed up for a customized Full Doom that combines a big, four-day bike packing ride through Bears Ears with a two-day riding and packrafting adventure through a corner of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s an ambitious itinerary that combines 200 miles of pedaling with 10 miles of flatwater paddling and has us strapping all of our gear, food, and water to our bikes and back. My tent and inflatable boat are attached to my handlebars and everything else is distributed through frame bags and my backpack. It’s a heavy kit, but it’s oddly satisfying to know that everything I need for the foreseeable future is contained on my carbon-fiber, stormtrooper-white-painted fat bike.
Doom tucks his GPS away and contemplates the wall of sage in front of us. He understands that backtracking would kill morale. “I bet the creek goes,” he says and takes off down the center of the stream, his pedals churning the water with each downstroke. We chase after him, hoping that the scrub-brush walls rising on both banks will give way to a clear route to cold beer.
THE TRIP began four days earlier at a high-alpine pass on a gravel backroad surrounded by tall aspens. Someone had carved a cartoon cock and balls into one of the trees at the top of the pass, the artwork turning black with age against the white bark.
Doom laughs. “That’s how you know you’re on a Doom trip. Those are my blazes.”
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