Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998
THE MAZE, UTAH
Approaching The Maze in Canyonlands National Park via Elaterite Basin, you pedal unsuspecting through sandy juniper desert until, with startling suddenness, the ground simply falls away in front of your handlebars. Before you lies a jumble of surreal geology stretching to the horizon, a labyrinth of deep, narrow canyons, twisting and turning and doubling back on each other. Dark monoliths and needle spires shoot up here and there. Intimate and richly textured, The Maze makes the Grand Canyon seem almost ordinary.
At first glance, the idea of descending into the labyrinth itself without ropes or wings seems ludicrous. There is, however, a scramble route down (on foot, not by bike), if you know where to look. A couple of hours of carefully picking your way through slots and along ledges, and you'll stand where no white man stood until perhaps the twentieth century. An
Most of the group will probably want to head back down toward the river, he says, but if any of the guys want to continue farther up the mountain for awhile, he'll lead the way. He apparently hasn't noticed that the only member of the group who has continued to gut it out — who is in fact almost out of sight up ahead — is a woman.
But show the guys some mercy. They are, after all, in the little-known northern province of Trentino, home to one of the most extensive — and toughest — networks of mountain biking trails in Italy. The Trentino Forestry Department alone marks and maintains more than 1,500 miles of trails and roads that are off-limits to cars. Surrounded by the snow-capped Dolomites, many of them wind reasonably enough through alpine valleys, past fast-flowing rivers, fields of wildflowers, and whitewashed towns dominated by church towers.
But shift down into granny gear, point your front wheel toward the mountaintops, and you'll discover soon enough that what goes up — seems to have no end.
A whole series of really nasty rides begin with almost deceptive ease in Torbole, on the shore of Lake Garda, where Bike Shop Carpentari will rent you a mountain bike and give you a trail map (phone/fax, 011-39-464-505-500; $15-$20 per day, $60-$95 per week). Or for the ultimate challenge, rent bikes in Ossana, in the Valley of the Sun, from Giovanni Ravelli ($25 per day, $75 per week; 011-39-463-757-451) and take to the road for a 3,000-foot climb to the Passo Tonale, one of the toughest obstacles in the famed Giro d'Italia cycling race. — Bob Payne
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO
The countryside around San Miguel is ribboned with trails that were made for mountain biking. Actually, they were made for burros. But mountain-biker John Kay, who owns San Miguel's La Puertecita Boutique Hotel, a former colonial mansion decorated in the kinds of colors you'd expect to see at a Mexican fiesta, has explored hundreds of miles of the trails. He's discovered that they range from cruiser level to serious enough to have even the most expert riders contributing to the local art scene by occasionally painting themselves all over the sides of the rocks.
For a leisurely ride I had myself transported 24 miles north to the town of Dolores Hidalgo. Following the dirt and gravel trail through the scrubland that runs along the Río Laja back toward San Miguel, I felt I was getting a true back-door view of Mexico — tiny villages, crumbling churches, and just-washed clothes spread out on thorny bushes. More than once, I had to yield the right of way to a pig. Shorter but more challenging was the 11-mile burro trail from the train station in San Miguel up to the hot springs at Taboada.
Riding is good year 'round, but the June-September rainy season brings the possibility of mud. Room rates at La Puertecita are $120-$185 for a double; call 011-52-415-222-50. Rental bikes are available to guests for $20 a day. Or rent from Bici-Burro in San Miguel (about $20 a day; 011-52-415-215-26). The tour company Backroads offers a six-day trip for $1,698; call 800-462-2848. — Bob Payne