DECLINATION: Five Miles of Hell, Utah

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The trail is called Five Miles of Hell and it’s near nothing remotely called civilization. Wixom, Utah — what, you haven’t heard of it?

Mostly because it’s an ass kicker. Unless you’re a grade-A, top-notch technical rider and totally on your game, Five Miles of Hell will kick your ever-loving ass back to wherever you came from. It’s harder than you imagine, and at 20 miles longer than it sounds.

Don’t like technical trails? Don’t like throwing yourself at a move four, five, ten times before either bleeding, succeeding, or giving up? Don’t have want to take dawn to dusk to cover 20 miles? Then 5MOH isn’t for you.

Everyone walks on this trail. Everyone. It’s not about whether you can “clean” the whole thing, because that is simply not possible for any human. It’s about immersing yourself into a spectacular landscape, testing your current skills, and emerging on the other side having learned and seen…more.

Greg, Skippy, and I spent most daylight hours out there recently throwing ourselves at the trail. I tweaked my knee, lacerated my shin, and bruised my other knee going over backwards, then torqued my lower back, bruised both hands, and dinged my shoulder going over forward.

After each of these incidents I felt even more humbled, blessed, grateful to be where I was.

Skippy gacked his ankle between a rock and a hard place. Maybe not so grateful.

Pretty much anyone who sees the pictures assumes that the photographer went hog-wild with the saturation slider when post processing. I assure you that nothing of the sort has happened here. If anything, I have desaturated many of them to make them look more believable. It really is that stunning out there, helped a bit by low-angle autumn light.

Most of my trips to ride this trail have been in springtime, and difficult though it may be to believe, coming out of winter with more moisture in the soil and rock, the color is even more stunning than what you’re seeing here.

Very, very few mountain bikers that I know think of this kind of thing as “fun.”

Brutally technical is the best way to describe it — some of the climbs are so relentless that you simply cannot make it over even one more one-inch ledge. You’re just that blown.

And then you walk to the top, remount, descend, and start again minutes later.

Some of it is the steepness of the climbs. You have to see ‘em to believe ‘em. The sandstone gives perfect traction, so if you have the legs and the desire they are makeable. Some of the difficulty lies in the heavy bikes we’re slugging up those climbs. Pigs, in a word. But you’ll ride far less on anything else. When I last rode it (six years ago?) I was on an otherwise capable yet very light three-inch travel bike and I didn’t think it was much fun. I won’t go so far as to say that you need a freeride bike in hell, but you’ll be happier for it.

But how many FR-type bikers enjoy steep climbs and hike-a-bikes for hours? And how many moto-geeks have the skill to pilot a 300-pound sled through there? The answers explain why in roughly eight trips over 10 years, I’ve yet to see humans there.

If you’re technically inclined, like to be challenged, and don’t take yourself too seriously, go. Take more food, water, energy, and spares than you think you’ll need. Don’t worry about packing humility. You’ll find plenty there.

Declination is other places, other spaces, and the things that happen there.

Photos by Mike Curiak. For more from Mike, visit Lace Mine 29.

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  • Ian Wickson

    Good to know this still being tackled via MTB. Here’s a link to an article by my “friend” Mike Padian (couldn’t find it in Bike Mag’s archives online) about the adventure he roped me into back in ’07. He got the worst of it, as I recall….
    http://padianart.com/index_11.htm

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