Jim Walker & Deb Breneman

It’s finally warming up here in Moab and on the Slickrock Trail. I was riding the Slickrock Trail on a Sunday afternoon when I met up with two 15-year-old bicyclists. They were about 75% of the way around the trail but were mostly walking their bikes and looking fairly tired. 

I’ll call them “Thomas” and “Keith.” The pair reminded me of many other people I’d met on the Slickrock Trail, where I patrol nearly every day.

They reminded me of another young man. I met ten-year-old Jonathan when I’d dropped down the wall at the Abyss and, just as I’d yelled “yah!” and went up the rock wall on the other side, I caught a glimpse of something off to the side, almost hidden in a bushy area. Turning back and dropping in again, I’d stopped and found Jonathan. He was bloody all over.

“Hello,” I said, “can I help you out here?”

He looked at me but clearly didn’t know what to say.

“It’s OK,” I said, “I’m with the bike patrol, can I help you with a bandage?”

He agreed. Luckily it was just one small cut he’d been wiping with his hand, smearing blood around.

“Are you out here all by yourself?” I asked.

He said he was with his dad and brother, but “I couldn’t keep up with them.”

He’d been left behind. I got him cleaned up and off of the trail. I never did get to talk to his father…but that was probably good.

Thomas and Keith also reminded me of a teenager who a partner and I found on the trail one day. He had water, but no food. Without energy or sugar, his hands had cramped up, leaving him to pound his hands on the rock with frustration. First, we got him to stop pounding on the rock. Then my partner raced his bike out to the parking lot and came back with a cola. It’s amazing what an energy machine a 15-year-old boy can be: he immediately recovered, uncramped and within minutes was headed back up the trail.

Thomas and especially Keith were having similar trouble. You could tell by watching them that they were out of energy. I had energy bars for them and that got them moving along the trail.

“How are you guys doing for water?” I asked Thomas and Keith.

“We’re fine,” Thomas said confidently.

These teenagers remind me of so many people who rent bikes and go out with only one bottle of water that fits in the bike holder. I looked at their bottles and saw one was empty and another was nearly empty.

“How long you been without water?” I asked.

“A while,” Keith said.

“Here,” I said, “each of you fill up your bottles from my bottles.”

It sure would be better if people carried more than that one bottle of water. I carry two bottles and sometimes three if it’s hot.

One boy was doing okay, but the other was lagging. In fact, as I watched to see their “progress,” the one who was lagging tumbled off his bike and landed, luckily, in the sand.

So often one person in a group answers “we’re fine” when I ask, although another in the party is clearly not fine. It’s amazing how often I point out how one person in the group is clearly in trouble while the rest of the group had not noticed.

Thomas and Keith were like so many others I’d seen over the years on their first ride of the season. They were determined to go all the way around the Slickrock Trail. I tell people when I suspect they’re going beyond their limits that they don’t have to do the whole trail the first day. Thomas, Keith and the others in my memory are like harbingers of spring. They’re like the robins that come back to the Midwest, or the hummingbirds that show up so early, or the daffodils and wild rhubarb that are starting to grow.

Spring is here in Moab, folks. The people we’ve invited to enjoy our amazing canyon country are coming to town. They aren’t from around here. They don’t understand what we know about this country. Let’s keep an eye out for them and help when we can. It’s the least we can do for our guests.

Jim Walker patrols with Deborah Breneman on trails around Grand County with the Moab Bike Patrol, which was organized in 1995 by the Bureau of Land Management to assist the visitors enjoying our public lands and trails.