Loving the Uphill Battle with Roam Industries
Words and photos by Locke Hassett
“Long time no see!” piped Dustin from a leather chair near a window with grey morning light pouring in through the huge windows of Roam Industry, a backcountry focused bike, climb, and ski shop in Monticello, UT. He sips his coffee as we catch up and listen to Zeppelin. His kid has teeth coming in, and he is a small business owner in a small town. He is tired, but not too tired to laugh, talk, and show me around the shop.
Dustin and I first met last winter, when I was living out of my truck in southern Utah, pursuing a research project and a boondoggle of a bikepacking route in Bears Ears National Monument. I was connected to Dustin through some other folks in town as a human-powered recreation aficionado, and a good person to talk about recreation, social justice, local politics, and whether or not it was a bad idea to try and traverse Bears Ears by bike in February. Turns out, it was. But that’s a different story.
Monticello is a small town that sits at the feet of the Abajo Mountains, about an hour south of Moab. Slickrock gives way to the High Desert in these parts, and Monticello is for many, a gateway to places like Indian Creek, Bears Ears, Dark Canyon and Cedar Mesa. Though the trail systems and recreation culture are much more subtle in this corner of San Juan County, that’s exactly what makes it a gem. You won’t find crowds of motorized recreators on the trails in these parts, nor will you find hundreds of mountain bikers. The riding in the Abajos is not for those who seek painted dots or banked corners. It is backcountry riding at it’s finest. Monticello is in no way Moab, and folks like Dustin and his wife Natalie see that as a blessing and an opportunity.
Roam Industry is much more than a bike shop. A quick glance at its fleet differentiates it immediately from other shops in the area, floors flooded with long travel carbon bikes. Surly ECRs with Rohloffs and Salsa Bucksaws lean up against walls of trad climbing gear. A pair of 90s MTB’s sit awaiting the local customers to pick them up. Rather than a display of handlebars and anodized stems, Roam has a full display of bikepacking bags. And the bikes are just part of it.
The focus of Roam isn’t to be simply another bike shop, but more of a hub for all adventures human powered. Ski touring and trad climbing are equally as famous in these parts, and the folks at Roam are just as much backcountry skiers and Indian Creek climbers as they are bikepackers. Both Dustin and Natalie get out with skis and cams as much as with tires.
This summer, the shop took off with a self-serve coffee bar, a rental fleet of bikepacking rigs, and a guiding service that offers everything from shuttles to the top of the Abajos, to guided multi-day, multi-sport trips, like bikepacking to a climbing clinic. Roam is also working to set up a hut system for bikepackers and ski mountaineers in the Abajos, with a tiny home (The “Bothy Wagon”) already operational, and another hut in the works.
Dustin grew up in Monticello, but like many kids who grow up in rural areas (myself included), he wasn’t introduced to riding bikes and climbing until his 20s. Moving home to southern Utah, he saw that many of the kids in town who lived so close to such incredible outdoor opportunities mostly related to the land through ranching, as he had. This sparked a passion to try and make recreational experiences more accessible for rural locals by sponsoring a climbing club and offering steeply discounted rates (just enough to cover costs) to locals.
It’s not easy being someone promoting human powered adventure in a place so divided by land management. #NoMonument stickers are juxtaposed by windmills, Patagonia jackets, and environmental education centers. It’s clear that everyone here loves the landscape, but there is a disagreement with how to exist with it.
Yet, Dustin seems to think that the simple act of moving over a landscape can bring people together. I can’t help but agree with him. Sure, he’s promoting human-powered efforts, but the worn out teleskis and old articles about skimo races in the area show that these activities are nothing new here and that folks from all walks of life can still appreciate some gravity assisted absurdity and laugh together while playing in the woods.
Roam is here to show that community can be built through sweat, grease, sawdust, conversation, passion, and coffee. Maybe it’s it’s an uphill battle, but the uphill is nothing unfamiliar to Dustin and Natalie. Hell, they love it.
Keep up with this rad shop on Instagram, and stop in for a cuppa Joe next time you’re passing through Monticello!
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