Eric Porter Took Us on a Freeride History Tour in Virgin, Utah

The prefrontal cortex is relatively well-developed in my brain, meaning self-control and personal safety awareness is high. Honed even. Other riders out there might have a more underdeveloped PFC, meaning they’re willing to huck themselves down massive step-downs and over canyons without more than a few moments of hesitation. In the world of mountain biking, I’d rank myself and my friends as capable riders. Obviously, many of the riders I photograph have skill levels that are a few notches higher than mine. Some of them grew up riding BMX or motocross and a mountain bike just feels natural up in the air, oftentimes one wheel or two at a time. Photographing these rad atavists is just one of the reasons why I love my job, yet all it takes is a change of scenery to feel like you’re in over your head. This sea change was found once we left the common trails in Hurricane, Utah for a neighboring outpost called Virgin. Home to RedBull Rampage and other free-riding spots, Virgin is in many ways, the home base for the sport.

Having met up with Eric Porter the night prior, we were all a little anxious to see what it was exactly that he had in store for us. Keep in mind, two of the four in our troupe were on hardtails. Kyle is on a singlespeed, Josh is a very cautious rider and Parker gets reallllly excited around talented riders. I wasn’t worried about myself, since again, my PFC is pretty well developed. Plus I had a 20 pound camera bag on. After some back and forth, Eric agreed to show us a trail called Nephi’s Twist. He described it as a popular jaunt for the locals, but not really on the radar for tourists. The myriad of OHV roads leading to the trailhead is confusing and there isn’t an online map available, so orienting yourself is nearly impossible. Nearly. Even Eric, who’s far from a tourist in the area, was having a hard time finding the hidden singletrack entrance.

Once we did though. Man, what a ride! Nephi’s starts as a swooping, undulating trail with a few drops and a couple of booters before it dives right into a ridge ride early exit or a 50′, steep drop in with a g-inducing flyout. Everyone almost looped out at the bottom from the effect of the speed and sudden change of trajection. Soon, we were pedaling down a trail that was barely two feet wide with 100′ exposure on either side. At one point Eric stopped us, told Kyle to be safe, me to ride ahead for a photo spot and Parker to dial it back some. The drops were getting steeper and with more consequence. Keep in mind, we’re on hard tails. At the end of Twist, we all had a greater degree of respect for freeriding and we hadn’t even jumped into the good stuff yet.

Here’s where Eric got nostalgic and took us on a private tour of some of the surrounding area’s lines. Many of which, he had carved out himself, years ago. One of which happened to retire him from freeride. There’s even a photo of the tailwhip canyon gap, just milliseconds prior to the resulting crash from overshooting the landing by almost 20′. We all scrambled up to the top of the drop in and fathomed how much confidence it’d take to roll into the 100′ tall drop in, without using your brakes. Eric explained that 28mph was needed to hit the jump and land it successfully. Any less and you’d case it. Any more and you were toast!

Step 1, ride Nephi’s. Step 2, see canyon gaps. Step 3, the OG Rampage site.

In a short drive, we were in the BLM land where the original Rampage site was laid out. People still to this day practice their lines on the old site, with hopes of competing in the new, even crazier event. As we were pulling up to the spot, we saw this kid backflip a huge gap. Upon arrival, Eric knew him, introduced us to Reed Boggs. In the midst of Eric’s history lesson on Rampage to us, Reed continued to whip, 360 and backflip this massive gap. Photographic evidence attached.

Again, what. the. fuck!?!

We hadn’t even gotten to the good stuff. Pedaling up a fire road, heading towards a giant mesa, Eric began to point out where our destination was. This large area had been sculpted to fit the master plan of the world’s top freeriders. Rampage is something that you can begin to understand when you watch it on Youtube or on TV, but you can’t fully grasp it until you visit the site. It’s huge. Massive. Gargantuan. These behemoth lines make me nervous just walking up to them, much less flying at 30+mph speeds on them. Granted, the technology has improved over the years and riders are pushing the bikes, as much as they are themselves, but still. This is no walk in the park. There are real, life-threatening consequences with riding like this. Insert well-developed prefrontal cortex here.

After Eric spun tales of friend’s conquests and casualties, we all decided it was time to head back to the trucks, pack up and begin our long journey home. Eric had to return to Salt Lake City and we wanted to sleep in a bed, avoiding camping in the rain. We said our goodbyes and headed towards Zion National Park to find a cheap hotel with a solid view. The following morning, Josh left us to escape for some fly-fishing, leaving Kyle and myself responsible for dropping Parker off at the Las Vegan airport. But not before taking Parker into Zion and up through the tunnel.

The roads were wet from the previous night’s rainfall, the slickrock glistening in the dappled light and fresh snowfall made the desert scents all the more memorable. It wasn’t until a baby big horn sheep was grazing on the side of the road that I felt our trip had come to a suitable end.

Southwestern Utah is magical, a veritable mountain bike heaven with something for everyone. From cross-country to trail and full-on freeride, the amount of singletrack packed into such a small area is impressive. The only thing more astounding are the people who are there making it happen.

Many thanks to the Angry Catfish boys, Eric Porter and everyone who pointed us the right direction during our ramble through Southwestern Utah!