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“It’s going to seem like we’re in the middle of nowhere,” said Chris Martinez, founder of trail- running guide service 360 Moab Adventures.
He met me on Main Street in Moab, Utah, a few miles east of where we would be running on the Amasa Back desert trail. He had two new water bottles strapped to his hands, a common sight among extreme runners.
“Once we get on the trail we’re going to be isolated,” said Martinez, who has black tribal plugs in his earlobes and Aztec tattoos on his legs. “It’s amazing.”
During the drive to the trailhead, he pointed out Navajo sandstone cliffs named Wall Street that are sought out by rock climbers and others from which you can sometimes see base jumpers.
Moab is a mecca for “almost all extreme, adventure sports,” said Martinez, 40, during our run as we gazed from 700-foot cliffs overlooking Canyonlands National Park, petroglyph rock-art carvings and petrified sand dunes. “You can do a lot here.”
The area is known for mountain biking, jeep trails and natural sandstone arches, of which Arches National Park preserves more than 2,000 specimens, according to the National Park Service. One of those arches is on the state’s license plate.
Martinez has lived in Moab for 15 years. He won the 12-hour Nanny Goat race in Riverside, California, in 2009 by running 67 miles in that time span. In 1997, he started guiding rafting tours on the Colorado River. He’s also the director of Moab’s Red Hot 55-kilometer and 33-kilometer races; that’s 34.2 and 20.5 miles.
It’s a prime place for getting off the road to run, said Christopher McDougall, author of “Born to Run.”
“People aren’t looking at running as the punishment for pizza anymore,” said McDougall, whose book explores barefoot running and chronicles the Tarahumara Indians. They cover hundreds of miles in Mexico by foot.
“Rather than people putting in the obligatory half-hour on the treadmill, they want to get outside where it’s gorgeous,” he said.
He suggested I talk to Karl Meltzer, world-record holder for most 100-mile trail-race victories, about running in Moab.
“I’ve been down to Moab about a million times,” said Meltzer, who lives in Sandy, Utah. “You get these athletes, super-hardcore mountain-biker athletes, and you’ve got these killer runners, and then you’ve got these jeeper guys who aren’t getting out of the jeep. They’re just driving around. But everybody gets along.”
About a mile from the end of the 9.5-mile Amasa Back loop, Martinez and I met Danelle Ballengee, four-time Pike’s Peak Marathon winner and a member of the Colorado Sportswoman Hall of Fame. She’s also part of Utah’s lore about people who find themselves stranded in the desert.
Aron Ralston in 2003 was pinned by an 800-pound boulder in Bluejohn Canyon, south of Moab, before he amputated his right hand with a multitool, according to National Geographic News. The event inspired the 2010 film “127 Hours” with actor James Franco.
Ballengee, who has the women’s record for climbing Colorado’s 54 peaks of 14,000 feet in less than 15 days, fell about 60 feet from a cliff just off the Amasa Back trail in December 2006, as detailed on her website. She survived more than two days alone in the desert with internal injuries as she forced herself to do crunches to keep from freezing to death. Her dog, Tasman, helped lead rescuers to her.
“If you don’t know your way around,” Martinez said of the Amasa Back trail, “you can get lost.”
On my last day in Moab, I ran at Klondike Bluffs with Martinez and Heidi Rentz, 28, a professional mountain-bike cyclist who’s available as a backup 360 Moab guide. She’s also a mountain-bike guide, won the women’s 33-kilometer Red Hot trail- running race in 2011 and has the record for the 9.5-mile Amasa trail race.
From Klondike, about a 20-minute drive north of Moab and adjacent to Arches National Park, you can view uranium mines. You may stumble on dinosaur fossils or footprints.
After the run, which covered about 9 miles in two hours, I had one last concern before leaving Moab: Could I go without a picture of an arch?
“Go see Delicate Arch in Arches National Park,” Martinez said. “It’s the one on the license plate.”
Moab is a four-hour drive from Salt Lake City Airport. The city’s tourism website has details on hotels and campgrounds, national parks, activities and restaurants: http://www.discovermoab.com/index.htm.
(John Detrixhe is a reporter for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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