Sunday, September 15, 2013

Stress Rollercoaster

The past few days have been quite the stress test. Months ago, I planned a trip with wife and my mother, where everybody could enjoy the trip. Not easy, when off-road trail riding is foremost on my list. There's needs to be plenty of other things for the women to go off and explore while I ride. Cycling might be on their list, but not my kind of cycling!

Mom was to fly in to Salt Lake City from Michigan, while Cathy and I were flying in from Manchester, NH. The morning of our flight, I get an email from Southwest saying my itinerary changed, and my flight was now departing an hour-forty later? What?! We'll miss our connection. I called. No sympathy. They said we could fly to Baltimore, then to Los Angeles, then back to SLC and get there just before midnight. The only problem was my mom arrived at SLC in the morning and was depending on me for transportation and lodging. The other option was to fly out the next day. They acted like this was no big deal, so why should I be so upset. I was livid.

We decided to chance it, worst case not getting to SLC until midnight, which would have left my mom at SLC for 12+ hours until we got there. We'd get to hotel 3am NH time. We would have about 20 minutes to catch our next flight.

Things got worse. Our flight was delayed another 20 minutes after sitting two hours at the airport. Now we were getting into Baltimore after our connection left the gate. We left mom a message, as she was already in the air. I was fit to be tied. They claimed there was an equipment failure at Baltimore the day before and this pushed everything back, except of course, our connecting flight to SLC.

About 20 minutes from landing in Baltimore I asked for connecting gate info. A flight attendant checked, and to the surprise of 11 of us making the same connection, the SLC flight was delayed 15 minutes. He announced if we didn't dilly dally, didn't grab a bite to eat, didn't stop at the bathroom, we should just make it. Cathy and I sat in the front row. We sprinted and ran right onto the plane. Worry now transitioned to how will they ever get our luggage transferred in time...

The Baltimore to SLC flight was interesting. Of course, only the most undesirable middle seats were left. Lots of babies on board. Hmmm, what is greatest mean distance from all the babies? About 1.5 seats it seemed. We got no lunch in Baltimore. We should have had a 2hr layover, instead 60 second sprint. A flight attendant that could have been an army drill sergeant in a past life kept repeating the rules about nobody queuing up at the front lavatory. Then when snacks were handed out, she said "Chips, Cookies or crackers?" I grabbed all three, since Southwest usually lets you take as many as you want. She quickly snapped back "That was an OR!", grabbing two of the snacks back from me. Whoa! The passengers on either side of me got a kick out of that one. Glad I had a couple other bites of food along from home.

At SLC, mom never got our messages, so she had no idea how close things came. She was glad to not know. We were relieved to see our bags even made it on our flight. Things were looking up, except for the pesky detail of weather forecasts, which were downright abysmal.

We scooped up my bike en route to Park City, Utah. Park City is currently the only Gold Level riding destination in the world ranked by IMBA. Many things go into this ranking, such as quantity, quality and variety of trails, infrastructure such as lodging, food and brew, access. There are hundreds of miles of purpose built singletrack around Park City, from extreme lift-served downhill to cross-country alpine epics. Guess what I was interested in?

Leave it to Cathy to get us up in time. Some how she double counted the 2hr time difference and got us up at 3:45am local time! False alarm. Cathy had also put in for a wake-up call at 5:45am, which was later than we usually get up eastern time. Breakfast was served at the Hampton Inn at 6am. The woman wanted to see a bunch of stuff in SLC and didn't want to drive into the city, so I would drop them off. If you've been following the news lately, you know the weather has been wicked unstable in this part of the country for the last 10 days. I needed to get as early of a start as possible to avoid being turned into a crispy critter on a ridgeline. There was 50% chance of thunderstorms.  Our wake-up call never came. We overslept by 45 minutes. SOB! Can't one thing go right?

It was about 1hr round trip to drop women off and start my ride from I-80. There was a trailhead practically from the hotel that would tie in with the Wasatch Crest Trail, a trail I've wanted to ride for 10+ years. Late summer is one of the best times to ride the crest, as the snow is long gone, and September precip is very low. But not this September. Almost daily rain. The Mountain Trails folks maintain an awesome interactive map with status on hundreds of trails. 100% of the singletrack was posted "Excessive Snow/Mud, Trail Use Not Recommended." Just lovely. They weren't officially closed. Maybe if I got on them before the afternoon rain came things wouldn't be too bad. I thought wild fires would be my biggest threat on this trip, but no, it was going to be rain.

Orange = Use not Recommended, all singletrack. I believe violet is paved path.

Heading out, I almost immediately began climbing into the cloud deck. Mostly forested, and I had no idea if there were views from the open areas or not. I took quite a maze of trails up to the crest, pretty much monotonically climbing at a persistent, steep grade. I started around 6400ft and was going up to nearly 10,000ft. Nothing like a stiff 3500ft climb for breakfast.  I hit tails like RTS, UOP, Robs and Ridge Connector.

It took nearly 2hrs of continuous climbing to reach the ridge. I had an hour in there where I didn't encounter another soul. Just before reaching Desolation Lake, I met another rider coming down and asked if he still thought it was ok to traverse the ridge. He said sure, rain would start after 1pm. I went for it. Near the high point, I met many other riders going the opposite way. I think they were all shuttling, parking at Guardsman Pass, then bombing back down on Mill Creek Trail on SLC side of the crest. Mill Creek is open to riding only on even days, and Saturday was the 14th. I got funny looks when I told them where I had started from.

There were a few brief moments where the clouds opened just enough to see some of the nearby mountains. That was sweet. The ridgeline was dry for the most part, while some of the loamy, shady areas of the climb were tacky and a tad greasy in a couple spots.

I managed the clear the ridge staying dry. Plan next was to bomb down to pick up the beginning of Mid Mountain Trail, another premier XC trail at Park City. It contours at 8000ft for something like 15 miles. I was really looking forward to a fast, flowy cruise with a 2000ft plummet at the end back to the hotel. The problem was, the sky turned dark, the rain started, and the temperature plummeted. Thunder too. So glad I wasn't on the ridge. No doubt some of those I saw just heading up got caught up there in that. My problem was I was the furthest point out from my car. Shall I just bomb down one of the ski area service roads and head back on pavement? I wasn't sure I even knew how to do that. I thought maybe the rain would just be brief, as I saw blue sky very close by in direction I was heading. I decided to cut several miles out of loop and short-cut to Mid Mountain trail just below me.

Of course, chasing the patch of blue sky was like chasing that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I never rode out from under the rain. The trail held water nicely. I had a continuous stream flying into my face and up my back side. The soil has a lot of structure to it, so it never got soft and muddy. It just made a wicked mess of bike and body. A Goretex shell was enough to keep me from going hypothermic, as the contouring trail had a surprising amount of up and down to it. Interestingly, I passed a terrain park area where the lifts were still running. There were a huge number of downhill oriented bikes strewn about at this mid-slope lodge.

About the time I neared the plummet at the end of Mid Mountain from 8400ft to 6400ft, the rain stopped. I spent almost two hours riding in rain, trashing bike. Things I would have to use again the next day were caked with crud, like Camelbak, shoes, shell and more. I had no chance to clean them, as we had long drive to Jackson, WY that afternoon.

Had the descent not been so greasy, I could easily see a 3500ft drop here being one of the best descents out there for cross-country weenies like myself. I had to be uber cautious though, riding balding Kenda Small Block 8's over lots of shiny rocks. There were several talus fields to cross.

Fortunately, the storm water basin right next to the hotel had ample rain water in it do dunk wash my bike. Hate doing that, for fear of water infiltrating bearings. But the bike had 10 pounds or crud caked on it and no way was I wedging that in between our luggage. We had already checked out of the hotel, so I had to use the lobby rest room to change. Ears, eyes, nostrils, even my butt crack were all packed with mud. This was just as bad as the VT50 a few years back. The band new drivetrain on my Racer-X 26" dualie just lost half its life. I finished with almost 45 miles, 8500ft of climbing on the Garmin in 5.5hrs moving time. This ride took way more out of me than I anticipated. Still got what I wanted out of it, just barely.

I'll leave you with photos from the ride. These are from my crappy Panasonic TS4 all-weather camera. Didn't want to risk the good camera in expected foul weather.

Aspen climbing into the clouds

The gnarliest section of the crest above Desolation Lake. This was hike-a-bike in
direction I was riding it.

Crest trail just visible in open meadow on left side of image

High point just before beginning descent towards Guardsman Pass.

Two other groups hit this point at same time.

Looking south along crest. Sky becoming increasingly unstable.

Apex trail maybe? Just before downpour.

Mid Mountain Trail. Looking back south. Rain almost stopped.

Park City faintly visible below from 8000+ feet on Mid Mountain. I bet views
are great on clear day.

Almost back down to hotel in distance. Figures sky was starting to clear up again.


DaveP said...

I have a secret pleasure. These are my favorite kinds of HJ blogposts.

You should have told the flight attendant you were Fat Doug, the outcome would have been opposite.

David Penney said...

Remember any bad riding day is better than being in the office! Chin up!

DaveP said...

My wife wrote the last comment.