Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ride to Nowhere

I love my mountain bike. Really.

When I bought my latest bike, I used to go into the garage by myself and just stare at it. Probably 3 or 4 times a day. I spend more time riding it and working on it than I do with most of my friends (what does that say about me?). In other words, it would take a lot for me part with it. But after the ride I took over the 4th of July holiday this year in Utah, I was ready to melt it down. Well, at least for a day I felt that way.

A little background - A few years ago, I rode 3 or 4 miles of the Ridge Trail above American Fork Canyon, and it was some great singletrack. It was smooth, well maintained, and wound in and out of the aspen and pine forests behind Mount Timpanogos, with one of the more beautiful views around. We were staying at my wife's family cabin up above Oakley, UT (somewhat near Park City), and I wanted to get a good long ride in during the trip. So I concocted the idea of riding down the canyon, through Kamas and Heber, and then up a Snake Creek Road (mostly dirt) to the trailhead on Pole Line Pass (Big Mistake #1). I'd then hit an 11 mile stretch of the Ridge Trail 157 (also part of the Great Western Trail), some of which included the few miles I'd ridden before. I assumed the entire 11 mile section would be as sweet as that portion (Big Mistake #2). I also decided to leave at around 10:30 am, so I'd be riding the most exposed section, with the most climbing, right in the middle of the day, when temperatures would be reaching over 100 degrees (Big Mistake #3).

It was a pleasant, almost easy cruise for the until mile 31. Up to that point, it was largely downhill and flat (one 2-3 mile climb in the middle) and entirely on pavement. It was hot, but I'd been drinking and eating, and felt great. At mile 32 or so, I turned on to Snake Creek Road, and began Big Mistake #1. Snake Creek Road starts at an elevation of around 5800 feet, and after climbing about a mile, it turns from pavement to dirt. Pole Line Pass, which is where I'd be picking up the Ridge Trail, is at an elevation of about 8800 feet. So, I'd be climbing about 3000 feet over about 12 miles. I figured I could do it in around 2 hours, then I'd have a nice spin on the buff singletrack of Ridge Trail 157 for another 11 miles, after which I'd pick up the Alpine Loop Road (where Ridge Trail ends) and cruise down past Sundance, down Provo Canyon to Provo, where my family would meet me later that day.

Turns out, it took me about 3 1/2 hours to ride to Pole Line Pass. The climb was somewhat gradual, but never ending. By the time I got to the Ridge Trail, I'd consumed about 4 or 5 Powergels and was drinking at ton, because it was so dang hot...hmmm, maybe a clue that I picked the wrong time of year to do this? Anyway, I digress... Just as I caught sight of the trailhead, I went to take a sip from my Camelbak, and it was bone dry. I had left the cabin with a 20oz bottle of Accelerade and 100 oz of water in my Camelbak. I had finished the water bottle sometime after the turnoff, which meant that I was without liquid for the remaining 25 miles.

I was tired, but my legs still felt pretty strong, and I still had plenty of food. I figured I'd finished the worst of it, so without stopping, I just turned onto the trail, which was headed downhill at that point. It was pretty sandy and soft (the trail is also used by motorcycles on this section and was pretty churned up), but I figured it would get better. Beginning of Big Mistake #2. The trail surface was 4-5 inches of soft dirt for probably the first mile. It was downhill at that point, so it wasn't fun, but it was manageable, and la, la, la, it's all downhill from here, right??.

Wrong. As I rode on, the trail was a mix of singletrack and deep, soft dirt. I had counted on moving pretty fast, and there was more climbing than I expected. The reality of the situation was that I was more tired that I wanted to admit (I had no power for those short uphill bursts), and I was beginning to feel the effects of dehydration. I was getting a bit short of breath, my heart was racing, and I was starting to bonk.

Outside of two guys on motorcycles, I was completely isolated. It was pretty slow going, given the trail conditions. I finally crested the high point of the trail at around 6:30pm (just over 9600 feet, at about mile 46 or 47). This spot incidentally, had an awesome view of the back of Mount Timpanogos, but I was too grateful to be headed downhill that I didn't even pause to enjoy the vista. I headed downhill (finally). There was a spring a few miles down, which was just a trickle, and I was able to get 1/4 water bottle (damn the giardia, I was thirsty!). I felt a bit better after drinking, but after another 1/2 mile or so, I hit a section of the trail that was 6-8 inches of sand/soft dirt, intermixed with babyhead sized rocks. I'm a pretty confident decscender, but there were sections of that portion of the trail that I just couldn't ride.

At around mile 50, after a mile or two of that fun stuff, I reached another trailhead, and I decided to bail off of the Ridge Trail a few miles early in favor of a dirt road that headed down toward the vallley. I ended up having my wife come and pick me up just off of the Alpine Loop Trail. I didn't have anything left even for the cruise downhill to Sundance.

Total trip: 53 miles, 4661 feet of climbing, 122 oz. of liquid, 7 or 8 Powergels, and 100+ degree heat.

Lesson learned. Check the weather, take a riding buddy, and carry more water.

See the route below (view in Satellite mode to get a bird's eye view of my route).