Monday, November 1, 2021

Great American Road Trip 2021, Part 2

"John, you might have to take me to the emergency room, I'm feeling pretty rough". 

That's what Will casually said to me in the Mexican restaurant we got lunch in immediately after the 24 hour race, right across from our motel. Yeah, it kind of caught me off-guard. I was tired too, but I certainly wasn't in the midst of a medical emergency. Looking back at it now, it's just one more story to tell, but at the time, I was worried about him. Luckily, we ate some food and we both felt a little better. Crisis averted, no hospital visit necessary.

That was all on Sunday (the day the race ended), so Monday morning we woke up ready to continue the road trip. We stopped at the local "Black Bear Diner", which was really good, and served huge portions of food. I later learned that this quaint local diner was actually a somewhat large chain, but it was still cool, and Will and I were seriously the only people in the diner who weren't senior citizens.

Out of Bend, Oregon, we headed south into California on our way to Lake Tahoe. The first stop on the second half of our road trip was with Will's friend Bob in Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side. Looking back it now, it all seems pretty surreal. We were literally driving in California in my own car that we drove from the east coast. Plus, most of that day's drive through California was off of main highways. Endless miles of two lane roads through the Northern California countryside was just amazing.

The two lane roads twisted through the mountains as we made our way south, and literally every mile of scenery was something new. 

Now, you must remember that Will and I were literally in a car together driving for like 100 hours on this trip, so we had to come up with things to talk about and argue about. One of those things was cell service. Verizon is normally better (which I have), but out west, Will's AT&T actually was better a lot of the time. I remember on the drive through California, there were hours-long stretches of no cell service, and sometimes Will's phone actually had better service.

As we made our way out of the mountainous area and into more desert-like terrain, we saw some smoke on the horizon in the distance.

As we kept driving, we realized we were going to be headed straight toward the wildfire. At first, the fire was just in the distance, and we pulled over to see helicopters flying over the flames dumping stuff on them. I remember stopping at a parking lot off the main road and there were cops there blocking off all the roads that led toward the active fire.

As we continued on, we eventually drove into the actual fire area where there was a thick hazy smoke that engulfed us. Both sides of the highway had black charred shrubs, and a blue sky sunny day was now a dull grey apocalypse. Eventually we made it out of the fire and on our way to Lake Tahoe. 

We got to Bob's house in Garnerville, Nevada probably around 6pm or so. Now remember, THE DAY BEFORE we had just finished a 24 hour bike race, and we just spent 9 hours this day driving from Bend to Nevada. However, when Bob asked us if we wanted to do a little bike ride that night, Will and I both immediately agreed. We were not disappointed. 

Even the drive to the trailhead was sick. Will drove, so I was able to just look out the window the whole time in the passenger seat and stare at the mountains. Bob lived at the base of the mountains in Nevada, so we drove up and through the mountains into California to start the ride.

The trail that Bob took us down was amazing, easily the coolest trail I had ever seen in my life. Plus, in the evening, the sun setting over the mountains was breathtaking. We rode down the switchbacks, took turns riding down a super steep granite rock slab, then got the bottom part of the trail with tons of table top jumps. I seriously never had more fun on a bike in my life. I was chasing Bob down the trail with Will right behind me, each of us getting air over all of the jumps. I'll definitely never forget that.

We got to the bottom of the trail, where my car was parked, and we prepared to shuttle back up to the top where Bob's car was parked. I don't normally shuttle, but it was late, we were tired, and this was all for fun, so shuttling was a good idea.

Until it wasn't. I don't know who's fault it was, probably a combination of my own and Will's, but my keys got left in Bob's car at the top of the hill. So instead of shuttling, we now had to ride up a 700 foot climb to get back to Bob's car. And the sun was setting. And we had no lights. And yeah, you get the picture.

What initially seemed like a big problem ended up being just another thing that I'll never forget about the trip. Climbing up a park access road in California in the near pitch black with two friends is just something you don't do every day.

The next day, Bob took the day off work to show us around, so we planned a full day to explore as much of the area as possible.

I remember the night before when Bob said we were going to "scramble" (AKA rock climb) up to Flagpole Peak. I'm not going to lie, I was a little worried. This was pretty high risk stuff. No ropes, just hundreds of feet to fall if I lost my footing. I was sort of psyching myself out, but I was just going to see how I felt when we started. Worst case the rescue crews would get me down... I'm kidding, I'm kidding. If I was too freaked out I was gonna stop and turn around. But as you'll see, I was fine.

We woke up at around 4:30am I think on Tuesday and drove to the parking area near Flagpole Peak. Climbing up to Flagpole Peak began as a short trail run, then some easy hiking up some steep rocks, and then it turned into a little scarier rocks with huge exposure. There were also some tricky spots to maneuver through, all with the consequences of failure being very high. But I don't want to sound too dramatic, compared to what Bob normally does, this is like walking through the mall.

As you can see, the views during the climb were unreal. It really doesn't get any better than this.

The above picture I though was pretty cool, mainly because to the left is a several hundred foot cliff. Standing up here felt like being on the top of the world, with the most picturesque western terrain everywhere you looked.

The picture above is from the actually summit of Flagpole Peak. It was like a 4x4 foot rock with a flagpole in the middle, all with hundreds of feet of cliffs around us. We both look pretty calm, but to be honest, being up there definitely got my adrenaline going.

It is not an exaggeration to say this rock climb was the coolest thing I had ever done in my life up until that point. And even looking back now, I think it probably is still the coolest thing I've ever done. Just the whole absurdity of everything is sort of funny to me - Will and I drove from PA to California and rock climbed up to some peak together less than 48 hours after racing over 250 miles each on our mountain bikes. Pretty awesome if you ask me.

After the rock climb, next on the plan for the day was to do a bike ride on the Flume Trail. We parked at some lot, did a massive 900ish foot climb up to the lake, then hopped onto Flume trail for an out-and-back.

The climb up to the lake was pretty hard. Especially on 34x20 singlespeed. I think Will was somewhat impressed I cleaned the whole steep climb. At least I think he was impressed. 

Anyways, we made it to Flume trail and we were instantly met with the best scenery of any trail in my life We were literally riding on the edge of a cliff hundreds of feet above Lake Tahoe. At some points, the trail was only a few feet wide, with no barrier to protect you from plummeting hundreds of feet to the lake below.

There was even a rock garden that Bob and I walked, but Will rode it for a video. It was very high risk - if you fell over you'd fall hundreds of feet.

Then there was a big rock at the edge of the cliff that Will wanted a picture on of him holding his bike above his head. I told him not to do it, but he wouldn't listen, so he carefully climbed up, I handed him his bike, Bob got the picture, then the handed me his bike back and he crawled down. I'll be honest, I was pretty nervous. I definitely did not want to see my friend fall over the edge of the cliff.

After the ride we made our way to Lake Tahoe to do some swimming and cliff jumping. We accidentally (Bob?) went to a nude beach, but not everyone was nude, and there weren't that many people, so it was alright. I remember hopping in the water and trying to swim out to a rock maybe 50 yards out. The waves were sort of big, and they kept knocking us off the rocks as we tried to climb up.

One of the funniest things was struggling to get up onto a rock, so Will grabbed my arm to pull me up, all the while he was laughing hysterically. Good times.

Eventually we found a pretty good place to do some jumping. There was this big deep pool of water with some rocks in a formation toward where we jumped from. We'd jump in, then head toward the rock formation before getting out. We called the rock formation "the crack", and sometimes it got pretty rough in "the crack". Bob took a beating in the crack one time and got some cuts and scrapes.

Everyone was afraid to jump off the highest rock into the water. We were all just sitting up there trying to convince others to do it, but no one wanted to. Finally, I decided just to send it, so I went running full speed and jumped over Will and into the lake. Very fun, so I did it again. But no one followed me. All I gotta say is, #sawft.

After swimming, Bob drove us to Emerald Bay for some more sightseeing, and we got some food and headed back to his place for the night. We played some virtual reality headset games, had some beer, and got a good night's sleep before heading to Park City the next day. It was a good way to unwind. The whole day was really cool because having fun with friends doing something other than just biking is a welcome change of pace.

The next morning we started the drive to Park City, after spending 2 nights in Nevada with Bob.

Originally, we were just going to stay for 1 night in Park City, but a high-school friend of mine who lives out there offered to let us stay with her at her house, we decided to stay 2 nights.

The drive from Tahoe to Park City was really cool. Lots of deserts, big mountains, and of course, the Bonneville salt flats. I remember coming over the crest of a hill on the interstate and seeing nothing but white in the distance: the salt.

At first we were going to get off the highway and drive on the salt flats, but they looked sort of wet, and we didn't want to get stuck. I told Will I wanted to floor my Subaru and see how fast I could get it going, and he was like, "Cool, I'll watch from outside the car". His adventurous spirit seemed to be running low, haha. Or maybe it was just common sense.

We crossed the salt flats, and coincidentally, headed toward Salt Lake City. Just outside of Salt Lake, we drove into one of the worst storms I've driven in. Ridiculously heavy hail, wind, and zero visibility on the the interstate. For the first time ever, I pulled over and stopped on the interstate, like most everyone else on the highway.

Finally, the storm passed, and we made it into Park City.

We got to my friends house (which was very nice), and headed out for a ride. The climb was amazing, switchbacks across ski slopes and into stands of aspen trees. Will said it, and I wholeheartedly agreed, this road trip was so sick. Seriously the most fun I've ever had in my life.

The house was way nicer than a hotel room, and there was even a special guest room there we stayed in.

The next day, we had planned a 4 hour ride into the mountains that was a route that my friends dad had done before and told us we should try.

The route started off with a 3,000 foot, 100% singletrack climb. The biggest climb of my life. And remember, I was on singlespeed and we were climbing up to almost 10,000 feet elevation.

The climb was actually pretty easy for most of the way, but at the top, as Will put it, he started to add a little "sauce" to it and it got pretty fast and hard. But as Will knows, maybe the best part about riding with me is that I never drop unless I'm actually dead. So I stuck with him.

In the 500+ hours and probably 8,000+ miles I've ridden with Will this year, I don't think I've ever intentionally dropped. So, on this climb, I was determined to stick with him. By the top I felt like I was going to have a heart attack, but I survived. It was epic. That's all I can say.

Yes, I must admit, Dahn Pahrs is pretty lucky moving to Park City. The views are amazing. The trails are amazing. Gawddamnit, everything is amazing.

The trails in Park City are a perfect mix of flow, rocks, and sick views. There is something so special about bombing through a stand of aspen trees only to pop out into the open and see views like these.

The one trail, the picture above to the right, is called the Dragons Spine or something intimidating like that. It was pretty hard, I wrecked on it, then decided not to push my luck and just walked the techy rocks (don't worry, Will walked it too). As it turns out, fellow SS'er and blergher Dicky ( broke himself on that very same trail around the same time Will and I were there.

Actually, that was my second wreck in two days in Park City. The day before, I ate it pretty hard on a dusty switchback turn. It could've been bad, but I came out of both wrecks relatively unscathed.

Toward the end of our 4 hour ride, we ran out of water. Bigly. My mouth had never been so dry. We made it back down to Park City and back to my friends house. We rushed upstairs to the kitchen to get some water, and when I tried to swallow, my throat was so dry that I just coughed it all up. It was sorta scary. I literally could not swallow. I calmed down and eventually was able to drink.

That day my friend took me and Will out for sushi. It was really nice to have some good food (she took us out for steaks the night before) after trying to eat on a budget for the past 10 or so days.

My friends place in Park City was really awesome. She had a big TV room in the basement where we watched Die Hard the one night.

The other night we hung out with my friend and her parents and I reminisced about Sewickley (they're from Sewickley also), while Will just sat their awkwardly not knowing what to say because he's not from Sewickley. I'm kidding, I'm kidding. But it was cool to talk to someone (my friends dad) who I knew from Sewickley and was also very active on the MTB scene. Will talked to him a lot about Leadville, where they were both gonna be in a few weeks.

The next morning, we started on our way to Bentonville, Arkansas, by way of Colorado. We planned to stop somewhere in Colorado for the night before driving to Arkansas the next day.

The stretch of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon in western Colorado is beautiful. If you ever get the chance to drive on that road, do it, the highway snakes through canyons and along a river for miles and miles. Then, we drove through the Eisenhower tunnel, descended into Denver, and made our way across western Kansas (i.e. the flat eastern half of Colorado). 

I think it was before Denver actually, but that day, we stopped in Eagle, Colorado that day to do a short ride. The trail climbed up a mountain overlooking the highway, and then had a cool switchback descent back to the parking area. At the parking area, Will and I took turns hitting the BMX course.

Ok, so this next picture is "chronologically challenged". By that I mean it should be in the part 1 post, but I forgot, so it's here. And we stopped at so many Mexican restaurants on the trip that it can sort of fit anywhere. We stopped at a Mexican place, and I ordered a non-alcohol margarita (I was only 20 years old). Now, Dahn Pahrs, being the big margarita drinker he is, loves to make fun of me regarding drinking. So Will took this picture of me and I sent it to the group. But of course, I told Dahn privately it was fake, so he shamed me on Facebook.

We stopped that night at a hotel in Limon, Colorado, before waking up bright and early the next day to drive to Bentonville, Arkansas. We had high hopes for Bentonville, and as soon as we got there, we could tell it was a nice town. It was clean, modern, and it seemed a lot like the east coast.

The next day we hit a good loop in Bentonville. I got a flat, and some random guy in the parking lot gave me a tube to get me going again. A lot of trails were closed due to recent flooding, but the trails were still sick. You can tell they put a lot of money into the trails here (thanks Walmart). The trails were definitely not west-coast, more east-coast style, so it was a shame my bike was still set up in west-coast-carve mode. Oh well.

We did a lot of the singletrack, and then we played around in the bike parks for a few hours. We even drove to a downhill park to do some sick descents. It was the perfect fun way to end the trip.

That night in the hotel we watched the classic of all classics, "Joe Dirt". The next morning we started driving at like 3am, and at like 4am we got stuck behind an accident in Missouri, but luckily it cleared quickly. The rest of the drive was fairly easy, and we made it back to Will's house around dinner time. I headed home, and sort of just sat down on my bed. I needed a lot of time to think back at the whole trip and process everything, it was epic.

Looking back at it now, it's still sort of hard to summarize. But...

Before this year, I was pretty content with riding locally by myself and not traveling much. I was having a lot of fun, don't get me wrong, and I never expected to do anything like a big road trip. And also don't get me wrong, it is perfectly fine not to travel. It's not for everyone, and I before this year I didn't really even know if I liked traveling. But now I know, I do.

So anyways, I never really traveled much, let alone travel with a friend for biking. Then I meet Will, we do a couple little trips, and then we drive across the country together for over 2 weeks. I never would have imagined in a million years I would have driven to California this summer. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. When I'm old and gray and I look back to my younger years, this trip with Will is something that's going to for sure stand out. I'm really thankful that I was able to do this trip, and I'm also very thankful that I know Will and he wanted to do this trip with me. Here's to bigger things next year that Will and I are planning, things that will make a two-week trip out west seem like nothing.

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