Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Hamburger Road Trip Part Deux

After Gravel Locos, I turned west and just started driving. To be honest, I didn't actually know where I was going, except I knew I wanted to at least get to New Mexico. Eventually, I made it out of Texas, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Look, I'm not saying Texas is bad, but it's just not somewhere I would intentionally go unless there was a reason. But anyways. I kept driving (on I-40 I think) until I almost got to Albuquerque, where I turned off the highway and into a national park.

The mountains near Albuquerque were some of the most unique and best looking mountains I've see. Maybe it was just because I hadn't seen mountains for a few months, but as soon as I drove into those mountains, I felt "refreshed".

I drove up a dirt road into the national forest (Cibola National Forest) and found a little parking lot to stop at. I put my tent and some gear into a big backpack, and biked just a little bit into the woods. I set up my tent and sat down to admire the mountains all around me. I slept pretty well that night, and the next morning, I started driving west again before stopping to ride some trails in western New Mexico. They hold a 12 hour race at the trails every year, and I rode the race loop.

The trails were really sweet. Great desert views, flowy trails, and some really interesting rock formations. Even though I hadn't yet been to Moab, it sort of seemed like a mini-Moab to me. And sure enough, after riding in Moab, I can say that's a fairly accurate description. The only negative about the trails is that they were quite sandy, but it's sort of fun to go surfing down some trails.

After the ride, my next stop en route to Flagstaff was the Petrified National Forest in eastern Arizona. I had some extra time that day, so I figured it would be worth it to do a quick hike there. It was really hot, but definitely worth it. The terrain is like the badlands in the Dakotas, except much dryer and hotter. The petrified wood is also something that's totally unique. It honestly looks just like regular pieces of wood, except its now rock and millions of years old. From a distance - and even from pretty up close - it seems like real wood.

After the Petrified National Forest, I made it to Flagstaff. I stopped at a McDonald's and got my first restaurant food in a few days, then drove into the national forest to find a camp spot. It was a perfect place to camp for a couple nights. It was far enough away from any traveled road that I wouldn't be bothered, but it was close enough to the trails I wanted to ride.

The next morning, I woke up when the sun came up and headed out for a loop around the peaks of the San Francisco mountains just north of Flagstaff. The loop, which I found online, was called "Round the Peaks". Immediately after starting the route, I was climbing up a narrow dirt path winding its way up the mountain. The views were incredible. You could see some burn marks from previous wildfires, and you can see for miles and miles to the valley floor below.

It's hard for me to say that these views are objectively better than the east coast, because I don't think that's true. I used to think that, but I think like with everything, its the variety that I love. Seeing huge mountains with elk, towering slopes full of aspen, and patches of snow at 9,000 feet elevation is stunning. It really is. But at the same time, looking out over Penn's Creek in Bald Eagle State Forest in central Pennsylvania is also breathtaking. If I learned one thing from this trip, it's like I love change, especially change in scenery. I will always love going out west, just as I will always love spending time on the east coast. I don't think I could ever love one without having the other.

Enough of that philosophical crap though. More pictures. It was really cool to see snow in May; this was the earliest in the year I've ever been out in mountains. After reaching the top of the first climb, which finished with some absolutely gorgeous aspen riding and fantastic views, I descended a mix of singletrack and fast dirt roads down about 1,500 feet. Then, I cruised along some dirt roads for a few miles, the whole time with amazing views of the mountains.

Another footnote about out west. It feels "different". The air is drier, mainly, but it also smells different. Maybe other people agree with me, but either way, it sometimes smells like super glue to me. *Insert Airplane joke* I first noticed it last summer in Oregon for 24 hour MTB nationals, and ever since then, its what I always think of.

Saw some mule deer before getting to the Arizona trail, its pretty cool to see different deer besides the common whitetail on the east coast. When I got to the Arizona trail, I didn't really know what to expect. Was it going to be a climb then a gravel descent? Doubletrack? Well, it blew away my expectations.

After climbing for about 2-3 miles (gradually) on the AZT, the trail turned downhill and I started ripping. Being on the hardtail singlespeed (with no dropper post, I might add), I felt so alive. I was flying, probably too fast to be safe at times, but I was having so much fun. It continued like this for a long time, easily 2,000 feet of downhill. The route then finished with a little uphill back to camp, and boy, it was a pretty hard ride. I was definitely still feeling the race last weekend, and riding at 8,000 to 9,000 feet elevation certainly did not make me feel any better.

After the ride, I was just hanging out around my time when I got a message from my friend Bob in Lake Tahoe. A couple messages later, and it was all set, I was heading to Lake Tahoe! It wasn't part of my original plan, but then again, my plan is always to be flexible, and damn was it so awesome going to Tahoe!

To drive to Lake Tahoe from Flagstaff, I could've either taken US 95 through Nevada or US 395 through California. Bob strongly suggested US 395, the scenic highway, so I chose that way. It did not disappoint. Halfway to Tahoe, I stopped to camp at another one of Bob's recommendations, right near Mount Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48).

The campsite was incredible, and the next morning I set out for a little ride on the famous Movie Road. The views were breathtaking the whole time.

Easily one of the most scenic rides of my life. There's something magical about 14,000 foot mountains against a backdrop of blue sky. Plus, the strangely rounded rock formations all around where I was riding added to the mystique.

After the ride, I packed up and headed for Tahoe. Along the way, I went for a hike along Hot Creek and stopped at Wild Willy's Hot Spring, both somewhat near Mammoth Lakes I think. These were both recommended by Bob as well, and I gotta say, if you're ever in California, you gotta reach out for some tips. Bob seemingly knows every cool spot in the area!

I got to Tahoe around 5 o'clock, so taking advantage of the daylight, we went out for a little ride on the Incline Flume trail, plus a new-to-us downhill called Tyrolean.

The next day, Bob and his girlfriend Lauryn both have to work, so they plotted a good route for me near Truckee, California, on a trail near Donner Lake and also the Emigrant Trail. The views, as always in that area, were fabulous.

Later that day, Bob and Lauryn took me rock climbing, also near Truckee. It was an unforgettable experience, and something I definitely want to do more. The feeling of being out on an exposed piece of granite with stunning mountains all around you is very special. Plus, having experienced guides to help me along was key. To be honest, rock climbing is way less frightening than what I did last summer in Tahoe with Bob and Will (scrambling up to Flagpole Peak).

On Saturday after doing a quick (but hard) hour ride, Bob and I went for a couple hour kayak in Lake Tahoe. I still cannot believe how clear the water is, you could easily see 30+ feet down. Even though the water was cold, both of us jumped in for a little bit. The sun is super hot, and it actually felt good.

On my last full day in Tahoe, I rode my gravel bike on the famous Flume Trail. I rode this trail last summer as well with Bob and Will, and it's probably the most scenic trail I've ever ridden. Actually, scratch that. It's definitely the most scenic trail I've ever ridden.

We went climbing again that evening, it was an awesome ending to an awesome time in Lake Tahoe. There is such an abundance of things to do there, I think you could fill your days for years without ever getting bored.

The next day, I started the drive from Lake Tahoe to Park City, where I was meeting up with Dahn Pahrs for a few days before going to Moab with him and Jesu. It's funny, because last summer, Will and I did the exact same drive from Tahoe to Park City when we met up with my friend from school.

On the way, I decided to go for a little cruise on the Bonneville Salt Flats. And that's where I almost made a critical mistake. Well, I actually did make the mistake, but it just turned out to not be critical. As I drove off the interstate to get onto the salt flats (which looked very dry), my wheels instantly sunk into the salt/sand mix. I tried to drive away, but I was stuck. All my wheels were just spinning. I was completely panicked. 

"Oh shit, I really did it this time", I thought to myself.

I stuck one leg out of the car and pushed as hard as I could, and at the same time I turned the steering wheel and gunned the engine. Miraculously, my car started moving. But, I wasn't out of the woods, er, salt, yet. This just got me unstuck from the muck near the shoulder of the highway, now I was out on the drier main part of the salt flat. I still had no way to get back on the interstate.

I drove parallel to the highway on the salt flat for maybe 5-6 miles, before finding a somewhat more packed down spot where it looked like other cars had driven. I stopped my car, got out, and walked over to examine. It felt firm enough. I checked the highway to make sure there was no traffic, then I put the pedal to the metal and flew back up onto the highway. Crisis. Averted.

I made it to Park City later that day and got settled into the Pahrs residence. The next day, I went out for a ride solo before I met up with Dahn. The trails in Park City are built for mountain biking. I don't think there's another place in the country with more pristine trails than Park City. And moose. I saw my first wild moose shortly after I met up with Dahn.

Much excite. Tons and tons of good trails, dry dirt, great views, and a good mixture of a backcountry feel combined with being pretty front-country in reality.

For the day one ride with Dahn, we did the Glenwild Trails and then the Olympic Park. For day two, we did Round Valley then headed down to Park City proper, before finishing up with the Olympic Park stuff again. Of course, my terminology is probably all wrong, but chances are you don't know what the trail systems are called either, so does it really matter?

On day two, we saw another moose, and Dahn posed for a picture. Don't tell him it was a fake moose. Also, some great views from the top of a chair lift.

On Friday, Jesu was flew into Salt Lake City before we all headed to Moab. We got checked into the hotel room, got some Mexican for dinner, and I set up my sleeping pad and sleeping bag on the floor between the beds in the hotel room.

Saturday morning came around, and we headed to the bike shop to pick up Jesu's rental sQuIsHy ShIfTy bike. As a strange coincidence, the one person working at the bike shop was none other than Hunter Keating. I raced against him at 24 Hours of Old Pueblo back in January, and he and I had a good battle going (even if he didn't know he was battling, haha) for 2nd and 3rd place singlespeed.

For our first ride, we started on Barrel Roll (edit, wrong name, it was Pipe Dream, thanks Dahn), a very easy trail compared to the rest of Moab. Jesu was walking some sections already, and the heckling began. 

"Ride your bike!", Dahn would yell back at Jesu.

Still, Jesu showed mental fortitude and kept moving along, not paying attention to Dahn.

After Barrel Roll, we did Captain Ahab, which was extremely technical. There were one or two sections that even I had to walk (which isn't saying much, except to say I walked less than Dahn and Jesu), and Jesu was probably walking more than he was riding. We love you Jesu.

Captain Ahab was what I expected, but also not what I expected. It had the Moab views and Moab style of rocks, but it was way more technical than I imagined. Which was good. A combination of constant drops, high exposure, and some technical natural rock features to navigate, it kept me on my toes.

The next day was the Queen Stage. We climbed up a 4,000+ foot climb all the way up to the top of Jimmy Keen trail, which is about 3/4 the way up the Whole Enchilada. The Whole Enchilada is a famous combination of trails in Moab that forms a huge downhill, from 11,000 feet all the way down to 4,000 feet. The higher elevation stuff was still snow covered, so we just rode to about 8,500 feet.

The first 16 miles of the climb were on Sand Flats Road, a gravel road, and then we turned onto the Kokopelli Trail for the last mile or two of the climb. The views from the Kokopelli Trail were some of the best I've ever seen. Snow covered mountains in one direction, massive cathedrals of red rock in another direction, and dark clouds all around for effect.

After reaching the top of Jimmy Keen, we started down the trail. It was a perfect flowy trail, almost similar to Park City. We took that for awhile before getting on Porcupine Rim.

Plenty of amazing mesas and scenic lookouts from Porcupine Rim. The exposure is pretty crazy, and the view of the valley floor down below is unlike anything I've ever seen.

We continued on Porcupine Rim for a while before thunder and lightning started booming around us. We took shelter under a little tree just before a massive hailstorm hit. The hail was the size of peanut M&M's (the best thing I could think of to describe it), and it actually hurt when it hit us. We waited out the storm for maybe 20 minutes, and then we were off again.

The whole time up until then, Jesu was not riding very fast in the technical stuff. However, right when we hit the Porcupine Rim doubletrack section, Jesu turned up the gas. He passed Dahn on the downhill and was flying over rocks and drops like I've never seen him do before. I kept looking back as I was ripping and was surprised to see him only 100 feet or so behind.

Jesu came back to reality a little as we reached the technical singletrack section near the Colorado River, but he was still riding super strong.

The next day, we met up with Chase Caughey, a 19 year old from Ohio who is also a single speeder. We rode Stage 3 of Moab Rocks, which I think was on the Mag 7 trails. This ride was not very technical, but boy oh boy was it bumpy. For some reason the rocks seem to come in the perfect frequency for maximum discomfort. It felt like riding my bike stuck in a paint shaker. But even still, it was amazing, and the sky was a super dark shade of blue.

After the ride, I got back to where we parked, and I knew what I had to do.

Google Maps said 26 hours of driving to get home, and I decided to just rip straight home.

I started driving at 1pm Utah time, and I drove until 4am in Kansas, where I stopped to sleep for one hour at a rest stop in my car. It was pouring down rain when I stopped, and it was still pouring when I woke up and started driving again at 5am.

I drove the whole next day and finally got home around 11pm. It was an extremely long drive, but for some reason, it did not seem so bad. The Rocky Mountains in Colorado were incredible as always, and it just made me even more excited to get out on the Great Divide route.

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