Sunday, July 9, 2023

Mr. Hamburgers Goes to Park City

Forget about training zones, intervals, and power numbers. Forget about silly things like rest or recovery. And most of all, forget about shifting gears. After all, this is Dahn Pahr's Park City Singlespeed Training Camp, and you only get one gear. But don't worry, you're allowed to have more than just one margarita, so maybe it balances out.

I've been fortunate to have ridden in some pretty great places over the past few years. From the Canadian Rockies of Banff to the high-desert of Moab, it's a wild world out there. But still, of all the places I've ridden, I think it's hard to beat Park City for riding singletrack day-in and day-out. 

You see, lots of places have incredible trails. But what most places don't have - and what Park City does have - is an almost endless amount of trails. It's quality and quantity. Dahn and I rode over 320 miles in 8 days, and each day was something different. That's something that can't be said about most other places. Plus, the equally-as-important factor about Park City is that Dahn lives there, and I had a place to stay. I don't mind sleeping in my tent or the back of my Subaru Outback, but I must admit, a big comfortable bed and air conditioning is a huge step up.

Mid Mountain Trail (L); climbing up to Mid Mountain Trail near the Olympic Park (R)

I got to Park City on a Sunday evening after driving from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. That evening, we took a cruise in Dahn's pimp-mobile (the white, lifted Lexus GX470 with gold wheels) and checked out some of the mountain scenery around the area. It's pretty neat how much variety there is around Park City; the landscape changes from desert to alpine in a matter of miles, and even the alpine terrain varies between open meadows and jagged, rocky summits.

We went out for our first ride Monday afternoon, and Dahn started off by going up a pretty strenuous climb (at least for singlespeed) past the Utah Olympic Park. It's pretty cool to ride by the huge ski jumps that were used in the 2002 Winter Olympics. After the climb, we hopped on Mid-Mountain Trail, a long trail that runs all the way along the mountain down past Park City Mountain Resort. For my first ride in Park City, it was a good one, and a tough one.

The next day was the first so-called "death march" of my visit. A "death march" doesn't have a strict definition per se, but it's acquired a colloquial meaning among my friends: a ride that is likely to result in significant suffering. Plus, in addition to the plain suffering, there needs to be an element of distance involved, that is, you're suffering and you still have a long way to go until you get home.

The ride on Tuesday checked those boxes, perhaps even more so for Dahn than for me. After a long climb on mostly singletrack to Empire Pass (9,000 feet elevation), we descended down W.O.W. Trail (Wasatch-Over-Wasatch) all the way to 6,300 feet elevation. It was an amazingly unique descent, marked by several distinct climates: an aspen forest, a pine forest, and, near the bottom, a desert landscape with only smaller shrubs.

Top of Empire Pass the first time; W.O.W. Trail

Once at the bottom, there was a somber mood. We knew what lie ahead: a grueling 2,700 foot pavement climb back up to Empire Pass. Having driven down the road on Sunday with Dahn and his wife Jenn, I knew it was going to be a grind, especially on a heavy steel 32x20 singlespeed mountain bike.

Right as we started climbing, the road kicked up to 20% grade. It was fully exposed, and the hot Utah sun was doing its best to cook us. It let up slightly, but before long, another steep pitch came. It continued like this for a while, and at last, I was able to settle into something of a rhythm. The time actually went by fairly quickly, and before I knew it, I was at the top. Dahn got there just a couple minutes after, and told me he reached his new max heart rate for the year, twice actually, on the climb. 

The iconic classic car along the trail at Round Valley; a patch of snow in late June

For the next several days, a solid pattern emerged: explore some new-to-me trails, do some suffering on the steeps, and then have a few margaritas after dinner. Now, mind you, we weren't just doing easy hour cruises. Even though the W.O.W. Trail death march was grueling, and even though we were doing a similarly hard ride the coming Saturday, we made sure to ride at least three or four hours every day.

Margarita time; Dahn posing by a sign he skis past all winter

The whole week, Dahn had been planning and telling me about our second death march ride: the MoPi route. MoPi, short for Mormon Pioneer, is a fairly long trail to the northwest of Park City, pretty much in the exact opposite direction of most of the trails we had ridden. The route would take us over to that trail, make a loop of it, and ride some more rugged trails on the way back.

We got an early start on Saturday for the ride, and headed toward the Summit Park trails in the beginning. We hadn't ridden them yet, so the route even started off with new-to-me trails. It was a pretty mellow (relatively) climb, followed by a nice flowy descent, and then on to the first throat punch of the day. After crossing I-80 on pavement, we veered off onto a gravel climb. Being the cocky son-of-a-bitch I am (not really), I thought maybe Dahn was full of it, and I would clean the climb (clean means ride up it without getting off to walk, for those who don't habla).

I was wrong. Within a minute, we were both walking. One of my favorite mantras is that "it isn't a ride unless there's hike-a-bike". Don't get me wrong, I prefer riding, but hike-a-bikes are part-and-parcel of singlespeeding, so I've learned to embrace them.

The hike-a-bike up to the motorcyclists and the Great Western Trail

At the top, we saw a couple motorcyclists, er, I mean, e-bikers, and then we headed on our way down the first big downhill. It was Dahn's first time down the trail as well, so neither of us knew what was coming. Compared to most trails in the area, it was primitive, steep, and the kind of trail that keeps you on your toes. A couple steep chutes, a couple creek crossings, and a few short mud sections made for an awesome adventure of a downhill.

What goes down, of course, must go up. At the bottom of the descent, we began the long climb back up. Before long, we turned onto Mormon Pioneer Trail, and meandered our way up the mountain. Before long, the meandering turned to grunting up steep sections, and Dahn let me get around him to see if I could clean it. I made it up a loose rocky section, but briefly had to walk around a steep switchback. In hindsight, if I had known it was flat after the switchback, I might've kept riding. Next time.

The top of Mormon Pioneer afforded us some nice views, before we once again punished ourselves by turning onto the Great Western Trail. For several miles, we climbed up and down along a ridgeline on a trail originally meant for hiking. Hike-a-bike? Um, yeah. But breathtaking views, a feeling of remoteness, and a certain indescribable feel about the trail made it my favorite trail of the entire trip. See for yourself in the pictures.

The Great Western Trail, this one was worth making the picture a little bigger. You can still click on the picture to enlarge it more though

I think it was around this time that Dahn said to me, "f*** my life, I'm so shelled". I'd like to point out that this ride made for about 25 hours of riding in only 6 days, so we were both properly tenderized.

Sunday was a relatively easy ride, but still 3 hours and over 3,000 feet of climbing, so everything is relative. That afternoon, we drove to downtown Park City and checked out their market, full of vendors selling all sorts of items. It's a really nice town that falls perfectly into the "mountain-town" category, complete with high-end stores selling ski and outdoor clothing items that probably cost more than my bike. If I had more money, I could easily spend a fortune there.

Later that afternoon, we drove down to Heber City to watch a professional XC mountain bike race. Keegan Swenson, the fastest off-road rider in the country, pulled ahead with an early lead and held it all the way to an easy win. At times I imagine myself doing a race like that, but then I remind myself that I'm a stupid singlespeeder.

Dahn planned a special route for my last ride in Park City on Monday. We climbed all the way up to the Wasatch Crest, one of the most famous trails in the area, and a trail I rode once back in 2021 with Will. It was a heavy snowpack year, which meant that even in late June, there was significant snow on the Wasatch Crest. We knew it was going to be an adventure, but it was the perfect way to end a perfect week.

A snow patch going up to the Crest; Dahn hiking up Puke Hill

The climb up to the Crest, which starts at 9,900 feet, began normal enough. As we got past 8,000 and 9,000 feet, though, the snow began to pile up. We’d ride for a little, hike over snow for a little, and then ride some more. The last kick up to the summit, a section know as “Puke Hill”, was especially brutal. When “Puke Hill” came into view, Dahn told me to go for it as he got off and walked. It took everything I had and then some, but I got to the top without walking. The top was windy and cooler than the air in the valley, and you could tell you were really up there.

Pretty freaking awesome views and massive snowpack still remaining on the Crest

The Crest itself was less snowy than I expected, but we still had to hike over maybe 10 snow fields or so. I don’t think it’s possible to have much more adventure than hiking through snow at 9,900 feet in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. Needless to say, I loved every minute. 

Our final downhill back into Park City was bittersweet for me, but I know it’s far from the last time I’ll be out in Park City. As long as Dahn lives out there, I’ll be coming out to visit, that’s for sure.

You see, I’m getting ready to start my last year of college before becoming a high school teacher. Within a year, I’ll have some big decisions to make, like where I’m going to live. Park City is a little (well, a lot) out of my price range, but I can certainly afford going out to visit Dahn. Riding in Park City feels a lot like riding in the promised land. For me, obviously, it was a vacation. Even for Dahn though, he says in many ways it feels like an endless vacation for him, even though he (sort of) has to work. When you’re in an area as spectacular as Park City, the vacation feeling just comes naturally.

To any of Dahn’s friends reading this, make the trip out to Park City, there's no question it’s worth it. Enjoy the best singletrack, enjoy the views, and enjoy some margaritas. Not to mention, after riding 32 tough hours with Dahn in 8 days, I think he's probably the most capable tour guide you could ask for; bring your climbing legs. Just don’t take my spot when I’m planning to go out.

The famous "Spine" section of the Wasatch Crest Trail

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