Last Saturday, I simply could not take it anymore. I had been back in Utah for more than a week, but had not yet ridden the Best Trail in The World, even though I now lived only six miles from the trailhead.
That’s just wrong.
So I got up nice and early (8:30am) and told my wife that hanging pictures, unboxing junk that we’ll never use, and mowing the lawn would all have to wait. It was time for me to go riding.
She was cool with that. My wife’s very cool. My wife is the wifely equivalent of Fonzie.
I put my bike on the car rack and drove the six miles to the Tibble Fork trailhead. Yes, I drove six miles so I could go mountain biking. I was in a hurry. I suck.
As I paid for my season pass for American Fork Canyon, I was giddy. I’m guessing the Forest Service guy had never before met someone so enthusiastic to be buying a pass, but for me it was a big deal. It meant that I was home. If you’ve ever completely burned out on a favorite trail, stop riding it for a couple years and then come back. The joy of returning is unbelievable.
So I parked my car at the Tibble Fork Reservoir parking lot, strapped on my helmet (more about this in a moment), rode across the dam, and started climbing.
The first thing I noticed was that the trail was a little wet.
The next thing I noticed was that the trail was becoming increasingly wet, and slippery.
The third thing I noticed was that the mud was rapidly collecting on my tires and in my drivetrain. The rain from the previous two days had soaked the trail to the point that even at the base, it was sloppy and unrideable.
What a letdown.
The Main Difference Between Utah and Washington
A quick aside, here: The second-most-noticeable difference between biking in Washington and Utah is what happens to helmet straps between rides. In Washington, the humidity is so high (ie, it’s always raining) that your helmet straps don’t ever really dry out. They stay soft and supple between rides. In Utah, on the other hand, helmet straps dry out instantly, stiffening to the point where they’re just slightly more pliable than fiberglass.
I bring this up because I now want to bring up the biggest difference between riding in Utah and Washington. In Washington, the trails are (almost) always wet, and often have standing water in low spots. You can ride on these muddy trails with impunity; the mud just falls off your tires, leaving no trace. This mud doesn’t gum up your drivetrain; it doesn’t turn your tires into chocolate bagels. It’s the cleanest mud you could ever imagine.
The mud in Utah is not quite so accommodating.
I, sadly, had forgotten this fact.
Which is to say, after climbing Tibble for thirty feet or so, I realized the trail wasn’t in good shape for riding and turned around.
I should have walked my bike down.
But I didn’t. I rode it back down to the trailhead. For thirty feet or so.
Just thirty feet.
By the time I got to the trailhead, my drivetrain was completely caked in adobe-like mud. My tires were big ol’ tasty chocolate bagels. The weight of my bike had increased by 72.3%. Approximately.
The problem with committing to riding Tibble Fork is that it doesn’t leave you with much in the way of plan B options if the trail isn’t rideable. By the time I got out of the canyon, an hour of my ride time had elapsed. If I wanted to do a mountain bike ride, I’d need to first clean my bike. That would take more time. If I wanted to do a road ride, I’d need to go home and get my road bike out. That would take more time, too.
So I went home and changed into my work clothes, and started work on the house. My ride was done.
Saturday’s ride took 80 minutes overall. I rode sixty feet, and jammed my bike up entirely with mud. I think it’s safe to say it was not the most bestest, epic-est ride ever.
Another Big Error
Here’s another interesting characteristic of the mud in Utah: it dries hard. By the time I get home this Saturday (I’m traveling for work through Friday), that mud will have transmogrified into something similar to concrete, albeit marginally stronger. It will have chemically bonded with the bike’s paint. This layer of mud will be strong enough to protect the bike from a nuclear blast, which is comforting, though—sadly—it will also render the bike entirely immobile.
Nothing that six hours with a hose and a toothbrush can’t take care of, though.