The Ride We Don’t Accurately Describe

04.14.2009 | 7:36 am

200904140639.jpgA Note from Fatty: Many of you have been asking whether the 100 Miles of Nowhere is still on. Yes, it’s definitely still on. I’ll be giving more details and opening up registration next week. Meanwhile, I thought you’d like to get a sneak peek at the very cool design Twin Six has come up with for the event t-shirt. Seriously, could those guys get any more awesome?

Another Note from Fatty: Tomorrow I will be announcing a different contest. I will say no more about it now, other than that I think there’s going to be huge interest in winning, and not just from the readers of

The core team is made up of nothing but married men, all of us with children still living at home. That’s not a requirement for admission; it’s just the way it is.

And of course, we all enjoy telling our respective wives about the rides we go on. Why wouldn’t we? They’re exciting, close, more-or-less in cell phone range, and no more unsafe than, say, driving a car or eating a corn dog with cheese. And mayo.

Here, for example, is a little video I just put together of Brad, Jamie and me riding Corner Canyon during an unseasonably warm couple of days in early March:

Who wouldn’t want to show that to one’s spouse?

This is likewise true of the other local MTB rides: Frank, Tibble, Timpooneke, Hog Hollow, the Zoo, Lambert, BST, and so on.

All good clean fun, and worth recounting.

But we tend to get a little vague when describing Grove Creek.


Grove Creek — which we just call “Grove,” because it’s just too darn much work to say that extra syllable, is the hardest-climbing uphill I know of. I don’t even dare hazard a guess as to how much climbing there is in its short three (or four? Maybe five?) miles to the bridge, but I would bet it’s closer to 2000 feet than 1000. And it feels like 5000.

Grove may also be the most beautiful of all the rides we do. Or more accurately, it may be the most beautiful of the rides we fail to do, because it’s so hard we mostly pretend it doesn’t exist — even though the trailhead is no more than five miles from my house.

My point is, though, that Grove is beautiful. But the nature of its beauty is its curse: Grove is a freakishly dangerous trail.

Oh the Pain

Oh, sure, Grove starts out harmlessly enough. You ride along on the nice, flat jeep road for a few minutes, dodging mud puddles (there are always mud puddles in the first section), chatting with your friends, trying to keep your mind off what is next.

And then the “what is next” part arrives. The jeep road turns sharply upward, and you know it’s not going to level off for a good long time. On a geared bike, I will try to ride most climbs in the second or even third gear, with the granny unused — an insurance policy.

On Grove, however, I just immediately go to the granny gear. No questions asked, because they’ve already been answered.

Until yesterday, I had never attempted Grove on a singlespeed. Which shows that until yesterday I had some common sense. Which is to say, I walked a lot of the trail yesterday, and have no plans to try Grove on a SS again until I have magically transformed into Brad or Kenny.

Then — in the one piece of mercy Grove shows to the rider — there’s a short piece of swoopy, buff, fun downhill singletrack, letting you recover for a moment.

Before the really hard part begins.

Stay on Target

While the first part of Grove is brutally difficult, I hardly ever think about it, because the insanity of the second part of Grove just blots the first part clean out of my mind.

Everyone regroups at the top of the first climb — there’s a nice little flat spot where people sometimes set up camp — and then everyone looks around at each other, hoping someone has a flat or another really good reason to delay.

In the absence of a good excuse to turn around, negotiations begin on the riding order. These negotiations are very important, because — and I may be tipping my hand about the trail a bit here — there aren’t a lot of great places to pass on the second part of the Grove clmb.

And then the clmbing begins.

Immediately, the transformation of the trail is as complete as it is terrifying. Suddenly you are not riding on buff singletrack. You are riding on rough, sharp shale, embedded into the ground in a technical trail with what I like to call a “significant penalty for failure.”

And by “significant penalty for failure,” I mean that you’ve got a cliff wall going up on your left — you can literally put your hand out to lean against it when you need to stop and rest — and another cliff wall going down on your right.

The good thing about this cliff — the one going down, I mean — is that if you do fall off it, you have time to consider your options. The bad thing about this cliff is that the time spent falling off a cliff is not really optimal for option-considering.

In short, if you’re going to fall, it’s a good idea to fall left. (This statement is only true on the way up.)

Of course, it’s not shear cliff on the right all the way up. Sometimes instead you’re riding on loose shale. And sometimes you’re deciding whether you’re up to trying a not-quite-a-ledge move. Usually I’m not.

And a lot of the time, you’re looking around, completely stunned at how beautiful it all is. That dangerous cliff off to the right gives you a view of the creek at the bottom. And the canyon made by that creek leads to a gorgeous waterfall. And on the other side of the canyon, you see Mt. Timpanogos, covered in fresh snow right now and blindingly white up top.

I have found it wise to stop from time to time and take it all in. This is wise for two reasons:

  1. I need to stop anyway, because I have exceeded what I previously thought was my maximum heart rate.
  2. I find that I’m less likely to veer off the trail when I’m paying strict attention to aforementioned trail. On most trails, that’s good. On this trail, it’s downright necessary.

Eventually, you get to a bench, just before the bridge that crosses Grove Creek (and on the other side of the bridge is more excellent riding of a completely different sort, but that trail’s still covered in snow this time of year). Someone built that bench as a monument to a cyclist family member / friend. I cannot think of a better, more fitting monument, anywhere.


The first time my friends brought me on this climb, I was astounded and outraged. I really thought it was some kind of mean-spirited prank: “Hey, let’s take Elden on a climb that goes on forever, hurts constantly, and is life-threatening if you screw up.” Very funny, guys.

Of course, once you’ve made the climb, you’ve got to turn around and ride down.

I remember the first time I came down Grove, I actually dismounted and walked about a third of it, muttering darkly the whole time.

Meanwhile, Dug and Rick M flew down the trail. As if nothing could happen. It just seemed insane, and part of me wished I could keep up with them, just to see up close what it was like to defy death.

Strangely, though, yesterday as Kenny and I descended, I noticed I was able to stay with him pretty easily. And I actually felt like I was in less danger, not more, as I flew down.

Slower does not necessarily equal greater control. I’m finally learning that.

Most Disappointing Video, Ever

One of the big reasons I wanted to ride Grove yesterday was because I now have the VIO-POV.1 helmet cam, and I was picturing what a glorious five minutes it would be to do a continuous shot of the descent down Grove.

Kenny and I agreed we’d drop to the camp spot, switch the camera to be rear-facing, then continue from there.

But when I got to that regroup spot, I saw something terrible: my helmet cam was switched off. Evidently, the zip tie I had around the camera unit had punched the off button or something — and I’d find out when I got home that I had only got the first — and least spectacular — half minute of that whole part of the descent.

“Oh well, we’ll get the second part, anyway,” I said, and turned the camera back on. And then, once again, it turned off just a few seconds into the descent.

So now, belatedly, I’ve learned how to use the “keylock” feature, so the camera will keep going regardless of what buttons inadvertently get punched due to jostling.

So I went ahead and made a video anyway, so you can see exactly how freaky the trail is. Just understand that it’s pretty much an uphill-only video.

I’ll get the downhill view as a separate video, the next time my legs will let me do that climb.

Provided, of course, that my wife ever lets me ride Grove again.


  1. Comment by tim | 04.14.2009 | 7:54 am

    you have GOT to be joking. Call me yellow, but I’ll stick to the roads thanks guys.
    PS I have the kind of vertigo that made me feel a little nauseous just watching that video!

  2. Comment by rich | 04.14.2009 | 7:55 am

    Wow, looks like an awesome ride…..with a very severe penalty for failure…

  3. Comment by Stuart | 04.14.2009 | 8:14 am

    Hi there,
    is there any where eles i can watch your videos?when i try and watch them they jsut go blank:(

    I’m using Vimeo instead of YouTube now, because of the improved quality and sizing and download times and a buncha other stuff. But if you can’t see it, that’s a problem. If you go to can you see my videos there? – FC

  4. Comment by Amy | 04.14.2009 | 8:22 am

    My palms were sweating for you…I don’t think I could even *walk* on that trail, much less ride a bike on it! What was that song by the way?

  5. Comment by Mark-in-thecityoftrees | 04.14.2009 | 8:25 am

    WOW! That looks like a great trail. I can’t wait for the replay.

  6. Comment by Sramtaro | 04.14.2009 | 8:30 am

    What’s with the underexposure on the descent? Was it getting that much darker out? You’ll get a great vid next time, Fatty. That said, I really don’t want to read, “The video was the whole reason for the ride,” on your page again. It’s like reading the first few pages of RBA. “I ride because it’s the cheapest therapy.” Please, does anyone just ride because it’s fun anymore? I don’t want to find myself out riding with cameramen or people who need therapy. I much prefer the giant child that is the chronic cyclist. More vids, though, would be nice for us that are migrating from road to mountain and are in need of some tutorials on how not to die.

    Good question, and good point. By the time we started the descent, it was 6pm, and the trail was in shadow from the mountain, while the sky was very bright. The camera saw the sky and thought, “it’s light outside,” making it seem like we were riding in darkness.

    Instead of “the video was the whole reason for the ride,” I could have said, “the reason I chose Grove over some other trail yesterday was because I thought it would be fun to get a video of the downhill.” What can I say? I publish my first draft. – FC

  7. Comment by Rob M | 04.14.2009 | 8:33 am

    I think that paving the trail might help. Until then, you have my permission to change your name from “Fat Cyclist” to “Insane Cyclist.”

    Won’t see me there.

  8. Comment by pedalgr | 04.14.2009 | 8:35 am

    That shirt logo is SOOOOO awesome!

    And I think I’d rather hike than ride that cliff trail, thank you very much. :)

    Riding in Michigan, I couldn’t help but thinking, “where are all the tree roots?” while watching your videos.

    The tree roots are across the bridge, on the other side of the canyon. The difference between the trails is striking. – FC

  9. Comment by Bob | 04.14.2009 | 8:44 am

    Just am I’m thinking so what’s the big deal the ledge section shows up. Yep, your wife sees this, you won’t be going back. Based on your not-so-enthusiastic write-up, you might want to show it to her to ensure that she sees it.

  10. Comment by The Incredible Woody | 04.14.2009 | 8:47 am

    Hike? Yes. Bike? No way!

  11. Comment by Jeff | 04.14.2009 | 9:18 am

    What Bike is Kenny Riding? Did I see a Spot logo? If so, is he using the gates belt drive and how does he like it? Can you tell I’m a nerd and shopping too?

    Awesome vid. Keep ‘em coming.

  12. Comment by gian | 04.14.2009 | 9:24 am

    What software are you using to edit the video?

    iMovie ‘09 – FC

  13. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 04.14.2009 | 9:38 am

    Grove has been a good measuring stick for judging my progress in not being an idiot:

    First time I rode it (I was 25) I said, “Cool, a trail with a little excitement” and I’d bomb the downhill without ever thinking something bad could happen.

    By about 33 years of age, I said, “Cool, a trail you could die on” and I bombed the downhill, but was aware that something bad could happen.

    Now, 38 years old, I say, “Oh hell, if I keep riding this trail, I’m going to die; not of falling off a cliff, but of a heart-attack.” Now I ride the downhill at a moderate pace and the entire time, I think, “I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot.”

    If as many people rode Grove as ride the Portal trail in Moab, 5 people a year would die on Grove.

  14. Comment by Brandon S. | 04.14.2009 | 9:44 am

    I still remember my first descent down Grove Creek. I dropped off the ledge by the bench having no idea what was about to encounter. My friends stopped at said look back at what you just dropped off. I walked back up a little ways and read the inscription on the bench about the “cyclist memorial.” I was not afraid of crashing until reading that and looking down at the penalty for failure. I took the trail a little more cautiously from that point. Sure is fun dropping so much elevation so fast.

  15. Comment by Matt | 04.14.2009 | 9:51 am

    Your video is great…I can’t belive how stable it is when you bike-mount it showing the view behind you. I would expect it to be smooth when helmet mounted looking forward. Very nice system I think…might have to look into that when I have a few extra buckaroos to burn (not sure when that will be).

    We all have our ‘Grove’ trails…down in So-Cal there is a trail called ‘Strawberry Peak’ the Angels forest/ Highway area… Very steep mtns that the trail cuts across, with giant Yucca plants sticking out from the uphill side. It’s one of the scariest sections I’ve ridden. Occasionally someone brings a weapon of some sort and cuts away some of the wicked sharp pointy ends so you can lean into them and not come away with a dozen deep puncture wounds to your shoulder/arm. But cut off ends or not, it’s either lean in or risk going off the edge of the 12″ trail, and if you do that you might need a helicopter rescue it’s so friggin steep…you will tumble a LONG ways dwon. But after you survive that climb you get an awesome whoop-de-doo downhill that brings a smile that has to be surgically removed. All climbs bring payback. And they make you stronger. But it’s the death-defying portions that make it so epic when you survive (and compare how much blood you have on you in which places). I just don’t ever see myself going SS…I like my knees just as they are (functional).

    And I don’t think I’d ever show my wife vid of some of my rides. And being as most photos/vids fail to capture the true pucker-factor of the moment, your shale/cliff section on Grove must be seriously scary…cuz it looked pretty intense on the vid! Can’t wait to see the full vid of the downhill! Oh, and great choice of tunes too.

  16. Comment by Bryan | 04.14.2009 | 10:04 am

    Great vid. Brings back memories when I used to do some MTB’ing in Connecticut back in the mid-90’s. That was a long time ago. My wife heard the music and wanted to know what it was so I showed her the video. She was impressed.

  17. Comment by Leslie | 04.14.2009 | 10:06 am

    Hey Fatty — I loved the first video and as I watched it, I thought I might even consider trying a mountain bike ride someday because of it. Then I watched the second video. Nope. that pretty much changed my mind. Not me! I will never do that kind of riding — you have tremendous nerve! What is the music in the second video? That song was terrific.


  18. Comment by Amy | 04.14.2009 | 10:13 am

    Boom Boom by Trio….

  19. Comment by JAT in Seattle | 04.14.2009 | 10:23 am

    I was recently mocked at work for the completely speculative proposition that I might like Oingo Boingo.

    Of course I do!

    I’m totally smiling right now. I guess my work friends know me better than i realized.

  20. Comment by buckythedonkey | 04.14.2009 | 10:39 am

    Good grief, that is barking mad. Nice to see an original jersey! :-)

    Bone to pick: sometime in 2007 you wrote that one of the things that keeps a cyclist happy is that you get to wear “stiff-soled shoes, preferably Italian-made”.

    You charlatan! I’m sure you can right this wrong by using your award-winning blagging skills to talk some Italian goodness out of our friends at Sidi…

  21. Comment by Aaron | 04.14.2009 | 10:53 am

    Looks like a fun trail. I’d like to ride that the next time I’m up that way.

  22. Comment by hp | 04.14.2009 | 11:00 am

    I’m a flatlander from the Midwest. No freakin way. I’m nervous just watching it.

    You the Man, Fatty!

  23. Comment by bruno | 04.14.2009 | 11:09 am

    first off, i think i’m moving to your town. And buying a mountain bike. those trails look incredible (and a bit horrifying!).

    the video of the climb looks suprisingly like a video I once saw on a show about disasters and crazy accidents. well, the guys are on a trail exactly like the one your are on, but as misses a move and starts to fall he leans left. which wasnt a good idea since the huge cliff dropoff was on the left. He rolled downhill for like 100 meters and luckily he survived with only a few briuses. like a true cyclist, he climbed up the cliff, got back on the bike and finished the ride.

  24. Comment by Mike Roadie | 04.14.2009 | 11:14 am

    Great vids. That is way cool…..a little bit sick, but way cool all the same!
    “The bad thing about this cliff is that the time spent falling off a cliff is not really optimal for option-considering.”—maybe my favorite FCism of all time!


  25. Comment by Ka_Jun | 04.14.2009 | 11:22 am

    Hahahaha…Fatty took some sloppy lines & went around the rock instead of hopping it. Cool vid, like the mud on the lens. Nice.

  26. Comment by kenny | 04.14.2009 | 11:58 am

    Jeff, I’ve been riding the gates belt for about 8 months. I like it a lot, although it does have it’s own issues as well as some unique benefits. I’m on the first belt that I started with and estimate that i’ve got over 2000 miles on it.

  27. Comment by bikemike | 04.14.2009 | 12:47 pm

    cool vid…the boingos rule.

  28. Comment by axel in texas | 04.14.2009 | 1:00 pm

    according to it is 4 miles and 2200 vertical feet. Awesome trail!

  29. Comment by Clydesteve | 04.14.2009 | 1:04 pm

    you call that thing a trail, Fatty? Sheesh. I would take one look at that and say: “Nope, not really a riding trial, this is an abandoned access to some mountain climb. stay off, kids! anyone without crampons does not belong here.”

    i guess there are more MTB “trails” in Oregon than I thought!

  30. Comment by Jenny-Jenny | 04.14.2009 | 1:05 pm

    Wow. That looks amazing. I’ll have to enjoy that kind of a ride from the seat of my computer. I am a chicken when it comes to a fast controllable downhill what would I ever do trying to come down that?!

  31. Comment by CoworkerAlex | 04.14.2009 | 1:34 pm

    I love Grove. In the summer, the 7 miles from high point of Timp Perimeter (North End) to upper Grove to lower Grove all the way down is the best descent in all of UT.

    Except maybe for Ben Lomond.

  32. Comment by WheelDancer | 04.14.2009 | 2:26 pm

    Great videos! I could ride Corner Canyon all day as I consider that type of riding the sweet spot of MTB.

    As for Grove, however, not so much. Before crashing a year and a half ago, enduring ten months of pain and finally having surgery to fix my shoulder, I feel much more mortal than I used to. I made it into my 50’s before becoming mortal so I did have some fun over the years. I’ll pass on Grove at this point but will look forward to the descent video whenever you get around to it.

  33. Comment by KanyonKris | 04.14.2009 | 2:33 pm

    Grove. My pulse is racing.

    It is an improbably trail. I’ve done it 3-4 times and always think “why is this trail even here?” The terrain is so rough and rocky it’s amazing a trail could be cut in at all. But it is fun, to go down.

    My neighbor took some boys down Grove. (When he told me this my eyes bugged out and my jaw dropped. I don’t think it would be pleasant to tell a parent their son just died on a bike ride you led.) Anyway, he lost control of his bike and as he fell he grabbed the bike to prevent it going to the bottom. I couldn’t decide if I was impressed more by his manliness or stupidity.

    Grove is not to be trifled with.

    Elden, props for cleaning that ledge – burly!

  34. Comment by Cliff | 04.14.2009 | 3:00 pm

    Thanks for the videos, Fatty! Although I couldn’t make it entirely through the Grove one before suffering from motion sickness. I’ll just chalk it up to making the video feel more “real” to me, as in, that trail is so sick it makes me feel nauseous.

    It’s always neat to see what trails are like in other parts of the country. Here in Arkansas, we have wooded trails with rocky/dirt terrain laced with roots. Nothing out in the open like that. Hoping to get to ride some of those trails in Utah when I go out in Aug/Sept for vacation.

    Btw, saw another cyclist in a FC jersey on a recent ride here in Little Rock, but he dropped me before I had a chance to say something! Hi whoever you are!

  35. Comment by CyclingTips | 04.14.2009 | 3:57 pm

    Love the helmet cam video. Well done!

    I don’t know how you find the time and energy to run all these competitions and races. Wish I was close enough to join

  36. Comment by Bander | 04.14.2009 | 7:57 pm

    Speaking of penalty for failure:

  37. Comment by Lucky Cyclist | 04.14.2009 | 8:23 pm

    I just realized I am a pansy.
    About 12 years ago, I set out to ride Grove by myself using Greg Bromke’s book as a guide. And I was convinced that I must be in the wrong place because it was such a terrible climb. I turned around and went home before I even got to the good stuff apparently.
    This year.

  38. Comment by Phil | 04.14.2009 | 8:26 pm

    I would never do that.

  39. Comment by Ohiorider | 04.14.2009 | 8:54 pm

    A few thoughts come to mind after watching these vids:
    Those rides look like a blast, but I would hike it before I’d ride it. That penalty for failure would weigh heavy on my mind if I were on a bike!
    If we had trails even remotely similar to those here in Ohio, bicyclists wouldn’t be permitted to ride them. We can’t even ride many of the wooded trails around here! At least that’s how it is in my neck of the woods. *sigh*
    I really need to get myself one of those cameras you’re using there Fatty!

  40. Comment by VA Biker | 04.14.2009 | 8:59 pm

    That is a great piece of artwork by Twin Six. I looked at it before reading the post, wondering who was so talented!

    RE: this style of mountain bike riding? Never. You folks have way more skill than I do, for sure.

  41. Comment by Lissee (formerly known as Bitter) | 04.14.2009 | 11:47 pm

    Wow. I thought I was going to tip over. Off my couch. In a living room nowhere near a vertical drop off.

    So question, does anyone ever hike the trail and if they do, do the cyclists just run them over? Kind of thinking that stopping on shale is not an easy thing.

    We usually encounter a couple of hikers on the trail (including this time). It’s never posed a problem — if we’re going fast it’s because we’re on a straight section, so we can see the hikers. If we’re on a curving section, we’re going slow enough that we can stop instantly. – FC

  42. Comment by GTinLA | 04.15.2009 | 3:33 pm

    That is just sick – good thing I don’t have vertigo, otherwise I may have thrown up! :)
    ….and great BOOM BOOM

    Love the videos – keep ‘em coming

    I’ve got my helmet mount set up properly now, so next video shouldn’t be quite so nausea-inducing. Thanks for your patience while I try to get to a point of competence with this thing. – FC

  43. Comment by Stuart | 04.16.2009 | 3:05 am

    Thanks for that Fatty, i was able to watch the videos from home(not at work, think it must be an anti goof off policy or somthing:().those trails look really …WOW!!

  44. Comment by ricky | 04.16.2009 | 11:32 pm

    fantastic write-up and footage. watching the video made my heart rate jump 50 bpm. grove’s in my top 5.

  45. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » My Blog Is Adorable Today | 04.19.2009 | 6:36 pm

    [...] are important. I’ve now definitively figured out why my helmetcam shut off during the downhill on Grove last week. The batteries wore out. I found this because I did not replace these batteries, and within moments [...]

  46. Comment by Drew | 04.20.2009 | 9:25 pm

    Great footage. It reminds what I miss so much about Utah (the trails) and what I DON’T miss (the inversion)! Seriously, that air down in the valley is so nasty.

    More bikes, Utah!

  47. Comment by metalcommuter | 04.23.2009 | 1:53 pm

    We have nothing but bunny hills out here in NJ! That ride looks so fun, but I’m afraid I’d fail big on it with my level of experience.

    What Utah considers tough, we in the East consider insane!!

    Can’t wait for the descent video.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.