All around me were fire roads and trails. I could see them weaving up the mountainside through the canyons and ridges, and yet, there I was, riding a mountain bike on the pavement in between them. Why? The trails were mucky and mushy, and my wife would’ve killed me if I brought home some mucky, mushy souvenirs.
It was Kelly Canyon, the mountain bike Mecca of southeast Idaho, home to dozens of singletrack, doubletrack and fireroad trails, not to mention a decent ski hill—Kelly Canyon Ski Resort. So why was I riding up the pavement? Allow me to explain:
Months ago some buddies and I headed out to Kelly for a singletrack ride, and on the way there we spotted some old codger riding a mountain bike up the road. My neighbor, and the author of the entertaining College Battle blog (linked on the left side of the page) commented, “This hill wouldn’t be that tough, don’t you think?” I was about to agree when I stopped and thought about how cars really warp your perception of hills, and then I answered, “I dunno. Maybe.”
Well, I got curious, so a few days later, I mounted the road bike and breezed by the 20 miles of flat road to get to the hill. And when I got there, I noticed a few things about it: first off, it’s a really picturesque area, there’s a brooklet that trickles alongside the road, there are trees all around, and in between them are rock outcroppings that resemble something out of Arches National Park; Secondly, I noticed that the traffic was pretty minimal up there during the off-ski season, except for the occasional cow, mule deer, or ranch truck, it was just me and my bike; thirdly, there’s no wind, all around the canyon are dry, dusty prairies and potato fields with wind gusting sometimes up to 55 mph, but inside the tree-lined canyon, there’s nothing but stillness; lastly, I noticed that rather than being easy, that hill’s a bit of a beast, granted it was no Teton Pass, but the weaving, gravelly 3-mile-or-more road has this tendency for looking as though it’s about to become easy by hiding the next rise behind the next corner, and it changes pitch often enough that it really throws off your rhythm, which can be a really good thing. To top it off, there’s a dirt road that continues after the pavement ends, and it keeps going up to a few trails, one of which leads up to the ski resort’s chairlifts. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s my kind of training hill.
Guess what I did next? Well, if you’ve been reading the blog long enough, you’ll know that I went back as often as possible this past fall season, either on the road bike or on a mountain bike, and climbed back up that hill with whoever I could talk into joining me. For whatever reason, someone re-graveled the road in the middle of the season, though, and that’s somewhat discouraged me from taking the road bike up there (it’s not such a good place to be getting a flat—20 miles from home).
Then, of course, winter came, and all the skiers and their ski traffic came with it, so Kelly Canyon went on the backburner. But somehow, the ski hill started sticking out to me during my commutes to work. As it turns out, I had a gorgeous view of it from across the valley when I left work at night (provided I left before the sunset), and it seemed to get closer and closer to my view as the season wore on.
Monday night, I got off work a little early and noticed a steady rain falling as I commuted home. Of all weather conditions, I prefer rain most of all when it comes to climbing. It keeps you cool, the air stays moist, and it gives the illusion of machismo—you catch yourself thinking, “This would make for a cool picture if I had a camera right now.” So naturally, I called up my little brother, Jord, and the two of us headed up to the canyon. I’m confident we saw more mule deer there than either of us have ever seen in one place. We hopped on and chugged to the top of the canyon, where the rain had turned to snow. We got to the gate of the ski hill gasping for air, and I think that between the two of us, we decided this pavement alone is pretty good exercise.
P.S. Yes, it’s true, we’ve got two or three inches of snow so far today, as well as some 40 mph winds, so I’m pretty much grounded for the time being. Hope everyone’s safe and warm.
P.P.S. For today’s video entertainment, by the way, visit the Park City Endurance 100 site and see what Botched’s arch-nemesis is really like. You may have to download Flash 8 to see it, but it ought to wet your racing pallette for today.