The Wasatch Crest Trail is a mountain bike trail that starts near Guardsman Pass above Big Cottonwood Canyon near our house. According to reviews, it is one of the best mountain biking trails in the country, and coming close to 10,000 feet in elevation, we had better do it soon before the snow closed it for the season.
It was already quite dark by the time the shuttle arrived at the pass. Headlamps powered on around me, and set off down the trail. I usually say that I'm a better rider at night. The tunnel vision formed by my lights helps me to ignore the scenery around me (it's pretty much invisible) and focus on the trail ahead of me. Riding with lights also make the trail look flatter, if that's possible, which means I ride over things that might scare me into walking during daylight. When the lights ahead of me continue moving, I figure there's no reason I can't ride this section also.
Amy of Salt Cycles took the time at each rest stop to explain the trail sections coming up. Aside from Puke hill, which I mostly walked, it was a very rideable trail. At one intersection I had fallen a bit behind those in front of me, and wasn't sure which way to go. So I stopped and turned my lights off, and enjoyed a few minutes of deep, dark silence in a very black forest. Until I started thinking about moose, mountain lions, and bigfoot. My light came back on quickly.
The last 7 miles of the 23 mile trail were on pavement down Mill Creek. It was the perfect finish to the trail, with fast descents but very smooth curves.
Just a few days later, Jim and I did the trail in daylight, and I finally got to see the amazing scenery. The Aspen trees were just starting to turn yellow, so it was a perfect day to see the trail in all it's glory.
Puke hill, which is the biggest climb on the trail, ascends steeply at over 9000 feet. It didn't seem as bad in daylight until the elevation caused my heart rate to skyrocket. I made it to the last 100 feet but couldn't continue.
Jim got a flat tire somewhere in the middle of the ride, and by the time we had fixed it, I was covered in trail dust and looked like I had rolled in the dirt. Somewhere between the first and second flat tires, I missed a trail junction and we descended to Dog Lake, requiring that we climb up a little bit to get back into the right canyon. Oops. While pushing our bikes up the trail, I suddenly saw a big moose not 20 feet from me. "Jim!" I said in a quiet but somewhat freaked out voice. When he looked up and saw it, he had us back up quietly behind a couple of trees and wait him out. The moose had big antlers and was definitely nothing to mess with. After a few minutes, he moved off across the trail following a couple of cows up into the forest. We walked by quietly and then pedaled like mad away from them.
Except for the unexpected ascent, the new trail was also quite nice, proving that accidental exploring can be worthwhile. Once on the pavement in Mill Creek, we noticed that it seemed very deserted for a Saturday afternoon. Very deserted, as in not one car in the parking lot or on the roads. In fact, the whole canyon was closed for a forest fire, which thankfully the firefighters had seemed to already put out. The only vehicles in the whole canyon were fire trucks and police cars. So we had a pretty amazing descent all to ourselves and luckily saw no evidence of smoke or fire.