Sunday bloomed bright with clear skies and cool temps. We convened at Millcreek Bicycles to make last minute adjustments and talk of the day’s plan. Our group of ten was a mixed bag of seasoned cyclists and avid recreationalists, but we all had the intention of making the most of this journey. For the past eight summers, I have heard tales of “The Crest” and how exciting and awesome it is. However, I never found the time or felt my equipment was inadequate for the task. For this ride I happened to secure a Rocky Mountain Element 970, a 29er devised for just such a trail.
Just after 9am, our ride to the top of Guardsman’s Pass arrived. Big Rack Shuttles and their spacious, natural gas-powered van showed up to help us get underway. Shad, the shuttle owner, and his wife Lauren run a top-notch outfit that enables riders to leave their cars in the Millcreek area and catch a ride to the top. For just $10 a head, you and 10 friends can embark on the trail ride of the season. We helped Shad load the bikes and we began our stylish ascent up Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Arriving at the trail head just before 10am, we bid Shad good day and began the ride. The temperature was a comfortable 75 degrees, and thanks to last week’s rain, the trail was nice and tacky. Due to the overall skill level of the group, we took off on our own accords and agreed to wait at the top of Puke Hill for each other. Weaving through the forest on our chariots of Aluminum, Carbon, and Ti, we picked apart the trail and enjoyed the scenic beauty of our surroundings. Aspens and wildflowers added color and scale to the landscape, and the smell of fresh pine permeated the air. Within the first half mile, my girlfriend Vanessa clipped her bar on a tree and proceeded to do a full front flip, landing almost back on her feet. The bike tumbled into the brush and she sat up laughing, although she could barely catch her breath. After dusting off the mud and blood, she mounted her cycle and we carried on. At least that one was out of the way.
Arriving at the base of the first major climb, aka Puke Hill, we made minor seat adjustments and began the long grind to the top. The sweat began to bead off our brows and we sucked the thin air at the higher elevation. Surmounting this beast takes patience and suffering, but the view is incredible. 11,000 ft. peaks make up the horizon, and puffy clouds speckle the sky. After some snacks and a few photos, our cadre continued on down the trail.
The next major landmark is “The Spine”. This 100-yard section of technical rock and slippery scree has eaten many a rider, and lavished praise on those that can ice it. I descend first, since this is my inaugural ride, and my 29er makes short work of the first section. However, i quickly discover that my line choice is more difficult than imagined, and I have to dismount. I quickly hop off to the side and watch my amigos try their hands. The next few suffer a similar fate and have to walk it through the middle section. Then Chuck, on a Titanium 26er hardtail, comes through and laces up a terrifically smooth line on the rider’s left. His skill definitely shines through and you can see he has done this before.
Next up is long time shop employee Ben M. His weapon of choice is the Rocky Mountain Slayer and he begins his descent with confidence. The rocky ridge I am standing on appears to be out of the way of oncoming traffic, but Ben alerts me that I am in his line. I jump backwards just in time to catch him rolling through the most difficult portion of the entire Spine. He floats effortlessly over the rib of jagged quartzite and I manage to snap a few of him cruising by. The rest of the crew makes it through with minimal walking, and we move on.
The views from the trail continue to amaze, and it is hard to keep your eyes ahead. I almost stacked it several times trying to take a photo of the epic scenery. Our next descent takes us into Upper Millcreek canyon and the aspen and pine forests provide some shade. Colorful plumes of geranium and Indian paintbrush intertwine with the tall grasses of the open meadows and we simply enjoy being here on this wonderful day.
Arriving at the road near the top of the canyon, we snack and joke about the ride thus far. The next stage is a few miles of high-speed road riding to the Pipeline trailhead. Our peleton takes off down canyon and we whip by traffic at an incredible pace. By the time we reach Pipeline, the stagnant heat of the valley has crept up and it hits up square in the face.
The Pipeline delivers its typical fare of flat terrain and hikers and dogs. We try not to scare anyone too bad and everything goes smoothly. Just before Porter Fork I encounter Ben on the trail side with a pedal in his hand. Apparently, he stripped out the crank arm and was unable to re-thread it Fortunately Ben has a tenacious spirit and managed to get back to the shop (6 miles) on just one pedal. We rolled back to our door just before the three hour mark and celebrated over some cold cerveza and Tour de France replays. Not a bad day with the Millcreek Crew.