There are ultra planners in the world, and then there are people who fly by the seat of their pants. I’d say that the majority of people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d put myself far more on the flying side of life execution. Disadvantages to this life approach? Nothing is terribly certain. The advantages? When a long weekend trip to St. George gets cancelled due to weather, the adaptation to do something completely different is easy. No long rides in the desert? Let’s do some long rides in the snow. No! Even better, long rides in the snow, AND camping in the snow.
We looked at some maps. We did some googling of snowmobile trails. We sent out a couple of emails to check on snow conditions around the state. We went to REI and bought a map 15 minutes before they closed. And in the morning, we loaded the Monster Truck ponies into the car, waited for ski traffic to subside, and headed to Vail Pass.
Our combined knowledge of the area was that it was a big snowmobile access point, the map looked promising, and really, what was the worst that could happen? With a vast array of snowmobile trails and non-motorized trails, all conveniently marked with difficulty ratings, we pointed our ponies straight towards an ‘advanced non-motorized trail’. Clearly a good way to test the waters.
After several dunkings in the snow, I waved the white flag. Enough! Plan A was clearly going to be a no-go, time for Plan B. So we returned to the snowmobile trails and headed towards Ptarmigan Pass via Shrine Bowl. It was slow. My cross tires weren’t doing the trick in the soft, fresh, churned up snow. Frustration levels were reaching simmering points, at least for me. So I took pictures because sometimes I need a reminder that even if I’m taking my bike for a walk, and I’m suffering from the hangries, I’m still in an amazingly beautiful place.
And then our trail dead-ended. So we tried to take another way around, hiking our ponies through deep snow (you can see all sorts of good pictures of me swimming in snow and taking the pony for a walk over at Scott’s description of events), only to find ourselves back at the same dead end. It was almost comical. Blizzardy conditions, dusk falling, and headed back towards the car.
One of the stated ‘goals’ of the trip was to make it to Mango’s Mountain Grill in Redcliff at the far end of the loop. At Shrine Pass, for the second time that day, we pondered the options. Back to Vail Pass to give Wilder Gulch and Ptarmigan Pass a go from a different approach, or down Shriner, straight to Mango’s, and try to come back over Ptarmigan, or just as an out and back.
Might as well try Wilder we reasoned. What’s the worst that could happen. We stopped within spitting distance of the car to put lights on as the snow intensified and the light disappeared.
And then we pedaled our ponies into one of the most magical nights I’ve experienced. The snow continued as the full moon made a valiant effort to break through the clouds and freshly groomed corduroy, churned up by only two sleds. The fresh fluff crunched quietly under the tires. For the first time all day, we were moving at a socially acceptable speed. Through the snow. Through the silence. Through the Universe.
As we approached Ptarmigan, we found a nice little hidey-hole of a tree well, mostly out of the snow, packed down the sugar snow the best we could, and set up a home for the night. I curled up in the -20 degree bag, snacking on Reeces Peanut Butter Cups waiting for dinner, watching the snow fall, completely, totally content with life, with the world. I thanked the Universe. Profusely.
It was still snowing when I woke up from what might have been the best night of bikepacking sleep I’ve ever had. It was still dark, but with no reason to wait for the sun to warm our faces, we made a bowl of chai-oats, which is quickly becoming my favorite bikepacking breakfast, loaded the snow covered ponies, and headed up the pass.
At 11,800 feet, we ran out of uphill to push/ride our bikes up and we were greeted with magic. Groomed trail, no snowmobile tracks, and a long downhill. There’s something special about coasting downhill on fresh snow. It’s completely silent, smooth…it’s as close to flying as I think I’m ever going to get.
We reached the bottom earlier than expected and headed south towards Camp Hale and my favorite trail in the whole widest world. Every time I get to see the Colorado Trail, it makes me happy. The fact that I finally got to see the bunkers also made me happy. How I’ve ridden the trail three times and never seen the giant cement structure less than ten feet off the trail is beyond me. No, it’s not. I’ve missed moose walking across the trail in front of me because I’m too busy in my own little la-la land.
And then on to Mango’s.
What can I say. We downed a 16-inch pizza and a chicken taco pretty easily and then Scott said something funny along the lines of ‘We have lots of sweets on the bikes, I guess we probably don’t need the ice cream sandwich.’ My jaw dropped. Surely, you must be joking. Either he was, or he quickly backpedaled and pretended he was, because soon enough, the most amazing food masterpiece I have ever had put in front of me was brought out. It tasted as good as it looked.
Stuffed silly, we headed back up Shrine Pass. 2,500 feet of climbing in a hair over nine miles. I went into it expecting similar conditions to the day prior, fully prepared to hike the nine miles up,but the Universe was smiling. She may have served up a hefty dose of humility the day before, but she was delivering nothing but magic and the climb was 95% rideable with my 3.8 inch cross tires. The sun shined on us as we gained altitude, the trail well packed and firm from the sun’s intense rays. Snowmobilers passed us either with grins of amazement, grins of confusion, or just stares of disbelief.
We crested Shrine Pass at precisely the Golden Hour. Long shadows, lit up peaks. We found that the single track that had sent me sprawled in the snow multiple times the morning before had set up to become a nearly perfect ribbon of packed trail through giant meadows and trees as we descended from Shrine Pass to Vail Pass.
We finished back at the car, smiling almost as broadly as the Universe must have been to bless us with such a day of riding bikes.
Our plan of heading to the desert failed. Our plan of Shrine Ridge failed. Our plan of Shrine Bowl led to long walks in the woods with the ponies. But in the end, flexibility combined with a fair bit of stubbornness prevailed, and we were rewarded. I guess the old adage of bikepacking is true. Never quit in the dark. Never quit when it gets rough and is starting to seem hopeless. The bad will pass, and those who keep at it will ultimately be rewarded.