Monday, November 03, 2008

Riding the Burn

Less than a month ago several of us decided to take a trip up to Ketchum, ID to get in a long weekend of mountain biking in beautiful Indian Summer weather before the late fall blew in and the weather turned.

I’d heard over the past couple of years how great the mountain biking up in the Sun Valley area is.

The trip started out in perfectly – the mountains were alive with sparkling gold aspen leaves and the mild temperatures made for some stellar riding conditions.

Saturday morning we drove down to a local bike shop – Formula Sports – to ask advice on the favorite local trails. The young man at the bike shop suggested Fisher Creek, which is located between Ketchum and Stanley on Highway 75.

The shop worker said it was only a half hour out of town but an hour and a half later we finally got to Fisher Creek.


Fisher was the real deal. It started out with several miles of steady uphill and then at least 12 miles of rolling single track back to the highway.

The ride started out in a burn area – and we were all fairly surprised at how grippy the trail was. The track swung through several canyons and reached a pinnacle with a log jump that entertained our crew for a good half hour.

After the log jump it felt like we were on endless downhill.

Fisher Creek was a blast, but the Ketchum hot springs that we soaked in after the 18-mile ride were even better.

The next morning for some reason we decided to go back to the same shop even though the kid at the shop definitely had a deficiency in the math department.

Another shop employee spoke up and suggested a ride off of the local favorite Greenhorn Trail. I had heard of Greenhorn. One of my friends back in Park City had suggested it because as she put it, “there’s almost no uphill and then unlimited downhill.”

Now we should have been tipped off when this guy (who did seem older and fit the mountain biker stereotype a bit more) suggested to us that when we got to Greenhorn everyone would take the trail head left but instead we should go straight up the trail to the right side of the parking lot.

From the beginning something seemed wrong. We are all in pretty good mountain biking shape, but all five of us where gasping and wheezing to catch air as we ascended the first part of the trail. In my head I kept thinking, “Jen said endless downhill – this is all up.”

We rode steadily uphill about 8 miles before we hit the burn. Unlike the burn at Fisher Creek, this was insane. The sooty sand was a good 6-8 inches deep which didn’t make for solid riding. We figure we ended up walking at least half of the 6 or so miles up the burn.

Walking up this dead mountain was almost surreal. The air through the scorched pines still smelled of fire and the view in every direction was dark and bleak.

By the time we reached the trails summit we were out of water and exhausted. Lying beneath a Lodge Pole Pine, I was inhaling energy bars when my buddy Jim said, “Lookout! Here come dirt bikes,” Jim & I leapt off of our perch to carry the bikes farther away from the trail so that they were not veered into by the careening dirt bikers.

I know one thing – the next time I see dirt bikers I am heading the other way.

Further on down the trail we followed the dirt bikers through what felt like feet of quick sand. The dirt bikes had churned Sun Valley’s loose dirt to the point that the trail was a river of sand.

After gashing my foot on my chain ring, landing on my butt after a spin out on a hopeless switch back and on my third fall of the day flying over a young live pine tree to crash head first into a pile of dead branches, I was ready to walk the rest of the trail but a funny thing called pride was keeping my flying forward on my bike.

Luckily, the last couple of miles spit us out onto the real Greenhorn Trail we were supposed to take. After we turned onto Greenhorn, 3 miles of hard, fast single track was a significant reward.
The final three miles almost made up for the first 20 brutal miles. Greenhorn was definitely everything it was cracked up to be.

As we loaded the bikes up in the parking lot, the conversation turned to our trusty bike shop employee. Was he sitting back in the shop with a beer, laughing his &*(^% off at those poor suckers who heeded his advise blindly?

I figured surely not, until the hot springs he recommended us hitting on the way home turned out to be a hoax – after a couple locals agreed that they had never heard of that set of hot springs I began to feel like we were the brunt of an excessively long and painful joke.

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Blogger Jon said...

You must watch out for those shop guys. Fisher is an epic ride, glad you got to experience it.

11/03/2008 11:10 PM

Blogger Average Ability said...

You should try the Elephant's Perch or Backwoods for advice next time. Imperial Gulch up Green horn is a great ride like Fisher Creek, if you take the right trials. Check out the book "Good Dirt".

11/05/2008 3:49 PM

Blogger Jonny-eh said...

Remember if it wasn't for the dirt bikers, you wouldn't be riding those trails. They made 90 percent of those trails and maintain them as well....and most of them mountain bike as well, so they do actually try not to 'churn' up the trail.

11/07/2008 9:09 AM

Blogger kevin said...

Well put jonny-eh. I've been mountain biking for 25 years and still consider it my primary activity. I do however like to motor on single-track sometimes. Hate to see dirt bikers get a bad rap. Most trail riders are considerate and mindful of the impact on trails. I've spent a lot of time maintaining them as well.

11/07/2008 5:25 PM


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