|The Rail Trail Runs in Valley Behind The Famous "PC"|
It was our first full day on our 4th or 5th trip to Park City. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve taken a mountain bike vacation to PC, but it was Sunday, September 2nd, 2012. Traditionally on our first ride, we like to take an easy ride so the altitude doesn’t kick us in the lungs. The past two years we’ve taken the Rail Trail out past Round Valley and along I-80 toward Echo Reservoir. Round trip it’s a 50 mile ride at a 2% grade, 25 downhill and 25 uphill. The past two years we’ve always turned around early, worried about lack of daylight on the return. This time we got out early in the afternoon, plenty of time to enjoy the day.
|Full Moon Over Mountainside|
We’re experience mountain bikers. I’ve been riding, racing and vacationing with bikes for close to 18 years now. Still, we’ve had our shares of cuts and bruises and mechanicals on vacation, stitches in Breckenridge, a couple more in Whistler. I always pack a first aid kit, tubes, tools, pump, patches, sunscreen, a map, phone, cash, credit card, insurance card, extra clothes depending on the day, more than enough water, more than enough snacks. With the Hydrapak and seat bag full, we rolled down through the valley.
Side by side with our tires making a bobsled-esque noise on the downhill gravel, we took in the sights: some long legged Heron looking birds in the tall grass, sheep, llamas or alpaca, the rock formations and the most unique cows we’ve ever seen. We called them Oreo cows. The front and back ends were black, with a delicious looking white middle. “Hey pretty cow!” My wife shouted. It was beautiful late Sunday afternoon.
We zipped around the gate at the entrance to Echo Reservoir. There were no boats, no jet skis, no picnickers, weird for a Sunday. There was no water. It had dried up, save a 40 yard stretch being circled by some guys in 4 Wheel Drive trucks. A lone jogger passed by and we exchanged hellos. Then silence again. Bummed, we sat on our top tubes and chatted about the drought. I leaned over and picked a rock out of my front tire treads.
Pssssst. The rock was a thorn! I quickly spun my tire with the hole toward the ground so the sealant would seal up the leak. Later we would learn it was a Goat Head thorn. My tire was covered in them. Both of my tires were covered in them. All of our tires were covered in them. “Leave them in. We’ve got sealant, but we better head back!”
|How Many Can You Count? Each Tiny Dot Is A Thorn Too|
We were 25 miles from “home” at 5:30pm with literally hundreds of thorns in our tubeless tires. Never in our 4 or 5 trips to Park City have we ever encountered thorns. We’ve ridden nearly every trail from Mid Mountain to Flying Dog, ‘cept for the new Armstrong trail and last five miles of the rail trail to at Echo Reservoir. It would be officially dark at 8pm. The shadow in this deep valley would cross sooner. Out loud, we did the math. At 14mph, we could be back by 7ish. That left us about an hour to deal with the flats if we had to, but the sealant was working at the moment.
Amazingly, we rolled 8 miles before both my tires became uncontrollable on the gravel. I pulled out a CO2 and aired them both up. 2 miles later, her front went flat. I pulled out another CO2. Ssshhhhuuuuup! It was full. As I removed the chuck from the valve stem, the chuck stuck. Sometimes that happens with the cold cartridges. I pulled again. My heart sank. With the chuck, the valve stem had pulled through the metal hole in the rim.
I pulled the whole tire off and tried to get the valve stem back through. Being an old wheel, it was done. The rim had corroded a bit (maybe the sealant got to it) and now the hole was too big for the stem to seal. We had to use a tube with a tire that was covered in at least 200 thorns.
In the area of my wife’s thumb print, she counted six. Extrapolate that to a whole mountain bike tire and multiply by four. Goat Heads are evil buggers, as sharp and long as a thumbtack. An elementary school’s worth was stuck in our tires. Sitting on the trail on either side of the tire, we went to work. Yep. One by one, finger by pricked finger. I used a knife, she her fingernails. In twenty minutes, we probably made it a third of the way through the thorns on her front tire. With a sigh, I looked up the valley, a group of cyclists approached.
“Are you guys okay? Do you need help?” They asked as they slowly coasted by. We all ask the questions when we see a cyclist by the side of a trail. Sometimes we don’t expect to actually…uh…help. “Yeah. Yeah. I think we do” Rachel piped up. The couple and their son stopped. We explained. “Oh. Those are Goat Heads. You’re not going to fix that.”
I don’t recall when we introduced one another. I do remember their bikes. Funny how that works. They had early 90’s “vintage” mountain bikes, one Fisher and one Ritchey, still with rigid forks, platform pedals and those big fat cantilever brake shoes. Those bikes were the shit back in the day. Jill asked my wife Rachel if she could snap a photo of her phone number on her phone. It was decided that they would return to their van seven miles up the trail, pack up, and drive to meet us at the nearest freeway exit two miles away. Jill would call when they got back to the van. We parted ways with complete trust in strangers.
After a 20 minute walk, we sat on some concrete in a construction site in front of a Sinclair convenience store at the bottom of the exit ramp and waited. I played around with some rebar as we chatted. “How long do you think it will take for them to get here,” Rachel asked. “I’m thinking 45 minutes to ride the 7 miles up hill, a few minutes to pack up and maybe 15-20 to get here. It’s gonna be an hour at least.”
Surprisingly, only 15 minutes later, Jill and Ely rolled up to the Sinclair as well. “Heeey!” They said it was a little too far and too uphill for young Ely. Joe was on his way with the van. Here we were, in the middle of nowhere (to us) outside of Coalville, Utah making the best of a bad situation with two complete strangers.
What sticks out in my mind is that it was never awkward. They were very personable, interesting people. It was more than small talk. We got to know each other a bit. I never felt a cold shoulder, not even from Ely, an unbelievably patient young man. Soon enough Joe arrived. I helped him load the bikes. We shared the backseat with Ely. “Where are you staying,” Joe asked. “If you don’t mind driving us to the Marriot Mountainside in Park City, that’d be great.” It was no problem at all. We talked about our careers and backgrounds and travels and soon enough we pulled into the driveway in about 25 minutes.
|Every Little White Dot You See Is A Thorn|
Joe and I pulled the bikes down. We shook hands. My wife offered $25 dollars for the ride, the gas, their generosity, the nice clean van, Ely’s patience. They declined. Jill said something like, “Joe rides all the time. I can only hope that if he’s in a sticky situation, someone will help him out.”
The next day after buying four new mountain bike tires (thank goodness for the 40% off End of Season Sale at Cole Sport) we went out for another ride. On the way back, we stopped in White Pine Outfitters, probably our favorite shop. As we paid for some socks or something, we looked down to see a sign scotch taped to the counter.
“Do not ride the Rail Trail past Coalville. It’s covered in Goat Head thorns. You WILL need to buy TWO new tires.”
Joe, Jill and Ely rest assured, if you ever get into a spot of bother on a ride and ask for help our answer will always be yes. What goes around comes around. So, thank you for coming around with your kindness, patience and generosity.
Joe in Cincinnati