Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dream Loop

I had the day off from work on Thursday, and decided to take the opportunity to run a loop that has been brewing in the back of my mind for several years now.

Mile 23 ~ top of the Pinecone Trail.
A few years ago, I rode mountain bikes with a friend from the Guard Road near Brighton, Utah on the Crest Trail (well known in the Wasatch as one of the ultimate must-do trails) over to the Canyons Resort near Park City, then on the Mid-Mountain Trail, a trail that follows the 8,000 ft elevation line over to Park City, then up over the ridge back to the car.  We got waylaid in Park City Mountain Resort by a hail and lightening storm, and it turned into quite the epic adventure.  Thankfully, we both had jackets with us, but after huddling under a metal roof near the yurt half-way up the mountain in Park City, I talked my friend into continuing, for fear of being struck by lightening.

As we rode up the trail the final 5 miles or so, lightening cracked overhead and I remember my friend whimpering behind me something about, "We're gonna die out here... " and I called back over my shoulder to her, "At least we will die doing something that we love."  She was not impressed nor convinced.  I rode faster so that I would be out of earshot of her complaints.

When we finally got back to the car, we were quite frozen, and I recall fondly that we ate meatloaf, french fries and mashed potatoes with bottomless cups of coffee at the Silver Fork Lodge in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

I think that ride must have taken us the majority of the day, and honestly after running a similar route this past Thursday, I can't for the life of me figure out what took us so long, except for the fact that we must have been waiting out the thunderstorm for a good 45 minutes or so.

I ran the first 6 miles on Thursday with my friend Liz, who coached the Girls on the Run program with me this past Spring.  She also just ran the Speedgoat 50k race, a race that I helped organize this year and the previous 5 years, which is well know as a really tough trail race up at Snowbird, Utah.

Obviously Liz was not tired after her race last weekend, because we chatted easily moving up the trail, and I felt as though I might be holding her back!  Ahh, to have 20-something legs again.

After the trail split above Desolation Lake, I said goodbye to Liz because she needed to get to the airport to pick up her sister who was coming into town for a visit.  I spied a couple more runners moving up the ridge in the direction that I was going, and quickly caught them.  We ran together for the next three miles or so, until they headed back down into Millcreek Canyon, and I headed down to the Canyons Resort.  It turned out that they were training for the TransAlpine stage race, a sister race to the TransRockies that I will be doing next week with my friend, Sue.

The descent down into the Canyons seemed shorter to me than it had the previous trip several years ago, and I was happy to look at my watch see that I had averaged 13 minute-miles up until this point (about 9 miles).  Things started to get a bit warm on the east-facing Mid-Mountain trail moving across the Canyons, but I kept my thoughts on the fact that I would soon be at the Red Pine Lodge to refill my water bottles with cool water.

As I was running along this section of trail, I was passed from behind by a summer Patroller, out for a ride on his mountain bike with his yellow lab.  He would pass me again about 30 minutes later, and I decided that he must be doing laps with the dog with the aid of either the gondola or the chairlift.  His dog was really cute and well-behaved, and the patroller wished me a good run as he went past.

I got to Red Pine Lodge (mile 11.2) and dodged the walkers and hikers there (it's a popular stepping-off point for folks who don't have a lot of miles planned for the day, but want to take in the scenery) and bummed not only some water from the drinking fountain in the lodge, but talked the cashier into letting me fill a couple of my bottles with ice.  Aaaah... the cool water tasted really good.

Several miles down the trail, I was passed by a forty-something father (with a distinctive "Texas" riding kit on) and his tween-aged son.  We talked the local trails (they were visiting from Texas) and the heat, which he said "compared to Houston" was not really that bad.  I told him that I was at mile 16 of my 24, so was heading into the home-stretch.

We ended up leap-frogging each other for probably about 5 or six miles on the trail, and it was at about this point that I realized that since I had ridden the trail approximately 5 years ago, a newer section of the Mid-Mountain has been built, taking out the more technical ascent of Iron Mountain from the northwest.  Bummer that I realized this change in the trail only after passing the trail junction, because the east-facing Mid-Mountain trail was really starting to heat up (around noon).

I toughed it out, and also gave the Texas-tween a little pep talk too, because he was starting to whimper a little bit on the last climb up to the Iron Mountain junction.  The only sympathy he got from his dad was that he was allowed to walk his bike up the hill if he couldn't stay on (he did).  That kid was tough!  I don't think I could have done what he was doing when I was his age.  Of course, we didn't have bikes quite that nice when I was a kid, either.

I was really bummed that this new(er) section of the Mid-Mountain Trail bypasses the nice meadow at the south Iron Mountain pass, but was happy to experience an absence of crazed sage-grouse, who in years past have attacked my ankles and made me scream like a little girl to outrun them.

I got to the junction of Armstrong Trail and the Mid-Mountain just to the north of Park City Mountain Resort, and decided that it would soon be time to make up my mind on how I was going to ascent PCMR to get back over to the Guard Road.  It was my original intention to go past the yurt (the same one I had huddled under those years ago in the thunderstorm) and then proceed up to Shadow Lake near Jupiter, but then I passed the junction to the new Pinecone Trail (dubbed "the Gem of the Wasatch") and decided to check it out.

Before proceeding up Pinecone Trail I again met up with the Texas father-son duo, and a 50-something man from Missouri, who was on vacation and on a mountain bike rental.  The fellow from Missouri was super-psyched to be out on the trail and was proud to tell me of his health and strength compared to his overweight, smoker friends back home who "couldn't walk from their cars in the parking lot into the Post Office".  I was truly impressed by his good-nature, and after explaining a couple of his trail options to him, wished him well on the day.

I soon met up with a couple more bikers, one who was late 40s or so and one 50-something (it seemed to be a trend... ) who also seemed to be content to ride in his granny gear, staring at my ass, and asking me questions as I tried to find the strength to continue running up the 6% grade of the Pinecone Trail.

After a mile or so, I sent him on his way (politely, mind you) and put my head down for the climb.  Pinecone is, indeed a gem of a trail, but I couldn't help but think how nice it would be to ride *down* it on a mountain bike, rather than hike *up* it after 18 miles of running, especially after two ladies passed me going the other direction doing just that ~ biking downhill.

The climb is approximately 4 miles in length and tops out on the Crest Trail at the top of "Puke Hill".  About a half-mile from the top, a cute 30-something mountain biker came up from behind and said hello; asked me if I was training for something.  I told him about my TransRockies race in a week or so, and he knew it and sounded genuinely excited for me.  He told me I was looking strong and that I would certainly do well at my race.  His confidence in me helped give me the strength to run the last couple-hundred yards up to the top of the hill.

At the top, I saw the two guys from the start of the Pinecone Trail (the one who had been staring at my ass) taking a break in the sunshine.  The talker wished me well on my downhill back to the car and assured me that I was almost there.  I replied, "I can't wait! [to be back at the car]".  Indeed, one mile later, I was stopping my watch for the final stats...

On the day ~ 5hr 55 min, 24 miles (exactly), 3,940 ft elevation gain.

It was the perfect distance, speed, and amount of elevation gain to prep me for the TransRockies which starts on August 14th.  I was so happy to be able to do this loop that I had been thinking about for several years, and finish it strong.  It really is a Dream Loop with some tough climbs, smooth descents, and rolling single track nearly the entire way.  I felt so fortunate to meet so many great people on the trail this day.  I will fondly look back on this day for so many reasons, and for many years to come.

GPS link to my route and stats is here.


  1. That is awesome! It's so cool that you know the trails so well. I plan my long runs around a couple of gas stations where I get some crushed ice and never tasted so good!!

    1. they don't call me "Missy of the Wasatch" for no good reason!