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The Backcountry Bike Team: Drifting in the Desert


On the docket: a glorious 60 hours in the desert, away from the rain, sleet, and springtime snow that had been pounding the Salt Lake City area all week. Saturday’s Intermountain Cup regional mountain bike race, Cactus Hugger, was merely an excuse–a reason to trek down to Dixie. And camp.

On our way down to St George in southern Utah, I read a piece on the Semi-Rad.com blog called the “The Hierarchy of Camping.” According to the Hierarchy, the freshly wrapped Backcountry Bike Team Sprinter Van that Evelyn Dong and I had packed up with all the fixings for a weekend of camping put us just one rung from the bottom: just above RV’ers who camp with hookups, but very, very far down from the top of the pyramid, which is owned by bears.

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Battling Backcountry Sprinters

So maybe we weren’t sleeping in the dirt, but it’s not like the Sprinter has a hot tub or anything. No matter how you looked at it, we were going down to a race, and needed to be there to train. At least that’s what we told the significant others, but they knew as well as we did that escaping to the desert is not just a want but a need after a week battling the elements and snow squalls. I can only wear my Gore Oxygen jacket so many days in a row.

Escaping to the desert is a ritual for many of us. It’s more of a winter ritual than summer one for me, though I certainly appreciate both. Winter desert adventures, even in April, offer an exciting and almost dangerous mix of temptations. Often it’s the first sun on bare skin, the rays burning you as much as warming the body after months of confinement. The novelty of dust brings us back to being kids. Skidding, drifting, hanging the back end out around turns and admiring the evidence of your #gnar by the size of the dust cloud in the air. It answers any questions I might have had about where my five-year-old gets his skidding instincts.

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Saturdays at my house are pancake mornings. And while it really was a Friday, it felt like a Saturday, which meant … Pancake Morning!

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Soon the rest of the campground decided it was Pancake Morning for them, too.

After breakfast on Friday, my 2012 Cape Epic partner Justin Lindine and I decided to experiment. In these early season races, sometimes you can trick the body into going fast by fatiguing it into submission. Maybe, we theorized, our legs would be tired enough to not recognize the pain of Saturday’s cross-country. It’s counterintuitive, and often it doesn’t work race (your legs could just be wooden and fatigued), but hell … it was as good an excuse as any for a four-hour mountain bike ride. The loop from Green Valley up through town and to the Prospector Trail, north to Oak Grove and through Red Cliffs is a route that makes you feel like you’ve ridden to the other side of the planet, only to see tourist in their minivans navigating the jeep roads to the west of I-15 overlooking the valley. It’s a good ride and well worth being a little tired for a bike race the following day. Plus, when you’re camping, there is a lot of day to kill.

Then we discovered that the return route is literally 40 miles uphill, with a 15 mile downhill back to camp. “I think you guys are doing this all wrong,” quipped Evelyn.

Saturday’s race came and went. Evelyn won, while I recalled how brutal and unforgiving desert rocks can be on tires.

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When in the desert … redneck rules rule. Evelyn preparing for her Quad hot laps.

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Evelyn and the rest of Utah’s finest female pro category racers … and the quickly approaching storm.

After a quick awards ceremony, it was back to why we were all in the desert–to ride, to rest, to fatigue ourselves to the point where it doesn’t matter what we’ve made for dinner, to sit down, fork to plate to mouth to fork and back again, and watch the sunset.

Perfect. 

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