In Douglas Adams’ book the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, there’s a hyper-advanced interstellar drive called the Bistro-matic Drive. It works through the generation of incredibly improbable and unpredictable numbers, and the number-generation-mechanism it uses is a mock-up Italian bistro, with robot clients, waiters, etc. The idea is that the numbers generated in a restaurant- the number of people on the reservation, the number of people who show up, the number of entrees ordered, how the bill will be totaled, divvied up, paid, etc.- are the most improbable and unpredictable numbers in the universe.
Know what else is like that? The Steiner100. No matter how many times we do it, there’s absolutely no predicting how many people say they’re going to do it, how many people show up/start, how many people join en route, and how many drop out. Then there are the equally unpredictable numbers of how many times we’ll stop, how many junctions will be missed by at least 1 member of the party, how many times the route will change, what the final mileage will be and how many flats/mechanicals will be experienced. In fact, there are only 2 certainties of the Steiner 100: It will always end up taking around 14 hours, and OCRick and I will always show up at the start and complete the whole thing. That’s it. Nothing else is certain.
2 Sucky Things
This year’s Steiner100 was excellent but Wicked* Hot. Before I get into the ride or the amazing flowers, I’ll just state up front that there were 2 sucky things and 1 great thing about the ride. (pic right = Clean Colin, shot over the shoulder, while climbing. Seriously, how cool am I?) The first sucky thing was that the heat brought out that weird scourge of the summertime Wasatch between 7,000 and 9,000 feet: Wasatch Death Flies. No, that’s not their name. I’m actually not sure what they are. Locals call them “Deer Flies” (which would place them in the genus Chrysops) but they’re not the Deer Flies you get back East. They’re smaller, land for a bite less often, and are less “crunchy” when you squish them. But they make any rest stop annoying.
*It’s been 19 years since I lived in the Boston area, but the word “wicked” will forever be a part of my superlative lexicon.
The second sucky thing was that occasional bane of all male endurance cyclists: Chronic Weenie Chafe. If you are a male cyclist, you know exactly what I am talking about. Why it just happens on some rides and not others I cannot say. Saturday was Chafe City.
1 Awesome Thing
But the great thing was this: No Creaks. Again, cyclists know what I’m talking about. When you ride a 5+ year-old full-suspension mtn bike which you have built and rebuilt at least 17 times, and you take it out on a 100-mile off-road ride, something, sometime is going to creak. (pic right = “Ashley”, the only ever female S100 participant*.) And over the course of umpteen hot, sweaty hours that One Evil Creak is going to slowly bore its way through your ears, inside your skull, and into the Very Core Of Your Soul. Every once in a while a teeny voice of reason calls out: “It’s just a noise, ignore it!” But you can’t. You obsess and wonder and dream of ways to eliminate the creak, until you are nothing more than a quaking, scowling, angst-ridden mass of angry flesh, scheming of how to kill your bike when you return home.
*In the old days, our gang used to ride with several different women. Over time, they all gradually moved away, got busier with non-biking interests, divorced one or the other of us, or otherwise stopped riding with us. Today, with the very occasional exception of “Ashley”, we almost never ride with women. We tell each other this is because we’re such gnarly and hard-core riders, but really I think it’s because we’re a bit crude and pass a fair amount of gas.
Only this ride, none of that happened. Last Thursday night I tracked down and eliminated my last hidden creak, and Saturday my bike was a smooth, silent joy of mechanical efficiency. I swear I finished that ride with my karma thoroughly re-balanced, and feeling 5 years younger*.
*Except that I couldn’t feel my penis.
So am I ever going to blog about this ride already? Not yet.
Here’s why I love the Steiner100. (pic left= yes, yet another 1-hander while climbing) First, OCRick is 18 years older than me. So as long as he finishes the ride, I can convince myself that I have a good 18 years of epic endurance riding left in me. Second, it reminds me of why I moved to Utah. Because I can pedal out of house at 5:40AM and ride all day on amazing singletrack, through beautiful Aspen forests and along stunning ridges, back and forth across a mountain range and a tectonic fault, past stunning vistas and wildflower-filled meadows, down buff, sinewy singletrack and roll back into my suburban driveway before dark. That’s why I quit my job, chucked my stuff in a storage locker and started driving West almost 20 years ago, and the Steiner100 reminds me once again why it was oh-so worth it.
The first dozen miles or so of the Steiner100 are just rolling up Emigration Canyon. We jumped on dirt at the Mormon trail at Mt. Dell Reservoir. I hadn’t ridden this trail in about 6 weeks, and was surprised by the changes. It’s lined now by massive Thimbleberry leaves, and liberally dusted with cotton. In this photo (pic right) you can see the Thimbleberry leaves covered with it, and in the next (real blurry- sorry) photo you can see it lining the trail. This drainage features plentiful Aspen and Narrowleaf Cottonwood, and I suspect the cotton may be from both. As the trail runs up the very bottom of the drainage, cottony seeds from all the trees around wind up on and alongside the trail.
Side Note: Right around here I saw my 3rd Primrose species in Northern Utah: Hooker’s Evening Primrose, Oenothera elata (pic not mine.) This is my 1st and only sighting of it in the Wasatch, and regrettably I skipped the photo opp, certain I would encounter more (I didn’t.)
We followed the Mormon trail up to Big Mountain Pass, where we bumped into a couple of my roadie teammates and dropped down the backside to the Jeremy Ranch road.
Tangent: I realized on this descent that in the 14 years I’ve been riding the Mormon trail, it has somehow devolved from a mildly technical singletrack to a washed-out piece of @#^%. When did this happen? Seriously, I am so done riding this “trail”. This also raises the question: what exactly is the dividing line between “technical” and “sucky”?
In mid-July, it seems as though there’s some kind of regime-change in the mid-elevation Wasatch. Clematis and Camas are gone- Groundsel, Columbine and Larkspur almost gone. But Indian Paintbrush, Scarlet Gilia and Showy Penstemon explode, and new flowers suddenly dominate meadows and clearing alongside them.
The most interesting late-summer understory flowers are these things- composites with purple ray and yellow disk flowers. Unfortunately there are dozens of species with more or less this same color scheme in Western North America, and long ago I took to calling them all, “Negative Daisies.” In reality they’re almost all either Fleabanes (genus = Erigeron) or Asters (genus = Aster) and in the case of these guys, spotted ~7,500 feet in Pinebrook, I’m pretty sure they’re Showy Fleabane, Erigeron speciosus.
The weird thing about these “negative daisies” is that they all seem to bloom in the late summer; I’ve never seen any composite with this “negative” color scheme in bloom around here anytime before the first or second week of July. For 3 months, we’ve seen one yellow composite bloom after another and then- bam!- suddenly it’s like a switch is flipped and purple composites are all over the place. So far as I know they’re pollinated by many of the same types of bees, butterflies and moths as pollinate the earlier-blooming yellow composites. Why are so many late-blooming composites purple?
In meadows and clearings Sulphurflower Buckwheat, Eriogonum umbellatum, is flowering everywhere. Eriogonum is a huge and confusing genus, native to North America, with hundreds of species all across the US (except in the Northeast), most of which are chromosomally tetraploid. Botanists suspect that the genus is paraphyletic, and future molecular studies may end up dividing the Buckwheats into 2 different genera, and/or greatly reducing the number of species.
One of the downsides of a big group in the backcountry is that you only progress at the speed of the slowest member, and that you are delayed by the difficulties faced by any one member. So the bigger the group, the more delays, and the slower the progress. Here’s a quick example. When one of our group- let’s call him “Ian”- had a wasp fly under his sunglasses, he promptly whipped them off and flung them aside and into the brush. Now if you buy all of your eyewear at Maverik, you glance about for 30 seconds, shrug and ride on. But if you ride with $400 prescription lenses, you look a little harder. Our group of (then) 11 spent the next 25 minutes scouring the shrubs for Ian’s lenses before finding them.
Tangent: This is as good a time as any to share my optimal number for backcountry adventures: 2. Although 1 is theoretically the fastest, 2 offers so much safety/redundancy in terms of tools, assistance, rescue potential etc., that it’s a more effective number than 1. But any more than 2 means the group moves slower. Of course there can be other reasons- particularly in longer undertakings- to increase the group size past 2. But any group larger than 4 almost inevitably degenerates into a dick-dance on longer, more challenging outings. Although strangely, 4 usually seems to work better than 3. I don’t know why this is.
Nested Tangent: Know what else works like this? Groups of motorcyclists. Next time you see one of those huge groups of Harley-rider weekend warriors stopped at a restaurant or an overlook, check out how long it takes them organized and rolling out of the lot- like forever.
But as long as we’re talking about looking for stuff in shrubs, this is a good time to check out another shrub. By now the Serviceberry and Chokecherry are completely done blooming, as is, with a few lingering hangers-on, the Ninebark. But there’s still one sizeable shrub that’s still flowering, especially in the better-watered draws. It’s Elderberry, genus = Sambucus. Unlike the other 3 Wasatch shrubs we’ve looked at with white flowers this year, Elderberries aren’t members of the Rose family, but are more closely-related to Honeysuckle. Their leaves are distinctly different from any other Wasatch shrub: opposite, pinnately-compound and finely-toothed.
There are 2 Elderberry Species in the Wasatch: Blue Elderberry, S. mexicana, (pic above, right) and Red Elderberry, S. racemosa (pic left). Blue grows more out in the open, and has flatter, more disk-like flower-clusters. Red sticks more to the shade, doesn’t grow as tall, and has more brush or dome-shaped flower-clusters. Later in the season, both will produce berries (of their respective namesake colors.) People have long used elderberries for wines, jams, and various medicinal purposes*, but since they contain cyanide (especially the Red elderberries), you have to know what you’re doing.
*There’s some- but not a ton- of evidence that some of the chemicals in Elderberry may be helpful in fighting the flu, not as a preventative, but rather to shorten the duration. If you Google “sambucol” you’ll find various alternative-medicine products touting these supposed benefits.
Shortly before the Canyons Red Pine Lodge, several of our group peeled off and climbed over the divide and into Mill Creek Canyon. We were down to 7.
Next Up: Heat and Venom