While the challenges of moderation have never been too difficult for me, years of enjoying beer combined with years of self-examination have taught me that the needle on my consumption gauge may fall just a few degrees over “moderation”. In my life there are quite a few, “This calls for a beer,” moments, such as: finishing a backcountry ski tour, watching a Brewer game, tuning my bike, etc. and consequently, when I study that moderation gauge, I don’t really see a perfect 90° angle, maybe more of a 95° to 100° angle. Still not a cause for concern in my opinion, and by my home state of Wisconsin standards, I might as well be “Mormon”. Yet, at the start of May, with just a month to train for a mountain bike race, I recognized that pulling that needle back to a more acute angle could be beneficial.
My initial thought was to abstain from beer for the whole month (cue your collective, General Kurtz, “The horror!” gasps now), but instead I devised a plan to use beer as a motivational tool. My goal for the month of May was to ride 500 miles. For every 100 miles ridden, I would allow myself one beer. Seemed pretty Spartan at first, but like they do in the Tour de France, I decided to throw in some “King of the Mountain” bonuses and give myself a beer for every ride up Little Cottonwood Canyon or ride that accumulated over 5,000’ in elevation gain. This regimen bore a pretty successful month of riding in which I ended up drinking 7 beers and experienced limited “withdrawal”. Plus, the ritual tallying of miles would lead to “beer rides”, delightful rides where I knew that the mileage would be enough to earn that next brew. These rides were always a joy and the smile was obvious when my computer indicated that I made that next beer. I did use wine to try and temper my craving somewhat, but that moderation needle usually stays pretty acute when it comes to wine. Plus, I suspect in some ways drinking wine instead of beer made the German in me angrier and more motivated. “VAT! Nein bier und mehr wein! Mach schnell, MACH SCHNELL!”
The payoff for my month long sacrifice was a successful race in Flagstaff. Parched I was, but it made the new beers I sampled on the trip all the more satisfying. However, while the beer for this this SummitBrew did come from our neighbor to the south, the location of the consumption lies within Utah’s borders in the majestic redrock country surrounding Bryce Canyon National Park. BrewSki and I split the long drive back from Flagstaff with a night in Red Canyon where we rode a Utah trail that perfectly pairs singletrack mountain biking with the majestic landscape. The Thunder Mountain trail journeys across the northern end of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, just west of Bryce’s boundary, where we experienced the privilege of riding through hoodoos and monuments similar to those found within the national park.
The round trip, starting from our campsite, covered almost 16 miles, although the circuit’s most memorable stretch was the 7 plus miles of singletrack that began at the Coyote Hollow trailhead, a couple miles south of highway 12, and ended at the Thunder Mountain Trailhead, right near highway 12 at the west entrance to Red Canyon.
At the Coyote Hollow Trailhead we were already at 8,000’, only 200’ below our highpoint, and I said, without any sense of looming irony, “Shouldn’t be too much more climbing.” I couldn’t have been more mistaken. The trail jogs northwest across the fingernails of several shallow draws, forcing you to pedal the same 50 to 75 feet over and over again. This repetition could have discouraged me, especially with my legs still recovering from the race, but each short climb up a ridge rewarded me with another exceptional view of the Sevier Plateau to the north followed by a quick descent back into the shady pines at the narrow crux of each canyon. Each time I hit that “V” at the bottom of the draw and downshifted, I could almost hear that distinct amusement park cacophony, the heavy chain of a rollercoaster clanking staccato notes as the cart gets pulled up for another drop. My legs would try to settle into a consistent cadence then explode into the pedals to finish off the last few feet where the incline grew abnormally steep. At the top of each ridge, I was suspended, sort of hanging there, at the top, taking it all in before my stomach dropped one more time. We weren’t sure how far we would be going like this but with every look over the shoulder, we could see the growing maze of pale orange creases behind us.
That easy 200 feet of climbing actually cost us 800 feet of upward cranking.
Four miles from the start of the singletrack, we began to level out on a divide just south of a prominent butte which I suspect was Thunder Mountain.
The trail passed a large monument of three vertical boulders which seemed to mark a slight change in our terrain. Trees were fewer and replaced with golden hoodoos which lined the basin west of Thunder Mountain.
We dropped our bikes in grey dirt that seemed almost white in the stunning color around us and hiked up to a lookout called White Point, perhaps named for the color of the sand in this area. From there, we looked northwest over a smaller, more subdued version of Bryce that was no less inspiring, probably because we pedaled to it. An eroded and crumbling canyon lay within the green boundaries of the high country. Horizontal carve marks emerged from smooth sandy slopes where walls of the canyon changed suddenly to cliffs and points and pinnacles. Gardens of segmented rock sprang up in clusters. We had a hard time even figuring out where our trail would take us through this fluted and scoured gallery.
While the lookout is not at the summit of Thunder Mountain (that was more of a hike then we were willing to do) the brews still came out. My pack held a Mudshark Full Moon– just barely warming up in the late AM heat. It was Belgian style white ale that I had never tried before, and since canned beer is a cooler’s best friend, I grabbed it from the convenience mart in Flagstaff the day before. The beer came along on the ride because of its uniqueness along with the appropriateness of drinking a Belgian style beer while cycling. In true European form, we drank our beers at room, or in this case, outdoor temperature, but it had no effect on my appreciation. Three days of mountain biking in the dust and dirt following a month long exercise in self-denial made temperature of the beer irrelevant. Full Moon is brewed by Mudshark Brewery in Lake Havasu and it represented my first sampling of any of their beers. Generally, I have found any ale that touts “spices” on the label, like Full Moon does, tends to go a little overboard on the spice; not so with this beer. The spice merges well with an orange flavor that refreshingly covers any yeasty taste that can come across in beers of this style. The beer has an ABV of 8.5% but that is hidden well within the flavor, it doesn’t smack you at the end like a steep climb up a cobbled Flemish road. BrewSki and I have found very few AZ beers to clamor about; most have disappointed us. However, while he is focused on IPAs like someone whose retirement account is invested heavily in hop farms, I’m instead focusing on the pleasant nuances I’ve discovered in the various Grand Canyon state libations I have sampled. This beer seems to be near the top of the list. It’s a refreshing beer– in a can for easy summer consumption. The drinkability of it compares to a pilsner while still maintaining the body you would expect from a Belgian style beer.
The descent from our beer break continued with the same stunning qualities we experienced on the way up. The expanse of the canyon stayed below us now as we rode around boulders and through sandstone corridors. About a mile from the lookout, we reached the climax of the ride, a short fin that gave us one last long range view before beginning the descent down. As the trail wound its way over steep and very rapid switchbacks, I had to be careful not to lose my balance while looking at the amzaing details of the canyon walls that closed in around us. After making it down the fun, but technical switchbacks, the environment changed back to a green and pale lowland forest that followed a dry wash back to the highway. This section really allowed for some opening of the throttle, but conditions were still too loose for me to be entirely comfortable. Besides, I was still thinking about the golden city I had just ridden through, now seeming like a world away.