Singletrack and Shakespeare at Brian Head|
Saturday, January 29, 2005
It started during a weekend in deep summer when wanton dreams spring from too many hot, monotonous days on a mountain bike seat. My friend Sarah and I had ridden just about every trail in and around Park City many times over and the thrill of our local singletrack had vanished with the last dusty racer in the NORBA race the previous weekend. We yearned for new challenges and the thrill of mountain biking's first pure days. But such satisfaction seemed more like a midsummer's night dream than something that could actually happen in a week.
I had received a package from Mike Grass, vice president of the Intrepid Group, which had Brian Head Resort as an account. Brian Head, just four hours south of Park City, was inviting journalists to come visit. Pictures of red-rock vermilion cliffs and bristlecone pine singletrack were stuffed into an envelope along, with a brochure of nearby Cedar City's Shakespeare Festival—the second largest in the country—which was taking place over the next month.
"Have you ridden Brian Head? I've got tickets to "A Midsummer's Night Dream," Mike asked/told me in one breath, when I called about his timely package.
Two days later, Sarah, whom I'd now dubbed "First Fairy," and I, whom she'd dubbed "Ms. Bard," loaded our bikes on top of her Subaru, and, with Shakespeare liner notes in hand, were suddenly laboring up Parowan Canyon to the top of Brian Head. When we arrived at Cedar Breaks Lodge, there were four hours left until sunset. Just enough time for a two-hour ride before watching the sunset from the Lodge's Jacuzzi. Stephen Lane, the Communications Coordinator, whom ironically first arrived in the area on a Shakespearean acting scholarship, greeted us with a freebie local trail map and dropped us off at the start of the Scout Loop trail.
Like we expected, it was a mix of high-altitude riding with lung-bursting uphills above 10,000 feet and downhills that threaded through forests of aspen, ponderosa pine, with knotted switchbacks around hidden ponds and lakes. Unfortunately, following the freebie trail map was a huge mistake. The spruce beetle, which has wreaked havoc in the area, has caused so much deforestation that new trails are continually being cut. Logging has morphed trails beyond recognition — as far as the freebie map indicates. (For the record, buy yourself a copy of Gregg Bromka's Mountain Biking Brian Head and Bryce Country before taking off.) Before we knew it, we'd missed every trail sign and were at the top of Brian Head, the peak itself, before we realized where we were. We headed back down and reached the lodge just before nightfall.
Like many ski resorts in the off-season, Brian Head in the summer has that spooky, Shining feeling. While only 100 residents live there year-round, Brian Head hosts four highly active mountain bike shops in the summer. Per capita, it has the most bike shops in the world. We stopped at Georg's bike shop the next day to pump our tires and get the local scoop on our next ride, Lowder Creek Trail to Left Bunker Creek singletrack. The start was at the top of Brian Head peak, which we naively opted to ride up (again).
Just shy of 12,000 feet, even the smallest uphill can test one's lung capacity and necessitate granny gear. But the breathtaking scenery and impending risk of thunderclouds and lightning kept us spinning. On the way to the top, we passed through high alpine fields of purple and silver lupine, white yarrow, Indian paintbrush and columbine. While yellow-bellied marmots scooted across the trails for the sanctuary of rocks, we looked to the sky for signs of a storm. At that altitude, as Bromka puts it, "we were scraping the belly of the heavens." If it stormed, we would not find solace under the lonely, stunted bristle-cone pines. But Georg from Georg's said if we could reach the peak before the storm hit, we'd be dropping into forests and safer conditions from then on out.
Lowder Creek Trail is a link of fast singletrack with startling ridgetop vistas that descend into muted forests of aspen and ponderosa pine. To double the downhill pleasure and to keep us yet one more step ahead of the storm, we opted to take Left Fork Bunker Creek, down even farther, all the way to Panguitch Lake. The descent was fast, steep, and playfully technical in parts. I lost it many times, but my First Fairy had wings and threaded through one section of knife-edged shale pieces like a pixie on wheels. As with most of the downhills around Brian Head, it is best to let the Force Be With You, rather than to force the Force, if you know what I mean.
At the bottom, we literally popped out onto a jeep road filled with whoopdy-doos in the middle of an ethereal forest. Large boulders the size of Jabba the Hut seemed to watch as we tested our jumping skills, twisting up our front wheels like teenage BMX-ers.
At the pick-up, also known as the General Store off Highway 1four3, there was a message for us to give Stephen a call at home. Oddly, we were two hours late (again). It wasn't until the ride back up the mountain that Stephen informed us that yes, the freebie map was a mess. That a trail slated as a two-hour ride could indeed be four hours—even for advanced bikers. Most of the maps were written in 1996. As usual, it took half a trip to get out of being lost.
But Shakespeare was calling, and we were soon back in the Subaru headed for Cedar City a half hour away for theatre under the stars in a replica of the Old Globe. To start, we took a backstage tour where we learned about the making of the festival. We discovered how many hours it takes to make a wig (36), how many costumers worked on "A Midsummer’s Night Dream" (20), and how many hair and make-up artists it takes for all the plays overall (57 for all eight plays).
The early evening Green shows—free performances in the courtyard of the Festival—had a Scottish theme that night. I'd taken Scottish dialect classes back in the day when I too was an actor, and before long, I was ordering pretzels and cappuccinos like one of the wenches. We'd had some wine on the lawn previously which, mixed with a few days of high altitude riding, may have attributed to our behavior. Like a dream, nothing was what it seemed. We were completely engulfed in the Scottish world of jesters, dancers, and singers and were practically doing jigs on our way into the Old Globe for the start of the main performance.
The liner notes had made a difference. We anticipated that the Queen of the Fairies, Titania, played brilliantly by Jeannie Naughton, would probably have made a damn good mountain biker—if she weren't the size of a mustard seed. Immediately, Oberon, played by Ty Burrell, had us hypnotized, and we wanted to be his captured queen. But it was Bottom, played by Jay Russell, who had us laughing so hard that our facial muscles hurt the next day. That and the fact that we couldn't get over the chocolates we were eating. They were appropriately called "Pucks" and oozed mint fillings into our mouths like Gu packets. When the man seated next to my First Faerie asked if we'd like some, she couldn't help but reply, "I thank thee, sir, but it seems we've already been Pucked tonight." It could have been a song.
The next two days were filled with more of the same: high altitude riding timed just hours before late afternoon storms. Now, as Team Puck, we road as if on dream trails. With names like Right Bunker Fork, Dark Hollow, and Second Left Hand Canyon, we followed pink and orange and red trails along the Cedar Breaks National Monument followed by crisp tundra-like singletracks that dropped into deep forests, wildflower meadows, and lakes. Yet in our four days and three nights, we'd only just begun to tap into all that Brian Head was offering—not to mention the culture. But it was time to go. First Faerie had a fishing trip planned with her Dad, and I, Ms. Bard, had another story to cover at the Outdoor Retailer show back in Salt Lake City. The Dream was over and the sun was rising, but we were refreshed and strong. Hell, we even had some Pucks in our camelbacks to prove it