Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pilgrimage or Different Ways to fight Pre-Ski Season Malaise


Is it possible to grow tired of this view?
It sure wouldn't suck to find out if it did.
The guy wanted to know if there was a “gentleman’s club” in town. I’ve used that term myself to seem less skeevy when referring to strip clubs, but it still makes me laugh. The basic concept is, “I have a dollar and you have tits,” so “Gentleman” certainly should not be in the name. The patron asked discretely and earnestly, and as someone who has frequented more than a few “gentleman's clubs” over the years, I probably took his question too seriously. The idea of a strip club in Ketchum seemed really outlandish to me, but he explained they were here for a bachelor party. Why wouldn’t you look for a strip club? I hope I didn’t seem too dismissive when I replied, “Not that I’m aware of. I think the closest one would be in Boise.” Disappointed, he was ready to be done with me. That was probably good because baseball and strip clubs are two topics that I have a hard time walking away from. He was lucky to get out before I started reviewing the various strip clubs in Boise.

I guess this interaction reminded me once again about how I just seem to be a magnet for people looking for directions. In my last SummitBrew blog, I explained how, inevitably, every confused hiker at the trailhead seems to seek out my guidance. Apparently that carries over into bars. Now, the question is, did he ask me because I looked like a local, or I looked like someone who frequents gentleman's clubs? I’ll go with local. After all, isn’t what all of us want is to be a “local”, someone who lives in someone else’s favorite resort town? I’m enough of a realist to know that living in a town like Ketchum wouldn’t be all that it’s cracked up to be, maybe the desire to be a “local” is more a product of just not wanting to be perceived as a “tourist”?

The thought of being a local and living in the mountains of Central Idaho had already occurred to me earlier that morning while driving north on ID-75. The morning’s drive completed a 350 mile, spur of the moment, “pilgrimage” to my favorite mountain bike trail. (If you know me, or know mountain biking in Idaho, you already know the trail). Looking to my left and right, seeing thick pine covered foothills, pure flowing streams and majestic mountains with craggy features, I wondered, would this place be as special to me if I shared a zip code with Sun Valley? Would the views still inspire me if I saw them every day? Would I feel the same sensation of escape and lightness while venturing deep into the Sawtooth National Forest boundaries? Tough questions to answer? Save for the greatest snow on earth, my life in Salt Lake City holds very little sway over a Wood River Valley lifestyle. But these are probably pointless questions to answer considering I’m too old to live the life of a 20-something resort town free-agent scraping by on numerous seasonal jobs and struggling with the cost of living. The idea of a “pilgrimage”, making an impractical journey to visit a place that is special, distant and outside of your routine, appeals to our need to elevate our lives above the mundane, work-a-day humdrum of our everyday lives. If I lived in Ketchum, where would I find that pilgrimage? The distance to my mecca, stretching from the Timmerman Hills on the northern edge of the Snake River plain to the Salmon River mountains on the southern boundary of Idaho’s vast River of No Return Wilderness, seems to add sanctity to the locale.

White clouds over the White Clouds
One certainty is that regardless of whether I lived her or not, the mountain bike trail I rode that morning would never stop putting a smile on her face. The prior day’s rain hadn’t soaked the trail as I had feared and the skies looked like they would hold off more rain until I finished the 18 mile tour. As I started out on my Scott Genius, the day seemed absolutely perfect for an October in the mountains. Between the oncoming clouds, there were some blue skies to the west and the temp was in the mid-60s. I felt pretty comfortable in shorts and a pair of arm warmers. I stopped feeling comfortable on the climb 8 miles into the ride. The short, steep section that leads to the first descent rises just 350 vertical feet, but enough loose rock and dirt litter the forest road to make the 7 tenths of a mile climb to the summit hurt. I stopped 4 times, which disappointed me knowing at one time in my life, I could ride this stretch without stopping. The shortness of breath reminded me I have my work cut out for me if I’m going to be ready for the skin track this winter in the Wasatch.

I took a mellow approach to the ride, mainly because I was alone and that’s no time for going argy-bargy. The casual pace was also because now that I’m 5 hours from the trailhead, I only get so many trips on this trail. Savoring what could be the last mountain bike ride of the year was the order of the day. I rode the trail twice last year and that had come after a 4 year absence, so even an annual ride is tough to make a reality. As I crested the climb and the end of the forest road, the burnt, rolling hills around me came into full view and I felt proud for getting up here so late in the season and making my pilgrimage.

My preference is to be alone on any trail, but for practical purposes, it’s good to have some company, even if they are strangers. I like trails popular enough that if you did get in trouble, crawling for days just to make it back to the trailhead wouldn’t be a legitimate concern. However, I also don’t want a trail so popular that you feel like you’re riding the Wasatch Crest. Plus, considering that my last ride here involved an encounter with a freaked out bear, crossing paths with a dirt bike, only a few miles from where I encountered said bear, didn’t bother me in the least. (A side note. In all honesty, dirt bikes have never really bothered me on this trail. While they are part of the motorized nuisance crowd, they have a tendency to be on you and gone, disappearing as quickly as they appeared. Unlike ATVs which approach with all the grace and serenity of Shriners on go-karts in a 4th of July parade. The slow rolling armada can usually be heard long before they ever reach you, and after passing, the drone of their engines can usually be heard well beyond until they decide to turn right back around and pass you again; seemingly with no purpose to their journey other than to risk the lives of their helmetless children and raise a din in the outdoors.)

As I finished my ride on a descent that opened into the Sawtooth Valley and presented the breathtaking panorama of the jagged peaks to the west, I felt so good; not only from the ride, but also from the good fortune. The weather gave me just enough of a window to finish my ride before resuming its fall drenching. Within 20 minutes of loading the bike into the Outback and heading back to Ketchum, the rain had resumed. With my prescribed ride out of the way, I was free to head back into the resort town during slack season. The only thing on my agenda now was to drink and write-- in a place where Hemingway did the same thing.

Post Ride Reward
My post-ride oatmeal cookie wasn’t going to cut it, so I headed to KB’s, a burrito joint I discovered way too late in my lifetime of journeys to the Wood River Valley. I paired my pork and yam burrito (Lonestar Taqueria can’t top that!) with a Grand Teton 208 Blonde Session Ale. For a rainy day in October when the summer seems way too distant, (even though it was really less than a month ago), the crisp, clean, lightly hopped flavor of this Idaho tribute beer (Idaho is 208 area code) really hits the spot for an early Saturday afternoon. Lets face it, at 2pm, I wasn’t quite ready to crawl into my cups yet so a session ale seemed fitting. You get the rewards of a beer without the weight of intense beers. 208 has no after-taste, just a sparkling golden flavor that doesn’t ruin things with that weird aftertaste that ruins other light, golden ales.

"No, I said 'WHITE' not 'WET'!"
After finishing my burrito and walking through Ketchum, I made my way to to Sawtooth Brewing, conveniently nestled in the same structure as my hotel. (If you don’t think that partially dictated my lodging choice, then you obviously don’t know me.) And that is where I ran into the bachelor party and the strip club query. It seemed like a great place to open up the laptop and try to kickstart the blog in anticipation of ski season. The rain picked up somewhat while I sat there and any precipitation at this late point in the year gets me a little turned on. Who needs gentleman's clubs when you have an oncoming winter? The very top of Baldy had a slightly reflective look to it; maybe it was snow?! I can’t start getting too excited about ski season yet, not when when we still have a ways to go before those first turns. Maybe that’s why the bachelor party was looking for the gentleman's club, something has to distract you from the ski season when you’re stuck in October.

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