Tour Des Suds: Not a beginner’s climb
September 22, 2015
This has been my first summer in Park City, and the pressure to become a mountain biker has been intense. I see them everywhere: extreme Park City locals who overtake me on the town bike path, their 29-inch wheels buzzing past on carbon frames that cost more than my car. With no real off-road experience, I vowed to buy a mountain bike and compete in a race before autumn.
After snagging a used hard tail from an online classified site, I was ready to begin my wobbly journey to mountain-bike greatness. I soon discovered was it wasn’t the uphill that ground my gears. As a fitness instructor, I found lung-busting climbs to be a joy. The downhill, however, tested my sanity.
I’d watch 50-something-year-old men with spandex-squeezed beer bellies zoom past me on their full-suspension whips, slicing sharpest turns like a hot knife through butter. I, on the other hand, with a knuckle-numbing grip on the brakes, struggled to stay on the saddle through each rocky curve.
Which was why, when choosing my goal race, I settled on the Tour Des Suds: seven miles and 2,700 feet of pure climbing from Old Town to the top of Guardsman Pass, in costume.
After minimal training (from my house to Main Street), I was "ready." Donning my beloved American flag singlet, I headed to the starting line, which looked more like a drunken circus of smiling Lycra-lovers. The whole strange gang was there: the Gingerbread Man, Donald Trump, a crash dummy, a Mormon missionary and a monk who "might go to hell for this."
It didn’t appear that anyone was taking the race too seriously, which made me feel better. A kind group of fairies even gave me some glitter wings for my costume’s cause. Much better than Redbull to inspire an upward flight!
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"Are those PBR’s full?" I asked a woman dressed as a pint of beer, complete with two Pabst Blue Ribbons stuck to her helmet. "They were!" she laughed. Some fashion-forward riders modeled new-age bike shorts, complete with a rubber bum to entertain the riders behind them. Even the Pope stopped by to Suds it up before his big speech this week.
Sunday-morning church bells were replaced with sea of dinging bike bells as the starting corral took shape. After a few rebel yells and an OK from the racecourse police, we began the climb.
"This must be what it feels like to be in the Tour De France," I thought to myself as Park City locals dotted the sidewalk, ringing bells, banging pots with wooden spoons and cheering for the costumed riders. A half-mile in, and I was already breaking a sweat. "I can’t let the Gingerbread Man beat me," said the superhero to my left. Soon afterwards, a drooling toddler sitting on his father’s handlebars passed me.
As if it was a cycling video game, each mile offered a new stage of difficulty. Wide pavement turned to gravel road, which narrowed to a windy singletrack of endless root-covered switchbacks. My legs burned, but it was my bladder which was becoming an issue. For those who have never tried to pee while wearing a singlet, it requires some awkward stripping, and a few hundred riders meant very little privacy.
After bushwhacking my way to answering the call of nature, I was finally able to notice the beauty around me. Yellow aspen leaves lay like a carpet on the sun-speckled trail. As I huffed and puffed upward, the crispness of autumn filled my lungs with the scent of pine. I was painfully riding right through a Park City postcard.
Just when morale started to plummet, the buzzing of a blender piqued my attention. Four jolly hombres clad in sombreros and fake mustaches were handing out freshly blended Margaritas, right on the trail! "About one more mile," said one of the muchachos. A surge of salt and icy lime gave me an instant brain freeze, but also gave me hope. Post Margarita, my legs (now tingly with Jose Cuervo) pedaled with a new intensity.
Finally, the dense forest opened to a pure blue Utah sky framed with sweeping views of the Wasatch Mountains. The finish line thrummed with bass from the Skullcandy tents and cheers from fellow riders. After I took my first swig of a well-deserved Coors Light, I couldn’t help but compare the logo on the can with Mount Timpanogos in the distance.
Sorry Rockies, but I’m officially in love with the Wasatch.
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