Just a few days back after work, I headed up American Fork Canyon to do a new mountain bike ride. I drove up the main stem to an area call Salamander Flat. I don't know where the name comes from and I've never seen a salamander in these hill, but it's a popular place for car campers and a great trail starts nearby.
The sky was dark and storm clouds were traveling east along the high peak that divide Little Cottonwood Canyon from Alpine and American Fork Canyon. There was a good chance I'd get a good soaking, but I needed to get off my ass, break a sweat and get as much of an endorphin rush as I could earn.
I wanted to do a different loop ride, since I greatly dislike repetition, so I started my ride with a slow grind up the narrow, winding and steep single lane section of SR 92. The still lush green timber and shrubs closed in on both sides of the road, sometimes almost creating a tunnel of vegetation that the road transects. Occasional glimpses through the Quakies and pines revealed the granitic peaks up the North Fork of the American Fork Canyon. Dark, ominous gray clouds swirled among the lofty barren peaks and threatened to close in on me. With a unrealistic sense of optimism, I just put my head down, breathed a steady rhythm and kept a smooth cadence as my thighs propelled the bike higher up to the Summit Trailhead just ahead of the impending storm.
Two and a half miles later, at Summit Trailhead (9000 ft), I left the asphalt and turned onto the rock and dirt Ridge Trail (#157). About 100 yards down the trail, I swapped my Patagonia Visor for my helmet, sucked down a espresso flavored GU energy gel and took a swallow of lukewarm Camelback funk water. There had been no vehicles at either trailhead and I expected to have the trail to myself, which is awesome and a touch sketchy. I say sketchy cause I have a friend who is an avid hunter who has a number of trailcams set up in the hills so he can keep an eye on the local bull elk population in the area. Not too long back, he showed me video of a large mountain cat that was using the same trail that I was on at about the same time of day I was doing my ride. There had also been a recent sighting of a big cat in Alpine, and another one had been cornered in a garage in neighboring Pleasant Grove. When mountain cats come down into towns, it means one of two things; The cat population is up and competition for territory is stiff, or the cats are hungry and looking for "Fluffy" and "Fido" as an easy meal. Regardless, the Ridge Trail is narrow and heavily vegetated for the majority of the ride, and I had been feeling a bit vulnerable on my last few rides with morbid fantasy's of becoming involuntary cat food.
Well,I bucked up and started down the rock trail, which features 3 small hills in the first quarter mile to get the heart rate up.
At the top of the final hill, I usually stop to take in the view, but since I was racing the storm, I settled for a glance at Mt. Timpanogos and began the descent towards the trail split at the 1 mile point. At the split, I continued down Ridge trail to a great meadow and contoured around the northeast side past another trail split to where the trail continued into dark timber. Here, I let my paranoia keep my heart rate up as I descended steeply over roots and around rocks to another trail split in a small meadow.
I tried to figure out why I had become so concerned about being attacked or eaten, because it was starting to interfere with my enjoyment of the ride. I could only chalk it up to combat PTSD and the feeling of there belong threats around every bend in the trail and behind every tree. I knew my fears were not rational, but that didn't seem to calm me down any. Nothing like a good anxiety attack to keep life interesting.
Well, killer zombie cougars be damned, I kept going and took in the smell of the damp dark soil and pines, and reveled in the adrenaline generated by a high speed descent on a narrow technical single-track mountain trail ride.
After just around 3 miles of dirt trail, I came to the end of my ride as the pavement and my truck came into view. Rain drops had just started to fall lightly, but there were no wild beasts in pursuit, so I threw my bike in the truck and began my descent down the canyon and back to my comfy home on the shoreline of ancient Lake Bonneville, having recharged my soul and fed the beast inside that demands endorphins and adventure.