With the daunting task of the Crusher in the Tushar looming large in front of me, I decided I needed to start training with lots of hills riding on knobby tires.
So I dusted off the cyclocross bike (quite literally, the thing was dusty) and filled the tires to a nice squishy PSI to replicate the pressure I’d probably be riding at on the dirt sections of the Crusher. I found what I knew to be a beast of a canyon, ignored the “Butterfield Canyon Closed” sign, pointed the bike uphill and pedaled my way past the closed gate.
The soft tires took some getting used to and my poor nutritional plan — skipping breakfast and not eating an early lunch is poor nutrition for such a ride, methinks — had me bonking after about two miles. But I managed to keep going, passed one mountain biker out for a day with his dog and absolutely loved having the entire canyon road to myself.
As anyone who has climbed Butterfield knows, the canyon gets kind of steep. OK, it gets ugly steep at about Mile 4.
There are several tree limbs and branches on the road and you have to go around them, but that’s not too much of an issue because you don’t have to worry about cars or trucks — yet. The bigger issues in climbing Butterfield at this stage involve rocks and snow.
I encountered numerous sections with large fallen rocks and gravel as well as a few patches of hike-a-bike snow fields after Mile 6. Luckily, those snow fields are fairly short and, with only a half mile to go to the top, it’s well worth your effort to unclip and wade through the snow to finish the climb.
Once there, the road is closed with large concrete barriers and the dirt road down to Tooele on the west side of the mountain is unrideable because of deep snow.
The climb, especially this early in the season, was nasty for me. I’m old, fat and not a climber by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it felt wonderful to get out and hit that canyon. I actually felt a nice sense of accomplishment knowing I was probably one of only a few cyclists to hit the summit so far this year.
The descent was tricky. As if the snow wasn’t enough, the rock slides and 15-20 degree grades forced you to ride the brakes for a long distance.
After you pass the big switchback at Mile 4, the road clears considerably and you can let it rip. Of course, make a mental note of where those low-hanging or fallen tree branches are — you don’t want to round a corner at 30 miles per hour and find a thick pine tree in your path.
It’s not an exceptionally long ride in terms of miles — I got just 14 miles in. But the climb is a beast. The work is hard and the reward outstanding.
My original intent was to ride the pavement up and the dirt road at the bottom of the canyon down. But the steep connection from the summit to the dirt road was snow packed and far too muddy. So I stuck with the asphalt.
Butterfield: It’s a canyon I love almost as much as I hate.