It’s the autumn of 2020, so it must be time for… voting? Stress? Panic? Confusion? All of the above?
Or perhaps it’s time for another year of coffeeneuring.
2020 has thrown enough curve balls that I hope to not have another for the rest of my life. Between still being underemployed, a pandemic, helping run a political race that didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, and seeing civility drop to an all-time low, on October 7th I was greeted by a call from my mom’s friend saying that she couldn’t be reached. She had fallen in her own home, couldn’t get up, and didn’t have a phone nearby. A helpful neighbor rescued her, but I knew I had to fly out to Utah to help her and get things moving in a direction that would be safer for her and less worrisome for me, her friends, and her neighbors.
So despite not wanting to travel long-distance during the COVID pandemic, I booked a flight to Salt Lake City. I hurriedly filled out my ballot and put it in one of DC’s awesome drop boxes, packed my bags, and packed my Moots Vamoots DR in my Pika Packworks EEP travel case. And by the afternoon of October 10th, I was on the ground in Utah, not knowing when I’d be able to return (“when things are done to my preferences” is the answer).
So this meant that the 2020 Coffeeneuring Challenge (my eighth if records are correct) would take place out here in my hometown. In a way this is most awesome, as I’d be able to go to coffeehouses that helped shape me as a kid and new ones that provide comfort when I visit SLC. I could also ride on routes that are the ultimate in bicycling comfort food.
But it was also a bit sad because I couldn’t ride with anybody else. Given my mom’s age and health, keeping contacts to a minimum is of utmost importance. Solo riding is not my favorite form of riding, as bicycling is very much a social thing for me – as is enjoying coffee. And using an eco-friendly reusable coffee flask during the pandemic? Not happening.
(And yes, I’ve talked to and seen some of my oldest friends while out here. It’s just that my focus needs to be on mom and hear health, so my visits have been few and far between by design. And with the national and local uptick in COVID cases I’m now spending a lot of time alone, save for my time at mom’s house.)
These bike rides have been my favorite form of self-care out here in SLC. The work I’m doing for my mom is stressful, exhausting, and frustrating. It swallows huge swaths of time. So when I can ride, I do. And on quite a few rides, coffeeneuring added a fun twist (and necessary caffeine).
So without any further blather about my family situation, let’s launch into the rides, because that’s what y’all want to know about… right?
Date: 13 October
Distance Ridden: 30.2 miles
Location: Salt Lake Roasting Company
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (bike rack on sidewalk in front of shop, plentiful outdoor seating, all service via walk-up window. Indoor area closed during pandemic, so no restroom available – typically there are two clean restrooms.)
Drink: hot cappuccino (dry foam)
Lesson Learned: Training for big climbs isn’t impossible to do in the greater DC area. However, training for big climbs at altitude is. I’d not spent too much time in the thinner air before this ride, and it showed. While I have above average cardiovascular fitness for my age, altitude shows no mercy. But this ride up Emigration Canyon is one I’ve done many times – probably 100 by my own estimate, most of them done when I was a teenager. So I knew what I was getting into, and the road surface was recently repaved so it was forgiving in that regard. Going to Salt Lake Roasting Company was literally visiting an old friend. As a teenager I spent a lot of time here – often 3 to 5 nights every week, hanging with my friends, playing cards, chatting, and drinking a lot of coffee. The owner, John, has known me for almost 33 years and greets me as an old friend whenever I’m in town. And his coffee is still most excellent.
Date: 18 October
Distance Ridden: 35.9 miles
Location: Beans & Brews
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (no bike parking outside, tho plenty of space to lean or lock bike in front of the shop. Plentiful outdoor seating. Free water (disposable cup), clean restroom. Shop is on an 8-lane wide main road that isn’t overly bike friendly, though traffic was light when I went there and I could take the whole lane with ease.)
Drink: hot cappuccino (dry foam)
Lesson Learned: The weather was quite warm for the middle of October, so I planned my next ride for Millcreek Canyon. While I’d ridden the off-road trails at the top of this canyon many times on my mountain bike when I was a teenager, I’d never ridden up to the Big Water trailhead on a bicycle. So I decided to cross that off the list. As far as road biking is concerned it’s a lovely, challenging climb. It tops out at over 7,500 feet above sea level after a very consistent grade almost the whole way up. The best part of this road is that there’s a use fee for drivers but not for people on bicycles – huzzah (you do need to stop at the fee station, but then you can just… go, as a sign clearly states)! A longtime family friend warned me that drivers might be a bit hostile toward bicycle riders in this canyon, but it wasn’t so. And as I passed Log Haven (a restaurant that’s been around for much longer than I’ve been alive) I recalled visiting there as a child and the chef making me anchor-shaped pancakes.
Date: 21 October
Distance Ridden: 15.1 miles
Location: Red Moose Coffee Roasters
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (plentiful parking outside, plentiful outdoor seating. Free water (dispenser that can be used with bidons), clean restroom (not available during pandemic). No indoor seating during pandemic. Shop fronts two streets, one busy and not overly bike friendly, the other with a bike lane.)
Drink: pumpkin spice latté
Lesson Learned: This morning’s ride stayed in the Salt Lake valley – indeed, within Salt Lake City, proper – and involved a lovely exploration of the University of Utah campus. I attended the U of U before transferring to Connecticut College, and the campus has changed a lot since I last attended a class there in May 1993. There are many more buildings, and some of the older brick-and-mortar structures have either been repurposed (e.g. the old Utah Museum of Natural History is now a classroom building) or completely obliterated (e.g. the residence halls I once worked on as a summer job). The new places are quite lovely, and the best thing is that almost the whole campus is connected by protected bike paths in addition to the plentiful sidewalks. Yes, it’s still a commuter campus, but less so. The rest of the ride hit some of the steep grades of the East Bench neighborhood just to wake up the legs. And the coffee stop at Red Moose was most enjoyable.
Date: 24 October
Distance Ridden: 38.1 miles
Location: Java Jo’s
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (no bike parking outside, tho plenty of space to lean or lock bike next to the shop, where outdoor seating is available – this place is primarily a drive-thru and walk-up coffee shop. Free water (disposable cup), no restroom. Shop abuts two streets: one is a main arterial road through the city, the other has a sharrow.)
Drink: hot latté
Lesson Learned: Another ride up Emigration Canyon, but this time I continued to climb East Canyon to Big Mountain summit, which is 7,300 feet above sea level. The final 2 miles and change is all switchbacks, steep ramps, and crosswinds – it’s tough! And the road surface is definitely not as smooth as Emigration Canyon as the road is closed to motor vehicles from November 15th until April 15th. But this day it was overcast and very windy, a sustained 25-30 mph wind blowing from the southwest over the summit. It made a challenging descent much more technical. And Java Jo’s is a great little coffee shop. I’d been to their location in SLC’s Avenues district many times, but this one is a bit more modern and very accommodating to a bicyclist who clearly needed the caffeine.
Date: 28 October
Distance Ridden: 23.0 miles
Location: Coffee Noir
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (two staple-style bike racks, plentiful outdoor deck seating with nice space for social distancing of parties. No dine-in during pandemic, but window service is fast and friendly. Nice array of fresh baked goods at extremely reasonable prices. Abuts two very bike friendly streets, one with a wide bike lane.)
Drink: red eye
Lesson Learned: City Creek Canyon is a gem just to the north of downtown Salt Lake City and the stately capitol building. If you’ve ever watched the Tour of Utah you’ve seen the mouth of this canyon, but you’ve never seen the actual canyon. It’s city watershed so it’s not open to traffic every day. And after October 1 it’s closed to all cars save for SLC Water and Public Works vehicles (which don’t often make the trek). It’s a lovely resource – the Rock Creek Park of SLC in many respects, though a much more difficult climb. After the water treatment plant (milepost 4) the road narrows and gets steeper, the tree cover decidedly more alpine. Eventually the climb tops out at Rotary Park and there’s a gate beyond which only hikers are allowed. I didn’t go all the way to Rotary Park because recent winter weather had left a sheen of ice on the road in a shaded section – not particularly safe. After descending the canyon (it was my second ride up the canyon this trip) I decided to take in a classic view of the Salt Lake valley from Ensign Peak Park. There’s a lovely bluff that’s technically accessible by bicycle but not a place where it’s recommended if there are others on the trail. So I walked up. The view was totally worth some awkward walking in SPD-SL cleats.
Date: 31 October
Distance Ridden: 61.7 miles
Location: Higher Ground Coffee
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (no bike parking outside, tho the outdoor seating areas have plenty of space to stash your bike next to you. Abuts a bike lane as well as a very busy street that’s not overly bike friendly. Free still water (in disposable cup), clean restroom. Indoor seating was available but not used by me. Wifi is free and fast.)
Drink: hot latté
Lesson Learned: This ride was my “queen stage” of the 2020 Coffeeneuring Challenge: an ascent of Big Cottonwood Canyon that ended at Guardsman Pass. At 9,700 feet above sea level, Guardsman Pass is up there. And given I started the day at 4,600 feet it made for a lot of climbing. During this trip I haven’t been getting the rest I should be – stress is not a helpful thing. And this lack of sleep was very evident on this climb. It was possibly the most difficult climb I’ve ever done. I was pedaling squares over the last 1.5 miles as the climb is definitely backloaded. And it was cold up there. As I descended I was shivering quite a bit and had to convince my body to not shake and start a resonant shimmy. My original plan was to stop at Silver Fork Lodge for coffee and pie but as I’m only sitting outdoors if I stop at a restaurant, I wasn’t keen to sit in the shade where the temperature was rapidly descending through the 40’s Fahrenheit. Higher Ground was a great choice – and only a few blocks from the condo where my grandmother once lived.
Date: 4 November
Distance Ridden: 25.2 miles
Location: Raw Bean Coffee House
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (bike rack outside, tho not necessary as the shop is operating as drive/bike/walk-thru only during the pandemic. Normally the place has lovely seating, fast wifi, clean restrooms, and free water fills.)
Drink: dirty chai latté
Lesson Learned: Another ride to the top of City Creek Canyon followed by an exploration of the north end of Salt Lake City. And some of the steepest climbs in Salt Lake City are on the west flank of Capitol Hill in the Marmalade District. Wall Street is aptly named, topping out at 24 percent. Riding on Beck Street is always a bit of a crapshoot, as it’s a major north-south entry point into the city and has a lot of heavy trucks on it. It’s also home to the oldest strip clubs in the city. Some things never change.
EIGHTH STOP (because eight is still great!):
Date: 17 November
Distance Ridden: 36.4 miles
Location: Caffe Expresso on Ninth
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (on The 9 Line bike trail, tho no bike rack. Walk-up window for pedestrians and people on bikes – also has a drive-thru. No indoor seating as this is a tiny little espresso hut.)
Drink: hot latté
Lesson Learned: Another Emigration Canyon ride with a little bit of East Canyon and a dip down to Mountain Dell. East Canyon road closed to cars on November 15th, so I had the road to myself after I rode around the gate. But recent snow and a late ride start had me turn around before the switchbacks. To make up for the lost ascent I decided to drop down to Mountain Dell, where East Canyon Road meets up with Interstate 80. The climb back to Emigration Canyon Road is a 6-8 percent grade that doesn’t lets up for 2-plus exposed miles. This climb crosses three major historical trails: the Pony Express, the Mormon Trail, and the California Trail (i.e. the gold rush route).
TOTAL DISTANCE: 265.6 miles
TOTAL ASCENT: 25,381 feet
This year was a challenging one for this effort. It’s been a trying year on so many levels. I was smart to bring my Moots with me to Utah for this (as of this writing) ongoing family duty. It has provided me an outlet to find peace and a break from domestic tedium and toil, from emotional turmoil, from occasional arguments with my mom, and from the isolation of a necessarily tiny COVID bubble. The coffee stops were an extra treat on these rides (and I’m still coffeeneuring even though the challenge is done because… why not?).
Mary G (the grand poobah of all things Coffeenering) made this year’s byline “one good thing.” And on this trip, coffeeneuring provided me eight truly good things – and then some.
Thank you, coffeeneuring, for being there in the clutch. #alwaysbecoffeeneuring – absolutely goddamn right.