Home Court Advantage


By Lukas Brinkerhoff

Cycling West - Cycling Utah Magazine logoI have a list of the most annoying sounds in the world. It goes something like this:

  1. Bicycle bells
  2. Babies crying
  3. Whiny dogs
  4. Alarms

It’s 5:05 AM. My alarm is sounding and my all too natural reaction is to just turn off the annoying sound. Which I do. This is promptly followed by the sound of my wife’s voice asking me if we’re going riding. My natural response is to roll over and groan. Which I do. She gets up and the sounds of coffee being made begin to echo through the house. I roll back over. My eyes wide open. It’s not like this is my first rodeo. With the dramatics of a teenage girl, I will my feet out of bed and let them drop over the edge forcing my torso upright. I rub the sleep from my eyes.

Why 5:05 AM? Why not just make it 5? I need the extra 5 minutes, ok?

Our destination on this early morning, summer ride? City Creek and Owen’s Loop. Two trails you’ve probably never heard of because in the beauty of Southern Utah, they rank well down on the list of trails you should ride. They’re short. Combined the two make up about 4 miles of dirt. Dirt that is a combination of overgrown service roads and singletrack. Their appeal to me is threefold.

  1. They provide some beautiful views of St. George as the trails take you around the top of the red cliffs that sit above town.
  2. No one rides them. They are devoid of people despite how close they are to town.
  3. They are close to town.

The kettle whistle is blowing. Through the haze of my early morning mind, I find my way to the dresser and start banging around trying to find my riding gear. Chamois, shorts, jersey. Check and check. I drop them on the floor as if the coffee had suddenly yelled my name and completely interrupted the conversation I was having. I pour the coffee, but don’t drink any suddenly remembering that I need to put my clothes on. Coffee is placed on the table, I return to the bedroom and put my clothes on.

My coffee remains immobile on the table waiting as I begin to click through the mental checklist of getting ready. Bike – tire pressure checked, brakes work. Water bottles – filled and placed on bike. Oops, forgot my helmet. Oh look, coffee.

The gate creaks as we push our bikes out of the backyard. The city is quiet. I feel the need to be stealthy so I don’t wake it up. The click of my cleats entering the pedals is so loud I’m sure that the neighbors will complain. We begin pedaling toward the bike lane. The bike lane takes us to the paved bike path which leads us right to the trailhead.

And just like that we are on dirt, no cars involved.

Every mountain biker has their “local” trail. It’s the trail where you hold the equivalent of home court advantage. You know the trail in a way that the casual rider will never know. You immediately notice when a rock is added or moved. You can tell that someone was too heavy on the brakes going into the corner and you feel the change in the trail. If you were to be dropped, blindfolded onto the trail you would know where you were by the distinct sounds. It’s the trail that you often find yourself lost in the chasms of your mind because you could probably ride it asleep.

We don’t tend to think of riding trails as practice, but that’s what we do. Each ride is a practice on that trail. Whether that means you are practicing to be faster or to clean the whole trail, regardless you are practicing. And as cliché as it is to say, practicing does move you toward perfection. Which is why you are a local and this is your home court. You’ve practiced it till it hurts with perfection, knowing exactly which rocks to launch, which to roll, where to add some heat and where to drag the brakes.

The rain from the night before has changed the trail. The ten minute spin to the trail woke me up and now I’m stoked to ride. There’s a few new ruts on the steep road sections and a couple of rocks have moved. We climb with the sounds of an awakening city getting louder as the sun starts to climb above the horizon. Then the trail leads us back down and being able to descend quickly on my rigid bike requires a constant dance between staying loose and not letting go of the handlebars. I let the brakes go just a little too long and almost miss the sharp left. Mental note taken for the next ride.

We top out and then a quick drop brings us to the edge providing a view of St. George proper. The city is awake now and has worked itself up to a dull roar. We stop to take advantage of the morning light dancing across the city and to ready ourselves mentally for the descent. The trail drags us down toward the bike path we rode in on lacing its way through sage brush and sandstone providing almost every type of trail condition within ¼ mile. We hit sand, rock, flowy trail, chunky trail and then onto a sandstone slab right before the chute. The chute drops us off the rock on onto a somewhat flowy singletrack that rips right down to the bike path.

And just like that, we are back on pavement and coasting toward home. The gate creaks when we open it but we don’t notice. The routine of riding our trail has already given way to the thoughts of readying ourselves for the day. The euphoria of having snuck in a ride early erases the memories of getting up early and reminds me to reset that annoying sound so we can do it all again tomorrow.

Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org. This article was originally published in the May 2015 print edition of Cycling Utah.

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  1. I love the articles Lukas Brinkerhoff writes. He has a way with works that paints a vivid picture in my mind….and having spent some time in St. George, I can see where he is. Thanks for publishing them.


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