I was out the door at 5am this morning, headed to one of the worst airports ever, LAX. Now I’m on a plane circling Salt Lake City, waiting for a pilot to get their act together and get off the runway. I should be standing on the Bonneville Salt Flats within about two hours. I’ve got the shakes, waiting for an update on the status of the race. Overnight, a massive amount of water had dumped on the nearby town of Wendover, with many fearing the same on the salt flats. Everyone’s worst fears were realized however, and half an hour before I finally touched down in UT the SCTA announced the cancellation of Speed Week. The cancellation of the 100th anniversary of Speed Week. For 100 years, the hardest of the hardcore have trailered their creations to this remote pleistocene era lakebed, chasing records between double digit speeds up to over 460mph…and this year was slated to be spectacular with multiple streamliners fighting for the piston driven landspeed record. The salt was hard, the tracks were long. Was. Were. Now my luggage is still in LA, I need to cancel my hotel room, and figure out wtf to do.
Fortunately Utah is home to some beautiful country and outdoor adventures. Because of that, and a stroke of good luck, the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show was wrapping up with one final day of open exhibition right down the road from the airport. Some quick action secured a media pass, and I suddenly had my morning filled up! Coverage is here, rest assured that every manufacturer in the outdoor market has something awesome for you in the works.
Further enhancing my mood after the cancellation and late luggage, the Tour of Utah was in town. I’ve not had the good fortune of attending it or the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. That previously mentioned beautiful scenery comes into play here, with beautiful red rock geologic formations and desert canyons, as well as lush green peaks dotted with lakes and carved with rivers. While California’s sprawling size offers a range of terrain and weather patterns for it’s pro cycling race, the transfers between stages in Utah are pretty tame. So even though I missed the Saturday stage finish in Snowbird while I wandered the halls of the Salt Palace and fondling new outdoor gear, a mere 45 minutes later I’d secured a pleasant room in Park City, where the last stage would both start and finish the next day. Only after tasting some of Salt Lake City’s finest BBQ at R&R BBQ though, of course.
After a long night of catching up on Orange is the New Black (I have a problem with staying up late on the road), the alarm was an unwelcome intrusion into my slumber. Alas, I had fresh made Belgian waffles and oatmeal waiting for me downstairs.
I always enjoy shooting the mechanics and soigneurs at a bike race. Their well rehearsed actions look frantic to an outsider but really could not be any smoother. Bikes are quickly washed, lubed and setups dialed in for each rider. After spotting the BMC Pro Team’s unmistakeable red and black team truck I was on a hunt for a parking spot. My plans were diverted however as the tip of a well manicured dirt jump caught my eye from behind a fence. A quick investigation found an incredible, city sponsored dirt jump track, complete with tools and a bike stand for onsite repairs.
I drove back to the hotel, where no more than half an hour prior I’d decided I had no need for my light stand or tripod today. I started a personal project in Phoenix a year ago, photographing strangers with their bikes. These dirt jumps presented an opportunity to contribute to this project. After chatting with one of the dads for awhile, he warmed to the idea and soon I had all of the riders lined up for their own portrait. It turned out that this group of riders had just returned from the Netherlands for a World Cup BMX race, and I was privileged to make the portrait of three highly ranked racers.
After a quick portrait session I was back on the hunt for road teams. BMC had packed up, but further down the road the remnants of a few of the domestic teams were still prepping the last of their bikes. A nice chat with a mechanic from the Optum team later, and I moved on to find the ideal place to view the race.
Parking was insane, Park City may be a resort town suited for skiing and mountain biking, but finding parking without a hike up and down the hilly locale is a challenge in patience. One I failed. I needed the exercise anyways. The race was on as the peloton rolled through town on a couple of parade laps
As quickly as a peloton can arrive, it’s gone just as fast. And with it, the crowd. Some returned home, some found lunch at a local eatery, and I pushed on to find another vantage point at the final KoM of the race, just before the final descent back into town for the finish. Could there be a better location for a bike race?
After chatting with some of the friendliest locals there could possibly be, the lead breakaway consisting of the first and second place GC riders (Danielson of Garmin Sharp, and Vuelta champion Horner of Lampre) rounded the corner, with eventual stage winner Cadel Evans of BMC hot on their heels.
Fortunately the hotel is nearby. I’ve got another night in Park City, then I’m off to explore more of Utah. As soon as I’m back in the room I get a text from someone I know through an internet forum. He and some friends are going to the Bonneville Salt Flats to shoot the sunset, and the moon, and the stars. Do I want to join them? Meet in an hour, 45 minutes from where I am now, at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere. What choice do I have? Back in the car and off to join a group of strangers in a pretty remote area of the desert. What could go wrong?
Not much this time. There’s a man in the parking lot trying to pull start a giant fan blade powered by a two stroke engine. When asked how it’s going, his response that this is his first time doing this. Slightly unsettling. He’s about to strap the fan to his back, filling a parachute with wind to get off the ground, and fly about, skimming the surface of the lake that’s collected over the salt flats. It’s a pretty incredible scene, imagining the racers of old flying in their own way over the salt left over from the great waters of the Pleistocene era.
Once the sun recedes below the vast horizon, we trek out past the bend in the road, an iconic point in the access road to the race tracks on the flats. Onward to the end of the road, where the BLM marker confirms our presence at the holy grail of land speed racing. Unfortunately, we could kayak about the flats at this point.
It’s been a long night, and tomorrow isn’t exactly going to be a day of rest. Check back for Part Two soon.