Arrrrggghhh!!! Headwinds and heat

I guess we couldn’t expect it to be perfect cycling the whole trip.

Day 22: Hanksville to Fry Canyon Lodge
72 miles, 20-30 mph headwinds

Oh my god! Well all days can’t be perfect. And we thought this would be such a pleasant ride too, only 72 miles and mostly downhill.

I had a bad feeling when I woke up. The wind howled the night before and kept Gabi up most of the night. When I went to check the bike, I noticed that the trailer tire was low and when I went to pump it up, I find that the pump is damaged. I was able to fix it but this took some time and by the time we got everything together and on the road it was late (7:10).

Initially the ride was fine. But about an hour into it, it was like someone flipped a switch and turned on the wind. Just like that we were pedaling into a 25-30 mph headwind. We climbed through this for about an hour then started to descend into Glen Canyon. It got worse. We were going down hill but riding hard in low gears. Wind like that saps your energy.

By the time we got to the Colorado River crossing, it was already 1:30. We had been riding since 7 and still had a 28 mile climb into the headwind during the hottest part of the day. Thank god we brought extra water because we needed every drop.

There is a huge climb right after the crossing and guess what? Half way up we got our first flat. It was a quick change but on top of everything else, we were starting to suffer. But what are you going to do? We pushed on. At around 4 PM, we were starting to run out of water. Gabi was really suffering since she had barely slept. At one point she said she wanted to stop, I coached her on to climb to the top of the next rise…..

And there it was, about a mile and a half down the road we could see the Fry Canyon Lodge (insert link here)! We felt like we died and went to heaven. The Fry Canyon Lodge is very, very nice. The best lodging and food since Volcano. In California this lodge would be 150-200 dollars a night but was 90 here. They are totally off the grid. They have a satellite phone and generate their own electricity. This place is right on the highway but still very, very remote.

After guzzling great quantities of Gatorade, bathing (I took a long bath) and napping we were ready for a big tasty dinner. And it was. We woke up refreshed and ready to roll!

Each Day is more Beautful

Riding through this state is like spending all day going through the most amazing IMAX film of the Southwest that you can ever imagine. Awesome beauty everywhere.

Day 20: Tropic to Boulder Town
68 miles 4000 ft

We got an early start from Tropic since we knew that we had some bodacious hills to climb today. What a beautiful morning it was. You couldn’t find better cowboy country on God’s green earth. Stunning views of the Escalante, alfalfa fields in the valleys, cows and horses up to their bellies in grass, semi-dry river beds cutting through deep canyons on their way to the gulf of California. We are now in the Colorado river basin!

Another nice treat was that we are starting to hit more than one town per day. This means that we can have a decent lunch instead of choking down two or three peanut butter or salami sandwiches. Today we hit the town of Escalante around 10 AM so had a second breakfast at a pretty good café. Great chile verde.

The ride after Escalante was the most amazing of the trip so far. Once again it is all too beautiful for words. The road goes through a variety of different landscapes throughout the day, from cowboy country to pine covered mountains, down through the most fertile valleys since California then through the rugged canyonlands of Escalante before climbing again to the high country in Boulder Town. For sheer awesome beauty, the canyons in Escalante rival the cliffs in Yosemite. They are not quite as overwhelmingly large but there are many more of them. I was shocked.

The last part of the day is a gnarly climb from the Escalante river in the middle of this maze of canyons, up 2500 feet to the town of Boulder which sits right at the base Timberline. It was a killer and when we got there, my first stop was the only little market in town where I got a Popsicle for my right hand and a Sobe cranberry-grapefruit for my left hand. Yum.

There is a small Anasazi museum right in town (population 108) that I visited while Gabi napped. There are some ruins here and you can see why. The site has great views into the Escalante and a year round stream which is rare for these parts. Boulder is really isolated and claims to be the last town in the continental USA to receive regular mail delivery. Recently tourists have discovered it and there is even a swanky BoBo (Bourgeois Bohemian) hotel and restaurant. We didn’t stay there and were not feeling to swanky and didn’t feel like having Buffalo meatloaf so ate at a nice place called the Burr Trail Restaurant owned by very friendly locals. It was good.

Day 21: Boulder Town to Hanksville
84 miles, 3000 ft up, 4000 ft down

Yet another outstanding day. This state is constantly changing and in each day’s rides the landscape changes multiple times. Today, we started by climbing into the high mountains above Boulder. It was about 45 degrees when we stared. After a couple of hours we summated at a pass at 9400 ft. There are timber stands on the peak above that are the highest timber stands in the continental USA. From there it is a wild descent of around 20 miles into the red rocks of Torrey. Torrey is beautiful. Very similar to Sedona in Arizona except that Torrey has a whole lot more red rock and is the gateway to Capital Reef national park.

In Torrey, we had lunch at a Subway. Ha! We couldn’t believe it, fast food in the middle of the desert. We never eat at Subway at home but today it was the best sandwich in the world! After lunch we stepped into a coffee house and had mocha and biscotti. We are back in civilization for a couple of hours.

Continuing on, we descend through Capital Reef National Park. Capital Reef is narrow and long, about 120 by 10 miles. We cut across it following the Fremont River through immense red sandstone cliffs over a thousand feet high. After a while, the red rock gives way to whiter sandstone and eventually drops you into the driest desert we have seen since Nevada. While we are still following the River, the river itself seems to have withered. After about 25 miles of desert we arrive in Hanksville, which isn’t much more than an intersection of highways 14 and 95. A few hotels, a couple of truck stops, a couple restaurants and a store.

At dinner we met a really nice fellow named Tom from Tennessee who was touring Utah by himself by car. He came to sit at our table and we chatted for some time about the red rocks, Native Americans, Tennessee, California, Big trees and all kinds of stuff before deciding we had to get to the grocery store before it closed. You meat the nicest people traveling like this.

Climbing into the Red Rocks and Bryce

In Cedar City the landscape changes dramatically. Scenic highway 14 is all Red Rocks, Hoodoos, Cedars, great washes and cowboys.

Day 17: Cedar City to Panguitch
58 miles, 4000 ft

Yee-haa! Now we are getting to some beautiful country! It is starting to feel like a vacation and not just survival. About 29 miles and a 4000 foot climb outside of Cedar City is the Cedar Breaks national monument which is really spectacular. It is a huge amphitheatre of red rock near the summit of the mountains just east of Cedar City. The mountains themselves are covered in Cedar, Aspen and pines (Fir?) and offer us the first alpine scenery since California. Gabi was feeling sick and didn’t sleep well the night before so the climb was a real challenge. She hung in there and toughed it out and by noon we were at the summit looking out over the breaks.

So, who do we see? It’s Dusty. He left Cedar City 90 minutes after us and caught us at the summit! We ended up riding with him the rest of the day. Well, our day, he continued on after we stopped in Panguitch.

Dusty is cycling across the USA as a fundraiser for a Camp in Iowa called Camp Courageous for developmentally disabled people. He is 18 and just graduated high school a few weeks ago. He is on a pretty aggressive schedule and is crossing the country in 45 days.

Cedar Breaks to Panguitch is a fantastic descent so we just took the road and chatted most of the 30 miles between them. We talked about Iowa, California, if he should go to school in Switzerland for a year, the big ride across Iowa, the layout of Mormon towns (they all have a Main and Center and numbered streets with the four directions emanating from there. I never knew that!) and all kinds of stuff. He is a really good kid and a great cycling companion.

When we got to Panguitch, we had ice cream together, chatted a little longer then parted ways. Dusty rode on to points East and we settled in for the day.

Day 18: Panguitch to Tropic
40 miles

Just outside Panguitch, starts scenic highway 14. It is an amazing road passing through Red Rock canyon, Bryce National Park, Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument, Capitol Reek National Park and some equally beautiful National Forest land.

Red Rock state park is the first one you hit heading east. It is small in scale but beautiful. The red rocks are up close to the road and they are so red and balanced in such peculiar ways that it doesn’t look like it could possibly be real. There is a bicycle trail that runs parallel to the highway for a few miles through the park that we took here.

At the end of the bike path you find yourself on the lush green plateau above Bryce looking out over the high mountains and Escalante in the distance. You need to go into the Park to see Bryce from the top so we took a side trip into the Park here. We had lunch and walked a little along the rim trail to take in the view. Since the next day was a rest day and we planned to hike in the park, we didn’t stay long. After a great lunch at the lodge we were soon back on our bike and tearing down the hill towards Tropic, our home for the next two days.

Day 19: Bryce Canyon (Tropic)
Rest Day

Tropic is a little town at the bottom of Bryce Canyon which is not the main entrance but more like the back door to the park. As such, it isn’t too touristy like Ruby’s Inn at the main entrance to the park. A lot of the locals who work in the park or in the nightly rodeo outside the park seem to live in Tropic. So it definitely has a cowboy feel to it. We met a lot of friendly people in Tropic.

On our rest day, we decided to hike up to the Bryce Canyon rim from a trail starting in Tropic. The trail starts about three miles up a dirt road from town so we jumped on the bike to get to the trailhead. The hike to the top is amazing. You start in a pinion covered canyon with limited views into the canyon. As you ascend, all of the hoodoos, cliffs, spire and ridges of the canyon open up in front of your eyes. There is no way to describe the beauty. Fortunately we took lots of photos. (Insert link here).

It turned out that we were staying right next to the post office. We couldn’t let an opportunity like that slip by so we sent another four pounds of gear back to Redwood City. Little by little we keep lightening our load!

Into Utah

It felt great to be getting into the third state of our trip! But Southwestern Utah looks a lot like Nevada. It isn’t as easy to get a beer but other than that, it doesn’t seem too different.


Day 15: Baker to Milford Utah
85 miles, three passes, 100 degrees, 1 time change

Wow! What a day. We are exhausted. The temperature shot up as we were coming out of the high country and on the second longest ride we have ever done in our lives. Even though we made a net decent of over 1500 feet, we climbed three very long and high passes. In the valleys the temperature was over 100 degrees.

So how did we deal with it? We wrapped our selves up like Lawrence of Arabia (well not quite) and carried extra water. We went through over three gallons in all and I finished my last bottle on the step of the Motel we are staying at in Milford. Whew! What a day.


Day 16: Milford to Cedar City
56 miles

The early morning ride out of Milford was really nice. Milford is in a fertile valley with quite a few farms and the farmers were out early working the fields even though it was Sunday. There were large alfalfa fields under irrigation and one field that was being cut and baled with a very interesting machine I’d never seen before. The machine cuts bales and stacks the bales all at the same time. When a bale is created, it gets loaded into the bed of the rig in a six by four bale set. Once there are 24, the bed tilts up and pushes the set onto the back part of the rig on end. Eventually you have about 20-25 layers and the rid is full. Once it is full the farmer stops and unloads the whole thing. When the rid unloads, it tilts up the bed and deposits the little tower of alfalfa in the field. This one particular field we passed must have had 50 fresh alfalfa towers spread out across the farm. It was quite a site.

The rest of the ride was unremarkable except for a couple of things. One was that Gabi bonked just outside Cedar City. We could see the town for about twenty miles so she was trying to hold out for real food and didn’t quite make it. We stopped, ate a little and in a few minutes she was good to go. Then as we entered Cedar City, a young fellow named Dusty Ross caught us and we chatted for a while before he spotted a buffet and pealed of to chow down. More about Dusty and his trip tomorrow.

Cedar City itself seems like a great little city. It was kind of hard to tell because, being Sunday, the city was shut down. We got there a week before the beginning of the Shakespeare festival as well. The town itself is beautiful. It is nestled up against the first red rock mountains we have seen so far. There is also a creek that spills right into town and actually runs right through some peoples yards in the old part of town near the University.

And best of all, we found a restaurant close to our hotel with good food and a salad bar. We pigged out at lunch at around 2 PM then went back and pigged out for dinner at around 6PM. The same waitresses were there and marveled that Gabi could put away so much food, being so tiny as she is.

The best place in Nevada

Silver Jack Motel
Baker Nevada
6/13/2003 5:38 PM

I can’t believe we are almost in Utah. Baker is just six miles from the border, so just a few minutes after we start tomorrow, we will be entering Rocky Mountain time and red rock country. Well not quite. The western part of Utah looks pretty much like eastern Nevada. We won’t be in red rock country for a few more days.

Day 14 Ely to Baker
62 miles

Baker is where we should have taken the rest day. It sits at the main entrance to Big Basin National Park. The park itself is five miles and 2000 ft above town and after riding all morning and knowing that the next days ride might just be the most strenuous of the trip, we didn’t make it up to the park. An extra day to explore the park would have been great. The park itself isn’t really in the basin but high in the mountains. It is kind of an island in the desert that was created at the end of the last ice age as the climate changed and the glaciers receded and the huge inland sea that stretched from here to Idaho receded (what is left is the Great Salt Lake).

Baker is tiny but seems to be the home of the friendliest people in Nevada. We went over to TD’s to eat and watch the NBA finals and hung out with the locals, told stories, listened to stories, drank beers, ate great food and had an all around great time.

The owners of TD’s are corporate refugees who bought the place 15 years ago and have done wonders. It is easily the best food we had since California, and out in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t easy though. To stock up, and keep in fresh food they go to great lengths. Some things are delivered but they also make twice monthly provisioning trips to Salt Lake City. That is about 500 miles round trip.

We took a walk later through town at around 9PM. It was still around 80 degrees with birds chirping and the creek burbling and the full moon rising over the mountains in the east side of the very fertile valley.

We thought of moving there for a second. Nope, too small and too isolated for us.

Desert riding on The Lonliest Highway

Day 11: Austin to Eureka
71 miles

Austin itself doesn’t offer much. We ate, we slept, we moved on. But Austin does mark the western end of what I think is the most beautiful part of highway 50 through Nevada. Austin is half way up a steep pass that marks a dramatic change in the landscape. As you ascend there are more trees (pinion, and bristlecone at the higher elevations), creeks and flowers still in bloom.

This part of Highway takes you over a series of mountain ranges. We didn’t realize it but Nevada is the most mountainous state in the continental USA. There are literally hundreds of small ranges running North and South throughout the entire state. Today we crossed three before rolling into Eureka.

So, we are settling into our normal pattern for desert bicycling.

  • Up at 5AM
  • Shower, yoga and cereal in the room
  • On the road by 6-6:15
  • Second breakfast of peanut butter and banana sandwiches around 9AM on some mountain pass
  • Pre-lunch of PB or Salami sandwich around 11AM
  • Roll into a new town between 12-1
  • Check in, shower and have a real lunch
  • Relax, enjoy, sightsee or nap till dinner time

It is rough.

Eureka is a pretty friendly town. There is a real grocery-general store / Big Game museum, a couple of decent restaurants (the Owl Casino and another that was closed that day) and even a local theatre company. There is a also historical self guided walking tour you can take of the town, which we kinda-sorta did in typical coastal turbo fashion.

Day 12 Eureka to Ely
78 miles and four passes

Yet another beautiful cycling day. Where else can you cycle all day in perfect 80 degree weather down a well paved, smooth surfaced interstate and run into only 2-3 cars and trucks an hour. On descents, from time to time we just take the road for a few miles, like 8 to 10 miles!

Ely itself was kind of a disappointment. It is a major crossroads with a larger population than most places we had been recently. So we figured that there would be more to do there, better restaurants and grocery stores etc. We decided to take a rest day here.

Day 13 Ely, NV
Rest Day

Hmm. What can I say about Ely. Not too much.

Pony Express to the middle of nowhere

Day 9: Fallon to Middlegate
48 miles

With our now regular 6AM departure, our lightened loads and mild desert tailwinds, we reached our destination before 11AM today.

Middlegate should be called “Middle-of-nowhere”. Between Fallon and Middlegate is 40 miles of desert salt flats. It looks like the moon. The next town is 64 miles.

Middlegate consists of:
– a bar/restaurant/mini-market/gas station
– one pool table
– a Motel created from portable units
– four maybe five dogs
– an assortment of mobile homes where the owner and some others live
– a very nice patch of shady trees (quite rare around here)
It is actually a pretty decent place to stay. The beer is cold and the burgers are OK too.

We got a treat while we were there, a sunset summer rainstorm complete with lightening and rainbows. We have photos.

Day 10: Middlegate to Austin
64 miles 

The rainstorm from the night before brought the desert colors out. The sage, creosote, desert grasses and other plants that I can’t name all looked brighter, greener and more alive this morning. The ride was beautiful.

The space here is so vast and the visibility is so great that the distances are deceiving. Riding, you will see a pass off in the distance that appears to be 2 maybe 3 miles away. But you notice that the road, which is straight as an arrow just seems to disappear somewhere before the pass. Which way does the road take through the pass? Who knows? Ten or fifteen miles later, you are finally close enough to tell. The pass follows a canyon and begins to climb in two miles.

The highway (ha) follows the old Pony Express route most of the way. People seem to be quite proud of this and it gives you pause to think of horsemen riding across such wide-open country. Along the way today we saw a very large group of horsemen riding along a section of the old trail. There must have been over 100 horses and riders spread out over a five-mile section of the trail. You could see the dust from riders in the distance way before you could make out the shape of the horse and rider.

Just like in the Westerns.

It weighs how much?

Day 7: Kirkwood to Carson City
58 miles

What a great ride this is! Carson Pass, to Hope Valley is an amazing ride, Green, verdant, panoramic, and all downhill. Once into the Carson Valley at Woolford Station the landscape completely changes. It is desert country, dry and spotted with sage and pinions.

From Woolford to Carson City, we crossed into Nevada (YEAH!!!) and followed Foothills Blvd through Genoa (great tri-tip sandwich for lunch). It was beautiful. Until we hit the suburbs of Carson City. Yuk. Strip mall city. The entire city seems to consist of strip malls laid out along the two main highways that intersect there, 395 and 50.

Somehow we managed to find the post office and pick up all of our camping gear, which we had mailed ahead to ourselves care of general delivery. After picking it up, we found a hotel, took a swim, had a nice Mexican dinner and went to sleep early so we could be on the road by 6:30 AM to beat the heat.

Day 8: Carson City to Fallon
62.5 miles

We hit the road early and by 7:00 AM were already out of strip mall hell and into the open desert heading east. Yee-haa!!!

We had a big tailwind but even with the tailwind, it wasn’t long before we were trying to figure out ways to cut out weight again. Riding with the extra 17 lbs of camping gear just was not fun. It was work and I could feel the bike straining. Plus, the campground we were planning to stay at was skanky with hardly any shade (it was 12:00 and already 98 degrees) and four miles from the nearest food.

We quickly changed plans and checked into a hotel in town, took a shower, had a great lunch and reconnoitered.

An hour later we were searching the Fallon yellow pages for some place where we could ship our gear back home. There turned out to be a place called Jeff’s Copy Service about two blocks away that was also a UPS shipping agent. By 3:30 that afternoon, all 20 lbs of our camping gear was heading home and were now traveling even lighter than before.

What a crack up, we planned for months to camp half time. For months we shopped for gear with a fish scale because weight was our foremost concern. Yet once we had it all loaded up, we decided that it just was not fun riding with that much weight and cut our losses quick.

Kirkwood

6/6/2003 7:00 AM
Kirkwood, CA

Wow. Six days later, here we are at 7800 feet elevation high in the high sierras looking out at a crystal blue morning sky. The sky feels so close here. Yesterday afternoon, the afternoon clouds were building is huge twisting pure white cauliflower bulbs that were swelling and expanding just above the sheer red-brown cliffs that surround Kirkwood valley.

Day 6: Volcano to Kirkwood
47 miles, 6000 ft

This is one long climb. About 6000 feet total elevation gain. So we started early (7:00) and managed to climb ahead of the heat all day. We had an early lunch at a gross biker bar where the proprietor was drinking whisky up at 10:30 AM. Fortunately we didn’t get sick or catch anything.

Riding up highway 88 was much better than we thought it would be. Not too steep and not too much traffic. And once you pull out of the trees at around 6000 ft, the views are amazing.

That night we stayed at our friends home in Kirkwood. We stopped at a grocery on the way up the hill so we were able to have a nice home cooked meal too. It was mighty nice of them to offer their place to us for the night.

Into the Volcano

Day 4: Folsom to Volcano
50 miles, 3000-???? ft

The original plan was to head up over the Mormon Emigrant trail from Pollock Pines to Kirkwood. This is supposed to be one gorgeous climb (as described on http://www.chainreaction.com). However due to late snows in the Sierras, the forest service had not opened the road yet. Bummer. Time to self route.

After considering the options, we decided to go up highway 88 but rather than going all the way up from Jackson, we wanted to keep to back roads as far as Pioneer.

We knew it would be another very hot day so we got up early and were on the road by 7AM. The morning ride was a warm and pleasant meander though perfect California foothill country (“I love this kind of landscape” yells Gabi as we ride).

But after lunch things got bad. The route we chose from Fiddletown to Volcano follows a road called Hale Rd. After about 2 miles we renamed it “Hell Rd”. Up to 3500 ft, down to 1000 ft, then up, then down and up and down again. All this on roads that felt like they were 18 percent gradient and all the while the temperature is climbing to 100 degrees for the third day in a row.

Finally, around 4:30, we roar down a steep descent into Volcano (population 85). We almost rode all the way through town because the town is only two blocks long and that is just what we needed to come to a complete stop.

Well, right in front of us is this beautiful Inn called the St. George Hotel (http://www.stgeorgehotel.com). It is absolutely perfect. The only problem is there didn’t seem to be anyone there. It turns out that Elsa, the Innkeeper was about to head home because it was so quiet. We were so beat, and the place was so nice, we decided it was time for a rest day and checked in for two nights. Elsa put some yoghurt, berries, pastries and granola in the fridge in the Hotel’s industrial kitchen, left the door open and the whole place was ours for the night.

Day 5: Rest day in Volcano
We spent a well deserved rest day just hanging around downtown Volcano. Though we were only four days into our trip, we were tired. Partly from Hell Road and the heat but also from all of the work we had been doing over the past few months just to get ready. We’ve hardly slowed down since February.

There isn’t much to do in a town so small. We met most of the town locals at the general store and café and told them about our trip. We napped and read. And I went swimming in just about the best swimming hole I’ve ever seen on Sutter Creek about 300 yards from the St. George.

It was prep day at the Hotel Restaurant (no meals, sorry) but Elsa said they could probably put together a box dinner for us. A box dinner! It started out with fresh baked bread with home made chick pea humus. Then came a salad with fresh roasted red peppers and onions. For the entrée we had grilled filet, fresh green beans and pasta with a fresh tomato sauce, all cold. We popped open an chilled bottle of Bonney Doon Pacific Rim Riesling and it was perfect. Yum!