Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Keith and Leslie Adventure - Part 2

Our morning in Escalante, began with a prompt soaking before we even made it out of town.  We ended up waiting out the storm at the local Subway - breakfast and a coffee for $3 bucks!  While waiting, we met an ultrarunner from Boulder, who was on his way home after doing the Zion traverse.  Naturally, he knew lots of our Boulder running friends.  When we finally got back on our saddles, there were lots of aches and pains and moans and groans all-round.  The off-the-couch bike tour was taking it's toll on our bodies. My saddle was killing me and Keith's knee was cranky so we opted for a shorter day.  It was a tough but enjoyable ride to Boulder, with lots more ridiculous climbing and descending.  The desert is not flat in this corner of Utah and our net gain and loss every day was off the charts.  We enjoyed a crazy white knuckle descent down the canyons to the Escalante River, followed by a climb back out of the canyon with a 14% grade. 

Going down.

Keith and the B.O.B

My Little Pony:  Rocky Mountain Hammer 29'er, with touring rims and tires  + 25 year old panniers.

In Boulder, the sun finally came out and we lounged at the Burr Trail Grill.  Finally, a place with beer!  The beer, sunshine, incredible food and coffee was just what we were looking for.  The huge Microbrew list and gourmet burgers hit the spot!

Our morning in Boulder, was a far more serendipitous than our morning in Escalante.  As we were rolling out, we spotted some other cyclists coming down the road fully loaded with gear.  I didn't realize how laden they were until I saw the massive Chariot and the small child perched in a seat on the back of the bicycle. Holy.  Crap.

Potty Break for Nesta.

Heidi and Steven were from Belgium and had just started their North American Bike Tour which will take them and their 2 year old Nesta across the States and to Banff, amongst other places. We decided to ride up the pass together and chatted the entire way with these awesome folks.  We learned that bike touring with a 2 year old requires patience, lots of breaks for play time and the occasional potty stop.  They carried all the things you would need for a 2 year old, including toys and a potty!  Heidi and Steven were bike touring veterans, and had ridden their bikes from Hungary to China on a serious adventure tour pre-Nesta.  We stopped for a longer than usual picnic and cracked out the stove to cook up some coffee, hot food and enjoy the mid-day sunshine.

 The climb out of Boulder was epic taking us up to snow line and over 9.000 feet.  I was impressed with our new friends, pedaling up the mountain loaded down with about 100 lbs. of gear each.  The subsequent descent down the other side was fun and gorgeous and we managed to dodge a few more thunderstorms before the sun came out to stay.  We rolled into the town of Torrey after a fabulous day in the Escalante Mountains.

Torrey is the gateway to Capital Reef National Park which I will confess, I had never heard of.  Yay!  National Park = guaranteed beautiful scenery.  The sun finally came out, we put sunscreen on those white Canadian cheeks and toodled along blissfully on roads devoid of traffic.

Just outside of Capital Reef, we were flagged down by a nice couple who were dry camping in their RV.  As we rode by they shouted:  WANT A BEER?  So we pulled over, thrilled by this unexpected stop. It was hot out and it was all a little shocking after our Days of Thunder to be dealing with heat and hunkering down in the shade.  Beer was in order.  We had a nice long break and visit with Peggy and Bill, 2 young retirees who had been living out of their home on wheels for a few years.  We discussed life, RV'ing and the realities of desert living and a life on the road.  Sign me up for a year or two in the future. From there, we cruised the final miles into Hanksville with a beer buzz.  Upon arriving in Hanksville, we met up with Andy at the campground.  We popped into the air conditioned restaurant for some ice cold cokes and a visit.  Andy was awesome and had been following the ACA's route across the States all the way from Tennesee.  We spent a fun night camping with him, socializing and drinking beers.

Leaving the dirty and dusty town of Hanksville, the scenery looked a lot like this:

Fortunately for us, it soon looked like this:

We had been steadily gaining elevation for 27 dry and dusty miles, before we reached the junction of Highway 276.  There, we ran into 3 young dudes touring on their bikes who were so exhausted and underfed that they could barely string together a phrase.  They said that they had been climbing and working hard all morning, having climbed out of Glen Canyon.  I was super stoked to find out that I would be descending for the rest of the day all the way down to Glen Canyon. Yippeee!!

The descent into Glen Canyon blew my mind.  In my Canadian Rocky Mountain brain, the word "canyon" conjures up images of a little rocky canyon with some green stuff growing and a creek running through it.  In this corner of the world, the "canyons" are Grand Canyon-esque:  massive abysses carved out of the earth.  We descended into the bowels of the earth for mile upon mile on this beautiful deserted road.  The road was empty and we had this beautiful place all to ourselves, stopping frequently to gawk and take it all in.  The landscape was littered with slick rock, red rock, box canyons and other mysteries.  We stopped for a lunch break in a little canyon and met some rafting guides, who told us there was running water and a little oasis right up the trail.  So we took a break and went for an hour long hike mid-afternoon.  It was great to get off the saddle for an hour.

 When we finally hit the bottom of the canyon, it was sweltering and surprisingly, Lake Powell was dry.  Clearly, they've been letting the water out of Glen Canyon to feed the unsatiable needs of California and Las Vegas.  I was surprised to find it so dry in the spring months.

 We had our first major bonk at the bottom of the canyon.  After all the excitement of the day and the heat we were tired, out of waster and still had to climb a few miles out to the Hight Marina campground.  After crossing the Dirty Devil River, the road looked like a wall in front of us.

When we arrived at the Hite Ranger Station, we polished off about 2 bottles of sweet cold water and then demolished a tube of Pringles as heavenly a pre-dinner snack.  The campground was empty when we arrived, but soon a camper van rolled in and parked.  We watched in awe as 2 middle aged ladies got out, set up a wheelchair and then proceeded to hoist the 3rd lady out of the van. After they got settled, we headed over to say hi to the neighbours.  The ladies were from Vancouver and had been having a blast traveling and camping all over Arizona and Utah.  They were only a few years older than us. The gal in the wheelchair had MS and had very limited mobility. There's no doubt her friends were dressing her, cleaning her and looking after her on this holiday. I asked her how she was coping with the traveling and she said:  

"You've just got to pull on your Depends and go!"  

Shortly after,  a solo cyclist rolled in and we met up with Steven, who was also riding across the States.  He was from Toronto, but lived in San Diego and was even more exhausted and dehydrated than we were.  We decided to join each other for some company in the morning and ride out of the canyon together.  The sunset came quickly, with the sounds of bird noises and then silence.  It was still plenty hot in the bottom of the canyon and we had the luxury of sleeping out on our bags with the tent wide open. 
Happy Keith, after a full day in the sun.

A Keith and Leslie Adventure: Part 1

For a long time, I've wanted to explore Southern Utah.  I've heard many a story of the glories of Bryce, Zion, Escalante and Canyonlands National Parks.  It was decided that we would do an exploratory trip of this desert Mecca and at the same time dust of the cobwebs of our bicycles.  The idea of a desert bike tour was born.  We knew we wouldn't be able to see it all, but that touring by bicycle would just give us an up-close-and-personal taster tour of this incredible area.  Neither of us had done a bike tour in twenty plus years, but we love the idea of traveling by bicycle.  Let the adventure begin.

We loaded up the minivan and aimed South.  It was an awesome 2 day drive to Hurricane, Utah where we stashed our car and rolled out of town on loaded bicycles. We hit the first coffee shop we came to in Hurricane for cinnamon rolls and coffee and we were off.  It took us the day to get used to riding loaded touring bikes, riding a bike loaded down with gear is slow and feels precarious at best.   

By the time we rolled into the tourist town of Springdale, we were finding our groove and were motivated to just keep riding.  The weather was warming up, we were working up a sweat and we were happy.  Or maybe it was all that coffee.  We had an awesome feast and more coffee before attacking the major climb out of Zion Canyon. 

 Coffee and Fish Tacos in Springdale!

It featured incredible scenery, hairpin bends, a tunnel (which we had to hitchhike through) and as a grand finalee to Day 1:  a big hail storm where we took shelter under a tree beside the road.  All-in-all we ended up riding across Zion NP to the Easterly border, climbing from 3,248 feet to 8.000 feet in 50 miles.  We camped on the Easterly boundary and gorged ourselves on pizza at the Zion Ranch Campground.  Day 1 was all about food, crazy beautiful scenery and elevation gain.  Pure Awesome. 

 Hello, Flash Flood. 

 Bike Path Bliss

Empty Roads in Zion

Camping at 8.000 feet is cold, even in the desert.  It rained and hovered around freezing through the night so we slept in until the sun hit our tent before we got rolling.  We hit the Thunderbird Restaurant at Mount Carmel Junction for coffee and Second Breakfast.  

Keith likes Ho-Made Pie!
 At the junction, we picked up Highway 89 and headed North. The X-factor when you are bike touring, is the mystery of the road.  Will there be a shoulder on the highway?  Will it be busy?  Will it be pretty?  Turns out Highway 89 is plenty pretty, but was a double laned busy truck route with no shoulder.  While I enjoyed most of my day, this day also found me being paralysed by fear, with frequent death-gripping of my handlebars and watching my non-chalant husband getting nearly creamed by a semi-truck. Oh, and then there was that mid-afternoon hailstorm.  Fortunately, there was as gas station at the Long Valley Junction with a miriad of microwaveable treats and plenty of bad coffee.  We sat out the storm in luxury and dried out.  We ended up in the thriving metopolis of Hatch, Utah - population 133.  At the campground, we took a bed in their motel for $55.  Our host was a friendly guy with no teeth,  who told us that there was no beer to be found in Hatch, Utah - population 133.  His wife, also with no teeth - kindly did our laundry for free.  The big surprise was the recently renovated luxurious room complete with King Size bed and down duvet. Whoot!

Next morning we rolled out early to tackle my nemesis, Highway 89. It was a short 12 miles to Highway 12, the gateway to Bryce National Park so we decided to blast out those last 12 miles of the dreaded Highway 89 and reward ourselves with breakfast at the junction.  There was fresh snow on the peaks off in the distance and the desert sky was alive with more micro storm systems, black-vicious-coiling clouds threatening in all directions.  We somehow got lucky and managed to dodge the storms all day.  But, we opted to ride right by Bryce because there was an evil storm lingering right over the park.  The weather soon cleared up, and we found ourselves sweating our way through Red Rock Canyon.  This canyon was my first glimpse of the crazy geological formations that Bryce is famous for and we enjoyed the luxury of a paved bike path for close to 10 miles. Aaaah.  All we had to do is relax, pedal and enjoy the scenery.  

We also climbed back up to 8,000 feet again and then descended back down only to regain the elevation again.  By mid-afternoon we had rolled into the tiny town of Henrieville and the weather started to turn again.  We had already put in a lot of miles, but decided to pedal 34 miles further to the bigger town of Escalante.  The micro storms were still threatening and the wind started to pick up.  We put our heads down and kept grinding.  We were working hard, but the scenery was gorgeous and the highway was empty.  At some point, we realized we had been climbing for a long time and shortly after this realisation, we saw the road turn skyward and a sign which read 12% grade.  We grunted our way up to the summit and our first glimpse into the immense wilderness that is known as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 

At the summit, we were greeted by an amazing view and a massive storm system.  We didn't have much choice but to continue, but we could see that the road was heading right into a giant black abyss.  We put on all of our warm layers and started down the descent.  The storm hit within seconds.  It started as big huge rain drops and turned quickly into sheets of rain.  The rain was pummeling us and flooding across the road in big waves.  Yet again, we witnessed the desert in flood with water cascading off every rock and accumulating on the road. I was forced to get over my fear of descending with a loaded bike whilst doing battle with the elements. I rode like a crazed woman down that mountain, maxing out at a speed of 50MPH, while hammering the pedals in an effort to stay warm and get to Escalante as fast as possible.  I was grinning like a crazed woman, soaked to the bone and having the time of my life. We narrowly missed a hailstorm, but passed through an area with hail on the ground. There, we came across an unfortunate scene:  a rollover accident on the Road-turned-River.  The unfortunate driver was O.K and being well taken care of, so we continued towards town.  The sun came out just outside of Escalante, just in time to warm us up as we were starting to get very, very cold.

 Wet camera.  Keith celebrates a crazy descent with a cheap motel room in Escalante.

 So far, our trip was dishing out the incredible scenery, with a side of weather mayhem.  It also appeared that our chosen route was popular with the motorcyclist crowd.  There appeared to be more motorcyclists than cars traveling this corner of Utah.  On this day, we also realised we were celebrating an anniversary of sorts!  A year ago, Keith was hit on his roadbike while cycling through Yosemite National Park. I've got to say his speedy and complete recovery has been nothing short of amazing.