December 30, 2014. Kayenta, Arizona
Day 1(53mi/82km): The Valley of the Gods
It was a cold night - the first of many. My water bottle had frozen solid. I started early and thoroughly enjoyed not carrying all my gear on my back like I did in the Grand Canyon.
I reached the entrance of Monument Valley but I decided to skip the 17mile loop (which I may or may not be able to do - they don't let motorcycles through and no word on bicycles) in favor of the "Other Monument Valley" - The Valley of the Gods.
The Panasonic camera was not working in the cold, some moisture must have gotten in the lenses preventing them from opening and making focusing almost impossible when they do open. Most of the photos here are with the GoPro.
... and here I was in a beautiful empty valley, no cars buzzing around or packs of tourists snapping photos. Best of all - many great camping spots.
Day 2(45mi/72km): Moki's Dugway on New Year's Eve
Moki's Dugway is a steep, narrow road zig-zagging its way up the canyon. Offering some great views, windy switchbacks and shocked drivers! I made it my goal to smile and wave at any cars passing by, now not only they see a cyclist in the winter but he is smiling while going up this hill!
Day 3(62mi/100km): 2015
It was New Year's Eve, I was waiting in line at McDonalds to pickup the a large 2 Big Macs meal... Then my Alarm rang.
Woke up, got out. There weren't any big macs, just half a foot of snow. Happy 2015!
Highway 95 is one of the most remote paved roads in Utah, it was cold and gloomy. A light but constant headwind accompanied me all day.
Somebody suggested that there are businesses along the road, there was nothing. That only meant melting more snow for water - I was already low on fuel.
6 vehicles passed me today, 2 of which were the snowplows making rounds to keep the highway clean.
With the remoteness came the freedom. No fences blocking off the sides of the road, no "private" and "no trespassing" signs. I had a tough time choosing where to camp with so many options.
Day 4(56mi/90km): The Biker-Dude
After a cold night and a colder descent to the Colorado River I was able to get some water and boiling water from a residence in Hite. There was only one person there who ran the water treatment plant.
It was sunny but cold. The headwind was blasting against me and I was climbing back up to the Colorado Plateau - a constant, low uphill for the next 40 miles. Then I saw 3 oranges on the snow beside the road and rode past them. Then I thought that they must have been put there recently as they were on top of the fresh snow.
Happy New Year!!"
After came a pack of Peanut Butter M&M's and almonds. The M&Ms were gone in less than two miles and made the rest of the day feel like a breeze.
Tonight was the coldest since leaving the mountains of Colorado. I sat in my tent eating the almonds left for me beside the road and drinking hot cocoa given to me by my friends at Tuba City. It was freezing, it was going to stay cold for few more days but I didn't feel bad. I've been reading South by Earnest Shackleton- an Antarctic expedition gone wrong in the 1900's. The second team - who had to lay depots for the main expedition had over-exhausted their dogs, most of whom died. Now men are pulling heavy sledges through blizzards, soft snow and cold temperatures (as low as -55F). All that on reduced rations. This really puts things into perspective.
Day 5(50mi/80km): Capitol Reef
Despite the dots on the map and city tags, there wasn't much. There was a motel in Caineville where I stopped to warm up, bumping my time spent indoors to 2 hours since I left Kayenta. The couple who runs the place gave me some toast and waffles, as well as boiling water. Using my thermos to keep the water hot really saves on fuel - I barely had any left and was very concerned about finding a place to get more. This and my low food supply meant that I will have to skip the backroad through Reef in favor of riding through a bigger town.
The jagged peaks and eroded canyons made it appear as if I was back in time, millions of years ago when this landscape was shaped.
A guy driving from New Mexico to Oregon pulled over. He was happy and inspired to see a cyclist at this time of the year. I was offered 3 freeze dried meals and when he asked if I needed anything I pointed to my nearly empty gas can. I was lucky, he gave me a brand new Jetboil can - completely solving my two biggest concerns: running out of food and fuel.
This meant only one thing: The backroad through Capitol Reef is now an option. It's on! I'll just have to see about that recently fallen snow...
After a quick visit to the main area of the park I went back and then rode up... err... pushed my bike up the steep Notom road. After watching the beautiful sunset turn the sky pink and purple I found a flat spot beside the road. Cleared the snow as best as I can and set up camp.
Day 6(37mi/60km): Into the Reef
At night the coyotes woke me up 3 times, each set of howls seemed to come from a different direction. I met some hunters here for the weekend looking for fox, bobcat or coyote, they set me up with two military meal packs - pretty heavy but I'll see how good they are later today.
After the pavement ended, the road got worse. I met the hunters again as they decided the road was too bad for their truck & trailer. It's been 30 days since I got off the snowy Great Divide Bike Trail, now it's like as if I never left.
The fog cleared up.
After the last of the ranches the road changed for the worst. Uphills meant pushing and even riding on the flats required a lot of effort.
Then I realized that if I climbed on the rocks near the road I'd get a better view... The Waterpocket Fold!
Next came the Burr Trail - a pleasant one hour walk up the snowy switchbacks.
To top it off, I to go down a 3mile rough road, covered with 1 foot of snow and finish the evening with a hike to a lookout.
Cocoa, pound cake, crackers, jelly, chicken, stew and M&M's. The military meal pack was amazing. Clearly beating those dehydrated/freezedried foods. (not on weight though!)
...and what a view it was...
Day 7(32mi/51km): Grand Staircase Escalante
This is the only person who I saw today. He had driven across the Henry Mountains from the east (through deep snow) and was headed to Death Valley. I was happy not to have to melt snow!
He's been traveling around USA and been to some amazing places. Utah, in my opinion has the best network of backroads - ready for adventure by car, motorcycle or bicycle!
Entering Grand Staircase Escalante Monument the road turned to pavement but it felt more like another remote dirt road.
The cold spell was finally over! Today was the first day to eat dinner outside and also camp on dry ground!
Day 8(41mi/66km): The Million Dollar Road
I finally made it back on the main highway - Highway 12. The last section was completed in 1985 and it winds its way through canyons and mesas, complete with a 9600ft pass (which I didn't have to do as I took the backroad).
The bad news is that I'm getting sick, 8 days in the cold weather with barely 2 hours of warmth had left me feeble and weak! The otherwise easy climbs felt like walls and took a long time in granny gear.
Day 9(28mi/45km): Canonnville
After barely few hours of sleep last night, I really needed to warm up. At the first town on the way I sat in the cafeteria of Grand Staircase Inn where the manager let me stay most of the day and even use his computer to update my website (Grand Canyon Hike). Before I took off in the evening, he offered me a room.
Day 10(81mi/130km): Bryce Canyon Sunrise
The plan for today was simple: get up at 3am and get to Bryce Canyon for the sunrise. 16 uphill miles stood between me and my goal.
"Dogs were barking,
cows were lurking,
and my problems were about to start!"
I rolled out of town listening to Gogol Bordello. En route I managed to scare the crap out of every animal I saw. A horse ran around in circles knocking over stuff, group of deers galloped across the road and the lying down cows quickly got up and got on the mooove. As I started climbing the headwind made me realize that I won't make it to the top in time but I still had to try.
It was 8am when I left and I still had a long way ahead of me... riding across the red canyon...
...Meeting Glenn, who rides nearly everyday in the summer but got out today because of the great weather. We rode for 7 miles before he had to turn back.
I had to agree that this truck looks much cooler than me :(
...and finally met another cyclist it's been 40 days since I saw the Mexican going from Denver to Grand Canyon. Chris rode up through California and Nevada and is now turning back to the coast. We enjoyed a great talk while trucks buzzed few feet from us. He gave me his pass to Zion which means that I won't have to get up in the wee hours to get in the park.
I set up camp up a muddy road few miles down the road and for the first time since I got sick I slept well.
Day 11(53mi/82km): Zion and The Mountains
I woke up and discovered that just around the corner there was a nice rest area. No regrets though, I don't think I could have slept as late as I did if I went there.
"There is a guy who sits there in a booth all day and his job entirely consists of telling cyclists that they can't ride through the tunnel." -said Chris who cycled through Zion before we met yesterday.
Sure enough, there was a guy sitting in a booth. When he saw me he ran out and started waving and yelling for me to stop - as if I am making a run for it (even though I was slowing down to talk to him). I briefly considered how fun it would be to make a run for the tunnel with him giving a foot chase. And that was the plan if I didn't find anybody with a truck to ferry me across. Three people from Colorado here on a road trip drove me through the 1 mile tunnel.
Turning onto the park's main road, I saw a cyclist make a turn and ride in the middle of the road with 3 cars driving slowly behind him. I really think that sharing the road goes both ways and he was definitely hogging the entire lane for himself. Even though most of my shots are taken from the middle of the road I've always made sure there were no cars behind me when doing it. I've also never had any issues with traffic while in the USA (and Canada).
...and the view kept getting better...
The only problem is that I wanted to do the Angel's Landing trail and still ride 50 miles to St. George on the same day. Problem solved: get up at 3am.
Day 12(48mi/77km): St. George
...and so I did. After 30 minutes of snoozing I managed to unzip my sleeping bag and reached the trailhead at 4am. Very peaceful hike for the first 2 miles in the moonlight to reach the Angel's landing trail. It took little over an hour to do the last part up the steep cliffs to the top. I'd like to brag about how tough and scary it was but it wasn't. Trail was well marked and the chains helped a lot with not falling off (6 people have died since 2004).
I got to the top a bit too early and sat down to have my breakfast. Then I realized that I've forgotten something... my lighter. I had two packets of raw noodles and left the oatmeal for later.
After leaving Zion I stopped by Cafe Soleil to fill up water and see where I'm going today.
Ended up meeting some amazing people, a school group (or a big family) traveling and hiking, a pilot who often does road trips between his flights and the crew at Cafe Soleil. Left with a full belly, packed lunch and a great deal of motivation!
I've been very trigger-happy in Zion and there was a good reason. I only took several pictures after leaving this amazing Park!
Then I encountered some of the MEANEST creatures on earth. Wouldn't want to see one of those in a dark alley!
I was finally back to civilization - you know, traffic lights, fast food chains, wide shoulders and house subdivisions.
It's been over a month since I was able to find a place to stay with warmshowers.org. The stars have finally aligned I found a place in St. George just 15minutes after they signed up for the website.
Next is Nevada and if I want to avoid riding on the interstate I'd have to pay a visit to those mountains.