The 2019 randonneuring season is just around the corner, and Salt Lake Randonneurs (SLR) have a great season planned. The big deal for 2019 is Paris Brest Paris, so a lot of riders around the world will be focused on qualifying and preparing to ride Paris in August. Here’s a preview of the SLR rides:
A lot of classic Utah brevets are on the calendar for this year, plus a few new twists. Our traditional season opener, the Zion National Park 100/200k, promises warm weather in March and a chance to ride thru Zion Canyon. Northern Utah rides start with Willard Bay and Beyond 100/200k followed by the Pony Express Gravel Grinder in the west desert. For those looking for experience riding thru the night, the 6 Valley Tour has a 6 PM start which will be good practice for PBP. After the Raspberry Ramble at the end of June, the Mirror Lake Classic in July gives riders a chance to climb at high altitude.
For those working on their RUSA R-12 award, the calendar has a 200k every month from March thru September. For those working to qualify for PBP, at least two rides of each required distance are available before the PBP qualifier deadline. And SLR will continue the tradition of awarding a SLR jersey to any rider who completes their very first Super Randonneur Series with the Salt Lake club.
If you have never ridden further than 100 miles and would like to try it out, SLR provides a great opportunity to see how far you can go while being mentored and encouraged by experienced randonneurs. Distances are long enough, and riding groups are small enough, to form strong friendships with fellow riders. Camaraderie has always been a hallmark of randonneuring, I encourage you to come join us this year! Please join our google group for more information, feel free to ask questions! If there are any rides you’d like to see added, let’s chat about it and we can make it happen.
This page may not be kept updated throughout the season, please see the google sheet for official ride information and results.
I had long dreamed of bike touring across Europe with my family. In July 2017, we made it happen! We rode 625 miles thru France and Switzerland, camping every night and carrying all our gear. We biked 19 days, hiked 4 days, toured Paris for 3 days, had 4 rest days, and had 5 travel days. We camped 33 nights, spent 2 nights in hotels, and 2 nights in an apartment.
We followed Eurovelo 6 from Nevers, France to Basel. Once in Switzerland we headed south toward the Alps following regional and national cycling routes. We finished cycling in Bern, where we rented a minivan and drove back to Paris for the flight home.
The campgrounds in France and Switzerland are nothing like US Forest service campgrounds; they are resorts with hot showers, dish washing stations, laundry, a pool and playground, a restaurant and small convenience store, and a lodge with cooking area and TV. They are located in town near stores, restaurants, and parks. Camping was a great experience, my wife even remarked that she very much preferred camping to hotels.
We bought food from grocery stores everyday along the route. We did not haul cooking gear with us, so we depended on no-cook meals like sandwiches, muesli, and ice cream. We very rarely ate out. The food in France was very high quality and very cheap. The food in Switzerland was very high quality and very expensive.
We rented bikes from Fontainebleau Bike Rentals near Paris. In what was one of the best experiences of our trip, Yannick really took care of us. He selected our bikes, delivered them to us in Paris, and picked them up from our hotel at the end of our trip. He treated me like a brother rather than just another customer.
Carter (age 16) kept a great blog of our adventure, here’s a index to his posts.
The night before, as we were checking out the road closures due to fires in Yellowstone and the Tetons, planning how to re-route around the fires, I thought, “No, not a 400k/200k split, I hate riding 400ks!” The original route plan had been so nice, a 350/250 split, for two nice days of riding the Yellowstone 600k. But now, it was midnight, I had been riding for 20 hours and one thought pervaded my mind: “I LOVE riding 400ks! It’s my FAVORITE distance, from now on I’m ONLY riding 400ks!”. And I do love riding that distance; start hours before sunrise, ride all day long and well into the night, sunup/sundown all in one fabulous ride. I was cruising along thru Island Park Idaho, so much warmer than the 28 degrees I had encountered earlier that morning. I had soooo wanted to call my brother in San Antonio that morning, “Hey, guess what? It’s 28 degrees on August 25th!!!” But now it was a much more comfortable temperature, all the cars had retired for the night, and I was REALLY enjoying this home stretch thru the dark night.
“PLINK??? What could fall off my bike and go PLINK???” I went thru a mental checklist and came up empty. Nothing that I could think of would make that noise, I must have kicked up a screw or some random metal strip. So, my thoughts drifted back towards finishing up my ride with the killer downhill into Ashton, eating, showering, sleeping and getting up in the morning to do it all over again. But disturbing thoughts kept creeping into my mind as I rode: “Why am I going so slow? Shouldn’t I be to the downhill by now? Why does it feel like my bike is hardly moving? Is something rubbing? I don’t hear anything rubbing…” I stopped several times to investigate, but in the dark I just couldn’t see any problem. With zero ambient light to illuminate my perspective, and being on an unfamiliar road, I just couldn’t tell if I was climbing. It sure felt like I was climbing a steep pitch, but I knew I should be starting a descent. I stopped again, checked everything over and gave my handlebar bag a good heave. As I started riding again, the bike accelerated as expected and I was indeed on the downhill! It wasn’t until several days later at home that I discovered the source of my problem. I rocketed down the hill into Ashton and finished my ride with 251 miles for the day.
I had started the day on a delightful road from Ashton up the Mesa Falls Scenic Highway. With a 4 AM start, I did not see a single car for the first 30 miles, two hours into my ride. I did however discover a beautiful red fox in the middle of the road. The fox was mesmerized by my headlight; it stood frozen in the middle of the road staring at me as I slowly approached on the gentle uphill. As I got closer I began to have harrowing visions of fox-in-sprockets so I let loose with my well-rehearsed dog bark which sent it scurrying into the bushes.
As I continued my lonely dark ride into the morning twilight I decided it was a good time for haikus; here are three that I came up with:
it's harder to eat
a banana in the dark
but just as yummy
the fox in the road
was attracted to my light
just until I barked
the cars I have seen
while riding my bicycle
still number zero
I turned onto Hwy 20 just as the sun was starting to come up and I encountered my first traffic of the day, mostly heavy trucks getting on with the day’s business. After another hour of riding I decided to stop for a snack and to lube my chain. I was confused about why my chain was squeaky because I had lubed it really well at home, then it occurred to me that we had driven thru a pounding storm on the drive up from Salt Lake with our bikes exposed; the rain had washed all the wax-based lube off my chain. I saw an approaching cyclist headed my direction and soft-pedalled while he caught up. He looked like he was on a day ride but chatting with him I learned he was on a cross-country ride with his wife driving SAG for him. He was from North Carolina and told me he knew the RBA from his area but had not ridden any brevets there. After a brief climb I arrived in West Yellowstone just in time to meet the breakfast rush at McDonalds. I wolfed down an egg sandwich and stuffed two more into my handlebar bag to save for third and fourth breakfast later down the road.
As I approached the main gate into Yellowstone I was anxious to learn my fate. What of the fires, was the road open? Jackson or Ashton? 350k or 400? As I rolled towards the gate, I saw the rest of the group pulling out ahead of me, so I knew I’d have some riding company later. I chatted briefly with the lady at the gate and learned that the road would be closed due to the Berry fire, so I now knew, 70 miles into my ride, what my route would be for the day.
I quickly caught up with Jim, Kent, and Janene and spent some time riding with them. I had not ridden with any of them very much on local brevets, so it was fun to chat with them during the day. I got into a routine of pulling ahead, then stopping to gawk at the next scenic area until they passed me, then catching up again. The great thing about touring on a bike is that it’s so easy to pull into every little stop that might be too much of a hassle in a car. Compared to a car, a bike is already basically stopped, so taking a few pictures is no problemo. I pulled into Norris Basin at mile 93 looking for water as noted on the route sheet, but never did find any there. Then I took a scenic detour via Virginia Cascade Drive (highly recommended!) at mile 95. We all pulled into Canyon together and spent some time at the canyon overlooks and taking pictures.
I lingered over the views while the others moved along to find lunch. I shortly joined them and relished the chance to pay $9 for a hot dog. A nice long bike ride has that mystical ability to turn marginal food into delicacy! The other three took off as I was finishing up and taking more pictures. I thought I would catch them quickly, but somehow I leapfrogged them and didn’t end up seeing them again until the end of the ride.
The next 15 miles was the only section on the route that had no shoulder. Traffic was heavy, but slow moving and courteous. After one RV passed a little too close, I decided I needed to control when traffic passed me by riding in the middle of the lane whenever opposing traffic was present. This forced traffic to slow down to my speed so that when they did pass it wasn’t a high speed affair. I’ve always considered my mirror as my most important safety device and once again it allowed me to safely monitor and control traffic. I think many riders would feel nervous and uncomfortable during this section.
I enjoyed riding along the shore of Lake Yellowstone and turned off onto the Gull Point Drive for my second scenic detour. Like Virginia Cascade , this is a highly recommended detour. I was struck by just how big Yellowstone Lake is, I was riding next to it for 20 miles. Approaching West Thumb, I also marvelled at how a road next to a lake could be so hilly, but it was very fun riding and perfect weather.
I turned west away from the lake at West Thumb and began the gentle climb up towards Craig Pass. This was also very interesting riding with short ups and downs, fun curves, low traffic and beautiful scenery.
As I pulled into the first Continental Divide crossing I found a fully loaded touring cyclist stopped at the top. As she was setting up for a selfie, she asked me if I would take it instead:
Her: "Would you mind?"Me: "No problem.Sooo, anyway, what's a selfie called if somebody else takes it?"Her: "Then it's just called a picture"Me: "Oh, yeah, I knew that"
Seeing her with a full load of camping gear had me once again pondering the difference between touring and randonneuring. A 600k covers the distance most touring cyclists would cover in a week. In fact, the previous fall I had attended a presentation by a local touring club about their 7-day trip thru YS and Tetons, following nearly the exact route we had planned. But touring has the luxury of a relaxed pace and more time for off-the-bike activities. I just need to do more of both!
I pulled into Old Faithful at 5:50 and quickly found the geyser eruption board. Old Faithful was expected in nine minutes!!! I hurried over to join the meager crowds and fiddled with my gear while I waited. 5:59 passed, 6:04 passed, 6:05 passed… After 165 miles of riding I guess I just wasn’t too keen on waiting around to watch the geyser. I lost patience and headed to the café to eat before the crowds got there. Good strategy, the café was empty. I was just finishing up my dinner when the place started to fill up. I filled my bottles and headed back out.
A new gear addition for this trip was a retractable snowboard lock. Cheap, lightweight, compact, and just enough deterrent to keep some hooligan from riding off while I dine. I returned to my bike to find it had done its job, but I had failed at mine: remembering the combo! Luckily, I had put it into my phone, so after some brief fumbling I was back on the road.
The road from Old Faithful to Madison was exciting; with the road to Jackson closed, all the park visitors needed to head for West Yellowstone for the evening so traffic was backed up for about 12 miles! Since it was a gentle downhill, I flew past the stopped cars, smug-o-meter pegged! Of course, they all re-passed me before I got out of the park and I pulled into West Yellowstone just as it was getting dark. I found a small grocery store, stocked up for the last 55 miles, and headed off into the night.
The rider from North Carolina told me his car registered 28 degrees in Island Park which explains why I was so cold in the early morning; the forecast had called for a low of 36, so that’s what I was prepared for. There was basically no wind all day long and scattered clouds came and went throughout the day. When the sun was shining it usually felt really good against the gentle chill of the day. I wore a wool blend LS jersey all day and only took it off briefly twice during extended climbs.
This was the first real test of my new lighting set-up and it was wonderful. I have a SP-9 hub with a B&M IQ-X light and use a battery-powered tail light. I left the light running all day as a safety light, it was great to not have to worry a bit about running out of battery power, and the dark roads were lit up wonderfully.
I ran Compass 700×38 EL tires, mounted tubeless to Pacenti rims. I had topped off the sealant the previous week and had no tire issues. The only problem I ever have running tubeless is that the sealant dries out quickly and I need to top them off regularly. I had found a tiny bottle of chain lube at my LBS which I was very glad to have with me to take care of that squeaky chain.
The morning was a lot colder than I expected and I did wish for warmer tights and gloves during those early hours.
I saw a fox, a handful of bison, a bunch of elk, a pair of bald eagles, and geese, swans, and ducks.
So many unforgettable sections, I can’t wait to go back. The weather was just beautiful for bike riding. I really loved the climb up to Craig Pass and the whole section from West Thumb to Old Faithful; twisty rollers, low traffic, great weather, just beautiful. Both scenic detours were great, Virginia Falls and Gull Point Drive. And cruising thru Island Park in the dark night was a great way to end the day.
The morning really was much colder than I was expecting, I was soooo glad when the sun started coming up to warm me. The traffic from Canyon to Lake was stressful, but not as heavy as I had expected. On a near-perfect ride it’s hard to find faults though. Even the disappointment of not riding on to Jackson was only a minor slight on the day. I did see less wildlife than expected, but that wasn’t something I was focused on.
I had carefully studied the route for day 1 and although I didn’t have a route sheet for the alternate, I knew the route well enough that I didn’t need a cue sheet. Day 2 however was a route that our RBA, Richard had designed the previous day and emailed to us, so I had only a vague idea of where we would be riding.
The day started out with a beautiful road. Riding Hwy 32 turned out to be my favorite part of the day. This was one of those roads where you think you should just ride laps on that one road all day, twisty, curvy, steep climbs followed by thrilling descents, no traffic.
The morning was hazy from the fires but as the day went on the haze cleared out and the back side of the Tetons was visible for most of the day. I spent more time riding with the other riders and enjoyed chatting with them at a relaxed pace.
One of my favorite encounters on long rides is chatting with other touring cyclists. At the gas station in Tetonia Idaho I found that we were not the only cyclists detoured by the fires. A Dutch rider who was on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route had to detour down the back side of the Tetons as we had, and stopped for ice cream at the same gas station we had. I asked him about his gear, especially his Magura hydraulic rim brakes, and he shared the story of his 2 hour stand-off with a grizzly bear that would not yield right-of-way on the trail somewhere in Montana. Always ask GDMBR riders if they saw any bears!
A long stretch on Hwy 33 near the end of the day was the least enjoyable part of the ride. There was a terrific head wind and although the road had a nice shoulder, there was a ton of truck traffic barrelling past, which I never enjoy. Although one fun moment was when a tractor pulling a large trailer slowly passed me; I tucked in behind it and enjoyed cruising along behind the mobile windbreak for quite some time until it turned off into a field.
I also had a chance to practice my dog skills towards the end of the day. I was riding along a country road when from beyond a farm house three cow dogs came barking. I noticed the chain link fence and relaxed for a bit until I approached the end of the lot. My eyes followed the fence line to discover the fence simply ended, there was no corner! The dogs came tearing around the missing corner just after I passed it and my concern kicked up a notch. These were country dogs, no way would I be able to outrun them on the flat road, they were fast! As the lead dog closed in, I turned my head, looked right at it and bellowed out the loudest, meanest bark I could muster. Stunned and confused, the lead dog slowed briefly before his natural prey drive kicked back in but that pause was all I needed to kick it up a notch and pull away.
After that excitement, I settled back in to a moderate pace and finished the home stretch back to the hotel in Ashton. A figure-8 route is a really nice way to run a 600k because the logistics work out so well.
Epilogue – Things that go PLINK!
A few days later at home, I inspected my bike as I prepared to ride it to work the next day, and I found the thing that wasn’t there. My handlebar bag rests on a classic TA rack that mounts to the Mafac brake via the bolt highlighted in this picture. The bolt holding the assembly together was missing!!! I’m shocked that I was able to ride an additional 200k+ without that bolt; my brakes still worked fine, my bag was fine, the only issue was the aforementioned rubbing on the first night. Compass sells a double-headed replacement bolt with the comment: “This ensures that the vibrations of the brake will not loosen the bolt, which often happens when you sandwich brake and rack on the same bolt.” I guess those guys know their stuff.
I’m very excited about the new bike riding season just around the corner. Richard has put tons of work into planning the schedule for 2017. This year will feature lots of new rides close to Salt Lake City with an increased emphasis on the shorter distances. Hopefully this will encourage more participation from riders who aren’t quite ready to take on the longer distance rides. Highlights for me will be the Yellowstone Series July 13 and the Dirt Road Randonee Aug 5. I put together this handy chart and also a printable version to help with planning.
I (Ken) have been exploring Utah’s dirt roads since 2004, and I believe these two routes rank among the finest bicycle rides anywhere in the country and I hope they will be the highlight of your riding season. (This blog’s banner photo is from the Heber Mountain route.) In all my years of riding these roads, I have never seen another cyclist on them!
Are these rides supported?
No. Come prepared for long stretches without food and water. Both rides have one resupply point where food and water is available at a convenience store. There is no cell coverage on large portions of these rides. Be prepared to deal with your own mechanical issues. The home stretch on the MCDRR will require riding 70 miles without food or water resupply, while the HMDRR has a 55 mile section with no services.
Is the route marked?
No. A cue sheet will be provided. A GPS track of the route can be downloaded from ridewithgps.com. Because many the junctions do not have road signs, GPS navigation is recommended.
What if I don’t make the time limit?
The time limit of 13.5 hours for a 200k brevet applies to these rides. This will be a difficult goal for many cyclists to achieve. We hope that you will view finishing the ride as a major accomplishment and come back next year for another shot if you fail to make the time limit.
What are the road conditions like?
While I am not a big fan of riding gravel roads, I LOVE riding fast hardpack dirt roads in the mountains. Each route contains some sections of gravel, and conditions vary from year to year, but the majority of the dirt is smooth, fast hardpack. There will also be short sections where walking may be required, with a few stream crossings thrown in to keep you on your (wet) feet.
How much of the route is paved?
The MCDRR contains 80 miles of dirt roads and 45 miles of pavement.
The HMDRR contains 64 miles of dirt roads and 63 miles of pavement.
How much climbing is there?
A lot. Both routes contain over 11k’ of climbing.
Should I ride a mountain bike?
A rigid mountain bike would be a good choice for these rides. I would recommend a slick or semi-slick tire as these routes do contain considerable paved sections as well. One important consideration for bike selection is staying comfortable over the ~12 hours that this ride will take.
Should I ride a cross bike?
A cross bike would be a good choice for these rides. I would recommend riding the fattest tire your bike can handle, with a slick or semi-slick tread.
Should I ride a road bike?
A road bike would be a fun choice for these rides if you have experience riding skinny tires on dirt. Most of the roads are smooth and fast. I would recommend a minimum 28mm tire and expect to walk some short sections.
Would these routes make good bikepacking trips?
YES! Much of my initial exploration of these routes was done on overnight bikepacking trips. I hope that anybody who would rather ride these as an overnight trip will start on the Friday before the brevet, and that we will run into each other on the road on Saturday.
Where do I sign up?
Ride registration is handled by Salt Lake Randonneurs. There is a $5 fee for these rides, to cover the cost of printing route sheets. Please note that our club president Richard is recovering from open-heart surgery so the SLR website may not be updated until he is feeling better.
I had intended to spend some time this past winter writing about my best bike rides of 2015; but all I managed to do is to think about writing about riding. So I’ll just put up my list of Best of Rides ever, and call that good. Snow Biking the Mirror Lake Highway
Last weekend was Fall Break for the kids, so we spent a few days exploring Capitol Reef, Utah’s only secret National Park, with some of the best hiking around. Every time we’ve been here before, it was passing thru quickly, so this time we stayed three days and explored. I think you could spend two weeks here and do great hike every day. It’s also a nice break from some of the more crowded parks; on both hiking days we went hours and hours without seeing anyone else. This, on two of the best hikes in the park, on the busiest weekend of the year! Can’t wait to go back!
Day 1: Sulphur Creek
Day 2: Sheets Gulch
Day 3: Fruita
We checked out the pioneer house, children’s museum, took a lot of pictures and ate pie. My son is in a photography class and was working on an assignment, he has lots of great pictures to sort thru.
With the new Compass knickers announced today, I’m reminded to give a shout-out to how great knickers are for biking. It seems that some people don’t know this. I had a freak crash on Tuesday, pretty bad, mountain biking up on Mueller. I was wearing some of my favorite knickers because I thought it would be cold up there, (it wasn’t!). My knickers saved my knee. Instead of having a big, ugly, dirty, raw hamburger-that-got-dropped-in-the-dirt-and-has-to-be-fed-to-the-dog knee, I’ve got just a spot of carpet burn where the hamburger would have been. I expected that my knicks would have been shredded, but they held up just fine and are good as new. #stealthbodyarmor
This route climbs 7 high summits, it may be the highest-elevation Super 600 in the world:
Guardsman Pass: 9700′
Wolf Creek Pass: 9485′
Indian Creek Pass: 9060′
Eccles Canyon Summit: 9388′
Nebo Loop: 9345′
Alpine Loop: 8060′
Little Cottonwood Canyon: 8700′
Wow, that was a tough ride. Here are my notes for anyone who might want to attempt this route. Long stretches without services, thin air, and extreme temperature swings made for a very challenging ride. No mechanicals other than a broken tail light, and no flat tires!
The day started out at 4AM at a gas station near the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon (BCC). The first climb started immediately as Richard and I worked our way up to the highest point on the route, Guardsman Pass at 9707′. BCC usually has constant traffic, so it was nice to ride very early in the morning; maybe 10 cars passed us on the way up. We got to the pass just as the sun was peeking up over the horizon, and descended into Midway. This descent is very steep and the road surface is terrible for the first mile. Richard had his tail light shake loose on this section, which turned out to be the only mechanical issue of the trip. I rode Compass 700c x 38 tires setup tubeless at 35 psi, knowing that this section was rough, and I like to descend fast. Road conditions on the rest of the route were very good, this is the only sketchy part.
Next were some rollers past Jordanelle Reservoir, and a stop at the Frontier Café in Francis. This is the last food and water for 35 miles, so stock up. They have a limited selection and low turnover; I tried to buy a moldy muffin and a coconut water that had expired in April, so be sure to check expiration dates on anything you buy. After Francis the gentle climb to Wolf Creek Pass (9485’) begins. I had gotten water at the camp ground at the top of the pass earlier in the summer, but the spigot had been shut off for the season when we arrived. A steep descent turns gradual as the road makes its way down into the small town of Hanna. Here we stopped at the first place we found, an unlisted pizza place at mile 81, that offered cold drinks and water refills. I think in a town that small, word of mouth is the only advertising you need! Later on we passed the Hanna Country Store and Hanna Café at mile 83. These are the last services for 30 miles until Duchesne (doo-shane). The 70 mile stretch of road from Francis to Duchesne has almost no traffic on it; we would often go 20-30 minutes without seeing a car, just lots of sagebrush. You lose 1000’ over 30 miles from Hanna to Duchesne, imperceptibly downhill, so we traded pulls into the moderate headwind as the day heated up.
We pulled into Duchesne hot and tired at 2:15, 115 miles and 10 hours into our ride. It felt good to sit in the air-conditioned gas station and eat and cool off for a few minutes. As usual on hot rides, I headed straight to the bathroom to douse my head under the sink and rinse the salt away from my face, so refreshing! I did not have much of an appetite at this point, and probably should have eaten more. Richard suggested that perhaps I hadn’t been getting enough salt to keep up with the hot conditions of the afternoon. The thermometer said it was only 83 degrees, but with no shade the hot afternoon sun really withers you at these high desert elevations. On long rides, I keep a Twofish velcro bottle cage under my downtube so I have a spare slot for chocolate milk, coke, or water. Knowing it would be 70 hot miles until the next water refill, I bought two 1 liter bottles of water and put one in my jersey pocket and one in my spare cage. I also put a bottle of coke in my pocket to balance out the water. 😉 It would also be 100 miles until the next place to get food, at the overnight control, so I bought a giant rice crispy bar to supplement my other food.
Climbing UT-191, traffic picked up a little bit. There was some road construction and associated truck traffic. The climb was not steep, but it seemed to go on forever. I kept asking “are we there yet?” near the top, but we were not there yet. Hot and tired, I pulled over in some shade for a break while Richard continued on in search of water. He had brought iodine tablets to purify stream water rather than haul it all like I had. After eating and drinking I was feeling better and I made it over the top and began the descent. Richard had pulled off and had just finished filling his bottles when I passed him. The road flattened out and somehow the wind had shifted so that we were once again trading pulls into the headwind. It’s so nice to have a partner to share the work with at times like this.
We made it to UT-6 as the sun was getting low in the sky and it finally began to cool off. The 5 mile stretch of UT-6 was the first portion of the ride that had any traffic on it. The first mile does not have a very wide shoulder and it was full of debris, so it was a bit stressful to ride with all the high speed traffic. But the shoulder soon got wider and the turn to Scofield came quickly. This was a very enjoyable section as we climbed a small pass up to 8000’. We had the road to ourselves, the wind was gone, and it was the perfect temperature. It was getting dark quickly and I saw two small groups of elk and heard them bugling. We stopped at the pass and put on our warmer clothes because it was quickly getting chilly and dark. I’m still amazed at how quickly I went from worrying about heat exhaustion to fighting off shivers and worrying about hypothermia. We pedaled around the lake watching the far ridge silhouetted against the fading twilight as the stars asserted their dominance over the sky.
We pulled into the Scofield general store long after it had closed and filled our water bottles at the outside spigot. It was really starting to get cold so we both put on all the clothing we had. I wore thick wool arm warmers, a wind vest, wool leg warmers, a wool head band under my cycling cap, and medium weight gloves over top my cycling gloves. I thought that would be enough clothing for an early September ride in the mountains. It was not. As we headed out of town, a truck stopped to ask us for directions to Gooseberry. I thought Gooseberry was a mountain biking place near St. George, so I let Richard tell them, glad that we weren’t lost like those guys were, but wishing I was sitting in the cab of a heated truck.
We began the Eccles Canyon climb as giant coal trucks rolled by. Their destination was right at the beginning of the climb, so there was no more traffic from that point on. Eccles Canyon is the site of a coal mining operation, so the entire length of the canyon has a network of conveyor belts and processing plants. Climbing at night was surreal, with the eerie glow of safety lights, giant shadows crisscrossing the canyon walls, and strange industrial noises starting and stopping at random intervals. There are some steep pitches near the top, but overall it was a nice climb, and much shorter than I remembered from descending it last year on a bikepacking trip thru the Wasatch Plateau. I backed off on my effort near the top so that I would not begin to sweat, knowing how important it would be to stay dry for the coming descent. At the top, it was freezing cold and the stars were brilliant on the moonless night. The Milky Way was clearly visible and the sky was completely clear. Richard later told me that his computer had registered a low of 35 degrees, I’m sure it would have been along this section.
We were now 18 hours into our ride and had 12 miles of rollers above 8600′ feet, across the Wasatch Plateau, before the descent into Fairview. Without a sustained climb to keep me warm, I constantly fought off shivering and my hands and feet slowly went numb. I worried about what would happen if one of us had to stop for a flat tire; fretted that I hadn’t thrown my firestarter kit into my bag, resolved that if we passed a campfire, we would stop and warm up. But there were no campfires, no cell service, no more passing cars, and thankfully, no flat tires. I’m still surprised by how quickly I went from being so hot to being so cold, and have been trying to figure out how to stage this route so that the high desert sections get ridden at night and the high mountain sections get ridden during the heat of the day.
We made it to the descent thru Fairview Canyon and felt the warm air as we lost elevation. Feeling returned to my hands and feet, and hope replaced worry. As we rolled into the control in Mt. Pleasant at 12:30AM, I think both Richard and I would have readily agreed to abandoning the ride right then. But a hot shower quickly warmed me up. I tried eating, but didn’t have any appetite, so I had a few bites and went to bed, hopeful that tomorrow would be a better day.
After four hours of solid sleep, I woke up with one overpowering thought: I was starving! Hunger is good. Hunger meant I could eat, and if I could eat, then I could ride! I ate a big breakfast, packed up my bike and rolled out at about 7:00AM, two hours later than what I had planned. I had based my ride schedule on a 12 MPH average time, but hadn’t factored stops into the timeline. We could afford the two extra hours of sleep and needed them badly. Richard loaned me a warmer jacket that I was grateful to have when we got to Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC). The morning was cold, but the sun quickly came up and warmed us up as we started up the Nebo climb. Climbing in the sunshine again, we worked our way up steep grades, enjoying the massive views. I had been really looking forward to Nebo, and it did not disappoint. Richard remarked at how dry the area is compared to the other canyons we would be climbing that day and explained that it is due to the orientation of the mountains in that area. They get more sun exposure and so don’t hold snow late into the summer like some of the greener canyons. Nebo has about 6 false summits, so don’t go thinking you’re almost to the top, because you’re not. And then when the descent begins, don’t think that you don’t have to pedal on the descent, because that descent has more climbing than any descent I’ve ever descended. It was up near the top that another cyclist passed me and it occurred to me that he was the first cyclist we had passed on our ride, 260 miles in! But the road finally did turn downward, and I enjoyed seeing how fast I could take the corners like I always do.
The valley furnace was turned up to High as we cruised thru the longest flat section of the route, 25 miles from Payson thru Provo. We stopped for lunch at Arctic Circle and I had my usual bacon cheeseburger, extra salty fries, and chocolate shake. I was happy to have a healthy appetite and glad to be near services for the remainder of the ride. I was excited to start the Alpine Loop climb, and, as expected, the entire climb was in the shade. This was definitely a highlight of the trip. It is so scenic, the roads conditions are excellent, and traffic was low. The upper roads are barely wide enough for two cars, so the traffic that was up there was extremely cautious in passing. As I began the Alpine Loop descent, I began to look for caution signs like on Nebo and was greatly surprised by the first switchback turn: no caution signs! You’re on your own on this descent and it is tempting to let it run, but there are many blind corners and the roads are narrow. I quickly made my way to American Fork and pulled into a gas station for resupply as the sun was setting. The cool night air felt good as Richard and I started the climb over Suncrest. I would not need to don any warm clothes until near the top of the final climb; it never got cold like it did the night before. As Day 2 progressed, I kept in a much better mood than Day 1. I’m not sure why, likely a combination of better weather, better food, and being on familiar territory. The last 50 miles of the course I had ridden many times before and could ride on auto-pilot without worrying about navigation.
Because I had often ridden the last parts of the course, a nagging question lingered in the back of my mind like a dark shadow over the past two days: Why did we put Little Cottonwood Canyon last? LCC is only the second hardest climb in the state, 8.5 miles at an average 7%, with portions as steep as 16%, and it is the place where the Tour of Utah is decided every year. Had anyone ever climbed it with 350 miles in their legs?
But first, we had the rollers of Wasatch Blvd to contend with. As we crested yet another 9% pitch, I complained to Richard that next time we would just do 50 laps of this 8 mile stretch, and that would be a much harder ride. We worried about water once again, and Richard decided to top off his bottle from a sprinkler that was running that night. We joked about adding to the cue sheet: Look for sprinklers to top off your water bottles along this section. And then it began.
LCC climbs 3500’ in 8 miles. Top pro riders make it to the top in 45 minutes. On a good day, I can get to the top in 1:10. On this day, it took me two-and-a-half-hours. That included plenty of time for walking my bike up the steepest sections, congratulating the bride and groom checking into the hotel at Snowbird, and taking a power nap in a wind-sheltered stairway. With plenty of ambient light from the city below, I did much of the climb with my lights off, enjoying seldom-seen night views of the canyon walls. I stood for my final picture in front of the Albion Basin sign and began the fast descent back to the start. It was all downhill from here!
Richard and I pulled into the last control at 1:43AM, 45 hours and 43 minutes after we started our ride, happy to be done with this great adventure. And I was happy to have completed my first ever 600k!
Update 9/16/2015: Weather cameras show it is snowing at high elevations today, we just barely got this done before the first snows of the season!