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!