Thursday, October 29, 2009

DHM, the anticlimax.

When you're touring in SW Utah in late summer, and it's *this* cold...

...learn from my experience and take your time getting a move on. It can only get warmer.

TO and I used our palatial-imitation Kabin to spread out gear, do some eating, and discuss our plan for the day. Getting a wheel was simply not going to happen. So we needed to get back to Boulder, a full-day's ride on pavement from where we sat. Without a doubt the scenery on that paved road is stellar, but I'd sooner gouge my own eyes out with spoons than ride more road. The past 5 days had given me *more* than my quota of tarmac and gravel for this year and some of next. We needed a better plan.

Trouble was, we knew we couldn't rely on TO's wheel to make it more than a mile or two. So riding the trail was out. After all possibilities (even the ridiculous ones) were tossed out on the table, we came up with a simple plan. TO would hitch a ride to his car, fetch it, then start heading back this way. While he was hitching, I'd ride along our original intended route, hoping to make it as far as Pine Lake to meet him there. Once there we'd camp for the night, maybe fish a little, then call it a trip and head home.

I headed out into a world blown free of dust and dirt--everywhere you looked seemed newly minted, especially the sky.

Late morning these guys were melting under direct sunlight, but I never felt anything like 'heat' all through the day.

I took my time on the paved stretch up to Tropic, toodled my way along the gravel headed east out of town, then rolled through Henderson Canyon trailhead to find...

...not much. There was sort of a hint of a trail to follow, so I pointed myself that way.

For about 3 minutes the trail surface looked like this:

Hardpacked and easy cruising. For about 3 minutes.

And then it wasn't so firm. From what I could gather while walking the next 8 or 9 miles, someone had brought 15 or 20 beeves down from the high country and their collective hooves had obliterated the crust. Not much to do but grin and keep walking. Except that I didn't really grin.

High in the canyon I found *some* of the perpetrators. Somewhere in there a narrow foot path used to exist...

Erosion and defoliation specialists with a minor in shit production is what they are. I'll spare y'all the rant, just know that I have zero tolerance for private grazing on public lands. Nuff said.

There were a few very, very short stretches where the beeves had clearly not relished obliterating the trail--so they'd gone off trail for a spell, leaving the original tread intact. And it was pretty sweet.

Scrub oak turning.

Getting really close to popping through the capstone here. Often throughout the day I'd turn to mention a thought or point something out to TO, but then I'd catch myself.

I rolled down to Pine Lake (our meeting point) at 3ish and he wasn't there. I pedaled around the lake, through the campground, and back to the lake. Not finding him, and unwilling to sit still while the wind continued to suck precious heat away from me, I decided to spin uphill aways. Twiddling a friendly gear on this rough ATV track was a fine way to keep warm. As I pedaled along I fiddled with the GPS, ultimately guesstimating that Powell Point just might be reachable, for me, today. Lacking a better option, I set my sights on 'higher' and kept climbing.

Long story short, I was cutting it close on time to tag the top then descend back down to meet TO at Pine Lake by dark. I ended up in full time-trial mode for over an hour, giving myself a luxuriant 2 minutes at the Point proper to take in the sights. Truth be told, the view was nice but the ~20 degree temps and 40mph wind didn't encourage relaxing and enjoying. I grabbed these few snapshots on the fly then got the flock outta there.

Between the windchill at the Point and ~30 minutes of high speed descending, I was borderline hypothermic when I got back to the lake at dark. TO hadn't arrived and I was too cold to sit around waiting. I dug out my last layer and contemplated building a fire, but before I could finish zipping into it a pair of headlights rounded the bend and there he was. Phew.

We loaded up the car, drove a minute to a somewhat wind-sheltered spot, made camp. Then spent the next few hours discussing his next ~year of study in AK, my wheelbuilding business, and every other thought that came to mind.

All while staring into this:

What a great, great way to wrap up a summer.

Thanks Dave.

Thanks Pete.

Until next time,


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DHM, day 5

Wind blew hard all though the night.

We'd grown accustomed to the heavy breeze while riding and gawking the past several days. You just can't stop long if you're sweaty, or you find a sheltered place to take a break, or you add a layer. Easy cheesy.

But for some reason the wind got to me on this night. No doubt a critical factor was our choice of bivy spot--under big pines, and atop their delicious detritus: Duff.

But what else falls with the duff?

Cones. Bazillions of 'em.

It only takes *one* landing close (no contact need be made) to put your (my) sensors on high alert. Then the gusting wind takes over and rustles the branches overhead, maybe flaps the corners of your tarp a bit, plops a few more cones, and voila--you aren't getting any more meaningful sleep.

TO sawed logs for hours, oblivious to the impending doom. Bastard.

When finally there was enough light in the sky I got up and started prattling around, packing gear, munching on leftovers, happy just to be vertical again. Long nights this time of year = LOTS of camp time. TO stumbled around in a sleep hangover (bastard!) even longer than normal. Then we started up Mill Creek.

The lower slopes were friendly enough grades to ride, even stiff and sore right outta the bag.

But as we got higher the grade kicked up and the surface conditions deteriorated. Then we walked.

Here's a glimpse of TO cresting the Mill Creek climb. On average the wind in this clip is a little heavier than what we'd had the first few days, and a little (OK, a lot) lighter than what we'd get for the next two.

Hairypants the route master had made some last minute trail tweaks just before sending us off, and hadn't actually been on-the-ground for a few of the upcoming miles. We never completely forgave him for the bushwhack away from BEAUTIFUL singletrack and onto another dang road.

This view southeast over the Grand Staircase courtesy of another one of TO's flats.

For the first time in days we felt hounded by the weather. Dark clouds, malevolent gusts, and an occasional spray of rain kept us anxious.

There wasn't any singletrack to speak of, but we enjoyed a little-used ATV track with great flow.

More yellow.

Flowy track gave way to shand.

A few miles of tailwind-aided momentum shot us onto the Skutumpah Road. Hair-o-rama's cues described it as easy cruising, which it emphatically was. Gradual and sometimes steep descending through stunning scenery, vaguely reminiscent of the Entrada Bluffs road a few hundred miles northeast. But Skutumpah was infinitely more enjoyable.

Plus I just liked the way the word rolled off my tongue--it could be noun, adjective, or verb equally well. Skutumpah!

Inches-deep wind drift across the otherwise graded road bed.

Approaching Cannonville we got a good look at what we assumed would be the evening's conquest: Powell Point.

I'd been subconsciously dreading that climb, knowing it was likely to whup me into a sniveling mess. More than normal, I mean.

But once it came into view I got really motivated by the idea of making it up there to camp.

We rolled into Tropic powered by a now-nuclear tailwind. I screamed back at TO that I didn't think I could push this much wind. I don't think he could hear me, but the statement would turn out to be oddly prophetic.

An hour at the main tourist trap gave us our RDA of onion rings, double bacon cheeseburgers and, naturally, coffee. Then we reloaded bikes and packs with 3 days of vittles for the big push over the top and down to Boulder. As I coerced 2 lbs of M & M's into my frame pack, TO asked to borrow my spoke wrench. I dug it out and handed it over, thinking it odd that this was the second time he'd needed it. He disappeared to tend to his truing issues while I finished packing up.

Loaded for bear we prepared to roll out.

But something wasn't quite right with TO's wheel, and he asked me to have a look. I sighted down the left side of the wheel, turned a few nips, and quickly brought the wheel within ~1mm of true. But then I sighted down the right side and my jaw hit my knees. Huge, huge wobbles. TO had had a similar problem with this model of rim a few months previous. He suspected the rim was splitting circumferentially so he removed his tire, tube, and rim strip to have a look. Sure enough, cracks propagated from several of the spoke holes. His wheel was toast.

Our trip was done.

We spent a few minutes discussing options, which given our distant-from-a-bikeshop location included riding pavement or hitchhiking, either way just to get to his car in Boulder. The state of his wheel ensured that the former would quickly lead to the latter.

After much discussion we opted to get a room and find a phone/computer in hopes that we could bribe someone to deliver a wheel. But it's just never that easy. Not a single room (out of hundreds!) was available in Tropic, despite the town being deserted. Sitting roadside in a 40+ mph breeze it was hard to think clearly. We both remembered a motel and campground back in Cannonville, but that was...

Gah. Upwind.

Granny gear would have been appropriate against that blow, but in granny you didn't have consistent enough chain tension to keep the bike upright. Not that I managed to keep it upright. We struggled much, I walked a little, and eventually we made it to that haven for weary travelers: KOA.

I chuckled aloud when I walked into the wind-free office and read, "It's not camping, it's Kamping"!

One more day to go...


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dave's Hairy Monster, Day 4.

Waking at sunrise, the view from the bag.

Neither of us moved very fast to get on the trail this morning. That fact may have had something to do with the cold temps up here at ~9k', may have had roots in the frequent rude awakenings we'd experienced at the hands of oblivious (they never knew we were there) and intoxicated late-night ATV joyriders, or it could simply have been that we were tired from the effort of touring.

Whichever it was we moved slow in packing up, even briefly rekindling the embers from the fire, and then once back on the trail we just kinda collectively shuffled along. No hurry, no schedule, stopping for whatever reason (or no reason at all) was just fine.

It was only around lunchtime that I realized what the *real* cause for TO's lackadaisicality had been: Withdrawal.

A new man walked out of that gas station, fully charged on several cups o' mud. He pushed the pace (relatively speaking) the rest of the day, animated the conversation, and took the initiative to think proactively about our water needs. An amazing transformation, all at the hands of a few hundred milligrams of caffeine.

But that was all on TO's end. I'm not afflicted with any kind of liking for coffee, so after we left the gas station I pretty much continued to drag ass, relatively speaking, the rest of the day.

Working our way up one of the steeper bits of Pole Canyon.

What we saw when we popped out on top.

Many clouds in the sky today, pushed (pulled?) along by the everpresent wind. We got so used to the blow that it was only in very brief (and very protected) moments that we noticed the odd absence of it. And then we'd be right back in it. Dressing for the day meant dressing for wind chill and immediate evaporation of any perspiration. Easy enough.

For the next chunk of hours the trail dipsy-doodled along the edge of the Sunset Cliffs. ATV-width trail, often badly eroded, led us back and forth from the cliffs to mixed groves of aspen and spruce.

Ever wonder what that stuff looks like up close, what the glue is that holds it all together?


Such stunning views tend, eventually, to desensitize you to the stuff closer at hand. I fought to remain sensitized.

Someone had to.

We descended a quick, exhilarating ~thousand feet into a dry creek bottom, where shandy track awaited.

A proliferation of healthy oak argued for the likelihood of water nearby.

TO checked the cues and found it so--not a mile ahead we came upon this clear running spring.

When I moved out west ~17 years ago, childhood friends afflicted with the "Here's better" bug would attempt to argue that fall colors were far superior 'back home' compared to the 'just yellow' that we get in the mountains.

To this day I just nod and agree.

Working our way out of the valley and back onto the flanks of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Big trees, big views, little us.

Lots more 'just yellow' greeted us as we approached Water Canyon.

Although the riding got better and better as the sun set and moon rose, the wind had increased to the extent that we were having a hard time seeing the trail. Too much wind-whipped dust illuminated by our headlamps culminated in an awkward slow speed endo for me. We called it a night at Mill Creek Canyon, comfortably insinuating ourselves into the bosom of the big trees dominating that spot. Sinfully thick beds of duff twixt our pads and the earth, a small but bright blaze to warm our faces and feet, murmurs of appreciation as we tucked into our meager trail fare. TO crashed out a bit before I did, giving me a few minutes of silence to be thankful for roadless places, the health and wealth to get to them, and a companion so tolerant of my intolerance and other idiosyncratic behaviors.

Then I passed out.