“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” – Ernest Hemingway
3 hours. The Garmin just flipped over 25 miles and we’ve been pedaling for 3 hours and the first 10 of those were on pavement. KB has just rolled up and the anxiety spelled on her forehead is the inkling in the back of my head that there is no fucking way we are going to hit mile 100 by sunset. At the rate we are going, it would take us 12 hours. Luckily, the Dugway was 1 of 2 significant climbs and we’ve just topped it. We will hit the second around mile 70. Between now and then there’s just open road and rolling hills. Somebody, please pray for no wind.
I can hear KB coming up from behind me. She says, “Look yoga,” as she passes with her feet up on the top tube stretching. The tailwind we have been experiencing combined with the slight downhill have us all in pretty good spirits. The Dugway is behind us and we can all look forward to going back down it on our return. After she passes, the Tandem Duo come through as well. Kenny imitating KB and Heather pedaling in the stoker’s seat. It’s clear who does all the work.
Somewhere in the middle. Maybe mile 36. Maybe mile 42. It doesn’t really matter because the middle is always a place that these things happen. The road to Toroweap is straight. When I say you pedal south from town until you hit the old schoolhouse, it really is almost directly south. And this straight road stretches for what can seem like never-ending miles and never-ending miles always come in the middle. The middle is where the redundancy of pedaling combined with extended distances yet to be traveled and create a bog in the journey, almost a boredom of doing what you set out to do.
Sometimes you’ve just been looking at your handlebars too long.
My brain finds solace in math. I know that might sound strange, but it was on my tour from Logan to Mexico that I began to understand that doing math would take my mind off the pain, the boredom and divide it into chunks, manageable pieces. If I know I need to go, let’s say 100 miles before I’m done, my brain begins by dividing that into pieces. At the top of the Dugway, I assumed we were 1/4 of the way done and that we would then be 12 hours to the finish line. Once that 1/4 was done, I immediately find another chunk to subdivide and get myself to. Once there, it’s just another chunk. For all of this to work, I need some sort of device to calculate my distance and time traveled. This is pretty much the only reason there is always a Garmin strapped to my bars. I’m not counting the miles, I’m dividing the pain.
Every bikepacking blog post has to have a picture of a rider’s shadow as they trudge along an otherwise normal road. I took several. Seeing that we felt a bit under the gun about finishing this whole thing before sundown, we didn’t stop every time I had an idea for a photo. Needless to say, a lot of the pictures were taken on the go and many of them didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned them as I was holding onto the bars with one hand and trying to manipulate my phone to compose the shot with the other. I did get a shot of the Tandem Duo’s shadow but I liked it better with the context of the riders. Shadows are kind of pointless.
I’m not a fan of crowds. This goes just as much for National Parks as it does for places like, say Disneyland. My brain sees them as pretty much the same thing with one particular difference. National Parks tend to take themselves way too serious. Yea, I get it. You are protecting a beautiful place by making it into a theme park so millions of people can visit and keep it beautiful. One of the many reasons I love Toroweap, you will never be there when you can’t walk a few minutes and be engulfed in silence and they don’t take themselves seriously at all.
I consider myself a damn lucky guy. Not only did I somehow convince a smart, beautiful woman to commit to spending the rest of her life with me, but she also happens to be tougher than nails. I need to be in wild places, it’s part of what has defined my existence from as far back as I can remember. Like the vague memories of riding in the middle seat of the ’72 Chevy on our way out to deer camp as a toddler with Papa Brinkerhoff. Still, to this day, the temperatures and smells of October make me want to go camping. Having a partner that not only understands that but is pushing me along the way, well, I think you get the point.
One thing you quickly learn when bikepacking is that there is a big difference between arriving at your destination and arriving at your campsite. We had made it to Toroweap as you have seen by the above picture. Unfortunately, that meant we still had another 5 miles (or 1 mile if your Kenny) to our campsite. Passing over the cattle guard and stopping at the ranger station had brought our group morale up and we were ecstatic to be rolling in, but we still had 5 miles left.
If you’ve never been out to the edge, let me warn you about the road once you are in the park. Getting out there, the road is dirt and will either be washboardy or not. Once you are in the park, the road sucks balls. You can ride it quicker on a bike than you can drive it in a truck. With that said, this was my all-time least favorite part of the trail. The chamois I had chosen for this trip was one I had used many times and always loved. Unfortunately, every time I had used it had been for about an hour or so. It had felt great for the first hour or so of our journey and after felt like I wasn’t even wearing one.
That last five miles into the park was bumpy, just enough so that you couldn’t keep a good rhythm to keep the tires rolling and every bump hurt. Luckily, it at least had some views.
Day two was to be a hiking day or at least that was the loose plan we had made. By the time we had arrived at our campsite, none of us were too into the idea of a strenuous three-mile hike with 3000 vertical drop down to the Colorado followed by a 3000-foot climb back up. No, none of that sounded like something we wanted to do. However, we were all pretty keen on squeezing in a couple of naps.
The Grand Canyon is a place a man could get lost in for years and still never be able to say that he knows all of it. It’s a place that I plan on getting lost in over and over again. Kenny has already started talk of an annual trip to this place that is so close, but so far away. That’s so easy to get to but is in the middle of nowheresville, where you feel like a couple of wild west riders are going to come over the next ridge and confront you about where you are getting water and to make sure that you stay on your side of the fence. And then you are on the edge of a canyon looking 3000 feet down to the Colorado.
Saturday was not only a rest day, it was a day that I was grateful to have nothing to do. We walked around. We took naps. We relaxed. We ate. God did we eat, pretty much everything that we brought. I mean who wants to carry food back. And it was a big relief to not have to pedal. The bikes were just there as a reminder that at some point we would have to get back on them and make the ten-hour journey back home.
And thus arrived Sunday.
We left camp a full two hours later than we had on Friday. Not because we slept in, but simply due to the fact that it takes time to break down camp. Friday morning we rolled out of bed and our bikes were packed. Sunday morning we rolled out of bed and had to pack said bed onto our bikes.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. Despite how bad my ass hurt, how tired my legs were and how much I really didn’t want to get back on that bike, I was genuinely excited to be back on the bike. When you have nothing to do but spin the cranks all day long, that becomes your home and the only thing that matters is forward motion. You start to ignore the pain or you mask it a little bit with some Vitamin I. And eventually, your legs stop crying and just keep spinning and spinning and spinning and spinning.
I think it’s the vague concept that one is passing through the vast landscape unseen, unknown and leaving no trace that you were there. Or maybe it’s the contrast of the road and the dark outline of what you are, but whatever it is, there’s always a shadow shot.
We hit the road around 9. There was the awful, bumpy, flat beautiful 5 miles back to the ranger station. We stopped and chatted with Stuart for a few minutes while we used the last bathroom for 80 miles. He was still a little unbelieving that we had pedaled all the way there and were now going to pedal all the way back. It didn’t all make sense in his head and I understood because it all wasn’t making too much sense in mine either.
We mounted back up and headed toward our one significant climb of the day, Mount Trumble.
It’s a flat shot from the park to the turnoff where things start heading up. From that turn, it’s about seven miles to where you feel that you might be somewhat done climbing for a minute. A spot that corresponds to the ranger station and our last chance for water for the day. It’s also a strange place that sits almost at the exact same elevation of a large flat, empty area, and yet this small section has Ponderosa Pines.
I filtered some water as I had opted to risk not having enough so I wouldn’t have to carry a ton up the mountain.
We started later and our pace was not as quick as before, but at least we had a table for our lunch break as we stopped at the schoolhouse. The girl coming out of the school as we rolled up looked a little confused as to where we had come from. She said hi and we rolled right past her to the waiting tables. A couple of beers came out and we refueled as we noticed that the wind was once again blowing briskly in our favor.
We enjoyed a tailwind for about ten miles making a great time. And then things shifted. Crosswind. Headwind. Slow us downwind. The struggle was real as Kenny and Heather easily left us in the dust on the flat windy road toward the top of the Dugway. Around mile 24 I noticed my fly was down. I didn’t do anything about it. I mean what was the point. I noticed again around mile 43, still no action taken. it wasn’t until we were just about to the final small climb up to the Dugway that I stopped to take a leak and remedied the situation. Luckily we hadn’t seen anyone else the entire time so no harm was done.
On our climb up the Dugway, I had failed to fully comprehend the amount of climbing we had done. Which is odd because one usually feels that the climb is way longer than the descent, but once we started down, it just kept going down until there were only a few miles left to hit the pavement and the colors of the St. George desert laid out in layers as we pedaled due north.
It was right around this time that I bonked. I had about 3/4 of a ProBar saved. I was planning on eating it once we hit the pavement which would mark ten miles left. I felt the hunger coming on and popped the bar in quick. It kept me going till the pavement. The pavement starts with a stiff climb. I bonked again at the top. Luckily KB still had a few snacks tucked away and was kind enough to share. I guess I did pretty good making it almost all the way home before losing my shit.
The smooth pavement was amazing which is something I never thought I would say about the roads in Southern Utah, but that last ten miles flew by in comparison.
I wasn’t ready for another lap Monday morning, but I think I would be by the weekend. Who’s in?
P. L. and R.
Written by Moose and originally appearing on the Mooseknuckler Alliance website.