Ever say "yes" before you know what you are saying yes to? That's how I found myself in Southern Utah with a group of badass women; Tropic to Green River.
This was going to be fun and hard.
Tropic, Utah is a town of about 500 people nestled in a valley between Bryce and Escalante, a tourist stop masquerading as an old cow town. We rolled out early before the chill had left the air, the fresh dusting of snow adding to the striking scenery. That first morning cruised by, we were all chatting and getting to know each other, most of us having never met before. Soon we found the first climbs of the day and our low gears as we worked our way to the summit, all while the surrounding landscape started to hint at the sights we were in for. "Its all down hill to Escalante" was actually true, and we found some tail-wind to help us get to our lunch stop, Mimi's Bakery.
After lunch we slow rolled our way out of Escalante heading East on Scenic Byway 12. Thirty minutes later we were pulled over at the Head of Rocks overlook taking in the truly bananas scenery of milk white rocks and the descent that lay ahead. It is terrifyingly beautiful on that stretch between Escalante and Boulder; there are times when the road seems to hang on the edge of a cliff and all you can do is try not to ride straight off the side into oblivion while taking in the sights, no guardrails, no trees, just you and your bike and a drop-off that would make Thelma and Louise proud.
As we descended into the Escalante River canyon and the Calf Creek falls area we found our selves cruising along the bottom of a 500ft deep crack in the earth, walled in by sheer cliffs of Navajo sandstone, red and omniscient, they guided us along and eventually up and out of their confines. Beyond the safety of the canyon we found the true difficulty of the day was not going to be the elevation we gained but the wind. The Hogback is a section of Utah 12 that is up on a ridge, exposed and fatigued we all had to put our heads down and pedal, winding our way along the spine, slowly grinding our way closer to Boulder. Working together when we could, rotating through a pace line, but the wind was shifting and quartering us such that drafting wasn't proving to be very effective. It was with a noted amount of relief when we finally turned and made that last effort up a small rise into town.
The alarm comes early when you have to get up and ride your bike just as far and just as hard as the day before. Hustling to get our stuff to van, get to breakfast, get to the team meeting, get on our bikes, ride. Breakfast was every bit a fantastic as dinner the night before, biscuits and gravy, more than just calories, the food of champions. Some quick words of encouragement and some quick logistical details and we were on our way to Bullfrog via the Burr Trail. Cruising along we were all excited about what lay ahead on our journey. The day was biggish distance wise, 75miles or so, but we would also see our first gravel of the ride.
The morning breezed along as we had calm winds and fair weather, a nice change from the cold morning we'd had in Tropic. Reaching the boarder of Capital Reef National Park and the pavement end we stopped to regroup our team. We passed the time with a bit of hacky sak to stay warm and not let the breeze make us shiver. A few minutes later everyone was there, we aired down our tires, dropping the pressure to make the gravel smoother and the soft sandy areas manageable.
Once we hit the gravel everything felt better. There is truly something different about non-paved roads and the sense of both adventure and freedom. A few short miles later we were stopped at the top of the legendary Burr Trail Switchbacks. The switchbacks and the surrounding landscape combine to form one of the strangest optical illusions, a fever dream of a road engineer and M.C. Escher, the serpentine path seems to tie itself in knots as it descends an insane hillside into a crevasse of rock and just pops out the other side on the valley floor. This is the famed Waterpocket Fold, a geologic area that comprises the main feature of Capital Reef NP, spanning almost 100miles from North to South.
In the valley we turned South along the Notom-Bullfrog road and began the final leg of the days ride. Climbing gently towards the South we held a good pace, dodging cow pies potholes as we went. Clouds were chasing us as we started feeling the first drops of precipitation, oddly it was the frozen variety, it was snowing on us in the desert. Graupel has both a fun name and the fun feature of being very similar to styrofoam balls and bounces everywhere when it falls, littering the road ahead of us like a giant bean bag exploded above us. As quick as it started, it was gone and we pressed the pedals down knowing that the days journey was taking all the way to the shores of Lake Powell which we could see glimmering in the distance like a mirage. Theres not a lot to the town of Bullfrog, in fact "town" is a generous description as it mostly consists of a marina and a few acres of RV parks. The one hotel, Defiance House Lodge, was our destination and we welcomed the descent into the small community. Lounging on the sandstone rocks that surround both the lake and lodge was a well deserved relief from our days effort. Cold beers, salty chips and some dried mango soon had us back in form and we found ourselves playing bikes on the slick rock, riding up and down and around on the vast expanse of soil-free surface.
I woke that next morning staring out the window, my bicycle leaning up against the wall, taunting me, daring me to do it again. Some coffee and breakfast kicked the brain in gear, recapping the days agenda we determined that this was going to be a hard one. The ride plan was to head north to Hanksville, a rolling 67 paved miles, trending up hill from Bullfrog, the low point in elevation of our ride. The sobering detail of a 10-15mph headwind was not glossed over, we all knew that meant our day was going to be arduous.
North of Bullfrog, about 20miles in to our day we came over a small rise to find the strange sight of hundreds of house boats in dry-dock, waiting for the heady days of summer and their owners return. Like ghosts of heyday past many of them rusting relics of Americana, out to pasture in their sandy moorings, the intense desert sun bleaching their vinyl decals and paint into pastel hues that almost blend into the surroundings. The names of the vessels representing the themes that each launch carried with it decades before in their heyday, Good Times, Dads Toy, Okie Dokie.
Back on the road we made the best of it and worked through a pace line, the winds steadiness being one of its best attributes, always from the north and with just enough velocity to make the downhills seem flat at best, we buried our heads, take a pull, rotate to the rear, recover, repeat. The team time-trial method kept us in formation, waiting occasionally for one or two who dropped off on an ascent, grouping back up for the next set of rollers. The long white line guiding us, giving us bearing while we stared at it and our teammates wheel.
Lunch found us laying in a gravel parking lot, the intersection of two highways, sunning our selves and taking on some replacement calories for the what had been the hardest part of the ride so far. Bleary from the sound of wind in our ears we set out for the final stretch of tarmac into Hanksville. Reprieve came in the form of flatter roads which were welcomed, while the headwind remained and we continued working in form so as to ease the efforts required. The road was trending downhill as we came over a rise to finally see Hanksville coming into view, a much welcomed sight.
Greenriver is only 54 miles from Hanksville but we were going to make it last for 85 miles via dirt. We left the pavement a few miles out of town, turning onto a freshly graded road leading off into the sage. More than a few of us had teary eyes that morning, our bodies telling us to ease up, to take a rest day, but our eyes dried as we found our rhythm again and soon we were motoring along through the desert. The sandy sections ended after about 20miles and we found ourselves following a well packed dirt road making solid time, a slight tail wind giving us new found ease in our travels.
Lunch came and as we gathered our things to continue the journey we noted that at the current rate of speed we were going to take another 5 hours to reach dinner. We put rubber to dirt and made tracks for Greenriver with a new found energy and desire to get this job done. We were making 20-25mph for over 20 miles, the wind working in our favor, the scenery and the cows flying by. The Dali-esque landscape unfolded before us, wild scenes of desert dunes pierced by snow capped peaks in the distance, moon grey clay fields, pock marked rock meadows with not a sign of vegetation, rusty muddy lakes and murky water, moving ever closer to our goal.
We rolled into Greenriver like a gang of bandits, dusty from the trail, worn from the journey but thirsty for more. We took in the sunset with beers on a beachy bend in the river, high fives and cheers around, stoked for the stamp weíd put on the final day. We averaged over 20mph for the last 50 miles of our 285 mile journey, a solid effort by all. Completing the ride seemed so far off when we left Tropic 4 days earlier but here we were, no one had cracked, no one crashed, all of us were spent.
I think my biggest take-away from our adventure in Utah was one of personal growth, finding the ability to put my head down and pedal when my body was telling me to stop, staying present enough to enjoy the effort and keeping a good attitude when most of you hurts. Be sure to say yes next time someone asks you to do a thing that your not quite sure you can do, you just might surprise yourself. Thanks MFF for putting together such a rad group of women and thanks to all the support crew for making such a rad idea work.