The following narrative is based on my journal entries during a weeklong mountain bike trip in September 2004 from Durango, Colorado to Moab, Utah. The trip is operated by a vendor who has placed six huts on public (4) and private (2) land. The huts are well-stocked with food and cooking utensils, a propane stove, two propane lights, plenty of water, and eight bunks with foam pads and sleeping bags. The rider carries all other necessities including a sleeping bag liner. The huts are accessible by motor vehicle and are restocked every few days depending on the number of people using them. The company starts trips every day so that a rider cannot stay for more than one night nor skip a hut by riding double miles in a day. For the week I chose, only one other person had signed up, a mid-thirties (I would guess) fellow from near Chicago, Illinois with wife and twin six-year-old sons at home. His name was Andrew or Drew for short.
I decided to share this narrative with my family since folks seemed to enjoy my world bike trip, and this was enough out of the ordinary to make it of general interest. And so to begin…
3 Sep 04, Friday Hut #1, Bolam Pass, Co
After having supper at the little café at Needles midway between Purgatory Ski Area (our starting point) and the campground where I stayed last night, I tried calling Andrew again, but the phone was busy with someone else in line for it so I blew it off. Supper wasn't bad. I had chicken enchiladas. The café was much more gourmet and expensive than I was looking for.
I was in the sack by 9:30 p.m. but slept somewhat fitfully. I awoke at 1:30 a.m. with a bit of a bad dream and stayed awake for quite awhile worrying about the trip and wishing I had brought a second pump with me. Being in the mountains can be a bit awe inspiring and unforgiving.
I awoke at 6 a.m. It had sprinkled some in the early morning. I took my tent down in near dark, surprised at how loose everything was while damp when I had barely been able to get the material to stretch to the tent poles last night while they were dry. I ate my breakfast (banana, cherry pie, donuts, apple and cranberry juice) while listening to NPR before driving to the inn where I was leaving my car.
Once there I packed my bike. I couldn't believe how heavy it is! I can barely lift the rear tire off the ground. I hope I don't have to carry it any distance. I started having serious misgivings. Riding up to the starting point only added to them. Besides being heavy and so a bit harder to handle, my heels were rubbing against the panniers at every stroke. Once at the starting point Andrew was not yet there so I adjusted the bags back so they wouldn't rub.
I waited until 8:15 a.m. for Andrew. We had agreed to meet at 8 a.m. The sun was out intermittently as dark clouds rolled in and over from the east. This was to be the case for the entire day. Also the wind was blowing from the south, and it was a bit cool. Finally I decided to ride up to the lodge to find a pay phone. Again I had no luck with Andrew's cell phone so I called his home number in case he decided not to come. His wife answered to say he had left a message for her while she was in the shower saying he was running late. So I rode back to the starting point to wait some more.
While waiting I read a bit. Also, I saw something very small run across the dirt road. I thought it was a large beetle, but it moved too fast and too smoothly. I hurried for a closer look and got there just as the shrew stopped on the far side of the road, twitching his long snout for signs of prey. I bent down for a close look. It was tiny! About the size of a quarter. The smallest shrew I think I've seen…all the others have been dead or mere glimpses.
Andrew finally pulled up around 9 a.m. and got ready. After a very short level section we immediately began climbing at a decent pitch. Andrew hopped off to walk before we had gone two miles. I rode on to the 2.7 mile point and waited for him. I didn't have to wait long. Shortly thereafter we started down a long, gradual descent the full length of a gorgeous alpine valley with a lovely stream describing a sinusoidal path down the middle. It was worth the climb, and I felt great to be on the trip.
Towards the end of the valley and a ways beyond, we began seeing a large number of campers, more than I would have expected, especially since we had passed a campground that appeared almost empty just a mile previously.
Our downhill sojourn was at an end around ten miles, and we climbed relentlessly to an old mine called the Graysill Mine at mile 16.0 where I again waited for Andrew. It was a difficult climb. I had to stop a few times and pushed my bike up a 60-90 ft section towards the end. I was in my lowest gear most of the time and was going so slow around a couple of switchbacks that I couldn't navigate the turns on the fist-sized stones and just fell over. I almost couldn't push my bike up the section I walked. It was very steep, and bike shoes aren't the best footwear for traction.
I waited for Drew who was not that far back surprisingly. However, he had worn some good blisters on his heels with all his walking. While waiting for him I explored the old mine shack and local area. While walking my left knee popped out and back in so I knew I was really stressing my legs. One old shack is still in pretty good shape. They mined the area from 1945-63 looking for Uranium and another such element.
From the mine it was 0.4 miles to a beautiful little lake offering a swim and then 1.3 miles to the pass. As much as I hated to pass up a swim, I did because it was cool with a good breeze and no sun, so we pushed on. I topped the pass a bit before my bike computer indicated I should. My computer had been remarkably in alignment with the mileage on our direction sheet up to that point. The view from the top was spectacular with a narrow valley below and still taller peaks along the skyline.
It was only a short way, about a half mile to the hut and, boy, were we both ready for a break! The hut is small with eight bunks in two layers on either side, a kitchen counter with gas stove under the front windows and cabinets full of food against the back wall next to the door. In the middle are tubs with more food and three trash cans for paper, flattened cans, and food waste. Canned goods are stacked under the bunks and atop the cabinets. The sleeping bags are on wooden platforms just under the ceiling.
The first thing I did was explore all the food caches. I made some Tang and ate a Snickers. Next I brought all my stuff in, as it looked like it would finally rain. Then I wetted my washcloth (one of mom's homemade ones) and took a sponge bath, putting on warm clothes when finished as it looked like it would be cold for awhile. There is no woodstove in the hut, as advertised, although there is a stove pipe through the roof that has been plugged up by a previous occupant. I then made some Gatoraid, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an Almond Mounds bar and a couple handfuls of mixed nuts. Drew warmed himself some canned beef stew.
It began raining not long after we got to the hut, and it has been raining steadily ever since-maybe a couple of hours with short respites. This surprises me as I'm used to the short mountain cloudbursts. Drew said he heard a weather report stating tomorrow would be nasty but then sunshine for the next several days.
The rain definitely casts a pall. I had hoped to walk back to the lake and take a bath and a swim. I brought my mask and snorkel all this way just for such a contingency. But now it looks like we'll be socked in for the night, and its plenty cold. I'm writing this snuggled in a sleeping bag.
After my snack/lunch I read the recipe book supplied by the hut system and the journal containing writings of the folks who have stayed at this hut this year. This is always enjoyable. For most, the route was tough and some had rain, mud, and even snow and hail. At least one group had a bear try to get into the hut.
The difficulty of this first day definitely puts the trip into a different perspective for me. I expected it to be challenging, but I think today is the toughest ride I've done. And this is the shortest day at 18 miles! Tomorrow is 28.7 miles, a full ten miles further than today, and Day 3 is the longest of the trip at 41.7 miles. I hope I have not underestimated the difficulty of the trip. Maybe today is just one of the hardest climbs. The first climb was tough but doable, but the second seemed to go on forever and was very steep. At one point it felt like my back gear shifter slipped. I sure hope I don't have major bike problems because I'm not well versed on the trickier problems.
Tonight we'll make some supper or another, don't know what yet. Drew is still asleep, and it is raining hard. Luckily with only two of us, if it gets cold, we can just pull another sleeping bag over us.
8:30 p.m. I went out for a walk just after sunset and, no sooner had I closed the door, then I heard an elk bugle not far away. Drew didn't hear it inside. A car went past, and I didn't hear another elk, but it sure was nice hearing one.
4 Sep 04, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Hut #2, Black Mesa, Co
I didn't think it would get worse. Well, it did. I slept fitfully. It rained off and on, mostly on, throughout the night. And the wind sometimes blew hard. Twice during the night we were awakened by crashes that shook the hut. I couldn't tell what caused them, but this morning I looked around the hut and came to the conclusion they were caused by a loose window covering getting caught by the wind and thrown against the cabin. I went to the outhouse before I turned out the light last night, and it was pitch black outside. My reading headlamp barely pierced the gloom. Had I not visited the outhouse earlier in the evening, I might not have found it. Boy, was the seat cold! It's a nice setup though. The toilet is in a small cabin built fairly high up. After a crap you sprinkle your deposit with wood chips.
We slept in this morning. It was raining and cold. Finally there was a break, and we got up to eat breakfast, but it started raining again so we crawled back into the sack, Drew to nap, me to read. Finally, sometime after 10 a.m., we decided we better get going so we got ready and were on our bikes by around 11 a.m.
Almost immediately, maybe twenty yards from the cabin, just as we hit the road, it began raining. I was mostly wet within a short time. I had on my raincoat and hood, my green neoprene shirt, rain pants, tights, woolie boolie socks and mittens. The first six miles were down a very rough road so we were constantly braking. We even passed a truck that was really going slow. The dirt on the brakes acted like sandpaper and really tore through Drew's brake pads. By the bottom, he was metal on metal on the back brakes so we stopped and talked about our options. There was a little town on our map close to our route so we talked about trying there to see if we could find any brake pads.
We had a short highway stretch at the bottom of the hill and then a sharp uphill/downhill before the little town so I headed off as Drew began to walk the uphill. It seemed to get colder as I climbed, and soon I ran into sloppy snowflakes. I began to get pretty cold. I had taken off my tights before starting up the hill. Coming down the other side I began worrying about hypothermia. My fingers and right toes were very cold and stiff. When I got to the turn off, I took the route to the little town of Dutton just a mile away on mostly flat or slightly downhill road.
Unfortunately, as I neared Dutton, it began to look like a ghost town with lots of old buildings. I was starting to get concerned. I was even thinking of calling Sheryl to come get me if I had the chance. When I got to the little road to the town, there was a gate across it with an electronic entry device of some kind. I saw someone walking between buildings so I leaned my bike against the fence and walked down the lane. It turns out that Dutton was an old town that has been refurbished as a resort. The old houses and cabins had been rebuilt and were where the guests stayed at $275 per person per night! They also had their own hot spring and a very nice club house that had been disassembled and rebuilt. Anyway, I found a young guy who worked there and asked if they had any rooms. He invited me in to get warm. They had a great fire going in their club house with sofas and lounge chairs, a pool table, bar and a table set for their guests. I found out the price then and, of course, they didn't have rooms on Labor Day weekend. I felt a little out of place as there were several guests wandering about or just lounging.
The staff was very nice. A fellow around my age, Doug, who was their chef and bartender, I think, introduced himself and asked if I'd like some hot tea. I declined. Drew eventually showed up. His plan was to call his mom to have her meet him somewhere down the line and bring him brake pads. Doug asked if we'd like a shower or a place to change, and we graciously took him up on the latter offer. He showed us to a cabin which was being cleaned, and I put on my tights again and then put my damp feet and socks into plastic bags before putting my shoes back on. By this time I was much warmer and had stopped shivering. Next, Doug took us to his quarters where he had a wonderful potato soup and beef stew warming on the stove along with foccacci bread and chocolate cookies. He wouldn't take no for an answer. The food was great. The cookies, firm on the outside and chewy inside, were a wonder!
After lunch we chatted with Sue, another employee, and Drew made his call. When Sue overheard his pads were bad, she said he could have the pads from one of the bikes at the resort if they fit! We found a couple that did, and Drew struggled to get them on. I helped some, but neither of us are mechanics.
By this time it was getting late, and we still had a good twelve miles to go so we set off. We immediately had a good climb, and I headed out to the hut on prior arrangement with Drew who knew he'd be walking the hills. The sky to the west cleared and, for a short while, we had blue sky and even a bit of sun. I stripped down to bike shorts and my shirt, and I was still sweating. Within a very short time span, however, this beautiful weather was replaced by grey, ominous clouds and a chill wind. I didn't even notice it. Shortly, after I topped the hill and had taken a sharp turn to the southwest, I ran into the wind and could feel a few sprinkles. By this time I had only five miles to the cabin so I began pushing harder on a relatively level stretch. But the sprinkles quickly transformed into a driving snowstorm. I stopped, put on my raincoat and rain pants again and pressed on.
The snow accumulated on me fast, and the lightening and thunder felt close, but there were plenty of trees uphill of me that were much higher than I was so I pressed on. The first 2.5 miles were level, and I made good time, but then the road turned up for the climb to Black Mesa, and I was grinding up in low gear again. A surprising number of cars passed me. Several asked if I was okay. I must have looked a sight as my raincoat really holds the snow, as does my helmet. At one point I checked the depth of the snow on my map holder and registered at least a half inch. All I could do was press on, but those last couple of miles went by very slowly. I was beginning to get worn out and ended up walking a few stretches alternating with riding. I was pooped.
Finally I made it to the hut. Like the first, this one had no wood stove so I quickly turned on the gas and lit the stove and two gas lights. My fingers were so cold, I had to do everything in spurts between warming them up. I ate a couple of candy bars, moved all my stuff into the hut after knocking the snow off, made a cup of hot chocolate to warm my hands, and took a spit bath with my washcloth and boiling water, first my top half and then my bottom half, drying each half and putting on dry clothes in turn. My body steamed in the cold hut. I was just trying to get some feeling in my toes by holding them against the hot water pot when Drew arrived.
He had walked much of the way and was tired. It was after 7 p.m. by this time and already getting dark under a lowering sky. All he wanted for supper was chicken noodle soup so I boiled more water after he got a cup of hot chocolate, and we had soup. I didn't have much of an appetite either. I had eaten two Baby Ruths and a couple of handfuls of M&Ms, all very cold, a cup of hot chocolate and a cup of hot Gatorade in addition to the soup. That big lunch at Dutton really helped.
Drew was really cold by this time so he turned in and is already snoring. I felt pretty good after the hot supper and massaged my feet warm before crawling into the sack to write this journal entry and then read. I brought a paperback copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X that has been on my reading list for some time.
Tomorrow could be another very challenging dray. First of all, it's the longest of the seven rides at 40+ miles. However, I think a stretch of that might be on a paved surface which is a much easier ride than the dirt and rock roads we've mostly ridden to date. However, I expect it to get even colder tonight so the snow might crust and certainly won't go away. I suspect we'll be coming off the mesa first thing tomorrow but, at least at the start, we'll be in snow and that could be tough. I don't have a clue how far down the snow level will be. I know it's below 10,000 ft for sure.
Then, with all the rain today, my gearing is all mucked up. I would have liked to clean and oil it this evening, but that just wasn't going to happen. You're not supposed to have the bikes in the huts. By tomorrow the snow I didn't knock off will be frozen. Maybe I can heat some water and clean my bike with it. We'll see. I sure wish the huts had a wood burning stove as advertised. Everything is easier when you're warm.
The reason I'm worried about my gearing is that I've started having trouble downshifting to my lower gears. I'm not sure what is wrong, but it appears to be in the shifting mechanism. With the kind of climbing we've been doing that could be really bad news. Today I've tried to compensate by anticipating going to a lower gear early enough to fiddle with it. It might get to the point where I have to walk more of the uphills because I don't have the gears.
Another worry is that the tendon over my middle finger knuckle on my left hand caught this evening when I got to the hut, and my hands were so stiff with cold. It hurts a bit even now but seems to be getting better. Maybe it's just because of the cold.
Anyway, tomorrow looks to be another eventful day. At least Drew's new brake pads appear to be working. I sure hope the weather clears up, and we get some of that great soutwestern late summer weather. We are in some spectacular country, but visibility has been low, and we've had to concentrate on the road. When the weather has broken, we've had some grand views.
Oh, I saw some hummingbirds at a feeder at the resort and a couple of grouse, not sure what type, along the road.
5 Sep 04, Sunday 9 p.m. Hut #3, Hamilton Mesa, Co
It was cold last night. My bike tires wouldn't even go around this morning, and the water in my water bottle had a thick skim of ice on it. The bikes were a mess. Luckily, the sun came out strong so we put the bikes in the sun and let it melt off all the snow and ice. It did a good job, and soon we had a lot of things out drying. I cleaned my drive train and oiled my chain. We didn't get on the road until almost 11 a.m.
The road was a mixture of frozen slush, slush, mud, or just wet dirt, so the bikes were soon muddy again. We climbed for awhile on the main road and then took a sharp right onto a very primitive road. It turned out to be not much more than a cow track although it had a forest road designation. I waited for Drew at the turn, warming my feet and ate a candy bar. The sun was warm when you were in it, but there was a nip in the air.
After a short hump, we headed down a very steep, very rocky, very muddy forest road. It was easily the worst road to that point. Almost immediately, we scared up a herd of cows that I ended up chasing down the trail for almost three miles. Drew had a loose handle bar grip and then, just as he plowed through a big puddle, he had a loud blow-out. By this time he was pissed so he told me to go on, and so I did.
The road got marginally better, but I was very happy when it spilled out onto a nice gravel road. A downhill where you have to brake all the time is not much compensation for all the hard uphill climbing you must do to get the downhill run. The gravel road was heaven by contrast. It was mostly down and relatively smooth and puddle-free. I was flying along. It began climbing a bit, and I stopped to knock some of the caked mud from my bike.
From there on, we were crossing a wide valley on back roads with ranches on all sides. I made it to the reservoir where I had told Drew I might pull up awhile, but it was 2 p.m., and I had seventeen miles to go so I pressed on. I stopped again to get more mud off the bike. Just as I started again, a guy pulled up in a truck asking if he could have a word with me. So I stopped. He was scouting a bike route. He'd done the Telluride to Moab Hut trip before and was trying to figure out if he and his friends wanted to do the Durango to Moab route. I probably spent close to an hour with him, his wife and their sweet three-legged dog.
As it turned out, the last fifteen miles went by pretty fast except for the last 2½ miles. The road up to that point was good with easy rolling hills and more downhill than up which was quite a change. The route went through a National Forest that had been burned out. It was a forest of burnt, scraggly trees. The last segment was up a side road that was pretty bad. Evidently they had rain in the last couple of days because there were many puddles and muddy places. My bike was caked by the time I got to the hut at 5 p.m.
The good news is that we are at a much lower elevation so, until the sun went down, it was nice and warm. I got a lot of housekeeping things done. I got almost everything dry (mittens and wool socks excepted) which was a major goal. I took a sponge bath and cleaned my bike up to some extent. I waited for Drew to come in because he has a wire brush I'd like to use before I oil the chain.
Drew finally came in well after 7 p.m. after the sun had gone behind the hills. I was beginning to think I would be alone tonight. He was not in a good mood. He said he'd gotten lost for awhile and wasn't in a communicative mood. He had a piece of cheese, hung up his wet gear and went to bed. I made myself a one pot dish of onion, bell pepper, green pepper, cheese, and eggs cooked in bacon grease from bacon I had made. Then I cleaned up and am writing this.
This hut is well off the beaten path. I saw coyote and bobcat tracks in the mud near the cabin along with other animal tracks. It is a wild, beautiful place except for the burnt trees. The evening and late afternoon were gorgeous, and when I stepped outside to throw out the wash water, the sky was clear and many stars were already out including the big dipper. When I hit the head in a few minutes, I expect the night sky will be magnificent.
Tomorrow is a 30-mile day, and I think we climb back into mountains, but I'll bet they're not as tall as the ones we just left. I'm hoping for good weather from here on out.
Monday, 10 a.m. before leaving the hut: I heard a critter prowling around the hut just before I went to bed last night but did not see any tracks this morning. I got up when it was light and walked up a canyon behind the hut. I didn't see much wildlife, but there are good tracks in the damp earth from a recent downpour: bobcat, coyote, deer. The dirt track must have been flowing during the downpour because there are multi-brown swirls of different dirts all down the path. If you could frame some sections, I'm sure you could sell them, a wonderful mixture of browns.
6 Sep 04, Monday 8:30 p.m. Hut #4, Wedding Bell Hut, Co
Today was the easiest day so far. I rode with Drew the whole day, and he powered until near the end. The road into last night's hut had dried a bit during the night, and we were going mostly downhill so the first 2½ miles back to the main road weren't so bad. The next segment was a good gravel road, again mostly downhill. At about the 7.5 mile point, we crossed a highway onto a dirt road for the rest of the ride. It had rained not too long ago, and the road was deeply rutted with standing water every so often. If you stayed in the well-worn ruts you were okay. Later I read an entry in the hut journal saying that the road was a quagmire the day it rained-doesn't surprise me.
We were truly out of the mountains today. We crossed a broad valley, desolate, with ranches and wells every so often. You wonder what people are doing out here when you meet someone on the road. The last two-thirds of the route we kept getting closer and closer to the rim of an escarpment that faced west. The last couple of miles we were heading down its face. The hut is situated about halfway down or maybe not that far down. It is perched on the edge of a cliff-face with a spectacular view across a wide chasm to an escarpment on the other side, a sort of miniature Grand Canyon with a stream running through it. Breathtaking!
We did turn a bit too early though and searched in vain for the hut on the next layer up. Still, we got to the hut around 3 p.m. with plenty of time to relax, especially since neither of us had any bike work. We fixed salmon enchiladas, sort of the same dish Sheryl and I make with chicken. They were pretty good. Drew did the clean up. I took an evening walk and watched the sun set over the cliffs across the canyon. I also poked my nose into a couple of old mines in the area. There are a lot of them around. Usually the authorities collapse or plug the entrances, but these are open so you can walk right in. Had I a strong light, it might have been interesting to explore a bit.
Drew's mom and step-dad are meeting him at a small town, Bedrock, near the end of tomorrow's ride. Although his brakes are holding up okay, he's decided to call it quits and leave with them. This trip has been much more demanding than he expected, and his lower back is hurting him. He said he wants to enjoy the last few days of his vacation. This means, of course, that I'll be alone the next couple of nights. That's okay with me. We'll see how it goes.
7 Sep 04, Tuesday 8 p.m. Hut #5, Paradise, Co
Well, I'm on my own tonight. I left Drew, waiting for his mother who was driving up from Arizona, at the Bedrock General Store which is about the only thing in Bedrock. We will look for each other in Moab in two days.
We had another gorgeous day today. It was pleasantly cool in the morning. I got up earlier than usual to take a walk and watch the sunrise creep down the canyon walls opposite our aerie. What a great setting for a hut! I was surprised at the lack of early morning birdlife. I heard a jay and watched five bushtits perform their vigorous morning toilette but saw and heard not much else. The earth was crusty all across the mesa so you left prints everyplace you went if you were more than a few pounds, but I only saw a few deer prints and found a few deer pellets. It seems strange.
I got back and fixed my normal breakfast for the trip: oatmeal with cinnamon, pecans, dried cranberries, brown sugar and powdered milk. Then we were off by 9 a.m., our earliest departure since the first day. Drew said he is a bit of a late sleeper when on vacation.
The first fifteen or so miles we followed the edge of the escarpment with steep and mild ups and downs on a dirt road that varied drastically, but generally we seemed to trend downward. Then we hit a low point and had a long mile of low gear climb to get once again to the top of the escarpment. I waited for Drew at the top since he decided to walk most of the way up.
We then went up and over a short hill and were staring at a long valley far below us running east to west. The unexpected sight stopped us in our tracks, literally. For about two miles we barreled down the south side of the valley wall heading east until we hit Hwy 90 on the valley floor and turned to head west about twelve miles to Bedrock. Drew zipped down this nice paved road and was already changing into "civvies" when I pulled up. We had cold drinks and sat on the General Store porch in the shade and talked awhile. The thermometer on the porch registered almost 90°F.
I was getting bushed by this time, so we said our goodbyes, and I headed west for another half mile before turning north and then west again, zigzagging my way to the hut maybe four miles from Bedrock. This hut is in the middle of nowhere. It's in a broad valley that's flat as a pancake with no tall vegetation so you can see the hut and the towering loo from quite a distance. This hut and the next are on private land, and the San Juan Hut System Corporation must lease the lots. Therefore, we must confine any wanderings to the loo or along the access road. That's okay with me as I just wanted to relax. I immediately unloaded my gear, had a snack and took a sponge bath.
About that time, one of the hut system's employees arrived to restock the hut. I had noted previously that some stocks were low but, more importantly, the trash cans were getting full and a little stinky in this heat. I chatted with the guy and helped him fill the water jugs (they keep 20-30 multi-gallon jugs around the hut). He told me that tomorrow is a tough day, similar to the first day but not to such a high altitude. He said I'll climb out of this valley, then have a gentle uphill until the last three miles which are a real bear. I'll also pass a reservoir where maybe I'll take a dip. I could sure use full body emersion at this point. I'm reading Malcolm X's autobiography right now and am in the part when in the 1940s the blacks "conked" their hair (i.e., straightened and flattened down their hair). I feel my hair has been naturally "conked," but it really just needs a washing.
Anyway, everybody seems to be anticipating the tough sixth day climb based on the entries in the hut journal. I guess it's good Drew won't be doing it. He was already walking most hills that require the lowest gear. There's no doubt this trip is a butt kicker.
After David left (I think that was the resupplier's name), I read the hut journal and the daily Telluride newspaper David gave me and worked the NY Times crossword puzzle, one of their easier challenges. I took a short nap then looked into supper. I narrowed the choices to two: green chile with pork sauce with scrambled eggs cooked on top then covered with cheese, or pecan-cinnamon pancakes. The pancakes won by default when I discovered David had left no cheese. It must have been an oversight because this hut has the land owner's old camper next to it, and the hut folks are allowed to use its refrigerator. While the cheese might not survive well in the hut's cabinet in this heat, it would be fine in the fridge. Oh, well, there's always tomorrow night.
After cleaning up the supper dishes, I read awhile and watched the sun walk up the eastward canyon walls until it got too dark to read, so now I'm to bed with the gas lamp to write and read by. Tomorrow night I'll be in high country again where it's a bit cooler. However, the evening has cooled down here just fine, good sleeping weather. Hope I sleep as soundly as last night.
8 Sep 04, Wednesday 7 p.m. Hut #6, La Sal Hut, UT
Just sitting on an old stump watching the sun gradually fade on the bald peaks across the valley. They're the only things still lit, the setting sun pouring through the mountain pass I'll probably ride through tomorrow morning just before I plummet down to Moab and the end of this trip. I've certainly enjoyed being in the high mountains and meadows again, but there was certainly a price. This trip might be the toughest trip, physically, I've ever done.
Today challenged the first day for toughest single-day ride ever. I slept well all alone in the Paradox Hut out in the middle of that wide valley. I got up early and quickly got ready, eating a PBJ sandwich, adding my own peanuts to the smooth Jiff to make it crunchy. The sun had risen over the eastern cliff face before I got going, but it was still pleasantly cool. This was good because, after cutting across to the north end of the valley, the road diagonaled up the cliff face at a severe pitch. I was in my lowest gear for better than two miles, and my headband was drenched in sweat. It was even a tougher climb than yesterday's.
Thankfully at the top I was almost immediately in forest to block out the sun. The route climbed a bit more and then sloped down to a reservoir. Although only a bit over half finished for the day, I stopped and washed out my headband and shirt as well as rinsing out the washcloth I've been using for sponge baths. I also took a plunge myself, and the water was icily brisk. I talked briefly to a gentleman who hunts in this area every year. He told me of a sweet water spring along my route.
When I headed out, I quickly passed into Utah and into the purview of the Redd family. Evidently they own a passel of land hereabouts. All of the land I rode through for the rest of today as well as the land this hut is on belongs to them. Immediately I began seeing lots of deer. Up to this point in the trip I had seen deer tracks and scat but had seen no deer. On the Redd property I must have seen at least a dozen. Six all in one bunch crossed the road ahead of me; two of them were bucks with nice racks.
I found the spring before the last tough climb to the hut. The fellow who had tipped me to it had just passed me in his truck and was filling his jugs when I pulled up. I filled my bottle and sat drinking it while he filled his. We had a nice talk. I suspect he was past sixty and was still very active. He asked me about the route because he and his wife might try it. He had done some others in the area. I was impressed because this trip has been very challenging to me, and I've been riding a bunch.
Finally it was time to push on. I can't say I was looking forward to the last few miles. With about 3½ miles to go, the route diverted from the main road, which itself was a rough dirt and rock road, onto a jeep trail that seemed to go straight up. I suspect I walked almost half of that first section. Even in my lowest gear I was just too tired to pedal my loaded bike up the whole way. Hell, I had a difficult time pushing my loaded bike up this hill. Finally, it leveled out a bit, and I pedaled most of the rest of the way to our hut. I was very happy to see it because the hut system folks had had to move it during the summer, and I wasn't sure I had the new directions.
The hut is in a dynamite location. The sink window looks out on two high bald mountains sticking up above tree line, and there are small meadows in front and on two sides of the hut. Otherwise the hut is surrounded by aspen trees. It seems a friendly hut too. Shortly after I got here a doe, more curious than frightened, dined in the lower meadow, and a sextet of red-shafted flickers foraged together in the upper meadow. Then, just after the sun set early in the west, a flock of eighteen wild turkeys paraded across the meadow in front of the hut, shortly followed by another family of seven. They were literally pecking their dinner out of thin air as the meadows were full of small flying insects. The only sign at the hut that things are not always this pleasant was the remnants of snow that had slid from the roof and was lying in small heaps in front of the hut. It is the only snow I saw at this elevation on today's ride.
I arrived at the hut at 3 p.m. and so had plenty of time to look around. I took my binoculars and headed up tomorrow's trail to be sure I knew my way. The directions are a bit confusing at this point, and I don't want to miss the pass through these high peaks.
Tonight I finally tried the green chile sauce with pork that is stocked in the cabin. I boiled it, covered it in stirred eggs, let the eggs cook, then topped it all with a generous helping of cheddar cheese. For dessert I ate a can of mandarin oranges. I'm pleasantly full and ready to read, write and sleep. Tomorrow I meet Sheryl at the Moab Dairy Queen, and I'll be ready for a Blizzard! Not tonight though, it's already getting cold.
9 Sep 04, Thursday 11:30 a.m. Moab, UT
Done! Waiting for Sheryl at Paco's where Moab's DQ used to be. I had to settle for a substandard McFlurry at McDonald's to satisfy my ice cream urge.
It was very quiet last night, but I still didn't sleep as well as I would have liked. I would dream and wake, dream and wake, over and over. Close to dawn it sprinkled twice which concerned me. But when I finally got up about a half an hour before sunrise, the sky above was clear although there were clouds to the east. Speaking of clear skies, the last three or four night skies have been spectacular without all the city lights.
I made an oatmeal breakfast, packed my things, cleaned the hut, and was on the road before 8 a.m. The climb to Geyser Pass was relatively short and, except for a couple of steep sections, not too bad. As I was going through the pass a family of coyotes sang out. The next six miles was mostly a fast descent where you hold tight as you bounce over rough terrain trying to keep a good hold on your brakes. At about the ten mile point, the route turned onto a paved loop road which was a nice change except for a couple of steep climbs. Then it was back to dirt for most of the rest of the way to Moab.
The road ranged from very good to very rough with treacherous soft sand in a couple of places. Although there were a few climbs, most of the route descended, often precipitously. You don't have much chance to appreciate the beautiful Utah scenery when you're concerned with survival.
I passed two of the premier bike routes in Moab, including the Slick Rock Trail that put Moab on the map. Now I'm just waiting for Sheryl so I can go to the B&B and take a shower.
This was a very strenuous, challenging trip. I could tell today that I'm about spent; my legs felt tired before I got on my bike this morning. It'll be nice to have a break, although Sheryl is bringing her mountain bike, and we plan to ride some here in Moab. At least I won't have panniers and a full bike box.