Saturday, June 10, 2017

posted on 6/10/2017

Utah - Colorado 2017

St George-Springdale, 23rd May 2017

On the first riding day it was already time for Zion National Park. Before that a few hours of hot and dry desert road that once again found me begging for water. I met a few road cyclist and spent some time with Scott whose mom, he told me, came from Sicily and her family is part of a nasty mafia clan. 'Even I' he said 'don't mess around with them when I visit'. 'In the little town they all stare at me scared as I look too much alike them. I hate it! He held grudges with québécois Canadians. 'What the hell, you speak English to them and they pretend to not understand'. He was also not too kind on mormons. 'They don't drink?' I said. 'Oh they do' he said with a smirk 'only when nobody's watching'. 'They make my beers weak, only 3.2 percent alcohol, can you believe it?' he gestured. 'Anyway I go to Nevada and get mine from there!' Arriving in Zion National Park it was soon clear that i would have trouble finding a place at the two only campsites! A huge mob had converged to Springdale, the posh village at the heart of the park, for what I found out to be Memorial Day weekend. All campsite had no mercy for cyclists and as I was scouting a fresh patch of grass behind the library I saw two bikes and asking where they were staying, Ross and Jeremy said they had a spot at the main campsite and were willing to share it with me. I paid my part for a nice place by the river, overlooking the famous red rocky vertical faces. Bicycle performed admirably, cyclist less so! I need a few more days to adjust to all this pedalling and the high altitudes.

Springdale-Glendale, 24th May 2017

It was hot, I was thirsty, tired but it was simply one of the really best cycling days of my life. Zion National Park deserve its place as the sixth most visited park in the United States for sure. Having been to Yosemite, a place I loved so much and hope one day to return to, I think as far as mountains go, this is even more spectacular. Jeremy and Ross were at the end of their journey from Colorado and provided some expertise on what to expect from the same route in reverse. Their best news was about prevailing winds. They said for most of their journey, strong winds were hitting their face...we are no sailors but believe me, cyclist too take a lot of interest in it. Our interest is more shallow, we don't care much about names and seasonal changes; all we are interested in, is tail winds. I wanted to beat the crowds and as two deer were grazing around my tent i waved goodbye to the two cyclist, packed and set off for Zion Canyon Scenic drive; banned to private traffic it is open to cyclists. The early hours of the morning provided enough peace to take all the spectacle in. The road winds its way, deep at the bottom of the canyon, by a river, granite mountains towering both sides. It was simply strikingly beautiful. After that it was time to climb the zig zag road that would take me further up the mountains. Half way up a long tunnel is off limits to bikes and as a queue of cars waited to be granted access it was easy to find a lift. A party of four were going canyoning up the mountains and were more than pleased to let me and all my stuff at the back of their open pickup. The climb then continued through incredible bare mountains whose rocks were sometimes marble white, other times made of layers of all kind of terracotta shades. I had lots of supporters too, stunned I could climb that far up with what looked like a toy bike. Lots of thumbs up shown from the windows of overtaking cars, I could imagine for a little, being a kind of Tour de France hero, leaving the pack behind, never to be caught. It was hot and water never enough. Again I employed begging techniques that worked a treat. When time got thirsty i would ask the camper van lot if they had water to spare. Invariably they all had a large stock piled up in their boots and I received two complimentary bottles of water nicely chilled and one refill. I am sure I can do better and will be well rehearsed once I leave the mountains and get back to the desert of Canyonlands and Escalante. Reached the plateau at almost two thousand meters of height the wind picked up and it was strong as if I had a jet engine strapped around my back!

Glendale-Bryce Canyon, 25th May 2017

In Utah they use the expression 'holy mowly', probably spelt moly but doesn't sound like a proper moly at all; it nicely sums up my day. I hardly left one stunning National Park to enter another one that promises to be just as spectacular. Last night at the campsite I met Eric a sixty years old Canadian that started cycling months ago from the Mexico Arizona border, arms burnt with blisters from the days spent cycling the desert. He his cycling my same way but will turn north eventually, heading back to British Columbia. By seven am he was all ready to go while I set off gingerly, for a day mostly spent climbing up towards the 2400 metres of Bryce Canyon. I felt tired, and pretty slow, the old pump not producing the usual goods, felt somehow weak. Wondering what was going on I realised, checking my route details, that I was cycling above two thousand metres and will do so for the rest of the day. After an hour or so I heard a car behind me shuttering the silence with loud sirens and flapping yellow flags. At first I wondered if it might be the Zion police chasing me in order to cash the entrance fee to the park. As a cyclist I was determined to let people with engines pay. For people trekking or biking, Mother Nature should be free to enjoy what! Instead it was a car escorting and warning all traffic of an oversized truck load approaching. I turned around and saw two large villas on wheels moving fast up the road, kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and all. Needless to say I moved as far to the side as I could as the front doors and windows raced past me. I passed few scattered farms here and there in an otherwise pretty uninhabited mountainous landscape. One thing drew my attention. Those isolated farms usually had large signs such as 'Duke Hayken Clan. Like in Sicily's good old days, clans seem to rule the land! I hoped the meaning was rather religious than criminal. In the past Mormons could marry several wives. One can easily imagine with the peaceful settings and lack of any entertainment or access to birth control, things can get quickly out of hands. Before you even know it, you've got a clan. At a burger place in Hatch I met Kathleen from Las Vegas and her nephew Robert. They were excited by my journey and insisted on sharing address and taking pictures with and without bikes. If I get stuck somewhere remote now I have two phone numbers to call. North camp at Bryce Canyon was full as expected but I begged the ranger and in the end got a nice tent site usually reserved for park employees. The campsite is located right on the rim of Bryce Canyon and a short walk was all it took to be standing right on the edge of a cliff, staring down at a mesmerising view I will find hard to forget. Tomorrow I will spend another day here, cycling further up Rainbow Point Loop and surely taking in some more grand views of the Canyon and its rocks.

Bryce Canyon, 26th May 2017

Today I would stay in Bryce Canyon, bike up to Rainbow Point Loop, almost three thousand metres high before returning down to Bryce the same way. Hardly a loop but there you go, nothing should be taken at face value around here. It promised and delivered grand vistas. I finally start my bananas diet and there is no doubt that they are to me what spinach is to Popeye's. I climbed up for three hours and some steep parts too but nothing seemed to stop the legs spinning. Maybe after three days lived at altitude I am turning into an Italian Sherpa, red blood cells running riots and lungs of gold. In a rather dry landscape of firs Bronte and I were rising impervious to any strains. She sported her new registration plate too, reading Utah, 'Life Elevated', number X80 1BY. Funny thing life really felt elevated, maybe there is some wisdom in States mottos after all. Solar panels are sitting on top of my front bag. With sunny days they work wonders in keeping my array of gadgets alive but also bouncing light right up to my face as I ride, are also a terrific mobile tanning machines. Light affects the colour shades of the canyons too and as I sit on top of Rainbow Point...well...Loop, I am waiting for the sun to dive a little and bring out some shades too.

Bryce Canyon-Calf Creek, 27th May 2017

Last night I reconnected with Eric. I found first his bike and later saw him coming towards me with a big laughter on his face. He let me share his campsite spot and this morning I returned the favour by treating him to a breakfast buffet At the local hotel. The man is big, a bit of a wardrobe and piled up several servings of bacon eggs, potatoes, bread, fruits, yoghurt. Buffets for bike tourers are a loss making enterprise anyway. We can pile it up generously and somehow still feel like a little more will just do. We stumbled out of the front door a little overflowing and wobbly, wondering if we could stride over our bikes. Eric was a mystery to me. In his sixties, bear like figure, two metres high, huge belly, hulk hogan moustache, hardly a cyclist physique; I could easily imagine him wearing a leather jacket and riding a Harley Davidson instead. What puzzled me was that he set off early mornings, disappeared in the distance and was never to be seen for the rest of the day. Again he got on his bike with two extra kilos of fat breakfast and sprinted ahead of me, no chance to keep his pace. I doubted he was hiding an engine of some sort but later on with steep hills ahead I was able to catch him and trust he was carrying all that extra weight with brute force and shear determination. Recently divorced he was cycling to escape the ex wife. He bought a bike right after and left admitting he had never been so happy in his life. He was a prison officer and was also carrying a variety of weapons. A large hammer, knife and a large can of pepper spray that he proudly showed me how to use. Mostly meant for bears he said he always keeps it by his side as personal defence. "I keep it right by my side in the tent too" he said. "You just never know what could happen." I guess living in close contact with convicts, he was ready to snap at any moment. I made sure to never approach his tent without ample voice warnings. Today seemed an ordinary day, until after a straight climb I found myself in front of a vast view down below, a most unusual barren landscape of stones and rocks, the Escalante Staircase. Menno also made it and joined me to the campsite tonight! Unfortunately unable to cycle he will follow some of my journey and experience the sight from the comfort of his rental car.

Calf Creek-Torrey, 28th May 2017

Eight bananas later I made it to Torrey! Today was not plain sailing as I had to climb up to almost three thousand metres. The great news is that I can do it in style. Now I have a one man crew filming me as I ride along the way too. Every now and then, in the middle of nowhere I spot Menno's white Ford car and familiar face by the side of the road, waiting for me to pass by. Not only is it reassuring to know somebody in the middle of nowhere, he also comes with an ice box and drinks neatly stowed in the boot of the car. In two days I will be riding the desert and can't help but having fantasies of gin tonics and cool cans of coke served along the way! Menno is aware of my collecting car plates of the States I visit with Bronte. This morning, as I took some interest in the Nevada plate of his rental car and said how nice it was he was quick to point out I couldn't possibly remove it! People I meet along the way are always fascinated by my little bike; I get asked questions and have the most wonderful conversation with strangers. After three sweaty days managed on baby wipes these dialogues were getting shorter and shorter and I thanked god for finally being able to take a good shower. I just wish some enterprising person realised the market opportunities of larger sized baby wipes. Grown ups need they XXL wipes too.

Torrey-Hanksville, 29th May 2017

Today it was like gate crashing a John Wayne's movie set on a bicycle. Before that I waved goodbye to Menno at the campsite. To add to his long list of misfortunes, his rental car dashboard now gives some warning lights and being in the middle of nowhere he'll have to find a rental place and change the car. He is definitely learning patience and acceptance, by the end of the trip he'll be a saint. I haven't given up hopes on a cool gin tonic in the desert but will have to see how things go. Cycling was incredible today too. It started with the lesser known Capital Reef National Park. The road twisting through large granite vertical rock faces, not unlike Zion. I got a little scare while riding; I suddenly heard some ruffling in the bushes by the side of the road and two large turkeys who hadn't heard my quiet engine, crossed the road in front of me, terrified as if it was Christmas. By the way I might have met president Carter but will never know... I chatted to this man with a southern accent and slow paced voice of the real man. He really looked like him too but was wearing some shades and I didn't have the guts to ask 'is your name Jimmy Carter?'. Back to John Wayne, I sat in the only cafe in the desert and found out that he actually did shoot some of his movies here in Utah. The cafe was full of his pictures, some signed and I was told he visited the place often, was friend with the current owner's grandpa and the battered rocking chair in the corner, was brought by him because he liked a comfortable chair to sit on. Going through desert and huge red faced canyons I imagined what an easy prey I would be for a bunch of determined Navajo Indians suddenly appearing from the top of the mountain and setting a chase on bare back horses. Not the slightest chance! I would probably get an heart attack before any arrows were shots...if John Wayne was not there that is. The landscape was barren, desolate and immersed in a silence only broken by the wind. I had to manage my three bottles of water as for hours there was none and I didn't meet any campervan rescuer along the way. No wonder It is a few miles from here that a Mars Laboratory has existed for many years, simulating how to cope with life on Mars. Pretty grim if you ask me, but we all love to explore, don't we?

Hanksville-Hite, 30th May 2017

Armed with a new tub of Nutella, a loaf of bread and as much water as I can possibly carry on Bronte, I sat off for the toughest two days of the entire trip. Not huge mountains to overcome but 210 km of dry desert and canyons with no facilities and lots of maybes. Maybe four taps with potable water, maybe one single little shop, maybe one open campsite. At the start I asked the guy at the gas station if I could soak my hat under a water tap and get an air conditioned start of the day. He then told me about a special collar one can buy for desert hikes; made of the same material as diapers the collar is soaked in water and retains it, keeping neck and ears cool. Hanksville market though was pretty basic. I was getting a lot of attention with my weird bike as such, there was no need to also be cycling around with a soaked diaper tied around my head. In the end maybes remained maybes, there was no water to fill up bottles the whole day and had to manage with what I was carrying. After a few hours Menno with a new black rental car appeared and worked his magic with the cooling box; dispensing chilled coke cans he spread good will down the highway to the half a dozen crazy cyclists baking along the way. These included two remarkable ladies in their seventies, a German guy called Willie who was carrying five litres of water and for some obscure reason two litres of milk and Chris, an interesting Californian man who was cycling the back ways and seemed to know how to get anywhere quicker than us. It had been a tough day but again riding through the impressive sceneries of Glen Canyon was with our sweat. After a nice chat we all pitched out tents under the spectacle of a bright starred sky.

Hite-Blandings, 31st May 2017

I survived the second of the two days through the desert but it was too long and by the time I arrived in Blanding I was pretty much a wreck. The last three steep climbs before reaching the town were just too much and I ended up walking more than I would like too! It was 130 kilometres of desolation, a thousand metres climb, no water or food and a gusty wind blowing in my face all day long. Chris left at 5:30 while I left an hour later. We were trying to gain ground early morning when temperatures were much cooler. After one hour riding uphill in a fierce wind that made progress painful I reached Chris, his bike by the side of the road and him just lying next to it, taking a nap. We were the only cyclists on the road today. Menno stopped with the car a couple of times offering coke that never tasted so good. The lack of any water or shop to restore one's energy or even a place to sit in the shade meant I rode for about ten hours non stop, reaching Blanding pretty exhausted. Chris never made it to town but he had a tank of a bike with lots of water and food and surely he must have called it a day and put his tent down somewhere. No lack of space for tents there!

Blandings-Dove Creek, 1st June 2017

Yesterday we were joined at the campsite by Elijah, cycling across America from San Francisco to Virginia. He was lucky enough to be sponsored by this Japanese guy who sells energy drinks. The downside is that he has to pedal with two large bags of powder and cycle with energy and zest to prove they really work! Morning started with a trip to the local supermarket where I replenished my energies with a large coffee and three doughnuts. I had planned a late start and a shorter day. Just before setting off I heard my name shouted from the road, an unusual event in Utah. It was Chris, the eccentric university lecturer, emerging from the canyons and finally making it back to civilisation. I was wondering if he would continue with us but he was determined to call it a day and rest his legs. "I can't go on like this." he said "I need to properly wash and do laundry or someone is soon going to tackle me and light me on fire". Pity to leave him behind as he was really funny and an encyclopaedia of cycling in the US. Having cycled pretty much everywhere and loving to talk too he seemed to know an incredible amount of people. Highlight of the day was not the route but crossing into Colorado. I already found an appropriate plate for the new state by the side of the road, Bronte can't wait for it to be changed! Utah left me stunned by the incredible sights but it is time to move on and give Colorado a chance too.

Dove Creek-Priest Gulch, 2nd June 2017

The flat farmlands have given way to the first hills and once reached Dolores some threatening snow capped mountains loomed ahead. We are still on a high plateau and before starting the real climbs I am already over two thousand meters of height and often out of breath. I see lots of large animal carcasses by the side of the road and in the fields and wonder what kind of beast chewed them so neatly down to their bones. It's good to know that whoever does the chewing has such a large choice of food around here; very unlikely to chose us, after all we are only half meat, half steel with some unappealing rubber and plastic mixed in. Today a four wheeled preacher overtook me up the mountain, his diesel pickup puffing black smoke and pulling a trailer. On either sides the message 'Jesus Saves' while all I could think of was 'Gasoline Kills'. Half way I reached Dolores which was not as painful as the name might suggest. The mountains rising it felt like the typical alpine resort in between seasons. Winter skiing over and a summer yet to come. The second part of the day followed the Dolores River on a gentle and long climb to the 2400 metres of Priest Gulch. I was hardly enquiring about prices when Menno walked in. I hadn't seen him whole day as he got involved in passionate conversations with other bike enthusiasts he met along the way. We found an idyllic spot to share, just metres away from the fast flowing river that will surely be our gentle soundtrack for the night. Tomorrow Menno will move on to meet some friends. I wish for him that he'll be able to finally get on his bike and do what he so much likes to do. He was a great support on the way to all of us cycling and his cool cokes in the desert and chats along the road will be thoroughly missed.

Priest Gulch-Placerville, 3rd June 2017

Last night was below zero and during the night wearing a woolen hat and socks I had to seal myself inside the sleeping bag. That didn't work as it was still cold. I remembered Priest Gulch campsite had a warm laundry room so by six in the morning i scrambled in there and quickly regained full use of my limbs. I waved goodbye to him for the last time beginning the gentle climb to Lizard Head pass at over 3000 metres the highest place I have ever been on a bike let alone Bronte. While the man is getting old and grumpy she goes on and on reliable and strong. The landscape is so much changed from the dry deserts, canyons, granite and scrubs of Utah. It feels as if I have been thrown back on the other side of the Atlantic, cycling over the Swiss or the Austrian alps. In a RIco cafe I was served half a kilo of chocolate cake which made me feel rather heavy at first but probably helped me up the last steep grades of the mountain. After the long descent the stomach was calling again. Just as well as the pulled pork at the Mercantile in Sawpit came hardly recommended. Tonight stay still unknown, most likely complimentary of Placerville Sheriff, Fire Brigade or a kind farmer!

Placerville-Montrose, 4th June 2017

Yesterday, Placerville fire station was not to be found but I did spot the Sheriff car parked by the side of the road. I asked for some good spots to put the tent. "Go straight until you find a trail on the left," he said "follow the trail and you'll find a good place." "Nobody will bother you there". "By the way, stay safe." he continued, "Just watch out as bears and cats have been recently spotted in the area." Thinking he didn't mean pets, I put on a brave face and confirmed with confidence: "You mean mountain lions?" "Yeah." Came the quick reply. Shaken, I steadied the old nerves, dug deep for breath and calmly said "that's fine I'll store my food away from the tent...". Of course nothing was fine but still! I followed his advice, got to the trail he recommended, found the spot he meant but on close inspection, realised it must have been the county firing range and the Sheriff must have not liked me that much after all. The place was littered with hundreds of spent bullets, hardly a good place to pitch tents, never mind the cats... I decided to continue up the mountain until the light allowed and spotted a bonfire on the large lawn of a private property. A man waived at me at which point I thought it was meant to be! I went through the gate, sat down and chatted a bit to Tim and Hazel and casually asked if they knew a place I could pitch my tent. "Here!" they said. I pretended to look surprised but must admit it was exactly the answer I was hoping for. We had a nice conversation by the fire and was even offered dinner which I refused as I was still digesting the famous pulled pork I had up the road. Frosting and baking continues. Last night in Tim's lawn it dropped below zero and now, a few hours later I am frying in the lovely town of Ridgway. Unusual sights in the States. A grandpa with a long white beard is teaching his niece how to skateboard and generally be cool. People around here seem most friendly, each little town I visit someone comes by and tells me all the good places I should visit but don't have the time to. Over a thousand kilometres gone and a few hundreds more to go.

Montrose-Elk Creek, 5th June 2017

Bronte doesn't like big roads and she tells me gently, by means of punctures. First one of this trip and it happened outside a little cafe where I had just had an ice cream. In the morning I was climbing the hills outside Montrose where I spot a man waving at me in the distance. It was Chris again, I thought he should be a day behind but there he was, smiling with a can of soda and some crisps in his hand. Quite how he could be ahead of me again is beyond me. He stops and chats hours with strangers, swims in the lakes, takes naps along the highway, rides a tank of a bike full of bags, weighs two times my weight but somehow he is there in front, waving. The man is such fun to be with that I was really happy to see him again. He hates Trumpy and loves to bash him whenever he meets foreigners on the road. He feels freer that way since lots of Americans still support him. "Next year I am going to take the whole year off to cycle around the world" he said "it will be an apology tour. I'll go from town to town to tell them I am sorry..." During the day a new recruit joined, Dave also known as "the brim" as he wears an adapted cycling helmet with a brim to keep in shade. We bumped into each other the whole day, usually at the front of a food store. We agreed to stay at Elk Creek camp, on a high, dry Mesa by an artificial lake. Marijuana is sold legally in Colorado and Chris a 58 years old hippy at heart, couldn't wait to try some psychedelic cookies he had gotten from a shop the previous day. We had lots of fun chatting under an amazingly colourful sky while Chris waited for the biscuits to take effect and set him off to a good night sleep!

Elk Creek-Sargents, 6th June 2017

I had planned a monster day of 130 kilometres including a climb to Monarch pass at 3448 metres! Chris was much more sensible and suggested we break up the day and finish our cycling in Sargents, where the real hard climbing starts. The day was spent cruising, tail winds most of the way and gently rising to 2600 metres. The town of Gunnison proved a good place to relax and replenish our energies. Chris was all excited about yet another visit to a marijuana dispensary where he had been taken through a comprehensive tour of the available products. After biscuits he ended up getting some mints for change! We were thinking we would just camp in the National Forests but once in Sargents, dark clouds and the scent of a storm in the air, convinced us it was well worth spending the money to stay at the RV campground where we could use showers and the restaurant facilities for food.
As soon as we pitched our tents the storm threats became real and we were able to enjoy the sound of the ticking rain drops on the flysheets of our tents.

Sargents-Salida, 7th June 2017

Today was my final cycling day, I had almost made it to Salida but before I had to climb the highest pass in the entire tour. Monarch pass set at 3448 metres was a mere 12 kilometres up the hill and we had the advantage to start from a high altitude already. We woke up to blue skies and after  a full calories breakfast Chris and I were more than ready to tackle the obstacle. Not having had a day off in all this tour, my legs had been a little aching in the last few days but starting the climb while fresh, after a good night sleep and some food made the difference and was able to climb the road without too much walking involved. Bronte had taken me higher than any other bicycle had ever taken me and had once again proved that it is not that bad a solution even when mountains are involved! I waited for Chris at the top and we celebrated our small achievement taking pictures at the top. From there on it was just a long and enjoyable descent to Salida where I waived goodbye to Chris, wishing him well for the rest of his journey and all that remained was being thankful once again for the opportunity to cycle through some fantastic sceneries and remarkable roads.