When I saw the invite come up on Team 2-Epic's blog, I was pretty interested. It was a big loop(s) in the Red Canyon area of Southern Utah hosted by Dave and Lynda. Sitting right next to Bryce Canyon and at elevations hitting 9K+, it included the incredibly tasty Thunder Mountain Trail as a final leg to all the routes. It featured lots of hiking potential, with long, sandy/techy climbs in the first dozen miles or so. The loop mileages were high, 70 and 96 and I was not sure if the 70 was doable by me after a bit of an uneven late spring/early summer riding schedule. Then I saw Dave had added a 44 mile loop option. Ooooo. Now that I can handle. Maybe.
So, plans were made. I talked Ed the Tall into coming along with me.
Ed is a very capable rider and a thoroughly nice fellow. He had never ridden this area before, so he was looking forward to new horizons as well. GPS tracks were loaded, bikes were tuned up and off we went for the 8 hour drive to the promised land. It has been hot in So Cal and it stayed that way across the desert until we hit Cedar City or so. The thunderheads hanging over the surrounding mountain peaks were impressive. Looking at that, we hit the Cedar City Wallmart for a couple of disposable ponchos. 89 cents well spent for the peace of mind.
Pulling into camp, we met up with Dave and Lynda, Scott, another Dave and Rob (or Ron?...sorry, forgot) from Arizona. That made 7 of us; 2 for the 96 miler (Dave and Dave), 2 for the 70 miler (Rob/Ron and Scott) and Lynda, Ed, and I for the 44 mile version.
Lynda was on her SS Milk Money, size teeny-tiny. She was doing the shorter route cuz she needed an easy day to recover from some recent training efforts.
That is how I do it too. When I want to recover, I grab my SS and head out on a nearly 50 mile ride at elevation with lots of hike a bike. Ooooff!
It looked like a Lenz Sport demo days with 4 Levs and one Milk Money. Ed was on his Dos and Ron/Rob was riding a Pivot 429. Everyone was on 29ers. Big wheels rule in this facet of mtn biking.
Check out Dave Harris's adventure-mobile. Look heavy? Yes. Yes it is. But he wore no pack at all, so it is just a matter of where you want the weight.
The night before the ride was very mellow. The grills were fired up and dinner was accomplished. As darkness closed in, the evening was filled with lots of chatter about past trips with notable folks like Mike C., discussions on the merits of Mike and Ikes, then an early bedtime in anticipation of an early start.
"Canada is all about fun!" Dave Harris
04:00 AM So Cal time is a harsh hour to get out of a tent and get ready to ride. We met at the campground entrance and rode under a 'no-drop' rule till the Grandview trailhead where the timers began to count up.
This no-drop zone was my last opportunity to ride as a group. I can say that on a ride I did not get dropped by Dave Harris. Cool, eh! I just need to avoid a few details.
The first dozen or so miles had some of the most difficult terrain in all the ride loops. It was very remote feeling at times and the trail was sandy-ish and fun as it wound through canyons and drainages.
Some places were just magical...green, lush, unique.
I figured I would ride alone all day, but I ended up reeling in a slightly struggling Ed and then Rob/Ron. It was slow, techy going with sandy, loose and winding singletrack. I am a very average climber, but I am a decent rider in poor terrain like this and it was my chance to shine while I could (albeit dimly). The trail was very hard to follow at times, but GPS and the tracks of the riders in front gave me hope.
The hike a bike sections were not at all that bad really and at some point we popped out onto a wide and smooth road to complete the climb up to the high point of the 44 miler and the split into the 70 and 96 mile loops.
This was the hardest part of the day for me. I was suffering a bit, no doubt. To keep myself aliveI was trying a new product as an endurance fuel: CarboRocket I will write this up on The Cyclist but for it was a great success and I think Brad Keyes has a winner with this formula.
The rest of the nutrition was a combo of trail mix, a Snickers Dark, soft oatmeal cookies, and gel. Endurolytes rounded out the buffet table. I ended up going through nearly 200oz worth of water in the hydration pack and 4 or 5 water bottles with the CarboRocket mix in them.
It is an incredible area to ride and there are lots of campgrounds nearby. We watered-up at the mid-way mark in one CG and then continued on graded roads towards Thunder Mtn.
We had a lazy river/creek on the right and some pretty impressive storm clouds off to the left and were headed in the direction that would likely bring us into a wet intersection with that storm. Pedal harder, Ed. Ride like the wind.
Thunder Mtn trailhead found us pretty torched, but we were motivated to keep moving as rain drops spattered around us, bringing cooler temps. If it really began to pour, the red Utah clay would be a mire in no time. Not much camera work here as we just wanted to get it done.
And get it done we did. In about 7 hrs and 40 minutes, we rolled into camp to meet Lynda who had beat us by a couple of hours. OK. Schooled as expected. Scott came in right behind us after pounding out the 70 mile route. Ron/Rob was slower than Scott and he got caught in a wild downpour that swept over the area about one hour after after we hit camp. I dove into my tent and napped to the staccato pounding of huge raindrops and claps of thunder.
Dave H. came in 13 hours or so and proclaimed his respect for the route. He looked pretty haggard, but that is to be expected. He had some pretty rough goings with fallen trees and long sections of sandy trail that we un-rideable even though they were flat in grade. For some reason, he avoided the storms and hardly had a cloud over him all day while Ed and I were pretty much spared the brunt of the sun by some kind of cloud cover through most of our ride.
"I have a serious desire to get out of this chamois." Dave Harris
As night fell and more rain swept though, there was no sign of Dave C. In the morning, there was still no news and we pulled out of camp hoping he had been able to safely bivvy for the night. Turns out he did put an emergency bivvy to good use and rolled in the next day.
We headed back to So Cal, stopping only to fuel up our car and ourselves. Ed the Tall attacked the biggest stack of Walnut-Banana pancakes I have ever seen. By the time we hit St. George it was hot, hot, hot and back home it was 105* and not-green.
It was a great ride and a memorable road trip. Big rides, big wheels, big raindrops, and big pancakes. Whatta' combo.