12.18.2014

Life updates and upcoming Southwest Desert Bike/Hike Tour!

Wow. A lot has happened since I last updated this journal. I even got in a short tour and didn't tell you! So, here is an idealized and glossed-over narrative of the adventures since my last post.

The rest of my time in Las Vegas and working on my first crew with the Nevada Conservation Corps out in the desert was amazing - I got to see the cacti bloom in the Mojave and visit and explore some very cool and remote parts of Southern Nevada.

Still working with the NCC, I shipped from Las Vegas up to Ely, NV, a slight change in plans due to issues relating to funding for the trail team in Great Basin National Park. My new crew was twice the size of the one based out of Vegas and worked for 8 days at a time, with 6 days off in between. I met even more cool people and we went on road trips and hikes all over. With the wonderful Kelley and varying additional company I explored a cave for the first time, achieved a new highest elevation (Wheeler Peak, 13,065'), scuba-dove for the first time - in a 30' deep hot spring, and revisited Grand Teton, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks, spending a night backcountry in each. When my time was over with the NCC, I drove one of their trucks back to Reno and hung out with some friends there for a couple of days.

Photos from the six months in Nevada (and side-trips to Utah and Wyoming) can be found in this flickr set

After a few days in Reno, I got dropped off by Matt with my bike at the Mt Rose summit parking lot and rode around Tahoe on the East side (same as 2011), but exited this time on US-50 to see something new. I camped a decent way down along the American River somewhere, then got up the next day and rode to Sacramento, where I took the Amtrak to the Bay Area.

I bought a tricycle of my own, painted it and outfitted it with lights and speakers in a week, and brought it to Burning Man for my first experience at that festival. At the end, I traded the trike for a new city bicycle and weighed options for the future.

After gaining employment as Cabrio Taxi's shop manager and mechanic, I spent two months living at two different spots, went on a short solo tour in Oregon after visiting Rachael in Portland, then settled into a low-rent shack on land at the wonderful 5th Ave Marina in Oakland in November 2013. I spent the next nearly 10 months meeting and hanging out with some amazing people, both via work and at the Marina.

In September 2014, I hiked the John Muir Trail in its entirety, with Rachael joining me for the first 7 days of the hike. This was my first truly long-distance backpacking experience and was incredible in every way. Not enough can be said about the scenery of the High Sierra, you must go hike there to even understand. I took many pictures but have only begun to go through them, some will show up on the flickr account linked to the right eventually. This hike also upped my highest elevation mark to 14,505 on Mt. Whitney!

After the trail, I moved a short distance into a 110+ year old house in Oakland, which I currently inhabit all by myself. I am doing some work on the house in exchange for living there, which is awesome! I even have a winter garden out back, and a lemon tree!

So in short, life has been and continues to be awesome, inspiring, and fruitful in many ways. But I have been craving something more, and while a 220-mile hike may have made a decent substitute for a bike tour in 2014, I am looking for something bigger next year.

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And so in March 2015, I will depart the Bay Area on a fully laden touring bike. But this time it will not be my trusty green Fuji, purchased at the start of this blog to usher me in to the world of bike touring. It is a new (used) ride, which I will detail in a later post on my current bicycle collection.

This trip will be planned at a slower pace than some of my other tours, and will allow for many days to either day-hike or go on short backpacking trips.

After the night I spent in the Grand Canyon on my 2011 tour, I met George and Kathy at the North Rim store, and George told me about Ray Jardine's materials-and-instructions kit to make your own simple frameless backpack. This was after my first overnight trip along any hiking trail, and my gear was adequate but my backpack was just a big daypack. I made the new backpack in 2012 and have used it many times now, including the entire time on the JMT this year. The benefit of the frameless backpack in this case is the ease with which it packs into bike panniers, and its ability to easily support light-to-ultralight hikes of a short duration.

These backpacking side-trips may be planned in advance, depending on whether a permit is required for the particular hike. They will mostly be in desert environments, and will probably not be longer than 2 nights due to the remoteness of some trailheads and increasing complications of logistics.

The route will take me south along Highway 1 to the LA area, where I will visit a few people and head inland and north to Death Valley for a hike of some sort. After that, I will probably go to Vegas for the hell of it, and from there the map has a big question mark on it. The idea is to visit Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, though not necessarily in that order. I have the maps of these states on my wall and spend idle time picking out potential areas for hikes and researching them online, but the route itself will mostly be planned on a day-to-day basis.

After reaching Denver toward the end of May, I'll fly to Iceland sans bike to hike with Rachael and then hopefully begin a 10-week trail crew volunteer program similar to what I did in Nevada last year.

I will probably make an attempt to update this along the way on this bike trip, but if I feel it is a hindrance, I may just write in my personal journal as always and post here later. Another post about my new touring bike will follow shortly!

3.09.2013

North Coast Redwoods, Part 2

To finally finish off from the last post:

Lori and I parted ways at the 101/36 interchange, and I headed south for the Avenue of the Giants once again. This time I got to ride the whole thing, and all during full daylight. Though you would hardly know the sun was out underneath those gigantic trees. The views along the South Fork Eel were extraordinary, and highlighted the hugeness of the redwoods by showing their full height in direct comparison to neighboring trees of other varieties. All next to a large rocky riverbed, with decent relief all around. The Avenue spit me back out on the 101 eventually, and into a bustling Garberville I rode.

Garberville was crawling with the kids of the Northern California weed trimming scene, there to profit from the harvest, which was being delayed for lack of rain. I hung out and chatted with them for a couple of hours and then headed south for a few miles to make camp on the bed of the Eel. The next day I rode on down the 101 into Mendocino County, past the split where Route 1 heads for the coast. Chatted some more in Laytonville with the transient trimmer kids and headed for Willits. The scenery in these sections wasn't lacking, but the higher traffic volume of the 101 and eventual loss of the Eel's companionship makes it a poor follow-up to the Avenue of the Giants. I arrived in Willits and tried to decide what to do next. I was low on money and a minimum of two days riding back to San Francisco, but kinda wanted to see if I could find some work for money.

I stayed the first night down the railroad tracks with some of the self-proclaimed "street folk" of the town, who were drinking on a low trestle when I asked where a good spot to camp might be found. The next day I tried my luck looking for work, and did score a random $10 bill. That went toward some drinks at a local bar and more socializing with the trim scene. Unsuccessful, I found a new camping spot by following some gravel alongside train tracks in a different part of town.

The next morning, down to $5 in my pocket, I rode west on CA-20 toward Fort Bragg and the coast. This was a nice little ride, though I can't say the same for Fort Bragg itself. I headed south on the legendary Highway 1. It soon dawned on me that this was the first time I had toured on a major stretch of coastal road (not counting the few miles on the Lost Coast, days earlier) since Iceland, and despite the lack of fjords I found myself comparing many aspects of the riding to that of sections of the Ring Road, particularly in the south of the country. There was not much traffic on this section of Highway 1, and with the stereotypical coastal mixed fog and sunshine, the weather was quite pleasant for cycling. The riding was nice too, mostly rolling, with more defined and sometimes steep dips coming for each successive debouchment into the Pacific. I made my way down to to the strange and allegedly poor Point Arena that night and chatted with locals to figure out where to camp. I stayed in the town park, up on a mostly open hillside where I attempted to conceal myself. As I was setting up, I was targeted by some local youth in a pine cone war of some sort, and I played along. It being a relatively nice weekend night, there were a few more passersby in my remote section of the park, but I slept well in the fog.

The next day I kept riding south with the idea that I might somehow be catching up with the three other cyclists Lori and I had met in Ferndale. Before we met them, they had been averaging fewer miles than I was once solo, and although I had taken essentially two days off, I still figured we could be close. Sure enough, in Gualala or Sea Ranch or some such town in Sonoma County, I recognized their bikes outside of a supermarket. There was a fourth rider with them, a fellow named Andy (I think), who was headed for the Bay Area and then possibly east on the Western Express Adventure Cycling route. They invited me to ride with them and so I did, thus forming the largest group of touring cyclists (5) I have ridden with for more than a few miles ever. We shot for Bodega Bay that night, which offered $5 hiker/biker spots, and so I was down to $0.

Riding with Olaf, Sarah, Zach, and Andy was quite nice, as they seemed to be keeping a similar riding pace to myself, and while Andy split off sometime on the second day of these arrangements, we briefly met up again in SF a bit later. From Bodega Bay, we rode south on Adventure Cycling's Pacific Coast route, presumably avoiding some of the more heavily-driven and dangerous sections of highway 1, which we left at Pt. Reyes Station.After the short yet dramatic climb from Sausalito to the Golden Gate Bridge, I led to my place in SF where I had offered accommodations for the three. They stayed 2 nights, and we explored a bit in the City as the Giants won the ALCS in a rain-soaked game 7.

After bidding them farewell, I promptly reversed my broke-ness into comparative wealth as a corporate-sponsored pedicab gig surrounding the Giants' world series games and victory parade (in which I drove a pedicab) yielded more-than-decent profits.

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General Update:

It has now been over 4 months since this little bike tour, and I am now living in Las Vegas, Nevada and working as a volunteer with the Nevada Conservation Corps (an Americorps funded program) doing conservation work (invasive removal, trail work, fuels reduction, habitat restoration, and the like) in Southern Nevada. We live and work in the field 4 days a week, and I am lucky enough to be staying with an old high school friend, Hannah D, the other 3 days. In May I will be moving to the Great Basin National Park to finish my 6-month stint with the NCC doing primarily trail work in the park, and will live there full-time. After that, there is potential for a trip to Burning Man, then back to SF to pedicab the events surrounding the 34th America's Cup yacht races, and then off to New Zealand for some WWOOFing / bike touring action! What a good life...



11.01.2012

North Coast Redwoods tour, Part 1


I loaded up my bike with what would probably become the most robust touring setup I have ever managed, taking my stove and cookware, tools and spare parts, Z-lite, bivy, sleeping bag, rain & ground tarps, rain clothes, riding clothes, off-bike clothes, fivefingers, toiletries, backpack (for carrying things while walking), camera, water filter and bear can (both new acquisitions), and the usual assortment of small useful things. This expansive load would serve two purposes - to restrict us as little as possible in our camping locations, and to enable a solo ending to the trip, which was a possibility considering how open-ended our plans were. Based on our collective desire to see redwoods and the lost coast, and the convenience of Lori having a truck and friend in the area of Cottonwood, CA, we planned only a rough route. The idea was to go from the truck (parked at Wolfgang's farm) across either CA-299 or CA-36 toward the Humboldt coast, then do the Bull Creek-Mattole-Wildcat loop through the northern Lost Coast area. After that, we would just see.

We started out west across CA-36, a road that has somewhat of a legendary status among different people for different reasons. Motorcyclists in particular seem to enjoy this road for its fun curves and incredible scenery. Most locals warned us about the blind turns, fast traffic, logging trucks, lack of a shoulder, and narrow road, which at times became skinny enough to lose its double yellow line. The road goes through a very mountainous area with only a few small towns along the way. The climbs were okay - medium length and not often over an 8% grade, though one descent must have gotten steeper. For the first portion though, it seemed there was nothing between climbing and descending and climbing again, with the road even taking a fairly big climb away from the Van Duzen River, only to fall right back to it. Eventually the route mellowed out into a nice riverside ride along the Van Duzen to the Eel River into Fortuna. CA-36 was an insanely beautiful road all along, with bare hills, great river views and ridge views, dense forests, some big redwood groves, and awesome mountain towns. Our camping spots included the woods somewhere past Wildwood, the Van Duzen river bed near Dinsmore, and Grizzly Redwoods state park, where we had finally reached foggy territory.

From Fortuna, we decided to ride US-101 south to the start of the Avenue of the Giants, a scenic parallel that traces the Eel River through some deep, dark redwood groves which are mostly protected by Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We took the turn-off for the road to the lost coast, following the route of the locally famous Tour of the Unknown Coast. A few miles down the road we camped on the bed of Bull Creek. The next day was the climb to Panther Gap out of Humboldt Redwoods state park, which was fairly steep and maybe even 6 miles long. The descent was even crazier, beginning in mellow fashion after the summit and then transitioning to some very steep tight curves all the way down to the Mattole River at the town of Honeydew. We met a man in Honeydew who gave us access to a property in Petrolia for free camping. Petrolia is a cool little town that I could totally see myself living in, though I somehow got the feeling that here (and elsewhere along this road), strangers and tourists aren't particularly welcome.

The next morning, we headed for the coastal stretch of the road, which parallels black sand beaches all the way down to "the wall," a hilarious climb which starts at grades in the area of 18-20% for the first half mile or so, then mellows out for a bit. The route then drops steeply back down to almost sea level at the settlement of Capetown before climbing back up for another 7-8 miles to crest just below 1900'. The descent down into Ferndale is another screamer, with steep grades, wild turns and pothole-peppered pavement.

Once in Ferndale, which is a small, sleepy, beautifully restored Victorian town, we met three other touring cyclists. Olaf, Zach, and Sarah were on their way south along ACA's Pacific Coast route and had opted to take the detour down Mattole Rd, which is apparently included in the Pacific Coast route as an alternate between Ferndale/Fortuna and the Avenue of the Giants. After stuffing ourselves with pizza, we decided to stay in Ferndale that night and hang out with the three we had met in town. Camping that night was at the Humbodlt County Fairgrounds.

In the morning, still not sure of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go, we rode to Fortuna under slight threat of rain. We decided to take the rest of the day off there, run some errands, divide up shared supplies, and part ways. Lori had to get back to her truck and get ready for a trip to Ghana, and I wanted to do a little solo touring back down to SF. We wandered around Fortuna for a while, went to some thrift stores, did grocery shopping, and found a place to sleep for the night. We wandered down by the train tracks below a ramp for 101, which was by the bank of the Eel River. After talking to a couple of the 20+ residents of the riverside, who had set up semi-permanent camps down a trail in the area, we were offered some space in one of the 'rooms' of one of these camps by a fellow whose name I can't recall at the moment. I wished we had had time to explore a bit more the unique culture of these folks who lived down by the river, just outside city limits, without much law but their own 'river justice.'


To be continued...


 This is Lori

 As we approach "the wall" along mattole road.


A neat little church in Ferndale.

10.26.2012

Since the last post

Since my last post, I have done quite a few things. While I lived in Davis, CA for 2 months, I drove pedicabs and was a pseudo-mechanic/manager. I also baked pies and cheesecakes for Upper Crust Bakery, which sells breads and pastries at farmers markets in various Northern/Central California towns. Then, after a brief east coast holiday trip, I rode on to Benicia (to stay with Vargas, a former Boston pedicabber), took the ferry from Vallejo to SF, hung out a bit and visited Amanda there. Took caltrain to San Jose, spent a night with Katie and Joe (who had let Mal and I crash after Tour #1), then rode to the Kern Family Farm in North Fork California where I was scheduled to stay as a WWOOFer for at least 6 weeks.

The farm was amazing, and I met a lot of incredibly enriching people, all of whom were very creative. We shared much knowledge and many experiences that I feel may have helped solidify my medium- and long-term goals in life - to learn about construction (conventional and 'alternative'), to learn more about sustainable farming practices / permaculture, to own land, build my own house on it, and farm/manage it responsibly). I could write for hours about the people, places, and experiences from the eventual three months that I spent there, but this is primarily a bike touring blog, so onward...

I rode back to San Francisco with the goal of becoming a licensed pedicabber and finding housing. The first of those took two and a half weeks, and the second nearly a month. During this first month, I lived on couches and in hostels until I finally found a sublet in a former fraternity house at USF, where my rent is surprisingly low and I have very laid-back housemates. This sublet has now become a month-to-month tenancy, and the deal/location makes me want to remain here for some time. San Francisco itself is a great city, and as a cyclist/pedicabber, I have seen a decent bit of it in the relatively short 7 months since I arrived.

I have pedicabbed here, in Davis again, in Boston for a day, and at 5 or so festivals / special events in various parts of Northern California, serving as a trip manager for the mobile fleet that went to those events. I have also been a tricycle mechanic for multiple fleets of pedicabs, including a month-long rehab project on a fleet of 20 trikes, many of which may have been in service for 20+ years. As fall came on, along with the 1-year anniversary of my last tour, I started to get the touring itch once again and made plans with acquaintance / fellow pedicabber and Davis resident Lori for a short tour of Northern California, to include some redwoods and a loop in the Lost Coast area of Humboldt County. An account of this random and fun trip will follow in a different post.

11.13.2011

The rest of the trip to Davis, and some totals

After the Grand Canyon, I rode on back to Kanab, used the internet and restocked my food supply. Shot for the area of Coral Pink Sand Dunes state park in Utah, though owing to the entrance fee and likely campground costliness, I didn't actually go to the park. I slept out on the dunes themselves in an area where, thankfully, ATVs are banned. The pink of the sand was especially striking as the sun was setting and the wispy clouds overhead were glowing in exactly the same color, their shapes appearing to mimic the curves of the dune surfaces. At this point in the trip, I had been in dry country for so long that I had stopped using my tarp and had developed a habit of waiting to zip up and go to sleep until after watching the sky for long enough to see a shooting star. The sky was generally so dark that this never took longer than 20 minutes. It was also a good way to motivate myself to stay up long enough to where I might be able to sleep until the sun came up. Another day and I was in Zion National Park.

The ride into Zion was incredible. After a short climb and some more riding up from Mount Carmel Junction, the descent into the canyon was one of the most scenic sections of riding I have experienced. Sharp curves, high walls, and the curvaceous profiles of the Navajo sandstone ushered me in towards the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel. Through the tunnel, I was required to hitch a ride, as it is a deceptively sloping, dark and narrow affair through which traffic must often proceed in one-way bursts because of the gargantuan comfort-bearing vehicles exceeding certain sizes (all RVs must apply, one-or-two-way passage fee required). The tunnel itself is blasted into the side of a canyon, with periodic windows cut through the side. I rode in the back of a pickup with my bike. After the tunnel, there was a nice set of switchbacks the rest of the way down to the canyon floor. When I arrived in the campgrounds, I sought out someone who might allow me to share space with them in their campsite (cheaper/free that way, did it at Bryce, too).

Enter Keith and Janet. At the time, Janet was running through the nearest 5 or so towns in search of a fix to the roof-rack of their Subaru, devastated by an earlier altercation with a parking garage. Keith granted me permission to stay, and I rode to the nearest bike shop to get some tubes and patches, having been plagued by roadside weed induced flats the previous two weeks. On the way back, while turning into the campground and fumbling around with my wallet in my handlebar bag, I did some chin sledding on the pavement. After grabbing up my scattered Washingtons and Lincolns (now bloodied by the profuse chin bleeding) and assuring the concerned strangers around that I was okay, I stopped the bleeding and went back to the campsite. When Janet, a P.A., returned, we ate dinner and I went to get some gravel flushed out and six stitches, upon her recommendation, at an area clinic.

The next day, I rode the Zion Canyon scenic road, did a little hiking (though not much as time was becoming an issue), and rode on to Washington, UT, where I slept in some random desert area just outside the city. Zion was an incredibly beautiful area, where the contrast between the verdant canyon floor and the tall, bare-stone walls was very striking. Though not as large, on the whole, as the Grand Canyon, Zion is a narrow, winding canyon with incredible height and a stratigraphy that is far less organized to the casual eye. I will have to return one day and do some more serious hiking. The day after leaving Washington saw me outpacing some unloaded cyclists with light-as-air racing bikes on a path between St George and Snow Canyon, which included several 12+% (Apparently up to 20%) inclines. This was the first and only time on this trip that an actual on-route incline caused me to stand up from the saddle. More flats and a long day put me in Nevada on some BLM land. The next day, I covered over 100 miles to Major's Junction, at the intersection of US 50 and US 93, a spot visited on the first US tour I took. There, I was treated to (too) many beers and some free food, courtesy of the locals. Given that Major's is a junction with a bar and nothing else, I am not sure where these locals really hailed from. Another day and a half of riding and I was in need of a boost in either speed or distance if I was to make Davis by Halloween weekend. With the wind making a strong case against the speed boost option, I attempted to hitch a ride outside of Eureka. After some hours, along came Keith and Janet.

They had been driving along on their way back from Zion, bound for Reno, and recognized me based on the bandage still clinging loosely to my chin. They drove me all the way there, which involved the second ridiculous rooftop-carry of my loaded bike (photos below). Upon arrival in Reno, I rode around for a bit, observed the vices of the population, and then met up with Leslie, an acquaintance from Bonnaroo of this year. I crashed at her place with her roommates for a couple of nights and baked some pies. As the temperature dropped, I headed for the higher elevations of the Tahoe area. The climb up the Mt Rose summit was indeed a climb, and a tall one at that, though only slightly more special than others. At the top (8,911'), it was truly very cold, being at or below freezing during the sunlight hours. I stopped, layered up, and descended to the lake to prepare for the coldest night of the entire trip. It got down to about 15 or 16 that night. I just gave in and got a hotel room.

From Crystal Bay, I rode the east shore of Tahoe (6,225' shore elevation, though the road was hilly, NV-28, US-50), Luther Pass (7,740', CA-89), and Carson Pass (8,650', CA-88) all the way to Cook's Station. The entire descent from Carson Pass was filled with the smoke from a controlled burn, and the summit itself was under (re)construction - blasting was taking place, creating a temporary, dirt one-lane road for a short stretch. After waking near Cook's and getting an early start thanks to a warm night, my left pedal seized up in Somerset. I hitched a ride to Placerville, got a new (used) pair of pedals, and kept on riding. This section, from the CA-88/CA-89 junction all the way to Davis, was a repeat from the first US tour. This time around, although I was at the end of a long final day, I was able to more fully enjoy the American River bike path, which winds its way from Folsom all the way through Sacramento. I arrived in Davis just after sunset, having pedaled something like 104 miles that day.


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Total trip distance from the bike computer was 2902.3, though I would say this is only accurate to within 30 miles (+/-), due to an unfortunate incident in which my odometer reset itself and I set it back from memory. I had just looked at the overall ODO that day, so my guess shouldn't have been that bad. MapMyRide lists 2,661. The difference of 241.3 miles roughly corresponds to errand riding within towns at the start and end of the day, distances doubled back within the same day, and any loops.

The route included riding in 10 states, 6 National Parks (and countless other types of federally administered public property), with 18 days of riding over 80 miles and 3 days over 100. Around one third to one half of the nights the temperature reached below freezing. I was transported by car/truck/van on 7 occasions (not counting the Zion tunnel or the ride from Somerset to Placerville, neither of which was optional) for a total of 973 miles, though the actual forward progress saved, as compared to the route I would have ridden, was less at 622 miles.

Special thanks to Tina, Dan, Misty, John and the rest of the wedding attendees in Greene, Jeff and Jackie in Platte, the guy who gave me a ride in Cody, Alex and Mackenzie, Gary at Grassy Lake #3, random tourist at Yellowstone who gave me money, Kelly and Tommy in SLC, Leslie and roommates in Reno, George and Cathy, Keith and Janet, the other touring cyclists (Emily and the Swiss duo, Nick, Julia, Michelle, Ryan, Sarah, and others just in passing), and the countless others I met and spoke with for your rides, accommodations, company, kitchens, advice, entertainment, etc. Oh, and the thousands upon thousands of motorists who passed me and didn't kill me. Thanks!

Morning sunlight through the smoke of a prescribed burn near Cook's Station

The cause of practically all of my flats for the trip - some ubiquitous roadside weed

My bike strapped between Keith & Janet's bikes on their (fixed) roof rack. Photo courtesy of Keith.

My bike strapped on the roof of Alex's Subaru, earlier in the trip


Next up: Adjusting to not being on the road, experiences in Davis, and other post-tour musings.



11.10.2011

The Grand Canyon


Links/Notes -
the bulk of all the pictures I will be posting to flickr are up, here is the link to the set.

I also mapped nearly every bit of forward progress riding on MapMyRide. here is a link to the list of routes (new one for every day).

After Lehi, I spent a few days moving south at a medium pace, in terms of miles per day, roughly paralleling US 89 (but usually not on it). The slow pace was due to a more somber mood, brought on by the weather (cloudy, chilly, rainy at times) among other things. Also, the amount of daylight available dropped to, and eventually below, around 12 hours per day. I slept in a truck stop one night, partly from laziness and partly out of desire for the experience, in the company of a fellow named Xavier, who was hitchhiking to Florida to go back to school. His life story, from early childhood, is full of events most would consider tragic, but he seems to have remained more mentally balanced than probably 95% of the rest of us would have in similar situations. Way more balanced than some of the crazies (I don't intend that term to be entirely negative) I met on this trip! Another night, I was given a free motel room in Salina. I rode on south to Bryce Canyon, revisiting one of my favorite places from my first tour. I rode on a stretch of the same route for about 15-20 miles, which was neat. After that, it was a straight shot down 89 to the Grand Canyon (North Rim). And as a bonus, I was now back in Southern Utah, the most beautiful place ever.

My last night in Utah before the Grand Canyon was spent on some BLM land between Kanab and Fredonia, just on the Arizona border. The next day of riding was one of the toughest on the entire trip. That would be the climb onto the Kaibab Plateau - the uplifted area into which the Grand Canyon is cut. The net climb for the day would be about 4,500 feet, though there were some surprises along the way. The day's riding could be divided into three stages. The first was a very deceptive, gradual climb between Fredonia and the plateau. The rock layers seemed horizontal, though in reality they were just flat and tilted. This led to deception, as it looked like the road had no incline, but in actuality I was climbing. I have obviously encountered this before, and generally consider my internal inclinometer to be accurate and consistent, but this was crazy enough that I stopped to make sure there wasn't a problem with my bike! The second stage was the bulk of the climb. Nothing unusual about it as climbs go, but it revealed amazing views of incredible cliffs back to the north. The third and possibly most obnoxious stage, was the top of the plateau. After 3500' of climbing over 35 or so miles, I had to deal with an overall 1,000' gain over the semi-karstified Kaibab Limestone, with its many short and steep hills. The Kaibab National forest, however, was one of the most beautiful forested areas of the trip, with long meadows and a striking mix of conifers and aspen. I finished my day still outside of the park boundary at around 9,000 feet, and it was the coldest night of the trip... so far.

The aspen were in their full autumn glory up on the Kaibab plateau
When I got to the Grand Canyon, I got a backcountry permit for Cottonwood campground for the next night and relaxed the rest of the day at the amazing hiker/biker spots ($5) in the campground. They are literally right on the rim, something none of the other sites in the whole camp can offer. The next day, I packed up my old L.L. Bean backpack from middle and high school, bungeed my sleeping bag and pad to the bottoms of the straps, and set off for my first experience overnight hiking, on the North Kaibab trail. The North Kaibab is the only maintained trail leading into the canyon from the North Rim, so it gets a fair bit of use. It was only 7 miles to Cottonwood, and a drop of around 4,200 feet, but I was hiking in my Fivefingers for only the second long hike and wanted to have some time to enjoy hiking unloaded down in the canyon as well. Plus, I couldn't get a permit to camp down at the actual Colorado river, which was just as well considering the additional 7 miles and how sore I already was after the first 7. To be clear: the North Kaibab trail begins its descent in Roaring Spring canyon, which joins Bright Angel canyon (in which Cottonwood is located), which joins the main trunk of the Grand Canyon.

A view from my campsite at the North Rim. Sunset light on the upper layers of the canyon and a forest fire on the South Rim.
The descent was an incredibly layered experience with many things changing as one continues down the trail. The rock units are the most obvious, their boundaries being distinctly visible both across Roaring Spring canyon on the opposite wall and on the trail itself. The nature of the trail is often determined by the properties of these rock units: some parts of the trail are blasted into the wall itself; in places, erosion bars protect the softer trail from washing away too quickly; often switchbacks come into play. A more subtle change is that of the vegetation - the scene moves from denser forest near the rim into a cactus and yucca dominated true desert at lower elevations. Along with these vegetation zones and elevation, the obvious differences in temperature are evident. Another thing that changes with respect to distance along the trail is the amount of weariness on the faces and sweat in the armpits of the hikers heading the opposite direction. The experience of hiking in the Grand Canyon is beyond words or pictures. Just go do it for yourself. But drink plenty of water.

There is plenty of trail traffic in the canyon. There are mules that you can pay to ride that climb the North Kaibab trail and crap all over the place and erode the hell out of the trail (though mostly only from the rim to supai tunnel). There are rim-to-rim-to-rim, gel-sucking trail runners, who do the entire batshit insane 42 miles in one day, waking hours before sunrise and often being rude to others on the trail. And there are the less-committed day-hikers going just down a little bit and back up. And then the entire spectrum of multi-day hikers who, depending on your viewpoint, are either more or less ambitious than the runners. Once unloaded at Cottonwood (in a beautiful site with a shady, low-hanging tree), I hiked down to Ribbon Falls, then to Upper Ribbon Falls. Upper Ribbon Falls is a peaceful, tranquil spot accessible by an unmarked and unmaintained trail, so you either have to find out about it by word-of-mouth (as I did), or see the turn-off and be struck by a sense of adventure. It can be kinda dangerous at parts, so if you want to hike it, let me know and I can send you a more detailed description. After the traffic of the main trail, it was rather nice to get to a spot where the only things stirring were the lizards and snakes, the vultures, and the sinuous curves of the water cutting its meanders through the bare stone.

The view from my campsite at Cottonwood campground, and documentation of the ridiculous but ultimately sufficient backpack setup.
The campsite I was lucky enough to get at Cottonwood - only about 1/3 of them have this amount of shade, and the specific sites are filled on a first come basis.
The hike back out of the canyon seemed to go quickly. I got an early start due to the warmth maintained in the canyon overnight (and Arizona's refusal of daylight savings time), and was out by noon. On the way out, I struggled primarily with the infrequent, short sections of descent, having apparently exhausted my neglected downhill-walking muscles on the previous day. Oh, and of course it was hot. One more night on the North Rim before it closed for the season and I was about to leave when I met Cathy, who worked for the park's concessionaire. Cathy and George were avid touring cyclists, working and living at the park, and were planning a bike tour of Iceland. At their request, I stayed an extra day, and went for a drive with George to Lee's Ferry. We traded touring stories, I told them about Iceland, and I got plenty of good, intensely practical advice. They got me meals at the employee cafeteria, and invited me to the end-of-season employee party at the lodge. Which was a shitshow.

Right before I left (got a ride for about 30 miles from George & Cathy), I went to the bookstore and found, for an incredibly reasonable $7.99, Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire. This book being sold in a National Park bookstore turns out to be marginally ironic, as Abbey rails against the park service and its dedication to developing areas of parks to facilitate motorized, get-in-and-get-out tourism in the chapter titled "Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks." During that visit to Grand Canyon National Park, I had noticed that despite the seemingly large number of people on the trail, the majority of park visitors don't take the time to hike down even the first two miles into Roaring Spring canyon. And they have no idea what they are missing. I'm with Abbey - disallow private automobiles from National Parks and eliminate drive-through loop tourism. (Don't worry about the disabled, Abbey's plan includes them, too)



Next Post: Zion, Nevada, Reno, Tahoe, and Davis. And the future?





10.06.2011

A long time away from computers, and only two or three showers.

Well here I am in Lehi, UT, where it is cold and rainy and the computers cannot allow me to upload photos in any way. Despite some internet time in Salt Lake, I did not get to blogging or photo uploads, though I have about 16 for flickr and many for the blog as well. Oh well, some time soon. To try and cover such a long period of time, with so many ups and downs and highs and lows, in one post, with a limited time allowance, is going to be tough. I will do my best.

I have come a long way since my last post, even if it was technically not that many forward miles. After my last post, I met two other touring cyclists, Nick and Julia, in Newcastle and we all stayed on the lawn outside the senior center in town. They were headed for Seattle, and I had heard about them back in South Dakota, though they followed a different route from me. I rode to Gillette, WY, "America's Energy Capital." Then a long stretch on I-90, which was pretty nice actually. The trek through the Big Horn range was pretty nice, I took US-16 and they had roadside signs noting major rock types and associated ages. The mountains themselves were beautiful, I only regret not having time to do any real hiking in the area. My exit from the mountains was through Ten Sleep canyon, which made me wish I was a rock climber. It was one of the three or four most beautiful traditional canyons I have ever been through (so Bryce doesn't count). It was also one hell of a descent, though some have since topped it.

After a minor delay in the town of Basin (I won't get into it here), I continued to Cody, WY, which is the town closest to Yellowstone's east entrance. From there, I got a free ride into the park to make up some time. The bike ride would have been nice, as it was a beautiful area, but it would have taken away from the time I had to spend in Yellowstone.

I spent two nights in Yellowstone, where all campgrounds still open had set aside hiker/biker sites for $5 or $6. Saw plenty there, from wildlife (including a Bison that wandered into camp at Norris) to various hydrothermal features (including those in the Old Faithful area, Midway and Norris basins, and along the Yellowstone River south of the 'Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone') to just plain old forest. The hydrothermal basins were some of the most strange-looking landscapes I have ever seen, and I got the top-down shot of Grand Prismatic Spring, which was the one thing I wanted to see most in the area. The whole park was amazing, and I made fires at camp each night, as it was getting cold very regularly. All the same, I had warm, sunny days the whole time. This area also marked the first time that I have ever been in Columbia River drainage.

When I exited Yellowstone, I came upon three other touring cyclists, for I was now on the Trans-America trail (though not the section on which I have ridden before). Michelle and Ryan were doing more-or-less the Trans-Am, and Sarah had joined them after some solo touring and RAGBRAI. We all met in a spot where the sun was about to go down and nobody was sure where to camp, and thanks to some rangers at the south entrance station we found the most amazing area on the Snake River. Down Grassy Lake Road some interesting characters, peaceful free campsites, and natural hot springs all convened to make for three eventual nights of wonderful camping. After night one, I rode into Teton for cell service and called Alex and Mackenzie, two pedicabbers from Boston, who were road-tripping through the area. We went back up to Grassy Lake to meet Gary, outdoorsman extraordinaire, who fed the entire party (Alex, Mackenzie, Michelle, Ryan, Sarah, plus mountain-woman Kayla) elk and antelope, which he had hunted and processed himself. Gary, who works for Wyoming Game & Fish, has spent quite some time in the woods of the area. Probably nothing compared to Kayla though, who pretty much just lives in the woods three seasons of the year.

The next day, Alex, Mackenzie and I went for a 16-17 mile hike up Cascade Canyon in the Tetons. It was an amazing hike, in beautiful scenery of so many colors, that lead to a classic glacial circque, with a vertical headwall and holding the cold Lake Solitude. With about 7 or 8 miles left, I messed up my toe a bit - the first injury as a result of hiking in my FiveFingers. You really have to get up in the higher valleys to fully appreciate that range, though the view from below is nice too. Another night down Grassy Lake Rd, and a ride to Jackson, and I was headed for Salt Lake.

Four days of rain-threatening-and-sometimes-falling southbound riding, with free camping in National Forests, a closed campground, and a town park got me to Salt Lake City without much further climbing until the Wasatch Range. I rode in Idaho for a brief six miles before didging back to Wyoming, then Utah, then Wyoming, then Utah again. After Evanston, WY, I rode on I-80 illegally for a bit to avoid some questionable roads. Once the route dropped into Echo canyon, which had walls of some beautiful conglomerate, an alternate road wove its way down the canyon, closely avoiding the highway, rail line, and canyon walls. After Henefer, the way through the mountains (following the Mormons' emmigration route) that I took was awesome, and I hit my trip max speed of 50.3 mph on the way. With a highway alternate so near, they don't bother with the typical huge signs warning of the no-guard-rail, hairpin turns along the way. Emigration Canyon was a nice descent, and I must have passed at least 25 uphill cyclists (unloaded). Got to Salt Lake and spent almost 2 days there with Kelly (from Northeastern) and Tommy and some of their friends, and got a ride down to Lehi to avoid the mostly-urban areas around SLC.

Now I am here, with no way to upload pictures and no motivation to ride until tomorrow. I will hit the Grand Canyon in probably five days of riding, and then go to Zion on my way back out. It is snowing in the mountains around here, which alters their appearance so drastically. I guess this is the first time I have ever seen snow really cover mountains of this type (tall, jagged), and it is incredible. More, and photos, soon.