If you had a month with no obligations, an urge to spend it pedaling, and a desire to immerse yourself in relatively remote territory, where would you go? The Yukon? Siberia? Central Australia?
Over the past winter, I pondered long and hard about where I wanted to find myself during the coming summer. I entertained a wide range of ideas, from tame local exploration to ambitious trips abroad. In the end, I settled on a nearby region that has captivated me during recent years – the Colorado Plateau of southern Utah. It’s a stunning and unforgiving landscape, sparsely populated, and hosts some incredibly fascinating geology.
After some rather hasty planning, I spent the entirety of June traversing Utah and southwestern Colorado, almost entirely on dirt, covering nearly 1500 miles 30 days. I started out with a handful of friends on the high plateaus east of Cedar City, and then after a few days, struck out on my own, bouncing from plateau to plateau, and then from one isolated mountain range to the next as I neared Colorado.
On some days, I felt like an ant in a jungle of thick grass as I lugged, hoisted, and tossed my El Mariachi Ti bike through miles of deadfall. These frustrating trails, however, often gave way to unbelievable singletrack rewards and huge vistas. On other days, I wilted in the summer heat beneath a cloudless sky. A cold spring and a small patch of shade was the most relief for which I could hope. I wound through deep, hot canyons, only to then climb a mile into the sky the following day to find a cool and blustery reprieve from the desert and some of the most impressive vistas imaginable. Eventually I’d roll into a tiny town, find a place to get a meal, and then continue on with another four to five days of food and a couple gallons of water. On a few days, I did not see a single other soul and was left to make small talk with the cicadas and ground squirrels. This was exactly the type of adventure for which I had hoped.
For the second half of my tour, I had no preplanned route, so I toted along a small library of maps. I’d stare at these in the evening over a heaping bowl of couscous or mashed potatoes, determining where to head the next day. I eventually reached southwestern Colorado and the touristy San Juan Mountains. Bustling little towns and gift shops peddling snacks and cold drinks became more frequent, I began crossing paths with friends, and my desolate route across the remote expanses of Utah quickly faded in my mind. Instead of wondering where I might be able to next find water, I found myself enjoying an evening concert in the park in Ouray as the moon rose over the towering cliffs at the edge of town. Two days later I stood by one of the few snow patches on the Continental Divide cheering on racers in a 50-mile ultra-marathon. A day later, I enjoyed ice cream treats in two campgrounds and in the revived mining town of Silverton.
As Durango, my ultimate destination, grew nearer, my route became even more circuitous. I climbed needlessly over passes just to gaze out over the expanses obscured on the opposite side. I detoured miles off the most direct route to ride a singletrack descent shown on one of my maps. Even after a month of pedaling, I found myself delaying the inevitable end of the ride, a sure sign of a great tour.
Stay tuned for Part Two, where I will answer some questions folks have asked me and provide a bit of information about planning a big tour.
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After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. www.krefs.blogspot.com