From basin to range, Utah

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From the south end of the Lockhart Basin Road, I’d spotted a forest service route over the southern portion of the Manti-LasSal National Forest, connecting with Highway 95 down near the Arizona border.  Our expectations are for another day and half of cycling, up near 9,000ft, with a long descent to pavement down the other side.  With just enough food– and some good intel on water sources in the moutnains– it is a perfect plan.  But as we’ve learned over many years of cycling, especially in the wild places of the west, plans are meant to be broken.

Diving away from pavement of Highway 211, up the Bridger Jack/Beef Basin Road.  Continue onto FR 88/Elk Ridge Road, all the way over the mountains.  There are innumerable possible variations, but this is the simplest to navigate, with (most likely) the highest quality roads.

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Most signage around here is oriented to the hordes of climbers that stick to the canyon walls this time of year, like geckos soaking sunshine.  

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The west is still a bit wild.  Cattle still graze the highlands in summer, and someone has to call them home for the winter.  That’s what cowboys are for.

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We might have thought it was another decade up here, with the abundance of well-preserved cans along the road.  Clint Eastwood drinks Schlitz in the Dirty Harry movies.  As such, I’ve also had a soft spot for the stuff.  This one also has the patented SOFTOP lid– all of this is well before my time.

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In waning light, we climb towards 7,000ft.  Have I mentioned that this is my favorite time to ride?

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The dinner view– like the namesake formations of the nearby ‘Needles’ area of Canyonlands National Park.

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By morning, the light reverses itself, highlighting Cathedral Butte.  

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This will be one of the last nights in our Big Agnes Seehouse SL2 tent, which we’ve enjoyed through wind, snow, and rain over 5 years and about 700 nights.  Zippers are dying everywhere amongst our gear (not only on the tent), while the rainfly is torn from a midnight mishap.  While in the shop for repairs in Steamboat Springs, CO, Big Agnes has offered to send us a Fly Creek UL2, about a half-pound lighter than our current tent.  They’ve been great about repairing and replacing parts over the years, for a reasonable price.  In all this time, only the ground cloth remains from our original tent.  

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As we pack up and roll out, dark clouds are rolling in from the west.  Coming from across canyon country, they energize as they storm up the mountainside, rising 4000ft all at once.  These roads are no fun when wet.  Still, we hope for the best.  Our luck seems limitless.

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Looking out on Canyonlands National Park, the two air masses meet.  We are going the wrong direction.  Climbing, climbing, climbing…

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Until we can climb no more.  By now, we are all the way up the mountain, nearly half way to the pavement on the other side.  But it isn;t in the cards for today.  Unless we ware willing, or able, to carry our bikes for miles, the only choice is ride back the way we came. 

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Drink before thirsty, eat before hungry, says Velocio.  We’re already worked up an appetite.  A tortilla stuffed with cheese will hold us over until we ride out of the clouds, and out of the risk of tacky roads. 

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On the bright side, we look forward to a 3000+ft descent.  Lael picked up a new Revelate Feed Bag at Salvagetti’s in Denver, CO.  It mostly contains small portions of condiments stolen from gas stations, as apples.  Occasionally, it is filled with a liter of kefir, a habit she picked up in Ukraine.

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Out of the forest.

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Back amongst sage and ancient juniper, a herd of elk calling nearby, crossing the road a distance ahead.

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Down into the sun, where the memories of wet roads and rain are nearly forgotten.  From desert to forest, the weather also changes from 5000ft to 8500ft.  

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Finally, back near the road, we boil some water for coffee.  While filling up on clean water at reliable sources whenever possible, we either treat or boil a drink of surface water whenever we have the chance, to extend our range.  On an established route, it is common to know the distance to the next water source.  Without such information, it is a necessary habit to carry too much water.  Thankfully, water, like food, always gets lighter.

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The only choice now is a long paved route around the mountains.  There are worse places to be touring on the road.  Rural Utah is a treat, on or off pavement.

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Soon, a quick ride to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, then Flagstaff, Sedona, and beyond.  Anyone in AZ?  We are looking at riding some AZT, Cononino, Black Canyon, and whatever else we can find.  Route ideas?  Anyone want to ride?

8 thoughts on “From basin to range, Utah

  1. Ray is a guy here in AZ he has which he has a google folder full of GPS tracks of rides here in AZ, he has AZT trail, BCT and bunch of other great rides in AZ, Here is a link to the folder, check out RideFilesV1.xls for description of rides, but it looks like there is way more gpx files than what is in RideFilesV1 so browse around. He even has gpx files from the Arizona Endurance Series (AES).

    • Thanks! I just had a peek into that file full of routes. For now, it looks like some AZT, Coconino Loop, and Black Canyon Trail will keep us busy for the next few weeks. However, if we’re up for a serpentine, or even circular route, there are a lot of possible permutations. Great info.

    • Too bad, yes, but these kind of roads are the Achilles heel of bikepacking in the southwest–the bike refuses to roll under such circumstances. Once too many times in the mud already, I have come to respect the little rain that does fall around here.

  2. I’m glad BA helped you with a new tent. We’re way impressed you were able to get so many nights out of the old one. I wonder if that’s some kind of record?

    We’re both wondering how you hitched to GC Viilage? Was it a ride share- pre-arranged or spur of the moment?

    Definitely do AZT to Flag, Black Canyon too. Coconino, maybe… Depends on your mood. It’s a tough ride and you’ll get some cold up high.

    • The hitch to GC Village was courtesy of Lael’s pretty little thumb. We decided to ride pavement straight to the Canyon, about 200 miles away from Monticello. The second or third day, we turned into a nasty headwind from the WSW, and decided to cut our misery on the pavement for some fun on the dirt, especially as the season is slowly closing at elevation. It is still bright and sunny at the south rim, but an inch of snow this morning reminds us to keep moving, at least down towards Sedona.

      For the record, the tent has been repaired and replaced several times. Part of the tent was lost to a windstorm, part of the tent has been repaired and temporarily replaced with some parts as it was being fixed, so there are now two rainflies and two mesh bodies in circulation (one set of poles, repaired, and one ground cloth). I use whichever combination is in better shape, and have the other repaired as needed. I am excited about the new Fly Creek, which I picked up from USPS at the GC Village yesterday. It is light and compact, which is immediately apparent. I’m feeling only a little separation anxiety from the old tent, as it went in the mail today.

      I’m curious to see how durable the Fly Creek is compared to the SeedhouseSL. The new tent seems to use smaller zippers, thinner material, and a more simple pole design. If it lasts, I’ll be happy to cut the weight and space from the pack.

      The Seedhouse is still a gem. I would recommend it to anyone.

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