Tuesday, 28 April 2015

New Friends and a New State

Location: Provo, UT, USA
Well-rested and well-fed we left Richfield and had a great day cycling north; the sun shone and the wind didn't blow too hard.  We stopped for lunch at Yuba State Park and made it to Levan, UT and decided we'd ask around for somewhere to camp.  We were just pulling up to a store when a guy outside it asked where we were headed and then gave us directions to a dispersed campsite a few miles out of town.

We found it easily and got the tent set up and a little fire going.  The wind was picking up so we ate dinner quickly, put the fire out and retreated to the tent.  The wind soon died down and we got a pretty good night's sleep.  We got an early start and had a good morning riding along frontage roads.  We stopped at a Smith's in Payson in the hope they would have the 6 pack of banana and walnut muffins for about $3.50 we had enjoyed previously, but alas they were no longer on offer and they only had the blueberry ones.  We had lunch outside the Smith's and then as we were leaving the carpark bumped into a fellow cycle-tourer on his way south, after chatting for a while we pedalled off to negotiate the busier roads as we headed through Spanish Fork.  A cyclist then came up alongside us asked about our trip and told us he had a fitness centre just up the road and offered us a shower and lunch, but having already eaten and with a Warm Showers host lined up for the night we gratefully declined and rode on.

Tom got punctures 4 and 5 on our ride, but we had nice places to fix them and the sun shone.  We arrived in Provo and found Oliver, Raquel and Ezra's house without difficulty and knocked on the door.  Raquel answered and immediately made us feel welcome, giving us a tour of their wonderful house and garden.  They're into permaculture and have a beautiful garden and a gorgeous house with a bunch of cool other buildings including a strawbale greenhouse (where we slept) and a four-storey treehouse.  That evening they had a gathering with people playing music and a 'pot-luck' dinner.  We had a wonderful evening chatting with their lovely friends.

The next morning we joined them for breakfast and ended up chatting for hours, Oliver was late for work and we ended up deciding to stay a second night as we needed to head to the sports store to buy bear stuff (rope, bear-spray, knowledge!) and go to the bank to get more cash out.  We spent the day wandering about Provo, when we got back we played with Ezra for a bit and then cooked hotdogs over the fire pit.  Then Oliver's brother invited us to Oliver's parents for local bison burgers.  Despite having just eaten we couldn't turn down this offer and so we enjoyed a second dinner with Oliver's family before heading off with Oliver, Raquel and Ezra on Provo's Monday Night Ride.  I've never ridden in a big group of bikers before but it was great fun and we had a fantastic time chatting with various people.

We managed to drag ourselves away the next morning and had a beautiful ride up Provo Canyon.  At Silver Summit we ended up doing a huge circle as the Pacific Union Rail Trail which we intended to ride was closed due to roadwork on the Interstate and so we guessed we'd just have to ride the I-80 to Coalville but as we were nearing the junction to turn onto it a highway patrol car pulled up alongside and told us we weren't allowed.  After 2 hours we ended up back where we had started and headed for Peoa and then Coalville.  It was a lovely ride and we arrived into Coalville around 6pm.  We had just got off our bikes and were walking towards the gas station to ask if they knew anywhere we could pitch the tent when a guy on a quad asked if we were looking for somewhere to camp and gave us directions to a spot in town.  We continued walking towards this spot when a guy starts chatting to us outside his place and gives us directions to a camp spot by the lake a couple of miles out of town and points out a back road to get us to Evanston the next day.

We chose the spot by the lake and got set up for the night.  It was a cold night, our water bottles were frozen in the morning and we wrapped up warm for the ride into town before heading for the Wyoming border on Chalk Creek Road.  Mark did us such a favour sending us this way, it was a really quiet road, we saw more deer than cars and we really enjoyed the ride to Evanston, WY. Although sadly as it was a back road & partly dirt it lacked the state border signs so no silly photo opportunities.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Failed Attempts and Car Journeys

Location: Boulder, UT 84716, USA
There are a couple of aspects to the United States that completely blind sided Sophie and me when we started this journey.  We knew, for example, that the the country is massive and that some of the states themselves were much bigger than England and some bigger than the whole UK.  What we never understood was the elevation of the towns and mountains.  It is just not something that was important to us in our home city of Sheffield or any of our trips.  I'll give you an example, I thought there were only two main mountain ranges in the continental US: The Rockies and Appalachians.  Sophie might have said more and if you pushed me then I might have thought about the Sierra Nevada.  So when we left San Francisco and headed towards the heavens it might have occurred to me that I was wrong and that we should really be taking elevation into account.  But as the days and weeks went on we got strong, fitter, faster and elevation didn't seem to matter.  Funny thing about elevation that I did know but never related it to our situation is that it is colder higher up, oh and the air is thinner.

The rest day with Arthur and Andrea in Boulder Utah was fantastic but I get restless and wanted to look at heading out towards Torrey and Capital Reef National Park as soon as possible.  The wind had died down a lot but it was getting colder but we hadn't planned on a rest day so I was getting restless.  During the day we did some research on our days to come and contacted some Warm Showers hosts in Provo to ask if we could stay; they said yes so the clock was ticking.  During the rest day we got to thinking and talking about elevations in Utah.  Did you know that the highest paved road in Utah is at 10,715 feet?  Also, did you know that that pass we were expecting to do over to Torrey had a summit at 9,600 feet?  Well neither did we.  I also had no idea what this meant.  So some geography for you; our highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis the summit is at 4,409 feet.  The highest peak in the Peak District is Kinder Scout at 2,087 feet.  So then we were pretty high compared to anything in the UK.  But again that didn't mean anything to me, it wasn't like we are starting at sea level and attempting to climb up to 9,600 feet in a day. More chatting and research showed that actually athletes train at high altitudes so that their bodies increase the amount of red blood cells because of the thinness of oxygen at high altitudes.  When they say high, athletes typically train between 6500 and 8,000 feet.  So we are high, but it's just about getting the mileage done.

So with research done we prepared to get over Boulder Mountain and into Capital Reef National Park.  We checked the weather and Torrey was meant to be at -12C but we are hardy so we set off. We were expecting to climb 20 miles to summit.  There were signs that this might be a bad idea, like the icicles in the stream and the black clouds, but off we went.  We started climbing as soon as we left the driveway. It wasn't steep but it was constant and we started to get a sweat on because we had on lots of layers and our raincoats to protect us from the snow if it should arrive.

After about 5 miles (45 minutes) it started to snow, not heavy but it was there. By this time I was really quite sweaty. Just for the record I was wearing a merino wool base layer, my polyester Venom cycling Jersey, a cotton long sleeve shirt and my waterproof, all of which was wet and cold. So we pressed on up the hill. At mile 10 (2 hours) we stopped at a toilet block and lookout area. The plan was to get warm in the toilets, have a bite to eat and push on to the top. The snow was much heavier now and I was really wet and really cold. The toilets were just pit toilets with no lights, heating or running water so getting warm in there was out. We got talking to some people taking photos of the view, that had now disappeared behind cloud and snow, and they let us sit in their car for 5 minutes to warm up. After warming up slightly we decided to head back into the cold. The snow was getting worse so instead of turning right up the hill we decided to retreat down back to Boulder and beg Arthur and Andrea to let us stay for longer.

Rushing down the hill in the freezing cold with completely inadequate gloves was up there as one of the coldest, most painful experiences of my life until that point. We swore and screamed the 10 miles back to Boulder. When we arrived we put our bikes down and got into the lovely hot house. It was lovely for about 30 seconds until the pain in my fingers started. Warm returning to hands that have been so cold and wet for so long is incredibly painful. It made me dizzy, I needed to rush to the toilet to be sick and there was nothing I could do to stop the pain but lie down and try to be ok. I was not ok, Sophie was ok, she and Arthur looked after me with warm, sugary tea and lay me by the fire with blankets.

After calming down and getting sorted we tried to figure out what to do. Arthur suggested that he drove us over the mountain the day after since he was going that way anyway. We accepted and hunkered down for the day. As an aside, although cotton long sleeve shirts with collars are great in hot weather to keep the sun of your neck and arms while keeping you cool. They suck every ounce of heat out of your body when it is cold and wet. Do not wear them when cycling when it is cold. Arthur and Andrea made us feel really welcome in their home and really helped us out when we were in a bad way, not just once but twice. Thank you!

The day after Arthur drove us over the snow covered mountain to Loa. He drove us further than he needed to go because it was still snowing. We said our goodbyes and headed off towards Sigurd. There was a line where the snow just stopped and we were once again surrounded by the mountains of the high desert. We were back on track to meeting the Warm Showers hosts in Provo. We carried on cycling but the scenery turned more and more wintry, with semi frozen lakes, pockets of deep snow and a head wind. A handy puncture helped to destroy moral completely and we both felt we'd just had too many bad days of riding. Fixing the puncture we carried on wondering where we could pitch a tent with all the snow, and more importantly how were we going to get warm. Enter Dave in his pick up truck. Dave pulled up and asked us where we were going. Sigurd. Dave informed us that Sigurd was just a gypsum plant and that Richfield was much better and if we wanted to we could pitch up at his "Ranchette". Overjoyed, we loaded the bikes in the back of his pickup and headed off to Richfield. There was no snow in sight at Richfield so we were pretty happy about the encounter. Furthermore, Dave said we could stay in his RV instead of camping and he gave us a freshly caught Rainbow Trout. Staying in Dave's trailer was exactly what we needed, we ate our fish, sat in our PJs and watched two episodes of The Wire. Bliss.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Hoodoos and Howling Winds

Location: Bryce Canyon, UT 84764, USA
We woke up in Bryce after a fairly comfortable night's sleep and my first thought was how good the meat had been at the lovely Texan's BBQ the night before.  We made our oatmeal (or porridge if you will) and headed back over to their camp as they'd invited us to have some breakfast too.  After a second course of eggs, tortilla, sausage patties and some sort of rib meat that had been cut across the bone and had a Mexican sounding name we said our goodbyes and headed off to get ready for our hike around Bryce Canyon.

Technically speaking Bryce isn't actually a canyon, but a collection of massive eroded amphitheatres inhabited by thousands of hoodoos.  These geological structures have been eroded from the surrounding rock mainly by the weather as opposed to how the Colorado River has eroded the Grand Canyon.  They are really bizarre and utterly spectacular.  We did a pretty short walk around as our legs were tired and managed to miss the hoodoo named Queen Victoria, but did spot Thor's Hammer.

The campsite host came around that afternoon and warned us of strong winds that were forecast that night and the next day so we pegged the tent down as best we could in the hard ground and bungeed the bikes to the picnic table.  Actually it wasn't a bad night at all and we woke early and set off with only slight winds.  We weren't sure of our destination, we'd contacted a Warm Showers host in Escalante but had no response so we planned to camp somewhere in or between Escalante and Boulder, UT.  We had one of the longest downhills we've ever had coming down from Bryce and with the wind mostly at our backs we made good, fast progress.  We met a couple of cycle tourers going the other way, against the wind hoping to make Bryce.  I didn't have the heart to tell Kurt and Rachel what a long uphill slog they had ahead of them.  I hope they made it up to Bryce ok, it must have been exhausting.

We got to the visitor centre just outside Escalante at lunchtime and despite the lady there telling us there was strong winds forecast when we told her we thought we might continue to Boulder she didn't say she thought this was a bad idea.  The wind had been increasing, but was still mostly at our backs so after a spot of lunch we pressed on.  I have previously been pretty nervous in strong winds, but the day of cycling against the headwind from Page to Kanab had increased my confidence no end so I was feeling good.  We got to the Head of Rocks overlook and stopped to admire the view.  Lots of cars pulled up and after a few conversations we got back on the bikes to head down the winding, snaking road all the way down into the valley.  The wind was really strong now and with all the switchbacks and turns came at us from all angles.  What would have been an epic, beautiful, highly enjoyable downhill was turned into a rather hair-raising affair requiring massive concentration and strength to stay on course.

We started to climb up a canyon, just past Calf Creek, and after being blown completely onto the wrong side of the road I got off my bike and walked up the hill.  I got back on for the downhill and flat section, but was in a bit of a state to be perfectly honest.  We stopped where we thought we could get some shelter from the wind and while getting blasted by sand, trying to eat half a muffin I cried and told Tom I was having no fun.  We climbed higher again up onto what is called the Hogsback.  This is a completely incredible bit of road where the canyons drop off on both sides and you can see for miles.  I  absolutely could not appreciate it one bit though I'm sorry to say as I was convinced the wind was trying to kill me.  I nearly got blown off the road a number of times and was blown into the road repeatedly.  I felt sick with fear and utterly exhausted.  I made the decision to walk.  It was about 8 miles to Boulder, and as it was about 5pm even if I walked the whole way I'd be there before dark.  I told Tom to cycle ahead and find us somewhere to sleep and then meet me outside the store.

I am totally in awe of Tom's ability to cycle in those conditions and not turn into a complete wreck like me.  He reluctantly cycled off and I walked with my bike.  I almost instantly felt better, despite the blister forming on the back of my foot, I was once again in control of myself and my bike and I felt my ability to cope increase and I knew we'd be ok.  I walked just shy of 3 miles along the top and as I started to descend the road became protected from the wind and I forced myself to get back on my bike and ride down the hill.  Shortly after I entered Boulder I saw Tom coming back down the road towards me.  He said the lady in the shop had given him directions to a camp spot but that he'd been unable to find it.  We decided to ask in the motels we were passing how much the rooms were, but they were both above our budget so we headed back to the shop to check the directions and get a snack.  I headed off to use the restroom and when I came out Tom was talking to a guy about where we planned to stay.  Arthur invited us to come back to his place for a cup of hot tea and that him and his girlfriend would try to help us find somewhere to stay.

It was wonderful to get inside away from the wind and after giving us cups of tea Arthur and Andrea offered for us to stay at their place.  I was so relieved to not have to go back into the wind that I cried (again).  They set up a bed in their 8 week old son's room, made the most delicious spaghetti bolognese I've ever had, let us shower and made us feel totally welcome.  We took them up on their incredibly kind offer to stay another night and enjoyed a lazy rest day.

Where only Angels Dare to Tread

Location: Bryce Canyon National Park, Hwy 63, Bryce, UT 84764, USA
After leaving Sophie with the bags I headed further up Angel's Landing, with the wind howling and Crocs on my feet I was feeling confident. Most of the hike there are chains to help you on your way but it was definitely a scramble in places to get up. There were a couple of hairy sections where the trail narrowed with vertical drops both sides but the chain helps to keep you moving forward. After a while of fairly hard graft I made it to the top with absolutely amazing views up and down the canyon. With the wind still blowing and the water and snacks with Sophie I headed back down. The down was harder than the up. The fairly constant stream of people meant constant stopping but did give me an opportunity to take in the view. After longer than expected I made it back to Sophie and we headed off down to Scouts Lookout out together.

We carried on hiking for a little bit up towards the rim before heading back to the Zion Museum to watch the Zion National Park film. They are brilliant and completely over the top but do give you some interesting information about the place so we went into the warm, dark cinema to watch. After we both nearly fell asleep during the 15 minute film we decided to head back and catch up with our new Canadian friends, have some food and probably get an early night. However, when we got back there was a note in our anti-squirrel box saying that they had left early and gave us their contact details, they also left us some Easter candy which was a welcome surprise.

The next morning we woke early and did our normal routines to get ready for leaving, with one notable exception. While getting out the tent I managed to twinge my back, nothing major but enough to make it hurt, a lot. This slowed us down a bit getting to our next warm showers host's house in New Harmony. We stayed with Matt, Rachelle and their 4 kids for two nights and managed to rest my back a fair bit. Matt had done a quite a lot of cycling touring and knew the area really well through work. We talked about wanting to go to Bryce Canyon National Park but that we were worried about elevation and temperature. But he echoed the comments that the 5 Canadians had said that it wasn't that bad this year and that they hadn't had much snow. Matt also told us about a beautiful ride after Bryce Canyon along Hogs Back where the road winds up between two canyons and you can see for miles.

Feeling confident that Bryce Canyon was do-able we headed off to Cedar City to re supply and stay the night with David, another warm showers host. After a great evening we woke early and started our 18 mile ascent up Cedar Mountain. The road was never steep but it just went up and up and up. This was the longest and highest climb we had done so far and we were both focused on the photo at the summit stating that we were at 9,910 feet. Alas, there was no sign. No glory photo to take. We had a spot of lunch, wrapped up warm because we were now surrounded by snow and carried on towards the National Park. The last 10 miles of the long day was tough because we were tired, there was a bit of a head wind and there was some climbing from the highway. But after a long day we arrived, set up our tent and were greeted by Jeff. He and his friends were taking a tour around the National Parks in an RV and invited us over for fajitas and beer.  After talking to Jeff, Jake, Susanne, Amber and Bobbie late into the night and drinking their beer and whiskey we headed back to the tent for a well earned sleep.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Glad we put Detour in the Title

If you have been checking the map page recently you may have noticed that the little blue bike has not been following the proposed route lines.  This is because while in Santa Cruz talking to a Beau (a guy we met through Wyatt) we decided to change our route.  Beau had cycled, with his girlfriend Wendy, from Seattle through the Olympic Peninsula and down the Western States along the coast.  So the opposite direction than we were travelling after hitting the coast again after Sacramento. Beau said that this route is beautiful, iconic and great ride, but if he could do anywhere (like we could) and were heading inland to the Grand Canyon anyway, then why not head up towards Canada following the National Forests and National Parks in Arizona, Utah and Wyoming. Along this route we'd see Zion, be able to camp almost anywhere in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and National Forest. Then we could head to Grand Teton's and Yellowstone.

This route up through all the amazing scenery sounded amazing but Sophie really wanted to see Yosemite and Death Valley and we both loved the idea of going to Portland. So for a couple of days we stuck to the original plan. However, we started looking at Yosemite and found out that the Tioga Pass (the road that we'd need to take to get to Yosemite Village) is closed until May. Just to be certain we contacted Yosemite to confirm via Twitter and received the response below:

So our route had to change, so our plan now is head through Utah and Wyoming to Yellowstone and other beautiful sites. Then we can either go West to Portland and up to Seattle and Vancouver, or head North in Montana and Glacier National Park.  We are happy with either and only time and more detouring will be able to answer the question.

I am not an Iron Lion in Zion

Location: Zion National Park, Utah, USA
We left Kanab early as we wanted to give ourselves the best chance against the probable wind, plus we'd heard Zion was very busy and we wanted to make sure we got a campsite.  If we'd been driving we could have taken the Mount Carmel-Zion Tunnel making the journey to the campsite about 40 miles.  But on a bike you're not allowed through this tunnel so we had to take the long way round, about 60 miles, including an 8 mile stretch on the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Backcountry Road, a dirt track that cut the corner on our 'long way round', saving us 24 miles.  I was a bit apprehensive of this stretch of road as I am not at all confident on anything less solid than a tarmacked road, but I figured saving 24 miles of cycling warranted a go and it seemed like well packed dirt with a light sprinkling of sand on top.

After only about a mile we stopped to eat some lunch.  We were surrounded by dusty farmland, occasionally the wind gusts would stir up dust clouds or motor along a little tumbleweed, but it wasn't much to write home about.  There were a handful of 4x4s passing us by and one stopped to talk to us while we were finishing up our lunch of crisp sandwiches.  He asked if we'd passed a campsite, which we hadn't, and asked where we were planning to sleep.  We told him of our plan to camp at Zion and he said that they'd been there this morning and been turned away as it was full (not great news) and said that the dirt road was pretty good for most of it, but there was a section of about a mile that was very rough.

We cycled on, turned a corner and crested a small hill and WOW!  No more dusty farmland but the most epic, beautiful scenery of craggy mountains and pine forested hillsides.  It was really incredible and despite feeling pretty nervous about the terrain I was really pleased we'd come this way.  Tom said this was his favourite day of riding of the trip so far.  We hit the very rough bit of road; steep downhill with big exposed boulders and no smooth bits to aim for.  Tom managed to ride a lot of it, but it was way beyond my comfort zone and I got off and walked my bike down.  I was happy to do this as it gave me more time to look at the beautiful scenery.

We got back on to what the Americans call 'Pavement' (tarmacked road) and were soon at the gates of Zion.  We asked if they had hiker/biker sites at the campgrounds, they did not (oh no!) but the lady on the gate said she'd ring the campground and see if there was anything they could do.  Luckily there was one group site that had not been booked and as long as we were willing to share with 16 other people we could pitch up on this site.  Happy to share we headed to the campground and got set up.

Five of the 16 people were a group of Canadians on a holiday from uni and they invited us to join in on their BBQ.  We headed to the shop to buy some meat and beer and spent the evening chatting with Jordan, Clarissa, Max, Mikko and Caitlyn.  They suggested some good hikes for us the next day, which tied in with that the park ranger had recommended.

We got an early start, rode the shuttle bus to the Temple of Sinawava and set off down the river to head into The Narrows.  You walk along the path by the river and when the path ends you can continue up the river as the canyon narrows.  Most people doing this get kitted out with wetsuits or dry-gear, but our Canadian buddies had braved it in bare legs and trainers so we went for it with Crocs and Sealskinz.  Our feet were toasty-warm until we went through a deep spot where the water level went over the top of the socks and our toes were flooded with frigid river water.

We didn't make it all that far into The Narrows, but it was fun and after we reached a small waterfall we decided to turn back.  Emerging from the river with many more people at the end of the riverside walk we got a lot of funny looks because of our footwear.  After a few minutes sitting in the sun drying off, our feet were thawed out and we boarded the bus to our next destination the trailhead for the hike up to Angels Landing.  While most of the trail up to Angels Landing is on well maintained paths and its one of the most popular hikes in Zion, the last half a mile is up a 'narrow sandstone ridge' with anchored chains to hang on to as you climb up with drops of 1200ft on one side and 800ft on the other.

Signs on the way up inform you that 6 people have died falling from Angels Landing, its a sobering thought, but then you see people bounding their way up and down, including kids and older people.  Tom really wanted to do this hike and I didn't want to let him down so we left the broad platform of Scouts Lookout to start the climb up the last half a mile.  After only maybe 30 feet or so I realised I was not comfortable attempting this in Crocs and socks.  The wind was gusting and I did not feel confident at all.  I urged Tom to go on and offered to wait with the bags where I had decided to give up.  As it was only half a mile to the end of the trail I guessed Tom wouldn't be long and perched uncomfortably, gripping the 2 bags and trying not to get in the way of the braver souls who passed me by on their way up and down.  Time went by, more time than I had expected and I got colder as I was blasted by the wind gusts.  Where was Tom?  Was he ok?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Crossing borders, heading West and dealing with head winds

Location: Kanab, UT, USA
Weather plays an important role during the day.  When we broke camp Saturday morning just off Highway 89 in the Navajo Reservation, Northern Arizona we had been rained on once, had two cold nights at the Grand Canyon and the only wind to write home about was an amazing tail wind that meant we sailed to Las Vegas two days quicker than we expected.  Coming from England, Sophie and I feel that we cope with the rain because our two week tour in September 2014 saw us get rained on everyday.  The cold is harder but generally we just wear all of our clothes and get on with it.  The wind, however, creeps into my brain and turns me into an angry, frustrated mess.

We left the wild camp site early and carried on north towards our destination for the day, Page.  We had a decision to make further down the road about which road to take.  Highway 89 continued on all the way to Page and the section we were riding and had ridden the day before had a good shoulder and we were happy with it.  The other option was Indian Road 20.  This had been recently paved because of a landslide on the 89 and was, for a time, the only way into Page.  But we didn't know the condition of the road or how good the shoulder was.  We um-ed and ah-ed until we got to the gas station at The Gap and talked to a few people.  From these quick talks we decided to take Indian 20 because it was apparently paved and most people would be using the newly opened 89.  Also the 89 was mainly flat apart from one really steep section coming into Page, whereas the 20 was fairly undulating but finishing with a good downhill.  Off we went and made the correct decision.  The Indian 20 was a quiet, good road and really good riding.  The final down hill was ruined by a strong head wind but we arrived into Page early and tasked ourselves with finding a place to stay.

Page was the first place we had met that the cycle touring hospitality network called WarmShowers failed us.  We contacted two hosts but got no replies.  This was a slight bump but no major worries.  We had heard of a good bike shop in town so headed there to question them on possible places to camp.  Alas, when we arrived the shop is only open on Wednesdays and Sundays.  This was a bummer but we headed to the supermarket to pick up some supplies.  Before we had even rested our bikes a lady appears asking where we had cycled from that day.  She was amazed by the distance and we asked if she knew of anywhere we could camp.  After a brief chat she invited us to camp in her yard, so we got Nina's address and said "See you in a bit".  Then arrives Molly who, with her husband Alex, has done a bit of cycle touring and asked about the trip.  After a chat she invites us round to meet her husband and newborn baby and carry on the conversation over dinner.

After finishing the shopping we head to Nina's to drop off our bags but don't have enough time to set up the tent before heading for dinner with Molly and Alex.  Dinner is an amazing Brazilian Stroganoff with rice and tasty fritters.  Then Alex surprised us with a visit to Horseshoe Bend, which was about 10 minutes drive from the house down highway 89, which we didn't know about but were both so happy we visited.  After food and the spectacle we needed to fix Sophie's tire before heading back to Nina's.  This is our second flat of the trip.  After showers and a chat Nina offered us a bed to sleep in rather than setting up the tent.  After a comfy night's sleep we awoke to freshly cooked eggs and hash browns.  The hospitality of the American seems to have no boundaries and with food in our bellies we headed off to Kanab, some 75 miles away.

We crossed the Glen Canyon Dam and heading north to the Utah border for the obligatory state border photo; seeing but not really taking note of the State tag line "Life Elevated".  After a pretty flat and still morning we got a few maps at the visitors centre and continued West after lunch; this is when the wind started, just gentle at first but a constant headwind none the less.  Being told that it was pretty flat to Kanab (Page being at 4,300ft and Kanab at 4,970ft) we were still looking at a standard day of riding.  Then the climbing began and the wind started blowing harder and harder into our faces.  Although the elevation difference between Page and Kanab is only minor we did not notice the summit we had to pass at 5690ft into a vile headwind.  I am not good in the wind and after hours of swearing, begging, cursing and threatening the wind Sophie and I had some food and a little chat.  Trying to be more "zen" I focused on calculating our speed using the mile markers and my watch.  We got down to 3mph at one point when we were 20 miles from Kanab, meaning another 7 hours in the saddle and smashed my tiny amount of resolve.  After another chat we carried on, got over the hill and arrived at the Crazy Horse campground.

After the ordeal that was the journey from Page to Kanab we decided to have a rest day and check out the town.  Kanab is a really nice little town.  Two major things to note: 1) It hosts the Coyote Butts Wilderness lottery to visit the Wave and 2) it was the town that was instrumental in a vast amount of wild west films before, during and after WWII.  We entered ourselves into the lottery but were not one of the lucky ones to win; which turned out for the best because we had no way to get to the trail head which was 30 miles back towards Page.

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Grand Canyon and Navajo Country

Location: Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023, USA
The Grand Canyon is incredible.  It's mindblowingly huge and impossible to get your head around the scale and perspective.  On the evening we arrived we wandered down to the Visitor Centre and watched the little orientation film, my favourite quote of which was that the American explorer Joseph Christmas Ives who came upon the canyon in 1857 predicted that the "valueless" region would be "forever unvisited and undisturbed."  Don't ask him for your lottery numbers!

We headed back outside and to Mather Point to get our first glimpse of the canyon itself.  As the constant stream of traffic that had passed us was testament to it is a busy and popular place so we shared the view with dozens of other tourists, a lot of them with small angry dogs.  We wandered along the South Rim and tired from our day of riding headed back to camp to eat dinner and plan the next day's activities.  It was a very, very cold night and neither of us slept well.  As the average altitude on the South Rim is just below 7000 ft (nearly twice that of Snowdon) we shouldn't have been surprised that it would be cold, but it was really cold and the following night was forecast to be colder.  We awoke cold and stiff,but excited to get back to the canyon.

We had decided to get the free shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead and then 'hike' down to Cedar Ridge.  This was classed as 'difficult' in the Park newspaper and said it would take between 2-4 hours.  As inexperienced hikers and equipped with our Crocs and socks footwear we thought this was probably our limit and that we'd be on the slower end of the time scale.  It was great to get down below the rim as it helps to give a little perspective on the scale of this magnificent spectacle and we enjoyed the walk down, past 'Ooh Aah Point' and along Cedar Ridge.  The colours of the rocks, the moving shadows, the trees, the sky and the glimpsed Colorado River really does make for wonderful scenery and our photos do not do it any kind of justice.

The walk only took us just over 2 hours so we ambled back along the rim to the campsite and spent the afternoon doing laundry and planning our next days rides.  The forecast had said that it would get down to -5C so we bought a cheap fleece-lined sleeping bag to add to our bedding and wore almost all the clothes we have as we prepared for another cold night.  Our extra layers paid off and we had a better night's sleep and set off early the next morning so we had time to call in at Desert View for a last glimpse of the canyon before heading to Cameron and to the Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation Visitor Centre before it closed at 5pm so we could get our permit for camping in the Navajo Nation.

The long, sweeping downhill from Desert View towards Cameron was teeth-chatteringly, eye-wateringly, fist-clenchingly cold and despite riding in my tshirt, 2 long-sleeved merino tops, cotton shirt, down jacket and waterproof jacket I was shivering all the way down.  But the scenery was stunning and soon we were at low enough elevation to take off a few layers.  We cycled hard as although Arizona does not observe daylight savings, the Navajo nation does so we had effectively lost an hour.  We parted with $24 and were awarded a permit to wild camp between Cameron & The Gap with instructions to not go near residential areas or livestock.  It took us a little while, but we found a suitable spot, set up the tent and watched the sunset and moon rise over a beautiful desert landscape.

Route 66, a Swarm of Bees and Wild Camping

Location: Williams, AZ 86046, USA
So after the amazing lunch at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant in Kingman, Sophie and I headed North-East on Route 66 towards Seligman, Williams and further to the Grand Canyon. We had no set locations to camp but after the training we had in the desert with Mary and Dan we were feeling confident that we could find a safe, comfortable place to sleep.

It was really nice to get back on the bikes after the extended stay in Henderson with the fantastic Mary, Dan and Rosie.  We were full up after the sizable late lunch we had and just wanted to get outside of civilization to find a spot of land, a good distance from the road where we could do our first bit of wild camping alone.  It was a fairly daunting task because the houses along Route 66 seemed to just keep going and going.  In pretty quick succession two unexpected things happened.  The first was that we were enveloped by a swarm of bees.  It happened so quickly that all we could do was tilt our heads down, close our mouths and carry on riding.  Thankfully we came off completely unharmed and managed to brush off the few bees that got caught in our clothes.  Carrying on a little further our path was blocked by a car completely across the shoulder.  The driver rolled down the window and asked where we were going.  After a brief discussion Valerie invited us to her home that was only about a mile away to stay in her camper van.  Never wanting to miss a night in an actual bed we headed off to her home to meet her husband and son.  Further to the bed we were welcomed with ice-cream sundaes and sports drinks.

Another chance to wild camp was foiled but the days ahead meant we should have plenty more opportunity to test out our skills.  The following day was some beautiful riding through some hot weather towards Seligman; being a paled skinned northerner I think I got a wee bit of sunstroke so we had a very long lunch break to get me out of the heat of the day.  We charged on towards Seligman but we knew we couldn't cover all the miles so, again, we started looking for the perfect, secluded spot to pitch our tent.  Tired and hungry we found a closed, dirt road near a train line and a wash that looked okay.  After scouting around we decided to lay up between a tree and the railway.  We'd seen a few, very long trains trains on that stretch of rail but thought we could deal with the disturbance. It is in these moments that I really love our naivety.  I am not sure, because of broken sleep and the funny, surreal nature of dreams, but I am fairly certain that the rush-hour on freight trains on this line is between 10pm and 2am.  During this time the whole ground shook, the tent was lit up with the head lights and no amount of ear plug would cut out the sound of hundreds of tonnes of freight being moved about 20ft from the tent.

As it does, morning came and the trains died down.  As we were packing up a van came down the dirt track towards us.  We were nervous about this interaction because we are both fairly afraid of authority and being told off.  So the window rolled down and the railway workers looked us up and down and said "You know to stay away from the tracks, the trains can be dangerous?".  Can be?  We gave a little laugh and a comment and they moved off.  We headed into Seligman for breakfast and hit the Interstate to Williams.  There was a fair amount of climbing but we made it fairly easily and arrived at the Tourist Information centre to ask about camping.  They gave us the Arizona State Map and pointed us to free camping area within the Kaibab National Forest before our final section on towards the Grand Canyon.

After following Route 66 for a couple of days you can see the hills and mountains that make the "edge" of the Grand Canyon so we were excited, and a little nervous, about the climb into the canyon. We set off early and had a tail wind so were going pretty fast along the flat, desolate desert.  There was mile markers along the road so we were timing ourselves and hitting 15mph.  So we pushed hard and aimed for Tusayan for lunch.  However we misplaced Tusayan on the map and needed to peddle a further 10 miles than we were expecting, and this was after the wind had dropped so our speed had suffered.  When we finally made it to Tusayan we were feeling fairly despondent; the riding had been boring, the shoulder was horrid and the traffic was constant, all making for not very enjoyable riding.   We ate and headed on for the last section in low spirits, made worse by the big signs saying that all the campgrounds were full in the Grand Canyon.  When we arrived at the gates we decided to buy an Annual Pass to all the National Parks since we were now planning to go to Zion, Bryce, Yellowstone and Glacier it worked out cheaper.

After the rather horrid journey up we were pleased to find that the Grand Canyon has hiker/biker sites and that thy were  unoccupied so we had a place to camp for the night.  We set up, chilled out and headed out to see what all the fuss was about near this featureless desert.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Vegas Baby!!!!

Location: Las Vegas, NV, USA
As part of the blog we have been asking people to suggest places to see or visit.  One such suggestion was a casino just off The Strip in Las Vegas called Ellis Island that had it's own micro-brewery and a much less full on feel compared to some of the massive casinos.  So after a few days rest from the sprint through the desert Sophie, Mary, Dan and I headed off into Las Vegas proper to make our millions and live the high life!!!

First stop was downtown Las Vegas close to Fremont Street for a refreshing Gin and Tonic in the sun, gathering ourselves for the craziness that is gambling and debauched antics that was about ensue. Fueled on gin we headed out to the Downtown Container Park which housed a number of small businesses and bars, and had a nice outdoor play area for kids.  We headed into the toy shop to look at some fun little pieces and trinkets, however since our bikes are already pretty heavy we decided not to carry a couple of toys or masks for the next 20,000 miles or so, just because they were funny.

Next came our first interaction with the casinos.  We hit the El Cortez Hotel & Casino to put a $4 bet for a friend back home on Roulette splitting our chances with 22/23; which didn't land so there goes his money.  Just for the record Sophie and I have little to no experience of gambling so we lost the remaining $6 (it was $10 minimum buy in table with $0.50 chips and minimum $2.00 inside and outside; that's what I remembered anyway and it still doesn't make any sense) pretty much straight away.  However, we met a guy who was doing much better on the table that lives not that far from ... you guessed it Moose Jaw.  So we exchanged details and headed off to find a cab to The Strip.

So when I say The Strip we headed up to The Bellagio to watch the dancing fountains and experience the glass ceiling (literal not metaphorical) and all the flowers growing in there.  It is the most amazing foyer we have ever experienced, if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas it is well worth a trip.  We then headed back out to watch the fountains again and headed down to the main attraction - Ellis Island! It didn't have the glitz and glamour of big casinos but I liked the feel of the place.  We had a good pizza, a $2 beer and played on the penny slot machines tipping the cocktail waitresses $1 for every drink they brought us.

All in all it was probably not "THE" Vegas experience most people imagine or hope for but we really enjoyed it.  We lost the money we were expecting to lose, we saw the sights and had a few drinks to celebrate.  We nursed our hangovers for the day got ready to leave and had Mary's brother, Mark, and his wife, Lisa, over for dinner.  Mark works at Hoover Dam and offered to ride there with us which we gladly accepted.  As there is little to no shoulder down the I-93 Mark & Lisa offered to drive us, with all our gear to Kingman.  They like the restaurant Cracker Barrel and made a family trip of it, treating us to lunch before sending us on our way East on Route 66.