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.


  1. Bloody hell guys! Glad to hear you are both okay but that didn't sound like a fun couple of days! Hoping for warmer weather for you both and continued kindness from strangers :) Big hugs xx

  2. Absolutely amazing! There will be some story to tell after 2 years if the first two months are anything to go by. Thanks must go to our US friends. Mr P