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.

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