Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Perfect Day..... An Epic Day

This ride goes down in history

To some the Perfect Day might mean lounging on the sofa watching a movie marathon, sipping a poolside margarita, or soaking up the sun at the beach.  However, in my life, right now, the perfect was yesterday when the weather and road conditions were so ideal it made for an epic day on the bike: 206 km (130mi.) from Torrey, Utah to Crescent Junction. I did start off the day intending to hit 200 kilometers, but I just couldn’t stop pedaling, conditions were too good to be true!

The last time I did an absurd amount of kilometers, I crossed Malaysia’s rain forest in the north all in one day and climbed 2,500 meters during 177km.  After that I publicly vowed on my blog to never do it again.  As experience shows me, when I say never, it only sets me up for a deja veux situation.  This time, however, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and I was mentally prepared. 

Really it was an anti-climatic summit, just long

The day before I had arrived in Torrey, Utah after a massive day of climbing. I crossed Utah’s tallest mountain pass, 9,600ft. (2,926m).  It actually wasn’t too bad, thanks to a million and one switchbacks! A downhill awaiting me and I descended to Torrey for about 20 miles all the way to Lyman’s house, my host for the evening, who lived just outside Capitol Reef National Park. The following day, I was headed through Capitol Reef and on my way to Moab and Arches National Park, about 145 miles away.  There were few places in between to stop, a town 50 miles away and another 105 miles, and literally nothing in between, not even a gas station.  I was delighted to learn my route was almost entirely downhill and it seemed (fingers crossed) I would have a tailwind if it didn’t change direction during the night.  The conditions were optimal for a long day, much better than that long grueling day in Malaysia.  I was certain I could do100 miles, although it would be a challenge in the dry desert heat with few services. 

I didn't realize these pancakes would be so crucial in my 200km day- They were delicious!

An early start was necessary and should have been easy considering I didn’t have to pack up my tent. However, a box of pancake mix sitting out on Lyman’s kitchen counter caught my attention and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make some pancakes before my big day. I mixed up the batter adding some bananas and yogurt for extra energy and made two huge pancakes.  I enjoyed them while sipping on coffee reading the morning news on my phone and for a moment, I forgot that I had to actually hop on my bike and pedal!  It felt like a lazy Sunday morning. I savored every bite of my hotcakes, washed the dishes, and left Lyman’s at 8:30.  I was off for my century ride.

To the east of Bryce Canyon lay Capitol Reef, strikingly different but equally beautiful

My first 10 miles led me to the entrance of CapitolReef.  The scenery had changed suddenly yesterday after descending into this area.  The colors were now an intense earthen red, with formations similar to Bryce Canyon, but still dramatically different.  The road through Capitol Reef National Park is a designated Scenic Byway.  You can enter the park even further and take the scenic route, but I decided to stick to rt. 24 knowing my day would be long enough and filled with plenty of gorgeous scenery.  I didn’t stop a lot to take pictures, I would have worn through my break pads as I was descending so quickly.  Sometimes you just have to enjoy your surroundings in the moment.

The scenic byway goes right through the park

Loads of rocks precariously balanced

It's like the rock sheets broke through the ground.....
Even though the official National Park boundary extends for only about 20 miles on the scenic byway, there is spectacular landscape all around for about a 40-mile radius.  It accompanied me all the way to Hanskville, 50 miles from where I had started the day.  Hanksville was my one and only stopping point if I needed services before continuing on to Green River another 55 miles away.  I stocked up on some snacks at the supermarket, got hydrated and relaxed a bit.  I knew I was in good shape.  I had gone 50 miles and descended 1000 m (3,280ft.) and climbed about a fourth of that and a tail wind had pushed me along the entire way. The only real challenge was the heat. it was about 95 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  By now I’m used to that and I do quite well, I drink frequently, and stop to use chapstick even more regularly since my lips and mouth dry out so fast. 

The start of the last 55miles, there are still some rocks
Then there is nothing but desolate dessert
Conditions were perfect and I felt great. Not to mention, mentally I was prepared.  I had saved my ipod for this second leg of the route, turned it on and started pedaling.  Vast desert might be “nothing” for some people but for me it is an awe-inspiring sight for me to see.  Eventually the rocks, canyons, and cliffs did disappear and my backdrop became an arid and vast open landscape.  Very few cars passed.  Even if I wanted to stop and call it a day on this road, there wasn’t much to even protect or hide my tent. I was really out in the middle of nowhere.  I stopped once for a snack, but without a place to sit, not even a guardrail, I had my dried fruit and banana just off the shoulder of the road, standing up.  Thankfully the 55 miles flew by and shortly before 5pm, I reached the interstate junction and road the I-70 for the last 10 miles, there was no alternative.  Unlike Arizona Interstates, Utah kept their shoulders nice and clean and it was about 8 ft. wide, giving me plenty of distance from trucks.  I arrived in Green River, at about 5:30 and pulled into the first gas station I saw.

How's that for a small?..topped with Gummy Bears, M &Ms, and Reeses! No wonder I was able to pedal 35 more miles!
I had arrived! Yes!!!! I was tired, but not exhausted.  I needed fresh cold water and searched for something to snack on.  Wouldn’t you know there was a soft serve ice cream machine in the station with toppings and all??? How could I be so lucky??  There were two sizes, small and large, without any shame, I took the small cup and filled it to the max.  It was so high that the toppings came tumbling down like an avalanche.  While enjoying my ice cream, I started looking over the route to Moab.  Green River was about 20 miles to the junction where the road went south. After Moab I would have 30 miles to Arches, and another 30 miles (60 miles round trip) through Arches National Park.  Yikes, tomorrow was going to be another loong day,…..unless that is I continued to pedal tonight and knocked off a bit more of the distance.  Classic Melissa,….I just want to go a little bit further.  The thought of a personal record was enticing, but the idea of having an “easy day” in Arches was what really motivated me.  There was no wind and the route looked flat, so I decided to continue pedaling.  From time-to-time I enjoy a healthy challenge.  It feels exhilarating to push myself and pretend I’m riding my road bike back home, out for a Saturday morning club ride with the guys.  The only difference is the extra 30kg of weight!

Reuben was happy to give me a footlong sandwich! Should have asked for two! Ha!

Leaving Green River meant a lack of shower facilities, but I had plenty of baby wipes and just last night I had taken a nice hot shower.  The junction where I was headed only had a small gas station and mini-mart, but people told me I could camp behind. I just needed to make sure I had enough food for dinner upon arrival.  I could have gone back for another ice cream, but instead, I decided to go with a more healthy choice.  The Chevron station had an adjoining Subway and the guys there were more than delighted to spot me dinner for the second time in a row, treating me to a footlong sandwich for dinner.  I salivated as they prepared it, drank a coffee energy drink, hopped back on my bike, and started to pedal. 

On the last stretch of road to Crescent Junction

I was determined, more like possessed, by the idea of cycling 200km.  My cycling buddy Ian from a few days back had told me he ended up doing 215 km the day we parted which fascinated me, and probably planted the idea in my head that it could be done.  I do however, accept full responsibility for attempting the 200km. I wanted the challenge and thrived off of the adrenaline rush.  I felt so fresh starting to pedal again, as if the first 170 kilometers hadn’t even fazed me.  I had lucked out with the road and weather conditions and I wanted to make the most of them.  I continued on a road parallel to the main interstate without any cars, enjoying my peaceful and serene evening.  I know it isn’t safe or ideal to be on the road right before dusk, but I see some of the most beautiful sunsets as a result.

Papa Joe saves the day!

A four star accommodation

I completed the last 20 miles (35km) just before dark, pulling into Papa Joe’s Mini Mart and Gas Station at 9pm.  Papa Joe himself was outside the station when I arrived, preparing to close.  He said there wasn’t any problem camping out, although he did warn me that he had a rattlesnake out in the back field.  There was an outlet and picnic tables in front and a concrete area where I could put my tent.  His gas station lured a lot of travelers with it’s peculiar decorations and eclectic mix of “junk”.  Travelers filled up their cars and also took a few photos at the same time.  There was an old Scooby Doo Mystery Machine parked in front and a car from the movie Cars. I set up camp hidden behind the Mystery Machine, thinking I was safer there under the security cameras and far from the rattlesnake. I didn’t mind the light nor the noise, I slept soundly.  

People were so fascinated by the Mystery Machine, they never saw me camped behind it!

I “showered” using several baby wipes, enjoyed my sandwich and called it a night.  I felt good, fresh, pleased, proud, energized. Not only was it an epic day with perfect riding conditions, the 206 km (128mi.) was just what I needed to get a sound night sleep at Papa Joe’s, recharging my batteries for my visit to Arches tomorrow, which lie another 30 miles ahead.  Little did I know, visiting that park was going to be a whole other story in itself!

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