May 29th a group of us will be heading out on a Grand Loopmission. I've done this route before, so to make it more challenging this time around I'll have just one gear. This route is hard enough that success rate is something south of 40% for those that attempt it - and it only appeals to a rather salty crowd. SS finishes? Nada. I don't know if I can do it...and I like that. Makes me feel alive with that tingle in the tummy.
Since I have yet to do an overnight trip with the single - and May 29 is coming quick - the time is now! And, why not dovetail it with some TU splorin'?
I mapped out something that was about 130 miles and looked fairly climb heavy. That should be sufficient. What I got was a bit more than I had imagined tho!
Distance is ~ 15 miles short - a GPS malfunction towards the end of the 2nd day had me losing a big chunk of data. Grrrr....
The start was up Veyo-Shoal creek road. Confusing sign - singletrack road? That's an oxy-moron. Sure looked like double track to my eyes....up the recently burned moonscape, steep climbing - loaded and single, ouch - just what I needed to get a feel for. Oi. I knew there was water aplenty up here but I started with 175 OZ just cause. I really don't want to do much walking in the Shandies so this would be a good test.
The moonscape quickly gave way to incredible greenery! 2 weeks ago the oak brush was still dormant. It is now a glimmering shiny spring green and it covers every peak in this region. The riding continued steadily up, up and up...
Detour from plan #1: like a moth to a lightbulb, I seem to have this fatal attraction with the South Boundary trail. I could not pass up such a *civilized* looking trailhead. Off into the unknown...
And as luck would have it it was mostly rideable! Big views, epic descents on singletrack overgrown with flowers giving way to a descent down a nearly unrideable boulder field. But not quite ;)
That was almost at the Nevada/Utah state line, it is lonely remote country. Water was everywhere. Heading east, Pilot Peak trail escorted me past Flatop, then Ox Valley...and one big hike a bike up to the top of Big Mountain to see this. Farthest horizon line is the Lost Peak area where the above trail was, center of pic is Flatop and Pilot Peak, Ox valley not too far but out of sight. Already a big day, I still had some miles to cover to get where I had planned to camp.
It's flower season as we all know from MC's blog. This is one of my favorites. Most of the time you don't see them until you are nearly on top of them as they grow so low to the ground. Pink carpet, I call them Emma flowers. This particular patch I found amidst a 4 mile hike a bike.
4 miles and 100 oz fluids later brought me here.
Since it is outside the boundary of Pine Valley wilderness I thought I'd give it a go - but once at the lake I was looking for alternatives. And...I found one! A brilliant trail rolled along the top of this range, from lake to lake. The trail was often gone only to reappear. Can you read the sign below? Yea, this place has been forgotten by all but the hardiest of cattle.
Eventually the trail became a ripping singletrack descent, all rideable - flowy even. Fun stuff! I was thinking there must be a way to work this in the TU route. Suddenly the trail ended and this is the sign that greeted me.
Hmph. Some strange management going on here. Apparently equestrians rule the roost here. Oh well, it was an awesome ride nonetheless.
Overnights in rough country on a SS? Seems pretty doable to me! I did a lot of futzing with gear placement and had a batch of velcro straps and zip ties to use. Once the Epic Designs seatbag arrives things will get even better as the front end was too heavy for hike a bikes - and one consequence of a heavy front end when on a SS is a light rear end - bad for traction.
Body, GI, fueling: spot on. Dave V2 is ready. Tick tock till May 29 6pm...
It's a never ending quest to get from StG to the Markagunt by dirt. Instead of looking South into the AZ strip, I've been looking at NW of town. This is a rugged, remote, complex region of volcanic mountains, green valleys and even a few lakes. Subtly soft in places, brutally hard in others.
Much of said exploratories are done solo. When with others I do my best to warn of varying conditions...bring arm/leg warmers no matter the temps! Scratchy brush out there in the bush.
There is always the bubba factor in remote places. Yesterday we found plenty of live ammo on the ground - with crosshatched bullets to do extra damage, those rednecks are really stepping it up - and then this:
Hike a bike in varying portions are inevitable...
These rides seem to be more about ruling out routes than finding them. I'm tired dad!
And then it happens. We find the perfect trail heading off into the perfect landscape
with surprises around every corner
and suddenly we can see beyond the hike a bike, the bleeding shins, the sore shoulders, and see the beauty that surrounds us, high and low.
Wish you were there.
Ah, oh yes, you will get your chance! And I'll do my best to keep hike a bike to a minimum.
Trans Utah is getting an upgrade. Based on last years running, and the fact that nobody has completed the course yet, here's where it's headed:
- Route. Marshal's experience in particular up Kolob road was not at all what I had in mind when designing the route. Kolob road is getting the ax. Seeing how that was a critical piece of the jigsaw puzzle major changes are going to be required. The issue is getting to the E side of Zion - there are few good options off-road. I've been doing some exploring in a completely new direction...it will be big, hard, and beautiful!
- Date. The "start date" is in the same spirit as AZT300, CTR, GDR, TD: it is merely a recommended time to start the course so that everyone can do a "group ITT" and benefit from some camaraderie on the trail. Of course you can opt to do it at any time you see fit. Last year's start put riders into an early snowstorm, and this years date is right on top of the 24 hours of Moab. This year's start will be earlier - exact date is not locked down but Sep 26 has been suggested to take advantage of moon cycles and other calendar conflicts. I'm open to suggestions, but leaning hard towards accepting the suggested Sep 26 date.
- Finish. This year's route will end in Boulder, UT.
In the meantime, I'll be working on that revised route, 'splorin and collecting GPS tracks, sunburns and smiles. LW and I may even tour the route early-summer :) Somebody has got to finish this beast!
Make no mistake: the TU route is a monster. With limited time, knowing storms were coming in quick, I gave it what I had left for '08. Somehow, after 242 miles and 32,000' climbing, it still feels like a whopper of a ride. And...I only just started the really fun stuff. The late addition of the Cedar City section really changes the nature of the event on many levels.
All I can say right now - if you are interested in this event come with game. It is physically demanding, moreso than GLR. Based on info from my GPS ride file, the shared track under-represents both mileage and elevation gain. The StG - Escalante section will play out closer to 400 miles and 60k vert. Yea, no kiddin'.
That said, it isn't as remote. There are 2 restaurants about a mile off-route in Virgin, everything you could need in Cedar City, a good general store and some restaurants in Brian Head - then things get spotty.
For those areas with spotty services, you may need a bucket to haul enough stuff.
Let it be known that Dave Nice came prepared with a GPS and a cycling computer. Gears and freehub can't be far behind.
Moving this thing up a day stressed me to no end. With the last minute course changes and a busy work schedule I had more than I could handle. Getting out the door in the right frame of mind was not easy. Funny things happened in the first hour on the bike. Things didn't look familiar. A picture of a coyote laying on the ground, mocking me with his big howling laugh....shortly followed by a sea of bleached carcass remains was more than unsettling in the darkness. Where was I?? Only a few miles from home, I hadn't been looking at the GPS track cause I knew the route like the back of my hand. On top of this weirdness, my legs had no PE whatsoever. It was too easy to punch big power on the short rollers. I've been here before - a bizarre mental state combined with no PE - and it's dangerous. This is the first time I'd recognized it mid-ride though. I started following that GPS track and kept it super chill.
The AZ strip went by in a blur.
Coyote springs was in fine form. I still had plenty of fluids so kept it rolling.
The climb up the Hurricane Cliffs via the Honeymoon trail was exhilarating as always. It started to feel a bit warm here.
Some fast cruising roads between the Hurricane Cliffs and Little Creek Mesa head to the Goulds/Jem trail section. Starting Goulds I got that empty camelback slurp - dangit, only one bottle left. Water conservation mode notwithstanding, Goulds and Jem were awesome. I did pack a bit more gear given the weather forecast, so this gave a good feel for how the bike would handle in the tight twisty stuff from Brian Head and beyond.
40 oz. Coke, ice cream, and iced bottles/bladders and the climbing started in earnest.
Smith Mesa and Kolob roads held no surprises. With 80 miles in the legs and on a loaded bike, it was slow going uphill. Darn nice views all the way though.
Just N of Kolob Res I ran into Marshal. He was setting up camp for the night. I had secret hopes of catching up with him a bit later so we could tag team a hotel in Cedar...all morning through the AZ strip I'd notice we always took the same lines through rocky/tech sections. A few times my mind would wander and I'd find myself following his tracks on auto-pilot.
Next up: the big new section of the course. I'd heard of the C trail but never ridden it. I think it drops 2400' in 4.7 miles, super fun stuff and even better at night! I hit Cedar at 11 PM, rolled right up to Albertsons (blind luck), got a room and slept for 3 hours then moseyed on along.
The climb from Summit is steep.
What that sign really means is mixed grades of 10-20% for the next 4 miles ;) You do get the elevation quickly though. It wasn't long before I was up in the aspens. It's peak color time right now.
I never called in from Cedar cause I got in late and left early. Brian Head, so far as I can tell, has only this one pitiful pay phone. This has got to be a big issue on GDR - crappy, failing pay phones as everyone on the planet now uses cell phones. Anyway, I called Lynda. We couldn't hear each other, all I could make out was "1-3 inches" then the line went dead.
Was it game over already? I wasn't sure what to do. The route stays high for the next good long while and I was not in the mood to get stuck in snow. Taking a nap is never wasted time...
Tried Lynda again after a nap and a quart of coffee - she said it was moving in tomorrow so go giv'r. Sweet! I was really wanting to do the Marathon trail section. I'd never seen it. Tough initially, from the middle of Color country to Louder ponds was pure bliss. Singletrack heaven.
A long section was used in the BH Epic 100 route and also the recent American Mountain Classic. There was still a lot of crap left by both racers and promoters. TBB left like they weren't coming back ;)
The Marathon trail ends at Navajo lake with a wonderful plunge down steep, wooded singletrack. It was so unexpectedly bitchin!
Wild country. I scared up some big elk, a skunk with tail raised high, smelled (but didn't see) a bear, and then almost nailed this on the trail:
Next up was the Virgin River Rim trail, just as the sun was setting. Didn't it just rise?? Days are so short in October. I was really hoping to make it to Tropic. I had 4-5 hours to reach the entrance to the Paunsaugunt, then would have to cover the next 60 miles in the dark and wee hours of the next day to make it - assuming the forecast for rain/snow at noon to be correct. Well sheet. Even in my addled state it was obvious pushing into the Paunsaugunt was a recipe for SAR. I would get so pinned down up there and bailouts from there are not simple, easy, like they are from VRRT. So, I camped near the end of the VRRT section.
It was a damn fine descision as the storm moved in a few hours later. It came in fast, howling winds, and surface conditions became unrideable in short order.
I had my bailout plan already figured out before I slept - it didn't phase me. I just zipped up the bivvy a little tighter ;)
After a relaxing breakfast, copius coffee, hot soup and other goodies
it was time to make the escape. The show was over and it was time to bail. It wasn't bad really. I wore motorcycle goggles (honest!) for night riding and they worked a charm in the wet and muck. It took about 90 minutes to get from camp on the VRRT to the Long Valley store. A heaven on earth with Krispy Cremes and warmth. Lynda braved her way over the snowy roads to haul my stinky butt home.
So, 3 starters and zero finishers - but the stats are weather impacted. It's doable. It's tough to imagine a sub 4 day finish, that's for sure. Tour pace is a week or better.
How about timing? Late June is the earliest potential date, but conflicts with GLR and/or CTR. August, we'd die in the deserts. It cools off to 80 at night for about 10 minutes. Sept is 24 hour natz (which I will target next year) so that's a no-go. 2 possibilities come to mind: July 4 or early Oct. If in July, we'd want a GLR style evening start.
How about the route? Well, there will be no Escalante - Moab route revealed until somebody finishes the first part! Next year, same route. The long term TU schedule just got delayed. Missed it? You get another chance. Abundant pain and pleasure to be experienced.
No call in from Marshal. His Spot slowly and steadily travelled up the 4.6k climb from Summit to Brian Head all day today. Then it shot straight back down the pavement to Parowan - the opposite direction of the course... So I'm guessing Marshal called it.
Dave called in from Brian Head. He rode StG to Cedar City, stopped at a grocery store then a motel for a shower and snooze then continued on to Brian Head arriving mid-morning. He is continuing on with the hope and slight chance all the forecasts are wrong and the storm will stay north. He said it was cold and windy but clear.
Here is the forecast for the Paunsaugunt Plateau. He will be there tonight and only with a nutty effort and no sleep will get over it before noon on Saturday when the rain/snow is supposed to start falling:
Tonight: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 43. Breezy, with a west southwest wind between 22 and 28 mph, with gusts as high as 41 mph.
Saturday: Rain and snow showers. Some thunder is also possible. Snow level 9300 feet. High near 50. Breezy, with a south southwest wind between 17 and 22 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.
The high point of the TU route on the Paunsaugunt plateau is only 9061 ft. It'll look real purty with a dusting of snow...
After the Paunsaugunt the course drops down to Tropic at 6500 ft then whoosh back up towards the sky for scads of time over 10k over the Table Cliffs Plateau and Powell Point.
Dave might be the only one left pedaling but he seems to have a race on his hands.
The Trans Utah boyz are on their way. All took an early start option to hopefully stay ahead of the storm forecast to hit Utah. If the storm becomes reality and dumps snow down to the 6500 feet mark that will be the first time in October I have seen that since moving to Southern Utah in 1996.
Marshall started some time on Wednesday. Err I'm not sure exactly when... so I am already falling down on my job as the official race transcriber. I need some tips from Jill.
Here is Marshall's Spot page. He camped last night at the Divide below Little Creek and has just finished up the Jem Trail at the moment.
Here is Dave Nice's Spot Page. Dave started at 3am Thursday morning. Right now he is ticking along towards Coyote Spring SW of St George.
Dave Harris doesn't have a Spot. As of 3am this morning he couldn't find his frame bag and hadn't packed his gear. He got rolling at 5:15am Thursday morning. He will call in from Cedar City, maybe Brian Head and Tropic.