Cycle Utah, Spring 2002
by Lamar Martin
 
On June 1-7, 2002, it was my great pleasure to be one of 90-something participants in Adventure Cycling's Cycle Utah with Ride Director Tom Radley. 

The Ride:  Wow! is the only word that comes close to telling how great every aspect of this ride was.  The catered meals, the campsites, the routes, the ride staff and all the support they provided, and of course Utah itself, were all far more wonderful than I had expected or hoped for.

The "official" information states that the SAG vehicles are for emergency use (medical or equipment failure), so I was a bit concerned when I signed up for this "challenging" ride. I was relieved to hear the unofficial promise at the orientation on Saturday, that any rider would be picked up anytime he/she needed or wanted 

to be, with no explanation required!  Well, I am happy to report I didn't need to be SAG'd in and ended the 6 day ride with 319 miles on my new Diamondback road bike which performed very well.  More about that later, under "Equipment".

The ride began with the mandatory Orientation Meeting on Saturday evening, June 1. I was not the only solo traveller in the group. PJ from Austin TX, Carol from Los Angeles, and Bevin from San Diego are three lovely ladies I made friends with even before the meeting began. For someone as shy as me to make new friends that quickly should give you an idea what a great group this was.  Tom, our ride director and hero for the week, introduced himself and the complete ride staff, answered all our questions and relieved all of our concerns.  During the week the entire staff earned our love and gratitude. Again, the word comes to mind, "Wow!"

Similar to BRAG, each day begins at one's leisure, with packing up tents and gear and leaving it with the luggage truck volunteers.  All of our meals were included in the $600 ride fee, and were provided by a caterer who followed us from camp to camp.  She and her two helpers did a superb job, offering variety, quality and quantity for breakfast, lunch and dinner to satisfy the crowd of hungry cyclists.  I was really impressed at how good it all tasted, and the many choices offered.
 
On Sunday morning we left St. George and enjoyed  smooth roads with good shoulders over rolling terrain, all the way to Springdale, a total of 43 miles and 2097' of climbing. There was one official reststop about half-way, with water, Gatorade, granola bars, bananas, apples, oranges, bagels, peanut butter and cream cheese for refueling.  We reached the Zion Canyon National Park Campground in time for lunch. After setting up our tents and relaxing a bit, PJ, Carol, Mark and I took a shuttle bus ride into Zion. The driver stopped at designated places
in the park for visitors to get off and sightsee.  The buses run about evey 7-8 minutes so it was a great way to see the park. It is the 1st national park to disallow private vehicles in the park. Before the shuttle sysytem was initiated, on a peak day, there would be over 4000 vehicles in the park vying for 400 legal parking spaces-quite a mess I imagine.  Now the park is serene, the animals have returned and visitors get to enjoy the park that much more.  I hope they do this at all the national parks. Our destination was a trail that goes to "the Narrows," where you hike in the Virgin River in Zion Canyon.  If you hike far enough, the canyon walls are close enough that you can touch both walls with your hands (I bet you've seen pictures of it).  However, we only had enough time and energy to hike up river about 1 mile.  The river was so low that in many places we hiked on dry ground, and even the deepest places were only knee deep.  Many hikers have drowned in the Narrows due to flash floods. The cool water felt wonderful on my aching knees, and this was probably my favorite of many excursions of the trip. 
The Virgin River in the "Narrows" at Zion Canyon National Park (click for larger image). 
After dinner I rode my bike to the IMAX theater at the visitor center to see a feature film (Changing Lanes). Thank goodness there was still one person not in their tent when I got back to camp at 11:00 p.m.  It was so dark I had to borrow a flash light to find my tent.

Monday began with a ride through Zion N.P., including the switchbacks in the map below.  The straight part just before the Canyon Overlook is actually a 1-mile tunnel that we were not allowed to cycle through, so we were shuttled in vans, and our bikes in U-Hauls through the tunnel. While waiting for my bike, I took the 2.2-mile roundtrip hike to see the Canyon Overlook.  The picture doesn't do the view justice, but you get the idea-it was well worth the hike!  The rest of the 62 miles just got tougher! The climbs that followed were long and not nearly as easy to enjoy.  Even the last leg, 10 miles of mostly down hill, were into a headwind that made me long for the early morning climbing.  Thank God for the company of Sarah from San Francisco which I enjoyed  the last 20 miles.  We prayed for rain to cool us off but it remained over the mountains and not on us.  We climbed a total of 4500' to our camp at Hatch.  At 7000' elevation, we were forewarned that the temperature would drop below freezing at night, and it did!  I spent the night in a hotel room at the campsite, which made it really hard to join my fellow campers for breakfast in the frosty morning.
Check out the switchbacks!  Click on pictur for larger image.
Picture taken at the Canyon Overlook shown in map.
Tuesday and Wednesday were both short ride days of only 23 miles each, so that we would have plenty of time to enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park.  The climbing on Tuesday seemed easier on fresh legs, with only 1173' total climbing to reach our next camp at Ruby's Inn at the entrance to Bryce. It was a beautiful camp on a lake. Lunch was served at this camp on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. The idea was that you could spend all afternoon visiting Bryce on Tuesday, and then all
morning Wednesday.  PJ, Carol and I stuck together and did a 3 mile hike down through the hoodoos to the canyon floor and back out. Hoodoos are the tall rock formations that remain after countless years of errosion all around them.  Back at camp we enjoyed a great dinner and were in our tents early for bed. PJ had talked one of the staff members, Will, into an early rise on Wednesday mornng to take us to Sunrise Point in the van before sunrise. We hiked down in the canyon a bit in the cool morning air to witness the magic just as the sun light comes over the canyon wall, providing a 2-3 minute show of ooohs and ahhhs as the venue comes alive with glorious contrasts of red, gold and deep shadows.
My throw away camera hardly does it justice but click here for a peek.  We still made it 
back to camp in time for breakfast and packing up our gear.  Some folks rode there bikes into the park, while many others, including PJ, Carol and I, took advantage of Tom's limited offer to shuttle bikes and riders the 18 miles to the far end of the park.  This was almost all uphill, so the 18 mile ride back to camp was screaming downhills most of the way. We were encouraged, against our natural instinct to fly past the many lookouts along the way, to stop and enjoy the sites of this beautiful park.  We took the advice and stopped at all the lookouts except one. It's hard to imagine any views more beautiful that the ones we stopped at, but several people said we missed the best one! 
The view at sunrise in Bryce Canyon, near Sunrise Point
After lunch on Wednesday, we rode the 23 miles from Ruby's Inn to Panguitch, a very easy ride with only 325' of climbing, with a total loss of altitude from 7800' to 6300'.  Still, I was feeling hungry upon reaching Panguitch and since dinner would be a couple of  hours away, I stopped and enjoyed a great milkshake and snack in town before pedaling on to our camp. Many other cyclists stopped for milkshakes or for cappucinos at the local coffee house.

Thursday morning began with more downhill which, while enjoyable, was not a welcome sight since every foot we descended had to be made up on the 6-8% grades we would climb to reach the peak at 10,600'. On the steeper sections, I would set goals of riding to a certain snow plow marker on the side of the road, then stop for a breather before continuing on to the next goal. Mile after mile my speedometer stayed in the 3.5 to 5 mph range but after 5 hours in the saddle, I reached the peak at 38 miles out. The next 20 miles were almost completely downhill.  I reached Max Sp of 42 mph but could have easily went faster. I used my brakes intermittently because of crazy crosswinds that made bike control a real challenge. On a previous Cycle Utah event, a rider was reportedly picked up by the wind and thrown across the center line!  That, and 2 encounters within 30 minutes that put me face to face with oncoming cars passing in my lane, kept the adrenalin flowing the rest of the way to Cedar City.  Camp was at a KOA on Main Street.  It was very nice except for being on a noisy street.

Friday should have been the easiest day of all from looking at the elevation graph, but alas, the homeward leg back to St. George involved traveling parallel to I-15 most of the 58 miles, and actually riding on I-15 for 7 miles.  I felt strong and the miles passed quickly, which was a good thing because the temperature had climbed to 105 F by the time I rolled into the Temple View Campground where our journey had begun.  Wow!

Getting there:
I flew United Airlines from Atlanta, to Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport on Wednesday, May 29.  I had learned form Abe Glaser that the Park 'n Fly lots on Camp Creek Parkway near the Atlanta Airport cost less than parking at the Airport, plus offered the supreme convenience of dropping you off curbside at whichever airline you will be flying on.  When carrying a bike case and large duffel bag, not having to pull them any further than absolutely necessary was the right thing to do! The United flights required a transfer in Chicago on the way to Vegas, and in Denver on the way back to Atlanta.  I understand that Delta offers flights from Atlanta to St. George UT, but still involves transfers.  I had never been to Las Vegas, so I chose to take that route and go a couple of days early. Upon arrival in Las Vegas, right outside the baggage claim area, they have airport shuttles that will take you to any hotel on the strip for $4.75.  That is the option I chose over taxis because most taxis will not hold my bike case unless they tie the trunk lid down, plus it was a substantial cost savings and I got to see more of the city on the way to your hotel. 

Accomodations:  I had booked a 2-night stay at the Luxor, shown here.  It is the 2nd largest hotel in the US.  The weekday rate was only $69 but is double that on Friday-Saturday.  I didn't play in the casino, but they have a lot of restaurants, shows, and other fun attractions that I really 
enjoyed.  I particularly enjoyed the 3-D IMAX movies and The Blue Man Group, the latter being one of the funniest and most amazing shows I have seen, but take ear plugs because it is very loud! I also walked the strip to other famous casinos/hotels such as NY, NY, MGM Grand, Bellagio, etc...
The temperature on the strip that afternoon? A record tie for that date of 106F!
 Transfers: Per Adventure Cycling's recommendation, I had booked a seat on the Las Vegas to St. George Shuttle, for $45 roundtrip. This was a 15-passenger van pulling a small trailer for luggage, which handled my bike case easily.  I met some nice people on the van and learned a lot about St. George, a fast growing city about the size of Savannah, GA. I also learned that the Beach Boys were performing at the local college that very night. I had a reservation for the Best Western Abbey Inn, a very nice hotel across the street from the Temple View Campground, where our ride started/finished.  I got on the phone and bought a ticket to the Beach Boys concert, and took a cab to the sports arena for the show.  It was a great concert, and I am grateful I found out about it and got to attend. Saturday evening, after the Ride Orientation meeting, I spent a second night at the Abbey Inn.  I think the room was about $65+ tax.

Equipment:
I own one of the Trico Sports "Iron Case" plastic bicycle cases (Nashbar), which had been collecting dust in my attic ever since my Alaska trip in 1997.  I rate this box as satisfactory but with one major complaint:  It has no handles other than the 7 nylon straps that fasten the two halves of the case together.  During this trip, one of the nylon straps got pulled out of the plastic case by airline baggage handlers.  I was able to fix it later.  The strap provided as a handhold for pulling the case (it has wheels on one end which work o.k.) tends to wad up and cut into your hand.  This can be very painful if you have to pull the case any significant distance, which I had to do in the Atlanta and Las Vegas Airports.  Fortunately, this same strap does allow you to pull the case with one hand, leaving your other hand free to pull your other bag.  (I recommend only carrying one other bag, and by all means, one with wheels and a comfortable pull handle).  I have checked this case in as luggage on 6 flights and 1 train trip.  They always ask what is in the case.  When I tell them a bicycle, they always want to charge extra, but I explain that it is just another piece of luggage. Only once out of 7 times did they require me to pay the extra charge.  However, after going on-line and viewing Delta and United Airline's baggage policies, I now consider myself lucky I only paid extra the one time.  According to policy, the box exceeds the width+length+depth limitation by 25% and should have been charged extra each time.  So you decide, is it worth paying $275 for a case, having to wheel it through airport obstacles, and possibly having to pay $75 - $80 each time you check it in (coming and going on roundtrips)?  For international travel, the bike case may be the way to go, but for my next trip in the US, I will probably ship my bike to a bike shop near where the ride starts, and ship it back afterward.  If you get stuck paying the extra airfare, it costs more than the fee for UPS shipping.  Caution: I also used UPS once, to ship my bike to Cycle Montana. I shipped it 8 days before my flight to Montana and I got there before the bike! That was too close for comfort. I recommend to be conservative and ship it at least 10 days before you need it there.

New Diamodback Interval road bike:  At $499, you can't go wrong with this buy.  It has a 7005 compact geometry aluminum frame, Shimano Sora Triple drivetrain, with 52/42/30T crank and 12x25T 8-spd cassette. I changed the 30T granny gear to a 28T to give me an inch-gear range of 30.2 to 117".  This pales in comparison to the Mega Range of my Tour Easy (19.1 to 127") but is identical to the gearing on new Trek & Cannondale road bikes with Ultegra Triple groupos.  The Diamondback has some very nice features for the price, including the threadless Ahead set.  The bike weighs in at 23 # withouth pedals.  The Avenir saddle is the perfect blend of weight vs comfort. Even my "recumbent butt" faired well. The brakes are a brand I have not heard of (Tektro), and are part of the reason I was afraid to exceed 42 mph on the screaming downhill to Cedar City. Twice on the 20-mile downhill run, I opted to stop the bike to rest my hands and enjoy the scenery (more good advice from Ride Director Tom Radley).  From 38 mph to a stop, while descending, seemed to take forever.  I did not measure it, but estimate it took over 1000' to stop the bike under those conditions (if you hold the brakes too long, you can heat up the bicycle wheel, increasing your tire pressure to the point of a blowout).  I have no recent experience to compare this to, but beleive the  Shimano RSX brakes on my Raleigh worked better.  I guess if you want to stop fast on screaming downhills, caliper brakes of any brand may not be the answer? This bike is very comfortable and would be even more so if the Cr Mo fork were upgraded to a carbon fork.  I think the frame and other components are worth the upgrade.

What would I do Different?  Next time I would leave the bike case in the attic and ship my bike to a bike shop in St. George. Even though I like my new Diamondback, I think I would ship my Tour Easy for this ride. Also, if there is nothing I wanted to see or do in Vegas, I would fly Delta from Atlanta or Savannah to St. George which, itself,  is a nice town to visit. If flying from Atlanta, I'd definitely do the Park 'n Fly thing again.