Thursday, June 22, 2017

Love these adventures in roadtripping

Our trip to Utah was a brief one. I drove from Colorado on Wednesday and returned on Monday. Beat flew in and out of St. George — both to save vacation hours, and because I suspect he finds road trips as tedious as I find them exhilarating. I love long drives. Every time I'm out on the road, pausing in front of an immense soda fountain or flipping through garbled variations of NPR, I imagine my life in another universe as a trucker. There's not quite enough stimulation in driving (in my ideal alternate universe, I'm somehow a professional bike tourist.) But road-tripping is moving through the world, rather effortlessly, and thus is one of my favorite activities.

We spent Saturday night in a hotel near the entrance to Bryce Canyon, but were too tired to venture into the national park. By evening I was quite grumpy, having spent most of the day marinating in my DNF misery. Okay, it wasn't that bad. After spending four hours under harsh sun at the Blubber Creek aid station, I crowded into a pickup truck with four other runners who dropped out of the 50-miler, and three volunteers (two sat in the bed on a mound of stuff as the truck rumbled down the bumpy dirt road.) It was a good 45-minute drive to the finish, where more than 50 people were lined up — under direct sunlight — to board the shuttle van to the hotel, seven miles down the road. No shuttle showed up the entire time I was there.

I stood in line for about ten minutes until I felt woozy — I had yet to acquire any food or water since I dropped out of the race five hours earlier — and walked away to a thin sliver of shade to text Beat, who had finished the race a couple hours before. I wanted him to pick me up in our car, but a misunderstanding led me to believe that he wasn't coming, he just wanted me to collect all of our drop bags and bring them back to the hotel. This led to several seconds of stomping around in a silent rage before texting him that I couldn't take it any longer, I was going to buy a pita bread pizza and eat it as I walked the seven miles back to some form of indoor sanctuary. I'd had it with the sun and the desert and I never wanted to do this to myself again.

Luckily, in my sleep-deprived haze it took me a while to garner one of the personal pizzas being sold by a youth group at the finish line, and a can of generic ginger ale, which was lukewarm and somehow still tasted like the elixir of life. I felt markedly better after eating, and then Beat showed up in the air-conditioned car with a icy fountain soda. I thought I might cry for happiness. All was right in the world.

The sunset that night was beautiful, in part because of a wildfire burning near Brian Head. (The fire was started by an idiot using a torch to kill weeds. As of this post it had grown to 11,000 acres, and the town of Brian Head remains evacuated.)

On Sunday morning, we made the two-hour trip to St. George to drop Beat off at the airport. We had about an hour to kill, so we stopped at a park on the outskirts of town to scramble on rocks. The temperature was 98 degrees. It felt downright cool compared to my experience in the canyons at the Bryce 100, but I know it's all a matter of circumstance.

On our way to St. George, we stopped for coffee in Cedar City. Next to Starbucks was a place called "Sushi Burrito." It was closed until noon. But I knew I'd have to make my way back through Cedar after dropping Beat at the airport, and I was so excited about the prospect of a sushi burrito that I held off snacking until I returned. Sushi Burrito was open, not crowded (yes it was Sunday in Utah), and I was stunned that my purchase only cost $8.99, including a free fountain soda. The "burrito" was really just a giant maki roll, but it was amazing, so amazing. Words don't describe it, I mean, for $8.99 — the seafood tasted fresh, the rice was perfect, and there were sprinkles of tobiko to round out the deliciousness. It was everything I dreamed about. The perfect post-race meal.

Google maps told me to continue up I-15 to I-70, but I didn't really want to do that, so I crept through town toward Highway 14, which is just another one of those nondescript, incredibly scenic byways that are so prevalent in Utah.

Along the highway was a sign for Cedar Breaks National Monument, and I thought, "I don't think I've ever been there." I lived in Utah for 22 years, and as a young adult spent nearly every weekend traipsing around little-known corners in the San Rafael Swell, Grand Staircase Escalante, Uinta National Forest. But in all that time, I couldn't recall ever visiting Cedar Breaks. So I made it happen.

The views were, predictably, jaw-dropping. Within the small park was a four-mile out-and-back panorama trail that couldn't be left unhiked. I couldn't bear the thought of putting my running shoes back over my still-throbbing blisters, so I set out in my rather worn out gym shoes with a 44-ounce tanker of soda in one hand (you can probably see a theme here in my road trip love story. I allow myself to drink gallons of Diet Pepsi when I'm on the road.)

I paused at every overlook, but spent even more time lingering under bristlecone pines. Of all of the living things in this world, those I respect most are ancient trees. The oldest in Cedar Breaks is more than 1,700 years old — gnarled and stripped almost bare from centuries of turmoil and hardship in this harsh environment. But it's still alive. Incredible trees, the bristlecone pine. I think I would like to have my ashes spread in the shade of one of these trees, after I die. 

I still felt a bit short of breath while hiking. The rim is at 10,000 feet elevation, but I don't think I can blame altitude. My recovery from Bryce wasn't that swift, but my legs felt surprisingly nimble, and my mildly sprained ankle was only mildly sore. Still, the ankle remained unstable, and I had to pay attention to my weight balance with every step. I stumbled once, right in front of a group of hikers near the end of the trail.

"Maybe you should put that big drink away," one guy said.

After leaving Cedar Breaks I drove to Highway 12, rolling right past the Bryce Canyon hotel that I'd left eight hours earlier, and continued past the park entrance because I'd dawdled all day and needed to make some miles. Perhaps predictably, I only managed another 45 minutes on the road before I saw a sign for Kodachrome Basin. "I don't think I've ever been there, either," I thought.

The state park was named in 1948 with the approval of Kodak Film, and it's funny to think about a park that will long outlive its namesake and anyone who even remembers that color film was a thing. But Kodachrome is quite fitting for a name. It's a photographer's playground. 

The park is thousands of feet lower than Bryce Canyon, and the temperature was 101 degrees. I thought "no big deal," but within 0.10 miles of my car, I felt woozy and wondered if this was really such a good idea. I had yet to collect actual water for my bladder, so I sipped on an extremely hot bottle of sparkling water that I found in Beat's stash of snacks. The trail climbed to a small plateau with spurs out narrow sandstone fins. A blow-dryer-like wind blasted the rim, and it took a lot of bravery to coax myself out this spur. I actually did it, but then stood there so weak-kneed that I couldn't take out my camera for the intended photo.

There were some beautiful views, though. You didn't need to walk out the fins to see them.

The sun was beginning to slip toward the horizon (what? so early? I know that two days ago I said the sun spends too much time in the sky during the summer, but I take that back.) I headed out to the other side of the park to whittle away the magic hour.

Then I saw a sign for Shakespeare Arch, and managed to coax myself into another hike.

By now I was mostly out of liquid and my legs were protesting, finally. I was following a trail that wound around sandstone spires, and there was always something interesting to explore just around the corner. Shut up, legs.

Views of Rock Springs Bench. Out there is the BLM land where things really get interesting. But when you're on a time-starved road trip, quick front-country hikes more than suffice.

Early evening, magic light, still 90-something degrees.

Initially I had ambitions to drive into the night, but as the sun set I deflated rapidly, with a crushing exhaustion that can best be described as jet lag, or the post-75-miler crash. I stopped at a hotel in the town of Cannonville, which was so tiny that it didn't even have a restaurant or a store. The hotel had a small convenience store, so I enjoyed a Tour Divide-esque meal of microwave burrito, a banana, a Kit Kat Bar, and of course more Diet Pepsi, heavy on the ice.

The room was air-conditioned to the point of being frigid, and I startled awake a half dozen times during the night. Each time I awoke, my mind was racing not with memories of being back on the trail at the Bryce 100, but with all the possibilities for the following day. Grand Staircase Escalante! Petrified Forest! Hell's Backbone! Capitol Reef! Boulder, Colorado, was still ten hours away, and I knew I needed to dial back my mania if I wanted to make it home before I crashed again.

Mania is difficult to dial back on Highway 12. Yup, that's Highway 12.

Also Highway 12.

Still Highway 12.

Okay, Jill, you need to stop pulling over at every roadside pullout.

This would be a beautiful place for a bike tour, but there's no shoulder and I'm sure the road is very busy for most of the summer. Perhaps a winter bike tour? I wonder what these 9,000-foot passes are like in January.

Nearing Capitol Reef National Park. Highway 24 passes through Fremont River Canyon without requiring a park entrance fee, and I knew I wouldn't have the strength not to stop.

9 a.m. road trip math. How long can I hike and still get back to Boulder before dark?

Perfection landed right in my lap — Chimney Rock, a four-mile loop right off the highway. The temperature was a cool 82 degrees, and for my liquid I had a quart of Beat's Gatorade that I froze overnight. Sips of ice-cold purple drink gave me all the energy I needed to wrap this up in less than an hour ... well, more like an hour and twenty minutes.

Views from Chimney Rock.

This is definitely somewhere I need to plan a backpacking trip in the future.

I did manage to buckle down after Capitol Reef. Before long I'd collected bits of convenience store lunch at Hole-in-the-Rock in Hanksville, rumbled toward Green River and I-70, and the NPR-supported Interstate autopilot that carried me all the way home. It certainly was fun while it lasted, though. 


  1. I'm with Beat...though flying sux, I totally hate driving. Too many solo cross country drives as a seasonal NPS worker. It does seem like you make the best of yours though. I have camped in is great.

  2. Wow, the pics could make an UT advertising calendar! We were at Bryce last year, would love to return to MTB Thunder Mt. if you plan a bike trip through this wonderland, let me know, I might join.

  3. The whole area just north of Cedar Breaks and west of Panguitch Lake is burning up right now.

    1. Up to 37,000 acres this morning. Largest fire in the U.S. right now:

      I drove through the Panguitch Lake are between Cedar Breaks and Panguitch. All evacuated currently.

    2. Too bad, that area had already been hit hard by some kind of pine beetle, a lot of dead trees, now a hot crown fire (as opposed to a beneficial fire).

  4. I've always loved driving and wondered if I would enjoy being a trucker. I think driving such an ungainly vehicle would take away a lot of the fun, but it is an easy way to get a lot of the rewards that I enjoy of biking, hiking, and climbing with little effort. I always like your descriptions of your love of moving through the world.

  5. I've never been to Kodachrome or Thunder mountain - they are now on the list!!! Looks like a wonderful trip but I would've wilted in triple digit temperatures. Here, it hit 80 on those days, and I felt like I could barely ride my bike :)

  6. I have followed your blog for several years now. I think these are the best photographs that you have taken and posted on this blog. Thank you!

  7. I've never been to ANY of those places Jill...however I do agree w/ you that I'd much rather drive (within reason) than fly. I also love stopping, but not nearly as much as you do (I guess it all depends on how much time I have allotted to my road-trip). FANTASTIC pics (as usual)! Did you follow the TD this year? What a great race, Brian (lives just up the road from me, tho I've never met him YET) and Josh battling it out, sometimes w/in 20 miles of each other (and Ben who had an epic mechanical...broken fork AND cracked frame way up in Montana, otherwise he'd have been in the mix at the end)...amazing race for sure!


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