I had always dreamed of doing a bike tour. It was a pie-in-the-sky, bucket-list wish. Until last June, that is. While going through a recent divorce and the emotional and logistical turmoil such a life-changing event brings, I felt a new sense of freedom and spirit of adventure. What was keeping me from doing a bike tour? Money? As it turns out, there are some affordable options. Fitness? Through my job as editor of a bike trade magazine, I’ve built up some endurance and base fitness as well as basic mechanical knowledge. Responsibilities? These were pretty limited as well without kids or pets to look after. And as the Big Four-O was staring me down later in the year, what better gift could I give myself as I entered a new decade? Before I knew it, I was plunking my money down for Adventure Cycling Association’s fully supported van tour Cycle Utah. I knew a bit about the organization through my work in the bike industry, and Executive Director Jim Sayer had been encouraging me to do a bike overnight for years. I had longingly looked at Adventure Cycling’s tour catalog and circled a few of my top picks. But Cycle Utah took riders through Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, which I had never visited, and the timing of the trip was perfect. By the time I’d made up my mind, it was March and the early June tour was already sold out so I was put on the waiting list. Luckily a space opened up and I was given a few days to think about it before it would be offered to someone else. I took it. Once the initial excitement wore off though, a bit of fear and dread set in. Had my impulsive decision been the right one? Was I in good enough shape? I started riding more regularly during the week — to work and back as well as at lunch — with longer rides on the weekend. It was reassuring to know that a SAG van would carry all of my camping gear, food, and clothes, and that I could jump in the van if necessary. This would be my first weeklong bike tour so I thought thefully supported option was the way to go. No route planning, no cooking, just riding and enjoying the sights and company. That I could do!
By the time I’d made up my mind, it was March and the early June tour was already sold out so I was put on the waiting list. Luckily a space opened up and I was given a few days to think about it before it would be offered to someone else. I took it. Once the initial excitement wore off though, a bit of fear and dread set in. Had my impulsive decision been the right one? Was I in good enough shape?
Our group ended up being 36 people, and because Adventure Cycling sets up an online discussion group for riders and the tour leader to get to know each other beforethe trip, I learned a bit about them before we actually met. As people introduced themselves, I realized: 1) most had been on a bike tour before and were experienced at this; 2) several of my tour mates knew each other from past tours they’d ridden together; and 3) a majority were retired or near retirement. I didn’t meet any of these criteria. This was intimidating, but the thought of riding with strangers was also exhilarating. Although I found out that a good majority of those who take supported bike tours are baby boomers, bike travelers come from all walks of life. I was the third youngest in the group, which was made up of riders from as far north as Canada, as far east as New Jersey and New York, and as far south as Florida and Georgia.I will never forget the Schweickarts — three generations who rode together the whole week — Hannah, 26, her dad Joe, 57, and grandfather Lou, 83. I started with them on the first day out of St. George and sensed they would be a fun family to get to know. From a pie stop during the ride down from Bryce Canyon to playing cards after dinner at Ruby’s Inn Campground and hiking Zion’s Angels Landing the Saturday before our official tour kickoff, the Schweickarts were up for it all and always with a smile. Kelly and Larry Manz were a Nevada couple who rode a Co-Motion tandem. They weren’t the only ones on a tandem, to my surprise — there were at least twoother couples on tandems. Anyone who can go nearly 300 miles on a shared bike gets a tip of the hat from me. I find it hard enough pedaling my own weight. Skip Elliott, a former city manager and mayor of Skagway, Alaska, had some of the best stories to tell. He arrived from Juneau and had the hardest time with the hot days, but he was incredibly fit despite having a limited weather window to ride. We had two other Jos in the group, from Colorado and New York, both also as down to earth as you can find. Paul Bailey from Washington, DC, became my ride buddy for the week after we kept passing each other during the first day. We figured our riding pace was close enough, and we hit it off almost immediately. I’m grateful that Paul, who later nicknamed me his West Coast biking girlfriend, hung with me even as I slogged slowly up the climbs out of Panguitch and as I had my meltdown on the second day after bonking. Having a buddy throughout the week to chat with on long stretches, commiserate following a hard day, and share a beer after dinner made the journey so much more enjoyable. We quickly became friends and are scheming for a reunion bike tour sometime next year in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Although a week is hardly a long time, when you’re with the same folks all day, you get to know them pretty fast. As one rider put it succinctly and accurately, it’s “forced intimacy.” Our bike tour’s Google Group remained active in the days after with emails and photo sharing continuing for weeks. With each new link to photos, we relived the ride through each other’s personal lenses. I hope to see my Cycle Utah 2017 friends on a tour again soon. In the meantime, I’ll be looking through Adventure Cycling’s latest tour catalog. Montana’s Big Sky Country is calling.
St. George to Springdale/Zion National Park
43.5 miles, 2,618 ft. elevation gain
I had a hard time sleeping last night. After a day of hiking in Zion, I thought I would be exhausted. My body was ... but not my mind. It didn’t help that one of the campers in the tent next to mine coughed all night. I started out today’s ride with the three generations of Schweickarts — Lou, Joe, and Hannah. Soon after I met Paul Bailey, with whom I rode most of the way. Then I met Damon, an Adventure Cycling volunteer, at the rest stop. He’s a former business owner who rode across the country three years ago. I also met Jason and Jack, another father and son doing the tour together. One thing I didn’t count on was how rocky and gravel-like the road was. It made the ride tough on my skinny-tired bike, and my teeth chattered the whole time. I wish I had gone with wider tires. But the views as we started to get close to Springdale were breathtaking. I made it to our first campsite by noon. I quickly set up my tent and ate lunch. Then Paul and I hit the river for about an hour to cool off. There were lots of people floating on tubes. The mostly RV campsite has a very small tent area, but it’s in the middle of Zion. It’s hard to beat our views of huge, red sandstone cliffs and canyons. Dinner was awesome — lasagna and salad followed by an ice cream bar for dessert.We have an early start tomorrow with a 6:00 am breakfast for an early rollout from Zion. I hope to get some shuteye because I need my energy tomorrow.Day 2:
Springdale/Zion to Hatch
58.9 miles, 4,416 ft. elevation gain
Paul and I were the first to the water stop. At this point, I was feeling really good. However, I started losing it before the lunch stop, just bonking and feeling like I wouldn’t be able to continue. Lunch really helped, but my groin started hurting. I debated whether to continue again, but I kept going. The ride was incredible, from rocky cliffs to high prairie to green pasture fields to conifer forests and wide-open roads. We saw just about every type of landscape. We rode through really small towns and by cattle ranches. Paul got a flat that took forever to change. The last 15 miles were tough, but we got in and the campsite at Hatch was amazing. It was a huge grass field with tons of space so we all spread out. In the distance, sunlit red mesas provided another scenic backdrop for the evening. I took some much-needed Advil. We had a campfire for the first time here in Hatch. It was finally cold enough.
Hatch to Bryce, 23.6 miles,
1,401 ft. elevation gain
Today was an easy recovery day. We took our time riding and stopped a lot along the way to take photos. Red Rock Canyon was beautiful. Since we arrived pretty early in the day, we quickly set up camp and went on a hike at Bryce Canyon. This park was unlike anything I’ve seen, with hoodoos and hiking trails throughout.We went down the canyon on Queen’s Garden Trail/Navajo Loop and looped around up through Wall Street. Luckily we had a short ride today, which left us with enough energy to hike all afternoon. We caught the shuttle bus back to camp and made it in time for our map meeting. Dinner was Asian themed with ice cream for dessert, which was a hit! Before hitting the sack, I pulled out my Zion National Park playing cards I had bought at the souvenir shop earlier, and a group of us played a couple of rounds of bull&*@% with Alaskan Skip winning both times.
Bryce to Panguitch, 23.3 miles,
522 ft. elevation gain
Today was another easy ride day. Paul, all three Schweickarts, and I headed out for a morning hike at Bryce Canyon before riding to Panguitch.The trick was to plan right. We had to be fully packed up with our luggage at the U-Haul truck before leaving for our hike so we had to make sure we had all that we needed for both our ride and our hike. We would be hauling a backpack each, but as our ride to Panguitch was mostly downhill, we figured it wasn’t a big deal.We locked up our bikes at a rack next to the campsite shop, and off we went for more exploring. This time we did the entire rim of the canyon. You could spend a whole week here in Red Rock Canyon and Bryce and still not see it all. Paul and I squeezed in the Peek-a-boo Loop to Bryce Point while Joe and Hannah headed to the Queen’s Garden.On our way to Panguitch, we stopped at a roadside diner for some pie and ice cream. Joe, Hannah, and Lou had talked up this joint to us. They stopped in for pie on their way up to Bryce. It was as good as they described.At Panguitch I finally gave the pool a try. We’ve had swimming pools at just about every campsite we’ve stayed at so far. We called it an early night because we had to get up early. It was a 6:00 am start for breakfast since the next day would be a long 70-mile jaunt.A group of us had one last drink before heading to bed, and we vowed that we would not get into the SAG van tomorrow. Day 5:
Panguitch to Kanarraville, 70.5 miles,
5,367 ft. elevation gain
Today was the big day — the most miles and most climbing of the entire week in Utah. We would climb to the highest point at Cedar Breaks, some 10,300 feet high.We left camp sometime before 8:00 am — Paul and I were the last ones to pack up and head out of Panguitch. Our bikes were pointing up from the time we left the KOA campground. It was a tough start without a chance to warm up. Still, we rode some of the smoothest pavement yet today, but it was mostly on road without shoulder.I used Hannah and Joe’s chamois cream, and it made a world of difference. I was worried that my sores would be too painful for me to finish.Paul and I got run off the road by a construction truck passing a car on a two-lane highway. It was probably the scariest moment of the week. There was also a lot of wind and uphill. My Garmin showed me hitting just 4 mph at some points given the grades and headwinds. The landscape changed dramatically with birch and aspen as we gained elevation. Lush forests resembled those I’ve seen in Oregon. As we neared the lunch stop, we started seeing patches of snow along the hillsides. We also saw several deer corpses on the side of the road. But our reward came after lunch. The downhill was long and fast with 4–8 percent grades for more than 10 miles. The landscape changed again with gray stone walls similar to Yosemite with pine trees. Temperatures warmed up and layers came off.The last 15 miles were tough for Paul. The wind was very strong, about 20 mph with gusts of over 40. Today was the most I’ve climbed in a single ride. I was lucky to do it with somebody willing to wait and ride at my pace. We were rewarded with a beef stroganoff dinner, crab cakes, salad, and a Klondike ice cream bar. The caterer on this trip was first-rate. I can’t praise her enough. Anne Steinbach of Culinary Insider has a full mobile kitchen in a trailer. She put together excellent meals sourcing local ingredients from every stop, and we could serve ourselves as much as we wanted. Her dinners always included dessert and she had a large cooler packed with cold beer and wine, for a small additional cost, each evening.Day 6:
Kanarraville to St. George, 45.7 miles,
1,407 ft. elevation gain
On the last day of our tour, we started out in pretty gusty winds. In fact, the winds had kept me up, shaking my tent throughout the night. I was dreading this day not only because it meant our tour was nearly over but because we were to ride on Interstate 15 for most of the day. Somehow sharing the road with loaded semis and speeding traffic didn’t seem that appealing to me. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. No close calls despite lots of tire debris on the shoulders. The freeway had a wide shoulder so it felt safe even when we were passed by loaded rigs. Adventure Cycling held its final water/rest stop at Quail Creek — a beautiful lake surrounded by red rock and mesas. I dipped my feet in the water. It felt so refreshing. I wish I had brought a bathing suit to go for a swim.As we descended to St. George, the temperature climbed back into the triple digits. After we got cleaned up at our respective hotels, a group of us met up for drinks at Ricardos, just across from the Temple View RV Resort where we had started our tour. After margaritas, we walked over to Black Bear Diner for dinner. We capped off the night with pie back at the hotel with Lou.
Lynette Carpiet is the editor-in-chief of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News magazine.
Nuts & Bolts
Because I wasn’t carrying all of my belongings on the bike, I packed light but still brought one cycling kit for each day of riding, as well as one regular change of clothes, a bathing suit, cold weather riding apparel, and assorted cycling goodies including GoPro, my Garmin computer and radar, and camping gear. Adventure Cycling provides a handy checklist for newbies to make sure you bring the essentials. I rode my performance road bike, a Scott Contessa Pro CR1. But there was a mix of bikes from traditional touring rigs to tandems to endurance bikes with disc brakes and even folding bikes. Make sure to pack ear plugs — tent walls are not soundproof. On this specific tour, there’s great hiking at Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks so hiking boots and clothes are a must.
The tour’s starting point was St. George, Utah, so I decided to drive there, mostly for the ease of transporting my bike. I didn’t have to disassemble or pack it — I just threw it in the back of my Subaru. I live in Orange County, a short four- to five-hour drive from Las Vegas and another two or so hours to St. George. The closest major airport is Las Vegas McCarran International, and many folks flew into it and then took a shuttle or rented a car to drive to St. George.
I went with Adventure Cycling for this seven-day, fully supported tour. It was my first time doing a multiday tour so I opted to have the tour operator do the heavy lifting as far as carrying all of my stuff, which included my tent, sleeping bag, clothing, and toiletries.As a fully supported tour, all I had to do was ride every day and set up my tent every night. Other than packing up every morning, it doesn’t get any easier and I’d highly recommend this option for a bike travel first-timer. There were also hotel options at every stop along the way for those who didn’t want to camp.Adventure Cycling no longer offers this exact tour, but does have multiple inn-to-inn and van-supported options in red rock country.
Be ready for heat. My trip ran from June 3–9, so temperatures got quite hot midday and in the afternoon. Be ready for chafing and make sure to minimize discomfort with daily chamois cream application and by drinking lots of water. Give yourself ample time before and after the trip to acclimate and recover. I recommend arriving a day early and staying a day after you return to the starting point.