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Texas Hill Country

Canyon Country

Before leaving Bryce Canyon, I went back to one of the overlooks to see if it looked different in morning light compared to afternoon. It did.

Then I went for a hike in the canyon. The overlooks still produced the best views, but it's fun to get up close and personal with the scenery.

By the time I got out of the park, it was 9:30 and the wind was already howling. Again. Most of the time, against me. I can never win.

Luckily, it was a short day, due to pushing extra distance the day before. And even with the short distance, I could stay about 40 km ahead of the original schedule.

By noon, it had gotten warm, accentuated by the new helmet I was wearing. It was a cheapo one-size-fits-all, which means it doesn't fit anyone quite right, and barely had any ventilation. I used my knife to cut the holes a little bigger, but it barely helped. The road was incredibly quiet, so I took it off on uphills.

About 30 km from Escalante, I found two women lying in the shade eating Pringles, their bikes down nearby. Turned out they were going the same place as myself, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, and they offered to share a campsite. Hey, if it saves me 10 bucks...

After cresting a hill, for the first text on the whole ride, there was a stiff tailwind at my back, along with a long decline to Escalante. Half the time, I didn't bother pedaling.

I arrived at the state park and asked the park rangers if they knew anything about the outfitter in town, three km further on. Specifically, do they sell bike helmets? Because this one wasn't working, and the next town likely to have a bike shop wouldn't be for another week. Half the town was closed, since it was Sunday, and the one shop we tried didn't have them.

Five minutes later, a park ranger returned with a bike helmet. He said he barely uses it, on occasionally to get around town. The one I had would suit that purpose, so he was willing to call it an even trade. Oh snap! The new one had better ventilation, a better fit, was lighter, and even had a visor, like my old one, which is great when your face is in the sun all day. Thanks, ranger dude!

I waited until Jane and Brenda showed up, then went for a hike in the park before showering. The hike was...OK...not as good as the one the same morning in Bryce Canyon. But petrified wood is kinda cool to look at, if for no other reason than seeing a tree that is now a rock and has taken on several different colors.

On the hike, I met a retired math teacher who gave me a tough question. He claimed only one person he knew had ever solved it in their head. It took me a few days, but I did it!
The question: a number of an undetermined number of digits begins with a 2. If you take that 2 from the beginning and instead place it at the end, keeping all the other numbers in the same order (for example, 2468 --> 4682), it is now three times bigger. What's the number?
Turns out there are an infinite number of solutions if you keep going with bigger and bigger numbers. But if figured out at least one in my head, and possibly a pattern to find the rest of the solutions.

At the campground, I ran into someone I'd meet riding the bike path in Red Canyon the day before, just after losing my helmet. She invited me into her RV, where she and her husband fed me quite a bit! They were from Maine and obviously on a long trip. A few years back, their daughter had done the Trans-America, a popular coast-to-coast bike route, and they wanted to hear some stories from the road and finally get an idea what it was like from an up-close perspective. Also, their daughter had told them how many times kind strangers had helped her, and they wanted to repay the favor. I'd say they're doing a good job already!

Got going early. Have been getting better about that. Jane and Brenda told me that getting to Fruita, the original destination, would be a good day by itself, due to a huge amount of climbing. But I had the idea to get to Hanksville, another 70 km from there. Figured I'd see how it was going once I got to Fruita.

The hill was as difficult as advertised. And it went on for several miles. Luckily, I had the wind at my back, which probably allowed me to stay at least one gear higher than I would've used otherwise.

On the way, I met a young couple from Kansas City and we talked about suffering through years of Royals futility, followed by watching them come out of nowhere to win the World Series.

Immediately after that, some of the best scenery of the entire ride.

On the way up, I met a large group doing a supported ride. We stopped and talked for a while as they waited for a pilot car at a construction zone. They had hills ahead of them, not as big as the one I was about to take on, but as they correctly pointed out, at least I had the wind behind me.

By the time I reached the top, the wind was incredibly strong and unpredictable. It wasn't necessarily helping anymore. And it was cold. I had to stop and put on a warmer shirt, and while doing so, a car pulled over to make sure I was OK. They could probably tell the wind was getting to the point of dangerous.

I finally crested the hill, a few hours after starting up. Glad to have it done! But then the ride got a little too exciting.

Wind affects you on an uphill, but it's on downhills that it pushes you around. The hill, along with all the grooves and curves in the road, made it so the wind was coming unpredictability from any direction, changing every few seconds. Due to that, I had to take the center of the lane, since the wind could send me a few feet in any direction at any time. I knew it annoyed the cars behind, but they could probably tell why it was necessary. No one honked, and everyone passed with a wide margin.

Without a doubt, this was the most harrowing descent I've ever done. Just get down the hill, just get down the hill...  I knew as I got further down, the wind wouldn't get any weaker, but would at least get more predictable. To put it lightly, it was a more exciting ride than I would've liked.

The hill finally started to bottom out, and as luck would have it, the wind settled in a direction against me. I only had about 10 km to make it to the next turn, where I'd thankfully be going with the wind.

Just then, a familiar RV went by, then pulled over. The same folks that fed me last night! They waved me over, took me inside, and fed me some Honey Nut Cheerios. They were flabbergasted at the wind on the hill, having a vehicle with a broad-sided target for the wind. They have more inertia in a large vehicle, but I'm a smaller target for the wind, so I guess we were both dealing with something similar. They were headed to Moab, so we said our goodbyes. I lowered my head and finished the last few km to the turn.

70 km to go. The wind would be at my back. Trees were leaning sideways and flags looked like they were scared of the pole. It was only 2:30 PM, but I was already exhausted. But whatever. I got this.

What followed was 70 km of awesome riding. If I hadn't been so weakened to begin with, probably would've been some of the best riding in memory. Most of it was in a canyon, which filtered out most of the wind, but it was so strong it was still giving me a good push anyway. And if you've never ridden a bike in a canyon before, it's friggin' awesome.

Halfway there, the landscape shifted. It was still canyon-like, but went from red rocks and scrubby green brush to a veritable moonscape. Some might find it depressing, but I enjoyed it.

The best arrangements in Hanksville was an RV park, where I met another touring cyclist, headed the other direction. The wind had been so strong today that he'd taken the day off entirely. Made sense. He had a good bike and a good setup, clearly knew what he was doing, but was still impressed at my light setup and a few of the tricks I've picked up. In particular, he liked the two methods I've decided for inflating my sleeping pad without blowing into it. One of them uses a trash bag and a wristband; the other uses a bike pump and a piece of an old tube.

Much like the city park in Eureka, NV, the thick green grass made you think half the state's water was getting used right here. Thankfully, this time the sprinklers didn't go off at 4:45 AM.

Still ahead of schedule, the plan was the stay ahead of schedule by pushing to Natural Bridges National Monument, 150 km away. The day would be mostly a long downhill, followed by a long uphill. And by "long", I mean dozens of km. I prefer saving the downhill for the end, but such is life.

In the morning, I bumped into two German-Swiss guys, both named Marcos, touring together on fat bikes (think the bike equivalent of a monster truck). They were on road today, but get off road just as often. Their plan for the evening was to wild camp in the desert. They each were carrying 7.5 L of water, about twice the capacity I have with my setup.

The opening downhill was through a spectacular canyon, but was hampered by...headwind. Again. Had there been no wind, the first half of the day could've flown by, and the second half could be taken on with fresh legs. No such luck.

A little less than halfway through the day, there was an overlook of the spot where the Colorado River becomes Lake Powell. Strange to see a massive amount of water in a dry area, and cool to see how the rocks dramatically change color depending which bank they're on. The Colorado River is truly the lifeblood of the southwest. Wouldn't be the same without it.

There were a ton of motorcyclists at the overlook, so I asked the if there was a gas station or anything else with water between here and Natural Bridges. They replied in the negative, then fell over themselves to give me several bottles of water. I took three, as much as I'd need, but could've taken twice as much the way they were acting. Thanks, y'all!

I also met a German couple in an RV, also planning to camp at Natural Bridges. They were pessimistic about the chances, saying the campgrounds tend to fill up early.

After crossing the Colorado, there was a wicked uphill, to be followed by 80 km of slow incline. It was only about 30 C, but on that climb, it felt a lot hotter. The rest of the day wasn't so bad, and I made good time, but the distance was vast. The nicest part was the road was incredibly empty. I rode well into the lane, since I essentially had it to myself.

Late in the day, 6 km from Natural Bridges, I saw a familiar-looking RV parked off the road. Then a familiar figure emerged from behind it. The Germans!
"The campground is full, so we're staying here," she explained. "Do you want to camp here with us? We have pasta. And beer!"

As advertised, I was fed pasta and beer. And cookies to boot. We stayed up a little past dark, built a campfire, swapped stories about our travels in the southwest and in Germany, all of us doing at least a little of each. When I got up early in the morning to leave, there was another bag of cookies in my helmet, along with some gummy bears and a note labelling it, "Survival Pack". Thanks, guys.

I went to Natural Bridges first thing in the morning and managed to squeeze in a short hike, straight to and from the most notably arch in the park. It's not as good as Arches National Park, but maybe that's why it's not a national park. Besides, I've been to Arches before. Twice, in fact. This was something new.

On the way to Blanding, there was a wicked awesome downhill, followed by a series of steep uphills, one of which might have been the only double-digit grade since California. Forgot what those are like! And it was hot. But I managed.

Stopped in Blanding to visit the grocery store, the first full-sized one I'd seen since Nevada, and possibly the last for a few days. Sat outside and ate two pieces of fruit and two cups of yogurt. Nice to get the kinds of things you don't get every day!

More hills to Monticello, a few of them tough. Once again, that put me ahead of schedule, by about 35 km. For only the third time, I was getting into town with no previous plans. And for the first time, I wound up in a church. Weird that it took over two weeks, because that's normally my M.O.

When I arrived, there was a tall guy there doing some handiwork. I figured he wasn't the minister, and might not even be a member of the church, but would probably know who to ask. When I explained my situation and request, his response was, "Sure!" Turned out he was, in fact, the minister. In exchange for a stay, he asked if I'd help him hang up a few things. One of the easiest trades I'd ever made.

I'm always happy with a floor, ceiling, and access to drinking water, but this place included a roll-up bed, a hot shower, and a fridge full of food, where I was told to help myself. I still had a few items that could go bad, so I had them for dinner, but also helped myself to their ice cream for dessert. Then had some zucchini bread and cream cheese in the morning. Richard and his wife (forgot your name, sorry!) also did laundry for me, a treat that only happens once a week. Richard's wife (seriously, wish I could remember her name) expressed an interest in doing a smaller bike trip some day, so I gave her some suggestions. And made my best attempt to explain why I do this kind of thing, an answer I'm still working on.

When planning this tour, Utah was always the part I pointed to, saying, "That's gonna be the hard part." And now it was done, ahead of schedule even, and I was lucky enough to escape before the temperature reached 33 C. From here on out, the days will generally be shorter, flatter, and unfortunately, hotter. Two for one, though. I'll take it.

Jun 15, 2017
from Western States
Evelio Villarreal
Love following your adventure. Keep the stories and pictures coming. Safe travels!

Jun 17, 2017

I am a carbon-based life form.


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