Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 12 Barren Ground and Big Hill - II Flaming Gorge Reservoir Dam , UT – Maybell, CO 129 miles

In the morning I awoke to cows mooing near my tent. After a quick pack-up I ate breakfast with some friendly folks from Salt Lake City. They prepped me for what lay ahead, and I was not particularly thrilled by what I heard – hills and a long way to my destination, Maybell.

First thing pedaling I had to try to exit the gorge basin, which meant going uphill into a biting headwind on a rough road. After eight meager miles, Paul needed a time out. I stopped by a meadow stream at about 8000 feet elevation and carefully walked its cutbanks looking for trout. Sure enough, there were quite a few, and I could hear their slurping of grasshoppers that hit the water. The mental reset at the trout stream helped.

It was a very hilly day. Yesterday I remarked that the hill on the west side of the gorge was the worst I had biked, but that certainly there are ones worse still. I was reminded off this dropping off the back side of Flaming Gorge going south on US 191 towards Vernal, Utah. Just a monster hill, maybe not quite as steep as the one I took on Day 11, but about twice as long. I could feel the temperature increase by about 15 degrees on the way down it, as I lost rough 3000 feet of elevation.

I reached a very hot Vernal at noon and still had 90 miles to go when I left there at 1 PM. The next 30 miles were very tough heading east on US 40; headwind, rough road, no shoulder, lots of noisy traffic – essentially nothing good. Even tumbleweed blew into my bike chain. My mirror shook off due to the rough road. “It’ll be different in Colorado,” I told myself. And it was.

Thunderstorms were trying to develop all afternoon. By the time I reached Colorado, the clouds had fortunately occluded an oppressively hot sun. The 90 degree shift in direction of US 40 starting at the Utah-Colorado border helped me a ton. Suddenly I was making double the speed on the same road as the wind and road shifted directions.

Sixty miles is still a long way to pedal when it’s four in the afternoon and you’re already beat down by 70 miles in a hot sun. So I just counted down one mile at a time. Once again, the weather turned into my late-day ally. The tailwind held. Dark clouds covered the sun. How dry is it here in this barren part of the west? I could see the rain falling but it evaporated before it hit the ground. A couple groups of antelope stopped grazing long enough to watch me ride by.

The road conditions just kept on getting better and better, with hardly any traffic. My hands even parted ways with the brakes long enough that I got 40 miles per hour down one hill. That’s a big deal for a guy that has wrecked himself too many times with speed sports.

Tt was growing dark at about 8 PM and I had a few miles left on roller coaster US 40 to make my destination. I turned my mind off and just cranked. Finally I crested a hill and there it was, the town on Maybell, a valley oasis in the middle of the desert. A tiny valley town like this is a pretty site after such a tiring day in the desert, after a long day when you hope that mind, body, bike, and water all hold up… and they did. A beautiful border collie greeted me at the campground upon my arrival. I have never been to Maybell before, and may never again, but tonight it is home.

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