Let bikepacking adventure part 3 begin!
Cascade Falls to Navajo Lake
Ready to Roll!
After a fantastic night of calm, quietness and several hours of solid sleep, I was ready to roll that next morning. I had a ton of energy and come to find out, I would definitely need it!
I did my morning chores, broke camp, had a bar and said my goodbyes to the beautiful valley and the Cascade falls. If you missed part 2, click here to check it out (WOW views that day!)
Here is a nice view of the valley where I camped the night prior.
After .25 miles of climbing, I finally got some internet! If I would have known that I would have walked up last night to call Eric because contact had been very intermittent throughout my trip due to poor signal. Ultimately, Eric had no idea where I was other than a very general area, which is better than nothing if he had to come searching. Utah is usually an excellent area for reception but it was hit or miss through this entire section of trail.
During our conversation, I learned Eric was actually parked so close to where I was it was almost unreal. From the trailhead via the FS road, about 3.9 miles. From my position to his position, less than 1 mile through a thicket of trees. Basically, he was on the other side of the same mountain I was climbing. Too funny. Of course, he tempted me with riding back down and taking the road (an offer looking back I may have taken if I knew what was ahead!). But, I was determined to continue on route and hit my 50 mile mark.
An Obstacle Course of Sorts
Let the fun begin…
It didn’t take long for the trail to turn from soft, rideable dirt to excessively rocky hike-a-bike. In fact, I ended up hiking 97% of this day. It’s odd to go on a bike adventure and end up with an aching left shoulder, back and neck. More on that later.
For now, I was still all smiles and embraced the challenges ahead.
After on and off again rock climbs, some taller than me (I’ll have to find the photo of that one), I started encountering downed tree after downed tree in all shapes, sizes, and amounts of spiky branches.
At one point, I seriously did consider turning around and taking the road. Then, against my better judgement, I convinced myself to keep going. I was thinking, “Hey, you didn’t come all this way to take the easy way out NOW!”. So, on I went. Pep talks are so over rated!
Oh, here we go! Here is my first ever attempt at mountain climbing with a bike in tow. It’s hard to depict the size of this climb in a picture, but it was steep. Now, if I was hiking it wouldn’t have been that hard, but keep in mind I was lugging a 50-60lb loaded bike as well. Balance, cautiousness, and moving extremely slow were the key to making it up this obstacle. I’ve learned that I have a knack for getting my tire wedged between rocks, stumps, and pretty much anything and everything that prevents forward progress and the most inopportune times.
After a bit more climbing, I was near the top when I spotted a fairly large cave! Hmm…I wonder what lives there? Well, not going to stick around to find out. I kept thinking, well, if anything is home, I hope they eat me now and get it over with so that I can end this grueling climb full of treacherous obstructions.
The rim ride near the top was the best rideable section of the day. Although the trail was still rocky and I had several more downed trees to cross, it was doable. Generally, just a small to medium lift or some way around.
Here are a few photos of my rim ride:
9,600 Feet Up
Well, I didn’t quite make 10,000 feet, but close! From this vantage point I could see for what felt like 1,000 miles—Zion, Southern Bryce, Kolob/Hornet/Minor Peak (plus more I don’t know the names of), and the oh so lush green valley in between. It was really something to see! For some reason, getting these views always feels more special after it’s earned! Let me tell you, I earned it big time!
Little did I know, that everything I’d encountered up until this point had been nothing compared to what was to come!
I took a small break at the top to appreciate the scenery and give thanks once again for what my body has allowed me to do. Then, eager to get home to my loving husband and crazy dog, I hopped on the bike with one goal—-bomb down this 900 foot drop!
Ha. What we think is going to happen and what actually happens when you’re in the wilds can be two completely opposite things. Again, sort of like life, right?
Trials and Tribulations
Where did all this snow come from?
My first trial, was getting through 4-5 stretches of snowy trail where anywhere from 1-3 feet of slushy white stuff lay just where I needed to be. When you’re surrounded by steep slopes on either side, there really wasn’t much choice but to push through it. So, push I did. Well, it was more like a bike and leg post-hole-ing experience. Step by step, I made it through. A few near falls, but the bike actually helped out for once!
As you can see from the photo above, not all the snowy sections were all that bad. I was able to walk through this one pretty easily while dragging my bike across the snow. Where was all this frozen ice when I needed water? 🙂 I thought about filtering some, but figured I had just enough to make it back to the van.
Believe it or not, I had to lift my bike over at least 90-100 trees through this downhill section of trail. I’m not exaggerating! It was absolutely insane! Thankfully, there was a way to exit the route and hit a trail that led to one of the lake’s three campgrounds. Otherwise, with about 7(ish) miles to go, I would have been stuck out here another night. Not the worst scenario because I did have a bit of extra food and obviously enough water (thanks to the snow) but still! Heaving a heavy bike, even over a 1-2 foot log is maddening as well as exhausting. Now, imagine lifting it over 100 in a 1.5-2 mile stretch of trail. Like I said, insane!
Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, about halfway down, I ran into this behemoth:
There was NO way around. None. Do you see the angle of the treeline in the distance? Yeah, it was steep on both sides. I had two choices: figure out a way to get over it or turn around and take the road back to the van (Eric’s temptation from this morning). At this point, I was kicking myself for not bailing earlier. Yet, in some psychotic way, I was also excited to overcome this monstrous challenge ahead.
So for your entertainment, this is how I conquered the beast!
As you can see in the photo below, the tree was taller than my bike. The opening was too narrow to fit the bike through, plus there were large, unbreakable (I tried) branches that also prevented me from going under at any angle. The only option was up and over.
In order to go up and over, I had no choice but to offload some weight. I just wasn’t strong enough to lift an awkward 60-70 lb load overhead. Even if I was that strong, I probably still wouldn’t have done it. My OT brain told me that the required lift and twist was a really bad idea. It was bad enough with 30-40 pounds. But, I had to get out of there! So off came several bags and the heaviest contents from the others.
Well, if there was going to be deadfall, at least a smaller, secondary tree also fell over creating a space for me to lift the bike into. A branch from the larger tree helped to hold my trusty stead in place allowing me to get into position before lifting the bike up. There were sharp, spiky, skin-impaling branch shards everywhere despite karate kicking several of them away. I had to move very slowly and cautiously to avoid injury.
I climbed into position. Straddling the largest tree, I twisted (therapists around the world are wincing at this horrible, horible move!), and then hoisted the bike up high enough to clear some of those thick branches. Gotta do what you gotta do.
I imagine it looked something like this! I’m so glad I couldn’t manage to kick that limb on my right side away because it helped to steady the back tire and hold the bike up as I lowered the front down about 3.5-4 ft to the ground.
And then this! Still straddling the monster, I was able to balance the bike on yet another branch, which you can’t see (plus the help of a locked front brake), while I celebrated my victory as shown in the photo below!
You guessed it. I put everything back together. The entire process took over around an hour to compete.
I did it, but I admit, it was only “fun” AFTER it was over. Something told me I should have looked down trail to make sure that there wasn’t another massive piece of wood standing between me and the lake below, but I didn’t listen.
And of course, there was! Just around the bend in fact.
Are you starting to see a trend here?
Don’t worry. I promise not to show you ALL the downed tree crossings. Luckily, I was able to find a way either around or through all of the other deadfall without unloading the bike a second time. It wasn’t always a safe or smart or easy route, but I slowly made my way through it!
I have to say, the cutoff from the Virgin River Rim trail to the Spruces Campground, while difficult, was absolutely stunning! The bright green spruces mixed with white aspens against the stark blue sky was gorgeous beyond words.
The Spruces Campground
I was met at the bottom by two motorcyclists (about 50 yards away) who started me down like I was Bigfoot exiting the woods. With a smile and a wave, they snapped out of their trance and quickly moved on. The campground was closed so I took a moment to rest before hitting the paved lake road. Next stop, home sweet home where Eric and Grizz patiently awaited my arrival.
I blew through this 2.7 mile section laughing at how road cyclists have such an easy life! 🙂 Looking back, I should have snapped more photos of the lake. I was just so excited to get home.
After hitting the forest service road, I had only one more climb until I could wrap my arms around both of my boys!
Eric would pick the TOP of the mountain as a home base! Oh well, this road was a breeze after the day I’d had!
After a 3-400ft climb, I crested the last hill and saw a sparkle of van, a baseball cap and a coffee mug, and a black and white fur ball waiting for momma to get home. At that moment, I was so full of joy words could not express. Adventures are fun but nothing beats coming home to everything that you love most in this world. <3
Reflection coming soon, but for you data nerds, here’s a few statistics from the day’s ride.
Day 3 Stats
Miles: 9.25 , Total Time: 5:15:52 (Moving: 2:31:05), Elevation Gain: 1457 ft, Elevation Loss: 994 ft, Max Elevation 9600 ft.
Trip Total: 44.8 miles
*Basically all the tree crossings really ate into my total time! I spent at least 2 hours getting 1-1.5 miles down trail. Adventuring at it’s finest!
Again, for those interested in some epic rides, check out https://www.bikepackingroots.org/ for more information! These folks know how to build a route that will challenge even the most elite athlete!
This trip taught me so much about myself and gave me a huge confidence boost in the world of solo adventuring. A year ago, I never would have dreamed of venturing out into the forest alone. Now, I’m not only getting out there and braving the elements but also conquering my fears of bears, being alone (especially at night), and not to be morbid, but even death. In reality anything can happen out there. Anything.
Let’s face it, when it’s your time, it’s your time! I’d much rather die doing what I love than sitting in front of a television with my feet propped up and a bucket of ice cream in hand. Although, that would definitely be my second choice! 😉
While initially devastated that Grizz got injured and being forced to cancel our plans to ride from Utah to Canada x 2, this trail (part of the actual trail we all would have done together) was a HUGE eye opener. It was way too challenging a route to be able to manage a dog, carry enough water for all 3 of us, and deal with the heat.
Some things just happen for a reason and there were LOTS of happenings before we left. Grizz was just the icing on the cake.
Thanks for reading friend! As always, I just want to say that I really do appreciate all your support. The beautiful, thoughtful, and motivational comments via blog, FB, and text always raise me up and make me feel more than loved! I’m happy to have so many wonderful friend and family in my life <3
Sending lots of love your way! Until next time friends…..