Sunday, August 20, 2017

San Juan Huts Day 7: the roll home to Moab

We had one more day to go. We thought it would be easy.

There are multiple route options to get from Geyser Pass hut to Moab.  A significant fraction of us were pretty beat up and mostly wanted to stick to the easy route, which meant no Burrow Pass and no Porcupine Rim. That should have been about 35 miles of mostly downhill on double track or graded road.

The fact that I took 12 pictures on day 7, when my average for every other day of this trip was about 50, says I was ready to be done with the trip. But I was in high spirits to start the day just like the rest of the crew.
Start of Day 7
We chose not to do Burrow Pass, Hazard County, and Porcupine Rim (the Whole Enchilada), opting instead for some trails none of us had been on - Moonlight Meadows and Clark Lake. Moonlight Meadows was especially fun.  After that, we contoured around on a gravel road that was under construction so we could get to some more more new trail. This caused some discontent amount my companions as we were going by map and not by GPS and also because there were a lot of miles on gravel road.  But I thought the new trail, Jimmy Kean, was rather enjoyable. I got the feeling my companions did not share my feelings. Oh well, we would be free of each other soon enough! Ha ha.

Moonlight Meadows

That soon enough part proved elusive.  At the top of Upper Porcupine Singletrack, Kenny and Karl split off to do UPS. The plan was for the rest of us to coast down Kokopeli to Sand Flats Road and meet them where UPS joined SFR.  That was a good enough plan, but we got complacent and turned off our GPS and let our instincts guide us.  What happened next was a bit unfortunate for our tired legs.  We turned left at the intersection of Kokopeli and SFR when we should have turned right.  6 miles, 30 minutes, and several hundred feet of climbing later we realized our mistake and turned around.  At least the downhill was nice from there!

I've biked up Sand Flats Road a couple of times. This time, going down it seemed to take even longer than going up!

Finally, FINALLY, we coasted into town. First stop: greasy onion rings and fresh peach shakes at a Moab institution.

We did it and we deserved those fresh peach milkshakes.
After we cleaned up and grabbed some food at the Moab Brewery, we parted ways with our biking brethren. And so that's it. San Juan Huts Durango to Moab July 2017 edition is in the books.   I can't speak for the other couples, but Drew and I are glad we had this adventure with these four unique and talented bikers.


total miles 41.1 miles (supposed to be 35.6), 2720 feet of climbing, 8401 feet of descending. 4:20 moving time. 1536 calories burned. average speed 9.6 mph

Day 7 recap video link


Drew without a razor for 7 days.

Our gear was SO dirty!

Proof that the region we biked through had seen epic rainstorms while we were out there.  Despite having rain and mud almost every day, we really were quite lucky with the weather.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

San Juan Huts day 6: the penultimate challenge

Day 6 of the San Juan Huts Durango to Moab mountain bike adventure had loomed large in our minds as the biggest day, but to be honest, after the Ultimate Mudder Challenge of day 4, I was relieved we could just do a boat load of climbing and reward with beer. As long as the thunderstorms stayed away and the group pulled together to get our butts and bikes from the Paradox Hut to the Geyser Pass Hut in the La Sal Mountains, we would be victorious.  If we could do that, we would sail home to Moab on day 7. 

Departure from the Paradox Valley Hut with not a cloud in the sky and the promise of a hot climb.

But first we had to do that elevation thing.  At mile 2.5 the route description said simply, "the road will begin climbing 1613 feet out of the Paradox Valley over 3.9 miles."  Cycling friends will recognize that statement as one that should put fear in the quadriceps of even the fittest cyclist. That's steep!

The beginning of the climb

Climbing a graded gravel road. Up, ...

up, ...

up, ...

and up!  At the top of Carpenter Ridge we had cell phone reception.
The climb was long and hot, but everyone made it fine.
Bonus geologic picture. The sandstone poking out toward the viewer was deposited in an paleo river channel. The finer grained, more easily eroded sediment below was deposited as over bank deposits in the floodplain. This is a good example of paleo river channels.
The next bit of riding was quite enjoyable as we continued to climb, but at a much more civilized pace, through pine forest and a large burn scar. 
I think this picture is funny.

Our half way point and lunch stop was Buckeye Reservoir.  This 100 acre reservoir is at almost 8000 feet elevation and looks to be a nice spot for camping and fishing.  I wonder if it is important for storing water for agricultural use down in the valley. 
Buckeye Reservoir lunch stop
Weather can change quickly up in this high country.  It was time to get moving.

Storm clouds brewing = time to hit the trail.
We didn't make it far before we had to duck under an unoccupied cabin's porch for nearly an hour to let the heaviest part of the rain shower pass.
Taking shelter from the rain.
I could have stayed here all day out of the rain, hanging out. Especially since we had more climbing to do.
With the Utah State line in our sights, we hit the road again. We found a spring that half the group drank from. Given the massive cattle impact in the immediate and local area of the spring box, I declined. It turned out no one got sick, but I figured a 40 mile bike ride from flush toilets and hot soapy water was not a place I wanted to get diarrhea. 

Sally and Heather crossing the last flat.
After we crossed into Utah, we really thought we were in the clear, but the last 3 miles was a slog of mostly pushing our bikes in the brush to avoid the mud slick of a road.
We were so close to the hut, but then there was this. Note Sally and Karl being cozy while the rest of us wallowed in mud and self pity.
But finally, the Geyser Pass Hut at 9750 feet elevation! We had climbed nearly 5400 feet in 22.5 miles.

Glorious Geyser Pass Hut filled with beer and food and beds.

Could you ask for a more picturesque potty?

Beer, snacks, muddy unattended shoes and bikes. This picture describes post day 6 in every way.
The hut was a welcome sight. It was situated in a wildflower meadow only a short walk to a grand view of the peaks of the La Sal Mountains.  
Aster wildflower meadow

The high peaks of the La Sal Mountains from the Geyser Pass Hut

Big bucks bounding through the meadow.

We ate "Hawaiian dump pile" (rice with random veggies on top) for dinner and drank our allotment of  beer. We had done the hard part and would enjoy one last night of hut living before rolling downhill to Moab in the morning.

The stats: Ascent 5370 feet, descent 1010 feet, 22.5 miles, 4 hrs 33 minutes moving time. Max elevation 9750 feet. average speed 4.9 mph. 1314 calories burned. A good big day!
Day 6 recap video link

Saturday, August 12, 2017

San Juan Huts day 5: a mountain biking paradox

This is the 6th post in a series about 3 couples riding the San Juan Huts' Durango to Moab Mountain Bike Hut to Hut. The first post starts here.

Day 5: July 26, 2017

In the groove

By Day 5, we had a morning routine: Coffee drinking, breakfast making, gear packing, bike ready-ing, hut cleaning, and finally group picture taking. 
Breakfast today was super yummy eggs and pancakes.

Hopefully a daily trip to the "reading room" fit into each morning sequence. This hut had a particularly nice view for the occupant.

Clear skies on the morning of Day 5 at Wedding Bell Hut
But sooner or later the real business of the day would begin. We got an earlier start than normal to try to beat the heat we knew we would find as we descended to Paradox Valley.   There were some rolling ups and downs as we passed a lot of mining ruins and made our way through the still-muddy double track. Mostly, we were glad for the rains of yesterday as they made sandy sections of the road pleasantly ridable. Eventually, we found our way to the top of Davis Mesa.
Leaving Wedding Bell hut (center of picture) and the Dolores River on a fine clear morning July 26, 2017.

On the edge of Davis Mesa looking down into long Paradox Valley

A 30 second geology lesson

Paradox Valley is so named because the Dolores River flows, paradoxically, perpendicular to the strike of the valley. It does so because the valley was not carved by the river. Instead, Paradox Valley, and several other large valleys in SW CO and SE UT are salt anticline collapse valleys. Unlike most sedimentary rocks, salt flows when compressed. The salt in the Paradox Formation squished up toward the surface after it was buried, groundwater dissolved the salt, and the overlying strata collapsed down into the space created by dissolution of the salt .All this took place after the Dolores River was flowing in approximately its present direction, so while the salt moved and the strata collapsed, the river was able to erode its existing course, which just happens to be perpendicular to the direction of the anticline.
Super generalized steps to creating a salt collapse valley

Looking into Paradox Valley. Still intact, once horizontal sedimentary rocks tilt up toward the center of the anticline (shown by the left-most yellow line), but sections of the strata are collapsed in toward the center of the valley (the other two lines). 

Back to the ride

For some reason, I had in my head that Day 5 would be somewhat easy, and I guess it was after yesterday's dangerous thunderstorm mud fest. However, the miles were respectable (32.3 miles) and the elevation gain (3100 ft of climbing) was "not nothing" after four big days on a bike. It took us 3 hours and 45 minutes moving time, which included about 45 minutes of hike-a-bike down the Catch 'em Up trail off of Davis Mesa to the town of Bedrock.

Kenny (circled) rode parts of Catch 'em Up trail. Crazy!

Heather took a much more sane approach to descending Catch 'em Up
After 5 long days in the saddle, we were eagerly approaching the Dolores River on the valley floor, where we had every intention of dunking ourselves and our bikes in the river. What we had not figured out was that the river would be as brown as chocolate milk from the sediment carried to it by the massive rains over the past week.  A bath would not have done us any good.

The sediment-laden Dolores River was not fit for bathing when we crossed it.

I wish I could live in a town called Bedrock.
But, in a fabulous stroke of good fortune, the Bedrock Store, so named because it is built directly on bedrock, had reopened after being closed for several years just this very week!

The store, which was featured in the movie Thelma and Louise, carried such wonderful treats as  ICED COFFEE DRINKS, ICE COLD BUBBLY SODAS, and a large selection of ICE CREAM BARS AND TREATS.  

The Bedrock Store - a true oasis of civilization after 5 days of hut living.
Probably more important, the store had an exterior garden hose. We paid the new owners some money to let us wash, and promptly took bike and people pseudo-baths along side the store.   Heather and Sally even washed their hair and Karl shaved.  This unexpected reprieve from dirt was a sign that trail karma was back on our side.

After another round of treats, we saddled up and pedaled another 10 easy flat miles to the lowest elevation and thus the warmest hut: Paradox Hut.

Paradox Hut was the most exposed and warmest hut.

An Unexpected Evening

It just so happened that Marty, co-proprietor of Paradox Produce Company, was stocking the hut with fresh vegetables.  She enticed us to come to the Paradox Store, just a short pick-up ride away, with hibiscus iced tea, shade, and a laundry and shower wash station.  It wasn't a hard sell.

The welcome sign was out at the Paradox Store

Washer ladies getting most of the stink and dirt out of our rancid bike clothes.

A good long rest and chat in the shade after our baths.

We enjoyed a thorough tour of the organic produce operation Marty and Greg have going in Paradox. They sell at local farmers markets and take produce to Moab.

After we were rested and refreshed, we were delivered back to the hut for some individual dinners. Marty had given Karl and me hamburger. After a week of mostly vegetarian food supplemented by canned salmon and chicken, the fresh hamburger tasted like something from a 5 star restaurant.

Some of us played horseshoes, others just enjoyed the warm evening. Sleeping in the hut was pretty hot at first, but the temperature eventually cooled off so we could all get some rest for what we expected would be the toughest day yet - the climb up to the La Sals.

All told, Day 5, with its two bonus jolts of commerce at the Bedrock Store and Paradox Produce Co., turned out to be the paradox of back-country hut-to-hut living, and actually, a pretty good day.

Here is Drew's motion graphic 3-D video of the day's ride.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

San Juan Huts Day 4: they warned us about the mud.

This is the 5th post in a series about 3 couples experiencing the San Juan Huts Durango to Moab mountain bike adventure. The first post starts here

I think all six hut sleepers at the Dry Creek hut slept fairly lightly on night 3.   The rain alternately pitter-pattered and angrily pounded on the hut's metal roof all night long.  If we had scheduled a helicopter pick up for the next morning, we might all have found the rain's voice a lovely sound, but instead, we rested fitfully knowing we might have very tough going with knobby tires on mud instead of rotor blades on air.

Less than 10 feet from the hut and already mud slicked shoes.

So we started out from the dry creek hut by carrying our bikes the quarter mile from the hut to the improved gravel road. After just that short distance, we had to spend 20 minutes cleaning our shoes and bikes to be able to ride.  But the skies were clear and the forecast was for just a chance of afternoon thunderstorms, so we began another day of pedaling.

As a matter of principal, mountain bikers normally stay far away from pavement. But when our route description gave us two choices: 1) more pavement leading to some singletrack on a rocky ridge, or 2) faster flat dirt roads through the heart of the Dry Creek basin with potential for serious tire-stopping mud, we had to choose option 1. We had tasted what Dry Creek basin mud could be, and wanted no more of it.

Option 1 meant a good 7 miles of mileage-eating pace line. None of us “mountain bikers” showed the least bit of disdain for our roadie environment. Especially because that pavement took us to a pretty fun section of singletrack up a rocky ridge and down the other side.

Fun descent

But we soon abandoned the longer singletrack option to rejoin the dirt road route as we raced the rain clouds.  We did not want to find out why the hut directors had given us directions and instructions for bailing out of the hut system here and getting a hotel for the night in the nearby town.

Impending doom.

But despite our best pedaling efforts, we got caught out in a thunder storm, ...  on a ridge, ... with no cover, .... and with knobby tires.  A very bad situation.  The previously smooth, fast dirt road turned into a trap.  Riding was out of the question - the tires became so clogged with mud that the wheels would not turn. We also risked damaging our bikes' drive trains many miles from a bike shop.

Although we were only a few miles from the hut, we were in a bad situation. We were at the highest elevation around with lightning not far away.  We tried to carry our bikes, but with our backpacks and 20+ pounds of mud on each bike, it was slow going. At one point, somebody suggested abandoning the bikes, hiking to the hut, and coming back for the bikes later.  Clearly, we were desperate and delusional.

After some low, helpless moments, the storm moved off. We half carried, half-dragged the bikes to the top of the final hill and scraped enough mud from the tires that we could coast downhill a mile to the Wedding Bell hut. We were never so happy to be safe and off the trail.

We spent the next hour cleaning bikes and recovering from our ordeal.

It was way worse than this looks.

But the hut master in the sky must have thought we had proved our hut worthiness because we were rewarded with a fantastic view and the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen!!!!

Dolores River from the Wedding Bell Hut

There were some old mining ruins and associated trash next to the hut.

This half sunset was representative of the dark moments of the day contrasting with the joy of being in the wilderness to experience such a sight.

We soaked in every last ray of that incredible view before a dinner of spicy vegetable soup.  Tomorrow we would face the Catch'em Up trail, but for tonight, we rested in friendship.

Click to see a 3-D satellite motion graphic of Drew's GPS track for the day.