Ti Tuesday: Thom’s “Do Stupid Stuff” Ti Honzo.

The initial build on this bike was very XC—floppy 32mm stanchion fork, 2.1 tires, narrow rimmed wheels, but I realized pretty quickly that the bike’s geometry screamed, “DO STUPID STUFF!” Only problem was, I didn’t have the landing gear to back it up. So I got a 120mm Rockshox Pike, 28mm wide Vittoria Deamion wheels,
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Hard To Fathom Tour – Part One

Two riders take on the Hard To Fathom Tour.

Once on Grey Mesa, the landmarks of our tour were keenly visible from all directions.  To the north lay the seldom visited Henry Mountains.  Dominating the southern horizon was the sacred and mysterious Navajo Mountain with its deeply fissured north flank.  To the southwest stood what is known as Fifty Mile Mountain, part of the virtually inaccessible Kaiparowits Plateau.  Turning one’s gaze due west, the unique geological feature of the Waterpocket Fold which defines Capital Reef National Park reveals itself.  The country was grand.  The endless views in every direction were daunting as the magnitude of our endeavor was sinking in.

My partner Travis and I were on day three of an extensive exploratory of some of southern Utah’s most remote canyon country.  Part of the inspiration for this tour was to immerse ourselves in the early history of this wild land.  Our tour would include retracing a portion of the Mormon Emigrant Trail, which was blazed from the Utah communities of Escalante to Bluff to colonize the sparsely habituated lands east of the Colorado River.  Additionally, we would attempt to follow the meanderings of those who populated the area including miners, cattlemen, and opportunists looking to capitalize on the area’s development.  And lastly, we hoped to explore some of the region’s majestic sandstone canyons by bike. 

Lots to explore...

We had eight days to complete the tour which included roughly 250 miles of riding and five miles of paddling with two crossings of Lake Powell.  When pouring over maps and Google Earth from the comfort of your home, it can be easy to over estimate what is possible to do in a single day.  In fact, therein lies the challenge and, subsequently, defines the upcoming escapade as an adventure.  We plan based on our abilities, equipment, and knowledge.  With believed due diligence we embark with what we feel is a reasonable and sound tour plan.  The reality, though, is that we can never account for the unknown.  From our couches, we can surmise and prepare in every way possible, but until our tires touch dirt, and we put the plan into action, we will not know for sure what is truly awaiting us. 

            Adventure is not in the guidebook and Beauty is not on the map.

            Seek and ye shall find.  –Terry and Renny Russell (On the Loose) 

Seeking and finding...

Leaving the truck on a late Sunday morning, our Blackborows were loaded with eight days of food, associated camping equipment, five to eight liters of water, and packrafting gear.  Initially, traveling west, the Henry Mountains were in our sight less than twenty miles away as the crow flies.  Eventually, days from now, we would be looking at the western side of these peaks as we traversed their southern end on our return to the truck.  For now, though, our mountain views would be short lived as we turned south climbing a jeep trail that was created in the 1920’s by miners looking to access the stores of uranium in the area.  The area is littered with old mines, most abandoned decades ago to become the next generation’s problem to clean-up.

Twin Blackborows loaded and ready...

Our initial climb, though not hard, was a shock to both of our systems.  For me, the initial resistance from pedaling a heavy bike up a rough grade was a wake-up call from the previous week’s lounging on rafts as I completed my final school trip of the year.  It was a signal of the work that was to come.  I was a long way from my couch and a living room floor covered in maps.  For Travis, the reality of the next eight days was setting in as well—though from a much different perspective.  This was his first ever bikepacking tour—an eight-day off-road tour with lots of potential for becoming an epic.  An optometrist by trade, Travis grew up in the expansive state of Wyoming.  Hence, he has an appreciation for all things rugged and is not afraid of a little wind from time to time.  As a wild land fire fighter, he learned what it means to push himself physically and mentally.  Both traits, which have defined his life, give him a strong edge to meet and survive the demands of a very rigorous backcountry bike tour. 

Travis enjoying his first off-road experience on the Blackborow...

Like all of us, Travis is a busy guy, so the joint planning time for the trip was little to none.  Living four hours from each other didn’t help either.  After a couple of texts and a brief phone conversation, Travis was all in and eager for an adventure by bike and whatever else I came up with.  Little did he probably know what he was getting himself into.  When Travis pursues anything new, he doesn’t mess around and jumps fully into the activity or pursuit.  Armed with a brand new Blackborow, full bikepacking bag kit, and packraft, he was well prepared for this adventure and those to come. Thus after packing his rig for the first time and then taking the initial pedal strokes of his loaded beast, he was most likely experiencing a mixture of feelings from the excitement of actually putting everything to use and starting out to a little self-doubt about the unknown to come. 

Negotiating the remnants of an old mining road...

Our climb led to a descent towards the west’s big bathtub in the desert:  Lake Powell. The lake would be a prominent feature on our tour as it was our “divide” of sorts which we would have to successfully cross twice in order to complete the tour.  Nearing the lake, we followed an obscure two track across a bench above the lake to a drainage that dumped into a massive canyon.  Using a full-body manhandling technique to control the steep descent of our heavily laden machines into the overgrown drainage, we pushed into the canyon finding a clear stream running towards Lake Powell. 

A controlled fall into our first canyon...

Too thick to ride...

It’s rare to get your feet wet in the desert...

Once in the canyon, we began riding east, up canyon and away from the lake.  With no trail or road to follow we picked our way among the cobbles, mud, sand and running water.  It was prime fatbike terrain and Travis’ first experience with the capabilities of these machines.  We had nearly 30 miles of canyon ahead of us before intersecting a short segment of pavement that would take us to the Emigrant Trail.

Yet another stream crossing...

Prime fatbike terrain...

Beginning in November of 1879, 250 men, women, and children, 83 wagons, and over 1000 head of livestock set out from Escalante, UT heading into what is today still some of America’s most remote country.  The Mormon Church had sent out a call to establish a settlement in the region east of the Colorado river.  What was believed to be a mere six-week trip to travel 180 miles, turned into a six-month odyssey which included its fair share of trials and tribulations.  Remarkably, all who started made it, including the addition of two babies born in route.  For the next 80 miles or so we would attempt to follow the remnants of this historic track.  I use the word “attempt” as the trail is known to be obscure—crossing a virtual no man’s land of sage desert, slick rock domes, and steep canyons.

Old sign posts mark portions of the Emigrant Trail...

Signs of those who called this land home long before the pioneers...

From a canyon to a mesa of slickrock...

Having experienced some stellar canyon riding and a short, but steep climb on pavement over what is known as the Clay Hills Divide, we ended day two camped next to a crumbling rise of rock among a sea of slick rock and desert sand.  With unsettled weather in every direction, we enjoyed a vibrant sunset as mother nature painted a glorious finish to the day across the western sky.  Given the threatening skies, we set up our shelter hoping it would act as a charm to ward off the rain drops.  During the previous night we had ignored the signs by leaving our shelter in its stuff sack, only to be awakened throughout the night with periods of light rain and the accompanying regret that we had been too lazy to put it up.  Tonight, it was up and within easy reach if needed.  We would both drift off to dreamland under the starry desert skies, because as we all know, sleeping beneath the brilliance of the cosmos is much more agreeable to the soul.

The spring colors of the desert...

Our night’s camp with shelter on stand-by for any inclement weather...

Nature’s glorious ending to the day...

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TO BE CONTINUED...

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