Hard To Fathom Tour – Part Two

Part Two of the Hard To Fathom Tour

We continue with Part Two of the Hard To Fathom Tour. Click here for Part One. -Kid

The next morning dawned clear with the sun illuminating endless lines of sight in all directions.  As I pointed out our prominent landmarks…the Henry Mountains, Navajo Mountain, Fifty Mile Mountain…I made, what felt like at that very moment, the bold statement:  Travis, in a few days we will be on the western side of the Henrys making our way back to the truck.  To which the man on his first ever bikepacking tour replied, That’s hard to fathom.  The road ahead seemed daunting.  It had taken us longer than expected to get where we were presently.  The additional time for some off-route exploration, which seemed so probable from the comfort of my couch, was evaporating with each scan of the horizon.  We had a long way to go through terrain that would be just as unforgiving as it had for those 250 pioneers nearly a century and a half ago.  What had I gotten Travis into?

Fueling for the day ahead…

Leaving the Henry Mountains further behind…

Pushing away the panic, I centered myself into the present and focused on just taking pedal strokes.  Every pedal stroke forward was a tire revolution closer to completing our tour.  There was no sense in worrying about the unknown, we were in it now and would have to deal with whatever came our way. The first “whatever” came within an hour and half after beginning our day:  our trail ended in a crumbling cliff of sand.  Upon descending an abrupt and rocky drop into a canyon, our trail turned west following a two-track down the canyon towards Lake Powell.  The canyon bottom was an oasis of life in a hardened landscape of sandstone desolation.  Bushwhacking through the lush canyon bottom filled with water and overgrown plants, our spirits were high.  And then, our trail dropped into an abyss. Standing on the brink of the impassable, our minds took in the ramifications.  Was this the end of our tour?  How could we get out of this canyon and regain our trail?  

Dropping into yet another canyon.  Would there be a way out? -Photo courtesy of Travis Anderson

At this point, the challenges of those who traveled before us so long ago became prominent in our thinking.  We were just two ordinary guys on Salsa Blackborow fatbikes in the modern age trying to complete a contrived journey for no other reason than to just do it.  Our endeavor was relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of humanity.  The Mormon Church and those who answered the call to push eastward on this mission had much more in stake with no option for failure.  They would push ahead and figure out a way through.  With this realization, an attitude of “no turning back,” but only moving forward took over.  Consulting our topo map, we looked for a weakness in the canyon walls.  With a possibility identified, we left our bikes and struck out to discover an escape route. 

Pottery shards found during the scouting mission…

Our escape was possible.  There would be no riding, but with some packaging of our bikes and the rest of our gear on our backs, we could climb out of the canyon and do some creative route finding to regain our pioneer trail.  While coaching Travis in the art of rock climbing with a fatbike lashed to his back, we propelled ourselves upward and forward.  It was one footstep rather than one pedal stroke at a time, but having now experienced first hand what those before us had to problem solve while moving such a large party, our challenge seemed minuscule.

From riding to climbing… -Photo courtesy of Travis Anderson

Some unbalanced pushing with consequences…

Once regaining the trail, we began to marvel in the accomplishment of the pioneers.  The Hard to Fathom statement took on an additional meaning.  We rode south towards Navajo Mountain, across yet another canyon and then up to a rolling plateau.  The San Juan river began to corral and push us to the west creating a barrier between us and the alluring Navajo Mountain.  As darkness descended, we came upon the brink of Cottonwood Canyon—the canyon that the pioneers ascended after crossing the Colorado River from Hole in the Rock.  Again, it had taken us longer than planned to reach our objective.  In fact, we were a day behind from where I thought we would be.

The Great Bend of the San Juan River…

Heading towards Cottonwood Canyon with the mysterious Navajo Mountain dominating the background…

Tucked into a small bowl of slick rock, we made camp.  Exhausted from the day’s endeavors, but amazed at what we had accomplished, we tempted the rain gods and fell asleep without our shelter set-up once again.  Within an hour of closing our eyes, pellets of moisture were falling from the sky.  Too tired to make the effort to set up our shelter, we draped it over us in the form of a tarp and hoped to wake up dry in the morning. 

Another late dinner…

Under soggy skies, we packed away our damp sleeping bags and prepped for another day of work.  After a short warm-up of slickrock riding, we began the descent into Cottonwood Canyon.  A light drizzle fell from the heavens as we hiked a rocky gully following the BLM sign posts marking the historic trail.  Once again we were in a desert oasis in full bloom.  After a short stint of riding, our trail ended as it had before.  This time, however, it disappeared into a bramble of impenetrable tamarisk and downed cottonwood trees.  Lake Powell was less than a mile away. We would just have to find it as the Mormons before us had found the once unburied Colorado River in 1879. 

Descending what was once traveled by horse and wagon…

Life in all of its exuberance…

Not quite Lake Powell. Just a pool between sections of thick vegetation…

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TO BE CONTINUED...

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