Spring break 2012 trip

This page details the trip undertaken from Hancock, Michigan to St. George, Utah (with a significant presence in Moab, Utah) by Chris Woodry and Alex Hirzel (this author) from March 2 thru 10, 2012. The goal of the trip was to put miles on our mountain bikes. We also ended up putting over 4000 miles on the car. The hope behind posting this article is that the detail herein may aid in the planning of future trips by us and others.

Day-by-day breakdown

Day 1: Departure (March 2, 3)

We departed on Friday, March 2 at 10:30am from Hancock with bikes on the rack. We took off the wheels to reduce wind drag and applied WD-40 to most moving surfaces because we were expecting rain and snow en route. Packing was tight especially with two 26" and two 29" wheels squeezed into a 2002 Cavalier in addition to enough gear to summit a mountain and camp for several days in the backcountry (auxiliary goals). The back seat in the Cavalier was dropped to horizontal to better accomodate large bags, which filled the space to the point that the only comfortable seat was the driver seat. Normal fears that things had been overlooked subsided not because of increased confidence in our excellent packing skills (which had been put to the test for just a few hours before departure) but more as the distance from home grew too great to turn around and try again.

Wisconsin went under the tires uneventfully, as did Iowa. Minnesota was in there too–we passed through Duluth and dropped south on 35–but it is all a blur. We discovered that most of Iowa and Nebraska were unexpectedly windy (i.e. very windy). Coincidentally, there were hundreds of windmills that blinked red at night; it seemed like great thought had been put into placing the windmills in an area with strong wind (we had trouble keeping the car on the road at some points!). While traveling through Iowa and Nebraska we found it difficult to maintain consciousness because of the linearity of the road, uniformity of the terrain and the fact that this section of the drive took place during normal human sleeping hours (even for college students).

Colorado proved to be much more difficult to sleep through once we reached the Denver area. The roads leading up to Denver were very rough and the highways in Denver proper were rougher. I am not precisely sure how my car survived this and the next leg of the drive, but it did. Snow-covered roads climbed up into the rocky mountains and we were making the climb just after the 6am (local) start of rush hour. The driving was stressful with steep and icy descents on 8% grades with dedicated escape lanes for out of control semi trucks, a not-unlikely scenario given the conditions at that point. In addition to the aforementioned environmental factors, Chris was driving. My knuckles had adopted the color of the roads, skies and mountains (white, that is). Toward the end of the drive, in the extremely scenic Glen Canyon, the sun was starting to appear in the sky. No hope for sleep remained.

We had high hopes to stop in Fruita, Colorado for riding at their purportedly epic trails, including The Edge Loop. As we arrived in the area, I called several bike shops in a frantic attempt to feed the inner trailhound and get some recommendations; in doing so I discovered that only one shop was open at 9am on a Saturday in March. I also discovered that our trip was timed a bit too early for Fruita–they were too cold and riding at this time was uncommon (“out of season”). This was only minorly disheartening. After we spent an hour crying (not really but really), we resolved to press on to Moab.

We reached Moab, a supposed biking Mecca, and started around town looking for info on trails. We spoke to some excellent folks at Poison Spider, a local bike shop and resolved to set camp for the night and do some random riding around the campsite, with real riding to follow the next day (as our mental capacity increased beyond the drooling “we have been up 48 hours” point). In what was a very democratic process (in the sense that we were underinformed and satisfied to follow the easiest path without much thought), we selected a site close to town at which Chris had previously stayed, namely Goose Island Campground.

(picture of camp with colorado river and overhang in the background)

The view was excellent from site 15, where we paid $12 for parking, ample tent space and on-site waste disposal on the banks of the Colorado River just a few miles out of town. We hiked up some adjacent cliffs for amusement, noting that altitude had a significant negative impact on our athletic ability. Pictures were taken of the surrounding area.

(picture of camp from the cliff above)

We dismissed the very idea of cooking a meal for ourselves after the journey we had undertaken and decided to bike the 3 miles into town for some food. We ate at Denny’s in Moab proper and learned an important lesson about the region in the process: while we were carelessly enjoying our food, my tires were deflating. I had unknowingly rolled through a very punishing bush and became immediately aware of their prevalence. In fact, it looked like I had carelessly crushed a dozen such bushes and my tires were now carrying everything from each plant that was sharp enough to pierce a tire.

I got really mad, walked back to camp, and went to Poison Spider and bought slime tubes (in that order).

Day 2: Moab I (March 4)

With it being spring break at Michigan Tech, I had pulled 3 or 4 all-nighters already over the course of the Spring semester; driving 25 hours straight was a subset of one of these and as such I was chipper and awake after 8 hours of sleep. Upon waking up at the crack of dawn, I pushed around a few miles of pavement on my bike and took some pictures while waiting for Chris to wake up; it was also a test of the slime tubes, which were working well and only slowing me down slightly.

Chris awoke and found that he had also lost a tube overnight. After a breakfast of oatmeal, we hit up Poison Spider again to get him some tubes and we caught wind of an Osprey demo a few miles out of town where free bladders were being given away. We loaded up the car and headed out to the Moab Brand trails where, as it turned out, a whole festival was taking place (complete with porta-pottys). We were entirely too late to score free bladders, but pounded out several miles on these trails and mingled with like-minded trailfolk, receiving a lot of good advice and test riding a few bikes throughout the afternoon.

After pedaling our legs off we prepared an accidentally-undercooked meal of rice and miscellaneous dehydrated food and crashed at the same camp site just after sunset (with the exception of me–I was working on school projects until about 3am under the golden glow of McDonalds while being irradiated by their wifi).

Day 3: Moab II (March 5)

We woke, packed and left for St. George not knowing the schedule for the rest of the week. We did some planning in the car but decided to play it by ear because everything was weather-dependent. The drive to St. George from Moab was a short one compared to the 25 hours straight we had endured coming down from Michigan, but the drive still felt like forever. We encountered a 150 mile stretch without a gas station–at least it was marked!

Upon landing in St. George we started figuring out town and tried to find a camp site–unfortunately we had arrived too late to talk to anyone at the visitor centers. I exercised my Google-fu and found us a really shady campground just outside of town: Red Cliffs Campground. It was very unique because it seemed to be well-positioned to be completely cut off from the entire world by a flood. The roads dipped into rivers several times around the campground–I had never been exposed to this novel civil engineering technique. I’m pretty sure I laughed.

This turned into a big travel day with exploration of St. George.

  • Stayed at BFE BLM (Red Rock Canyon?) outside of St. George this night (11ft 9in), recommend taking exit 22 instead of 17, which goes against Google Maps.

Day 4: St. George I (March 6)

  • Biked at Bear Claw Poppy, a very smooth and enjoyable ride once some initial downhill obstacles were out of the way for this cross country rider. Winds were very high.
  • stayed at Snow Canyon this night, $16 at site 20
  • We went to bed during some very high winds.

Day 5: St. George II (March 7)

  • High-carbon steel breakfast
  • We woke up in Snow Canyon and saw snow–apparently this is rare.
  • hiked around Snow Canyon
  • Got oil change—was hilarious (TODO: oil change story goes here)
  • stayed at Snow Canyon this night, $16 at site 20
  • Severe weather rocked us to sleep once more on this second night of wind.

Day 6: St. George III, Moab III (March 8)

We woke up and compared memories of the night before and concluded that neither of us were dreaming when we heard a pack of coyotes cackling across the street after the wind finally died down at some point in the middle of the night. We broke camp and packed, noticing a trend that our gear seemed to shrink each time we packed it. We explored the lava tubes down the street and left town at about 11am local. The drive back to Moab, meant to reduce the travel burden later in the week, was rough on the Cavalier with a strong headwind along northbound highway 15 and near constant climb; the car was lucky to make it into 4th gear.

  • Staying at Goose Island site 7 for $12

Day 7: The long, grueling return drive (March 9, 10)

  • Alex bought Specialized shoes
  • Mountain biking at Moab Brands
  • Drive home starting at 5:30pm local, uneventful
  • Vail - prices are high, intersections have a lot of round-abouts and the posted signs resemble thorny amoeba dividing; it is no multi mini, but it was very intimidating. Also, I recommend against approaching this town unless you can appear extremely wealthy.
  • Car accident after Vail

Day 8: First day back (March 11)

(detail unpacking, re-adjustment)

Lessons Learned

  • Check ahead to see if biking regions are in-season in the planning stage (rather than in the late driving stage).

  • Take people’s advice on thorns (use slime tubes).

  • Don’t stop in Vail, Colorado.