Three Days, 180 miles, Muscle Power, Part 1

Sure, But did I remember to turn the stove off?

Jeff and his bike In the end I had a sunburned nose, ears and thighs, two slightly-more-shapely calves, a terrible thirst and a deep appreciation for the scope and variety or road kill. But it didn't start out that way.

It began with leaving my truck at the Duchesne jail, a roiling thunderstorm, a flat tire, a broken chain and the nagging feeling, the one I always have at the start of big trips, that back home I have left the oven on or the water running in the tub.

The big trip in this case was a two-and-a-half day, 180-mile bike trip across Utah's northeast corner, a land of ranches, farms, painted deserts, country lanes and views to huge, far off mountains.

Every summer I take a multi-day bike trip on my mountain bike which I convert to a sort-of road bike by installing tread-less skinny road tires, a luggage rack and aero bars - add-on handle bars that allow me to stretch out over the bike. One year I biked from Salt Lake City to Alpine Junction, Wyoming, 500 miles in four days. Another I went from Logan, Utah to Montpelier and Soda Springs, Idaho, and back. That one took three days. Last year my friend Janell and I went from Salina, Utah over the mountains to Circleville and back by way of Big Rock Candy Mountain.

There is a great freedom to leaving your auto behind and making way by muscle power alone, muscle power and the aid of simple engineering. And there is also something somewhat frightening about it, too: Your safety depends on the driving habits of others, the rules of the road and the kindness of strangers. If you are halfway there and get tired, well, too bad.

I trained all summer for this ride, though my training had not gone well. In 8 weeks of biking after work and on weekends in the Tooele Valley where I live I put on about 900 miles - a good amount of mileage, true, but they were not quality miles. I did a lot of poking around, basically.

But two weeks ago I decided the time was right. Thursday night, after I got back from a friend's wedding at Solitude ski area, I packed up my repair kit, thick socks, novel of the moment and shower kit. Friday morning I woke up early, drove to Provo to check in at the Utah.com offices, and took the mountain road past Mt. Timpanogos to Duchesne where I filled my three water bottles, took a deep breath and pushed off.

The Road Unrolls from Duchesne -Friday Afternoon

US 40 U.S. Highway 40 east of Duchesne, wet with rain and ruled by heavy trucks, is indeed a bleak spot to begin a bike trip. Within the first seven miles I had a flat tire, broke the bicycle chain, and pedaled through thunderstorm-induced pellets of rain. Flat tires I am used to - that was a five minute chore. The broken chain required a little more effort and getting my hands quite greasy. The rain, well that was something that just had to be suffered through. And the trucks? They push on, regardless. What the rain left behind, however, was a good westerly wind, a steady wind at my back that easily tacked on 3-4 mph onto my speed. That, coupled with fresh legs, propelled me easily over the Duchesne River, now swelled with thunderstorm runoff and mud, past the sandstone buttes that line the road, and through Myton, a tiny town at a bend in the road that meant I was more than halfway.

When I was telling you why biking is so great I left out perhaps the most important reason: You see stuff. The motoring tourist of America will recoil in horror when I say this, but you can't see a damned thing from a car. You think you can, but you are being deceived, probably, by slick automobile commercials or the sense that, windows down, the day is yours. Good luck.

Out along the highway, late summer sunflowers were three feet deep from the edge of the pavement, and cattails and bullrushes brushed the roadside most of the way to Myton. The Duchesne River, 30 feet wide and rushing over polished rocks, lost itself in oxbows and goosenecks, and where the river had been but retreated there were marshes and wetlands where frogs croaked and flies hovered and birds sat. Back from the marshes the large cottonwoods that are interspersed along the river were beginning to turn yellow.

Roosevelt Past Myton the road bucked over hills and past some small farms and eventually descended into Roosevelt, which looked forlorn in the sprinkles. I pedaled through town and to Ballard, just over the county line, where I checked into the Best Western. After an hour or so of recovery, I walked back into Roosevelt, which was deserted on account of Union High School's Homecoming celebration.

Roosevelt is a working town, a regional marketplace for the surrounding farms and ranches and is strung out along U.S. 40. After eating a pizza I watched Union win their Homecoming game against Ogden's Ben Lomond 38-7 in a cool wind and occasional driving rain. And after the football game I spent a half hour in the Best Western's hot tub. And after that, I watched a few hours of television, something of a 'treat' since I don't have one at home. Someone tell me, does the USA Network have anything worth watching? Anything?

The Stats - Friday Afternoon:

Mileage: 32.19 miles

Odometer: 10,366 miles

Average Speed: 18.4 mph

Maximum Speed: 31.7 mph

Bike Time: 1:44.36

Dinner: Large cheese pizza, Pizza Hut

High Points: Steady tail wind, crossing and recrossing the Duchesne and Strawberry rivers, Best Western hot tub

Low Points: Broken chain, lightning overhead, glaring teenage boy in Roosevelt

Sitting Back in the Saddle - Saturday Morning

Yesterday's thunderstorms signaled the passing of a cold front, and this morning the sky is sparkly and the temperature is in the 40s. I sleep late, shower, skip breakfast and continue east on U.S. 40. Pretty soon I enter the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. The tribe's land is checkerboarded across much of the Uintah Basin, but this section along U.S. 40 is a rather unattractive swath of dry hillside and overgrazed pasture.

Past Fort Duchesne - where I had a small breakfast at a gas station - the road began to gallop over sage and dun-colored hills and duck into dry canyons. Even though I was in SPF 45 I could feel myself getting burned. The day was soft and cool but on the road the light gets reflected back up at me, burning my legs and chapping my lips. It was at this point when I could finally get up to a good tempo - around 18 mph - stretch out over the handlebars, sit back in the seat, and let my mind wander.

I spent a lot of time looking at the Uintah Mountains. Even from 25 miles away you could clearly see where tree line was, and could see the spots of old snow left over on the south faces. I was thinking about what I would say at my brother's wedding - I am to be his best man - and about a movie I saw last night (no, not one on USA) and about a song from Watsonville Patio when the road began a gentle climb which after several miles gave me a better view of the Uintahs to the north and the Tavaputs Plateau to the south. Then, my favorite road sign: a yellow four-sided sign with a truck driving down a triangle - steep road ahead! I crested a rise and below was the wide, green oasis of Vernal.

I stopped at a view area to take in the scenery and snap some pictures then merged back in with the traffic, many of the cars now sporting Colorado license plates and at 25 miles per hour and still a full bottle of water arrive in Vernal.

Saturday morning ride stats:

Mileage: 30.89 miles

Odometer 10,397

Average Speed: 16.4 mph

Maximum Speed: 31.3 mph

Bike Time: 1:52.32

High Points: Red hills on approach to Vernal, green Vernal Valley spread below me

Low Points: Breakfast at a disgusting gas station in Fort Duchesne

Reasons to Read Next Week

Stay tuned next week to see: Does Jeff make it to Dinosaur National Monument? Do his legs cramp up halfway back so bad that he has to hitch a ride home? What is there to eat in LaPoint? And what about his truck, which he left at the Duchesne jail? All this and more next Monday!

A special thanks to Landmark Inn and Best Western Inn.

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