Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Grand Canyon Bicycle Tour, Day 1

From June 5th to June 18th, I rode my bicycle 750 miles from Denver, Colorado, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona. While I was on the road, I was only able to make brief status updates via text messages from my phone.  Now that I'm back home, I can begin to describe my journey.


I dedicate my first bicycle tour to the memory of my little brother, who was always more adventurous than me; and to my family, who have been very supportive, encouraging me and helping to make it happen.

This Grand Canyon trip was something I'd been excitedly planning since last autumn.  But as the time drew closer, I was feeling extremely anxious (at times, terrified) about the whole thing.  I was setting off alone, had no familiarity with any of the territory through which I was to be traveling, and very little prior experience with bicycle touring.  So to anybody planning to make a self-supported bike trip, no matter the distance, I applaud you.  It can take a lot of courage to take that first step.

Day 1

In a number of ways, the first day was the most difficult.  That morning was pretty hectic.  My family drove me to the south end of town so that I wouldn't spend the entire first day traversing Denver and be left with nowhere to camp by the time night fell.  We headed for Chatfield Reservoir, but I didn't know exactly where I wanted to be dropped off.  Construction on C-470 slowed us down getting there, and construction on US-85 forced us farther south than I planned.  Ultimately, I may as well have had them drop me off in Sedalia.  As it was, my journey started a little after 10:00 on a gravel pull-off on the side of the highway.

Setting off

Shortly after I turned onto CO-67, a husband and wife on road bikes came up from behind and rode with me for a little while.  Having told them my intended route, they suggested that I avoid Elevenmile Canyon, which would include some pretty intense climbing.  I was already discovering that I wasn't in as good of shape as I should have been for riding with that much of a load, so I gladly took their advice and planned to head straight for US-285.  It was around 11:30 when I reached the Pike National Forest, but my new route would have me leave and reenter NFS territory.

I talked to an old fellow outside of a restaurant/bar in Sprucewood, which appeared to be a haunt of dirt-bikers, to verify my directions.  Then headed down Pine Creek Road.  After a steep and scary decent on loose gravel and dirt, I arrived at South Platte River Road around 12:30.  A short break on the river bank, and then I headed northwest.

Steep gravel on Pine Creek Road

This was a very pleasant road.  The road was gravel for much of the way, the rest being asphalt in poor repair.  But rolling along beside the river, seeing the fly-fishers and families out having fun, I felt like things were getting off to a great start.

Riding beside the South Platte river

It was well into the afternoon when I reached County Rd 126, which would take me the rest of the way to US-285.  Near the intersection of Platte River Rd and 126, there was a convenience store with a hotdog stand in the parking lot.  I was pretty tired, so I stopped to get a bite to eat and ask about camping in the area.  There was nothing close by that the attendant could tell me about.

Another patron asked about where I was going, and on hearing that it was my first day, and that I was coming from Denver, she said, "Oh, well that's a nice way to start things off, to stop and get yourself a hot dog."  Having ridden for several difficult hours, her response really irritated me.  Anyway, I pushed on from there and joined US-285 at Pine Junction around 16:00.  I bought a sandwich, called my wife, and headed south.  As the day wore on, it started to rain a little bit.  I was in the Pike National Forest, but there were no access roads.  I needed to stop for the day, and was counting on the availability of dispersed camping.

Finally, around 18:00, as the scattered showers threatened to organize into a full-blown storm, I passed a road to a dude ranch some way past Bailey.  The road split immediately, one way heading down to the ranch, and another going up a short hill to a clearing where they appear to compost the manure cleared from the stables.  This was to be my home for the evening, though it wasn't as bad as it might sound.  I put up my tent quickly, and made a bit of a temporary shelter with my tarp so that I could stay dry while I ate.

When camping in bear country, you don't just leave food laying around your campsite.  And you sure don't keep it in the tent with you.  So if there's nothing better you can do, you suspend your food, along with anything else with a scent to it, from a tree limb high off the ground and well away from where you're sleeping.  I kept all such items in my front right pannier, and once I was done with it for the evening, I put the rain cover on the bag and hauled the whole thing up a tree with some para-cord.

The first night's campsite (photographed the following day)

I wasn't (and still am not) certain that I was on NFS land, so I kept a low profile and read a book only while there was enough daylight to allow it.  It didn't matter much anyway, as I was too tired to stay awake.  Still, my night's sleep was fitful and the storm worsened throughout the night.  I'm happy to say that the rain cover on my food bag kept everything nice and dry, though my tent didn't perform quite as well in a downpour.

View Larger Map

The first day ended, and while there were some things that could have gone better, I'd made my desired progress and overcame some obstacles.  I wasn't feeling completely confident, but it was a good start.

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