Utah Cycling Tour—Provo to Cedar City: Part 1

My two sons and I had been talking about doing a multi-day bike tour for about two years before we finally decided to just do it. Maybe we were waiting until we had real touring bikes, or we were waiting until we were in super shape, or something. Winter of 2011 we decided to go for it, that if we didn’t do it then, it probably wouldn’t happen. We all had road bikes, though not dedicated touring rigs.

We decided to ride from our house in Provo, UT, down historic Highway 89 to Cedar City in Southern Utah. It was around 300 miles and we figured we could do it in 6 days or less. We also decided that rather than stay in motels along the way, we would rather camp out.  My daughter was feeling left out and decided she wanted to go as well. I took her on a couple training rides and she seemed to do okay, even though she had not ridden nearly as much as my boys and I.  So in early August of 2011, we set off from our house on this wonderful adventure.

The players: Me (Matt, the writer of this blog), Niels, aged 18, Finn, aged 14, and Natalie, aged 23.

The bikes:

I had a Trek FX 7.3 which is like a road bike (700c wheels) but with a flat handlebar. I also had an Xtracycle attachment that basically extends the wheelbase about 12″ and has a nice flat rack with built in panniers. It really is a sport utility bike which is great for hauling groceries, kids, etc. It is an extremely comfortable bike, especially with the super comfy leather Brooks saddle.

Trek FX 7.3 with Xtracycle

Niels had a 1993 Specialized Sirrus road bike. Steel frame with entry level components. I found it at a second hand gear store in Salt Lake. Put on a rack and it made a nice touring bike, especially with the triple chainring.

1993 Specialized Sirrus

Finn had an early 80’s Bianchi Sport SX steel framed road bike. The bike used to belong to my younger brother. He bought it in high school, then sold it to my other younger brother, who sold it to my nephew. I found it in my older brother’s garage, fixed it up, and gave it to Finn for Christmas. It was in instant and lasting hit. With a rack it made an okay touring bike, except that it only had a double chainring, and the gearing was not very low.

Early 80’s Bianchi Sport SX

Natalie had street cruiser, a nice vintage Puegot that she found at a thrift store, but it would not be a good touring bike. So, I put slicks on my old Specialized Stumpjumper that I bought in 1989 (pre-shocks). Not an ideal touring bike, but not bad either. It had a nice rack, and Scott bullhorn handlebars.

1989 Specialized Stumpjumper w/ street slicks

The boys used Lone Peak Sundance panniers with small handlebar packs. Natalie used an old small pair of Overland panniers with a Lone Peak handlebar bag. We have been backpacking for many years and over the years have lightened our loads considerably, so we were used to packing very light. We all had lightweight dry bags for our sleeping bags and clothes and light sleeping pads. I have an Oware silnylon pyramid tent that weighs just 28 oz. and sleeps four comfortably.

Day 1: Provo to Big Mountain Campground (midway up Nephi Canyon)

From our house in Provo we headed south through Springville, Spanish Fork, Payson, and Santaquin where we took our first break. We stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom and fill our bottles.

Spanish Fork—just a few miles into our tour
Santaquin—first rest stop

From Santaquin we continued south on the Mona Road to the Lavender Farm, past the small town of Mona and to the town of Nephi. We took another short break at the Lavender Farm. By now it was getting pretty hot and the Mona Road turned out to be a real killer. It looked like it was slightly downhill, but with the afternoon headwinds that picked up it was pretty miserable. It seemed to go on forever. We could see Nephi in the distance and at times it seemed like it never got any closer.

The dreaded Mona Road

By the time we got to Nephi we were hot, hungry, and tired. We decided to stop for a proper lunch, rather than rely on our Clif bars and other snacks. There were not that many options, and we ended up at Wendy’s. I’m not a fan of fast food, but the kids were delighted and assured me it would be really good. Needless to say, I was not impressed, but we did fill up and felt much better after lunch.

Lunch in Nephi

After lunch we headed off to a nearby park to rest up a bit before tackling the climb up Nephi Canyon. We arrived at the park, just a short distance from Wendy’s and no Natalie. We waited for a few minutes and she still did not show up. So I went one way up Highway 89 and the boys went the other way. After quite a few minutes we finally found her. She did not see us turn off to go to the park and was riding back the way we had come looking for us.

Nephi Canyon is not a terribly steep climb but it is fairly sustained and it was mid-afternoon and quite hot, probably in the low 90’s. We took off taking our time up the canyon.

Beginning of Nephi Canyon

We had planned to camp off the Nebo Loop road where there are some informal camping spots along a nice creek. We arrived at the turn off, where there happened to be a campground called Big Mountain Campground. It is the kind of campground that caters to RV’s. I decided to check it out. It was $27 but they had hot showers and a covered pavilion with a stove and microwave. We were pretty tired and had ridden around 55 miles on this first day of our tour. We were also a bit saddle sore.  I decided to camp here instead of dirt-bagging it along the creek, still a few miles up the road. The kids were pretty happy.

Big Mtn. Campground

Day 1 totals: 55.6 miles; time in the saddle: 5:37; total time ~9 hours

We pitched our tent on a nice green lawn and cooked dinner in the nice covered pavilion. We all had hot showers and washed out our cycling clothes. We each had two pairs of cycling shorts and two jerseys. We planned to wash out our clothes each night and rotate them.

Camp at Big Mtn.
Dinner at Big Mtn. Campground

Just before dusk a storm moved in and poured rain for about a half hour. The thunder was deafening and the lightning seemed very close. We all ducked into the tent to wait it out. After a long day, we all slept pretty well.

Waiting out the storm

Day 2: Midway up Nephi Canyon to Salina

We woke up feeling well rested and ready to go. It was a nice cool morning and we were anxious to get on the road to try to beat some of the heat.

Our clothes that we had washed the night before did not dry because of the storm, so I laid them out on the back of my bike with a bungie net holding them down. It was like a rolling clothes dryer. At each stop I would rotate them, and with the heat they were dry in a couple hours.

Rolling clothes dryer

We were still fairly low in the canyon, so spent the next few miles climbing up the canyon. We finally arrived at the summit and took a short break.

Niels approaching the summit
Finn approaching the summit
Matt at the summit; Natalie approaching
Top of Nephi Canyon

The ride down into Sanpete Valley was all downhill and very nice. Niels and Finn took off, followed by me, with Natalie bringing up the rear. That is how it usually was, Finn and Niels out front, with me trailing behind. I would usually wait every now and then for Natalie to catch up. She was not very used to the bike and it was giving her a major pain between her shoulder blades. We had a rule that whenever we entered a new town the leaders would wait for the rest. Also, they had to wait at any junctions to make sure they were going the right way. I was the only one with maps and knew which way to go, so they had to wait for me, and I always waited for Natalie. The system worked out well.

Lots of hay fields in Sanpete Valley

We passed through Fountain Green, then on to Moroni. On the outskirts of Moroni we stopped at the Moroni Cemetery where my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents are all buried. We had a snack and paid our respects at their graves.

Moroni Cemetery
The town of Moroni

We continued to head south on Highway 89 to the town of Ephraim. The road was flat and straight most of the way. We stopped here for lunch. We went to a grocery store and bought some rolls, grapes, cheese, and a few other things. We then went to the library lawn and had a picnic in the shade of some large trees. We didn’t finish all the grapes and I realized that we now had to basically carry these tiny water bottles on vines with us.

From Ephraim to Manti was more flat straight highway. Along this section there seemed to be lots of cement trucks which were pretty unnerving when they passed us. This is mostly farming country and we usually had alfalfa fields on both sides of the highway. A long way from Manti you can see the LDS temple on the hill.

Manti Mormon Temple

By the time we left Manti it was getting pretty hot. The road continued south through the small town of Sterling. Passing by Nine Mile Reservoir we were tempted to stop and go for a swim, but we needed to keep going. The road turns west here and climbs for a bit, then its a nice downhill run into the town of Gunnison. The boys were waiting for me at the city park just across the street from a State prison. I arrived and we had a nice chat with a lady who worked at the prison. She was waiting for her daughter to pick her up. When Natalie arrived we we continued on into Gunnison. We passed a bank and the sign read 100 degrees. It was really hot and we were feeling it. Just outside Gunnison we ran into a traffic jam. There was construction on the highway and all traffic in our direction was stopped. So we waited in the hot sun until it was our turn to proceed.

Traffic stopped between Gunnison and Salina

It was a tough stretch here in the heat. The road was basically flat with occasional rises. Like many of the towns around here we could see Salina a long way off before we got there.

When we rolled into town we stopped at a grocery store to buy food for dinner. We had some freeze-dried backpacking food but we were saving that for when we would not have access to a store. Bike touring seemed pretty easy compared to backpacking where we had to carry all our food for the week. We could stop at convenience or grocery stores whenever we felt hungry or thirsty.

Niels making good use of his jersey pockets, stuffing them with instant mashed potatoes.

Niels, pockets loaded with groceries

I have a neighbor from Richfield, not far down the road, and he told me about a campground just a mile outside Salina. It was the Butch Cassidy Campground. Like the previous campground this one also catered to RV’s and had hot showers and a swimming pool. It was a nice place to stay. We took hot showers and swam in the pool that evening.

Camp outside Salina
Niels at the Salina campground

Day 2 totals—67.7 miles; saddle time: 5:26; total time ~10 hours

3 thoughts on “Utah Cycling Tour—Provo to Cedar City: Part 1

  1. Hey guys, thanks for that. I’m riding from my home in California to my cabin in Wyoming. Wanted an idea of how highway 89 was and I got it. Can’t wait!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s