Northeast Utah/Southwest Wyoming Bike Tour: Part 1

We planned to begin and end our tour in the Heber Valley but it didn’t quite turn out that way. I am not too detail oriented and I guess I am not a meticulous planner. My son accuses me of not being able to read a map. Two specific roads on my may appeared to be normal roads, just like the rest, but in reality turned out to be pretty rough dirt roads. This necessitated two detours, and in the end, a completely different end point for our tour.

We began in the very small town of Francis, UT. My wife drove us up there from our house and as we were loading up our bikes I realized I had forgot my helmet. Riding without one was out of the question, so we drove back to Heber and I very reluctantly bought a cheap Schwinn helmet at Walmart. It seemed the only option, and I didn’t want to spend a lot since I already had two helmets at home. It turned out to be heavy and hot because it did not ventilate very well. At times it felt like a sweater-wrapped bowling ball on my head, but it did the job.

I was riding my Trek 7.3 FX with an Xtracycle attachment, the same as our tour last year. My son was riding his beloved 1980’s steel-framed Bianchi Sport SX, also the same as last year.

Trek 7.3 FX with Xtracycle
Bianchi Sport SX

On this trip we decided to take a few cameras. Both my son and I are avid photographers. We brought an Olympus OM-D E-M5 with the Olympus 12-50mm kit lens, a Panasonic GF-3 with the Panasonic 14mm prime lens, my small Nikon P300, and a Ricoh GR 1 (a high end compact film camera).

The cameras

This was undoubtedly quite a few cameras for two people on a six day trip, but there was a reason. The Olympus OM-D was new and I really wanted to play with it. The Nikon P300 is tiny that I keep in a small top tube bag. I can pull it out and take a quick photo without even slowing down. My son loves shooting film so he had to take his Ricoh, and the GF-3 was a back up I guess. Finn used it along with the Ricoh. We had a good time taking photos, especially in camp in the afternoons and evenings.

Day 1: Francis to Duchesne, UT

Our first objective of the day and the entire tour was to tackle Wolf Creek Pass. The road was leisurely from Francis to the small town of Woodland, then about 5-6 miles out of Woodland the road begins to climb. We had done this climb on our road bikes, but it was a different story with loaded bikes. The road climbs nearly 3000′ in about 12 miles to an elevation of 9485′ with grades up to 8%. Not many switchbacks either so it was really sustained.

Looking down one of the 8% long, straight sections.
Approaching the summit
Wolf Creek Pass

Finn arrived about 45 minutes before me and was hanging out at the top when I arrived. The climb wiped me out. I think this was due in part to the fact that it was our first day in the saddle, and the first part of the first day.

The ride down the other side was a very welcome break. It was long and fast with speeds up to 44 mph. At one point I had to dodge some sheep crossing the road. I also saw a moose off the side of the road. The road descended for several miles into a beautiful valley dotted with ranches.

Cruising down from Wolf Creek Pass (it doesn’t look like it but he is going about 35 mph here).

We arrived in the small town of Hanna hungry for lunch. We found the Hanna Cafe, the only place around to eat. We had a greasy lunch of grilled cheese and egg sandwiches with fries.

Lunch at Hanna Cafe
Feeling refreshed after lunch
The Hanna Cafe cat

On my map there was a road that headed east out of Hanna to the town of Mountain View. I asked the waitress about it and she didn’t know anything about it. Later we asked a road construction crew and they informed us that it was a rough dirt road. This left us no choice but to follow the highway south, not the direction we wanted to go. I had planned for us to stay north and pass through the small town of Altamont.

A few miles outside Hanna it began to rain, hard. There was only sage brush, nowhere to take cover, so we pulled on our rain coats and continued riding. It let up after about 30 minutes. More miles and we finally hit the junction of Highway 87. We had covered 62 miles. At this intersection there was a forest service truck with fire fighters in it, so I asked them how far it was to Altamont and what the road was like. Another storm was brewing in the east and heading our way with impressive lightning. They said Altamont was still another 35 miles, mostly uphill, and into the coming storm. Our other option was Duchesne, just 8 miles south and all downhill. After the climb up Wolf Creek Pass, I did not have another 35 miles in me. They said there was a motel in Altamont but no camping anywhere around. It was pretty discouraging. With the storm approaching, we headed down the highway to Duchesne. We were moving pretty fast trying to outrace the storm. We pulled into Duchesne just as it started raining again. We went to a gas station to ask about accommodations. The woman said there was a campground at Starvation Resevoir, four miles in the opposite direction we were headed the next day, or there was a motel in town. With the rain, we opted for the motel.

It was pretty dumpy but adequate. We walked across the street to a grocery store and bought some crummy microwave meals and some chocolate soy milk for dinner. We had a nice relaxing evening watching Iron Chef on TV. No offense to anyone from Duchesne, but there is not much happening there.

The sights in Duchesne

Day 1 Totals: 70 miles; saddle time: 7:23

Day 2: Duchesne to Steinaker Resevoir State Park (outside Vernal, UT)

Rather than try to head north all the way back up to Altamont, we decided to take the path of least resistance and ride Highway 40 to Vernal. My original plan was to stay north on the small country roads to avoid this busy highway. It was not too bad and we made pretty good time. We took a break in Roosevelt and filled our bottles and then arrived in Vernal by mid-afternoon.

Taking a short break between Roosevelt and Vernal

An abandoned cabin a few miles outside Duchesne
Final descent into Vernal

There was a gradual six mile climb before the final descent into Vernal. In Vernal we had a nice lunch at Cafe Rio.

The Vernal LDS (Mormon) Temple
Delicious salads at Cafe Rio

After a big lunch we rode the final 7 miles up Highway 191 to Steinaker Resevoir where we camped for the night. I felt pretty good this day, even though my legs were a bit sore from the previous days climbing.

After washing out our cycling shorts and jerseys, we went for a swim in the reservoir. We relaxed around camp, took photos and ate snacks.

Steinaker Reservoir

Camp at Steinaker Reservoir
Dusk