Long Day in the Saddle: A Ride through Sanpete County

Late in the day, near Thistle.
Late in the day, near Thistle.

I’m only 12 miles into my ride and I realize I have no water. I must have left my two water bottles on the kitchen table. So I stop at a gas station in Spanish Fork and buy two bottles of water with flip-top lids. They are a bit too small for my bottle cages so I have to bend them down so the bottles won’t fall out. I also forgot my camera so the photos are pretty lousy, taken with my iPhone.

Twenty-six miles into my ride and I feel pretty lousy. My legs are heavy, tired, and sore. My neck and shoulders ache and I’ve only been riding for two hours.  I can’t quite figure it out. This is not a good start to what I had hoped would be a nice long ride. I contemplated turning around and heading home. But I know from running ultras that you don’t quit just because your legs hurt or you’re tired. I know how my body works, and most of the time I can run through these kinds of early discomfort. So I keep pedaling south.

I’ve been wanting to get in one last long ride on the road before the weather gets really cold. Then I can focus on riding off road on my fat bike. I’ve also been wanting to take a long ride through Sanpete County as that is where my ancestors are from. But riding all the way down there from my house in Provo would make for a very long day, probably more than I should attempt. I considered having my wife drive me down to Spanish Fork or Payson, but I didn’t want to have her get up early on Saturday morning and that seemed kind of like cheating. Then I thought if things get really bad and I bonk or something I could call my daughter and she could probably come pick me up. Also, there’s something about starting a ride from your front door that is pretty satisfying.

It was a cold autumn morning. The temperature was 36 degrees when I left the house at 8:00 am.  I wore tights over my cycling shorts, wool arm warmers and a wind breaker up top, and a Buff headband under my helmut. This was enough to keep me comfortable, after the first few miles.

I left Santaquin at mile 26, not terribly confident in how I was feeling. And I was heading south further away from home. I just kept telling myself, you’ll find your legs, just keep pedaling. I turned south on Mona Road and past the Lavender Farm with Mt. Nebo on my left.

Morning sun over lavender fields with Mt. Nebo in the background.
Morning sun over lavender fields with Mt. Nebo in the background.
Mt. Nebo
Mt. Nebo

It was certainly a beautiful day, though windy and chilly. As I roll through the tiny town of Mona I still don’t feel that great, but I tell myself I have to ride to at least Nephi, then I’ll decide whether to turn around or ride on toward Sanpete County. Mona Road is a bit monotonous because it is so straight. You can see Nephi off in the distance for quite a long time before you finally get there. I like windy roads, and hills as well. I roll into the Wendy’s/Gas station in Nephi, mile 47.9 and despite not feeling very well I’ve made okay time, averaging about 14 mph, which is pretty normal for me. I take a break there, buy a bottle of Gatorade and pour it into the flimsy plastic bottle. I also buy a fudge walnut brownie that I’ll save for later.

I sit on a large rock outside deciding what to do. I hate giving up on a goal that I have. I know that if I turn around here I will be disappointing. And I will have to ride back up the Mona Road, which does not sound like very much fun. Plus, a loop ride is always better than an out and back. So I decide to continue on. I reassure myself by reminding myself I can always call my daughter Natalie if I run out of gas.

Right outside Nephi you begin the gradual climb up Salt Creek Canyon. There is nine miles of gentle climbing before you top out at 6337′. The last time I rode up this canyon was more than three years ago on our first loaded bike tour. It seemed much easier this time. Not only is my bike lighter, but I’m not carrying camping gear either. The ride up the canyon is pleasant and even though I am climbing my legs seem to feel a little better. It’s a 1300′ climb, but a pretty gentle grade most of the time. Maybe that’s because I really don’t like flat roads and would rather be climbing and descending. The idea of a flat time trial sounds pretty miserable.

Top of Salt Creek Canyon.
Top of Salt Creek Canyon.
Looking back down Salt Creek Canyon
Looking back down Salt Creek Canyon

Once on top it is a nice pleasant cruise down to the small town of Fountain Green. My dad was born and raised in Moroni, another 6 miles down the road. He used to tell us how in the winter he would ice skate on frozen canals from Moroni to Fountain Green on a Saturday night to go to a dance.

I pedal right through Fountain Green and head to Moroni. A mile before the city is the Moroni Cemetery. I stop here. This is a deliberate stop and part of the reason I wanted to ride this route. My parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents are all buried here. I stay for a few minutes at the grave of my parents reminiscing. They have been gone a long time, 1986 for my dad and 1988 for my mom. They both died in their fifties, much too early. My mileage at this point is 68.1 miles. I stop in town at the only restaurant, Juanitas Mexican Food. I order a green chili pork smothered burrito and a Dr. Pepper. It is delicious and I’m really glad I decided to stop for some real food. You can only take so many energy bars and gels. I spend about 35 or 40 minutes relaxing. I’m the only person in the place. I’m feeling a bit better after lunch and my legs seem to be waking up a bit.

Juanitas
Juanitas
A delicious lunch
A delicious lunch

It is 8 miles to Mt. Pleasant. This is the point where I am turning at the bottom of the loop and I am heading north toward home. I ride through Mt. Pleasant then another 6 miles to the even smaller town of Fairview. I think the sign said there were 1200+ people living there. I stop at a gas station to refuel. The place is crawling with big trucks, four wheelers, and lots of camo-clad burly hunter types buying beer and energy drinks. One little kid, the son of one of these guys, stairs at me, mouth wide open, like he is seeing an alien. I am wearing a lot of lycra, clacking around in my cycling cleats. Poor kid has probably never seen anyone quite like me. I buy a bottle of Dr. Pepper and top off my bottles. I know it will be around 40 miles before I will be able to fill my bottles again. At this point I am 83.6 miles into my ride. I realize that I am feeling quite a bit better and I am now confident that I will be able to complete the loop. This makes me happy. I can’t remember exactly how far it is to Highway 6 and Spanish Fork Canyon. I had my mileage all worked out, but forgot my notes at home. I ask a couple ladies working at the gas station. One lady says its 20 miles to Indianola where she lives, and another lady chimes in that it’s like 40 miles to the highway. The other lady tells me that I have a big climb ahead. She says the locals call it Hilltop. Okay whatever, I need to get going.

The climb is not bad at all, only about 6 miles with maybe 600-700′ of elevation gain topping out at 6446′. My legs are feeling good. The pain is gone and they no longer feel leaden and weak. The Dr. Pepper is helping quite a bit as well.

Hilltop Summit
Hilltop Summit
Heading down toward Indianola and Thistle.
Heading down toward Indianola and Thistle.

The ride down the other side of the summit is fast and exhilarating. I hit my tops speeds of the day, at 33 mph and I am able to coast for a few miles. Free miles, no effort. The countryside here is beautiful. Ranches and farms and mountains off to the east.

I think I could live in a place like this.
I think I could live in a place like this.

I pass the 100 mile mark and I feel remarkably good. Soon I am down in a pretty canyon with a winding road all the way to the town of Thistle. Or what used to be Thistle. Back in the early eighties a landslide blocked the creek and the water backed up and flooded the entire town. It never recovered and the remains of several houses still sit half submerged off the side of the road.

What's left of the town Thistle.
What’s left of the town Thistle.

The steepest climbing of the day climbs up out of the canyon to Highway 6 in Spanish Fork Canyon. Once on the highway there is another mile of gentle climbing before more downhill, and downhill trend all the way to the mouth of the canyon near the city of Spanish Fork.

I realize it’s getting late and that if I am going to get home before dark, I better move. So I put my head down and cruise down the canyon trying to keep a nice steady pace. I exit the canyon and the sun is very low in the sky. I pull over at the turn off for Mapleton and Springville and take one last break. I suck down an energy gel and take a big swig of Dr. Pepper. Surprisingly I feel great. My legs feel strong and I seem to have lots of energy. It reminds me of the first time I ran a 50 mile trail run. Toward the end of the race, the last 11 miles, I felt invincible and had a runners high for most of the way to the end of the course. That is how I was feeling. I also knew that I would have to ride hard and fast to beat the setting sun. Even though I had a bright blinky light in the back I don’t like to ride after dark when cars are around. My mileage at this point was 122.6.

At the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. Only 14 miles to go.
At the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. Only 14 miles to go ( I have a mouthful of almonds)

I take off racing the setting sun. I feel strong and fortunately the road along here gently descends, so I am able to keep a 20+ mph pace all the way to Springville. Then it’s up the Springville Highway, but it’s only a 3% grade for less than a mile. The sun sets as I hit the high point. Down the other side I push it once again taking advantage of gravity.

Sunset
Sunset

The ride up 9th East is never very pleasant. It is gradual uphill with lots of traffic. And riding up it always comes at the end of a ride. I finally roll into my driveway at 7:40 pm my legs feeling a bit like jello and I am tired.  I covered the last 14 miles in 57 minutes. I have ridden 137 miles in 9:50, though with rest stops I was out for 11:40. This is my longest ever ride, eclipsing the 112 mile day my son and I had during our 2012 bike tour. It was a really beautiful day, eventually reaching 61 degrees, and I was really happy that I felt better and finished strong.

Now to my fat bike.

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