We celebrated Adventure Cycling Association’s Bike Travel Weekend (ACA) a week late this year because of a scheduling conflict. This year, we sort of combined two of our trips from last year (here, and here). I wanted to link up the correct route up over the divide from Heber Valley into Tibble Fork.
We had a nice turnout this year, with seven people riding. An early group met at 1:30 pm at Will’s Pit Stop on University Ave (right along the Provo River Trail), and a second group left about 2:15 from Central Provo. The early group consisted of myself, my brother Jason, and Brad (the old guys). The second group comprised Kira, Kirsten, and John (the young ones). Then the other Jason left around 4:00 pm on his own. It was a very hot day, already in the mid 90’s when we started. The riding up Provo Canyon at least was shaded much of the time. We took a break at Bridalveil Falls to cool off in the cold water, then topped off our bottles at Vivian Park. Riding up the highway from Vivian Park is never fun, but at least there’s a decent shoulder and it’s only three miles to the dam where we turned off onto the gravel bike path on the West side of Deer Creek Reservoir.
We always enjoy the nice gravel path along Deer Creek Reservoir. It’s a nice flowing trail with some ups and downs. It was really hot and the water below was so inviting, but most of the time it’s way down below and would be quite a scramble to access it. After 7.5 miles the gravel path spits you out at Soldier Hollow. I was feeling very hot and tired at this point. We were all feeling the heat. We lied down in the shade to rest and regroup.
I was expecting the other group to catch up with us sometime soon. We were not riding as fast as I expected. After resting awhile we continued on the road around Soldier Hollow to the Cascade Springs Road. We were not looking forward to this, up to 9% grades, but we plodded on. Jason and Brad pulled ahead of me. I rested a couple times, stretched out my back and neck that were bothering me and continued on. At one point Brad was there waiting for me and we had a nice conversation all the way to the top of the paved road where Jason was waiting for us. I received a text from the other Jason that he was at the end of the gravel section. After resting at bit at the high point, we bombed down the other side to Cascade Springs then over to the dirt road that leads up to Little Deer Creek Campground.
By this time the sun was setting and it was finally cooling off. The dirt road climbed gradually up into the forest. Even though we were all pretty spent at this point, it was pleasant riding. I kept thinking that Kira and the others should be catching us by now, and just then they came around a corner and were riding up toward us. They obviously were not feeling as spent as we were. They were all smiles. Youth, I guess.
Though John is a seasoned cyclist and backpacker, this was his first bikepacking trip and he seemed to be enjoying himself. After three miles we arrived at the campground, and were really happy to be there. It was about 8:00 pm and surprisingly it was getting quite chilly. We got our sleeping arrangements sorted out, some in tents, Jason in a hammock, Brad and I cowboy camping on the ground. As we were preparing dinner and just as it was getting dark, the other Jason rolled in. We had a nice evening chatting and eating our dinner. I decided not to bring a stove and had my usual charcuterie, a fennel pollen salami, some brie, goat cheese with everything spice, dill pickles, pickled onions (that I made last week), and half a baguette. I also had a tin of roasted garlic mackerel, but was too full to eat it.
It got down into the forties that night, clear skies, nice show of stars, good sleeping weather. We were all (at least the old guys) pretty tired and slept well.
Here is the line up for this trip.
We were up around 7 and rolling by 8:15. The temps were rising pretty fast. We headed out on a dirt road, had a minor water crossing, then came to a junction. I knew we had to get from the valley we were in, back up to the Cummings Parkway. I did not realize it would be so steep. We had a pretty serious hike-a-bike, a half mile with 350 feet of elevation gain. That may not sound like much, but believe me, or ask anyone who was there, it was steep, loose, and strenuous. It was the kind of hike-a-bike that was not only difficult pushing your bike up, but also was steep enough that keeping your footing was a challenge at times. After much grunting and groaning, we reached the smooth Cummings Parkway (dirt road, by the way). There was another road that continued on up the valley then backtracked up to the Cummings Parkway, and that was probably a better way to go.
The wide, well-graded Cummings Parkway was welcome after the steep, loose hiking. We continued to climb gradually up into aspen and pine forests. We stopped occasionally to take in the views and eat snacks.
The views up high were spectacular. The Wasatch Range to the south, Heber Valley to the East, and green lush mountainsides all around.
There were some sandy spots, and some steep rocky sections that some of us walked, but for the most part the riding was fairly smooth and the scenery was nice. Part of the time we were riding through groves of Aspen that provided nice shade. We were all having a really good time though the riding was pretty taxing.
After a several miles of riding we finally topped out on the ridge between Heber Valley and Tibble Fork. We took another break then descended quickly into the Tibble Fork drainage. As we neared the top we began to see more and more off-road vehicles, kicking up a lot of dust.
I think I had forgotten about all the off road vehicles and people from our ride last year. We are blessed to have such beautiful mountain scenery so close to home, literally 15-20 miles from the populated Wasatch Front valleys. But that comes with a cost. Everyone else loves the mountains too, and not everyone else is on a bike or foot. In fact, the vast majority are driving big, loud off road vehicles, pulling giant trailers, running generators in the campsites, and dozens camping at every possible pull off along the creek. I was astonished to see so many people. By the time we got to Tibble Fork Reservoir it was a complete zoo, traffic jams, crowds of people, the “beaches” along the reservoir packed with people and the water itself teeming with kayaks, paddle boards, tubes, and swimmers. I didn’t want any part of that. Our eyes and noses were full of dust from all the vehicles on the dirt road and we were hot and tired. Several of us quickly jumped into the water to cool off, then we got out of there as fast as we could.
I know I can’t complain too much. All those other people have the same rights I do to be up there, but I swear I’ll never go back up that canyon again on a weekend. There are just too many people. As the population increases steadily on the Wasatch Front, the trailheads are packed every day of the week. And it seems that more and more people think camping involves large trailers the size of small houses, with the huge trucks to pull them, not to mention the trailers with motorcycles and side-by-side vehicles. But like I said, they have every right to be up there as I do; it’s just not my version of enjoying the outdoors. If you really want to escape from the crowds these days, you really need to get off the roads, dirt or otherwise, and get on some singletrack. And the further you hike or bike up these trails, the less people you’ll see and the more tranquility you’ll enjoy.
Despite all the crowds and chaos toward the end of our ride, we really did have a good time. The riding was challenging, the scenery rewarding. We bombed the highway down American Fork Canyon, stopped at the Timp Caves National Monument to fill out bottles with spring water, then continued down. At the mouth of the canyon, Kirsten and John headed straight into American Fork to the Frontrunner Station, the two Jasons, Brad, Kira, and I continued on the Murdock Canal bike path and back to Provo. It was nice to be on the bike path with no cars, but it was hot and we were pretty tired.
Our mileages varied depending on where we left from, but I measured 31 miles the first day, with 3514′ of climbing and 38 miles on Saturday with 2058′ of climbing. The high temperatures certainly added to the difficulty level. We had temps in the mid 90’s on Friday, high 90’s on Saturday, and I personally don’t do well in the heat. But we all survived. I think next year, we’ll be looking for a different route.