A loop through Dixie National Forest. Day Two, the view from the Thunder Mountain trail. Never been so grateful for a dropper post as I would be about a mile from here.

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Like all good adventures, this was the culmination of a series of compromises. Big plans divided by last minute schedule changes multiplied by lack of fitness worries squared by carrying too much stuff. Kitty Frida chose not to make the trip. She is a quitter. In 48 hours I would be overly jealous of her lifestyle choice.

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These are pretty pictures of trees changing colors. There are pretty pictures of my bike, the mountain type instead of the usual rigid variety I prefer for these things. I was told there would be rocks.

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I took these pictures four miles before realizing I was going the wrong direction, 10 miles from the turn I missed. Aren’t they pretty?

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Back on track. Now I can’t stop looking at my GPS. I almost miss the fact that I’m riding through the lava remains of some in-the-distant-past devastating eruption. I am riding a carbon-fiber bicycle on a paved road past a Forest Service-maintained Vault Toilet in a field of lava rock. Tragedy + Time = Super Happy Fun Weekend!

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Many hours have gone by. I have a long ways to go to my campsite for the night. I am stopped. I have my helmet off and my feet up on a stump. I am taking pictures of pinecones and thinking that Zoli and Frida would love this place, due to their overarching love for pinecones as playthings. Why am I stopped, with so much pedaling to go? The wind is in my face and it’s making me cranky. Like an invisible finger poking me in the chest on the playground, disparaging my mommy and questioning how many parents I have. I only have like thirty miles to go. This might be where I live now.

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This is a pine tree and an aspen tree living next to one another. In perfect harmony. My new home is windy. My bike is still cool looking.

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Camp already? You rode the thirty remaining miles uphill in the wind, didn’t take a single picture and now you’re at camp?
Yes. Except for the ’30 remaining miles’ part. I decided to stop and camp ten miles ago. But then, I shit you not, I ended up in a haunted forest and had to keep riding. I wanted to stop. I passed up half a dozen beautiful campsites. I was tired and wanted a glass of wine and to sit the sit of the righteous in the packable chair I packed which has no pedals attached to it. This particular forest is infested with pine beetles with a lot of dead trees. Many of these trees look like they will fall over if stared at too long. Everytime I make a move to stop, the wind prompts me to look up and a voice whispers a question like “Do you know what a widowmaker is?” or “If a dead tree squishes a bikepacker and no one is around to hear his last pathetic scream, do I still get dessert?”. I keep moving until I’m driver/five-iron from the highway leading to Hatch. I camp in the last possible place at the edge of the forest before the land opens up to farmers.

This is the trip I’m testing a bivy sack and the footprint/fly from my Big Agnes Fly Creek tent. I roll out my sleep system on a 1/2 foot deep bed of pine needles and jostle around until it’s just right. I leave my bivy unzipped a bit as it’s in the high 40’s and I have a lot of excess heat built up from outrunning forest sprites.
That “unzipped bivy” is a key point of this discourse. It enabled the kangaroo rat to crawl in. Did you know there are kangaroo rats in Utah? I sleep with a down quilt, not in a sleeping bag. You know when you’re tired and just fall in to a deep sleep and something wakes you up unexpectedly? Like a kangaroo rat running over your arm on the side farthest from the 6 inches of open bivy zipper?
The good news is I learned that I can get out of bed, rip out my sleeping pad and quilt, shake out the bivy and throw everything over my bike and chair in about 15 seconds flat.

Did you know that Utah kangaroo rats are sluts and will sleep with anybody?

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Leaving Hatch now, memories of a great Galaxy of Hatch breakfast. I had coffee, biscuits and gravy and was given a flyer requesting that I consider applying for the position of Mayor. I would run on a very-focused anti kangaroo rat platform.

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Still looking at my GPS and que sheets. The que sheets are based on my starting mileage. My mileage has been wrong since I missed the first turn 20 minutes after leaving the car. I have to remember to add 14-to-16 miles to everything.

This will cause me some difficulties.

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In case I disappear and only my phone is recovered, people will know that I was having a great time.

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I sometimes mistake dehydration and hypoxia for creativity.

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This sign appeared after a ten mile climb. I may learn to hotwire a tractor today.

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I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what this sign means.

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It means you have to ride up this steep, loose but very pretty trail. A slip up on the left returns you to the sign very quickly. This was a mile away from where I originally planned to camp. It’s taken me four hours to get to my starting point for the day.

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These are two pictures of a dirt road. I don’t know why I took them. I don’t always think clearly after a few hours of oxygen debt.

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Desert eye candy alert. This is a great trail, especially when you’re hauling 25 pounds of gear and water. I will be back.

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I finished this section elated and pretty spent. I was low on water and hoping for some store-bought food from one of the fine establishments near the entrance to Red Canyon. Alas, this was not to be. Closed, out of business or (the Trading Post) purveyors of fine Indian art and little else. The sign said Ice Cream. True to word, a freezer full of Drumsticks, The Original Sundae Cone. And beef jerky (which I would throw up early the next morning- teriyaki!). These and a water spigot by the billboard and I was set for a short push to camp.

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Which didn’t happen. Cow shit and rocks as far as the eye could see. A steady push west, cursing the setting sun in my eyes, the chill rising in measure with its fall. A GPS freakout; a que sheet mishap; the 25 miles to get back to the car became closer to 40 (unbeknown at the time). Night falls, pull lights out and adorn my head and handlebar. Convinced I’m being misled by my shifty friend Gee-Pez, a new path is selected. Away from my car and camp but it will get me off these forsaken ATV trails and cow paths and on to solid tarmac. I spook owls in the blackness at speed and scare myself silly, their eyes solid white discs reflecting my lights back at me.

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No pictures from here on out. I hurt. I might have cried a little. Many false trails that dead-end in waist-deep sagebrush or ravine dropoffs. A paved road at last. A long climb in the dark, hours worth, putting on layers at the tops of the passes, stripping them off at the bottom before the next climb. Mule deer litter the roadsides, mostly alive.
Just when I think I can’t take it anymore I come upon a campground- White Bridge. All my prayers are answered and my curses ignored. It’s after 10 PM, I take a slow roll through and scope the open sites. Next to a river- cold. Noisy. This spot is too close to other people. That spot is close to the highway. I’m three-quarters dead and too picky to choose a spot. I finally settle on one and ride to the pay station. It has a map. I am six miles from Panguitch Lake and just a bit more to the campground where my car is parked. I can’t ‘give up’ with just six-ish miles to go. Back on the highway. About an hour in, a raucous noise startles me from staring down at the tarmac on a steep climb. Growing louder, a large herd of elk burst out of the trees and brush ahead of me, charging across the road and mowing down bush and small trees up the other side of the mountain, the noise trailing off as they climb into the night. I am stunned, stopped in my tracks and thankful to be right where I am.