We came with the cold. It was a 55 mile, FULL FRONTAL southern slugfest to Bryce Canyon National Park from the humble 168 population town of Antimony, Utah. With severe headwinds, long ascents, and sub-freezing temperatures at 8,000 feet elevation we struggled separately to our campground. Never have I suffered so on the bike.
But, perhaps, I might rethink our approach. We came with the cold. It was a 55 smile, FULL FUN-TAL southern hugfest to Bryce Canyon National Park from the lovely 168 population town of Antimony, Utah. With humbling headwinds, beautiful summits, and eye-watering temperatures at 8,000 feet elevation we pedaled independently to our campground. It was a day for growth.
I left Otter Creek State Park alone. It was going to be a short ride day but with the cold front that had moved in overnight - casting the mountains rising up from our Antimony valley in a white layer of soft snow – had wrought a massive headwind. I wanted to have camp set up and relax by a fire before sunset.
So I went. And fought the cold and wet and wind up out of the valley. It was, by all accounts, a tough day to be on the bike. Having eaten all my food and drunken all my water in the slow views that passed at six miles per hour I was reaching an emotional trough.
Knowing little of Bryce Canyon before the trip I did not know that there was going to be a small city before our campground. Nor did I realize that our friend, that man with the van, a Mr. Dakota Gale of traipsingabout.com, had already reserved us a campground and bought us wood for that night within the park at Sunset Campground. But wham! Bam! Thank you Uncle Sam! Bryce City and Ruby’s complex were glittering waves of scrolling neon on my horizon.
Life was looking up. I ate two cheesy sausage roller dogs from Ruby’s Grocery Store, the first real grocery I’d seen in over 100 miles, and bought enough dinner to feed a small platoon of overindulged cyclists. When I walked out of the grocery to behold a frightful flurry of sleet and ice and snow the decision was made to eat another roller dog and call ones whom I’d missed during our cellphone servicelessness stint through eastern Utah.
Dakota was waiting for me at Sunset. We set up camp and wondered about the rest of the group. With his Sprinter van our decision was made easy. Back out on the road via vehicular locomotion. Brady and Rachel were eating hot beans and soup at Ruby’s. Tyler had been holed up two miles away at Subway for an hour, waiting for the weather to pass. Megan and George had made it five miles that day and, feeling an oncoming sickness, opted for a room at a motel in Antimony.
We were five. Dakota took us out to dinner at a buffet, an amazing and appreciated experience that left my belly bulging over the seam of my once-loose travel pants. My legs now look like sausages in them, my stomach some slab of poodge poking out from the navel.
There was no sense in exploring the canyon that night … the weather and accompanying fog rendered outdoor activity hazardous and generally unrewarding. It was still icing and snowing when we left dinner, anyways, and we’d had enough of the outdoors for this one long and cold day.
Instead we watched The Prestige and farted all up in Dakota’s van. It smelled so bad that, even though the temperature dropped to 25 degrees that night, he had to sleep with a window open to allow some of the bad air to escape.
When I woke it was cold. Spring elevated in Utah is unlike any Appalachian April I’d experienced. Snow and ice littered the ground. My tent was one big stiff sheet of freeze. What’s a guy to do but sit in the bathroom and drink coffee?
As the day grew the sun came and warmed the landscape. It was clear and so we took a hike down from Sunset Point over to Sunrise Point and back, a four mile hike through the hoodoos of Bryce. What an amazing landscape. What an incredible canyon. I felt like a small stick of a human set against the vast and sprawling butterscotch spires of sand and stone. We gooshed and mooshed our way along the trail, taking our time with the scenery. I’d never seen such a variety in similar structures … there seemed to be no uniform hoodoo formation. The wind and ice had their own and unique ways of sculpting these sentinels of the canyon.
It was a rewarding hike, a reminder of why we ride for the national parks. Without the protection of these landscapes the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon might have been removed for mining purposes back in the early 1900s. Imagine – no accessible canyon, only the scars of our exploitation upon the rock? It was a reminder of our mission, of what we’re trying to accomplish with Keys to Freeze. Yet I have to see them first to understand them, to feel their impact upon my eyes and body, recognize their beauty and power in our age of growth and progress, to allow myself to slow and think and believe in the silence of the hills and the meaning of the canyon below. These are the moments that we must treasure and share, and so I am happy to tell you here – Bryce Canyon is an amazing place, one I must recommend. If you do go the Sunset Campground is rife with trees and shaded places, perfect for comfortable camping and making new friends by the fire, like we did with our new friend Bret.
Bret was on a ride-about. Having quit his job in Portland he bought a motorcycle and is exploring the southern parks before returning to work in Washington in June. We shared fire and s’mores with Bret, he gave us chipotle popcorn and bourbon. A worthy trade. Food and stories and smoke, the defining moments of our second and final night in Bryce. For when we woke it was on to Zion.