Panguich - Crossing Utah - CycleBlaze

May 22, 2017

Panguich

I've been worried about this day ever since it showed up on the itinerary when the route through Zion was abandoned.  I've concluded that my health issues are a reaction to the elevation change, and that they'll abate as soon as I acclimatize.  I read up on this a bit last night, and was encouraged to see that most of the acclimatization occurs in the first five days or so.  I'm definitely doing better and am functional at higher altitudes, but it's a big jump from what we've been doing to the summit at Cedar Breaks, at 10,5000'.  It's too soon.

I don't honestly believe I can do this claim when we start out.  My hopes are to get far enough into it so that walking the remainder is feasible, but I half expect to be throwing a thumb out at some point.  At least we have the perfect day for it - nearly windless, sunny, about 50 when we start out at 9:30.  We waited that long to allow the day to warm up - it dropped near freezing here last night, and into the high twenties at the summit.

The climb starts out gradually, gaining 2000' in the first 8 mikes at a steady pace.  Keeping a steady, relaxed pace, I have no problems.  Much better than yesterday, when I started having issues at about 6000'.  A few more miles, and I'll be in reasonable walking distance.

That's what I get - a few more miles.  At 8,700' it's clear the time has come.  I let Rachael go on ahead, and go through a period of walking a bit and biking a bit.  Eventually I settle into a walk,until the slope eases off near the first summit at Brian Head ski resort. and I'm able to bike in the rest of the way.  I figure I pushed about a mile, and am very happy about it.  I imagine if I'd had one more day to adapt, I'd have been fine.

Ironically, there is a road construction crew at the summit.  A worker waves her huge SLOW sign at me.  Yes, I know.

Not too bad, really - Rachael is having her own adjustment issues and is none too fast today either, so she's only been waiting about ten minutes.  She's waiting at Apple Annie's, the place we agreed upon.  It's a store, and has enough provisions that we fashion a lunch (a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and thou - how romantic!) and sit for a spell.

The start of the 4,500' climb to Brian Head and then Cedar Breaks. The first seven miles were fairly gentle, maybe a 5% grade, but then it stiffens. We took our time, but I was happy to find that the altitude didn't really bother me until about 8,500' - a real improvement over yesterday.
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On the climb to Brian Head
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These switchbacks at about 8,700' were the limit for me. Between the steeper grade and the altitude, it felt smarter to walk most of the last mile to Brian Head. I didn't like having to walk, but I'm pleased at how I'm acclimatizing - I've done progressively better each of the last three days.
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Lunch break at Brian Head resort, at Apple Annie's country store. It was pleasant to sit in the sun and recover from the climb, and surprisingly warm given that it dropped to the mid-twenties last night.
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The ski resort isn't at the summit though, which is still 3 miles to the east and another thousand feet up.  Most of this distance is a gradual climb out of a small basin filled with ski chalets, before finally climbing a bit more steeply at the end to cross the shoulder of Brian Head Peak.  Not much of a climb really, but it's one I had to walk again.

At the top, we stopped for summit photos.  It's a beautiful landscape, still covered with the last traces of the winter's snow.  The scene is so different from when I was here thirty years ago, in midsummer when the meadows were green and dense with a dizzying mix of wildflowers.

Another unnamed summit, another summit photo. It seems like one breaking 10,000' would merit a title. They might consider Brian Head Pass, after the peak in the background, if they're short on ideas.
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It's rare that we both end up with portraits we like, so we decided to include them both.
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A few hundred feet down the road we came to the entrance to the national monument.  We hadn't taken portrait shots for a few minutes, so we stopped again by the entrance sign to prove we were there.  I placed my camera on the ground beside the road and hurried back for a timed shot, and then panicked a bit when a car pulled off the road next to the camera.  Happily they hadn't crushed it, but I hurried over to pick it up before they stomped on it instead.  They were a couple from Germany on tour of the great parks.  We enjoyed chatting with them for a few minutes, and then they drove off.

A few minutes later, we pulled off at the northern viewpoint, and were floored by the scene - as were the German couple, who had just arrived also.  The Breaks, a giant red rock amphitheater, are one of the less famous natural wonders of Southern Utah.  Today, this couple and ourselves are the only visitors.  It is really a wonderful time to be here, with the last of the winter snows accenting the amazingly colorful cliffs, fins and hoodoos.  

The northern viewpoint at Cedar Breaks National Monument. It took our breath away when we first saw this. We were lucky to see it still highlighted with snow - I'll bet it will all have melted off in a week or two.
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In Cedar Breaks
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We enjoyed exchanging photography services and chatting with this couple from Germany. Other than them, we had the monument to ourselves today.
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In Cedar Breaks
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We didn't stay long though - it's really pretty chilly up here, especially when a breeze crops up.  In another season we could bike through the monument along the rim of the amphitheater to the southern viewpoint, five miles away - it's regarded as the best overlook in the park.  Not today though - that road is still closed from the snow.  Instead, we layer up and head east, beginning the long drop toward Panguitch.

I've ridden this road before, thirty years ago, but I had really forgotten what it is like.  Within the first mile, it all came back - a bit past the summit the far horizon becomes visible and for much of the descent we are thrilled by the growing spectacle of the Grand Staircase.  Along the way, the route itself is a real delight.  Really a beautiful, dramatic ride.  

Payback time! Dropping away from the Breaks, we look forward to the thirty mile descent to Panguitch.
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I followed this road from the Breaks to Panguitch thirty years ago. I know that's getting to be a long time now, but I was amazed that I'd forgotten how thrilling and inspirational it is to drop down this road with the red cliffs of Bryce Canyon andthe Grand Staircase beckoning in the distance.
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This is a very pretty descent, passing through a procession of diverse landscapes - birch and ponderosa forest, broad subalpine meadows, even lava flows.
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On the descent from Cedar Breaks
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On the descent from Cedar Breaks
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On the descent from Cedar Breaks
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Dropping into the Sevier River valley. Panguitch is just around the corner.
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The view east across the Sevier Valley is breathtaking. This line of multicolored cliffs extends to the south for miles. 
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In Panguitch, we settle into the Blue Pine Motel, which we're happy to see is just yards from our targeted meal stop, the Cowboy's Smokehouse Cafe.  It's a very popular place - we were lucky to get in early before a waiting list developed.  We enjoyed ample, delicious dinners while taking in the old west paraphernalia lining the walls.  Great place.  

Best of all, I feel great physically.  This is the first day since we arrived in Utah that I have felt fully normal at the end of the day and had energy or inthusiasm to walk around.  On each of the last three days I had an elevated pulse - perhaps 100 bpm - that didn't stop until sometime in the night.  It feels like I'm out of the woods.

Elevation gain: today, 5,200'; for the tour, 14,900'

Portraits of Butch Cassidy (born near here), the Sundance Kid and his gal, and the Hole in the Wall Gang.
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Today's ride: 51 miles (82 km)
Total: 210 miles (338 km)

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