Fredonia to Lee's Ferry - Cedar City to Flagstaff 1987 - CycleBlaze

August 12, 1987

Fredonia to Lee's Ferry

Afternoon, east of Jacob's Lake.  Wow!  Another Adventure!  Here I sit on the west side of a small knoll by the side of the highway, trying hard not to be the highest thing around, waiting for disaster to befall me.  It is roughly 20 miles from any conceivable shelter in either direction.  Trapped!  I've been coasting rapidly along under the prodding of a very strong tailwind, watching the sky get gloomier and gloomier and gloomier.  It has been throwing bolts to the ground with regularity for some time now.  I'd been trying to determine whether I was gaining on the front or not, when suddenly I realized that the wind had shifted 180 degrees.  Hmm - I hve a sense of impending doom.  Oh well, at least I have with my my rain fly and helmet (in case of hail).  Hope for the best.

Until this, I had been luxuriating in my free ride.  My day started with the 3500 foot climb from Fredonia to Jacob's Lake, high up in the Kaibab National Forest.  It wasn't a terrible climb, as far as they go.  At least I had the cliffs of Utah to the north for scenery; and I enjoyed observing the gradual change in vegetation as I gained elevation - from sage desert to pinon-juniper forest, to ponderosa pine.  There were also many lovely wildflowers on the road's edge (one has plenty of time to enjoy the flowers at 8 mph!).  I admit though that I did enjoy seeing the summit.  And, after a respite over a hamburger lunch at the lodge and an hour's nap in the forest, I was happily descending 2000 feet at 30 mph.

The vegetation zones passed much more quickly on the way down.  Dropping from the Kaibab plateau was exhilarating - after undulating its way down the side of the range, the road suddenly upens up into the basin, and appears to continue to the east, arrow straight and level, forever.  I felt like a rocket, catapulting out of the hills onto this endless ribbon of highway.

Dusk, at Lee's Ferry campground.  Well, here I am, trying not to be blown away from my partially covered picnic bench by  a fierce, volatile, occasionally damp wind.  The campground is in the lower end of Glen Canyon, about 10 miles downriver from the dam.  The land here is weird.  It has a sort of ghostly, moonscape quality, accentuated by the gloomy weather.  All around are rugged, ruddy eroded sandstone cliffs.  The aptly named Vermillion Cliffs, which I biked along for the entire afternoon, have merged here with a twin mirror formation angling off to the south.  The whole area is very dramatic, but in this weather at least it is too severe to seem really pretty.

The sign down by the river informs me that the Grand Canyon begins here.  The strata angling away from the water here are the ones which form the top of the canyon a hundred miles away.  I try to imagine the planes of rock and river diverging until they are 5000 feet apart.

Inspired by Collin's questions back in Hatch, I have been cataloging in my mind over the last few days why I choose to do this for my vacations.  A lot of ideas crop up when I think about this; but one of the main attractions, I believe, is that it for the moment strips away many of the instant comfort and security options usually available, and leaves me closer to the reality of the physical experience.  I think there is value in being halfway up a 4000 foot ascent on a 90 degree day, and in feeling the reality of that fact rather than just hopping into a car and turning on the air conditioner.  I feel like I know much more now of what basins and ranges are about, having sweated up and over them under my own power, than I would have by simply driving through here.  And earlier in the afternoon, I was reminding myself that there is value in seeing a frightening storm approaching from afar, and in not being able to drive effortlessly to shelter.  It feels like something real happened to me out there in the desert today, something important I would have missed if I had been less vulnerable.

I got lucky - after sitting for about 20 minutes in the middle of nowhere, I noted that for the first time I could dimly see through the dense sky and make out cliffs in the distance.  I also saw that it was now dark and menacing everywhere, not just ahead of me.  Deciding that there was little to lose, I began riding again, planning to stop if I got too close to the storm front.  I did approach too closely, several times, and for a while I played a sort of cat and mouse game, feeling very much in the role of the mouse - riding a mile or two, sitting and hoping for awhile, riding, sitting.  Eventully though the front advanced on across the river and I was able to ride on in safety to Marble Canyon and the campground at Lee's Ferry.  Occasionally I steered around puddles in the road, evidence of what I had managed to avoid.  ( later got confirmation of my good luck - the next morning a Navaho woman at a roadside trinket stand told me that it had been very black there and had hailed very hard; and the Flagstaff paper said that some areas around here had endured four inches of rain and flash floods).

Well, that was the day - except that I forgot to mention earlier that 2000 feet up my 4000 foot climb to Jacob's Lake, my four patch repair job gave out.  Nobody with an air conditioned car stopped to offer me a lift.

Descending from the Kaibab Plateau
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The Vermillion Cliffs
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At Lee's Ferry
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At Lee's Ferry; the start of the Grand Canyon
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In a precarious parking spot, Lee's Ferry
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Today's ride: 75 miles (121 km)
Total: 342 miles (550 km)

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