Bikepacking Diaries 003: Downhill Delight

While bikepacking, there are many things to get pissed at. Like a puncture in my water bottle. The one with the sticker I liked. Never get attached to water bottles, they’re fickle. You buy, they break. They break when you need them most like when a desert stretch is coming up where water carrying capacity is the key element to living. I will not downplay that I woke up pissed to see my water bottle leaking on my sleeping bag.

It’s easy to get pissed at the low hanging spruce tree branches when I bumped my head into them countless times that morning trying to pack my bike. I bumped my head over and over again because my bike was leaning up against the trunk because it doesn’t have a damn kickstand. Every where I go I must balance my bike on my body or find a rock or post or tree to lean it against. Then, when it inevitably falls over I have to reattach the bike bag that’s broken hanging on with p-cord and a ratchet strap. Every where I go I do not have a kickstand and that pisses me off from time to time. Not for a lack of trying either. I wasted six whole dollars on a top of the line Walmart kickstand and for some odd reason it wouldn’t attach to my bike. It’s easy to get pissed off about these things, which leads to more head bumping branches, a water bottle cap missing, peeing on my foot, stepping on my sunglasses, huffing and puffing around a beautiful meadow with a creek meandering through it.

If you find yourself pissed off at the small things, you can rise above it and throw your laughter into the wind, or you can try one of these catch phrases on for flavor:

  • Great googley moogely! (This one can be said with a light hearted tone.)
  • Fucking shit man! (Scream this to the heavens.)
  • Holy crapola! (Say this one as fast as you can.)
  • I’m gonna kick your ass! (Say this directly to the inanimate object that has upset you.)
  • Gee gosh golly goddamn it (Mutter this one under your breath.)
  • Aw, tits! (Say this one to invoke pity from others around you.)
  • Oh, my coconuts! (Say this real slow with one hand over your heart.)
  • You rat bastard! (Also say this directly to the inanimate object that has upset you.)

After a morning of muttering and packing and head bumping, I sat in the shade with my coffee and journal. Moments later the silence was broken by a sound all too familiar. I looked up across the meadow and saw two bikepackers pedaling up the dirt road with top heavy rigs. When they saw me, they got off their bikes and waved.

“Hey there! Where you headed?” The woman yelled to me across the luscious green meadow and the meandering creek.

“Zion,” I yelled back. “What about you?”

“Kanab,” the man said. “Where did you start?” he asked.

“Bryce. We’re looping around through Grand Staircase,” I said.

“That’s quite the loop,” the man said, shaking his head.

“Where are you guys coming from?” I asked.

“Canada,” the man said.

“You’re the third bickpackers we’ve seen since Canada,” the woman yelled.

“You’re the first bikepackers we’ve seen since Bryce,” I yelled back.

The couple recently retired and embarked on The Western Wildlands Trail, a 2,700 mile ride from Canada to Mexico. They had been pedaling for over a month when we met them, and had already passed through Idaho and Montana.

Seeing the bikepackers brightened up my day significantly. I hadn’t realized until then that there weren’t any other bikepackers around. What we were doing was weird. And badass and magnificent and uncomfortable and unique. With the bike we were experiencing the world up close. Every bump in the road, every rock, every shift of wind and cloud covering sun we noticed. Every foot of elevation gain and every degree of temperature drop we felt.

Now the real things to get pissed about on bike trips are not the small things but the big safety trip threatening things like bicycle tires popping.

After a few miles we crested Crawford Pass and said goodbye to the Sevier River. This began our day of downhill delight, descending down the Paunsaugunt Plateau. While I gripped my handlebars and dismounted my bike on the steepest part of the downhill, Ian crashed over gigantic loose rocks and popped his tubeless tire. He also dented the rim to his bike.

Yelling any number of the suggested catchphrases above would have been appropriate. However, getting pissed would probably have made the situation harder than it needed to be. Ian stayed calm and so did I. While he fiddled with his tubeless tire and attempted to patch it, I twiddled my thumbs and stared at the sky. I watched the aspen leaves flutter, I ate cheese and crackers, and entered into intense staring contests with cows. Ian eventually gave up on the patch and inserted a tube and we went on our merry way.

We soared down dusty dirt and gravel roads through tunnels of aspen then overhanging oak. I found myself able to relax into the downhill, I let my brakes go and flew. Until Ian’s tire popped again not ten minutes later.

This time he let out a simple but loud, “Fuck!”

Then added a colorful, “God fucking damnit!”

The tube he put in wouldn’t hold air or sealant so it was on to Tube #2. This did the trick.

We coasted downhill for 30 miles through the hot and exposed desert. We traded spruce and fir meadows for sage and saltbush flats. We entered canyon country.

Instead of heading west and up a hill toward Zion like we planned, we went south toward Kanab, which was a magically paved downhill road.

How many times can I use the worse magical?

For the first time that day, we rode with majestic shade from the whimsical walls of Johnson Canyon. Down we drifted, without needing to pedal for what seemed like hours. Side by side we soared toward the valley, dropping magical layers of white rock to red rock. Petroglyphs on wingate walls and side canyons joining from all sides. We floated into the cool night until we could hardly see and the sunset colors were fading into night.

We slept next to cholla cacti with a clear view of the magical milky way, with dreams of a breakfast cinnamon roll in town.

Grateful for…extra tubes, exposed red rock, private ponds, bellyflops, twisted oak tunnels, hoses and trampolines, red dirt, juniper shade, midday naps, eating the m&ms out of Ian’s trail mix, cholla, juniper, and the aspen leaves turning yellow.

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