Sunday, June 26, 2016

A quick shoulder-of-the-Uintas bike tour

At the risk of this blawg becoming something of a "look at me, this is what I did" billboard, we are such fans of bike tours that I can't really resist the opportunity for a quick post to talk about a quick bike tour we did this past weekend that reiterated for us how awesome bike tours are!

Ash and I were pretty keen to get out of town to adventure and sleep in the dirt for the weekend but were not up for a big drive, so we busted out the atlas and started looking at potential loops.  One that popped off the map very easily was a Mirror Lake Highway-to-Wolf Creek pass-to-Tabiona, over to highway 40 on a connector road, onto highway 40 for a few miles, then up Currant Creek, over a pass, and plunge into the Heber valley.  Nuthin to it!  

broad view, relative to SLC

detailed view, starting just off the upper left corner in Kamas. 
While the Mirror Lake highway can be a most-excellent road ride, we had forgotten that Saturday morning of an hot early-summer Father's Day sub-optimal for little bikes cowering on the shoulder while diesel F-950s towing multiple ATV's roar by in a steady stream.  But we accepted it as a price of admission and another reminder to try to avoid that in the future, and it only lasted the first 15 miles to the where the winter gate is and the Soapstone Basin road splits off.  

I had sorta thought that a road going through a thing called a "basin" would be fairly flat, but not surprisingly it was a pretty healthy climb up and out of the Provo river canyon to a pass between it and the South Fork Provo, where the Wolf Creek highway is.  The gravel road climb and descent was the first good test of our tire choice:  doing a paved/dirt road combo is always a little tricky to plan for in terms of tires in that there's going to be a compromise.  Either you are humming along somewhat annoyingly for many miles on pavement with the nobbies that you brought to march through the gravel, or you're spinning out, sinking in, or flatting with too-skinny or too slick tires on the gravel but blissfully zipping along on the roads.  And there isn't the comprehensive evaluation that Burke Swindlehurst does for his epic Crusher in the Tushars (maybe we should do his so we can actually choose the correct tires!).  In this case we anticipated that we'd be on gravel for about 25-30 miles and on pavement for 85-100 miles, so we opted for pretty road-friendly tires:

In hindsight, we probably woulda brought these:

A light cyclocross tire on the left, a well-worn mtb tire on the right; both are generally fine for pavement.   
But...we didn't melt, we only got one flat, and we had a nice time.  

A ways up the Soapstone Basin climb suddenly we saw a couple of cyclists coming at us, which was pretty surprising;  we weren't on the roads, and we weren't on singletrack; those are the two venues that Utah riders ride!  But these were a couple of 60ish guys on nice 'cross bikes doing a smaller, but similarly-proportioned day ride (Kamas-Wolf Creek-Soapstone-Mirror Lake-Kamas) and they were so stoked; "We have always been roadies but we realized how many gravel roads are in Utah and these things open up a whole new world!"  Until, that is, they saw us with our light overnight gear, and realized that the ability to do weekends or more on both surfaces opened up an even-bigger world of covering that many more wild miles.  It's not often that a coupla roadies on expensive carbon bikes are obviously envious of a couple of old steel bikes, but these guys were, and as we parted ways Ash remarked "Those guys will be going on overnights by the end of the summer!"  

The riding over the Soapstone pass was great; the Uintas seem to be characterized by a nice band of aspens and pines that go up to about 8500 feet, and then it transitions to nice open meadows: 
Note the diesel white F750's; the official vehicle of the Utah "camper"
Because it was a hot weekend, a lot of folks had escaped to the Uintas for a weekend of "camping".   There were a lot of people like this guy:

who was just sitting out in the full midday sun by himself i, listening to classic rock powered off his loud generator, in front of a fire-less fire.  As I chugged past on my bike, I'm sure that we both had the exact same thought:  "I could never, ever do that!"  

Soon enough we made it to the paved highway 35 and climbed the last couple of miles to Wolf Creek Pass

a nice 10 mile descent brought us into the hot, flat Duschene valley.  We realized that it was more akin to southern Utah than the more-lush west side of the Uintas, and that we needed to go another 30 miles to get to decent camping, which was fine at that point, as it was nice riding.

An hour east of Park City, or down in the mesas of southern Utah?  Nice to have both on a weekend tour. 

but the camping opportunities were a bit bleak.  
Soon enough we hit busy highway 40.  A necessary evil, these 8 miles were made a bit more mean by a wind that seemed to shift to ensure that even as we had turned 90 degrees, it was still in our face!  

But soon enough we turned off 40 onto the blissfully silent Currant Creek road, with a "watch for bicycles" sign right at the start.  Currant Creek is headed by a dam, so there's almost always water in it, and after traversing the desert we found ourselves in a great, dispersed, creekside campsite shaded by willows and cottonwoods

In the morning we had a nice spin up the paved Currant Creek road

with the only traffic being the Mormon campers heading back out to get to church.  Soon enough  -as we anticipated - the road turned to gravel and we started a long grind up to another 10,000 foot pass, that had some steep sections:
Hard to convey in a pic looking back, but this is pretty steep....and the 
the gravel was a little soft for our tires
and got some great views of the highest Uintas in the distance:

there were a few "pussymobiles" (as Ash likes to call the big caged 4-wheelers)
It amazes us that people are willing to spend $20 on these rigs that go to places that....their passenger cars drive to!  (we didn't see any of these actually 4-wheeling).  
It was a 19 mile cruise down into Heber Valley from here, and just out of sight in the background of the picture above it turned to butter-smooth pavement, which made for a sublime descent twisting through the aspens:

This would make for an incredible road climb as well; 5000 feet, almost no cars....

with great views west to the backside of the Wasatch.  
Once down in Heber we followed highway 40 for a couple of miles while it was constricted to one lane, and we passed hundreds of cars, feeling smug on our freedom bikes!  And then with a final 3-4 mile climb and descent finished up back in Kamas.

Getting out of town on an impromptu adventure?  check.  Great, new riding terrain?  check.  Riding our bikes all day for 2 days?  check.  Nice riverside camping?  check.  Starting only an hour from the house?  check.  Another awesome bike tour! Check!  

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