Filling the Panniers: Two-Up Touring through Zion, Bryce, North Rim and more

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by BigKahunaBurger, Aug 13, 2019.

  1. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

    Joined:
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    I’ve got an incredible pillion, have I mentioned that before? :rogue

    With the thumbs-up from my wife, Stefanie, I’ve begun filling the panniers (with gear) for another trip west (prior ride reports here and here). This year, she’s flying round trip to and from Denver while I knock out the most boring stretches of freeway. From there, we’ll share one long day of interstate riding before establishing camp at elevation in southwest Utah. There, we plan to visit a number of national parks and monuments so we can fill the panniers (with stickers) when we return.

    This may be our last long motorcycle trip for some time (we’ve been checking things off the “cradle list” for awhile now), so we hope to make the most of it. With a bit of luck, we could find time to visit as many as five national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Great Sand Dunes) and three national monuments (Cedar Breaks, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Canyons of the Ancients). I’d say we’re getting the most out of the annual park pass we bought last August. For this year’s trip, expect some hiking, a fair amount of riding (mostly on pavement, though I’m sure I’ll find a little dirt), and—as required for any successful trip—a ton of good eating.

    A rough map of some of our potential riding is below. The trip starts tomorrow after work, and I can hardly wait! Thanks for following along!

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    #1
  2. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

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    The trip has officially begun! I left work early and came home to the Super Tenere, packed and loaded.

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    Lucky, I escaped the Twin Cities just before rush hour set in. In no time at all, I was cruising along I-35 heading south toward my in-laws in Iowa. It was an unseasonably temperate day today, so I almost got cold riding with my jacket ventilation unzipped.

    After a warm reception and home cooked meal from family (thanks again Jean and Karl!), I settled in for a good night sleep before tomorrow’s long freeway ride.
    #2
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  3. Astronaut Jones

    Astronaut Jones Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Looking forward to your report. Picture is on the Burr Trail ED9FB84A-9667-478D-8846-6C659385832D.jpeg
    #3
  4. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

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    Awesome! I am definitely looking forward to that part of the ride. Thanks for following!
    #4
  5. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

    Joined:
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    And like that, 680 miles are behind me. Although, the day was not entirely uneventful.

    My morning started early with a breakfast with my parents-in-law. I hit the road at sunrise, and it was largely smooth sailing until I ran into traffic at Ankeny and Des Moines. The morning commute occasionally slowed to a stop, but I was through the metro and on I-80 heading west by 8:30 am.

    Shortly after 9, I stopped for fuel and a quick snack at a Flying J just off the freeway.

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    Thanks again for the party mix, Sheila! :)

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    Again this year, I’ve decided to pack these caffeinated mints I found on Amazon. Each mint packs the caffeine content of half a cup of coffee. Nothing like dosing out caffeine like the drug it is

    Before hopping back in the saddle, I decided to grab my warmer waterproof gloves. Even though I closed my jacket vents before leaving in the morning, my ride was fairly chilly with air flowing into my sleeves. Replacing my summer gloves with the other pair did the trick. Plus, it was starting to cloud up off to the west...

    Not far past Omaha, the clouds let loose. The light rain quickly turned to a downpour with occasional bolts of lightning darting across the horizon. Visibility fell to no more than a two-second gap between traffic, which continued to move at about 70 mph—though we occasionally needed to slow to 55-60 when the rain really came down. A handful of drivers put on their four-way flashers, and I decided to join them in hopes of improving my visibility. An unfortunate number of drivers rode without ANY of their lights on

    After a long hour and a half, the skies finally began to clear. I twisted the throttle and eagerly raced out of the rain. After 50 miles of dry riding, I stopped for gas and lunch at a Pilot Travel Center and Subway somewhere between Grand Island and Kearney.

    On my way back to the bike, I met a fellow rider from Geneva, Illinois, on a Triumph Tiger 800 heading to Colorado to ride the BDR. We talked about the storm we both rode through and the surprising lack of waves we received from other riders on the road today. He ran inside to use the restroom before we had the chance to properly introduce ourselves, but we wished each other safe travels as we departed.

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    My jacket and gloves, drying out in the sun.

    The next 175-mile stretch of freeway flew by, and soon I was filling up with gas yet again. I snacked on some party mix before setting off on the last 130 miles of I-76 toward my hotel.

    Unfortunately, these miles were some of the hardest of the day. Fatigue was starting to creep in, but the 90-degree air made it toughest of all. I probably drank more ice-cold water from my Camelbak on this segment of the ride than all the others combined.

    Nonetheless, I rolled into my hotel parking lot by 4:30 pm (thanks, in part, to the change in time zones)—a nearly 700-mile day complete in little more than 11 hours (including stops). The S10 just makes things too easy. After checking in and unloading the bike, I promptly picked up some Colorado craft beer.

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    I found dinner across the street and brought it back to enjoy with some preseason NFL action. I can’t believe football season is upon us already!

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    Tomorrow, I need to hit the road around 7:30 am to meet Stef at the airport (her flight is due in at 8:35). From there, we’ll slab it to a cheap motel in western Utah for our last night before the national park touring begins!
    #5
  6. Shadowed_Stranger

    Shadowed_Stranger Been here awhile

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    In! Now that school is starting back up the parks should hopefully be getting less busy.
    #6
  7. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

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    That’s what we’re hoping! It seemed to hold true last year at this time. We went for an afternoon hike at Arches and the Delicate Arch trailhead lot was practically empty.
    #7
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  8. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

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    Friday was a day of inconveniences. Still too exhausted to detail them in proper narrative form, I will instead list them below.

    • Unbeknownst to me, Stef’s scheduled Uber pickup at 5:15-5:20 never showed up. No notification. No email. No “upcoming trips” listed at 5:25 when she nervously checked.
    • Stef’s ad hoc Uber request failed. Her credit card didn’t work. Assuming that’s what caused the scheduled ride to fail—though still baffled Uber wouldn’t send an email or notification to explain—she input a different credit card and booked a ride.
    • Of course, now that she was running late to the airport, this ride was slow as molasses. The “7 minutes from home” for pickup took at least twice that long. He slowly rolled up to stop signs and stop lights. And—I shit you not—he actually came to a stop while approaching a freeway entrance ramp.
    • The TSA line was terribly long.
    • A family ahead of Stef couldn’t figure out how to walk through the roped-off line when an agent added a few extra zigs and zags in front of them. They just stopped walking. Straight up confused, they came to a stop when literally the only option was to just keep walking.
    • On the tarmac, about to take off, Stef’s flight receives word that all inbound flights to Denver are being held due to low visibility.
    • After a two-hour delay, the flight departs. When I get on the bike to go pick her up, however, I realize my 12V charger isn’t working. Since I can’t charge my phone/GPS, I scratch down driving directions (avoiding tolls) on a Rodeway Inn notepad and stick it in my tank bag.
    • After doing three loops at the West terminal, Stef calls to inform me she’s waiting at the East terminal.
    • We got cut off by a cager not more than 3 miles from the airport.
    • Crash on I-76. Mostly cleared by the time we passed.
    • Thick stop-and-go traffic on I-70 for a good 30 minutes.
    • Unending string of idiotic traffic clogging up the left lane. Eventually I just started swearing at them under my helmet and flying around on the right. I’m sure they thought I was the terrible driver. If only they could read any of the unending signs that remind the left lane is for passing only.
    • As traffic waned, temperatures rose. To a whopping triple digits. Oh and the wind. Damn that Utah wind.
    • Had to add an extra gas stop due to the terrible mileage I made in the wind doing 85 mph.
    • After I scored a new 12V charger and was again able to stream music to my helmet, my clumsiness put an end to that. At the next gas stop, I dropped my glasses and—forgetting my helmet was attached to the charger—bent over to pick them up only to snap the micro USB port within the device.
    • The sun. The blinding setting sun.

    Oh what a day. Thankfully we arrived just before dark. Check-in was a breeze. Dinner was within walking distance (God bless you, Carl’s Jr milkshakes). Vacation can truly start tomorrow.

    Oh and with a little ingenuity, we were able to get the finicky headset device to still take a charge. Nothing a little (roll) of duct tape can’t fix

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    #8
  9. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

    Joined:
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    Saturday was a great day! After a mediocre continental breakfast, we hit the road to Capitol Reef National Park.

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    The morning air was quite still during our ride on State Highway 24.

    By 9 am, we were parked at the visitor center and ready to venture out into the park.

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    The park road boasted great views, and there was little traffic at this hour.

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    On our way back, we stopped at the Gifford House in the Fruita Historic District for some pie.

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    Somebody’s having a great day.

    This area was established in the 1880s by Mormon settlers. They built irrigation systems to water the orchards they planted, and the fruit trees remain there today, open for park visitors to peruse and pick. Unfortunately, nothing was ready for harvest when we visited.

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    After a feeble attempt to walk off the brick of pie in our bellies, we returned to the bike and hit the road toward Bryce Canyon National Park.

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    #9
  10. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

    Joined:
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    Utah Highway 12 is an incredible road. I had heard that it is one of our country’s finest, but I tried to keep my hopes in check. Needless to say, I was blown away.

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    Miles of winding forest road eventually gave way to breathtaking views of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. We could hardly believe our eyes.

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    Along the way, we stopped at Kiva Coffeehouse for a caffeine boost and a light lunch. What a unique gem to find out along the highway!

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    The views from the parking lot weren’t bad either

    By this point of the day, we were really starting to feel the heat in our riding gear. Thankfully, we gained some elevation on the way to Bryce Canyon, and soon enough we were hiking down into its spectacular features.

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    What an incredibly unique national park. We really loved our hike here!

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    Though we were originally planning to meet up with Stef’s sister and her family here, we received word that they were running a little late (damn that timezone change coming from Vegas) and so they’d just meet us at camp. Works for us!

    Like that, we were back on the bike and heading for our campsite at Cedar Breaks National Monument, both eager to meet up with Joy and Chris and Colton.

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    Not much to say about the quick ride to the park. The winding roads continued and we were happy to gain elevation when we turned on Highway 14 and then 148 on the way to camp.

    After setting up camp, Stef and I went for a short hike to try to find cell service and see where Joy and family were at. Since our calls to them failed, however, we hope that meant they were getting close. By the time we got back to camp, we were pleasantly surprised to find them here, setting up their tent!

    We enjoyed catching up and hanging out with Joy and Chris’ active three-year-old, Colton. We were also spoiled with the food they brought to cook.

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    Hobo dinner was a delight!

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    So too we’re the s’mores.

    After the sun disappeared, we noticed a strange glow on the horizon in the east. I wondered if it was from city lights. Stef wondered if it was from a forest fire. A few minutes later, we watched an enormous (nearly full) moon rise over distant trees. It moved up and across the sky right before our very eyes. We couldn’t believe the size or speed of the moon that night.

    Later on, as the fire died down and exhaustion set in, we said our good nights and went off to sleep.

    Attached Files:

    #10
  11. davidaid

    davidaid Adventurer

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    fantastic
    #11
  12. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

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    After a Belvita, banana, and instant coffee breakfast at camp (my two cents: the money you save buying cheap instant coffee is not worth it Starbucks Via makes a much nicer cup), Joy and Chris packed up their tent and gear and we all hit the road toward the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

    We stopped for gas and a quick snack at Kanab before continuing on. There, Joy helped a European tourist find an ATM so she could pay for gas for her rental car.

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    Highway 89 is a fairly uninspiring desert road. The scenery improved, however, as we entered Kaibab National Forest and got closer to the North Rim.

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    On the way, we spent a good 20-30 miles riding through a controlled forest fire. You could really smell the smoke in the air.

    After easily finding two close parking spots in the visitor center lot, we donned our hydration packs and set off on a short hike toward the Grand Canyon.

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    The views were incredible. People always say it’s hard to capture in photos, and they’re not wrong. What most moved me was the sheer size of the canyon. It’s almost hard to properly appreciate in person, and even harder in a photo.

    Though I have a healthy fear of heights (no need to remind me about that Angels Landing hike we plan to do tomorrow...), what most stressed me out at the North Rim were the sheer number of tourists with no apparent fear or respect for the dangers and risks at hand. Children roamed free with sandals and flip-flops. Teenagers posed on precipitous ledges for social media shots. Parents held their children out over the edge ala Rafiki and Simba. And one child even started climbing out a hole in a fence at rim’s edge before her mother saw her and pulled her back to safety. I felt sick. I was losing hope for humanity. It was such a depressing sight in what should otherwise be an inspiring location.

    Needless to say, by 2:30 pm we were eager to escape to the grounded comfort of our campsite, so we said our goodbyes and hit the road.

    On our way out of the park, we passed a herd of bison.

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    Though I had Stef attempt to charge my finicky helmet Bluetooth communicator, it was difficult to hold on the back of the bike and to see if the light indicated that it was charging. Too frustrated to continue, she signaled for me to pull over and I threw it in the tank bag.

    Beyond that, we had smooth sailing back to camp with just one stop for gas and a Snickers ice cream bar (a time-tested mood improver).

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    At camp, we prepared a Chili Mac freeze dried meal and kicked back in the hammock to enjoy a brilliant sunset. What a special place.

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    Oh, I even got my helmet communicator to fully charge! Note to self: ALWAYS PACK DUCT TAPE.
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    #12
  13. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

    Joined:
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    Monday morning came early, with an alarm set for 5:15 am to ensure we’d be on the road to Zion before sunrise. I don’t love riding in the dark, but we felt it was necessary to ensure we beat the rush at Zion (waiting to hit the road for a 6:50 am sunrise just wasn’t in the cards, particularly given the 1 hr 40 min ride we had to the park). We ate a quick Belvita breakfast and I popped a caffeine mint before setting off. We kept on most of our sleeping layers before jumping into our riding gear—we’d need to retain as much body heat as possible given the 40-degree morning temperatures at elevation. We were on the road shortly after 6.

    Not 100 feet from the campground intersection, a mother deer and two fawns crossed the road ahead of us. I had every intention of sticking to or below the speed limit this morning, but this was a good reminder why it was necessary. I would be riding well within the reach of my headlights.

    Within the next two miles, we saw two more sets of deer cross the road ahead of us. Another stood watching in the grass as we passed her a few miles later. Four sets of deer in almost as many miles. Eeks.

    On Highway 14, the deer thinned out. There, we caught up with a truck and trailer and together waited out a stoplight for a single-lane section of road construction.

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    Slowly but surely, the sky warmed with the rising sun, and we were treated to inspiring highway views in the soft morning light.

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    A boring stretch of I-15 took us from Cedar City to Highway 17, where we turned off to head toward Highway 9 and Zion. At least we had no wind to fight at this hour of the morning.

    Soon after we hit Highway 9, spectacular glimpses of rock demarcating Zion Canyon came into view. The anticipation was overwhelming. We could hardly contain our excitement.

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    A short line of traffic had already formed at the entrance gates when we arrived at 8 am. After a quick flash of our annual interagency pass (my, how that thing has paid for itself), we rode on to the designated motorcycle parking within the RV lot. We shared the space with just one other bike.

    Some remarkable gusts of wind were flowing through the canyon at this hour of the morning, so Stefanie was worried she didn’t have the right clothes with. I reassured her that by the time we hit the trail, the sun would have done a number on the morning temps and we’d be happy to be wearing shorts and short sleeves. She begrudgingly accepted my attempt to console, and we crossed the road to the visitor center, hit the restroom, topped off our Camelbaks, and got in line for the Zion Canyon Shuttle.

    Most of the park road is closed to public traffic during peak season. Instead, visitors must board a shuttle that runs from one end of the canyon drive to the other, making 8 stops in about 40 minutes end-to-end. To be honest, I really enjoyed the shuttle experience. Our driver provided bits of entertainment between prerecorded information—both historic and scientific—about the park, and I found it all fascinating. It really put me in the right mindset to appreciate all that we would see and experience over the next few hours.

    Soon we were at stop number 6, The Grotto, and here we would embark on the hike we’d been looking forward to the entire trip: Angels Landing.
    #13
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  14. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

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    The beginning of our hike was absolutely spectacular. The morning sun was still low and soft enough to splash radiant swathes of color on the canyon walls. Temperatures were in the 60s or 70s. We were smiling from ear to ear and loving every step.

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    See that column of rock rising up in the middle of the frame? Yep, we’re going up there

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    There are so many places to stop and stand in awe of the landscape.

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    Eventually, the intensity of the elevation gain made itself known, so we’d stop and stand and take in the views from yet another vantage point. In all, we’d experience 1,488 feet of elevation change in the 5.4 mile round-trip hike.

    Before 10 am, we reached a sort of halfway point. Perhaps it’s best described as a “catch your breath” point. Here, a sign warns of the dangers ahead.

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    It’s become somewhat of a ritual for Stefanie to ask “how many people die doing this?” whenever we’re on a more—how shall I say—“exciting” adventure. Lucky for us, this sign answered her question. (Nine. The answer is nine.)

    Yes, the hike (climb?) ahead would be like no other we’ve experienced. A chain rope lines much of the trail, giving hikers not only a security blanket, but also a necessary point of leverage to pull themselves up through more difficult sections.

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    Though crowded at the outset, the trail eventually thins as some choose to turn around rather than hike the rather lengthy stretch of trail all the way to the end of the cliff. In many sections, the trail thins to just a few feet, with sharp, thousand-foot drop-offs on either side. I’d say I have a healthy fear of heights—and there were definitely times that my heart was in my stomach—but as long as I kept focusing on the task at hand, I was able to keep going. The ample opportunities to stop and take in the views easily made it worth the stress.

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    On numerous occasions, we’d have to stop and let descending hikers scoot around us. Choosing when and where to hold up and let others pass was an important decision. In many sections of the trail, it simply wasn’t an option.

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    Thankfully, the views made stopping and letting others go by a rather enjoyable experience.

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    If you look carefully, you can see the chain marking out the descending trail in the bottom left of the frame.

    By 10:30 am, approximately 40 minutes from our “catch your breath” point, we reached the top of the cliff and the end of the trail.

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    Dare I say, the views were as good as ever.

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    Though the descending trail was arguably more difficult physically, it was much easier for me mentally. The sense of accomplishment you get after reaching the end of the trail is really quite profound. I carried that confidence with me all the way down, happy to cheer on others on their way up, slowly regaining my appreciation for humanity with each passing pleasantry. We’re all in this together, and sometimes a kind word goes a heck of a long way.

    With legs burning, we eventually made our way down the trail and back to the bus stop. By this point, we were quite famished, so we decided to stop at the Zion Lodge for some lunch. Prices were surprisingly reasonable, as was the (lack of) wait in line. Can’t say we could have found a better view at a restaurant outside the park either.

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    #14
  15. Little Bike

    Little Bike Air/Clutz Sue Supporter

    Joined:
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    Glad you took some great pictures because I’m not goin up there! :lol3
    #15
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  16. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

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    I don’t think I’m going back up there any time soon! Both Stef and I have since had nightmares of hiking up there and slipping and falling. Doing that hike must cause some sort of subconscious trauma
    #16
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  17. BigKahunaBurger

    BigKahunaBurger They're Real Tasty

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    Though we had only planned on hiking Angels Landing, at some point during our day, we thought we just as well try another short hike or two while we’re here. By lunchtime it was decided: we’d take the shuttle to the last stop and venture out on The Narrows.

    The Narrows is a 16 mile “trail” that essentially is the Virgin River in the north end of the park. The hike is done in the river, usually upstream as far as a day tripper feels like going, then downstream on their way back to the start of the trail. To hike the full 16 miles requires a permit and travel arrangements.

    Since we wanted to get back to camp at a decent hour, we decided we’d hike in as far as we could go to still be able to make it back to the bike by 3 or 4 pm.

    Before reaching the river, one must hike approximately one mile on a paved path starting at the bus stop. By early afternoon on a Monday, the trail was packed with people hiking toward the river. It was almost as if we were all together on some strange 21st Century pilgrimage, all of us walking away from the mechanized vehicles that brought us here and on toward a simple baptism in the life giving waters of the Virgin River.

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    And so it begins

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    Wading upstream in logged hiking boots is quite the experience. Many (smarter) hikers had walking sticks—including some you can rent from within the park. We just used our arms to balance as we stumbled over slick boulders and shifting rocks.

    About 15 minutes into our hike, the water grew deeper and we walked with it up over our knees. The 67 degree river actually felt quite refreshing during the heat of an August afternoon.

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    The scenery and experience of this hike is like no other.

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    We really enjoyed ourselves—to the point of almost losing track of time before realizing we needed to turn around at this bend in the river.

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    Luckily, the hike downstream went fairly quick. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’m familiar with the difference between hiking up and down a mountain, but upstream and downstream are different experiences altogether.

    By 3 pm, we were on a shuttle heading back to the visitor center. We devoured the rest of our ham sandwiches we had leftover from lunch, purchased a park sticker for the panniers, and then returned to the bike to ride to camp.

    At camp, we enjoyed a gourmet dinner while I considered the immense value I’ve gotten out of my camp sandals.

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    I bought these at a Walmart for $5-6 about 6-7 years ago. I’ve used them for all my camping and motorcycle trips since then, strapping them on to the back of the bike for a quick change out of my hot motorcycle boots at stops, wearing them around camp with or without socks, wearing them in the shower, etc. Comparing them to Stef’s knockoff Chacos, I noticed just how versatile they are. Seriously, folks, you can’t do better than a no-name sandal of this style.

    After dinner, we hiked back to our favorite viewpoint and grabbed cell service to post a few updates.

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    On our way back to camp, a deer made light notice of us and continued on with her evening stroll.

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    The hills were alive with color that night.

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    As temperatures continued to drop, we started a fire and sat out under the glow of the Milky Way, wholly content with our place in the universe.

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    #17
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