Words and Photos by Shanon Castle
Forty-seven days ago, I stood on a beach in Yorktown, Virginia with a group of twenty other cyclists. We were on day one of a sixty-two-day bicycle ride across the country. Our route would take us directly through the center of the United States, going through Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. I was looking forward to the entire trip, but I really couldn’t wait to ride through Utah. “It’s unbelievable” my friend Cassie told me “It’s like riding your bike on Mars”
I’m giddy with excitement as I cross into Utah from Colorado. The terrain changes immediately – electrifying red dessert takes the place of tall blue mountains. Cassie was right. I’m sure that, should I ever ride a bike on Mars, it would look like this:
Minus the road of course. Martians don’t need roads.
Utah has no shortage of outdoor glory: Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon. The Arches. You can explore for weeks and not see everything this state has to offer. My fellow riders and I pass giant mesas and exquisite buttes. Endless roads cut through rocky emptiness. After spending so much time in the forest coated East, I’m surprised by Utah’s calm openness. I can’t wait for our ride today. Today we’ll ride through Capitol Reef National Park, a unique fold of earth along route 24, a route which we will follow for about 20 miles.
The visitors center, a non-discrepant tan building, welcomes us almost immediately after entering the park. Tourists gossip in the parking lot and exchange pictures of violent orange rock. I sit on the sidewalk and eavesdrop on electrified conversations. Everyone is happy to be here. Everyone is ready to explore.
I leave the center with my fellow cyclists. We pass a small group of people, each holds a metallic silver umbrella to shield their skin from the sun, blinding overhead. I’m not used to dry heat like this. A New York girl, I’m used to six-month winters and summers mild by comparison. But here in the park there are very few New York greens. There’s no grass, no leaves, no trees. Here in the park the ground rips into chasms, erupts into cliffs. Fire red towers of earth punch upward toward the sky. I find myself thinking that maybe I’ll become a Martian here myself.
Down the road we stumble upon a small cabin, hardly big enough for a family of 4. It stands abandoned in a valley, a bronze plaque in front reads that a farming family of 15 once lived here. “Fifteen people” I mutter. “Who farmed here?”
“Flooding.” my friend Matt responds. I raise my eyebrows and read further down the plaque to see that the family was driven out of their home by flooding from uphill. “What I’m getting from that” Matt continues “is that we have to climb a hill”
And we do. Just around the next bend the road angles sharply upward. My legs work hard, pushing against the pedals. Sweat forms on my brow. The water in my water bottle, microwaved by Utah heat, tastes like flavorless tea. Lukewarm. Beneath my tires the pavement whirs lazily. There’s no breeze, no clouds, no shade. A passenger in a passing RV waves hello.
The intensity of the heat sucks all the energy out of my bones. We stop at every scenic overlook we pass, using them as an excuse to get off the bike. But soon it becomes clear that there’s more to each overlook than simply breaking up our ride. Each reveals more of Utah’s breathy secrets. Open desert spaces pull me into them with a gravity so strong my heart catches in my throat.
“Did you ride here?” a man wearing a sun hat comes over to me, binoculars hang from his neck. He gestures to my bicycle.
I nod. “I did”
He smiles. Perhaps he understands the secrets too.
Today I think I’ve become a part of Capitol Reef National Park. My skin sparkles with energy, dazzled by this place.
How lucky I am, to be here with my friends. As I ride out of the park later that day I think to myself “What a beautiful place” It’s B-Utah-ful, I realize, and my lips curve into a smile.
Are you interested in going on a bike overnight of your own but aren’t sure where to start? Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll need to bring and what you can expect along the way.
First, decide where you’d like to go and how long your trip will be. Get an idea of your route and whether or not you want to camp or sleep in hotels. Then you’ll need to pack. Here’s an example of what you will need:
FOR YOUR BICYCLE:
Get a full tune up and bike fit before you go, this will ensure safety and comfort on your ride.
-Flat kit (tire levers, replacement tubes (2) CO2 cartridge or frame pump, patch kit)
-Water bottles (2)
-Rear view mirror
-Camp clothes (you’ll be surprised how few clothes you need on the road. Pajamas and one or two off bike outfits will see you through)
-Bike clothes (whatever you’re comfortable riding in. If you plan on some long days in the saddle wear padded shorts)
-SUNSCREEN. DO NOT FORGET SUNSCREEN.
-Electronics (Download google maps on your phone. It’s a lifesaver should you get lost)
**Always wear a helmet**
-Footprint or tarp
Where will I charge my phone?
Everywhere. Bring your charger into restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations. Bring an external charger for emergencies.
Where will I get water?
Every gas station you pass. Stop for water even if you don’t think you need it.
How much money will I need?
A good budget is $30.00/day for food, plus an additional budget for any overnight costs at the campground or hotel.
Stay safe and have fun!