A Tale of Monumental Misadventure in the Heart of Southern Utah
By Kevin Rouse
Photography by Ross Downard
Sodas of the Road Variety
I'd been warned about situations like these. Strangers in big white vans basically being the universal symbol of a risky encounter, I should have been met with at least a healthy dose of apprehension. Pair that with a positively deserted small-town airport, a driver wearing dark, aviator-style shades and a baying coonhound in the backseat and you have ample reason to turn and bolt. But, rather, I was met with a resounding sense of relief. My ride was here.
Southern Utah is no stranger to cycling, with Moab serving as the gateway to slickrock nirvana for thousands of mountain bikers every year. The region's numerous national parks and monuments draw plenty of travelers too, both foreign and domestic, seeking to soak up the scenery and the area's unique geography—afforded by some of the country's most stunning geological formations. Yet it seems that road biking in this part of the state has yet to catch on, as evidenced by the quizzical looks and stares offered by nearly every carload of folks that passed by. Perhaps it's the harsh, inhospitable, high-desert landscape and the many desolate, waterless stretches that link the southern part of the state's sparsely populated towns, but apparently not too many folks choose a pair of skinny tires as their preferred method of travel.
Thanks to Hermosa Tours though, we would have the luxury of a support van to carry water and our supplies, thus severely cutting down our chances of dying alone on some deserted stretch of road. It still didn't change the fact that it was early spring, and while that meant cooler weather, it also meant we'd be riding in the heart of the windy season. Our work would be cut out for us, but the prospect of seeing some of the country's most beautiful landscapes by bike hinted overwhelmingly at the chance for an adventure of epic proportions.
The invitation from Hermosa Tours to take part in an iron-out-the-kinks trial run of their latest offering, a road tour starting in Moab and ending up in Zion would have been a hard proposition to turn down. Sure, I had less than a day's notice, but a trip like this only takes a split second to determine it easily has the potential to become the journey of a lifetime. My bike and I were on a plane the next morning.
Based on Hermosa's self-guided model, the Moab to Zion route is all about the riding—"no pampering, no frills and no beginner days," states the promo materials for the route. Borrowing the structure from one of those choose-your-own-adventure novels, it's up to the rider to decide whether to go highbrow and opt for hotels and fine dining along the way, or to rough it with a bivy sack and a Bunsen burner. The beauty though, is that the logistics of getting your gear from point A to point B are taken care of, leaving you to worry only about getting your own carcass from point to point. But with five days of hard riding ahead, even that was looking to be a weighty task. And with only a day to get my ducks in a row, it was safe to say I'd be taking things one day at a time and just hoping everything worked out.
A hellacious travel day that saw my bike stranded after a transfer in Phoenix and a particularly maladjusted cab driver who had the nerve to leave several angry voicemails—after standing me up less than an hour before my flight—didn't necessarily bode well for the trip ahead and had me wondering whether a bit more planning may have been prudent, but the sight of a blue-and-white cooler full of ice-cold beverages of the malty persuasion wedged between the front seats of the van certainly went a long way toward assuaging my nervous projections. Whatever lay in store, at least I knew I was in the right company.
Matt McFee, owner-operator of Hermosa Tours and the aforementioned wearer of aviators, would be the brains—and brawn—behind our test-run of the operation. Ryan Siggins, one of McFee's inner-circle cohorts and fellow Coloradan and resident funnyman, had spent even less time on the road bike than I had this preseason, so I could tell that we'd soon become fast friends on the road. Delilah, McFee's black-and-tan coonhound would be there to keep us all in line and help out with support duties in the van.
We'd meet up with the rest of the crew the next morning, but if they were anything like my present company, I was definitely assured there'd be more than enough entertainment and plenty of beers to be had over the many miles ahead of us.