The cycling novice goes on tour – Bryce & Zion National parks

Get thrown in the deep end – sink or swim….

Day one of our Trek Travel cycle trip involved a 4-hour van transfer from St George to Boulder, a short break to eat lunch, have a briefing and then onto our bikes for the first ride on the Burr Trail. It starts off as an easy downhill run, and the day is hot – around 38° C (100° F). But soon, the hills start and the combination of a now continuous climb and heat eventually take their toll, and I run out of gears so end up walking up to the summit of the longest hill, only 11 km into the planned 50km ride. I’m struggling with the heat and really worried that day one is a taste of what is to come… but get back on my bike for the subsequent downhill and further less stressful climbs. At the 16km point, the support van goes past and I flag it down to check what lies ahead – another 11km climb….no way, says I and hop into the van for a lift to the top. There, the vista beyond is pretty special, and I can enjoy it and also the sights of my tour mates arriving in various shades of red from heat and exertion. The van unloads snacks and cold drinks for us all and then plans out the return journey. I enjoy a “whee” ride downhill the 11km I never climbed, but then take the van back to our starting point.

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A number of our group were a little humbled that night as we got to know each other over an excellent dinner at the Hell’s Backbone Grill. Of the 11 of us, there were 4 married couples, all in our late 50’s or early 60’s, 3 younger single guys, as well as our guides, Stu and Jake. We wondered aloud what we had got ourselves into, if every day was going to be such a hot and hard slog.

Start swimming – the water isn’t as bad as you thought….

Day two promised a long day of up to 115 km of cycling, but with opportunities for a break in the van, getting “bumped up” some of the hills if necessary. At least, starting earlier in the morning meant that the heat wasn’t an issue like the day before and the ride again started with a light downhill, before climbing to a stunning plateau overlooking the Calf Creek gorge. This part of the ride was delightful, many photo stops and then a great blast downhill to Henrieville, where I opted for a couple of van bumps up some major hill sections, allowing for downhill rides where I could. I got dropped again at the outskirts of the Bryce National Park where I looked forward to riding the cycle trails into the park and to our accommodation at Sunset Lodge. This was one of the most fun parts as there was no traffic to worry about and I could blast around corners at speed. By the end of the day, I had cycled 62km and it hadn’t been as bad as the day before, despite several climbs that worked my gears well. The scenery was stunning and this was more enjoyable and confidence building than the day before had been.

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Gaining confidence

To start day three, I cadged a ride to the top of Rainbow Point, while everyone else got on their bikes and headed up the 26km trek, and took in the views and photos opportunities from the top before climbing onto my bike and heading downhill for my 26km, enjoying a couple of vista points on the way. There were a few climbs, but it was mostly a downhill run and fun to reach higher speeds on a good road with much less traffic. That afternoon, we walked the trail into the canyon – and it was amazing to be down in the canyon amongst the red rock formations and hoodoos. The track down the Navajo Trail from Sunset Point was steep with many switchbacks but amazing as you rounded a corner and were met by unexpected sights, like the tree growing straight and tall in such a confined space, or the tunnels cut in the rock for access. Through the “Queen’s Gardens” enjoying the views of more rock formations and then up to Sunrise Point through more hoodoos and red rock stacks. This was a great day of more than riding, and enjoying the stunning scenery of the Bryce Canyon. To end the day, we took a van ride back to the tiny township of Tropic to a hidden gem of a restaurant, the Stone Hearth Grille.

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On a roll now…

Heading out of Bryce Canyon on day four after an initial climb up to Bryce Point to warm us up, we enjoyed a dedicated cycleway off-road as far as Red Rock canyon, 36km of riding that was pleasantly cool, and mostly downhill. From there, we all loaded into the van for a compulsory transfer to Orderville over some pretty busy highways and fairly uninteresting countryside for lunch, and then many cycled on from there but I opted to stay in the van and get out at Zion Mountain Ranch and enjoy the ride toward Zion National Park, where again there was a compulsory transfer through the long tunnel and out the other side, where we again mounted our bikes for the fun ride down the switchbacks to the park entrance. This was an amazing ride; the landscape was varied and again so different to what we had seen before. By the time we rolled into Springdale to our hotel, I had covered 51km and felt pretty good about what I was riding now. Springdale was very hot however, and we made the most of the swimming pool at our hotel to cool down.

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…and now, for something completely different

Day five involved an early start with a sunrise breakfast at the van, before heading by shuttle to the start of our walk into the Zion Narrows. Armed with our trusty hiking stick, neoprene socks and sturdy boots, we wandered into the gorge, awestruck by the majesty of our surroundings. Every corner offered up new vistas it was fun to pick a path up the river trail so as not to get too wet as the current and river levels varied. We walked for about 2 hours into the valley before our guides opened up lunch and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our achievements for the week. Heading back, we were amazed at the sheer numbers following us into the gorge and were thankful for an early start to enjoy the best of the day before the heat and the crowds.

Last gasp, I’m a champ!

Our final day, based on the ride description, I thought I would need a van bump in one direction, but as we were riding in the National Park this was not an option – and I was greatly surprised at how “easy” the ride turned out to be. It was 28 km from Springdale, mostly uphill to the end of the road “Temple of Sinawava”, then a fun downhill back and it was a very pleasant ride, enjoying the scenery of the national park, seeing wildlife and scenery and the cool of the morning, with a bittersweet notion that this was the end of our tour. I’d come a long way from day one – physically, geographically, and mentally. A real sense of achievement that I could keep up with the group, and I had ridden more than I’d thought I would. I had conquered hills and despite the misgivings from day one, hills didn’t faze me by the end of the trip.



I would never have done this trip without the support of my amazing husband, an avid cyclist who spent his days riding with me and encouraging me, despite being well able to ride with the other avid cyclists who rode far far ahead. It was good take my van rides and let him “ride free” each day. Thanks too, to our Trek Travel guides Stu and Jaker who kept me supplied with peanut M&M’s and other goodies, and gave me rides in the van when everyone else was riding those hills, and all the other members of our group on this tour. It was an excellent group and we will cherish great memories. I definitely recommend Trek Travel for this trip and one day I hope we may do another one.

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