Autumn Assault of the 2014 Tour of Utah Stage 1 Route
By John Woodson
“Where are you riding?” my wife asks.
“Up Brian Head. Over to Duck Creek. Up to Cedar Breaks. Then back down to Cedar City.”
“Brian Head????” as she points out the car window towards the tallest snow-capped mountain in view.
“Yep. No worries. I’m a profamature cyclist. It’s gonna clear up and be a nice sunny day. Believe me.”
My wife just looks at me. “You know nothing, John Woodson. Winter’s coming.”
Today’s epic bucket list bike ride retraces the 2014 Tour of Utah Stage 1 route. Starting and ending in Cedar City, it covers 115 miles and 8,000 vertical feet in the beautiful Dixie National Forest.
Rolling out of Cedar City, I head north towards the Red Hills of the Escalante Desert. Luckily, this first 25-mile section is flat and warm. Passing through Parowan Gap, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, I briefly stop to admire the wonderful ancient Native American petroglyphs. Lots of cool stick figures, squiggly lines, and circles carved in rock tell travelers of life here 1,000 years ago.
Next, I head east starting the 18-mile climb up Parowan Canyon to Brian Head Ski Resort. At the bottom, it’s a sunny 60 degrees with the distant mountaintop enveloped in clouds. At first, the climb feels easy, lulling me into a false sense of security, then it crushes me with an 11% grade over the last few miles. With my lowest gear 39×25, I decide (ok, I have no choice) to wobble shoulder-to-shoulder in a not-very-Pro-like manner to maintain any resemblance of forward momentum.
The top of Brian Head is cold and snowy with plows pushing the season’s first drifts off the shoulder. Without any sunshine in sight, I quickly rolling over the top of Brian Head, put on my jacket and push hard to put distance between me and winter.
Turning on FH 050 I ride past miles of lumpy lava fields while wistfully scanning for natural hot springs. No luck. Soon I’m ready to stop and warm-up in Duck Creek Village, the redneck capital of Utah with the most ATV and 4×4 mud buggies per capita.
After getting coffee at the all-purpose taxidermy, grocery, dental and ATV shop, I sit down near a group of guys talking in ATV lingo. Maybe it’s just me, but I swear I hear banjo music when they see my Lycra kit, shaved legs, and skinny butt. They also seem to move away from me there on the bench, until I mention I used to race motocross. Then we have a grand time talking about mud, gears, beer, bike racing and two-stroke engines.
Finishing my coffee and wishing my new-found 4×4 friends a good muddy day, I start up the final climb to Cedar Breaks National Monument. After passing Navajo Lake’s crystal-clear alpine waters, I roll over the last snowy summit with legs eager to enjoy the 15-mile downhill into warm Cedar City. Although Pro racers hit 60mph on the descent, I coast down at more tortoise-like 40mph.
Back in town, I stop at the Grind Coffee House to warm up – you can never have too much coffee. While enjoying a hot cup, I see a picture on the wall of Moreno Hofland (Belkin Pro Cycling Team) winning Stage 1 of the 2014 Tour of Utah with an arms-up double-fist pump victory pose.
Thinking about it for a minute, I feel just as victorious today.
Of course, I didn’t mention anything about the snow to my wife…