Graveling in Great Basin – How a Short Loop Turned Into a Long OaB

MRS. California Alps Cycling and I finally got out the door last Sunday, and started our oh so overdue vacation. A two (2) week roadtrip to Great Basin National Park, Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park, with other Mighty Five parks hit up as time allows.

OF course some bike riding would be involved. Initially we had planned on bringing a road bike, a gravel bike and an e-MTB but after a consultation with Momma California Alps, and a bit of good natured ribbing from same about the sheer quantity of gear we were bringing, we went with the latter two (2) only.

GETTING in fairly late to Baker, NV, and checking in to the Stargazer Inn and Bristlecone General Store with Liz and Rachel, left us no time to do anything that night, except watch our beloved Niners open a can of whoop ass on those Cowboys. A great way to start the vacay, for sure!

ON Monday the trip started in earnest (after a leisurely morning due to our late night of celebrating both the whooping, and the start of the trip) as we “excurzed” into the park and hit up one of the Lehman Cave tours – the Grand Palace.

DAY two (2) was reserved for a bit of a.m. gravel riding for me (and reading for Mrs. C.A.) and then a trip up to the bristlecone pines in the afternoon.

STRAVA had a nice route suggestion of about 13.5 miles. Head east and just outside of town I’ll turn onto National Forest Development Service Road 589 (“development“should have been my first clue), and then head up a bit towards either Rowland Ranch Road or Baker Creek Road, either of which connects to Lehman Caves Road (the main road into the park). From there a super straight Champs Elysses kind of decent, but longer, back to the main highway and the hotel.

I headed out about 8 a.m. with plans to be back by 10 a.m. so we could get up the the Wheeler Peak/Bristlecone trailhead by lunch time for a picnic before the hike.

‘TOPHER would have, and still will, have my ass. You didn’t upload the ride to your bike computer? Nope. I’m good. I’ll just follow the road(s) and signage. They’ll be marked like they are in our neck of the woods. WRONG.

MISSED the turn to NFDS 589. Not really my fault, though, there are a lot of dirt roads out in these parts.

I turned back and found the road and up I went for a blissful couple of miles, and then a bit of steep stuff, and then a fork in the road. I whipped out my phone and checked where I was – yup, that right fork is the one. Off I went.

STEEPER and rockier IT went. Definitely some hike-a-bike sections…at least for me. Some nice roads still, though, as you can see.

ROWLAND Ranch Rd. must be coming soon, I tell myself. I’ve already gained about 1000 feet after all. Hmmm, maybe I passed it? Yeah, that makes more sense. I’ll just keep going to Baker Creek Road. Off I went.

BUSHIER and more overgrown IT went. None of my maps apps had the sufficient detail, either because this was not a trail/road, or the signal wasn’t strong enough to handle all of those damn packets, or both. Then inspiration struck. I’ve got a signal and can make a call! I’ll call M.C.A., she’s got internet at the hotel, and she can tell me exactly where I am.

AFTER some frustration on both sides, either due to her lack of understanding of technology, or my lack of patience, or both, we hung up. I have an Apple Watch and a Wahoo ELEMNT Roam. If nothing else I’ll just hit “back to start”, I told her. I hate doing that though so the bushwhacking continued. Oh, and I neglected to mention to you loyal reader, that I had been pushing my bike for the last 1/2 mile or so.

HUBRIS is the word that comes to mind. Panic was another. I was rocking the first and holding back the second. I’ve got to be just below NFDS Rd. 590. I just went past both of those other roads and now I just have to bushwhack a bit farther and I’ll hit it. Again I call the Mrs. We can’t tell how close I am to 590. “Have you crossed Baker Creek yet?”, she asks. Well, I did go over a creek a bit ago. That must have been it. “Then you’re just below the road.” Off I went.

NON-EXISTENT IT went. Brush piles told me I was in an area where they were cutting up those ladder fuels for winter burning, which meant I had to be close. Now I’m carrying the bike over logs and brush, and gathering some decent scratches (battle scars, arrgghh) on the lower legs, too.

NOW I did learn a trick some time ago from a hunting-sensei, Fred Weitlauf. He taught me that most people get lost because they never look behind them as they walk. I had been doing that at least, and I had my computers, so I’m not really lost.

UNLIKE Scott or Chris, I am severely DIRECTIONALLY challenged. As such, learning to use the technology would be of utmost importance. See mistake #2.

APPLE WATCH – Yes, you can retrace your steps but you have to start it so it knows where to return you. Idiot! Me, not the watch.

WAHOO ELEMNT ROAM – Correct me if I’m wrong (please!) you technoheads out there, but one problem is this: you have to be on a route (see mistake #1) to navigate back to the start of the route.

THE other problem I’ve discerned – again, all help appreciated – is that you have to know how to use the shit. Those three (3) dots on that map screen give you options, including as I’ve just learned while writing this post, one that is “retrace to start.”

WHAT a knucklehead.

HONEY, I say as I call her to tell her I’ve made the smartest decision I’ve made all day. “I’m heading back to where I started.” I’m running out of road, er trail, and I’m no where near anything, other than those amazing views.

BACK I went, and just like my wonderful wife said, it was really fun because I could enjoy the vistas, and the ride. Some more hike-a-bike back to the road, then off I went.

AFTER those few sectors of babyheads (which for me meant walking again), down and sweet IT went.

1828 feet of stress-free (kinda) descent it was, and at last I saw that water tower and knew I was going to survive. My sould began to rise. Yeah, a bit dramatic but that Bob Seger song (Roll Me Away) came to mind so I went with it.

  • 13.6 miles
  • 2255 feet of ascent
  • 1:55 ride time
  • 3 hours elapsed time
  • 3 phone calls
  • Many WTFs
  • Several “dumbshits!”
  • Oodles of fun, nonetheless
  • Countless giggles (raging laughter, really) from M.C.A.

WE did make it to the top of Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive about 1:30 p.m., give or take. This after a lovely picnic on the patio of the Stargazer.

PARTAKING of lunch in town made sense at that point because it gets cold up there (the trailhead is just under 10000’ of elevation) and due to my extra-lengthy sojourn we would likely get there too late to enjoy the mild part of the day

TURNS out I was right, on this occassion at least – it was cold and windy. 🤣

IN my defense, had there been better signage and such we would have been there sooner!

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