By Mel Bashore — “Grandpa, do you still go on long bike rides?” asked my 14-year-old granddaughter, Madeline. “Yes,” I answered. “Do you think I could go on a ride with you?” she asked.
Suddenly I was no longer focused solely on our Christmas dinner. My only granddaughter, who had never before expressed an interest in my biking adventures, now wanted to come along on one! Was she serious? What prompted this surprising question? That and a number of other thoughts raced through my head.
Most people, upon hearing that I like to go on long bike jaunts every year, think I’m a bit crazy. They can’t imagine what could be fun in riding a bike long distances for days and weeks on end. Then when they learn that I generally ride solo and do what I term “sleeping in a ditch,” their opinion about me being crazy is confirmed in their minds.
Madeline’s expression of interest in accompanying me on a biking adventure took me by complete surprise—coming as it did out of right field. That night, the food on our plates grew cold as we talked over what we might do, when we might go—the logistics of a successful bike tour.
There is a certain romance to bike touring, especially for those who have a fondness for adventure. I wondered if it was this that had sparked Madeline’s interest in going on a bike ride. Had she heard me talk about my adventures or read articles that I had written? I tried to remember back to when I was a youngster and had gone off on long bike adventures. I think I may have been about her age or even a little younger when I ventured off on my first long ride. But whatever had motivated her to ask about joining me on a ride, I needed to open her eyes to some of the hard realities of bike touring.
Long bike rides are not all fun and adventure and great food—especially, at least for me, they are way short of the latter. I told her there would be hard things—like head winds and very sore bottoms. But it’s one thing to tell a person these things and quite another to experience them firsthand. Knowing this, I determined that our first bike ride should be somewhat short, safe, and sensible. I immediately thought of two things: Crystal Hot Springs and a recumbent-riding acquaintance in Ogden.
Crystal Hot Springs is a camp/resort located just north of Honeyville. It is reputed to have the highest mineral content of any hot springs in the United States and possibly, the world. If Madeline needed to nurse a sore seat and muscles after a day in the saddle, the mineral waters in that northern Utah resort might be most welcome for her. I had stopped there several times after long rides upon returning to Utah from the north.
I had met Martin Neunzert, a recumbent nut from Ogden, several years earlier when he was riding around the Oquirrh Mountains (see Cycling Utah, March 2011). I was on an archaeological dig at Camp Floyd when our paths crossed. We pitched our tents together that night near the historic cemetery. For several years we nurtured this casual acquaintanceship through regular e-mails, sharing experiences about rides we were doing. Although we had never found occasion to ride together before this, I invited Martin to join us in our little jaunt.
To make it even safer and more sensible for a first-time rider like Madeline, we could take the Trax train near her house in Herriman, ride it to Salt Lake, and then catch the FrontRunner train to Ogden. In that way, we could shorten her ride to a very do-able 40-mile ride the first day and eliminate some of the dangers from driving in city conditions.
In late April, she assured me that she was still interested in going on a ride—in fact, still excited about the prospect, but she only had a big cruiser bike. So I told her dad, my son (Adam), that we needed to find some kind of touring or road bike for her. A work colleague of Adam’s had a tandem and offered the use of it to us. The bike was just sitting in a garage in Kaysville so Adam trucked it home to Herriman.
Then the fun began. Neither of us had ever ridden a tandem. They may look easy to ride, but they aren’t. They take coordination, communication, and good balance. We began practicing in the evenings on the hills of Herriman. The front pedals were clip-ins so I was seriously depending on Madeline to brace and hold us up when I braked for a stop. That would be a key element to keep us vertical. I admit that I had my worries about that, but Madeline turned out to be a good teammate.
We scheduled to start on our ride the day following her graduation from 9th grade in early June. We had yet to ride with loaded panniers, but fortunately they seemed to make us even more stable. We opted to get by with only the rear panniers. With a single overnight ride, there was no need to pack a lot of gear.
We set out from her house before 7 am, hoping to catch the first Trax train from the end of the line in Herriman into Salt Lake. We only got a few miles before the rear tire went flat. It’s always the rear tire. Not a fortuitous start. But Madeline was a good sport and helped me pull the wheel. I could see that there was a weak place in the tube, undoubtedly caused by sitting around unused for months in a garage. As I thought, the patch job held up for less than a mile.
I called for rescue. Adam went shopping for two new spare tubes and brought them to us. While waiting for her dad to come to our rescue, I told Madeline that these misadventures happen on bike rides. In my way of thinking, they become part and parcel of the adventure. I don’t know if Madeline was convinced, but she didn’t seem at all disappointed. She was still very excited to be on our ride.
By the time we were rolling again, we were about an hour and a half off our schedule. We contacted Martin in Ogden and were delighted to learn that he had talked two of his cycling friends, Molly Mooers and Janice Tolhurst, into joining us on our little excursion, too.
Fortunately the threesome we were to meet in Ogden didn’t seem to be put out by our tardy arrival. Long tourers all, they were most understanding. And Madeline enjoyed the train rides immensely—her first on a big diesel train. The flat tires were a distant memory.
After a quick bite at a nearby restaurant, we set out with Martin in the lead. This was his town—and he was an able guide through the back roads of Ogden’s west side. Although Highway 89 isn’t bad riding going north out of Ogden, his way was better. I was amazed at the nearness of an agricultural side to downtown Ogden within its city limits. It made for very pleasant riding. But it took an experienced Ogdenite to guide us. I doubt I could retrace our route.
Somewhere north of Ogden, Madeline said, “Grandpa, this is so fun. We can talk because we’re riding on the same bike.” We did talk. It was really fun.
As we headed up the “Fruit Way” on Highway 89 past Willard, Martin drew us off on a little side road at one point. He explained that we were on the original old highway. Apparently it scooted around a bit of a hill that the present highway just barrels over. It was just a short stretch, but it was fun to think we were riding on an old historic road—and getting away from the hustle and bustle of today’s traffic. We continued on the almost-deserted back roads of Perry, coming back to “civilization” at the Wal-Mart.
Brigham City would be our last town that would offer us meal choices before we reached Crystal Hot Springs. I had told Madeline that we would eat our dinner at a good burger joint. She was primed. I knew just the place. I had stopped there last September on my ride from the Oregon coast to Utah (see Cycling Utah, Fall-Winter 2011). We pulled in, tongues hanging out, and put in our orders. While waiting for them to be prepared, the owner came to our outdoor table and asked us about our journey. She told us that last September a fellow came through on a ride from Oregon. “That fellow was me,” I said. She said how amazed she was and how she had shared the story of my ride with all her employees. We had a nice little reunion visit. It’s these kind of moments that help make touring such fun.
Now filled with good food and drink, Madeline and I were ready to push on. Unfortunately, Madeline spotted a little spider on my helmet—and came unglued. And it was just a little spider! I told her, “What would you have done with that scorpion that I slept with on my ride that I took to Colorado?” Molly and Janice shouted in unison, “What! Was that you?” I had written up my little adventure about sleeping two nights with a scorpion en route to Colorado in a past issue of Cycling Utah (see Fall-Winter 2010-11). Molly and Janice told me that they had recounted that story dozens of times to people who they had ridden with on other cycling tours. Then they stepped back and started taking pictures of me!
But the hot springs were beckoning so off we went. It was just a little over ten miles through the country to get there. We soon arrived, settled in our reserved campsite, and Madeline and I set out for the pools. We enjoyed ourselves in every pool—from cool to warm to hot (but not unbearable). We had our fill after three hours of soaking. Then we went up and laid down on our sleeping bags until nightfall came and we tucked ourselves in.
I knew from previous camping there that trains would come very close to the camp a couple of times during the night. They did—and each woke me with their blaring horns. The next morning I asked Madeline if she had heard any trains. She said, “What trains?” She was so tired that she never heard them at all!
While Martin, Janice, and Molly cooked nourishing breakfasts, I treated Madeline to my usual spartan bike-touring fare: Fig Newtons and oranges. I thought the oranges were a healthy touch and different from my norm. Usually I just choke down a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter and call it good.
After breaking camp, we set out for home, following the same route as before in reverse. The nearby mountains shielded us for a time from what would soon turn into an extra-warm early June day. In fact, it came close to setting a record in some Utah towns. I could tell by the relative silence of our return ride that Madeline was undoubtedly feeling saddle-weary. Where we had enjoyed a chipper chatter on our ride north the previous day, she would be taxed somewhat by our fifty-plus mile return ride. By the time we reached the outskirts of Ogden, our water bottles had warmed considerably. At some point northwest of Ogden, Martin pointed out the road where Madeline and I would go our separate ways. We said goodbye to our tour-mates and set off to find the Roy trailhead of the paved Denver and Rio Grande Western Rail Trail.
We worked our way south, stopping for a burger and drink, before reaching the trailhead. We encountered very few pedestrians and almost no bikes on the rail trail. We were grateful for a safe corridor on this recently-completed trail, but found the bike gates at each cross street to be an exasperation. Every mile or so, we had to stop and dismount to get our tandem through these gates. In each section, we’d just begin to enjoy some good progress when the next bike gate would loom up. What’s up with this! The rail trail seemed more geared for walking than biking although road bikes without panniers might negotiate the gates certainly better than we could. Without street or town signs posted at the gates on the trail, it was also difficult to know exactly where we were at any given cross street.
We were trying to find Kaysville so we could return the tandem to its owner and get picked up by Madeline’s dad for a ride home. By asking some other trail users, we finally found the cross street in Kaysville we were searching for. We left the rail trail at this point. Other riders interested in continuing on to the rail trail’s southern terminus in Farmington can there make an easy connection with the Legacy bike trail.
On this extra-hot day, both Madeline and I were happy to reach our destination.
“Would you like to do another bike ride?” Madeline’s dad asked as we transferred our gear into the trunk of their car. There was a considerable pause before she answered. “Yes,” she hesitantly said.
I heard later from my daughter-in-law (Madeline’s mother) that she talked about it for days and weeks. As the body aches and pains receded in her memory, the fun little ride we shared came more into focus. And it’s an adventure her grandfather will cherish for years to come.