I had the fly of my tent open last night. As I drifted off to sleep, I caught sight of a black and white house cat sneaking around my tent. I woke up in the middle of the night to what I thought was an animal messing with my camping stove. Moments later I realised it was actually a rock fall not far from my tent site.
I’m glad I didn’t try stealth camping last night. The park ranger was around bright and early in the morning and approached me to verify my camp site number. I saw about five minutes of sunshine this morning at 8:00am and then that was it for the day. When I got back to the main highway I bought a coffee to warm up. I began the climb out of Cannonville and into Bryce Canyon which was through beautiful orange walls of sand. I got to the park road turn off and as I turned to head into the park a blast of cold wind hit me head on. It was an easy decision to not bother with Bryce, I was at 7600 feet and I was freezing my tits off. The road into the park would slowly ascend another thousand feet and no doubt be a helluva lot colder. Another day, hopefully I can head back here with Stef and Brooke in the car.
I got another coffee at the store back on the main road. I stood outside in the cold, my only company an old dog whose owner was inside. We looked with sympathy at each other. The lady that served me the coffee came out and kindly told me to go warm up in the TV room adjacent to the store. I watched CNN and their analysis of the debates between Bush and Kerry until I could stand it no longer. I could’ve stayed there all day, it was so comfy. But I believe little boys who are liars grow up to be politicians. Or weathermen. Neither would have convinced me to stay.
The stormy skies were threatening to destroy me and the wind was starting to whip unpredictably from front to side. I had to get to a lower elevation. It was a wonderful downhill through Red Canyon, which was just as the name suggests. The bonus was the smooth bike path that bordered the road. I said hello again to my old friend Highway 89 as I turned South onto it and straight into a headwind. I stopped at Hatch for a lunch time breakfast omelette.
It was raining by the time I got back on my bike but not unbearably so. By the time I got to the next summit at 7910 feet, which I hadn’t even realised existed thanks to my free Utah map, it was pissing down.
To take respite from the rain, I pulled into Long Valley Junction, a gas station just after the summit. I bought another coffee and stood in the dead phone booth outside, the wind whistling in around my ankles. A minute after I took to the road again, the hail began. It could have actually been very heavy, fast falling snow. With my limited experience of winter conditions I wouldn’t know the difference. It felt like my nose and lips were going to be shredded off my face. I was soaked through to the skin in seconds. I could barely see where I was going and had to concentrate on following the white line at the edge of the road. It took the best zen-like focus I could muster. Further down the hill the heavy snow or heavy hail or whatever it was, turned into a more familiar heavy rain. I still struggled to hold the bike to the barely visible white line. My so-called waterproof/windproof Alaskan gloves were soaked through leaving my hands to cramp. At one stage I reached for my water bottle and couldn’t grasp it properly. Into the middle of the road it bounced.
I saw a KOA campground with cabins and pulled in hoping for relief. It had long been closed for the season. I was ready to gladly pay a hundred dollars for a warm hotel room and bath. Further down the hill, I pulled into a rest stop and spent half an hour using the restroom hot water taps and hand dryer to warm my hands and clothes. I wrung out all of my wet clothes just to get them a bit less soaked. As I walked back to my bike I discovered I was shivering uncontrollably so I headed back into the restrooms again to put on another layer of clothes on under my rain clothes. The neoprene booties that John gave me made a brilliant difference.
It’s one thing to be cold and wet but it’s another to be cold and wet and to have shoes full of water.
I made it to the small town of Glendale and pulled into the one and only RV park I could find. It was completely deserted and the office was empty. A note on the office window said it was still open, just set up your RV and someone will come around later. It was still raining heavily so I sat on the porch, changed into some warmer clothes and called Brooke from the courtesy phone that was there.
Brooke said she’d checked the weather forecast and it wasn’t going to be a great weekend in Zion. They suggested an alternative plan of picking me up and heading back to Vegas where Brooke’s grandparents live. It sounded good; no rain, good food and maybe earn some winnings on the pokie machines. I’d met Brooke’s Grandpa, Dale, once before. He’s the only person I know who’s actually set his car on fire, so he goes down as being one of the coolest grandparents I know. Brooke said they’d head out from Los Angeles at 9pm tomorrow night and probably meet me somewhere at about 4am. If possible, I’ll try to hitch a ride to Vegas to save them a few hours of driving.
Eventually, Doug, the owner of the RV park showed up in his beaten-up, old pickup. I asked him if I could pay for a campsite. He looked at me like I was stupid.
“You’re gonna set up your tent in this rain?!?”
He offered me the laundry room instead and then invited me into his wood working room. When I offered to pay the camping fee he told me not to worry about it. He got the wood fire stoked up and told me to dry myself out in front of it. Doug had a ranch just behind the RV park and said that the rain in the last two weeks had just given them their annual average rainfall. We got talking about the differences between city and country folk and about the modern day farming life. Once I was dry and warm he wished me well and headed off. The kindness of strangers will never cease to amaze me.
I took my bike into the laundry, found an electric heater in the cupboard and started cooking dinner. While I was eating, the rain turned into a heavy snowfall and was still going strong several hours later as I passed out after the power failed.