No matter how you look at it, the trip was not for the average Joe.
In fact, when you get right down to it, you'd have to be certifiably crazy if you actually went. Which may explain why most participants in the first Brian Head-to-Bullfrog mountain bike ride were journalists.Nevertheless, the idea looked good on paper: Ride a mountain bicycle all the way from the high-alpine forests of Brian Head Ski Resort near Cedar City across two ranges of mountains and ending up five days later at Bullfrog on the northeast shore of Lake Powell.
All on single-track or four-wheel-drive trails.
The idea looked so good that Jean Seiler - a marketing official for Ruby's Inn, as well as a member of the Garfield County Travel Council - decided to promote an organized ride for selected individuals as a way to promote mountain biking in southern Utah.
"We are well-known for our national parks: Bryce and Zion and Cedar Breaks," Seiler said. "But now we are trying to create some opportunities down here where people can actually go out and participate in sporting activities."
Seiler already had success organizing a winter sports festival at Bryce Canyon, and mountain biking seemed a natural extension of the region's increasing focus on off-highway/sports oriented recreation.
More than a dozen people - a mixed bag of journalists, photographers, government types and gonzo bicyclists - accepted Seiler's invitation, even though not quite everyone made it all the way from Brian Head to Bullfrog (distance of well over 200 miles).
"It is a kind of Walter Middy-esque thing to do," reflected Andrew Tillin, an outdoor writer from Boulder, Colo., after one particularly grueling day.
Day 1: Better known for it's skiing, Brian Head has bragged for years that it's not a bad place to visit in the summer or fall, either. Which is one reason why the area is beginning to promote mountain biking in a big way.
The five-day adventure began Oct. 12 at Brian Head Peak at an elevation of 11,300 feet. By way of single-track trails, riders made their way through the Sydney Valley, down Bunker Creek and ended up at Panguitch Lake. From there, they turned back north through Meyers Valley ended up at Panguitch 41 miles from where they started.
Day 2: Since bicycle riding on trails in Bryce Canyon itself is prohibited, the next closest thing has to be Casto Canyon - a narrow corridor of stunning red-sandstone hoodoos outside the park boundaries. Riders began the day riding out of Panguitch and up Casto Canyon on a single-track trail, then around the Flake Swell to the ghost town of Widstoe 37 miles from Panguitch.
"A lot of up-hills," muttered a tired Linda Carlson, a Utah Travel Council official participating in the event on her own time.
Day 3: After a night at Ruby's Inn near Bryce, the cyclists decided to forego the punishing 12-mile climb to the top of Escalante Mountain and just start the ride from the top. From the Pine Lake road, they veered south to the Powell Point with its incomparable vistas, then back to the north for a rugged climb to the Barney Top at an elevation of more than 11,000 feet.
The rugged OHV trail seemed to cling precariously to the rim of the plateau, offering spectacular views of the Henry Mountains, Capitol Reef, Escalante Canyon and the Waterpocket Fold. After racing across the Griffin Plateau, riders dropped off the plateau on a single-track trail appropriately called "The Gap" - a single-track downhill that had one enthusiast calling it the "best downhill ever." From there, it was down the North Creek Road to Escalante.
Total distance: 41 miles.
Day 4: If you have ever climbed to the top of Hell's Backbone on a mountain bike, you know full-well why they named it what they did. The devil himself could not have dreamed up a more rigorous climb for a mountain biker.
Which may be one reason why the increasingly tired cyclists decided to forego the toughest part of the climb and coast down the other side to the town of Boulder about 30 miles away. "It was the easiest day," Seiler said, "and after the first three days they needed it."
Day 5: After four days of high-altitude forests and Bryce-like hoodoos, the last day was an exercise in contrasts with its endless slickrock dunes and deep red canyons so characteristic of the southern Utah desert.
From the Deer Creek Campground near Boulder, riders made their way down the Burr Trail, concluding the ride - some called it an ordeal - some 70 miles later at Bullfrog.
"We gave everyone a sampling of the tremendous diversity of scenery offered in this part of the state," Seiler said. "You don't have to go from Brian Head to Bullfrog to enjoy it. You can enjoy it in separate pieces."
Seiler emphasizes that each leg of the trip offers an array of motels, restaurants and support businesses with plenty of local flavor - an attractive alternative to camping out every night.
He admits the entire five-day adventure is not something that will appeal to most mountain bikers.
"But we had never heard of anyone having done it, so we wanted to be the first to accomplish it. I think another thing is we wanted to help develop a rapport between businesses, land managers and the users. We were trying to demonstrate a logical way of working together toward multiple use."
Another goal was to determine whether the Brian Head-to-Bullfrog ride will become a yearly event. "We still don't know on that one, yet," he said.
Those involved in the event included the Brian Head Hotel, Ruby's Inn, Sands Motel, Moqui Motel, Bullfrog Resort and Marina, Garfield County Travel Council, Iron County Travel Council, Dixie National Forest, the Escalante District of the Bureau of Land Management, Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.