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Ray Rides Again: Ray Charley Hayduke Trail Ride Summary

Ray Rides Again: Ray Charley Hayduke Trail Ride Summary

To my friends and colleagues, 

As you know, I recently set forth to ride the Hayduke trail in Utah, a 440 mile, challenging mountain bicycle ride. I want to give you an update on my experience and voyage in discovery on 220 of those miles.

It truly is the best of times, and the worst of times. While I never was a literature major, these words ring as true today as when first penned by Dickens. It's all about perspective, as our reality is shaped by our experiences. In my sojourn into the Utah deserts and mountains, it certainly was the best of times and the worst of times. An incredible voyage, in which I tested myself to the most difficult physical tasks that I have attempted, and found my breaking point. It was the worst of times in that regard. Each of the six days of riding my bicycle through these majestic deserts and mountains were as difficult as any challenge that I have had, and I often had to rely on the support truck to give me a lift for a couple of miles. And to be perfectly clear, there was one day…. well, that shall come later herein.

To let you know, I did not complete the full Hayduke trail ride. I had recovered from a broken pelvis in January 2020, and worked for over a year to get strong enough to complete a great challenge such as this ride. After 6 days in the wilderness/desert, I made the decision that it would be best to find more adventures at another time and in another place.

But know, that these are indeed the best of times. You have never seen skies that are as dark as the ink of squid, pierced with pinpricks of the myriad galaxies that had not revealed themselves to me since I was a small child living in the country. With nary a town for 40 or 50 miles, each one of those pinpricks in the otherwise colorless sky combined to make the most majestic array of the Milky Way and galaxies far, far away. Watching shooting stars tearing across the sky was a far better show than all of the Zambelli fireworks combined.

The climbs were truly amazing, and amazingly hard. Each day had at least one, and usually, many climbs of steep, rocky terrain, too challenging for any of our group to ride, leaving us to “hike a bike” for as many as 5 miles up steep terrain. This was beyond challenging, but while slowed to a pace more akin to that of a snail, it was possible to have a perspective on the majesty of our great country. In an otherwise barren expanse of desert, a single flower would find just enough water and nutrients to spring forth a beautiful bud and flower. What a blessing.

The first couple of days were very hot, as we climbed into the Grand Staircase National Monument with splendid glimpses of Lake Powell in the distance. With temperatures in the mid 90’s and lower 100’s the team made their way across the desert floor and began to climb. Filling our water bottles and backpacks with nearly a gallon of water at a time when our paths crossed with the support truck, we made our way further into the desert, anxiously looking forward to camp. As I haven’t camped for decades, setting up tents, and making camp took some getting used to, especially after a hard day’s ride, but the reward of spectacular desert sunsets took our breath away. Richness of hue beyond description, I saw it as God’s present to us for a hard day’s work.

And then…. And then it rained. One beautiful evening, after our tour operators made us a wonderful meal, I was in my tent doing my best to organize the contents of my bag when the skies let loose with torrents - sheets of rain on us, fortunate that it waited for us to get camp set. Concerned about bringing dirt into the tent, I carefully crawled out the next morning, to be greeted with wet sand. Of course there was no mud. The desert had no decomposing plants to make dirt as I knew it. Only sand.

So, rain it would be. Riding the following day, the rains again began, and with it colder temperatures. While preparing for an epic ride, it’s important to pack for most contingencies, and I had cold weather gear as well as rain gear. When the zipper on my rain jacket failed, I was just about in a panic. It was thanks to my guide who had a spare rain jacket, that I was able to keep somewhat dry from a deluge of rain. 35 miles of riding a bicycle into and out of a deep canyon in a pounding rain can take the enthusiasm out of a day for just about anyone.

The good thing is that this was to be followed by a day of sunshine as we descended from the high desert to the floor along the Burr Trail. I was breathlessly taking in the view of great canyons and the red and white mesas rising from the floor in their jagged roughness that has taken millennia to form. God’s presence was with me in Capitol Reef National Park as I breathlessly dropped down, down, down with rocky outcroppings surrounding me, delivering me to a sand road that was more like a washboard with it’s ribbons of bumps followed by a surface of sand, at places several inches deep, making for difficult riding. It was a blessing to get to camp, where my riding partner, Kip, from my ride across America, was busy getting set up for the night. It was unfortunate that Kip had fallen just before the ride, injuring his knee, leaving him unable to ride many of the days. All the same, he gave me encouragement, as there were times when I was struggling to find my positive, can do attitude. Thank goodness for those amazing starry nights and the constellations of wonderment.

Henry mountain was our destination on day 5. A rocky path took us on a 40 mile ride up over 3,000 feet from our morning departure, the last 2 or so miles were at a 16% - 18% grade. Very steep, very rocky, and the only way of getting to camp was to hike your bike. A difficult end to a long day in the saddle, making setting up a tent that much more challenging. At nearly 9,000 feet in elevation, air was beginning to get more thin, and exertion was that much more difficult. This was a day where the support truck gave me a boost to camp. I simply had no more juice in the squeeze. While you may think it one of the worst of days, it was just after dinner that we were treated to the most amazing sunset that I have ever witnessed. Rich in just about every hue of the rainbow, with pinches of orange and pink that gave definition to the flourishes of reds and purples. After that day’s ride, each of the 18 of us were transfixed by the beauty that we were witnessing. It was indeed the best of days, even though I made the decision to cut my expedition short after the next day, as the next day would be the only one that would take us anywhere near civilization. The hamlet of Hanksville, named after Henry Mountain, where we were camping, was to be my final destination.

Waking up to our tour guides singing “Coffee” each morning could have been the chorus to Maxwell House. It was always music to my ears, with freshly brewed coffee coming from the truck kitchen that followed us. Not Starbucks, but it tasted sooo good, and somehow the guides were able to prepare hot meals at breakfast and dinner that rivaled a rated hotel. It was a good way to begin the last day on the trail. The temperature on Henry Mountain had turned cold, and the day’s ride began with 5 miles of ascent on a continuation of that steep terrain that ended the prior day’s ride.

Hiking a bike up 5 miles of mostly unrideable, rocky terrain to over 10,000 feet in altitude was not high on my list of amazing. It was indeed challenging, as with my repaired pelvis, walking or hiking is not a strongpoint. 3,500 feet of elevation gain over those 5 miles, averaging over 700 feet gain per mile. It was steep. As I was muttering some unpleasant things under my breath a mile into the hike, it began to rain. Not a light sprinkle of refreshing rain that we would have welcomed in the 90 or 100 degree heat that we endured earlier in the ride, but a 35 degree chilling and cold rain. I had all of my cold weather gear on, rain gear on, and long fingered gloves as an attempt to make the cold endurable as my hands quickly became soaked and the rain began to change to snow. My Garmin that I used to track my progress had frozen, and was not there to give me the feedback to know just how much further this climb would last. So, I muttered.... And in the midst of my quiet muttering, I turned a corner to be greeted with a bed of fiery yellow and red Aspen leaves, carpeting the pathway ahead, and being coated with a dusting of white snow. It was indeed the best of times. By the time we reached our summit, the squall turned into a blizzard.

While I chose to not ride the balance of the day, which was mostly down hill at the same pitch as what we climbed for the past two days, I thought it the best decision with wet, snowy rock covered dirt was going to be more than challenging with my cold, wet, cramping fingers. I arrived at Hanksville, and to my joy, waiting was a small motel that had lots of hot water, a shower and working indoor plumbing. Imagine that! Appreciation of the smallest comforts of the 21st century washed over me, knowing that I would soon rejoin my family, having spent 6 days without internet or cell connection to the world outside of a tent in the Utah mountains and deserts.

I send to each of you my very best regards and deep gratitude for the many who I am privileged to call friends and colleagues, and to those who have generously supported Excela Health Orthopedics, which I credit with much of my recovery. 

Warmest regards,