Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
As we finally pushed off from Park City on that Monday, May 11th it all felt surreal but our excitement grew as we headed south and finally parked the van well into the night in Capitol Reef National Park. The next 10 days were going to be a real test to the van's capabilities and a little payback for all of our hardwork. After a night's rest we woke up to the unseen beauty of Capitol Reef with Escalante National Monument in the close distance. Today, May 12th, we would explore the washboard roads of Escalante, in particular, Burr Trail Rd, and try to locate the lower slot canyon portion of Little Death Hollow. This referral from our friend Will Locklair, seemed an exciting first endeavor, however, after questioning his directions of taking the second left turn opposed to the first left turn we found ourselves completing a 20+ mile off-road loop in the middle of nowhere with no spare tire just for fun. At the end of the bumpy loop road we finally reached the appropriate turn off to quickly realize that our sprinter van was not capable of this particular off-road endeavor. Disappointed with our poor judgement, we decided on a late afternoon scramble up The Gulch for a mountain sunset and in the interim settled on an early morning 6 mile hike to the popular but beautiful 160 foot nearby waterfall, known as Lower Calf Creek Falls. The following days hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls was of no disappointment and we even found the trailhead on the first try. It actually would be truly questionable if we were not able to find this trailhead considering its off of a main road and well-signed. However, with feelings of failure on properly exploring Escalante and knowing that we must return soon to do so, we started our drive northeast towards Fruita, CO to embark on a four day overnight river trip.
As dusk fell we arrived in Fruita to "set up camp" aka step from the driving/passenger seat ("the cockpit") to the living space. This kind of setting up camp still amazes us at the ease of transition, no less always having everything set up ready for use, which is especially convenient since we have yet to discover what it is like to set up camp prior to dusk. Even though we were to meet my friends at the river put-in to set shuttle at 10:45 am the next day, we decided we could not camp at the 18 road mountain bike trails without doing a morning ride. This lead to another 630am rise on May 14th to bike the Western Zippity, Frontside, Zippity Do Da, to Kessel Run. The 8.8 mile single-track roller coaster loop with great scenery was an awe-inspiring way to start the day and still allowed us to make it to the put-in for shuttling from Loma to Cisco in a timely manner.
Even with severely poor weather forecasted and hail falling at the put-in, we set out on the river to explore the Ruby/Horsethief/Westwater Canyon sections of the Colorado with some of my raft guiding friends from South Carolina. Jeremy and I were the only kayakers for the first 2 days and the only one's that do not currently live in Steamboat Springs, CO. Each day on the river was filled with laughter, intermittent rain showers, 3-18 mile swift floats down river, setting up/breaking down camp, stories around the fire, great intricate meals, and hikes up the nearby canyons from each camp site for that day. Large slide rock that us kayakers seal launchedMy rad girlfriend and Sam's wife, Jess, joined us on day 3, as well as a few other new friends before the Westwater Canyon section of the trip. Now we were a crew of 5 kayaks and 6 rafts, just in time for one more night of camping then wake up for day 4, a 2 mile cliffed out section of rapids. With the recent rains the river held at 10,000 csf which leads to big 2-3 times overhead waves to punch through and large roaring holes to avoid during the rapid section, as well as strong swirling eddy lines that want to flip you as much as the waves. With only a handful of rivers and none so far this year under Jeremy's belt along with never have seen such big water, he managed to hold his own with only 4 role attempts/successes and no swims. We agreed that our adrenaline and physical endurance levels were intensely felt, especially before dropping into the most threatening Skull Rapid, which has the largest waves, holes, more technical line, and an intimidating keeper "Room of Doom" if you get too far river right. Our kayak crew did have one swim during the rapid section which happened to be due to a super squirrelly eddy line just above Skull Rapid, luckily she was able to swim hard to the shore boulders and avoid a swim through the rapid. All in all we were excited to have some rest and relaxation upon reaching the end of the rapid section and the beginning of the several mile flat water until the take-out in Cisco.
With a bittersweet goodbye to my longtime and new friends on the river crew, Jeremy and I set our sites on finding camping for the night managing to stumble upon the Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction, CO. We also found the Lunch Loops biking trails that were referred to us by our river friends, deciding to go biking first thing in the morning. So for the morning of May 18th we explored several fun scenic technical single track loops within this biking trail system followed by hiking and taking in the scenery along the 23 mile Rim Rock Drive through the Colorado National Monument. As the day was winding down we made our way to San Rafael Swell for another outstanding sunset and variety in scenery. Here we spent the next two days (May 19-20), running through the slot canyons of Bell and Little Wild Horse, discovering how amazing it felt to finally test out the shower I built, completing some much needed organizational van projects, and venturing through Goblin Valley State Park.
Recognizing that every place we visited during these 10 days only brushed the very tip of possibilities for exploration, the potential for a lifetime of experiences that could be had in each area, and the fact that the van was still in one piece, we decided to start our journey back towards Park City to finish wrapping up our lives for our continued adventures ahead. Honestly this is where the real adventure began, at the Freightliner service shop back in West Valley, UT on the late afternoon of May 20th where The Rambler spent time among the land of the giants. Spending hours waiting for The Rambler to get a general inspection, discovering that our suspected shocks/struts/front sway bar were needing replacement, bringing The Rambler back the next morning for the $1000 replacement to occur, then Jeremy discovering on Saturday (May 23rd) while putting the recently purchased spare tire under the van that the shocks were not attached. As you can imagine this was much to our dismay and being the Memorial Day holiday was that Monday, we kept the van parked to continue avoiding a major mishap until Tuesday when the Freightliner company was informed of our minor inconvenience. Needless to say they sent the head mechanic up from West Valley to Park City within the hour. Whew, glad we avoided that travesty!
When I finally arrived back home this evening, Jeremy decided (two days prior to leaving) that he would be interested in my idea of adding a small dirt bike onto the van for shuttling purposes. Even though I had been researching bikes, receivers, carriers for 2 months there was no way to order any of the specific to vehicle necessary items within this small time frame. So we scrambled late night researching online for nearby locations that might have what we needed currently in stock, luckily our last effort pulled through with a 2008 Sprinter van with step receiver at the Uhaul in Provo that could be installed the very next day. To further increase the likelihood of this "last minute project" coming together, Jason Ledyard had a good friend who is also a mechanic that wanted to sell her barely used Yamaha 230 and he would bring it up from SLC to let us check it out. To pull it off we spent Wed, May 27th, "running errands" which were more like major life decisions in any other situation. Errands consisted of getting the hitch placed on the van, selling Jeremy's avalanche truck, buying a bike carrier, buying the Yamaha 230 dirt bike without even riding it, and rushing our mattress to storage prior to closure with a near miss of a complete torrential downpour within moments.
This particular day was not over yet, because soon after arriving back at the house we reluctantly concluded that our newly purchased dirt bike would not fit on the carrier. Minor detail! Again we annoyingly researched for local in store options and with frantic assistance from Jason found 1 option in 1 store in the entire Salt Lake Valley. The next morning the carrier was fetched allowing the dirt bike to fit appropriately and the house finally wrapped up at 9pm that night, reaching the next big finish. With celebration and relief in our hearts we headed over to our friends Lindsey and James for relaxation around the fire and cocktails to warm our excitement, knowing that the real thoughtfulness of all these hectic months and life altering decisions would catch up with us in a few weeks. Here we would officially begin our journey on the open road with many adventures to come!
Stay tuned for our first 8 days in the desert, continued discoveries of the van, and mishaps with the dirt bike!
Author: Rachelle McEwen
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