Should exploration and a high-quality experience, by definition, require extraordinary preparation and commitment? Is it really impossible to make a connection with nature in just a few hours? Enter the Fondolito. The perfect balance of loose preparation and “No f***s to give” is key, and the hours spent recharging on the bike with good friends are all that matters. Take it easy on your Fondolito and the rest will take care of itself.
It’s not difficult to believe that “real” rides are over 175 km, and that anything worth doing must involve a certain degree of discomfort. HTFU and triumph over adversity are woven into the stories we read and the events we put on our cycling calendars. But should exploration and high-quality experiences require extraordinary preparation and commitment? What of a busy work week and family? If our worlds revolve around a great deal more than cycling adventure, are we excluded from the highest-quality riding, seeing, and documenting? Is it impossible to make a connection with nature in just a few hours?
Enter the Fondolito. It’s defined by what it isn’t. It’s not a back-breaker that requires months of training, although you can certainly ride all day. There are no entry fees or stress. Pick a spot on the map, load the vehicle, and hit the road. Hotel or campsite? Cook in or eat out? Perhaps a bit of both.
This particular weekend effort would focus on an area I have driven through many times. Situated between several National Parks in the US, it’s at one of those bizarre crossroads of cattle, empty roads, and charming, four-star gas station convenience stores that can only happen in the middle of nowhere on a well-traveled route between more notable destinations. Boulder, Utah is the northern terminus of the Burr Trail and the jumping-off point for exploration of much of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument – a massive chunk of land given contentious federal protection by Bill Clinton during his last days as president. You can believe the angry oil lobbyists and coal mining interests when they protest there’s nothing here, but don’t for a minute think that means there’s nothing here worth seeing.
“The hours spent recharging on the bike with good friends are all that matters.”
What the Escalante lacks in linoleum and parking garages, it more than delivers in vistas so huge and so detailed you can’t take them in without downshifting your consciousness to a lower gear. It’s precisely the Nothing that grabs your attention and requires acknowledgment. Looking out, you will notice expanses of empty gravel roads across the impossibly large landscape – ribbons of rough pavement that tease the canyons and mesas folding endlessly into one another as they recede to the horizon. Distances are measured either in “right here” or “way the hell over there” – which might just happen to be 100 km away, such is the clarity of the air.
It’s from a vantage like this one that we plan our first day’s ride. We will ride the Burr Trail through Capitol Reef National Park, then turn north and head back home to our weekend headquarters, an inexpensive Airbnb find in a tiny, nearby town.
It’s a pretty big ride for us, probably more than we can comfortably do. But hey, whatever. We have great weather and route-finding is simple. I’m not worried about my riding partner, as he’s capable of dragging my tired self wherever we decide to go. His nonchalance feeds my ignorant bliss, so we peel off early-morning leg warmers and start rolling.
Almost inevitably, some unfortunate bike-transport decisions leave us with electronic drivetrains that peter out halfway along the first pavement section. (While this seems obvious in hindsight, it’s not wise to lash handlebars together on the bike rack with a bit of pipe insulation between the shifters unless you are seeking to torture-test your electronic shifting with approximately sixteen hours of continuous operation between your departure from home and unloading bikes the next morning.) Looking at the bright side, it was a lovely day for a singlespeed ride.
Thankfully, we are pointed downhill when the switchbacks hit. But not long after descending, we’re hit by a bout of self-doubt, assessing our planned route and the futility of continuing. Lack of gearing options and substantial sandy patches mean a lot of pushing, and daylight threatens to end before we reach our final destination. Not overly bothered, we decide to brave the route backward and head home.
In the end, our abbreviated route logs 120 km with 2,300 m of climbing, and we’re happy to leave the “big loop” on the table for a time when stronger legs and battery charges might make such folly a possibility.
The second day we outline a smaller ride toward the town of Escalante to the southwest of Boulder. Tired and sunburned, the idea of extended, ripping descents is more appealing than any other options presented, and Hell’s Backbone has that in spades. The picturesque and well-known Hogsback section of Hwy 12 used in previous Tour of Utah stages has a dirt road alter-ego built in the 1930s that climbs up Boulder Mountain, reaching an altitude of over 3,000m. Clearly we wouldn’t be getting anywhere near the summit, as a climb of a few kilometers reveals mud and snow that turn the road impassable. However, the misty and cool descent makes a delightful change from the desert exposure of the day before. By the time we again reach the blacktop, we doff jackets as the sun once again burns through the milky haze.
“The decompression in the desert for just 48 hours was more than enough to make monday easy, and we shared some great memories along the way.”
The descent to the Escalante River above Calf Creek is something I hope you have the occasion to ride. It’s not particularly challenging, as the grade is moderate and the curves are sweeping. The landscape, however, is otherworldly. Starting high on a ridge between two canyons, the road cuts through ancient cliffs to the river below in just about eight km. On this morning we only encounter a few cars, a sharp contrast to the thousands of rented RVs that teeter daily along the route during the high season. The red landscapes of the day before are replaced by white swells of Navajo sandstone, and the moderate gear ranges of our still-crippled steeds force us to descend a bit slower than we’d ordinarily do, taking in the scenery.
I climb to the opposite mesa, a few hundred meters behind Jake, whose bike is stuck in a slightly smaller gear than mine. A mechanical problem like this would typically put me in a foul mood, but these last two days I have been so happy to be pedaling in this place that it just isn’t important. At the top of the climb, we turn onto a random dirt road as part of our “Riding around, checking shit out” philosophy. We are rewarded with more views and more sand, but more importantly, a wicked lunch spot as we plan our return ride.
Ultimately, we didn’t ride what we intended. But since we didn’t have particularly strong intentions, this caused no distress. I learned a valuable bike transporting/charger-bringing lesson, and had an even more important revelation – that it didn’t matter. The decompression in the desert for just 48 hours was more than enough to make Monday easy, and we shared some great memories along the way.
I think it’s common to say you’ll be back when you have more time, or when you have better legs, or there is less sand, or when you have a free weekend. But it’s probably better to acknowledge that you likely might not return, and simply enjoy being here now. Our Fondolito was short and sweet, part junk show, part inspired genius. And while I may never again find myself riding these roads in Boulder, you can bet I am penciling in more weekend adventures.
Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of GRAN FONDO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality cycling journalism. Click here to learn more.