The Tour de Life: A Tribute to A Dear Friend, Larry Johnston

When we were younger… Part 1, 1993 Tour de Basin Grande, 1994 Tour de Pomme de Terre, 1995 Tour de Pomme, 1996 Tour de Saguaro, and 1997 Tour de Ute

“I could remember anything whether it happened or not…”

What follows are my recollections of bicycle rides organized by Larry Johnston with a varying cast of characters over a period of nearly 30 years. Larry has since ridden the Burr Trail into the Mystic and so my tribute has taken form. My first summer cross state adventure with this intrepid though mildly warped contingent was a pedal across Nevada in 1993 and our last together, in 2015, a loop ride in Utah.

A wee bit of history… What would become an annual ride across a western state began in 1988 with the Tour de Sierra featuring Dale Soria, John Holbeck, Mike Sullivan, and Larry riding from Merced over Tioga Pass and back to Merced via Sonora Pass sagged by Dale’s wife Catherine. Larry’s adroitness for naming the rides improved following the Sierra crossing with The Tour de Montagne Blanc in ‘91 with the original riders in touring in the vicinity of the White Mountains and in ‘92 The Tour de Pahoehoe across northernmost California featuring John Adams and Steve (Ganong?) added to the “A” list crew as “B” members, with John Holbeck dropping out.

In 1993 I joined the cast as a “B” rider (invited by an “A” rider) along with Dale, Larry, Mike and Glen Rothell, Richard Vaughan, Don Lundberg, and Dave Moss as we made our way on the Tour de Basin Grand across Nevada. I modestly resented being a “B” guy since the reason I wasn’t an “A” guy was because the first two rides were scheduled when I had to return to work. Given the temperatures in Nevada, an earlier ride in July allowed for me to make this tour. It was bad form to skip the opening of the school year and abandon my newly minted sixth graders to join the prior rides typically beginning around Labor Day as school was commencing. So for the next 9 years Idaho, Washington, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming became my greatly anticipated summer cycling adventures as Larry conceded a mid-summer calendar, my own personal Tour de Life adventures.

Alaska and Hawaii itineraries subsequently surfaced, sadly (I think), I was unable to make those rides. Nevertheless, inspired by Larry I organized a ride in 2003 while Larry’s bunch were cycling from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. In 2008 Larry pitched a fall ride from Ventura to Death Valley over Sherman Pass and once again, plans were made and rides followed though less frequently as life off the bike became more complicated for all of us.

I am eternally grateful to Larry’s spirit, great humor, and generosity for planning and leading these rides and his memory will live with me, and all who were fortunate enough to join in these merry prankster tours, until I take my last ride to some border, which could be charitably described as bleak, dreary, isolated, and forsaken. A familiar feature of the end of most of these rides…

Tour de Basin Grande 1993

Riders: Dale, Dave. Don, Glen, Larry, Mike, Richard, Tom SAG: Glen’s Suburban

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If bread is the first necessity of life, recreation is a close second

Edward Bellamy, whose words grace the above caption, apparently never recreated in Nevada. It was five days of pedalling for miles and miles across miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles. And bread, generally white and fried, sustained us over the six days…

Larry considered routes very carefully planning for terrain, climate, lodging, and traffic, and our routes were always majestic with reasonable challenges. In Nevada there were no reasonable challenges. Distance and terrain were unreasonably severe. However, the sag was always a welcomed sight. We could usually rely on the sag being at roughly twenty mile intervals where water, snacks, and tools were available to repair thirst, hunger, and mechanicals. This was unlike Tonopah which appeared on the horizon early in the day and remained there, a distant oasis, throughout the day until we finally arrived late in the afternoon having crossed what seemed an infinity of fault block mountains along the way.

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Currant NV. A no-BS kinda place where no-BS badass cyclists enjoy a respite from miles and miles. I had a fried green salad.

The Current Inn where we stayed in ’93 is now out. I guess the whole fried green salad thing never caught on. Sadly, the big bull along with the local clientele is gone too. (photo taken in 2016 en route to our last ride in Utah).
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This is what miles and miles looks like from the bike’s perspective
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How to capture the epicness of riding miles and miles through nothing but miles and miles? From the comfort of the sag of course. Sporting bad-ass style is our leader, Larry.

To the spoiled goes the victory, the morning of the ride’s conclusion from our final leg start in Ely (L to R: Mike Sullivan, Dave Moss, Richard Vaughan, Glenn Rothell, Dale Soria, Yours Truly, Larry Johnston, and Don Lundberg)

Our days began early as soon enough we would grow weary from the sun relentlessly beating down upon us. Don, the senior member of the ride who was then into his seventies (on the far right side in the photo above), rode his vintage Peugeot steel frame with a homespun carpet wrapped foam saddle, in running shorts, a chambray shirt, and running shoes. He routinely lost the shirt during the hottest part of the day. He was the master of the “duck-landing-on-ice” dismount at the sag. Don was truly inspirational for us thirty-somethings. After suffering from the affects of the desert, and by that I mean food desert along the Nevada byways, I was determined to influence where our meals were to be had on future rides.

Tour de Pomme de Terre, 1994

Riders:  (L-R) Dale, Don, John, Glen, Larry, Chuck, Richard, Steve, Mike and Tom behind the lens. SAGs: Glen’s Suburban, Larry’s 4-Runner

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There was mischief afoot in the land of apples…

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Mike (center), the CEO of a Mega Rural Health Care Empire, wasn’t used to this sort of procacious behavior
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Banana violation

Not only was Mike’s bike defiled by some reckless prankster. Larry’s rig was profaned by a banana and a beloved John Denver cassette of his accidentally unspooled out of a window when his sag was driven by the guy in the white jersey (Dale) holding the banana. Yes, the very banana pictured in the top and bottom bottom photos. Perhaps this was some vestigial behavior from their 10 Days on the Muir Trail.

Of note on this ride was Don’s 79th birthday celebrated in high style. Flame broiled burgers were an improvement over fried iceberg salads.

After a hard day’s ride, cornations followed with much frolicing by tradition

This ride concluded on the Montana Idaho border after a long flat rendering gravel road. Murphy Mack and the current lot of gravel riders have nothing on us.

A cold beverage to reward another victorious tour as we load up. Note the Serrota tandem, a.k.a. the Loco-Motive and 21-23 mm tires on all of the bikes

These rides variously involved five to seven days of riding sometimes over 100 miles in a day. At the conclusion of each ride, we’d wipe down, down a cool beverage, and get in the Sags for several hours of driving on the homeward bound leg… With seized legs bound by lactose where at fuel stops we would mimic circus clowns tumbling out of their tiny circus cars.

Once again spoiled by victory

Tour de Pomme, 1995

Riders: Larry, Glen, Steve, Don, Richard, Chuck, Tom, Pat, Gordy*, John A. SAGs: Glen’s trustworthy Suburban and Chuck’s Explorer**

A harbinger of things to come?

The value of planning cannot be underestimated. Nor can flexibility in an itinerary. The Tour de Pomme itinerary began, “Larry and Steve will proceed at 4:00 am from Mammoth to Yosemite Valley on Saturday, August 5, 1995 and rendezvous with Dale and Glen at 6:00 am. Glen’s Suburban will be taken from there to Richard’s house in Waterford arriving at 8:00 am. Mike and Tom (from Merced – a 45 minute drive) and Don (also from Waterford) will be waiting and ready to head north as the “Suburban Contingent” (eight people total).”

It continued: “The Suburban Contingent will travel to the Portland vicinity on August 5th, staying that night in a mutually agreeable Motel 6 or equivalent”. “On Sunday August 6th, the “Suburban Contingent” will arrive at Chuck’s house in Bellevue, Washington at 11:30 am… Chuck will supply the second sag vehicle (the “Northern Contingent” vehicle with at least four bike racks (this vehicle will return to Bellevue from the end of the ride with Chuck, Gordy, John, and Pat). Chuck somehow will have retrieved John Adams from the SeaTac airport that morning (John will be flying from San Francisco). Gordy will also be at Chuck’s helping Chuck get organized (or possibly retrieving John). All will proceed to the Anacortes start point, stopping briefly for a fast food lunch and last minute supplies, including three additional disposable ice chests (which may have to be carried on our laps to Anacortes). There was even a ferry from Vancouver involved in Larry’s complex plan.

The “Suburban Contingent” departed for Washington with the plan that we would travel deep into Oregon, get a room then make our way to Anacortes in the morning, pick up the “Northern Contingent” fresh from a good night’s rest along the way to our starting point in Anacortes. However, it was Fleet Week in Washington (how did that detail go unnoticed?) and nary a room was to be found, including the phantom room we booked in Vancouver, Washington on Mike’s credit card (company no doubt, he was afterall the CEO of a Mega Rural Health Care congromorant), after trolling the AAA Guidebook, at around 2 am. Staggering into the motel office with the one room that was available between Redding and Vancouver, we were told there were no rooms available. Alas, we found no room at the inn. A misprint in the guidebook had inspired a frustrated homeowner into falsely booking rooms on behalf of the hotel.

So what’s another 3 hours following 18 hours crammed into a Suburban? At the conclusion of the marathon drive to Chuck’s home in Belleview, we arrived and were graciously welcomed by his wife Gail who had prepared their home for a brief respite before embarking the next day on the Tour de Pomme.

The other details of airports (John Adams), ferries (Pat), and accommodations in Marblemount remain fuzzy. Forgetting must be evolution’s way of keeping humans from collapsing into embarrassment, or worse, despair, I suspect… Nothing that ice cream can’t cure.

You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream (left to right, Larry, Mike, Tom)
The novelty noses were to poke a bit of fun at our leader Larry whose schnoz was pokeworthy

I don’t recall so much sunshine…  I do recall hustling a nearly hypothermic senior member of the ride into the vehicle from freezing rain before he actually would need to be wrapped in a bag and mounted on the rack.  We always darkly entertained having to carry out that contingency with said senior… Hypothermia wasn’t going to keep us from another festive birthday celebration…

Don’s strategy of having a birthday around the time of each year’s ride was uncanny. Here he celebrates #80!

By now you’ve perhaps noticed scant evidence that we actually rode our bikes. We did ride and discovered Washington has a few mountains. We climbed over 30,000 feet (descending just over 28,000 feet). Another feature of this ride was the enlistment of a rider expulsion clause. It became known as being Gordy’d. Suffice it to say that to be Gordy’d from a bike ride made up of such a motley crew must have involved some sort of enormous indiscretion. Not really. One just had to be observed doing just about anything annoying, annoyingly all of the time. Like not participating in The Flip…

*It’s a long story but Gordy was replaced by an Oscar Meyer weiner whistle at the conclusion of the ride. **Dale Soria should never drive impaired by memories of his youth jumping from airplanes into burning forests.

The Tour de Saguaro, 1996

Riders: Dale, Don, Glen, John, Karen, Lance*** Larry, Mike, Richard, Steve, Tom SAGs: Dale’s Explorer, Tom’s C-2500

We had a huge lead in the RAM despite riding in debilitating heat until we decided to sleep…

Moving from the northern portion of the Western States to decidedly warmer climes, beginning a ride in Parker in August is ill advised. As described in Larry’s itinerary, “flat and fast” our first day was more like “dehydration and hyperthermia”.

This was the year Larry introduced the “Vaug-han” and “Mega Vaug-han”.

A Vaug-han is a verb described in the itinerary as: “A cunning bicycle touring maneuver involving use of sag vehicle; bicyclist leaps ahead in vehicle thereby taking advantage of favorable riding terrain or weather conditions, involuntarily requiring other tour members to care for sag.”

The Mega Vaug-han is described as a Vaug-han involving three or more cyclists.

You decide which of the four photos features this year’s innovation

This was also the first year a woman arrived on the scene.

It was also the year Tom used his intuitive epicurean sense (IEP) to locate food…  IEP preceded GPS, another ride innovation, however developed a much less expense than the Big Brother’s effort to keep track of us all…

Most of us rode happily

Team Salsa, though we only sported Salsa jerseys, represented the Westies.

Larry reviewing the route with Don who had his 81st birthday prior to the ride. Don wore that expression often on the ride so we were extra careful in making sure he knew the course.

The Race Across America happened to be making its way across Arizona coincidentally as we were beginning our way across Arizona. It was kind of a big deal in 1996 and was being covered by mobile television crews. As we encountered “three intense grades between Congress and Prescott” television cameras were positioned to capture the agony of the RAM riders as they ascended Hwy 89 out of Wilhoit. We did our best to mug for the cameras, posers that we are.

The ride ended on the Arizona New Mexico border east of Springville, AZ which could be charitably described as bleak, dreary, isolated, and forsaken. A familiar feature of the end of most of these rides…

East Arizona meets West New Mexico

Up next, Part 2

Out with the younger and in with the older (new) millennium… 1997 Tour de Ute, 1998 Tour de Castor, 1999 Tour du Grand Ligne de Partage, 2000 Tour du Pays du Grande Ciel and 2001 Tour du Pays Enchante (A Spacey Odyssey)

Tour de Ute, 1997

Riders: Larry, Lance, Chuck S., Don, Chuck T., Richard, Glen, John H., Tom, and Ron. John A. was a last minute cancellation.

Vehicles: Glen’s Suburban, John H’s Tundra

The Burr trail through Long Canyon

For this episode of the Tour de Life, I’ve chosen to recall the tour across Utah through Larry’s words as described in the detailed itinerary and update he provided all of the participants.

Tour de Ute (pronounced; “toor do ü-tay”

When: August 12-17, 1997 (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday); 4.5 days cycling.

Where: Across Utah State beginning at Uvada (about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas) ending at the Utah-Colorado border near Hovenweep National Monument. Best map: “Indian Country” by AAA.

(L-R) Larry, Lance, Chuck S., Don, Chuck T., Richard, Glen, John H., Tom, and Ron behind the lens.

Day 1: Travel to Panaca, Nevada for 1:00 pm rendezvous; proceed east in sags on Hwy 319 to NV-UT border at Uvada (el. 5,500’± and ride via Hwy 56 to Cedar City (el. 5,600′). Stay the night at the Super 8 ($30±/person). Distance: 58 miles Terrain: Mild, rolling; warm ’em up, let ’em drift.

Day 2: Ride Hwy 14 east and up, up, up to Midway Summit (el. 9,896′) – a definite “Vaug-han”. Check out nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument. Proceed down then up to Long Valley Junction (el. 7,900±). Turn north on Hwy 89 to Hwy 12. Ride east on Hwy 12 through tunnels, over the “summit” (el. 7619′) to Bryce near Brice Canyon National Park – stay the night at the $30±/person Fosters Motel (you know, Al Foster’s place). Distance: 70 miles (don’t you love it?). Terrain: Big climbs, big descents; watch out for tourists.

Bryce Canyon, John H., Larry, and Ron, and Al’s place

Day 3: Follow 12 east and north through Escalante and the new National Park to Boulder (el. 5,000′?) Stay at Poles Place, $25±/person. Distance: 72 miles (don’t you love it even more?). Terrain: Up and down and all around; time to play…

Day 4: A short cut’s in store, who could ask for more? Ride east from Boulder on the Burr Trail and shuttle the 20± mile dirt section through Capital Reef National Park. Ride south to the ferry at Bullfrog Basin; swim or take the ferry across Lake Powell ($9/car – free/swim) before heading east on Hwy 276 where the day’s adventure can end at Hwy 95. Shuttle northwest or ride to the only place to stay for miles, the Fry Canyon Lodge (it’s near Natural Bridges National Monument); maybe $40+ a piece… it ain’t cheap. Distance: 103+ miles not counting the shuttles and ferry; pring paddles/swim suit. Terrain: The Lake Powell crossing will be flat.

From a recent correspondence with Chuck Thuot, “Some parts of ALL the rides leave edible memories, but that morning in Utah riding with you (…we were first out together) when we both dropped in to the entrance of that canyon on the Burr Trail was, for me anyway, perhaps the most ‘spiritual’ moment I’ve ever known in a wilderness setting (… and that’s after traveling on all 7 continents). At that moment I felt like I shouldn’t even speak so as to not desecrate experience. I remember us stopping and observing with profound awe at our stunning surroundings without a word be said between us…. thanks for being there !!

Day 5: Spin 12 easy miles back to Hwy 276 and continue east on Hwy 95 past the Natural Bridges cut off (Hwy 275), the Mule Canyon Ruins, the Arch Canyon Ruins, and the Butler Wash Ruins to Hwy 191 at Blue Mountain (el. 6,000’±) just south of Blanding. Take Hwy 191 to White Mesa. Turn left (east) on Hwy 262 for a while (9± miles) then take the road that leads to Hovenweep National Monument (more ruins) on the UT-CO border. Pack ’em up and head south and west through Monument Valley, Page, and Zion National Park to Saint George or thereabouts. Find a place to stay… Distance: 93 miles unless it’s more or less; 396 miles total. Terrain: It’s probably all paved… Rock and roll, watch out for Navajos.

Ed. note, Thus ending a ride at another bleak, dreary, isolated, and forsaken border.

Day 6: Return to places of origin…

Reply by: July 1, 1997. Ride will be self-sagged; sags to be arranged (sag providers pay for no gas). A deposit of $20 is requested from all others; gas to be shared.

Misc: All participants should bring their own individual lunches, riding food, drinks, ice chest (shared). During ride, morning and evening meals are planned to be purchased at local commercial establishments. Driving to be shared by all riders. Reservations for motels during the ride are already arranged; pay upon arrival. Slower riders should leap-frog ahead; final logistics to be arranged depending on participants. This will be the best yet!

Larry, ever the master of precision logistics, provided an update posted August 05, 1997 Mojave, CA:

-Update- Tour de Ute

All is in a go mode for les Tour! There are 11 participants. The sag vehicles will be provided by John Holbeck (south vehicle) and Glen Rothell (north vehicle). Sag drivers pay no gas.

Logistics looking like this:

On Monday the 11th, Lance Vaughan (son of the originator of the infamous Vaug-han move) will proceed to Waterford from the Bay Area with his bike, John Adam’s bike (John A. please coordinate with Lance on bide transport) and probably Chuck Thuot, but not his bike (Chuck T. may find his own way to Waterford; Chuck, please coordinate with Lance and Richard). They will rendezvous with Richard Vaughan (of “Vaugh-han” fame) and Don Lundburg at Richard’s house in Waterford, hopefully around 4 pm.

Leaving Richard’s house at 4:30 pm, they will proceed (wiht 4 bikes and gear) to Crane Flt in Yosemite where they will meet Glen Rothell and Tom Jones at 6:30 pm. Tom Jones (from Merced) will have earlier joined with Glen Rothell in Mariposa and helped prepare Glen’s Suburban with racks for 8 Bikes (Tom and Glen please coordinate departure from Mariposa to be at Crane Flat by 6:30 pm). Richard’s vehicle (or whoever’s) will be left at Crane Flat, all proceeding to Larry Johnston’s house in Mammoth Lakes, arriving at around 8:30 pm; all will stay the night at Larry’s house (voulez-vous acouches avec moi?).

On Tuesday the 12th, Chuck Satterfield (from Mammoth) will arrive at Larry’s at 5:30 am and join the rest of the north contingent in leaving Mammoth Lakes no later than 6:00 am. Breakfast will be enroute, maybe in Tonopah. The north group will arrive around noon at Panaca, NV. There’s a small restaurant on the southeast corner of the intersection of Hwys 93 and 319. Lunch and rendezvous with the southern contingent will be there.

Pine Tree Inn and Bakery, a small restaurant on the southeast corner of the intersection of Hwys 93 and 319.

Meanwhile on Tuesday morning, John Holdbeck and Ron Burien will leave (with 3 bikes; john H. will be bringing a bike for Chuck T. along with extra bike shoes) from Calimesa in time to get to the Las Vegas airport by 9:35 am. This is the time John Adam’s plane arrives form the Bay Area. From Las Vegas, they will proceed to Panaca and meet the north contingent at the restaurant at eh corner of Hwys 93 and 319 (see above). After lunch all will proceed to the UT border and bike to Cedar City as planned.

Larry’s update continues: There are a couple of notes on the remainder of the trip. First, the 2nd day’s route will be slightly different. Instead of continuing on Hwy 14 from Cedar City to Long Valley Junction, the route will turn north on Hwy 148 at Midway Summit through Cedar Breaks National Monument and then on Hwy 143 to Panguitch. From there, it will proceed south on Hwy 89 to Hwy 12, then to Bryce.

At Bullfrog Basin (at Lake Powell), the ferry supposedly leaves ont he odd hour; 9, 11, 1, etc.

Lodging has been reserved on Saturday the 16th for 11 people at the Best Western Travel Inn in Saint George (Exit #8 from I-15). There will be 3 – 3 bed rooms and 1 – 2 bed room; around $30 per person.

The south and north vehicle people have each been asked to provide a large water container (5+ gallons), bike tools, two ice chests, and a floor pump. The south vehicle has been asked to provide an extra set of wheels (one front, one rear). A CB radio will be available for each vehicle at Panaca (via Larry).

For the north vehicle, baggage space will be at a premium; please go light.

Any questions, please call. Au revoir mes amis!

Author: Sisyphus and Associates

As of 6/2022 I will have taken 68 revolutions around the sun or 24,820 rotations on the big blue marble. Time to share a slice of all the physics, biology, and stewardship I’m guilty of...

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