Over 750 miles on a homemade tandem bicycle — a trip report worth remembering

Chris Allen
14 min readMay 22, 2019

My paternal grandfather, Murray F. Allen, lived a life full of adventure. I learned much of what adventure means through his influence. This post is a story demonstrating his adventurous spirit.

In 1941 when he was 19 years old, my grandpa and his friend Lloyd Metcalf decided to build their own tandem bicycle and ride it from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Zion National Park.

Salt Lake to Zion and back! That’s over 750 miles. I like crazy adventures like that. Fortunately, I have more than just the memory of my grandpa telling the story of the 10-day epic ride. I have a journal and lots of photos written and taken by my grandpa himself.

Here’s a map of the route they took from Salt Lake to Zion National Park.

Day 1 — Saturday — June 14th — Broken luggage rack

We, after buying Floyd’s sleeping bag, started on our journey. We left Salt Lake at 2:10. We stopped to eat at about 1/2 mile south of Riverton. While crossing some tracks entering Lehi we broke the luggage rack. Results: we had to carefully ride to American Fork to get reinforcements consisting of two heavy stub bars welded securely.

Ate Supper in Provo City (city fairgrounds). Slept at Mrs. Jacobs. Dropped my camera on the road without breaking it.

$.60 for bicycle repairs

Day 2 — Sunday, June 15th — Camping with ants

Arose at 6:30 to eat a swell meal consisting of coffee, hoecakes, cereal, and eggs. It was swell, and our cook, Mrs. Jacobs, asked us to stop in on our way back. Before we had crossed the “heaviest” parts of Spanish Fork Canyon a kind trucker picked us up and gave us a lift of 25 or 30 miles (approx.)

Arriving in Mt. Pleasant we looked up Fran Neilson and ate our second well-balanced mooched meal. They seemed glad to see us. Our ride from Mt. Pleasant to Manti was all downhill and very easy going.

In Manti we took a picture of the temple. At Ephriam 7 miles from Manti we bought bread, soup, and beans. We rode on into the outskirts of Gunnison (recommended by a friendly highway cop) but alas, we could find no good place to camp-ants and sand and no shade or trees-well, anyhow we ended up behind a large billboard.

Day 3 — Monday, June 16th — Catsup for dinner

Awoke at 20 min. to five. We slept well considering the place we were in. Our beans turned out to be catsup -therefore, we had to content ourselves with soup and dry bread-the soup was more like stew (we lacked water).

The going was extremely tough; a strong wind was in our face all day. At about 12:30 we drove into Richfield. From there we went to Annabella and then Hoopers. It was swell seeing them. We ate lunch with all but Bruce.

For once I enjoyed milk. The road from Annabella was uphill all the way and the wind was even worse than before. It took us about 1 ½ hours to cross the Sevier Canyon into Piute County.

We are now camping beneath some large trees in a nice park in Marysvale. Our supper consisted of beans, bread, boiled eggs (from Hoopers), and potato chips. We are approximately 200 miles from Salt Lake City and 80 from Bryce.

Day 4 — Tuesday 17 — Friendly Californians

What a truly memorable day! Whew! We left Marysvale at about 7:45 after eating dry bread and corn flakes without sugar. The hills were not so bad but the wind was terrific. We were at times slowed down to a walking pace.

In Junction, a small “hick town”, we noticed the back tire on the tandem was breaking out on the side wall. We decided to change it for the one on the front, thereby giving less weight and strain to the weak tire. It was a tedious, discouraging process however we managed-I only hope it holds out till we get home.

While crossing the mountains (plenty) in Garfield County against an extremely bad “face” wind we thumbed a ride from a couple truckers (they were slightly “pickled” and therefore very friendly and obliging.) They drove very fast-we were glad to get the big lift.

The climb up to Bryce was hot and steep. We were very glad to finish the long journey (Red Canyon). We’ll plan to stay a short time here. At the entrance gate, the agent let us past without paying a fee of $1.00 assessed to everybody else. Of course we were happy.

Shortly after entering the camp grounds a friendly family from California gave us our supper. They even cooked some soup for us then left telling us to help ourselves to anything at their camp. We did a lot of walking on various hills this day.

Day 5 — Wednesday 18th — Inspiration Point

Last night was cold-during the early hours of the morning both Lloyd and I woke up chilled, however, we managed to sleep. Lloyd till 6:30 and me till 5:00 (I was too cold in my thinner “bag”.

Our friends, the tourists from California brought us over some grapefruit juice and coffee and candy. We were very much obliged. For breakfast, we ate the rest of our cornflakes, coffee, stew, and bread (14 slices 14 cents). At nine o’clock we went over to Sunset Point to go down the canyon with a guide. It was not such a long walk therefore after ascending Lloyd and I went back down and walked around the middle west side up to Sunrise Point.

We took a roll of pictures (here’s hoping, as usual). We stopped in at the Lodge to look at souvenirs. I’d like to, (and think I shall,) buy some novelty pins for Mid and Wanda. 75 cents apiece.

The front tire on the tandem is low. We certainly hope there will be no trouble. We’re talking of a possible “hitch-hike” to Grand Canyon -yet to be seen. This afternoon after lunch (bread-peanut butter, coffee, cookies, cornflakes, and candy) we stripped down and washed ourselves completely, after which we proceeded to wash all of our dirty clothes.

Reloaded my “old faithful” camera to sheet some more film. Today sent a card to Jim Smith and LeRoy Hillam Joy. Both Lloyd’s nose and mine are getting to look as though we are drunkards. Our clothes are badly in need of pressing-In the afternoon we walked up to Inspiration Point to get a Southern view — elevation 8,316 ft.

Our camp neighbors to the south, a botanist and his wife from a Kansas University brought us over some salad. This evening we took the bike over to get some air. The tires look bad and the wheels are beginning to wobble because of lacking spokes. We watched the camp program at the lodge.

Day 6 — Thursday 19th — Southern women

One of the very hardest days we’ve had since leaving Salt Lake City. We traveled approximately 75 miles. It was all but 30 uphill and we were confronted with an extremely strong wind. Coming down Red Canyon the brake hub got so hot the cranks would not turn. Grease was running out due to too much weight and pressure. The road down Red Canyon through Powell National Park was fresh oil-consequences: we got our shoes, hair, clothes, etc. dobbed up with it. The bike was also messed up considerably.

While crossing a small in-mountain valley, we saw an eagle or a hawk flying over carrying an object. It suddenly dropped the object….It proved to be a bleeding, still warm, rabbit of 6–8 lbs.

In Orderville I wrote a letter to Wanda wishing her a happy birthday. Quoted by Lloyd: “The Southern women are alright-they’re not exactly bashful-one chased us for an hour” (These women are a couple of 16-year-olds we were introduced to (by themselves) after entering Orderville.) One hung on to our bike running after it for a ½ mile. I wrote a birthday letter to Wanda.

Tonite we’re camping in a gully beneath a Vivo Oil Station at the Junction of Zion’s and 89. A service station attendant from Salt Lake City treated us very kind and gave us some information. He let us leave our bike at his station.

Lloyd and I brew the most unique coffee in any type of old tin can- it’s really good too. Sometimes we go without milk other without sugar and sometimes both. We haven’t had any butter on our bread yet.

Day 7 — Friday the 20th — No brakes

Boy, oh Boy oh Boy! What a day! Our best and our worst too!

We awoke from our slumbers at the Mt. Caramel-Zion road junction to eat our first ready prepared meal — breakfast 25 cents apiece (the cheapest at that). We became better acquainted with the service station attendant and his wife. In fact, she had us put up a clothesline for her. I asked her to wash my shirt which she obligingly did.

Lloyd and I put all our belongings away intact hoping to be able to bum a ride to Grand Canyon-no luck. About noon after taking our friend’s picture we started our long perilous climb to Zion’s Canyon. The going was not exceptionally hard because the wind was not hitting us directly. Near the summit, two girls (touring the western states) stopped and took a moving picture of us-also some snaps. We took a picture of them on our tandem. They drove off, but a few miles later they turned around and came back to us. They offered to drive our burdensome packs etc. to the Lodge for us and save us the sweating-whew! I think we’d never of made the rest of our journey without that lift!

We coasted from the summit for several miles before coming to the mouth of Mt. Caramel tunnel (we hadn’t used our brakes) All at once we began to gain extremely rapid speed and momentum. When we tried to stop we could not. We had no lights and the cave was practically dark. A dreadful crash seemed inevitable! We shot past the first window and two cars about 50 m.p.h. (The speed limit was 25.)

Well, to make a long story short I slide back to the luggage rack (Lloyd had a hellava time balancing the bike) and hung on tightly and drug my feet. After just barely stopping at the second window (1/2 mile in) examination revealed my new shoes to have practically no soles. The bike brake was completely shot.

We had to walk down the rest of the way to the canyon bottom — a winding road of perhaps 6–8 miles. It was tough to do this when we’d been looking forward to riding the best hills and the steepest we’d seen — and to think we had to walk ( and hold back the tandem) clear to the bottom.

When riding into the Lodge some Michigan tourists stopped and took our pictures-they also fed us cherries and bananas from the car window. Upon entering the Lodge we were hailed by some Bell-Hops-The girl tourists had told them to be on the lookout for us. All of our junk was intact and safely delivered. When we went to thank the girls for their hospitality they asked us in and gave us refreshments.

We later took them for a tandem ride about the lodge. We watched the evening program after which we rode (without brakes) down the canyon 4 miles to make camp for the night. We had a hard time finding the grounds because of the darkness. However, we managed to survive the day.

Day 8 — Saturday 21st — Heading home

We’ve been away from home one week and I’m getting very homesick. I wish I was home long enough to see the folks and wish Wanda a happy birthday. Our breakfast consisted of one pkg. of corn flakes, a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread (15 cents) lunch: Heinz soup and a loaf of bread (2 ½ loaves in all).

We hiked up to about a mile above “Weeping Rock”. Saw the “Great White Throne” took pictures. Ate two ice cream cones at 10 cents a shot. Having seen all we could, we left Zion at 4:00 headed for home. We were able to make the northern outskirts of Toquerville where we bought bread and beans and ate them cold, after which we turned in for the night on an abandoned road. We slept well and warm. We both wore our clothes-except shoes.

Day 9 — Sunday 22nd — A “glorious” time

What a day! Lloyd and I certainly can get into more predicaments etc. than any other six people I know. We also have amazing luck in getting good luck. After waking from our roadside slumbers (I had a slight headache due to sun-exposure) we packed up and mounted our faithful?! tandem to ride to the nearest town for some breakfast grub. For our first meal at 10:00 we had bread (left-over), corned beef-25 cents a shot and warm water.

The wind was behind us all day, therefore we made good time. Just as we were entering Cedar City a motorist gave us a lift up a steep hill. We coasted into the city limits without any brakes. We went through a stop light. In Cedar City, we washed up at a Vico station and got acquainted with the attendant, a young kid. In this town, I bought Dad a pair of Indian-made gloves and Mom an Indian trinket.

Cedar City to Parawon was easy going-some fellows from Cedar High gave us a tow. After leaving Parawon we glided through Paragonah onto the flats between there and Beaver. About 5 mi out I heard a snap-investigation proved there to be 6 spokes broken from the back wheel-it was rubbing and we could not ride. Luckily a chicken trucker happened along and we flagged him. He took us to Beaver where after inquiring of some local kids we found there to be no bike shop but there was a kid who did repairs- We went there to find no one but his mother at home. However, she was very hospitable and gave us enough spokes (from her son’s collection) to repair both of our wheels and have four spares.

Here she told us of a man who was making a trip to Salt Lake. Maybe we could “hook” a lift with him. We inquired and sure enough-we can at 8:00 in the morn, however, we plan to get off at Provo and see Don Jacobs.

Our supper consisted of leftover cookies and corn flakes, milk, and two candy bars. In a café in Beaver, we net John Clawson who with his contractor pals showed us a “glorious” time. We really saw the town — in a Dodge pick-up. It was late when we went to bed. Our sleeping quarters were the best yet-(a tourist campsite on the grass.)

Day 10 — Monday 23rd — Woe

We arose and ate an early café breakfast at the notorious “Early Bird”. It was our second such during the trip. A kind lumber dealer coming to Salt Lake agreed to bring us up. The ride was long and lots of fun-it broke the monotony of the trip very much. We stopped off at Provo to get the bike wheels trued up and adjusted. We found the bearings stripped in the back end as well as the brake discs. Woe.


tape-.05, .05, bike repairs-.60, root beer-.10, 1st days grub-.45, 2nd days grub-.20, .12, .26, 3rd days grub-.16, 4th days grub (Wed. 18)-.35, .26, 5th days grub- .30, .50, 6th days grub-.50, .27, 7th days grub-.42, .65, .20, .20, .25, 8th days grub-.45, .30, .50, .10, .10, .10, 9th days grub-.55, .60, .40, Bicycle repairs-.50 Personal expenses-souvenirs-$1.25, .25, $1.70, sunglasses-.30

Map of the return trip:

My thoughts…

Incredible! Not only did they build their own bike, but they rode off into the unknown with only $80. Given, they were young and invincible 19-year-olds, but what an adventure! By comparison, today, we seem soft. We need all the latest and greatest technology from our fancy pants and underwear to sophisticated navigation technology. We’d never dream of riding off without our cell phones these days.

I love the spirit of adventure captured by my grandpa. He seemed to be most alive in the moments of greatest adversity or danger. But isn’t that what adventure is all about? Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? The unknown, unexpected, and unmatchable experience of being the first to try something.

My grandpa Murray died on July 28, 2010, but his spirit of adventure lives on. It was passed on to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren including me. I thrive on adventure and wait impatiently for the next thrill every time the last one ends. I’ve never built a bike or ridden 750 miles in one trip, but I’d love to try it someday.

Read a trip report from one of my recent adventures here.

What motivates you to adventure? Is it in your DNA? Do you feel the same way I do about it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Until next time,

Stay safe, have fun, and keep your nose clean (that’s what grandpa Murray used to say to me)


Originally published at https://myadventureschool.com on May 22, 2019.



Chris Allen

Hi, I’m Chris. I started Adventure School to help you get out on more adventures. Follow us and learn the skills you need to get out on your next adventure.