I started this trip with my bike lightly loaded, but my mind weighed down with some doubts.
Let me interrupt myself. The first leg of this trip was a truck-camping-by-a-creek trip with my girlfriend, Trina. Here are some photos from our exploratory tromps along the way and from camp. We have such a great time just hanging out or exploring together, not moving fast, but taking time to spot details and notice interesting things along the way. Which hasn't been very hard to do lately, with all the flowers out to grab our attention. It continues to be a flowerfest everywhere we go.
Oh, and our familiar adventure critters.
Okay, now my bike-trip doubts.
First, the route. I had it on good authority that the route I was heading off on went through to where I hoped it would. Um. If "good authority" can be taken to mean that I heard from an acquaintance that a friend of his had done it, not on a bike. So pretty-sure-probably it went. But if it didn't, it meant a day's worth of backtracking to get out and try other unknown options.
Second, I always have some doubt about how tough I am. Like if I'm tough enough for this kind of trip. And I'm never quite sure when I'm biting off more than I can chew, or if I'll be able to chew the kind of things I've chewed in the past. I'll file this feeling under Cautious Optimism, and call it a virtue. But still, I do pause to wonder.
Third, some gear issues. I hadn't used this bike for this kind of trip before. The bike I'd planned to use turned up with a broken part I couldn't get ahold of at the last minute. So I picked this bike from my quiver.
And, though I've done lots of traveling on a bike with loads and loads of gear, I haven't done that much this lightly loaded. And I don't really have a system. My current "system" started by throwing anything I thought I might need into Trina's truck for our creek camping trip. Then, before my afternoon solo-bike send-off, I hashed through everything and tried to pick out anything I'd need, set aside anything I wouldn't, and tried to find a way to strap it to the bike and to me.
I have one of the world's smallest and least-warm sleeping bags and a small pad. I was worried about freezing on the shoulder of the mountains, so packed a goose-down coat with the sleeping bag. Some wool jerseys and knee warmers. Rain pants and jacket. But left my small not-much-of-a-tent behind.
I invented some quick-cook dinner recipes on-the-spot, and gathered the lightest calories from a giant bag of food I'd brought along. Did a few last minute bike repairs. Then, armed with an old rotting, no-longer-dry bag, another bag from a camp chair Trina happened to have in the truck, plus a bundle of straps, I managed to get what I thought I needed onto the bike and into my pack.
In the shade on the side of the creek, way back in the canyons, this, er, only took me a couple hours, just in time to start riding. I plan, but I don't plan ahead. (For contrast, I present my friend Mike
, who seems to know what he's doing before he does it.)
Just past the heat of the day, Trina and the dogs sent me on my way. Off into the unknown. I turned right on my bike and Trina turned left in the truck. In moments she was out of sight and I was on my own. I saw no one for the rest of the day.
I rode up a rough ridge in the hot sun. Then the sky hazed out and the light diffused as I dropped into a small canyon. I rode upward as the rushing water burbled downward. The track surface was loose and chunky, and there were times when I had to push the steep parts. I rode ever upward as the day burned into evening. I was moving slowly enough to notice bright velvet ants roaming beneath.
As I arrived at the critical point, a little-used track turned off, just in the direction I had hoped. It pulled me up out of the canyon and onto a high slope as the last burst of sunlight burned brightly. I raced the light, seeking the expected edge, the possible path...
I came to a breathless stop where the world fell away, dropping into a deep bowl of shadows. The last glow of day lit the shining snow of the mountains beyond, and burned red into the canyon rim. The thin line of the river below mirrored the silvery sky. This was it. The place I had hoped I would arrive.
And there, where the darkness was gathering below the rim... A line of a track, twisting downward, into the bowl and toward the river. The gate, it seemed, was open. I was free to carry on.
I camped on the rim, a dozen feet from the edge. But it's almost as if "camp" has become too complex a word to describe the simpleness of it. A bare spot of rock or dirt for the tiny stove. A bush, if available, to lean the bike against or to hang sweat-wet clothes. And a flat-ish place to lay down. Nothing more required. The view, even, was wasted until morning.
The birds of the rim started their chorus long before sunrise. But I saw no reason to get up before the sunlight hit me in the eye. The light showered out onto the pinnacles and spires of the canyon. Soon I had eaten and had packed up, ready to ride.
I dove down the rubbled road, my bike twitching against rocks as I snaked down the tight switchbacks. My rattling eyes were locked onto the track, so I stopped frequently to take in the view. Layer after layer of cliff and slope, red to grey tones of rock and dirt, green shrubs and the punctuation of showy flowers, The snowy peaks where I was heading dropped away behind the immediacy of the canyon cliffs. Roll, stop, view. Roll, stop, view.
Soon I was on the lush riverbank on a gravel road, heading upriver to the bridge and the small funky desert town, or, half-town. There's a beat up and abandoned tavern that, heck, might still be open now and then. Tacked together houses and trailers surrounded by squalor and seedy trees. But also modest homes that show years of life and care, rigorous vegetable gardens, small in-home businesses that never made it or are still making it, and it's hard to tell which.
The people in this damp spot in the dry canyons seem to have carved out lives that exist within the strictures of the remoteness and the resources. A vision of the West that was never really envisioned, but which evolved over time. But that's only half the story.
I stopped, as I often have, at the small diner. Another breakfast and a chocolate shake. A friendly chat with the two rugged men who were running the place for the morning. Then I rode across the bridge and past a strange plastic version of the West, stamped out and set down in the canyon scenery. A vision that promises and satisfies with a faux-dobe front containing all the trappings and comforts that an American shopping mall and hotel are expected to provide.
I leave you to cypher which side of town is considered a success. I'm sure I don't understand all the intricacies involved. But I had to avert my eyes as I passed.
I turned up a canyon and began to climb. The sometimes-dry creek in the bottom was running cool and wet. I soaked my shirt and helmet and pedaled my way up the winding gravel road in the heat. Hours slipped by as desert pinyon and juniper gave way to ponderosa pine and oak brush. The flowers changed styles and color. Ponderosa gave way to lodgepole and aspen trees and wide mountain meadows. The blue sky changed to afternoon haze.
The edge of spring was just touching the shoulder of the mountains. Meadows were green, but many flowers had yet to bloom. Aspen trees were just leafing out in a vibrancy of bright green. Oak brush was budding.
I stopped for the night in a meadow filled will fallen aspen logs. Rinsed myself off in a trickle of water. Tiny flowers carpeted the ground. A vole rustled the dry leaves under a bush. Deer grazed past. A gopher threw fresh, dark brown dirt out of its hole. Songbirds cried their night cries. Woodpeckers beat out rhythm on echoing trees. An owl flew across the meadow into the twilight. Clumsy beetles crashed into the tops of grasses and flower stems after emerging from burrows in the ground into the last light of day.
The haze of the afternoon built into a grey night sky. No stars, but warm enough. I cooked my meal and listened to the quiet that was never quite quiet.
The sky was still grey over my morning meadow. If I hadn't seen the weather prediction, I'd have said it looked like rain. I packed up and was rolling along the empty gravel road when it did start to rain. I suited up under a tree and then got back to rolling. Soon it was a drizzle and then it faded away. The sky opened up to bright blue and herds of puffy clouds. Exactly the kind of day when one might like to lay in a bright green meadow.
Since I had fewer miles to go than I had time to ride them, I did just that. In fact, I was a bit of a serial meadow layer. I would lay in a meadow for a little while. Then move down the road to another meadow. Then another.
I followed a porcupine that waddled across one meadow into a willow thicket where it disappeared. Deer came grazing past and didn't know what I was. I stalked to the edge of a small pond, sneaking up on a croaking frog, a little nubbin of an amphibian with a very fat lip. And in the pond water were a myriad of tiny swimming and crawling creatures. Bird cries, breezes, passing clouds, flowers. A heck of a way to spend a day.
The hot part of the afternoon burned away while I was laying amid wild iris blossoms. It was time to move on. I popped out onto a paved highway, spun down a long grade, passed through a one-store town, and turned off onto a rough dirt road. Back in the desert. Juniper, pinyon, greasewood, sage. Fields of orange globe mallow blossoms.
I'd skirted around the southern end of the mountains and was cutting across dry canyons on my way to... Work?
Ten years ago I'd ridden my bike into Moab from another route and that trip had marked something like the start of a "career" (that, actually, had nothing to do with Moab). Now, I'm just finished with that career and moving on to other things. With the first bit of business being in Moab.
So yes. All this exploring and pedaling and camping and laying about in meadows was actually a commute.
In the early evening I came to the rim edge of a mesa. Far ahead and below I could see the town. I'd planned on one more night on the trail, but now, I was so close. As I stared down at town, a cloud of gnats gathered around me and most of them settled upon my ears. I shooed them away and looked back at town. The gnats settled on my ears again.
Ah, the choices I have to make in life. One more night of camping and to have my ears chewed off by gnats? Or...
I dropped onto the road that poured off the edge of the mesa and pedaled as hard as I could for town, leaving the gnats behind, across the dry flats and into the irrigated oasis of the desert town.
I arrived at work early.
Blog @ Dirt and Dogs