The Final Chapter

After my time in the lonely desert, my body and mind were weary from the road, and I was ready for respite. That began with Fallon. I stayed with hay farmers on the last day of their first harvest. Steven, his father Butch and Lena, a visiting German woman.

The hay had been cut and raked into rows. The final step was to distribute a fine layer of mist for moisture, and run the balers, enormous old machines full of gears and wires. My role that early morning was driving the 6 wheel gator to the edges of the field, retrieving the bits of alfalfa uncollected by the balers. It reminded me of the obscure precept in Leviticus to leave the corners of the fields for those on the margins of society to glean: the strangers, orphans and widows. Here I was, the stranger in a family farm receiving food and hospitality. My host had unknowingly fulfilled the Levitical law.

From Fallon I rode through the heat of the day and the afternoon bar crowds to Dayton, first called “Chinatown, Nevada” by the USGS for its population of Chinese laborers during the construction of the trans-continental railroad. The small town bars offered ice and water for my hot and thirst tongue. I think I never loved ice so dearly as bicycling in the Nevada sun below 4,000 feet elevation. The mid-day bar crowd was entertained by my stories of riding across the country and cheered me on.

In Carson city, someone built a giant magnet under the Dunkin Donuts, for my bicycle could only roll toward the kindly purveyor of caffeine beverages and corn-syrup ring cakes. While I charged my phone and read up on the news, I met a bicycle enthusiast with his elderly mother. He offered me a ride over the California border. Weary from my long days of consecutive riding in the Nevada mountains, I took him up on his offer.

When I departed Hope Valley Campground, I climbed the pass, and rode the most enjoyable section of my entire tour down Omo Ranch road on the West side of the Sierra Nevadas. A long day through Fair Play vineyards and Placerville took me into Folsom along the American River Bike trail into Sacramento, where I ate two and a half dinners while my sister drove from Novato to pick me up. I admit it. I bailed. The last 80 miles, scorching sun in the valley, and the opportunity to have a place to stay and not have to worry about storing my bike in downtown San Francisco pushed me over the edge.

City lights and saltwater marsh briefly fled across my sight on the drive to Novato. The ride OVER. The tour complete. Each place where my eyes had dwelt, everywhere I had rested, worried, strained and celebrated. Memory.

In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too: to stand at the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line” – Henry David Thoreau

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Desert Soliloquy

I spent almost two weeks in the desert, scorched by its unrelenting sun, desiccated by its implacable dryness, and accompanied by the searing realization of my own physical and spiritual weakness.

I spoke with few people, and spent most of my time riding, resting or listening to my audiobooks. These three books read together are an invitation to repentant prayer: The novel Infinite Jest – a rumination on addiction, depression and recovery, The non-fiction bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow – a summary of a lifetime of research on cognitive intuition’s limits, failures and biases, and Road to Character – David Brooks’ sketch of how to develop inner character in the age of superficial success.

Days blur together in my memory, serrated irregularly by extended night riding and long afternoon naps. The nights are resolutely quiet in Nevada as the wind drops from the late afternoon roar to a whisper. At high altitude the mercury free-falls after sunset, and the moonless nights I rode under displayed the billows of the Milky-Way’s stars with a matchless intensity.

My mind puzzled over the clouds of pure light, worlds after worlds after worlds. Stars orbiting stars, gas giants without count, comets and asteroids enough to pave the plane of the solar system, rocky spheres like mercury and mars, maybe even a few “blue planets”, fellow stewards of life in the enormous nation of stars we call our galaxy.

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“Where God put the West”

John Wayne is reported to have quipped about John Ford’s favorite region for filming Westerns in the central region of Utah, dominated by canyons, arches, buttes and geologic features that capture the imagination.

I crossed Glen Canyon and the Colorado river at sunset. The deep red hues of the rain saturated rocks resonated with the color tones of sunset like a visual symphony. I awoke to the excited squeals of young hikers at 6am. I stopped at a picnic table on my climb out of the Colorado River valley. I made quick time to Hanksville, UT and Blondies’ Restaurant’s luxurious Grasshopper milkshake. I camped at the RV park there, grateful for the laundry and  power outlets. The next day the ride up to Capitol Reef National Park featured some of the most lunar landscapes I have ever seen. Massive hillocks of grey sediment, devoid of any vegetation for miles. Nearby I understand the Mars project operates, experimenting with technology and workable strategies for future human settlement on Mars.

Climbing Boulder mountain was an ego-crushing experience requiring two days to summit the pass, but I was pleasantly greeted by a Forest Service station at the top with biscuits and coffee. When I reached Boulder, Utah at the bottom of the pass, I was surprised to meet two cyclists on different tours. One long-time cyclist Craig, from LA and another young guy like me, Node, on his first major tour cross-country. There was no campground near Boulder, but the waitress recommended National Forest land just beyond the town cemetery. Node and I set camp there and had a wonderful conversation about Dostoyevsky’s Idiot and life on the road. The following day as I waited out the thunderstorm on Hogback ridge, I was greeted by a charming young French woman on vacation with her mother. They were having a fantastic time and were enthusiastic about Utah’s canyon scenery. I was sad to see them drive off in their silver car, and hoped I would encounter them again at a restaurant or stop along my way.

The canyon that surrounds Escalante River and its tributaries is unlike any canyon I have seen. The geologic layers  and formations span bands of color and types of rock rarely found together in other canyons. Locals and tourists even have their own term for climbing and hiking the region: canyoneering. At my night’s stop in the town of Escalante, I set camp at a very busy Escalante Outfitters campground, and made my way to Sacramento Dave’s recommended Cowboy Blues Restaurant. There I met Mike, on a motorcycle sabbatical trip. We had much in common. He was passionate about helping orphans and had helped setup two orphanages in Mozambique. I told him all about Services of Hope, its mission and operations in Texas, and he bought my dinner. My dinner also happened to be the best burrito I have had in years:  A Green Chile pulled pork special with extra Serrano peppers. I hiccupped and sniffled through the entire spicy meal, happier than words can say.

On the road the next day after several hours of afternoon riding I turned into a local store in Cannonville, only to recognize after passing, that silver car with Therese and Aliya who invited me to ride to Bryce canyon with them to see the sunset. I was so happy to get the chance to visit with them more, and learned Therese had first visited Bryce Canyon 30 years earlier, and had a great affection for sunset at the rim. When we arrived, I was breathtaken at the view of Bryce Canyon, as unique and beautiful as the Grand Canyon is vast. So many shades of Orange and Pink, with shapes and structures I had only ever imagined before in dreams. Riding back to town I asked if I could hike in the Canyon the following morning with Aliya, and they happily offered to pick me up in the morning. Up the hill a few short miles, I  rode my bike to Tropic under the fading hues of sunset. I camped next to Dave and his family from Boulder Colorado, who was in his 50s, but starting a family for the first time with two young children.

He was full of humor and good cheer, and reminded me it is always easier to travel and try things in youth. I drifted off to sleep manifestly grateful for the people I had met this week, and for the opportunity to have such an adventure, bicycling across the country through a most spectacular land.

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Chapter 5: Montrose, CO to Boulder, UT


Stats: Day 36 | Day 37 | Day 38 pt 1Truck RideDay 38 pt 2 | Day 40 | Day 41 | Day 42 | Day 43 | Day 44 | Day 45 | Day 46

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Tiger Camp

Growing up is a bit like a driver on a raised super-highway, unable to see the roads below, but guided by the highway’s signage.

Adults and peers are those signs, casting a picture of what each road has to offer on the exits ahead.

If you grow up in my old hometown’s DFW Texas’ rougher neighborhoods, some of those adults and peers peddle plain disinformation and bad directions. It takes the positive influence of people who share clear pictures of choices and consequences ahead to avoid the pitfalls.

Services of Hope is doing their finest again with this Summer’s Tiger camp for 100 K-7th grade students. 10 weeks of academic tutoring, character mentoring, art and athletics!

Don’t miss this opportunity to support the work that gives young people real opportunity to make the most of the life ahead of them!

Support Services of Hope with me. I will match every donation made in June up to $1,500

http://www.servicesofhope.org

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The best rainy day EVER!

(June 5th)

I had slept, rolling over on the soft squishy lumps of dusty earth beneath my tent. It rained in the night and early am. As I packed my things, I wondered for the fourth or fifth time this trip, what those lumps of dirt were caused by, since I had first encountered them on the Uncompahgre Plateau. (Turns out years-old colonies of symbiotic fungus and bacteria living in cities of dirt!) I later felt guilty acting as a soldier of the apocalypse towards these delicate structures.

I dutifully soldiered up the incline in my tennis shoes, abandoning all hope of pedaling up the 6% grade, toward that point on the map I held with such hope and curiosity, the top of the hill called ‘Salvation Knoll’. Why such a spiritually pregnant name? Arriving at the top, plaques greeted me to sate my curiosity. The knoll was named by four scouts, sent by the Mormon community in Escalante ahead to find a route to Fort Montezuma, over previously uncharted terrain.

Their trip occurred in the middle of Winter and was expected to take 8 days, instead consuming 26. About 20 days in they had run out of food, and were lost in days of blizzards, without landmark, eating their last communal flap-jack Christmas day, they climbed the knoll, and were able with the height to spot the blue mountains 10 miles away, the landmark for their course. They arrived in Fort Montezuma safe and sound, and succeeding Mormon settlers of Blanding and Bluff, cut wagon trails into the very rock to mount canyon walls, and dutifully follow the instruction to settle the area.

A picture was included of the scouts, who were all in their forties at the time of the expedition. It occurred to me as strange that men so old would make such a taxing and dangerous trip in Winter. Wouldn’t younger men be physically more able, and comparatively more “expendable” to the community? I guess at the time, there was the good way, the bad way, and the Mormon way.

Down the hill, I crossed a small ridge into Natural Bridges National monument, for what would be one of the most impressive nature-days of my trip. I watched the video of the geology that makes these sandstone bridges possible: the ancient sand, packed and hardened with the residue of minerals, seeping with water through for eons. When the Colorado plateau, which covers the entire four corners region began to lift, the meandering s-curves of the river, felt more urgency to cut shorter paths through the switchbacks. As the rock continued to rise under the pressure beneath, only the top remained, and water erosion etched all bottom away.

There are three great arches in the park: Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo.

Sipapu is the Hopi word for gateway, which they believed the spirits of the first humans entered through this arch. After viewing in person, I can see why, this massive stone expanse, higher than the National Capitol building stretches across the canyon and forms an almost round enclosure, that sure should be a portal to another dimension, even if it doesn’t work that way.

Along the hike I met an Australian woman and her friend who had stopped the previous day on the road to offer me water. Turns out she had cycled San Francisco to Virginia a few years before, and had high praise for the desolate stretches of Nevada before me. It was good to hear the positive outlook. I have been dreading  the ‘loneliest highway in America’ like a child resents his peas and carrots before Ice Cream.

The canyon walls were immense and shapely, unlike anything I had ever seen. Eventually the massive girth of the Kachina bridge rose above me, so sudden in the turns of the canyon it surprised me. It was trully impressive to see, like the underbelly of some great horse, a horse great enough to swim the sea and climb mount Olympus.

After a long 3 miles, of increasingly rocky trail, the most exciting of all three was there in my view, the elegant, iconic Owanchomo bridge, stretched into the sky, unbelievably thin, like the impossible landscapes of dreams.

The wind picked up and fierce dark clouds rode closer in the sky. I hiked back to the road and knocked on the door of the nearest vehicle, where a cheerful Dutch family, parents, and adult children were making coffee.

They offered me a ride tot he top of the one-way road, where I could take a short walk back to the trailhead where I had left my bike. Talking with them and hearing vividly for the third time (first my co-worker Brian Lamb, second the 67 year-old cycling Dutch couple in Sargents, CO) how enthusiastic Dutch people were about bicycles, and how generally cheerful and friendly, My growing urge is to make it to the Netherlands as soon as I can for some quality bicycle touring.

I hated to leave, but the RV made quick time to the end of the road, and I stepped out in my rain-coat into the pouring rain, and headed for my bicycle. Now at the top above the canyon walls, in the rain, I could see hundreds of large and small waterfalls careening from the side of the canyon into its vast chasm, and felt deep within myself, the greatest joy I have ever experienced in pouring rain, grateful to be alive, in that specific place at that specific time, with weather I could never had expected to render the landscape so evanescently stunning.

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Ancient Ruins

(June 4th)

A few miles into Tour day 40 (June 4th), I was excited to visit one of the Anasazi (Navajo) ruins I had heard so much about. Suffering from the same over-eagerness as my fellow trail hikers, we all glibly ignored the posted BLM (Bureau of Land Management) sign, stating, that this trail was not the Butler wash ruins trail, that trailhead was 0.2 miles down the highway.

No matter, I was hiking, and ignorant to my mistake. The 0.2 miles I had stuck in my head was more like 2 miles, but the trip was absolutely worth the hike. Unmarked at the trailhead or on my maps, the trail led to a cave, where the Anasazi had built a small city nestled into the cliff almost 800 years ago. I read the BLM 3-ring binder in an old ammo box at the site. Most off the artifacts besides the building ruins themselves had already been taken before the forest service arrived. A detailed description of the site was offered, and a reminder that to the native peoples, this was still a sacred place that the spirits of their ancestors frequented, and to please be respectful of this dusty sepulcher of sorts.

I tried to fill my imagination of what it must have been like to live in this community, and what a young man my age would have thought and done, thinking how much faster and with much greater endurance he would have walked to his home and back to the edge of the canyon.

Pedaling again, I rode alongside a rock feature that looked like a frozen wave with parallel cracks jutting against the sky. Eventually the road turned and made a slice of man-made canyon through the rock and my bike raced down the other side of the ridge, hitting a tour record top speed of 48 MPH. Now up the hill on the other side of Comb wash, I could see better what I had just crossed, an enormous ridge with cliff faces, that stretched scores of miles off in the distance, undulating like a crude comb. The next day I would read a book that would inform me that the native peoples believed this ridge was the exposed spine of the very earth itself, reminding them of the giving of life itself.

It fit somehow. Comb ridge is neither the biggest, nor most scenic geologic feature I have encountered on the tour, yet it remains one of the most memorable

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