Today was the greatest day of bicycling in my life. The most challenging, the most variegated, and the most stunning miles ever. The easiest way to describe this ride is to say that it is like riding on different planets. The scenery changes so remarkably that it is one breathtaking experience after another. I suppose driving it would be pretty too but the immersion in the challenge of “getting to the Colorado R” and what you have to go through to get there, was worth all the cold mornings getting ready. This is a must ride. There are beautiful rides through Oregon and coastal Calif. The going to the sun highway in Glacier is breathtaking, Vermont is so warm and inviting with its little vistas and charming towns, and France is lovely too through Burgundy. This route though is a testimony to the greatness of the bike as transportation (able to leap tall buildings with a single bound), and the natural wonders of the American West.
I wish I could have ridden the entire 163 miles but I did not train enough to try it. We decided that we would auto transport the 27 miles from Escalante to Boulder, thereby skipping the dreaded “hogsback climb” up to Boulder. The description was terrifying-8 miles uphill with 15‘ from cliff to cliff -2 lanes of traffic, no shoulders and a 3,000 foot drop if some RV has nowhere to go. I am statistically inclined and would attempt it if no one has ever been killed trying it, but sight unseen I had some doubts.... We left Escalante at 8 after picking up Ralph and with the sun shining in our face, this rough desolate country was sublime. There was almost no traffic so it really is a fine bicycling route. The hogsback is not completely insane, it looked like you could pull your bike off the road a couple of feet to allow RV’s to pass without feeling you were teetering on the brink of a long fall. But with a modicum of traffic it would not be a comfortable climb from the Escalante River to Boulder,UT.
We unloaded the bikes in Boulder leaving an approx 2,500’ climb to the summit. It was then 100 miles all kinda sorta downhill to the Colorado River. This part of the climb did not feel steep, perhaps because the vistas are incredible and the landscape has a very Alpine feel. The higher we climbed the more trees and moisture in the air. It was very similar to our experience in Great Basin. At 5,000’ it’s blisteringly hot and dry with chapping winds and then, crossing 8,000’, everything starts to get verdant. Pine trees and pockets of cool air in the shade. Its invigorating and gorgeous looking back over the Grand Staircase . Like a jigsaw puzzle, the sun's angle hides all the canyons and as the sun gets higher the relief map gets more colorful. What a view from the summit. We met a Harley motorcycle club at the turnout. We bicyclists are not as clique-y as the motorized groups. Why do Hondas, BMW’s, and Harley’s all have their own groups? Is it spare parts or just that the people who buy the different motorcycles are so different they prefer riding with their own kind? We Cannondale cyclists can get along with Serrotta, Felt or Trek folks.
The downhill to Torrey in the coolness was amazing. Seems like the best place to live in the summer. Winters are probably brutal this high. Descending through Grover we notice a huge rock with an American flag on it. When we meet up with the boys in Torrey, it turns out they had gone to the base and climbed it. Torrey has a number of vacation homes and looks like a lot of terrific mountain biking and hiking. We cooled at the convenience store. Fairly active store at the turn onto Utah 24. The guys were enjoying exploring and did not feel like riding yet. Nothing special for about a mile out of Torrey-wide open and Nevada feeling and then all of a sudden into these huge red rock cliffs. The road follows the base of the cliff for ten miles and then the cliffs turn to sandstone and we pick up the Fremont River. The road along the “river” with the barest amount of water has turn outs for historical markers. Cabins from pioneer days and ancient cliff art. But its the now white cliffs and slot canyon formations that just keep getting more and more other-worldly. We break away from the river and in a few miles it feels like we are in Arabia-vast sand dunes into the distance. We pass a couple of communities with abandoned hotels. It just feels as if it got too hot and too remote to live here. Tucked between two dunes was a funky looking restaurant just after Caineville. Not open. Shade however. Its really cooking now as we roll into Hanksville for lunch. This is a hot dry bedraggled looking town. The map says its 50 more miles to the Colorado R. Ouch! Not a world class lunch at the Red Rock Cafe but getting a seat in air conditioning is reward enough.
It is really hot now and doesn’t feel quite so downhill. A slight headwind perhaps. This is wide open country with a few Monument valley-like formations. I’m getting into focusing on the road 3’ft in front of me or on Ralph’s wheel. Two lane road is not real busy but it seems every single SUV or F-110 pickup is hauling a gigantic boat. We have fishing boats in AL. These look like 35’ runabouts with deep V- hulls. It seems we can see 20 miles and with the heat blasting down the landscape seems completely devoid of water. Boats everywhere going and coming. Every other car has a boat. It does NOT feel like a lake anywhere. Slowly we seem to be heading into canyon country. The road grows some walls and in places, shade, as the late afternoon sun can’t quite reach the road. Enough heat has already been applied in my mind-I can feel it radiating up through my shoes on the downstroke. I have just about had enough fun --but these canyons are amazing. A sudden turnout and we have a glorious overlook over the Colorado. We can see our campground below us and the bridge in the distance. All downhill. I have had enough. We’ve done 100+ miles through incredible countryside. Ralph hates to give up a downhill and pushes on. There are more givebacks than you would think and a few miles on he calls it quits. Pack up the bikes and go looking for this camping area.
Just before driving over the bridge we pass two very tired looking cyclists, fully loaded. (No, not that kind of loaded) They are making incremental time. The Hite recreation area is really a boat launch. Surprise! No wonder all these boats. Interestingly once we turn off we do not see any more boats. There is one boat in the river and one pulling out of the water as we head to the parking lot at the end of the access road. It looks like a pleasantly lonely spot. Ralph will be forced to camp tonight with us. I give him the air mattress because that’s the kind of friend I am BUT I wouldn’t a done it if the dirt wasn’t pretty damn soft. We go down to the river to pray (I mean play) and we just chill watching the sun sink behind the cliffs on the opposite shore.
Nighttime has a full moon. I thought we’d get some stargazing in but it was pretty bright. The wasted guys on the road showed up for dinner. They left San Francisco two weeks before us and were headed to Rhode Island where they were in school. They appreciated the cooler beers--sorry Mom. Another downside to having to carry everything on your bike. The four boys stayed up playing guitar and talking. Ralph and I zonked. They didn’t do 100+ miles in withering heat.....
I have a personal code I live by but I’ve come to feel that it’s a little threadbare and understated to accomplish much in this world. It is First, do no harm. Whatever big plans you’ve got in mind consider what could go wrong and don’t do anything if the probabilities of harm are too high. It’s a justification for not doing much I fear. But in other things, fear of doing harm curtails necessary risk taking. The ant that follows the trail finds what has always been found. No risk, no reward. Our willingness to take risks sometimes actually ADDS to other peoples risk. Because we are linked social creatures, when we fail, we take out innocent bystanders. This “collateral damage” is often thought just an unfortunate accident but risky behavior will have personal consequences and impact other people. When everyone is doing their own thing - where is the social goal? Is Adam Smith right? The invisible hand will create - Society-when each seeks his own? He probably presumed a lot: People would be honorable and not lie, change would be slow, religious principles governed everyday life, normal people would continue to want to please God-and the church would continue to control the rhythm and rituals of life. Commercial life was not as all consuming as it is today.
So those of us who do not dare disturb the universe-don’t. But by nature I am a contrarian. You say blue skies ahead-I say storm warnings. I pull against the grain. Pride undoubtedly. You think everything is hunky-dory, I say probably not. I try not to ruin all the parties I attend but trying to do no harm and being a revolutionary are not perfectly compatible. Virtue of a legalistic sort is not sufficient. It requires a REAL sacrifice. If there is a heaven and hell, virtue is not really necessary. We can be our flawed selves and get what we deserve. But if not, Virtue - Honor- Nobility all require a sacrifice (if we want them). They don’t just show up. What are our American sustaining ideals? Go shopping?(Yes, that will really irritate our enemies) Freedom for all to do what we like? Show me the money? Christians believe in helping your neighbor and forgiving your enemies. I see bigger defense budgets putting the lie to that.
Human ideals require big ideas, the biggest idea you can think of and the courage to live in a manner to accomplish it. I do not want to be an ugly American, so I’m not pushy. I think a substantially just, ecologically aware, multi-ethnic democracy would be a satisfying goal for America. This is an inward not outward focus. How do we include everyone that is an American? If others won’t leave us alone or want to crash the party we need to be “creative” in our opposition. Brute force in extremis may be necessary but otherwise a light touch. Get the army out of 80+ foreign lands. Let others suffer with their own internal contradictions. A nuclear world is dangerous but we should be resolved to take our warhead count as low as deterrence will allow.
We are currently creating a lot of enemies. I read that Afghanistan has a GDP of $12 billion a year (is 10% or 60% of that heroin?) and we are spending 3 billlion $/month there. Does this make sense? I know if we paid them to be our friends they’d quit when we stopped paying them but they might remember us fondly. Or was that our strategy all along? What if we sent our new unemployed college graduates over there to drink tea and see how they could help, like the Peace Corps. Would we make some real friends? How about if we are so interested in Afghanistan a few American cities adopted sister cities and sent church groups to build clinics and schools? You say Taliban-I say, see what each town council there really wants--help them get it. Greg Mortensen did it and whoever is setting IED’s hasn’t blown up any of his secular schools..... Sending body armoured teenagers with AR-15's into people's homes has not made us popular. Blow back is coming when we can't afford to pay our enemies to be friends...