Wednesday, July 27, 2016

a date with the desert

Alternate titles: 
The Whole Enchilada with a Side of Nachos
In Over my Head
Baptism by Fire
We threw the last duffle in the car around seven. It was ninety something degrees and I had sweat seeping out of every pore.....and we were headed south. What were we thinking?

Our weekend adventure was a last minute plan--the kids were at grandma’s, we had a few days to cram in some fun. By the time we gassed up, filled the cooler, and did all the other un-glamorous tasks that are part of road tripping, we got a late start and didn't roll into Moab until midnight. We slept--kinda-- flat on our backs, spread out, "don't touch me!", because it was exactly one million degrees. 

Our shuttle up the mountain left at 6:30 a.m. I piled in with eight guys; the van smelled like a locker room and stayed fairly quiet on the hour drive. The guy in front of us had gotten into the van with a Salted Caramel Talenti container half full of a lightish brown liquid. Melted ice cream? No—that would be weird at this hour (or any hour), so I assumed it was his coffee. But then he finished it up and pulled out a raspberry Talenti container full of a very melted, very raspberry colored thick liquid. He nursed it all the way up the mountain. Between watching him sip away at two pints of melted ice cream for breakfast, the smell of the van, the windy mountain road, something sticky on my seat, and my enormous case of nerves….. I felt sick. 
Yeah, I was nervous. I’ve been out on my bike quite a bit this summer, but our trails are nowhere near as technical as what I was about to ride. Our trails are smooth, fast, and flowy. There’s an occasional rock, some roots, and I know them all pretty well, both on foot and two wheels. But Robby assured me (repeatedly), that I’d be fine….he’s usually more confident in me than I am in myself. So I trusted him….I think.
Click. Click. I was in my pedals. Started my watch. The Whole Enchilada…..let’s do this! The air was crisp, the forest floor was wet from the previous night’s rain, and we settled in to our seats. Ice cream guy was GONE. Just as I began to shake my nerves out, we began to climb. And climb. And climb. I was trying to focus on the view—the flowers were like fireworks, the smell was intoxicating, but all I could think about was my legs. And my lungs. They were on FIRE. We were somewhere above ten thousand feet and I was feeeeeeeling it. I looked up the trail, and one by one riders were hopping off their bikes, pushing them up the mountainside. Pedal, peddddal, pedddaaaalllll, they just wouldn’t rotate anymore. I was off. Push, push, push. I passed a few riders in my hustle to the top, all making comments like “nice day for a hike”, and "this is the worst",  and then topped out at 11,150ft on Burrow Pass. I should have taken a picture, but digging my phone out of my pack would have taken a few extra breaths that I just didn’t have at the moment, so instead we headed down. 
And then I wished we were climbing again. The trail wasn’t dirt--it was slippery, broken up pieces of rock, and it was STEEP. The switchbacks were just about as close to a complete 180* degree turn as you could get—I had to unclip to get around most of them, and even that was hard. We were three or four miles into the ride at this point—and I called ahead to Robby—“am I in over my head?” 
“You’re fine.” 
I trusted him. I think.
The trail leveled out, we wound through aspens, cows, bushes and flowers that completely covered the trail. I was relieved to have a bit more climbing to give my legs a rest from standing on the pedals. We crossed creeks that soaked our feet, and eventually made our way out of the forest to a wide open view of the desert below. 
WOW. This is why I signed up for this ride! The green meadow in front of us seemed to drop off into nothing, as red desert towers rose up into the blue sky. It looked fake. Was this real?! I wanted to spend the day taking it all in, but we had miles to cover.
We began our descent, the green fading away and slowly turning to red stone and sand. We had a few miles of relief on a smooth(ish) jeep road where we were able to make up some time, and let the wind whip around us as the desert air began to heat up. 
The next twelvish miles or so all blurred together. When I think back, I imagine rock. After rock. After rocky rock. The sections of smooth broken slickrock were my favorite. Choosing a line up and over this rock—around that rock. Robby would holler “stay right!”—I’d keep right and sit all the way back over my seat as my tires dropped over edges and landed with ease. This was FUN! I was finally getting it. Choosing my own lines—it was like a playground—which way should I go?! Weeeeeeee!
And then there were the sections I didn't love--no lines to choose—no way to go around. Up and over, up and over, times where I was like, “yeah, I’m not riding that”, so I’d hop down and carry my bike around, over, through. But then times where I was like “yeah, I’m not riding that”, but I could not for the life of me get unclipped in time, so I just held on tight and tried not to close my eyes. And yes I screamed a little lot.
And I surprised myself so many times. I still don’t really consider myself a mountain biker—I’ve been on my bike quite a bit this summer, but there is so much about the sport I'm still figuring out. As I learned to trust myself and my bike, I think I earned my mountain biking badge this trip. At one point in those impossibly rocky sections, I had a thought—it quickly became my cheesy motto for the remainder of the ride. I remember thinking I was so wise--like Ghandi or something--or maybe it was on a No Fear shirt I saw in middle school, but I just kept thinking: 
“You can’t DO, what you don’t TRY.”
It’s making me laugh so hard right now—does that even make sense? Not really. It sounded a lot more profound and inspiring when I was on the verge of dehydration and ridiculously exhausted, but I repeated this to myself over and over as my wheels rolled over drops and boulders. And as I kept trying, and trying--I continued to surprise myself with what I could do with each turn of my pedals.
I ran out of water with two miles of trail to go. It was 104* and I could see the river ahead, taunting me. My brain was done—I kept shifting the wrong direction and I swear the rocks were moving. The trail spit us out on the road—we had 5ish miles back to town on the hot asphalt. We stopped at a little spring dripping out of the rock and drank until our bellies were bloated and full. And then we filled up our bottles and dumped them over our heads—again and again. We were soaked and I’ve never felt so good. I got my second wind—“let’s do it again!!” We laughed, deliriously high on endorphins. 
We went and showered at the rec center in town. I think I may have fallen asleep while the cool water ran over my sore muscles. I took inventory: three new bruises on my legs, some skin off my legs and an elbow, a blister from gripping my handlebars so tight, and a baseball size goose egg on my arm from a hard spill onto the rocks. 
All worth it.
We ate our fill of Mexican food (nachos for me, and the very appropriate choice of enchiladas for Robby), and drove towards our next destination: Capitol Reef.

this picture says it all. absolute, complete exhaustion.

The rest of our adventure was fairly easy going. We threw up our tent and crawled into our sleeping bags, not even noticing how uncomfortable our air pads were. We crashed.
We woke up with the sun, and headed out for our next ride. My legs were toast from the previous thirty four miles, but our second ride would be fairly gentle in comparison. We had cloud cover, a few rain drops even, and an oasis to dip in halfway through our ride. As we peddled our way across the desert, I wondered why I love this so much? My body was tired, my brain was mush, and for some reason, I still couldn't get enough. There’s just something about physical suffering that I crave, and I love doing it together. Robby pushed and I followed—trying not to question if I could do it—if he says I can, then I will. We pedaled on and ended our ride right under twenty one miles. It felt good.

our secret oasis
done! 55 desert miles in two days.
We checked in to our cabin for the night, showered in the outdoor shower surrounded by willows, and went to eat. And eat and EAT. Burr Trail Grill is hands down one of my favorite restaurants on the planet. We had fried green tomatoes, wings, burgers with potatoes, and their famous pie. We sat on our little porch as the sun set, and talked about our last fourteen years together, and what the years to come may bring…..fingers crossed, they bring more bike rides.

mmmm.....peach pie

....the end....

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Wow! What an adventure. 20+ years ago, when visiting my grandmother who lived in Cortez, CO, my college boyfriend and I drove up to Moab to ride the Slick Rock Trail. I agree - there is nothing like biking on that smooth, red rock. I loved it. I didn't go nearly as far as you - but you're inspiring me to get my 20+ year older body back into shape and give this a try (or at least part of it). Sounds like an amazing weekend!