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geologic chaos

Written by Kate on July 5th, 2005

Utah is a burning wasteland, a scrubby desert of rock and dust and weeds, an utterly unproductive and worthless space for all human purposes. And I am mad about it. From the sculpted stone to the sunbaked colors to the yawning canyons to the star-frosted night skies to the bruised sunsets, I am completely, hopelessly enamored with this land.

Why is it that I love best the places that make me feel so small? What is it that I find so enchanting about deserts, icy expanses, and the remote, untouched, obscure realms of this planet? I can’t explain it. But I’ve been rereading one of my favorite books, Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey, and this passage perfectly describes the priceless fringe benefits of biking Utah:

Clean air to breathe; stillness, solitude, and space; an unobstructed view every day and every night of sun, sky, stars, clouds, mountains, moon, cliffrock and canyons; a sense of time enough to let thought and feeling range from here to the end of the world and back; the discovery of something intimate – though impossible to name – in the remote. – Edward Abbey

For the past week or so, I’ve been weaving through the canyon country on the toughest – but most magnificent – stretch of the trip yet. Along the way, I tackled countless lung-bursting and leg-quaking 8-14% grade climbs (and flew down the correspondingly steep descents). I contended with my first bike mechanical issues (nothing too serious yet, knock on tree). I battled the relentless, searing heat by biking at 4am with a headlamp, religiously applying sunscreen, and chugging gallons of water (and still finished each day feeling deep-fried). But the mind-blowingly spectacular scenery more than made up for it all.

The best moment: unexpectedly riding over the Colorado River on the very same bridge that marked the final leg of the Outward Bound course I participated in the summer before my freshman year at Carolina. After nearly a month of trekking, climbing, and rafting in Utah, the course finale was a half-marathon run that finished at this particular bridge, which is seriously in the middle of desert nowhere. It was a complete shock to revisit – four years later practically to the day – a landmark I never imagined I’d see again, a finish line that was really the starting line for everything I’ve seen, learned, and experienced since. Before that Outward Bound course, I’d never backpacked before, never done any wilderness traveling or traveling at all, and never ran anything close to a half-marathon. It was the most intense, challenging experience of my life up to that point, and it honestly defined who I am and what I love and how far I’m capable of pushing myself. To come full circle like that – well, I could rant on and on, but in short this bike trip was worth it based on that encounter with history alone.

I am reluctant to leave a place so charged with both memories of adventures past, and promises of adventures future lurking in every hidden canyon, on every lonely mountaintop. But it’s time to ramble on, up, and over the jagged spine of the country in Colorado, where the alpine chill and shade will be welcome novelties. Utah, I’ll be back.


6 Comments so far ↓

  1. Miles says:

    Hello, hello Kate,
    I’m thuroughly pleased to read of your escaped and get to share you’re adventures with my friends. Here’s the senario. Me-”Guess what guys, I’ve got a friend who is bicking solo across the US and she just left Utah” Friends- “geez what is she a glutton for punishment, why would anyone wnat to do that, and alone.”
    Ah Kate we know what they do not, at this point our life is ment for adventure. I’m sorry to hear you’re already in Colorado. I’m taking a road trip soon and I was hoping we could cross paths there. BOOM keep it up and keep writing these beautiful entries. BOOM

  2. yer decrepit old auntie..... says:

    heeeeey katie!!
    so great you are keeping a blog on your trip! naturally, proud auntie that I am, I have emailed everyone the link… thus far it has been a wonderful read. albeit, I do admit, I feel a tad exhausted just reading about your exploits! hope i talk to you soon. luv u!

  3. Jess says:

    I finished reading your blog (thus far) grinning and totally inspired. I swear you’re one of the most amzing people I’ve ever met, you remind me of that woman in that book “Tracks”. Can’t wait to see you in the fall and swap adventure stories and maybe have a few new ones while we’re at it!

    loads of love and respect,

  4. Anonymous says:

    Miss K,
    Cliff bars beat powerbars.
    Water better than Cola.
    Tailwind wins anytime but…
    Headwind develops ripping quads (you cant lose, remember this when you are cursing the gods).
    Midwest, umm, I cant think of anything inspiring…
    wait, it will end and then you’ll be closer to the east coast. Yaaay.
    The insane ranting you hear when beat down and tired is the real you fighting for attention. Listen to it, understand it and talk to it constantly. Preferably out loud.
    Enjoy every moment as this is the start of a life af adventure.

    Paul M.
    Fellow adverturer

  5. Anonymous says:

    Man you write well! And live well too! I am so jealous Kato – such adventures.

    Just finished “Drop City” and loved it. Especially the log cabin exploits in Alaska – another place you will have to revisit sometime. I think I’d take the cold and snow over the heat you are experiencing, but the intensity of your biking life right now sounds like the way I feel when hiking (albeit on a much more modest scale).

    Thanks for the great stories.


  6. Elizabee says:


    (Wordsworth writing to his sister, upon being beside a river twice, a favorite poem of mine, shortened for space, but it shouldn’t be–I couldn’t help but think that you and Wordsworth are both so blessed by loving plances)

    FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
    Of five long winters! and again I hear
    These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
    With a soft inland murmur.–Once again
    Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
    That on a wild secluded scene impress
    Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
    The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
    The day is come when I again repose
    Here, under this dark sycamore, and view 10
    These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
    Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
    Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
    ‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
    These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
    Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
    Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
    Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
    With some uncertain notice, as might seem
    Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods, 20
    Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
    The Hermit sits alone.
    These beauteous forms,
    Through a long absence, have not been to me
    As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
    But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
    Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
    In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
    Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
    And passing even into my purer mind,
    With tranquil restoration:–feelings too 30
    Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
    As have no slight or trivial influence
    On that best portion of a good man’s life,
    His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
    Of kindness and of love.

    We stood together; and that I, so long
    A worshipper of Nature, hither came
    Unwearied in that service: rather say
    With warmer love–oh! with far deeper zeal
    Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
    That after many wanderings, many years
    Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
    And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
    More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

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