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.