From the log book:
“I once again sit in an amazing venue, escaped from the world, and watching the glory of the sunrise.
It is hard to believe that today will find me climbing up an unknown pass, descending thousands of feet back down to the familiarity of Moab. I am….
Amazed at the experience. That I could push myself, day after day, through physical and emotional discomfort, and unknown terrain. I feel I must be channeling my Mormon Pioneer ancestry.
As a youth I often felt deprived that I never particpated in ‘Pioneer Trek’. But I believe that my experience this week has been an even more daring, and rewarding, endeavor than that could ever have been.
I cannot express what a privilege it has been to be with these people, in these places, doing this thing.”
We started today with optimism. Dennis promised us a steep, short climb to Burro Pass, then a never-ending descent to Moab. Lies, both of them. The climb was steep, but it was long. Longer still because we were at elevation. But Dennis was giddy as a school boy, and probably dragged us up with his will alone.
The wildflowers blew my mind. The rock formations were ethereal. I could live in this place (if it were late July all the time). Dave, Dave, and I climbed the pass nearly together. Dennis and Jeff (and a couple of other adventurers as well) were waiting for us at the top. We rested, and refueled, and turned our bikes downhill.
It. Was. Challenging. So steep and loose! Dave S and Dennis were in ecstasy. Jeff, Dave C, and I were in something far more terrifying. But there was no denying the beauty. Or my mad technical skills! Woot woot!
Then I got them to look at me. One of the rare pictures of the four of them together!
Before long the steep, techy stuff was in the past, and we rode through gentle aspen forest again. Dennis and Dave S. had ended up behind us, repairing a flat tire (only the second the whole trip- I had lost a spoke on day 2 prior). Dave C, Jeff and I rode on. We met a cowboy that was actually a very attractive older woman. We questioned our route, but stayed the course. The bonk timer went off, so we found a nice spot at the top of a climb (yes! a climb!) to wait for our compadres.
They eventually caught us up, and we rode on, through the extremely scenic campground, to another climb, up through strands of scrub oak (see how fast the terrain changes!). This was Hazzard County. And it was a total blast to descend! Banked turns and technical rock patches- I found my flow state.
I turned to look behind at was amazed at how far behind us the La Sal Mountains already were. From the top of the hill it seemed that most of the Colorado Plateau was laid out before us. I’m proud to say that I could identify most of it- Moab Rim, Porcupine Rim, Sandflats (that’s where Hell’s Revenge and Slickrock bike trails are), Fisher Towers, Arches National Park, and of course, Castle Valley.
The double-track portion of TWE was a fast blast of joy!
The Porcupine Singletrack was fun and challenging as well, but not beyond my skill level. We stopped to take lots of pictures, and have a snack. And since we finally had cell service, we connected with our families for the first time in several days.
There were benefits to descending in elevation. My lungs and power returned, and I felt amazing. But there were problems. It started to get hot. We’d been spoiled all week with clouds and thunderstorms and relatively cool temperatures. When we finished up the singletrack and got onto the jeep road portion, it was 102 degrees and threatening to climb.
I can’t say I enjoyed the rest of the descent. It was technically challening, but I could ride it. The problem was it was relentless. And repetitive. Dennis was still having a great time, as was Dave S. The rest of us started to complain a wee bit. It was hot and we wanted shade (there was none). It was thrilling when we passed back into singletrack terratory. At least we didn’t have to focus too heavily on picking a line, right? Wrong. Every pedal stroke required mental fitness.
I’m pretty sure I started singing again. I was happy, if uncomfortable.
At some point Dave C. gave me a huge compliment. He said I was a pretty darn good rider and why didn’t I race Enduro? I chuckled. Oh, if he had seen me a year ago, when I was in prime racing shape. I’m almost 35 now, for heaven’s sake!
As we came onto the rim proper, with the Colorado stretched out below us and the risk of death growing higher, I pushed to try and keep Dave S and Dennis in sight. This came to a head when I took a left line, and almost passed Dave S on the right. He had gone over the handlebars (though not over the edge, thank goodness!), and was bleeding from several wounds. He bent his elbow to show me and a vein in his arm peaked out of the wound to taunt me.
Now, this was not my first time helping an injured friend on the trail. And it won’t be my last. And I can’t help but wonder why every time this happens they just don’t believe me when I tell them they are genuinely really hurt and need medical attention!
Well, I’d seen bulls get turned into steers, so I could totally handle this. I yelled for Dennis to return to us since he had the first aid kit. I pulled out my stash of baby wipes (ALWAYS CARRY BABY WIPES!), and started to clean Dave up and close up the gash in his arm. I was pretty successful, until he would move and that vein would peek out at me again. Dennis eventually returned and we pulled out the butterfly strips, did our best to close up the wound, and wrapped his arm so he could ride down.
We were not the only ones on the trail dealing with medical issues. It was 105 by this time and most of the other people riding were unprepared, and complaining loudly. One man we came across was walking his bike down the trail, helmet off, and looking quite bleak. As I always do with people who seem in distress, I asked if he needed anything.
“Water.” was his reply. Since I felt I had enough to get me down and back to Moab, plus the boys all had water they would share with me (we being all best friends by this point), I handed him my water bottle (heart aching, but what could I do? The dude didn’t have his own!), and filled it with water from my pack. I told him if he just kept going he would get down, and there was a campground at the base of the hill where he could get more. He thanked me and we went on our way.
Dave C. couldn’t believe how unprepared people were for this journey! He laughed at their complaints of having ridden from Hazard. WE had ridden from DURANGO! WE had climbed more than 23,000 feet over the last week. WE had come more than 200 miles! And WE weren’t complaining! On the contrary, other than the heat, we were content. And prepared.
There were more hike-a-bike obstacles, but for the most part the trail was rideable for me. I couldn’t help but be impressed with everyone’s technical skills- even with 20-30 pound packs on!
We eventually reached the paved trail, and the cool shadows along the Colorado River. Everything was familiar now, and it started to feel like this journey was wrapping up. The thought of separating from these men who had so endeared themselves to me was heart-wrenching.
I popped it into the highest gear, and pedaled hard for home. At the end of the canyon, we crossed the road and partook of the natural spring there. We bathed our heads, soaked our shirts, and generally relished in the cool water.
We made a plan to get our cars and meet for food at Milt’s. I called Andy and he came to pick us up at the transportation station, and return us to our Jeep- saving us from a 107 degree ride across town.
I couldn’t believe it was over. I was ready enough for it to be, but reluctant. I missed my kids fiercely. But how do you safely exit a dream? I was changed forever by this journey. It is something I shall never forget. The lessons I learned about myself, about life, and about my husband are things that I’m not sure could have been learned in any other way.
I can’t imagine having better company than we had. Not better weather, not a better end each day. Having written these experiences now, I have relived them. I’m standing at Rolling Mountain pass, unafraid at the threat of a hail storm. I am bathing in the little stream in the meadows. I am flying down the side of Lone Cone and watching storms light the sky over Miramonte Reservoir. I am drying in the wind on the canyon rim at Wedding Bell. I am suffering, in tears, on Ketch Em Up, but being uplifted by lavender fields in Paradox. I am climbing into the aspen forests of the La Sal Mountains, my friends by my side. I am flowing down the mountains, through the oaks, into the desert, and my home. I am there even now, and it is a part of me.
I don’t remember our drive back to Grand Junction. It felt so odd to be driving at all. As we came up our street we had to remember that we lived in 390, not 379 1/2. When we walked in the door things were pretty much as we had left them. To quote Sam from Lord of the Rings, “Well, I’m back.”
i don’t think our kids missed us at all.