“The path to paradise begins in hell.”
― Dante Alighieri
From my log book:
“Kelly joined us lat night. I was already borderline drunk. I lost it a little on the farm roads yesterday. Took of my helmet and glasses and drank a Mt. Dew and cried. This morning I wasn’t much better. Dennis held me while I let some more tears fall. But I turned on some Mumford and tried to forget myself. I guess the days of repeated physical exertion have wreaked havoc on my emotional state.”
Today hurt my bum. It was a saddle-intensive day. It was a fine, hot morning, with plenty of humidity. Kelly and Dan were joining us for the climb up to Geyser Pass today, and I was extremely grateful to have my friend with me.
We rode across the valley and began the arduous climb. It was fascinating to watch the terrain change with nearly every 500 feet we ascended. Before long we were back into the oaks. And the then aspens. And then the pines. We would come around a corner and the sights, smells, and sounds would all change, as if walking from a quiet library and lounge to a ballroom.
It didn’t take long for me to fall behind, relishing in the return to the mountains. My spirit began to lift and the views surrounding me were enough to wash away the suffering moments of yesterday.
Before long we found ourselves at a lake (I say “before long”, but it was hours later). I was the last to arrive and everyone else was relaxing and refueling. I’m not sure what possessed him, but Dennis stripped down to nothing and jumped in the water. We hadn’t taken a full-on dip since day 3. I imagined it felt amazing. I decided to test the theory.
Again- I’ve had issues with open water. Open water while wearing nothing? Never done before. But I’ve never ridden 200+ miles in a week before. I’ve never done MOST of the things I’d done on this trip. Today was the day to embrace every experience offered to me.
I took off my clothes and walked into the water- laughing hysterically.
Whatever emotional funk I had been in over the last 24 hours was finally broken. I floated on my back (in my minds eye imagining what those on shore could see had they chosen to look. NOT a pretty sight! But I didn’t care!) I watched the clouds pass overhead; the only redeeming thing about open water swimming.
One of the most interesting things on the trip to me was the perspective of the various mountains. From the time we left Lone Cone it stalked behind us, slowly sinking away beyond the horizon. Jeff had commented that it felt like Lone Cone was stalking us. It returned to its silent vigil as we ascended the La Sals.
Not far past the lake we reached the Utah/Colorado border, and we entered into The Motherland.
After another thousand feet or so of climbing, we came to a big, open field, with a view of the La Sal Mountains that I had never imagined I would see- breathtaking.
And what else do we see? Cowboys. Rounding up calves and moms for a little work. But we didn’t know that at the time. It was a very romantic setting. Imagine! REAL LIVE COWBOYS!
As I rode past one I thanked him. “For what!?” he replies. “For just being awesome.” I said. Dave C. almost vaulted off of his bike to grab his camera and get their pictures. So Kelly and I stopped, too, within earshot.
A few minutes passed when one of the cowboys yelled to us, “Do you want to come and help us?” Well, it was my day for new experiences, right? So I said, “YES!!!” Kelly and I rode over to the pen where they had corralled all the moms and babies.
Dave C. followed with the camera, and at some point Jeff rode back to join us, leaving Dan, Dennis and Dave S to ride on. Kelly and I hopped the fence into the corral and asked what we could do.
They said we could watch, or help hold down the calves. Or inject them with antibiotics. Or brand them. Or castrate them. That’s what they were doing. I had a sinking suspicion that perhaps I was about to witness one of the confirming moments of my vegetarianism.
They roped a calve and brought him to the harness, stretching him out, belly facing us. One of the cowboys took the branding iron and burned through the calf’s hair and skin, sending up a plume of smoke that made me ill. He then injected it- one syringe in each hand- before he pulled out his pocket knife, grabbed the bull’s balls, cut through the flesh, cast it aside, pulled out the testicles, extending the vas deferense out a few feet before severing the tissues and casting the bloody testicles on the muddy ground. He then expertly removed the tip of its ear, and let it go back to its mommy.
I stood there and watched as Kelly took the syringes, one in each hand, and “helped” the cowboys. More than once they asked if I wanted to handle the knife and do the castrating. “It’s a life-skill, you know,” they tried to convince me. “Not in MY life,” I said, “I have a master’s degree.” (my answer to everything) But I remembered I have a beautiful, young, happy, pure daughter. If someone were to take advantage of her sweetness, I WOULD have their testicles. So yeah. I guess I was tempted.
After a few more rounds, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said thank you and good bye and walked out of the corral. Kelly followed. She understands my reasons for being vegetarian- she was one for most of her life. And now I felt even more secure in this life choice of mine.
As we rode on to catch up with our boys at the next intersection, Dave C. talked about the injustice of those poor cows undergoing such treatment so young and without any kind of pain relief. I just shrugged my shoulders. People like to eat cow. And these cow were far better off roaming the high country of San Juan County, Utah, than the vast majority of cows raised for meat.
After the next junction the road began to climb again in earnest. The faster boys (Jeff, Dennis and Dan) rode on ahead, the rest of us keeping a casual pace through the glades of aspens. At times it was easy to imagine we were ants in a field of grass, the trees were so tall and thick around us. A mountain stream sang to us as we pedaled on this penultimate journey.
We rode through the Redd Ranch, and laid down for a rest, as the trail was about to become more technical, and we still had almost another thousand feet to climb.
At times the trail was too steep or too challenging to climb, and we walked. We were again at elevation and my power was very, very low. I could ride/walk a few feet, but would have to rest. Repeat.
At one point we came across a natural spring, cold, clean and clear. I dismounted, took off my helmet, and soaked my head in the water. I filled up my bottle and drank deep. Pure satisfaction. Another new experience. Head first.
Eventually we crossed off the road, through a field of wildflowers, to a hut painted green an surrounded by aspen groves. It was heaven. Just beyond the hut, another meadow opened to an expansive view of three of the La Sal peaks.
Dennis, Jeff, and Dan had made a salsa, and opened us some beers, and we partook, gladly. I took off my wet clothes and hung them on the line to dry. We tried to talk Kelly and Dan into staying for dinner, but they declined. We kept them long enough for Dave to take several pictures of them for use as engagement/wedding pictures. It was so sweet.
They also offered to take down for us anything we didn’t need for this night or the next day. They would be riding back to Paradox (wow! what a downhill that must be!!!). With gratitude we loaded them up.
I don’t remember much from this last night. At one point I took a sleeping bag and crept out onto the meadow, laying back to breath in the magic surrounding me in this slice of paradise on earth. When would I ever have this experience again? What was I going to do with my life? What was my future to be like? Here I lay at a crossroads, and I didn’t know where to turn. I had hoped to find clarity on this trip, but had I? What had I learned? Many things, but I couldn’t recall. I poured out my soul to those flowers, until I heard them calling for me, and I returned.
This I did know: I am strong. I am powerful. I can endure many things. I am strong.