Tuesday, June 28, 2011

6/28/11 I rode the hogback and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

Escalante to Torrey, Utah

Wicked day. More climbing than you can shake a fist at. (Which I did.) We had a winding and steep descent this morning without any traffic that felt like MarioKart. We laughed and yodeled the Goofy-skiing-off-the-mountain yodel.

We encountered a stretch that Adventure Cycling's map calls "terror". The Hogback, it is called. A three mile chunk of road with no guard rail, no shoulder and a straight down drop on either side. Because traffic was so light, it was no thing. It was actually enjoyable.

All topographical landmarks here have been named by ten year old boys; Hell's Backbone, Bears Ears (no apostrophe), and the piece de resistance: Cheese and Raisins. It's a place. Look it up.

We came across about 50 supported riders coming east to west as we ascended Boulder mountain. There is an obvious division betwixt us. We carry our shit. You do not. We smile and wave. You do not. We wear cheap gear. You are dressed as a fat Lance Armstrong.

At some point on the hill, we come across four young, very heavily loaded riders. How this pack made it from Michigan to Utah with sleep sacks the size of a full body bag is beyond me
They were quiet. I assume it was because they had been climbing for several hours. Me? I'm the hyperactive kid on the first day of school. Shooting my hand out without hesitation, "HI. I'M LAUREN. I'M FROM OHIO." Jesus.

We carried on down 42 mph descents with side gusts up to 40 mph. Saw my life flash before my eyes crossing over our 100th cattle grate.

Torrey is cute but expensive. We called all nine of the city's motels. Nothing below $70. We grabbed some groceries. Trop cher! And made a deal with a motel. Man, we lucked out. Hardwood floors, hand-built bed, navajo rugs, local photography adorns the walls. Darling.

We had espresso and cheap ice cream in the adjoining cafe. Struggled not to shop in the navajo themed gift shop. Instead, bought Chris a 50¢ dinasour. Well worth the money for the amount of joy dinasours bring Chris.

Matt arrived around 8 after having his trailer rattle off near the top of the mountain. He was lucky to find help and made it in one piece. Johnny cruised in through the pitch black dark around 10. Nutter. Slept well due to roof and bed.

6/27/11 Lady of the Canyon

68 mile ride today from Panguitch to Escalante. Freezing in the morning, blistering in the afternoon. Red Canyon and Bryce are absolutely stunning. I have to say, Utah is beating California in the beauty department. Made it over two passes with little trouble.

Who am I kidding, it was misery. First off, it's 100°. Add a 10% grade and the real kicker: a plague of gnats and flies so dense I look like Pigpen. Dust devils kick up dry red clay into our mouths. I lick my chops until they are chapped and burned. I must look like I'm doing Heath Ledger's Joker. "I'm like a dog, chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught one".

I decide the best way to combat zero humidity, dust and a swarm of flies is to wet a bandana and wear it over my face. So here's me: black helmet, cool guy shades, navy bandana, spandex. Yeah, I look like one bad mammajamma. But I feel like ultimate shit. Johnny comes blasting it up the hill behind us at full tilt. He is whistling and singing and fist bumping and I'm ready to kill him. Unreasonable enthusiasm in the face of adversity is unacceptable. I grimace and snort and standing climb up three switch backs to the summit. YARG! I am all that is man!

At the sight of the first motels at the base of the hill, all resolve dissapates. Any "live cheaply" mantra you have been humming quickly turns into a sing-songy "I'm gonna sleep in a bed" song.

We investigate the price of several local motels and decide to press on one more block for the sake of saving some bucks. A quaint log cabin with a chalkboard sign that says, PIZZA, BEER, WELCOME! accompanies another sign that announces they have camping. Sold.

A delightfully charming camping store, liquor store, pizza shop. They have the crazy soap I have been looking for and I proclaim it an oasis. The propreitor, wearing a Monkey Wrench Gang shirt shouts, "I know!" Back at me.

A row of miniature log cabins with hand carved lettering surrounds a sand conversation pit and fireplace. Hikers are unloading for the day. The campsites are 7x7 elevated sandboxes. Chris insists this is because of snakes. I insist it's because it looks to cute and tidy.

We quickly meet two brothers who have just returned from a week of hiking. We sit in the pizza cafe together. Apparently odd Mormon law rules here and you must order food to drink beer. Ok, twist my arm. I'll have a pepperoni pizza and a pint of Polygamy Porter.

Gabriel, 31, works for Chase and Michael, 42, is a high school biology teacher. Johnny joins the four of us for a beer. Everyone at the table tells an award winning story. We are enthralled like eighth grade girls at a slumber party. The tiny restaurant is packed with travelers, mostly Europeans. I think it's comical, the ratio of Dutch to American who are out to see America this summer.

I have to stop eating like it's the last day of my life everyday. I am quickly becoming a strange totem of muscle, squish and muscle. I look like a retired weight lifter. Additonally, I have a tan that makes me look like a rare orangutan. There's no fighting it.

After dinner, we gather out in the camping area. A 13 year old boy is playing blues guitar on the porch of the miniature cabin. His dad works from his MacBook. Crickets are chirping. Someone has started a big fire. Chris is telling snake and scorpion stories and everyone is full of laughter. Good day.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

check your altitude at the door, bro.

Things I have learned from bicycle touring:

-Breaking in a brand new leather saddle is for cowboys, not women with prominent sit bones.
-The map cannot tell you what kind of day you're about to have. Sometimes an easy flat day gets blasted with 30 mph winds. Sometimes a beastly mountain has a beautiful vista that magically makes pain disappear.
-Take the extra water bottle. You will want it.
-Real food is superior to processed power food.
-Do not listen to negative people. They are usually wrong.
-Just ask. They will probably let you.
-Go to bed with the sun. Get up with it, too.
-Sing as much as your lungs will let you.
-If you're grumpy and tired, shut up.
-Baby wipes. Seriously.
-Beer is liquid joy and will, in no way effect your ability to ride the following morning.
-People are good. Give them a chance.
-Strangers are strange for such a brief period of time. You can make that moment shorter.
-Being in a campground every night makes me miss my family desperately.
-Cycling every day is not a means to radical weight loss.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

6/23-6/24 Grand Canyon

Yesterday morning when I awoke, I must admit that I expected to see two bikes and not four outside the tent. I had fallen asleep around 10:30 and Johnny and Matt had not yet arrived. I honestly expected that they had resolved to stay in Milford for one more night. But there they were. Johnny in his sleeping bag sans tent, shoes still clipped into his pedals. Matt in his paper thin tent villa. The four of us gathered our bikes and things and headed about a block away to the car rental company to pick up our piece of the American Dream: a gratuitously enormous but luxurious Dodge Ram, with enough room in the truck bed for four fully loaded touring bikes. Chris and I would have never entertained the idea of renting a car because it would have been cost prohibitive, but with four of us it was exceptionally reasonable.

We headed out for our weekend expedition, but not before loading the cabin up to our eyeballs in groceries. While the boys shopped, I was determined to fly into a thrift store, jump out and be back in the car before they knew I was gone. I have nearly NO nonspandex clothing and was desperate to avoid looking like a jazzercize instructor for one day. I exploded into a store in my silly getup, the sign for which simply said, "WOMEN'S CLOTHING". All four of the women working in the store turned to me in unison. I scoped the joint in a brief scan, deduced that this place was perhaps... not so much my style. Ankle length denim skirts, crocheted doily vests, it took a minute, but I figured it out. It's a Mormon missionary outfitters store. Zoiks. I quickly took my leave. Although, I'm regretting it now after Matty mentioned what a fantastic joke it would have been if i had returned donning a sensible high-waisted denim frock.

I ran into a Puma store and got myself some cheerleader warm ups, (believe me, I am self aware enough to know this is equally preposterous) and we headed for the Grand Canyon. We opted for the scenic route via Zion National Park. Once we entered the park, we took it inch by inch, dead slow. Attempting to take it all in, we became giddy. To climb 2,000 feet with no exertion whatsoever, we had a hard time getting over the novelty of being in a car. For Johnny, it was a matter of being saturated in the American Experience. With "Ramblin' Man" on the XM radio, a 5.7 liter engine pulling him and a natural wonder of the world as a destination, what could be more quintessentially American than this?

If only I could evoke the spirit of Thoreau or Walden to properly examine the beauty of nature. Alas, all I have is, "Woah" and "Holy shit, look at that". Matt pulled himself out the side window of the truck to perch and take pictures. I followed suit and pulled myself half out of the car. A magical view of trees that defy nature by growing directly out of rocks with no soil. Matt reaches one arm out to gesture at the everything and yells, "We're the richest people in the world!" My heart explodes. This is the most earnest and true thing I have heard in a long time. Matt seems to be filled to the brim with earnest and true.

We went to a gift shop to plug our phones in. We asked a fellow who worked there where was the best place to camp, being that the South Rim is booked six months out. He tells us to go to the Kaibab National Forest near the North Rim. He explained that about 90% of people travel to the South Rim and only 10% ever make it out to see the North. I asked, "Where in Kaibab are we allowed to camp?"
"It's Bureau of Land Management land. Camp anywhere you want, man. It's your land".

Feeling empowered and 75% charged, we set out for the Canyon. The North Rim is lush and green and nothing at all like any pictures I have ever seen. Everything looks like it is suspended in time in 1955. Malt shops, cookie shops, diners, log cabins; nothing has been changed. Everything looks like the inside of Rustic's in Rocky River. We wandered up to Angel Point. Matt climbed the highest rock to get a better look. Johnny sat close enough to the edge in a strong wind to fall off the dang thing and nearly peed his Romanian pants.

The things you hear family members say to one another when they are close to the edge of a 4,000 foot cliff are spectacular and morbid. A 10 year old with hipster-tight jeans and a Justin Beiber hair cut sat texting while his dad climbed up to the highest peak. Without looking up, he shouts, "Can I have your mountain bike when you die?"

A group of tubby Asian-American teens played near the edge, all wearing matching sparkly NYC shirts. The eldest shouted out to one inching toward the edge, "No one will miss you when you're gone". Friends and family members inevitably fake push one another, pose for almostfallingofftheedge photos. I am afraid of heights and won't tolerate any of these shenanigans. I stand ten feet from the edge and shake my head, smile and wave as they all coax, "Come get a better look, Lauren". Hell, no.

After we had our fill, we headed back again to Kaibab in search of "our land... man." We drove four miles down a sand and gravel road, following trail signs marked EAST VIEW. We got out and surveyed the land, only to find that we could camp right at the edge of the canyon. What an incredible vista. We made a fire, cooked some ho-boy (hobo/cowboy) food. We ate and laughed and drank Guinness by the Grand Canyon. My life gets better every day.

In light of recent and vast destruction of the forest due to wild fires, we did our best to put ours out before retiring for the evening. I attempted to snuggle into my sleeping bag, waiting for what we have come to refer to as "elbow hour" to end. (Ours is a two man mountaineering tent. You can't sit up in it, let alone put your jim-jams on without clobbering your mate in the eyeball.) I laid in silence, listening to the big deep blown-jug sound of the canyon. I waited for the shallow breathing of my camping comrades to turn to the labored breath of sleep. But it never did. The crackle of the fire re-lighting itself scared us all awake over and over all night. Seeing the blaze of a rainbow colored sunrise over a fog covered canyon was worth losing the sleep. We packed up everything and headed out again to see the opposite side of the canyon.

We spent the majority of the day in the car, which was no trouble considering the beautiful view and the good conversation. Finding Johnny and Matt has been a god send. Admittedly, being on vacation with total strangers is a unique experience, but it has worked out to our benefit.

After two nights and the Grand Canyon, we have returned to Cedar City for a day of champion pizza eating and bike mechanics. Tomorrow we embark on a 20 mile ascent into the mountains. Pray for me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This stretch of highway is maintained by: Groovavicious

(Actual highway sign just before entering Cedar City, Utah)

Last night I slept in hotel, with an emphasis on the H. With the exception of being hosted by warmshowers folks, Chris and I have spent the majority of our nights in campsites with so many bugs we looked like a mad puppeteer was making us a slap ourselves in the face. And motels that look like the murder scene from a lifetime movie. With clean sheets, clean towels, and several working light bulbs, this joint was the epitome of luxury.

In the morning, we met Matt and Johnny for breakfast at the diner adjacent to the Hotel. We had a lively breakfast, asked about families, and planned our trip to the Grand Canyon. Chris and I left town late, thinking we had an easy, one hill day. We made it Cedar City around four, but not without a fight. We had horrendous wind and 95 degree heat. (But it's a dry heat. I am required to say.)

Due to the fact that Chris descends at death-defying speeds, we have an agreement that I ride caboose. For the duration of the last 20 miles, I listened to Paul Simon's "Graceland" at full blast and did a bike dance the likes of which you have never seen. (And will never see.) It keeps me loose.

Tonight we are staying at a KOA, which is the capital H of camping. There have a pool, gorgeous roach-free showers, and a man who looks like a third member of Hall and Oates who patrols hourly on a golf cart at top speed. We met a lovely couple from Hawaii who bestowed upon me some awesomely dorky riding goggles. I successfully made tuna helper!!! On the ground!!! With nothing but a spoon and a sterno!!! I am a mountain woman. And not to be foxed with.

Matt and Johnny left hmmmm, six or seven hours after us. So, we are now waiting with feet in the pool for the two of these clowns to arrive. Tomorrow, on to the Grand Canyon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

6/22/11 Mister Toad's Wild Ride

Basin. Fault. Range. Basin. Fault. Range. The repetitive nature of the terrain is much like the swing of my emotional state on this trip. Joy. Despair. Joy. Despair. There is not much relief from either.

Today on an 83 mile ride from Baker, Nevada to Milford, Utah, we encountered several sturdy sized climbs, the last of which the map has indicated as a 5 or 6 mile incline.

Between two mountains, following the winding of the road, it is nearly impossible to see what is ahead. When we reached the seventh mile of the climb, then the eighth, and finally ninth, I first wondered if we had made a wrong turn. Then I realized there have been NO TURNS since California. And then I thought, mail this f%&#ing map back to the crazy ass$&#& that created it and tell them to get it right next time.

I lost it. Completely. When Chris called this particular mountain pass "Mister Toad's Wild Ride", I laughed maniacally for ten minutes straight. Then, I thought I was going to cry from heat and exhaustion. Then I screamed at Chris and the mountain, alternately, until our eyes rested upon that beautiful green sign: "SUMMIT 6,445 FEET". I looked at Chris when we reached the top, shocked at myself, like I had just been inhabited by a demon. He was quick to forgive, but I am still trying to understand where it came from.

I am struck by what my father said about the luxury of discomfort that one chooses purposefully. When I let that concept marinate, it seems ungrateful of me to be mad at the mountain, or Chris.

So the next time I go to call the ass$%#s who constructed the adventure cycling maps on my cell phone from the base of a mountain, perhaps I should put the phone back in my water-proof map bag and tackle that mountain silently and gratefully like a warrior.

Way to put a bow on the story, sophisticated lady.

6/20/11 Where seldom is heard a discouragin' word

I may have spoken too soon. Because we finally had the kind of night I have been dreaming about this entire trip, except not with locals, with fellow cyclists. We met Matt and John in Austin. Matt, 26, has been teaching social studies in New York and is the first American cyclist we have met thus far. John, 25, is a chatty bloke from the UK. They are both delightful gentlemen. We shared pizza, beer, and stories in a cute eclectic cafe that appears to have been transplated from the east coast and dropped out of the sky only to land in the desolation of the desert.

John is the first truly eloquent amateur boxer I have ever met. With a buzz cut, rings on his fingers, vibram finger shoes, and a button down shirt, you would not guess he has been cycling today. But he has. Every mile that we have ridden. And the extrodinary bit is that he is riding a single speed bike. With a trailer. Across the country. Twice as fast as either Chris or I could ever hope to pedal. Did I mention he can't shift going up a mountain? For a person with 27 gears, who is quite accostomed to using every one of them in a given day, this is a feat of epic proportions. This man is either insanely fit or loony tunes. Either way, he is excellent company tonight.

Matt is fantastically sweet and has a cherubic face, which is suiting, perhaps, being that he plans to join the seminary soon enough.

So, here's how this pair makes it from A to B: Matt (the chap with gears) leaves early in the morning and pounds it out slow and steady. John eats nearly three rounds of breakfast, slinks around until 11 and blasts it at 20 mph all day long. Matt is in charge of the laundry and John is responsible for bike mechanics. It seems they have it pretty well worked out.

In a similar fashion, Chris and I divide the duties of erecting the tent and cooking dinner.

We are headed in the same direction and we must say, we are glad to have companions. Poor Chris. The first two hours of every ride consist of me belting out Frank Sinatra "Gold" and nearly every song from Sweeney Todd. After that, I le pant le puff up hills, swear at them like someone who has burned a casserole or stubbed their toe. The remainder of the day goes like this: 15 mph winds are going "wah wah" in our ears.
I yell, "LOOK, BONES!"

To have others along for the ride that are not only cheerful and full of zeal, but also versed in literature and history, is a welcome change.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fighting vainly the old ennui

was of the delusion that we would ride hard, arrive in a town, shower, eat, then get drunk with locals. With the exception of our days off, this is a physical impossibility. Between sunburn, windburn, and sheer exhaustion, it is all we can do to scrub two wool socks together in a motel sink. The riding is definitely the best part of the day, so it's not terribly devastating to miss out on local color. As I mentioned before, looking at the elevation map can bring down morale. And in all honesty has brought me a great deal of anxiety. A flat-lander, born and raised, mountains are a stranger to me. Today, however, some of that anxiety has dissipated. A nasty case of sun poisoning coupled with this morning's freezing rain had lead to a good bout of despair. It was the first time I felt like I couldn't do this.

Dear reader, I hope you know I expose this weakness in confidence, as I would never want to lose my invincible tough guy front.

Our first descent today I was feeling courageous and breaked much less than in the previous days. (Meaning I loosened my white knuckle death-grip long enough to let the bike move forward.) At last, I have discovered that a downhill can be both exhilirating and enjoyable. With the wail of joni mitchell's court and spark, sky, clouds, mountains, nearly no one on highway 50; 42 MILES AN HOUR! My god, this is adventure! (And I hate exclamation points, so you know I mean it)

Arrived in Ely, Nevada around 4:00. A 77 mile ride. Made good time considering our late start. We waited three hours for the rain to stop. Ely is a ghost town. But not in a touristy kind of way. A ghost town from the early 1900's is charming and spooky. A ghost town from the 1960's is just depressing. Chris and I have had lengthy conversations pondering what fuels local economy in these western cities when much of the mining industry is defunct. Casinos? That is one answer. But no one comes to Ely, Nevada for casinos. They go to Reno or Vegas. So, it stands to reason that money that goes into the casinos here comes from local pockets. This leaves us wondering what is left to stimulate local economy in the desert. With maybe 35 businesses on the main drag, 15 are closed forever. I think that when affluent college students matriculate and want to try their hand at some philanthropic endeavor they should be forced to come to Ely, Nevada instead of the exotic destination they had planned. They could build houses, set up shelters, food pantries and job placement centers and then we could guarantee that they wouldn't have any fun.

Ok, it's lofty, but places like this make me wonder who will help these people when there is no incentive to come here.

Totally waterproof helmet

Saturday, June 18, 2011

6/17/11 Gopherkinis

Simon pushed on to the next town and Chris and I stayed behind to rest our legs in another small and weird western town. Had lunch at the Toiyabe Cafe. Local ladies with white ribbons in their hair and cowboys with fresh hats and plaid shirts looked at us funny but it didn't deter us from enjoying a butterscotch birthday sundae. Everything here is ridiculously overpriced due to the fact that there are no alternatives for miles. I keep wondering if there is a local's rate that I can get on sandwiches, beer and motels. So far, no go. Moseyed about the town, looking through the silver and turquoise stores. These are tourist traps as well and I shant be conned into buying anything heavy or metal when I am shipping home shirts that weigh as much as a 9 paper clips. Found a nameless bar that our friend Rudy had told us about, with "BIKES, BABES, BEER" on the door. This is the joint. A dead-tired sixty something woman with a white pony tail and (too) tight camoflauge pants served us our beer and instructed us to play Norah Jones on the jukebox. We met a real old fashioned cowboy named John who told us stories for nearly three hours, the highlights of which I will now relay:

John explained that politicin' in this town was a funny thing. The last woman to run for Assemblyman was apparently the madame of a whore house. You can find her (nude) picture, painted in oil, across the street at the International Cafe. (Which is neither international, nor a cafe.) John said, "She was a shoo-in, but she brought her girls to town and she lost my vote". Colorful people, real salt of the earth folks. John went on to say that the next major export from Austin, Nevada will be something that he calls "gopherkinis". Apparently the gophers around these parts have run rampant and a local dude will shell out a dollar a pelt for 'em. There is one particular guy in town, whose name escapes me that has been known to do about 70 a day. Our cowboy,John, insists that these pelts could be fashioned into attractive and revealing little numbers for locals and tourists alike. Hey, I'd wear one. When he managed to bring some hour long story full circle, I said to him, "Wow, way to put a bow on it." He cocked his head like a confused beagle and said, "That's an expression for sophisticted people". Maybe he wasn't aware, but he had more euphemisms than asouthern grandma.

We have started to make pals with some motorcyclists. They treat is like we are crazy, but with some reverance due to the fact that we actually have to pedal to make these things go. Riders give us the two finger wave and we feel like we're part of the gang. One can sit on a bar stool and notice that the fellow next to you has the same bizzare hand tan from riding with gloves on all day and one must simply nod their head with respect. Today we are in Eureka. More bad motels and desolation. If my mother saw the place we are staying tonight, she would hold her head and cry. The fun we are finding right now is the backwards fat camp thing we have going. We go away for three months and come back skinny from eating 6,000 calories a day. That's good math.

Guns 'n Roses and High Life for mine and Ian Huffman's birthday

Happy Birthday Slivovitz shot courtesy of the local Serbians

Friday, June 17, 2011

Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell

Thursday morning we parted with Rudy, rather sadly.   He is so inspiring and filled with unstopable positivity.  When I asked him what keeps him going while he is tackling giant hills against fierce headwinds, he simply responded, "I just enjoy the moment."  This has been my mantra since simon, the kiwi, joined us on our ride to middlegate.  we arrived at 11am, much earlier than anticipated.  middlegate is surreal, a tiny little ghost town, population 17.  the "motel" is a series of trailers pretty much duct taped together.  there's a cat napping on a broken bar stool outside, a horseshoe pit, a hammock, sage brush, and plenty of motorcyclists stopping on their way through for a burger and a beer.  this is the entire town, apparently worthy of a bold black dot on our map.  I would say by the taste of the patty melt after a 45 mile ride, it had earned that dot. &The three of us sat around, petting the cat and staring at the map.  "I'm pretty sure we could make it to Austin by tonight".  Seemed so reasonable at the time.  we pressed on into what turned out to be a very mild day (in the way of weather)   just about 60 degrees all day long.   this makes climbing very hot and descending very cold. The following 67 miles proved to be the hardest physical endeavor either of us has ever undertaken. With 25 mph headwinds and some decently tough climbs, by the time we hit about 90 miles, I was hallucinating.  this has happened before, so I knew to get off the bike.  I sat in a pile of gravel and prickly sage and ate several pancakes dipped in peanut butter.  This really saved me.  We have resolved not to do any high mileage days again until its bloody flat as kansas or until we have monster thighs  Around 7:45, we collapsed into a combination baptist church and rv park. (Kate and Ted, i know you're singing it.) The night was so cold, my toothpaste and nutella were rock solid in the morning.  I know what you're thinking, "lauren, are you brushing with nutella again?"  And the answer is yes. I am. when I exited my tent this morning, a smiley, silver-bearded man asked me, "are you awoke yet?"  He asked another two times before I could make out where I was or what he meant. I felt like Jonfen from Everything is Illuminated when he tour guide asks him if he has " manufactured the z's" We have decided to stay on one more day here, in austin, as we are one day ahead of schedule and dead tired.  Today is Chris' birthday and he has spent it sleeping in a tent on the side of a mountain and eating pancakes in the pew of a ramshackle baptist church (trailer).  Some guys have all the fun.