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.