Day 58 – Natural Bridges to Hanksville UT

I’ve been off the grid for a day so if you want to read in order you might go back a day to my visit to Natural Bridges (just posted same day as this – no phone, no wifi, no running water – you get the idea).

Today was one of the most beautiful days of my trip. No coincidence it was one of the most isolated too. I guess that says something about my tastes for natural beauty over man-made (and my status as a true introvert I suppose too). Often I’ve thought that one of the best ways to make an area beautiful is just to leave it the hell alone for awhile. Today’s scenery was that taken to extreme – leave it alone for a few hundred million years and amazing things happen.

Starting out through the Pygmy forest around Natural Bridges. Seems lush compared to where I ended up today.

I left from Natural Bridges this morning and I new that I’d have either a long day, or a short one. I was hoping for a long day and set a goal for myself that if I made it to mile marker 50 (i.e. 50 miles from Hanksville) by noon, and I was still feeling strong, then I’d do the other 50 miles in the afternoon.

The morning ride was a breeze – mostly downhill for miles and miles though canyon after red canyon. Everywhere you look is red dirt, red  rocks, red cliffs, highlighted by green juniper, green sage, green twisted cedars. Green on red everywhere. Really spectacular and the canyon types constantly change – every 15 minutes seems like I’d see another brand new impossible landscape.

Red and green everywhere.
The “Cheese Box Butte” from a distance

Someone back in Blanding had mentioned to me that the mile markers between there and Hanksville would count down the miles to there. So with that stuck in my head I kept and eye on those while I rode. When I hit mile 86 I suddenly started thinking about 1986 – a pivotal year in my life when I graduated from Rice, spent the summer driving a cab in Houston, shared a house with Chuck and Jay,and then entered the Peace Corps. Wow, quite a year. So then when I hit 85, I thought about that year too, and 84 and so on down the line. Of course this set me off on one of my favorite ear worms for this trip – Steely Dan’s “Reeling in the Years” which seemed appropriate and I never mind anyway. After awhile it became a habit to examine the years this way (I latch onto things like this sometimes) and I kept it up all the way until 64, the year I was born. It was a really satisfying way to spend an hour or so – contemplating my life, in reverse, back through my childhood until there was little to remember. I highly recommend it sometime when you have the time.

The landscape here is vast, vast, vast. There really is no other way to think about it. Have you ever had the experience of looking out over the desert as you’re flying across Utah or Nevada and seeing all these canyons and valleys and wondering – where’s that? How do you get there? Well I’m there – I’m a little speck slowly traversing that landscape. And frankly I pity the folks blowing by in cars – they miss so much. Seems like I barely have time to take it all in at my leisurely pace before it changes to something else. Meanwhile the cars are running on up to the next attraction, missing much of what’s in front of them.

View from the handlebars this morning. Vast
So many gnarled trees
The only flowers I saw today. The blossoms are tiny.
Some deep canyons cut through the rock.
I’ve perhaps let personal grooming slip a bit.
Vast. I know that they call Montana “Big Sky Country” but really they have no monopoly on big skies.
Lake Powell. It does look like a vacation paradise, eh? Whoops – sarcasm alert.
Lots of rock pictures today but heh, that’s about all I saw.

The other idea that got stuck in my head as the canyons got deeper, and more rocks seemed to teeter precariously over the road was that I had somehow pedaled my way into a Road Runner / Wyle E Coyote cartoon. I’m not sure what that says about my cultural education – most of the opera I know is from Bugs Bunny and when confronted with red canyons and desert landscapes I start keeping an eye out for falling anvils.

Beep beep. If I only had my Acme rocket skates…
One good push…

I’m not sure what it is about the time out here but spending some time in real isolation has been good for me. True introvert I suppose – I recharge by being alone whereas extroverts recharge by being with others. Anyway, the days in the desert sure were good for me and I didn’t know I’d lost it but I kind of feel like I got my mojo back.

The monsoons have this stream running. Well it’s at least half water anyway but I felt lucky to see it run at all. I bet it doesn’t run a whole week a year.

Riding here can be frustrating though. About an hour after I left Natural Bridges I realized that the road had made a big loop and I was about a mile as a crow flies across the canyon from the road that I’d viewed the bridges from yesterday. I could see the road just across the canyon. The same thing happened as I crossed Lake Powell and I was barely across the lake from the store that I’d left 45 minutes earlier. C’est la vie – there’s no shortcuts in desert roads.

Rocks! Different kind of rocks!
Yet another different kind of rock.

The other strange thing about being out in the middle of nowhere is that the cars that you do see seem so odd. Most of the day I would be passed by a car every 15 to 30 minutes – not very often really. So when the car comes and it’s a Frito-Lay truck you take notice. Hmm who needs potato chips in the desert? Of the 125 mile stretch that I traversed yesterday and today, there is exactly one store, in Hite, about 75 miles in (i.e. 50 miles from Hanksville). So OK, he’s headed there. Then I saw another Frito-Lay truck after passing through Hite. OK wait. Same truck or do we need 2 Frito-Lay trucks out here. At which point I suddenly realized that I had picked up a bag of Fritos when I stopped at the store in Hite for lunch. Oh god, I’m part of the problem.

The afternoon landscape was less lush, more open.
I think the best explaination I have for taking this picture is that it was mile 90.
If you zoom in you’ll see what’s left of the Breaking Bad Winnebago. Broke bad.

The other strange vehicles that I saw were pickups pulling boats and jet skis. I realize this sort of makes sense because Lake Powell reaches Hite (now – it was too dry for years) and these folks are going to the lake to swim and fish and whatever. But I couldn’t get over how absurd it looks to be pulling a boat across the desert. I tried to get a pic but they move too damn fast.

Boats in the desert

I got into Hanksville on the late side and am treating myself to an air conditioned room for the night. I got one of the last one’s here and a shower never felt so good.

13 thoughts on “Day 58 – Natural Bridges to Hanksville UT”

  1. Megan’s report of your visit to Sedona convinced us to visit and get a refresher course of red rock scenery. Hiking around made us think that the bicycles just zoomed through too fast to absorb it all.

    1. Ha! Reminds me of the old George Carlin joke. Anybody slower than you must be an idiot. “Get out of the way you idiot” Anyone faster than you must be a maniac. “Did you see how fast that guy was going? He’s a maniac!” Makes it pretty hard to get anywhere with all those idiots and maniacs on the road.

  2. “Reeling in the Years” sounds like a great worm to have stuck in your head – hope you’re also “stowin’ away the time,” and not rushing too much as you get closer to home. It seems you’re really enjoying the quiet, desolate parts of the journey, and figuring out how to stow away time when you’re back in the thick of things will be a challenge!

    1. Yeah, hard not to rush a little. Utah is so pretty it helps but I’ve not spent much time in the wilds of Nevada. We’ll see if that is as compelling to slow down.

  3. Wow, Jim, what gorgeous scenery you are traveling through. I loved your Fritos dilemma. (Yummy!)

    I think spending hours in your own head is recentering you. You are one incredibly lucky man to have this experience. You know, after I gave birth to twins with no drugs I felt like I was Wonder Woman, physically. You, on the other hand, are finding yourself, across the length of an entire country. You must be feeling super human at this point. I envy that.

    I have to join in the many voices who think you should put all these blogs and photos in a book. Just wonderful in terms of emotional growth and beauty. I can’t wait to see what you experience next.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. Yesterday I felt like superman – seemed like I could bike forever. Today not so much. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

  4. Personal grooming hasn’t slipped. That’s a beard! You’re in Utah where ironically the original European settlers all had beards, but their descendants don’t allow them at BYU! Looks good on you!
    I went to Arches National Monument two years ago and saw some landscapes like what you’re seeing. But seeing them from a bike over the course of several days must be a totally different experience. I am really glad you are enjoying the isolation!!!

  5. And what is that thing at mile 90? It looks like an old laptop with a camera lens on top of it. Is it an old, thrashed digital camera?

  6. One more comment. I noticed your original fundraising goal was $15,000 and that you’re still a bit short of that. Your amazing photos and writing have inspired me to make a second contribution. Maybe others will feel the same way and we can get you to your original goal.
    Of course, I expect an introvert who’s been traveling for 58 days on a bicycle and is now in the middle of the Utah desert may not be that concerned about how much money he raises!

  7. Another amazing day, & so happy you found a shower & bed! I agree with Wendy re. a book, illustrations & all, it should make it a best seller. How short are you in $ to reach your goal? I think you’re quite handsome in your beard, adds to the scenery.

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