Canyons and Headwinds and Stairs, Oh My (Day Fifteen)
We started the second day of a six-day grind (Team Week, we’ve dubbed it) still fresh from our rest day. We joke and laughed to keep it light, but we were both fully aware that this week was no vacation, but instead an opportunity to put ourselves to the test and follow through on the promises we’d made. For the Families of the Fallen, this was an opportunity to succeed. We knew that there were some hills but also that it was a course that was striking in its qualities; we would see a few canyons, some descents, some plateaus and something called ‘The Grand Staircase’. Not sure why it didn’t get my attention straightaway; did I think that it was ‘The Mighty Escalator’? After all, we’ve clearly established the fact that ‘gravity really matters on a bike’.
Within ten miles of leaving Panguitch, we saw them: and, you really couldn’t miss them. High-rise, fluffy-looking bright-red sandstone wonders. They were on both sides of the road, and their brothers and sisters peeked out from behind those that we saw first. We were entering Red Canyon, and if one thing is for sure, it’s that my journey today won’t be the last time that I see this place. It’s striking to behold. And, it just sort of…starts. It’s like I was dozing off and suddenly achieved a dream state. All of the sudden, they’re just in front of you. BAM! No warning. Just big and brash, without notice nor apology. I wonder if other travelers had the same struggle that Mince and I did: we couldn’t, for the lives of us, get down the path. We stopped every 25 pedals or so to gawk and say ‘are you kidding me?’ or ‘wait…look at that one!’ I would highly suggest that anyone and everyone that can do it, will do it; get on your bike and ride through the Red Canyon. It goes for miles and miles, and only lizards and laughter will attempt to slow you down (true; lots of reptiles on this ‘un).
Once we cleared the Red Canyon wonderland, we made way down through the valley, dramatic rocks still sticking out though finally mellowing into a sand-colored hue. GOOD! I was close to sensory overload, and I’d probably wreck if that happened.
Jumped on a long bland stretch of road and it, in turn, caused our jump into some philosophical talk about how we can each do better with some things in our ‘real lives’. I made the mistake of asking Kevin to hold me accountable on a few things, and I’m sure he will. Should be fun. For what it’s worth, I’m going to do the same for him. After a bit, our conversation got cut short by some pretty good headwinds, and neither of us could hear anything. They were the strongest we had seen yet, but they were no match for the fire in our bellies. I thought of Brendan Looney a bunch, as planned, during this time.
After a quick break, we headed out again and saw, at a great distance, what looked like a flag flying strong in the wind. The part of it that made us doubt it being there was that it was in an impossible place; it was in the highest place for at least twenty miles, maybe more. But, it wasn’t the height of its home – it was on top of a ridiculously aggressive plateau. Couldn’t be a flag. No way. But…it was. We got closer and saw that it was Old Glory, standing tall as tall could be. I’d bet my friend Roger Strong could get up there to place the flag, but he’s a sponsored, pro climber. I highly doubt that some regular dude could just jump up there and put it there, much less maintain it. Because, yes, she was groomed and her colors were bright. We zoomed in on the flag with our cameras, and sure enough, there she was. To be really clear about this: someone had to really want it to make it possible for the flag to be there. It was a defining moment. Whoever you are: thank you.
After cruising through Henrieville, the smallest town I’ve ever seen, we started the climb. Within about three minutes of me getting stung by a bee on the calf while riding along, minding my own, Kevin met a horsefly that had a fatal attraction. By the time Mince slapped the thing to its death, the score was Horsefly 8, Mincio 1. It was a fifteen mile climb, and we crushed it with ease…except for the last two miles. All of the sudden the wind stopped completely, the grade changed to a consistent 10-14 percent, and it felt around ten degrees hotter. And, it was already plenty hot. You could have cooked an egg on my face at mile fourteen (glad that didn’t happen, because people are always telling me that I got egg on my face. What do they mean, anyway? J) . By the time we hit the summit, my lips were all dry and cracked. If I’d have been wearing my heart monitor, I would have broken it. Yes, very grateful to reach the top on this particular day. Between the countless dried up rivers and the sudden lack of road kill (there was nothing for cars to run over, obviously), it was clear that this was a place that kept its own rules.
As I settle in and close out, I can’t help but remember the conversation with Kevin earlier. We had an aggressive stance on how we can do better with some things; and, I’m certain that I can do a lot more for the cause that I’ve set out to affect during these 4,200 miles. I’m not sure what it is that I can do, but I am sure that I can do more than I’m doing. Now is the time, and this is the opportunity. Maybe the answer will occur to me during the next 225 miles and nearly 11,000 feet of climb. In other words, the next two days. We’ll see!
For the Families of the Fallen…To the Limit,
Care Creates Community,