24 hours in Old Pueblo pops up in the desert near Oracle and operates as a Mecca for bicycle enthusiasts all over.  Within a period of 24 hours, the desert landscape blossoms with RV’s of every size and shape.  In this temporary bicycle utopia, people do not walk, that is unless their bike has a flat tire.  People know you by your bike more than by your name.  When you meet somebody, you try to subtly check out their bike, looking it up and down as you talk to them.  In short, it is a bicycle party.

We wandered around from campsite to RV supersite and hung out with folks from all over.  Some people were there to seriously compete, but most of the people were there really just to have a good time, ride some laps and meet good people.  Our home was at Hobo camp with the eccentric crowd from

Flagstaff, right above the town’s Pay-N-Take trailer where coffee and brew flowed freely. 

We were hoping to snag a spot in the race, and ride legitimately on the trails.  But had no luck.  We spent a good amount of our time volunteering to help get the race in order.  Dug holes, put up fences, constructed tents, etc.  They gave us lots of free food, but the race director, Todd would not let us into the race. 

Since we had gotten there 3-4 days before the race, there was plenty of time to ride the trails without having to share with hundreds of other racers.  The trail was very smooth and flowy, without any serious technical sections, except for one drop at the end of the 15 mile loop.  A steep rock face with a small drop at the end, then multiple boulders to dodge on the flats below.  Easy enough in the daytime with plenty of sleep, but potentially difficult at night or after 24 hours of riding.

Sean was riding some laps a day before the race, and went down the rock face smoothly enough, until he hit one of the boulders.  He would have probably just pedaled right over it but his head tube completely snapped off and sent him rolling across the ground in front of hundreds of onlookers.  His Dean Titanium frame saw its last mile.

Within a matter of minutes, Scooby, from Fetish cycles hooked Sean up with a Fetish frame for only 50 bucks and the Fetish mechanic was building it up from the broken Dean.  In about two hours Sean was back on his bike riding again.

We really couldn’t have been having a better time at the race, unless we got a spot in the race.  We watched the chaos of the lemonds start with a couple hundred bikers running to get their bikes.   Our friend Fuzzy, who won the Single Swizzle in an absurdly inhuman time frame, was won of the first guys out.  Bryce from AZ bikes out of

Flagstaff calmly walked towards a beautiful Coconino Cycles cruiser that is proudly displayed in the Pay-N-Take.  With a great big smile he got on and pedaled his way toward the single-track horizon.

And then I noticed Goat chattin’ up with a couple who claimed they were freelance journalists there to cover the race.  They were regular pedestrians without bikes, which should have given us concern, with hindsight.  However, we were just so elated to be at this huge bike party, we didn’t think twice.

 “We are here to cover the race, and saw your bikes, thought there must be a good story,� Todd, the “journalist� said.  His hair was cut short and he was wearing trendy department store clothes.. 

Goat entertained his comment with a brief summary of our trip, “We rode them all the way from

Alaska.�

 “Can I get a picture of the three of you?� He asked, looking around for the Sean. 

“I’m just a freelance journalist, don’t work for any specific newspaper, but would shop around and find a good paper.�

Sean came over for the quick photo and was about to walk away, against the wishes of our “benevolent� media source.  He wanted another photo.

Somewhat paranoid about the media folks writing inaccurate and misleading articles, I wanted to know a little more about his intentions, “Who are you thinking about sending….�

I was interrupted by Todd and his lady friend pulling out their necklace badges.   They started reading out our names, including our middle names, and handing us a 20 page pamphlet of paper titled, “The United States of America vs. Jacob Thompson�

We stood there dumbly as he explained that we were given a summons to show up in federal court in 4 days.  And he wanted to know if we had any questions.

 “Wow. So is this usual for you guys to go undercover and track people down for riding their bikes?�  I asked incredulously.

 “Eh.. well. No.. not really.  We usually only deal with felony cases.�  He replied, as he looked over at his female co-worker who seemed un-amused by our humor.         

 They wanted to make sure we would make it to Flagstaff, “We can store your bikes and give you a ride to the greyhound station.�

My field of vision seemed temporarily shattered, like the sky had cracked and tumbled into pieces.  All I could see were these two federal narks standing in front of me with the rest of the world blurring away.  I tried to reserve my frustrations, “These bikes are everything we own, you could probably understand that you’re about the last person on earth right now that I would trust with my bike.  Hmm.  Why don’t you give us a ride up to Flagstaff?�

 “That’s not part of my jurisdiction.  I am only supposed to deliver the summons, offer to take you to the greyhound station and store your bikes.� He said in a robotic tone as if he had pressed play on a government tape.

 “Wow.  That’s swell.   So you want us to bike back a couple hundred miles up hill to

Flagstaff?�  I asked.

 “Yep.  If that’s what it takes.� He replied.

 “Well it was real swell meeting you.  I hope you have a real nice day.� I said while clenching my teeth “you gonna stick around to enjoy the race?�

Mission accomplished.  Our secret agent friends vanished into the crowds.    

We got a ride back to Phoenix, got our bikes and gear back in touring shape, and continued our way along the Arizona Trail. I had yet to get used to the trials of the desert trails, and managed to get at least one flat every day for a period of two weeks. And yes, I tried putting Stan’s in my tubes, but can’t afford to replace my tubes every time Stan’s inevitably fails. So I spent a lot of time with just my wheel sets and hand pump, laboriously airing up the tires with a minimum of 150 pumps


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During our travels, we have become accustomed to following directions which are sketchy at best, sometimes. Thru-biking the AZT by Andrea Lankford seemed like an easy path to follow. But we had our difficulties. It’s possible our odometers were all incorrect and inconsistent, because we repeatedly had to stop and look around for a road/turn that didn’t exist. For the most part, however, the guide was really easy to follow and an amazing blessing on a route so new and often unwelcoming to fully loaded touring bikes. She does a good job of keeping us off paved roads and moving south. But, it sure sucks to get lost in the middle of the desert with just the cactus and little water.

There is something disturbing about a cactus that apparently jumps out onto the middle of your bike trail. The jumping cholla constantly terrorized our path with their natural caltrop buds strewn about the desert landscape. No matter which way they land, there is a spike directed straight up and into your tire. Even easy trails became rather technical in order to avoid the cactus.

The other challenge inherent with crossing 100’s of miles of desert is all the sand, which can quickly reduce you to pushing your bike. However, I would say that the AZT does a pretty good job keeping you on your bike. Some of the other off-road routes we’ve blazed have kept us pushing for up to five miles at a go.

The Arizona Trail is a remarkable phenomenon, 800 or so miles of incredible trails winding its way through some of the most beautiful and surreal scenery imaginable. Unfortunately, we have not gotten to experience it in its entirety. North of the Grand Canyon was super snowy, and barely ride-able even on the highways. South of the canyon we had two broken bike frame extensions and were unable to ride the trails. It wasn’t until past Flagstaff when we were able to actually begin the trail and we were able to take it all the way to Tucson.

A day or so south of Phoenix we were hit by a thunderstorm late in the night. Prior to that, we had mistakenly believed that it doesn’t really rain in the Arizona desert and had opted for open skies rather than the claustrophobia of our tent. When I felt a light sprinkle and a swift gust of wind in the middle of the night, I calmly and confidently assumed it was temporary. The rain swiveled on and off, like the windmill we were sleeping under. Until a crash of thunder signaled the sky to dump itself onto us. Instantly all three of us jumped up and grabbed our soggy sleeping bags and began the struggle to set up the tent. It was too late by the time it was up and everything that needed to be dry was completely wet.

The sky continued to pout the next morning and kept everything soggy and lowered morale. We didn’t get going until about 2 in the afternoon. We only covered about 15-20 miles that day, but got to ride a nice downhill section through a beautiful box canyon where the rocks seemed to change colors at every turn. I lost my favorite brown fleece hoodie and rode miles back to look for it, and found nothing.

Camped at the Gila River and began a gradual ascent towards a town of Oracle. From there we had another day’s worth of climbing over
Mt. Lemon and figured we would descend from there down to the 24 hour race. The day was getting late and Oracle began lighting up in the distance. It was going to be a really late night, the dirt road would spill us out onto a highway just after sundown and we would have a good 8 miles of road riding into the town. But there was a pizza place in town, and we were not going to miss out on that.


Then I saw a sign that said “Bicycle event in progress� just before a quick-up tent filled with race info pamphlets.

“The race coordinators are just down that road about a mile away. You should go check it out.�

I was a ways ahead of the others and went to check out the scene. The party had already begun, with the tent/RV city taking shape. I rounded up Goat & Sean and we set up camp.

            Waking up in front of the gates at Agua Caliente park, nestled at the outskirts of Tucson actually made me want to puke. With 3 hours of restless sleep, I was not prepared to jump on my bike and seek masochistic Zen with 50 other riders. In between dry heaves, trucks with bikes strapped to their roof, or crammed into their camper shell passed through the gates eager to find the camaraderie of the pre-race parking lot scene. Some waved at the bedraggled few, pathetically lounging next to their oddly long bicycles and makeshift campsite. Others merely stared, and missed the turn, only to come back and stare a bit more as they entered the Single Swizzle Race.

            Single speeders are a proud niche of the de-evolution of bicycles. Out with the fancy advancements of gear shifting technology. In with the simplicity of “One F-in Speed� as a bumper sticker put it so eloquently. Some bikes go another step back in time to a fixed gear, where the wheels turn simultaneously with the cranks, AND they do this on technical single-track. These die-hard riders, unburdened by the distractions and complications of shifting gears have found a whole community of cyclists who strive to reach back down Darwin’s step-ladder and come up riding just as hard as geared bikes.

            Exactly what the hell we were doing there was anybody’s guess (including ours). I looked over at my bike with its rear cog set mutilated with only 1 only one proud cog left. My derailleur was stretched to its limit to keep the chain tension tight enough for the chain to stay in place. Sean had shortened his bike and it looked more appropriate for a single speed race. Goat’s rig however, was the anomaly. A fixed gear Xtracycle that left most everybody shaking their head in disbelief. We did not look like we there to race. Which made sense, because we weren’t.

For the most part, bicycle tourists are not extremely fast cyclists. Their day consists almost entirely of riding, but when you’re carrying 100 pounds of gear, the temptation to flip into the highest gear possible and mash up a hill is largely ignored. You get used to taking it easy while touring on a bike, taking in the scenery. It’s a different kind of riding, it’s not competitive race training. I experience enough “burn� in my legs on a daily basis, and was not inclined to melt them on such a fine day. We had traveled about 5,500 miles on our bikes and had pedaled with just a handful of folks and we were really just stoked to have the opportunity to ride with 50 other people.

            After signing in and feeling bad that I didn’t have money to donate to the organizers for all their effort, we were rolling out of the park. A couple miles of neutral riding before the ride really began. Hanging somewhat precariously out the backside of a SUV was a guy videotaping the event. His camera was pointed at the mass of cyclists who had taken over the road, and forced the cars to yield to the riders. It was a beautiful sight. After countless miles of “sharing� the road with those 4 wheeled bike killers, it was nice to be a visible mass of riders. Most laws state that they need to leave anywhere from 3-5 feet in between cyclists, and anybody who has ever dared pedal their bikes on the roads knows that law does not exist in reality.

We reached the starting point and get a glimpse of our fearless leader, Dejay, the race coordinator, as he explained the course. He attempted an impossible feat: to give us directions and then claimed we were responsible for knowing the course, but, all I really heard was, “This race will surely test your mind, body, and spirit.� I was pretty sure that the trinity he spoke of was wholly consumed with not puking.

            The race begun uphill, and remained that way for a long time. A quick check in with Goat, verified that he shared my same passion for keeping the breakfast where it belongs, inside our stomachs and not on the ground. I slowly meandered my way up the hill, and was mildly taunted by the camera at various sections of the mountain road. Eventually, I realized, “These single-speeders are freaking nuts,� and wondered, “Just what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.� With only gear they would just stand up as if they were on a fancy road bike and grind their way up the hill. Compensating the lack of gears with pure pain and a bit of insanity. They were fast. I was slow.

            The top of the hill offered a temporary oasis of water and beer. Just watching the riders down the fizzy, foamy beer made my stomach turn. Through the gates was an hour of single-track marked by pink ribbons. A few turns of incredible trails settled my stomach as I pedaled with my only pathetic gear through half a dozen different types of cactus, ever mindful of the torture they can cause to both me and my tires. Within 5 minutes I stopped to see if a rider needed help patching a flat. 15 minutes later, everybody was stopping to see if I needed help patching my flat. “Oh No.� I told them. Seemed easy enough; simple pinch flat. Each patch I checked would inevitably fail, since my tube was filled with Stan’s, the flat-healing liquid would leak through the hole and penetrate the patch. I thought I would just need to put on another patch. Nope that failed. Then I tried ripping them all off and starting over. Failed again. Two complete patch kits later and about 20 or so people I waved by, I knew I was screwed. I was pretty sure all possible help had been flagged by. Fortunately, I was actually not the last person.

            Two guys arrived and were able to give me a replacement tube. After about 300 pumps from my pathetic little bike pump, I was back on the trail, but my morale was low. The trail was incredibly fun. Then it went into a wash that switched from thick sand or endless boulders, that proved difficult (if not impossible at times) with the long Xtracycle frame. I was struggling towards the end of the loop trying to get traction on tiny but steep climbs. Having to push more than I would were I to have all my gear on the back. Eventually, I caught up with other riders and was able to enjoy the solidarity of this challenging event. I rode with one of the guys from Surly for a bit, and discovered that he had helped design the Pugsley, a bike I dream about every night and at various points throughout the day. “Whoah.. So you created the Pugsley..� I stammered while catching my breathe, “so….basically…you are my hero.�

            “You guys are my hero,� he said, “you came all the way from Alaska, huh?�

            I was too star struck to respond, “so is it true? Can you really ride on the snow??�

 

            “Yeah. In about 8 inches of snow you can turn a nice figure eight.�

            I got a few more flats.. and then…there was Milagrosa. A trail that could easily demolish your spirit, and possibly your bike. Endlessly steep rocky outcroppings smashed together into a tight single-track of drops, turns and impossibly narrow passages. A few dozen switchbacks into it I smashed my pedal on a rock as I careened down, lacking the control/skill to operate smoothly. All that remained of my left pedal was a 1�4� shaft of metal. The rest of the trail I spent trying to keep my feet from bouncing off the pathetic remnant of pedal, which at one point painfully found its way into my shin. The Xtracycle worked well enough for most of it, though because of the long wheel base, it would high-center on some rocks and I forgot to take off the kickstand leaving it to snag snag on rocks and stop my momentum instantly. Even with the broken pedal, I only had to dismount/walk less than tenth of the trail, which was quite an accomplishment in my book.

        I rode in with Beer Brad who waited around for me after he heard my agonizing scream during the altercation between my shin/pedal shaft. He was riding solo in the 24 hour race next weekend and was asking if we were going to be there. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.� I told him.

Piles of pizza awaited us among a cheering crowd of racers who were happy to see that the Xtracycle made it back. Everybody headed to Dejay’s house for the post-race awards ceremony and slideshow. The event was sponsored by Fat Tire Brewing company and nobody was left thirsty. The awards ceremony was unique, with shwag being passed out based on criteria that had very little to do with anybodies performance in the race, “who got hit by a car the most recently?� or “who drank the most during the race?�

 

A critical mass of single speeders developed at the house and rode through the city to the Surly Wench for an after-race party. Riding through a town with 40 other bikers was a highlight of my week. The evening did not wind down until after 3 AM, far past my bedtime, and I was practically falling asleep waiting for the mob of bikers to crash out back at Dejays.

 

The guys from Minneapolis (Surly folks, and Hurl from Cars-R-Coffins) stayed up listening to punk rock and attending their drinks until the wee morning hours. Single Swizzle 07 was an event you would hate to miss. It was the first time I’d even pedaled a single speed bike, and would happily do it again just to hang out and participate in such a cool ride.

We are riding to help support Friends of the Lafitte Corridor (http://www.folc-nola.org) to create a bikeway through New Orleans neighborhoods ravaged by Katrina’s floodwaters. It states this very clearly on our home page, and it does not say anywhere that we are “environmentalists riding for environmentalism.� Unfortunately, Dennis Wagner of the Arizona Republic cared more about getting a rise out of the readers than accurate journalism.

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New Orleans is still working to restore their city and needs nationwide support and encouragement. This public bikeway will help build community and restore hope. It will play an important role in assuring that kids can walk to school safely and that people can get around without cars. Please check out their website and see how you can help out. (http://www.folc-nola.org

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Additionally,

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The San Francisco Chronicle article, wrongly states that we created the “Extracycle�(the paper didn’t even spell it correctly). We have proudly pedaled the bicycle frame extensions more accurately known as Xtracycles, (http://www.xtracycle.com) that we bought from the company out of a small bike community in North San Juan, CA. The article was written without speaking to us, and all the quotes were pulled directly from our blog.

Xtracycles (http://www.xtracycle.com) have changed the way that people ride their bikes. THEY DO IT MORE with a long bike. A revolutionary design that allows you to use your bike for just about whatever you would use a car for. More biking + less driving = happier people.

Check out their website (http://www.xtracycle.com) and learn more about this exciting attachment you can add to your bicycle.sticker-ride.gif

Ten miles southeast of Camp Verde –known in recollection only as a gas depot off a major highway- we hit mud. The clay in the ground had the patience of a potter shaping a ceramic disk around our wheels. For two hours we toiled up a gradual hill, and then began a gradual descent as chunks of mud hit teeth, tiny pebbles or sharp stones bombard chest all the way to the flats. And the Flats ride as though you were still climbing, and eventually I catch up to Jacob who is standing his bike up with one hand and thrusting his fingers at the large accumulation of mud between his brake mounts and rims. His tire won’t move at all, and he ceases work momentarily to vent his frustrations. Just as I’m about to leave on account of his heavy complaints he gestures to a car completely stuck in the mud, ditched by its owner on the wayside. The sun was near about finishing up its work with this chunk of horizon, usually we find camp by dark yet I had an unusual ambition to reach a most intriguing destination. It was also the first instance in nearly three and a half months of the temperature not plummeting exponentially with each minute past sundown; it was a pleasant motivation factor driving us to be a little more audacious in night riding. In another six miles we were supposed to hit the Verde River hot springs, where one could rub shoulders with the ghost of a most notorious gangster. Al Capone, and perhaps a whole entourage of depression era hipsters, used to hang out and bathe at a resort built around the Verde River hot springs. As always, going was much tougher than then mileage would have us predict; a real ‘workout’ of a climb for three miles culminating in a near vertical drop of some fifteen hundred feet. All the while spinning out of control down the descent in pitch darkness I couldn’t help but dread the insanely steep climb in store for me in the morning. Toward the end of hill I caught sight of a sign with my headlamp: ‘Absolutely no Nudity’. Then I saw lights, heard faint music emanating from the bottom of the river valley; the possibility that someone down there might actually take that posted rule seriously nearly eclipsed my dreams of having a soothing evening in the mineral baths.

In front of an ancient hydro-electric power station we set up camp, and ferociously ate a pot of oatmeal. Some campers nearby informed us that the springs were a bit difficult to find, especially at night, and that it would be better to wait for another camper –who was planning on making the trip shortly- to lead the way. The man and his frisky dog arrived at our camp and immediately began wearing our ears down to stubble with his rants. He must have been infatuated with the sound of his own voice because he rarely paused long enough to imply a desire for a response. A brief river crossing was required to make it to the hot springs. Our guide carried his dog across the cold water –a soggy dog would be an unpleasant cuddle buddy in a small tent. Of course it was a futile effort, as soon as we arrived at the pools the dog jumped right into the water; a fine layer of dog hair floated on the surface of the lukewarm pool (98 degrees). The second pool was a blissful hundred and five degrees plus. Unfortunately the hot pool was blocked off from view of the moon rising above the mountains by walls covered with graffiti. Concrete foundations of the old resort still commanded walkways around the pools, and two towering palm trees imparted their malady of tropical invasiveness. Long after everyone else had made the trek back to camp, I remained soaking my bones, hypnotized by the pale moon light that had finally ascended above the reach of the graffiti covered walls. Luckily I refrained from passing out right there in the pool, although it was a most tempting crash pad.

We were trying to shoot for the town of Payson the next day, some fifty miles away. In just two days time we had an appointment to meet a friend from Flagstaff at the trailhead leading to Four Peaks –some hundred and twenty miles away. In parting, our guide from the night before informed us that it was all uphill to the town of Strawberry. It was encouraging news considering the dirt trails were still soggy with mud. We climbed the steep switchbacks that we had breezed down the night before. Then there was a short flat section where we might as well have been climbing with the resistance of the mud. Then there was a fifteen mile hill where one could see the switchbacks wind up nearly four thousand feet above… an infinite maze of cuts angled into the mountain side. Around mile eight I set into my lowest gear and spun my legs just fast enough to keep my speedometer from falling asleep. I had been biking the entire day without any shirt or socks, but when I crested the summit of the hill the sun was already dropping low, the temperature fell with it, and the road (once again) returned to snow pack. Already I missed the warm weather spell.

Strawberry has but one attraction: a small inn/restraint that sits betwixt two highways. While waiting for my touring buddies to arrive I sat outside and shivered, trying to savor –what I mistakenly believed to be- the last of our cold weather. It was all you can eat Fish Fry night at the Strawberry Inn, much to our delight. Two different fires were blazing in the restaurant, yet the room was still in the frigid grip of Al Capone’s flesh deprived spirit fist. We ordered hot coffee and all you can eat fish plates. After plate number three was set down, the waitress’s pace reduced to that of a gang-banger suffering a minor flesh wound, slowly losing consciousness. At plate number six, the waitress non-apologetically told us she was clean out of fish. Well this information did not go over well at all. Starving and emaciated, we were in right mood to cause riot over the indecency of the situation. Luckily some nice folks from a town even smaller than Strawberry invited us to spend the night at there home. The lady of the house expressed unreserved enthusiasm, while the husband requested a peep at Jacob’s driver’s license (not without a sense of humor). We made poor mileage that day, yet we managed to climb well over four thousand feet in twenty five miles. Our rendezvous at the Four Peaks would just have to wait.

The next day we breezed through Payson and arrived in the town of Rye just in time for happy hour. Rye consisted mainly of an unattractive bar, yet there was a wonderfully back woods creep heap of a junkyard piled high with all kinds of weird pedal bikes and motor bikes. It was a museum as much as a junkyard, and had on display Big wheel tall bikes, two wheel drive dirt bikes, a tandem fixed gear, exercise bikes from the 60’s, tricycles, an antique rickshaw, a shiny recumbent with a CD Radio among all kinds of bright front and rear lights and running lights along the frame among thousands more mesmerizing contraptions. Jacob was looking a little too closely at a cruiser bike with stick-shift like gear throttle when the owner of the place emerged from a rusty pile of steel and nearly wrung his neck limp.

“Don’t you be touchin any of that� says an older man with a long mane of graying hair blending into a flowing white beard.
“I was just looking�. Jacob defends himself.

“Well if you were just looking, than there’d be no need for your hands to moseying so close to the bike.� He fumes out his agitation, and seems like he’ll be quick in cooling down a bit, but suddenly he burst out in fumes once more. “Some guy was over here two days ago and broke the accelerator to one of my motorcycles. He wouldn’t take any responsibility for his actions and I was about ready to break his fingers.�

A good majority of the stuff in his yard looked decrepit and ready to shatter at the shrill cry of a baby, but we weren’t ready to argue with the man. He calmed down once we started asking him questions on the origins of his collection. The man had been collecting parts and buying up whole bike stores for many years; he most likely had a monopoly on the trade for miles around. He offered Goat a job doing handy mechanic work; I was a bit relieved when Goat just laughed off the suggestion, it seemed he had very likely leaped right off the last peak of purgatory with excitement over the endless possibilities of freak bike production.

We lay about and napped a bit in front of Rye’s bar, and by and by some old jolly man, shaped like St. Nick came and grilled us about our bikes. He was accompanied by a much skinnier man wearing glasses and sporting mutton shops of very sparse but very long hair. Our new acquaintance let it be known that his name was ‘Bear’, and that he was into collecting, shaping and selling gem stones. I could tell that his skinny friend John was eyeing my Gun case with interest. I cracked open the case and brought out my guitar much to his delight –it was good for the rest of us as well because Bear wouldn’t stop jabbering away about various disconnected thoughts like our trip, the merciless landscape, about the recent loss of his driver’s license. John picked up the guitar and picked away at some blues standards. He tried teaching me some different tunings; showed me what was proper for slide guitar, and told me about some new folk musicians to check out. I must have been spacing out on account of the good music because suddenly some thin old lady was standing right next to me making small talk with John.

“That wouldn’t be rock music you’re playing there.� She looked disgusted at having had to pronounce the word ‘rock’. “Ain’t none of that is worth listening to, its all just noise, plain and simple.�

John just kept on strumming and said real calm, “Well I admit most of what’s being played on radio and what’s mainstream isn’t even decent, but you can easily pick out some good stuff�.

“No it’s all bad. You can’t even dance to that noise.� She turns to me and asks: “Can you actually admit to feeling like dancing to that rock and roll?�

“Well, I…â€� didn’t know exactly how not to offend her but still keep her engaged on this eccentric rant. “Yeah, I can easily dance to Rock, and do so on a regular basis.â€�

“Yeah, and what do you do… the chicken hobble.� She brought her wrists to her breast and waved her arms like a chicken, trying to make me feel the absurdity of Rock dancing. “The only music worth dancing to is good ole’ country music. But not the country music you hear on the radio. Boy, whenever I find myself in a place where there’s music I don’t care to hear, I stick plugs in my ear; I carry them around with me wherever I go.�

I tried to get her to explain what style of country she listened to, but received no satisfying answer. She had a face that exuded a character like out of a Mark twain novel; I signaled to Goat to get my camera out’a my bag on the sly. Right as I was about to take a candid shot, the old lady started to take off.

“Wait, I would really like to have just a photograph of this moment.� I tried coaxing her to stay. “My memory’s horrid, and I just think this a moment’s something special.�

“Sorry sonny, I don’t do photos.� She patted my shoulder and looked all too scared that I might snap a shot on the sly. “Might have the F.B.I after me for all I know.� She was off already down the dirt road.

The big man ‘Bear’ bestowed upon each of us a smoky quartz necklace before we took off. Apparently they were stones possessing special powers dealing with friendships and the like. That night we climbed the snowy slopes of the Four Peaks with Ryan, our Flagstaff friend, and slept out in view of the sprawling mass of Phoenix, glowing with its eerie urban energy.

The Grand Canyon National Park is a treasured part of the American landscape that draws an enormous crowd each year. In 2004, there were 1,336,505 vehicles counted at the South Rim alone. Because of the extensive crowd of visitors each year, particularly in the summer, it is necessary to enforce regulations that maintain the safety of the visitors, while preserving the area for future crowds.

Recently, the Arizona Trail has been symbolically finished with the hammering of a golden stake. With about 800 miles of non-motorized trail from Utah to Mexico, it will be an impressive trail system offering plenty of challenging single-track. The route heads through the Grand Canyon, offering its tremendous vistas and challenging hikes to the adventurous travelers.

However, “Bicycles are not allowed on any rim hiking (foot) trails or on any trail below the rims.� (GRNP 1988 Backcountry Management Plan, Section H (15), Page 12). Trails in the canyon are incredibly steep and narrow, and well used. Rules like this are intended to ensure the safety of trail users, and in wilderness areas, to prevent environmental impact. Bikes can potentially damage the soil and cause erosion which has a lasting and negative impact on the environment. In the Grand Canyon, the trails are crowded (especially in the summer) with mule trains and hikers each day, and with cliffs plunging hundreds of feet alongside the trail, bicyclists are incompatible with mule trains and hikers, due to the risk of spooking the animals or losing control of your bike.

Fortunately, if you are trying to complete the Arizona Trail, there are options to legally traverse the canyon with your bike.

1. There is Trans-Canyon Shuttle service that runs between the North and South Rim once each day and can carry your bike across while you hike across with the rest of your belongings. Unfortunately, there are not facilities on either side to store your bike and you will have to make arrangements for someone to pick up your bike. Reservations are required and it costs $65 dollars to get your bike across. Call 928-638-2820. This is not an option during the winter season.

2. It is possible to hike your bike (strapped onto your back) across the canyon without ever letting the wheels touch the ground across the canyon as well. It is advisable to get in touch with the backcountry ranger’s office if you are going to attempt this. It is possible they can help facilitate your needs and steer you in the right direction so you do not violate any park regulations.

3. There is also a (paved) 171 mile detour around the canyon that is possible. These roads are considered dangerous by most cyclists.

You can get in very serious trouble for violating the National Park Regulations. In 1995, 5 cyclists from Sedona got caught red-handed riding their bikes down the North Kaibab Trail. They were apprehended, searched and found to have marijuana and illegal mushrooms. A helicopter evacuated them out of the park and they had to pay 240 dollars for the helicopter ride. This made national headlines. With a plea bargain, they got the drug charges dropped and a 250 dollar fine was suspended. They were forced to give up their bicycles, which are said to still be down in the ranger’s station on rollers.

             The Riding the Spine team was also caught riding their bikes in the canyon, and camping without a permit (Class B Misdemeanors). Two undercover federal agents followed us to the 24 Hours in Old Pueblo race to serve us a summons. We are required to donate $500 dollars to Grand Canyon Search & Rescue Fund, spend 2 days in jail, we will have 5 years of unsupervised probation, and we will be banned from all National Parks for 5 years as well.

                During the 5 year probationary period we are not allowed to use any images or descriptions of biking/camping in the Grand Canyon on any internet site magazine, newspaper, or any other publication. We were required to withdraw all photographs, video footage and journal entries about riding our bikes/camping in the canyon. Furthermore, we have to publish this entry on our site describing the penalties that we incurred, as well as conveying the ethics and reasons why cycling in areas such as the Grand Canyon/wilderness areas is prohibited.  The judge was also real keen on having us take a picture in front of the court and post it somewhere on the website.

I was browsing the web and came across a really thorough article on mountain bike trail ethics that I wanted to share with the readers. It comes from the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association and was posted February 8, of this year. They are located online and their web address is: http://www.copmoba.org/trail_ethics.htm.

Mountain Bike Ethics

1. STAY ON DESIGNATED TRAILS to avoid trampling native vegetation and fragile desert soil. Minimize potential erosion to trails by not using muddy trails or shortcutting switchbacks.

2. SHOW COURTESY AND RESPECT TO ALL TRAIL USERS. We’re all members of the trail family seeking quality experiences. We must learn to share. Our motivations are not different than those of other trail users regardless of our mode of travel. Show concern for a clean, quiet backcountry experience.
Keep the trails as natural as possible.

3. YIELD THE RIGHT OF WAY TO OTHER NON-MOTORIZED RECREATIONISTS, and allow adequate room for motorized vehicles that may need to pass you.

4. SLOW DOWN AND USE CAUTION when approaching or overtaking others and make your presence known well in advance.

5. MAINTAIN CONTROL of your bike at all times.

6. DO NOT DISTURB wildlife or livestock.

7. DO NOT LITTER. Pack out what you pack in, and pack out more than your share whenever possible.

8. RESPECT PUBLIC AND PRIVATE PROPERTY, including trail use signs, no trespassing signs, and leave gates as you found them.

9. BE SELF-SUFFICIENT. Destination and travel speed will be determined by your ability, equipment, terrain, and the present and potential weather conditions.

10. DO NOT TRAVEL SOLO when bike packing in remote areas. Leave word of your destination and when you plan to return.

11. OBSERVE THE PRACTICE OF MINIMUM IMPACT BICYCLING by “taking only pictures and memories and leaving only waffleprints.”

12. USE APPROPRIATE SAFETY EQUIPMENT.

Enjoy the trails and remember to keep the singletrack single!

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Check out the article about us in the February edition of Saturday Night Magazine.   Find out more at www.snmag.com

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ENTRY DELETED!

We’re in Phoenix right now and hoping to catch a ride to Tucson by Friday so we can join in on the fun. We already have a ride back to Pheonix after the race. If you know of anybody heading down that way who can carry us (AND our bikes) please email me.

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Check out January’s edition of Adventure Cycling Magazine. They published an article I wrote about being chased by a wolf up in Alaska.

The magazine is published by a bicycle club in Missoula responsible for dozens of incredibly well mapped long distance bike tour routes. From off-road tours like the Great Divide to on-road tours like the Great Parks that takes you through some of the best national parks in the country.

A subscription is free if you sign up for a club membership, which gets you discounts on their maps and bike tour products.

If you go to their website they will even send you a free copy

Check Them Out

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We searched around for internet hoping to establish our plans with the Grand Canyon. My conversation with the park ranger in the region above the Canyon was dismal, offensive even. Just uttering the idea of fixin’ to reckon on thinking about possibly attempting to access the North Rim, forced him to treat the conversation as if was made collect from an asylum. The next plan was to call him up pretending to be a cross country skier, interested in playing in his forest on my winter friendly sports gear. This ploy gained nothing useful from the ranger who picked up the phone and said patronizingly.

“Well, if you look up the weather for Jacob Lake, that should tell you everything you need to know.�

“Can’t you just look outside and tell me how much snow there is on the ground?� I Pleaded.

“I don’t know, can’t say for certain.� He replied dumbly.

“Well do you know if there was anywhere that we can get some food supplies in the town.?�

“Jacob’s Lake Inn has some food, you can give them a call at 7232.�

I gave up on the ranger, unsure what mental blockage prevented him from saying anything useful. Jacob Lake claimed that they could not sell us any real groceries and that there was a good foot to two feet of soft powdery snow that would prove quite difficult to plow through on a bike. The collective decision we made a few towns back was that we were just going to head to the south rim, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I had resolved to cross the canyon solo and meet the others later, and with such forceful resolution I helped sway the decision to go for it. We had arrived at a few ultimatums to help us decide. Both of which we patently ignored. “Okay so if there is more than a foot of snow or if we can’t get food in Jacob Lake, we’ll bail and head to straight to the south Rim.� I decreed.

“So there is 1-2 feet of snow and we’ll have to carry our food all the way from Page. Shoot. We should flip a coin.� I said.

“If it lands on heads, we use ‘em and skip the canyon, tails, we bust ours and go for it.� I said with a quarter in my hand.

Sean had temporarily bailed on the idea and was going to meet us at the South Rim if we made it.

TAILS.

There we have it. Our fullproof oracle has spoken and our fate certain.

Sean couldn’t resist missing out on the absurd plan and somewhat begrudgingly offered to join us.

At the visitor’s center we met Ron Watch, a Navajo native who owned and operated the e-café and visitor’s center, which also doubled as a community center. We had missed a Navajo metal show by just a few days. The building was a round patio with a huge double fireplace and open roofed center. It was called the Shepherd’s Eye due to it’s circular architecture. Ron had long black hair, and dark eyes that burned with intensity. Past his stern appearance, he was an incredibly kind of and thoughtful individual who offered to let us sleep in the courtyard. It was supposed to drop down to -4 that night and we wished nothing more than to secure a bit of warmth for our near future.

We took the opportunity to do some laundry that desperately needed attention. My socks were so crusty that I could actually stand them upright, as if my foot was still in them. We were not the only ones eager to restore a bit of freshness to our clothing as we squeeze our way into the frantic Laundromat filled with Navajo kids who seemed to all but spin themselves silly in the “there’s too much chaos in here for me to sit still� cycle. One girl was dragging around her friend with short hair and two pierced ears, maybe 5-6 years old, erupting in spontaneous fits of “rolling on the Laundromat floor.� The girl with pierced ears did a spiraling maneuver with a great big smile and twirled out of the girls grips and disappeared behind an aisle of washing machines.

Sean’s birthday was on this fateful evening and we did our best to celebrate the occasion. Since we were in Navajo country, there was no alcohol to be found for hundreds of miles (unless you know the right people in the town, of whom we did not). We got 10 dollars worth of beef “slabs,� a mysterious cut of meat that did in fact resemble a steak in appearance, particularly if you kind of cross your eyes and blur your vision as if you were looking at one of those “seeing eye� posters. Strapped for cash as usual we also opted for the cheapest barbecue sauce we could find, and completed the meal with random veggies.

Campfires are a rarity in our world and grilled food is tough to beat, so we were drooling with anticipation for the feast.

The fire was roaring and we gave a good long thought to sleeping near it. But when the time came to go to sleep, we went straight towards the heated bathroom and rolled out our tarps and pads in our own respective stalls. I imagined that Sean would have never guessed at any point in his entire life that he would be spending his 23rd birthday sleeping in a bathroom in the small Navajo town of Kayenta. We couldn’t sleep right away and spent a good amount of the night’s bathroom slumber party with nonsensical comments.

A long chilly ride towards Kaibeto was blessed with a tailwind and relatively flat riding. By the end of the day, I was far ahead of the others and too cold to stop. So I rode towards a nearby ranch house, disturbed their dog and horse until I found a path towards the home. An older man waved at me and jogged towards his house, which after 77 years of life, assumed a pace less than hasty. On his porch step he motioned me towards his house and I followed. A wave of heat consumed me as I stepped in his house, smiling and nodding my head to acknowledge his wife busily making a basket by their blazing stove.

“Hi, I am on a long bike journey and am hoping to get permission to camp on your land.� I said quickly.

The old man smiled and poked at my back. My Camelbak was underneath my coat so it wouldn’t freeze and made me look like a hunchback.

“It’s cold. Do you have a tent?� He asked.

“Yeah.�

“You gonna build a fire?�

“Ehh.. probably not. We’re probably just gonna go right to sleep.�

He turned and spoke to his wife in Navajo for a minute. “You want to sleep inside?�

“Ehh…. Of course, it’s darn cold out, but we don’t want to impose. There are three of us.� I looked around at the lack of space and could not imagine them being comfortable having us over.

“How about you sleep in traditional Hogan?�

“Wow.. That would be incredible.�

“Follow me.�

I said goodbye to the woman and followed the man outside.

I started to get worried that my companions would pass the side road I turned, and I would end up having to chase them down the road all night. “Mm…I gotta go flag down my friends, I don’t want them to pass me.�

“Over here.. Follow me.� He said as if he didn’t hear me.

He stepped over to a huge 10 sided building with a conical roof and turns a key in a padlock. The door swings in letting in a stream of sunlight. He turns and says to me, “This is church Hogan. People come pray here for all night. Always wood for fire in here. In times of war, like these days, lots of prayer.�

“It’s beautiful. This will be amazing. I gotta go wave down my friends. If they don’t stop here, I’ll be chasing after them all night.�

I rushed back to my bike and found them quick enough and brought them back with tremendous enthusiasm to the traditional Hogan. The expected low of -5 was sure to be unpleasant without the kindness of Henry, our hospitable Navajo friend.

Inside the Hogan was a large wood stove with a pipe that stretched into the roof of the structure. A generous pile of wood lay in front. Around the edges of the structure were pieces of carpets numbered 1-10, lining each edge. There was a calendar of Arizona Golf courses, a photo of a bald eagle, and a couple broadhead arrows over the doorframe. There was also a plaque from a coal mining company, a bag of herbs and a list of family members who signed in at a gathering in April of 1996. A stack of sheepskins were piled about waist high, which we assumed were for sitting/sleeping on.

Henry came back in and brought a shovel full of coals. “You guys know how to start a fire?�

“Oh yeah. I suppose.�

A heapfull of burning coals sure helps, and within minutes the fire was stoked and the Hogan was heating up. He asked where we were from and told us a little about his kids and life.

“I have retalives (relatives) in California. I work natural gas pipeline in Los Angeles, to Bakersfield all way up to Oakland. My kids are in military. Marines. I went school at Riverside when I your age.� He said.

“I’m seeeveeenty seevennnn years old now.� He said, heavily emphasizing his age with pride. “That was long time ago.� He concluded.

After the fire had heated up the place sufficiently, he wished us a goodnight. He put his hand on a latch and said as he went out the door, “Here is lock, to keep out the witches.� He laughed.

We brought in a big hunk of coal and the fire kept up until about 3 AM when Goat got up and put some more wood in there. It was the first time we could sleep in our bags without all our clothes since we left Moab. After sleeping soundly, and all encountering remarkably vivid dreams, we woke up oddly refreshed. I hadn’t realized how poorly I had been sleeping in the cold weather until a night in the comfort of warmth.

We reached Kaibeto early the next day and decided on an off-road route after attempting to extract any useful information at the trading post. Up the road we were looking for route 201, and by the time the sun had set we still had not found it. I approached a car exiting a dirt road and asked him about it.

He claimed about a 4 miles up there was a road that we could take, it would bring us all the way over to the 89, cutting underneath Page. I saw one of his dogs underneath his wheel sniffing the tire; shocked, I warned him, “Whoah.. your dog is under your wheel.� I scrambled to scare the dog from out of the car.

“Ohh that’s Mano.� And he revved his engine up.

Sean pulled up and showed the man our map, and he confidently pointed out the route. As he was passing back the map, Sean stumbled back over his Camelbak and scared the dog into the road where it was swiftly hit by a passing car, offering a thunderous sound to the desert landscape.

Sean looked over at the owner who appeared unphased and said, “Holy shit. You just see your dog get hit.�

The owner just laughed and casually shrugged. “You want me to take it off the road?� I asked.

“Ehh.. yeah.. Just drag it over there.� He replied.

I waited for the traffic to clear up, hoping I wouldn’t have to witness any further gruesome mutilation to the poor creature’s body. I grabbed ahold of its limp front legs and pulled it off the road, trying not to think about the situation.

We continued our search for the 201 after it got dark and found ourselves desperate enough to take a random off road route, thinking that it must lead us to one of the main roads. Our depth perception was off and the sand was thick. We slid around the road dangerously through the night, keeping slow enough to avoid a serious crash. We crossed the electric train tracks, the same ones that the Monkey Wrench gang sabotaged in Ed Abbey’s book. We were lost. Our maps sucked. And we were terrible at navigating. Especially in the dark. So we set up camp and decided to deal with it tomorrow. Fortunately, a rancher passed through that night and we flagged them down for directions. They pointed us down a road, said it went about two miles and would T at the main road. That main road would take us to the 89.

“Heh..You guys are WAAAYYYY off!� He said as he drove off into the night.

We were faced with the reality that when you go off paved roads in the desert, it will be sandy. Not only will it be sandy, but it will be…shall we say, less than conducive to bike riding. So instead of riding many sections we pushed, or maneuvered a track stand stall/crawl, inching our way towards the next foot of ground that would hold our tires with a bit of luck. There was a good mile’s worth of sand that we could not ride over and were forced to push our bikes through. Slowly and surely, we carved our way through the windblown sand. My arrowhead obsession had continued so I scanned the ground constantly, and by some miracle, actually found one. The main road was much more rideable, but that doesn’t say much for riding across a desert. All the while, I dreamed about the Surly Pugsley bicycle with it’s 4� wide tires, thinking about how nice it would be to float over the sand. Not only was it difficult to merely pedal across flat/uphill sections, but even going downhill, you had to maintain full concentration so you wouldn’t crash. By the end of the day, we all had at least one good spill. It was always humorous to see the tracks (there wasn’t an inch of surface on the road that wasn’t painted visibly with our tread patterns) wend and twist when somebody lost control. Often you could even see a body impression as if it was outlined in chalk marking the fall.

Eventually we reached our half way point and were guided by some Navajo which direction to go. The map looked clear enough to follow, but there were so may people living out there, that roads often crisscrossed our route, leaving us to constantly question which direction to go. Driveways stretched for miles towards their houses, hidden in the distance. Petrified sand rose up aside the road, layered inch by inch of varying colors and shades, morphed into orblike shapes, twisting and swirling as if it was captured in an exotic lavalamp. Some trees managed to puncture their roots through the smooth rocks and lived in a seemingly impossible location, leaving their profile protruding above the horizon. About 35 miles into the sandy washed roads, we saw a turnout for a Baptist church. About 10 miles later we even saw a school bus tromping through the sand. A few minutes before we thought we were in the middle of nowhere, but that was hardly the case. We were in he middle of Navajo reservation land. “Rez country� as a teenager a few towns back described. I was about 50 yards from Goat at one point, and by the time I pushed my bike up a long steep hill, I could look down for miles at a lengthy hill we would descend. He was about a mile ahead. I figured I’d catch him on the hill. But the further I went down, the more space he made between us. Riding in the sand, I would begin to get a bit of speed and then my front wheel would catch and send me wildly sliding to the other side of the road where I would regain my traction and attempt to veer myself back down the hill. At other points I would just sink and stop in the sand. Each time I would see Goat’s tracks somehow perfectly cutting through the sand. I was amazed.

The hill leveled out for a couple miles, and was fortunately much less sandy. I heard bells in the distance and saw sheep being herded by dogs around a nearby rock monument. Next thing I knew I was being chased by dogs, for a good mile until they lost interest. We hit the road and instantly found ourselves on Antelope Pass with a about 14 miles and 2500 feet in elevation to drop until we reached Lee’s Ferry. It was one of those incredible ear-popping out of your mind hills that left you feeling like the elevation you climbed was actually worth the downhill (which can be rare). On each side of us were steep cliffs towering into the sky.

After a few days in town we got a hold of Matt Hebberd, my friend Nicole’s Uncle. She said he was super into mountain biking and a way cool guy we had to meet. Stopped by his place, and he said that he knew we were coming, got some Pabst for us and it was keeping cold outside. Matt fits the archetypal heroic bachelor quite perfectly. Maybe he’s 45 years old, but you would never know it. By the time you sit down at the kitchen counter he built and start chatting, you’d swear that you were back in college. He moved to Moab to ride bikes and now runs Rim Tours, which offers some of the best guided adventures around (as voted by National Geographic Adventure Magazine). Mountain Bike Hall of Fame recently inducted Matt because of his contributions to the whole fat tire scene at it’s early stages. With a bit of research I was able to scrounge up an article about him in the Fat Tire Flyer, that said something to the effect that you are liable to injure yourself if you try and keep up with him, and that bike manufacturers are all trying to get him to test out their bikes. If that isn’t enough to cast him as a core mountain biker, then the rotation of 20 odd bikes sitting outside his house just might. Ranging from some of the earliest models of fat tire bicycles up to state of the art full suspensions models (which he seems to favor over the others). In fact, while flipping through a book about the history of Specialized Bicycles, I turned to a page with a bike on slick rock. I look up and see a beautiful old bike with wooden rims and look down and see the same bike. “Hey Matt.. This your bike???�

“Yep.� He said and continued to give the background about the bike.

There was another book called the history of Fat Tire Bicycles, and while flipping through that one, I saw a bike that looked remarkably familiar. I look outside amidst the collection of bikes neatly hanging from racks and see the same bike. I look closer at the picture and there’s Matt, sporting a white baseball cap turned backwards with curly blond hair.

He asked as us about our trip and our plans, and we had said that we were planning on staying in Moab for a bit, possibly even get jobs to earn some extra money. “Sure, you guys are welcome stay here, make the trailer a homebase, for as long as you need.� And he showed us a nice streamliner that he seemed to use for guests and for accommodations at the annual 24 Hours of Moab racing event he’s involved with.

A few days after we arrived he invited me to head out to some trails. Met up with a bunch of folks. It was the first time that I had used a short bike in about a year and it felt incredibly awkward. My front wheel would pop up without any effort, even when I was on the gravel road headed to the trail. I foresaw a difficult ride for me, quite possibly embarrassing.

The first words somebody said to me as I turned onto the trailhead was, “Be Careful. If you’ve never been on this trail.� And so I promptly and quite naively blasted myself down a series of steep and increasingly large steps. On an Xtracycle there is not such thing as an endo, you never have to worry about your back tire flipping over your head. They just barrel through. And so I bounced on my fork down a few steps and instantly flew over my handlebars, fortunate enough to land on my feet. I really wanted to give it a whirl on my loaded Xtracycle, but was committed to experimenting with the short bikes. Challenging and technical, if not IMPOSSIBLE sections lined the route. Yet Matt and his friends would scamper up and through and down and around with such ease it was maddening. Very interesting riding with such a large group, and really just riding with somebody other than Sean and Goat. Mobilizing 14 or so people on a bike trail is quite a task. Often we just waited for everybody to rejoin before heading on. Ride 15 minutes, stop wait. Hang out. Eat snacks. Ride another 20 minutes, eat another snack. Actually quite luxurious. Our usual days incorporate solid 4-5 hour rides with maybe a 5 minute snack break, often our munchies consumed straight out of the handlebar bag. The highlight of the ride was a stretch of smooth slickrock dotted with various sized potholes filled with water and frozen over. Then an insanely steep slickrock dome with an incredible view and on towards a smallish arch with a pothole on top (more or less a cave with a round hole in the roof). Then back down to the city, winding down epic slickrock singletrack, forcing me to dismount both voluntarily and involuntarily at various sections. My lack of short bike experience was made brutally apparent by the dog that could descend faster than I could, taking the ledges and cuts with considerable ease. When I tried to get my weight behind my seat I would get my pants stuck and be forced to continue with my stomach pushed up against the back of my seat.

Soon enough we managed to get comfortable with our domestic existence. Every night was long because it was so near the solstice, and wound down with a movie and cocktails. Every morning I would concoct the perfect cup of coffee, making it marginally better each day. Sean and I attempted to type away a few articles with grandiose dreams of publication. I was ecstatic to hear back from Adventure Cyclist who was willing to publish an article I wrote about the wolf chase up in Alaska. Our attempts to find any kind of temporary work pretty much drowned in each successive cup of coffee I drank from the town’s coffee shop that stayed open, not because they made money, but because the locals appreciate their service in the off-season. Moab is deserted in the winter.

Unknowingly, we filled up on our stagnate existence in Moab. We had needed the break from the daily 60 mile grind, but were unable to recognize that until we were neck deep in luxurious domestic accommodations. We had collectively decided that there are probably very few people in this world that could have put up with us for a solid month, and appreciated Matt’s hospitality to no end. He made sure our bikes were up to snuff. If we needed a tire voila, he made it appear. If we were having trouble with flats, voila, our tubes were filled Stan’s Slime Protector. After a month of still life in the streamliner, we were ready to go, and I don’t doubt that our endlessly benevolent host was probably ready to have his house back.

Matt charted us an off-road route that would take us into Monticello, the next town south. Maybe 65 miles out of our way on 4×4 roads. So eager we were to get back out there, that we hardly consulted and considered the route for logistical planning. And we set off with a grand total of about 4 meals. We escaped the syrupy molasses pull of civilization late as usual and could account for very few miles by the end of the day, but the landscape was incredible and we were on the road again.

The condition of the road devolved throughout our trip. Beginning with accessibility to any SUV, it turned into something that only jeep enthusiasts and atv’ers could dare traverse. We harbored a new appreciation for the rockhoppin’ “Jeepers� who are generally the antagonist to the mountain biking community in Moab. Nothing you want to see less biking out in the middle of the beautiful desert than one of those ugly jeeps whorred out with large stickers as if it was a mobile billboard. Anyway, it seemed impossible for them to navigate some of the sections, and I was secretly impressed that they could actually manage. Overall the toughest thing about the route for us was the boggish sand and mud, depending on the temperature. Towards the end of the day it would freeze on top only to crack under our weight. These conditions forced a belabored movement through the desert, and while we could keep our balance just enough to keep moving, it was slow enough that I could scan the earth under me for signs of arrowheads (I had recently found one in Moab hiking around, and was temporarily obsessed with the prospect of finding another pointy little treasure). One stretch of sand, about a mile long, forced us to dismount and arduously push our bikes while the sun colored the desert sand. Rock gardens were covered in snow and required immense concentration to maintain balance. Incredibly difficult to ride up, but never as difficult as having to push your bike up, so we struggled. And by the end of our relatively short 4 hour day of riding we were thoroughly wiped out, unanimously agreeing that there was not a pedal stroke more left in us. Either that or we were trying to justify our pathetically long mornings, sleeping in and lounging around until about 1 or 2.

By the end of the second day when we had fully faced the fact that we were still a good 2 days ride from civilization and were going to be mighty hungry, having eaten the last of our food stuffs. Nothing we could do but keep riding, after, of course, we attend to our ridiculous leisurely mornings. We got creative with our cooking and mixed trail mix with oatmeal, downed protein powder shakes proclaiming to add “rock solid mass� to our brawn. Anything that was edible we consumed.

By the end of the third day we were seeing signs of life, which then occurred to me how little of it we saw on the trail. There was but a few rabbit tracks in the snow, and very little else. The human footprints raised our spirits with optimism. A bizarre assemblage of mushroom shaped rocks towering overhead asserted a nice camping spot below them, and we regrettably had to keep moving, search for calories. At the edge of these we saw a creek, the first since we left Moab. We had been reduced to filtering water from ponds and melting snow to get water, which consumed much of our daylight. Our water had not frozen solid just yet and did not require the creeks offerings. But it did prove a tricky crossing. Thin ice covered most of it, and a Jeeper would happily mash on through, without fear of the elements, yet we were humble bicyclists, completely lacking the artificial climate offered by the V-8’s heater. A bit of teamwork got our bikes and selves over the creek where we saw more human footprints. Then port-a-potties, then I rolled up to Goat talking to a car camper parked alongside the dirt road who was kind enough to give us some quinoa and instant brown rice, enough carbohydrates to get us into the next town. That night was a cold one. Had to clear off snow for a spot to pitch our tent, before we woke up and had to cover the remaining 40 odd miles into town.

We arrived just after dark and were able to belly up to a truck stop diner. Two girls and a mother hung out next to us in a booth and the waitress (the older daughter) would simply turn from her seat and ask if we wanted any water, passed it over to us without getting up. Redefined my understanding of a mom and pop establishment, and we were overjoyed to sit there in the warmth and chat with them. Midway through our meal, a cowboy type in stylish boots and ten gallon hat appeared, “How’s ya’lls food?�

“Outstanding,� I replied quickly, thinking it was funny because we had all just commented seconds ago on how good the food was.

“That’s what I like to hear.� He said and patted me on the shoulder. “Let me know if you want any more tortilla’s.�

The mother of the place asked us where we sleeping and after seeing that her words lingered in our thoughts, recommended that we camp at a ballpark field just up the road.

Blanding was the next town, where I fondly remember an all you can eat buffet of chicken wings, pizza and salad. Somehow Sean and Goat passed up this morsel of never-ending food and bought groceries to cook up. I made sure to rub it in when we met back up. Fueled by a platter of chicken wings and pizza I pedaled onwards towards an off-road section that would take us towards Goosenecks State Park and the town Mexican Hat. A lengthy hill reached its peak at a formidable geographic formation, a sort of fin shaped mountain winding north to south, that in the past presented an impossible section to travelers headed towards the sunrise or sunset. Modern man managed to blast a canyon through a section and pave a nice road defying the power of nature. Exiting the narrow wound in the rock, a steep hill took us to Comb Wash road, where we hoped to cut across the dirt path to the next highway. There was theoretically cliff dwelling nearby, but we sure couldn’t find them. We camped there a night and followed the well graded and surprisingly solid surface, easing our fear that we faced another grueling 20 miles of sandy biking. We splashed out onto the road and saw a tremendous hill that would take me a good hour and a half to see flatten out. A plateau, stood in front of me like a table missing a leg that tilted downwards rolling the contents into the wash that we just pedaled through. And like one of those rickety café tables with a roll of receipts and paper trying to stabilize the surface, after reaching the top it leaned the other way, sending the three of us rolling down the table like spilled coffee. Into the Valley of the Gods, where huge monoliths and spires reached for the sky and dotted the flat desert surface, remaining like a child’s mashed potato sculpture on a plate of uneaten vegetables. Sagebrush and a few odd trees dotted the landscape uniformly, like the freckles of redheaded child, as the sun set and flushed the earth’s surface with an embarrassed hue, as if we caught it involved in some mischief.

And from there, we left, still mystified by the beauty of this nook of the world to the Goosenecks State Park, where the San Juan River folded itself like ribbon candy, winding itself impossibly back and forth. A rather adventurous hike took us to a land bridge in between the river where we could look to our left and right and see the same river going different directions. Like the comments from Stan Hinkle in the visitor’s registry, it was “a nice meander,� to say the least.

The next day took us into Monument Valley, where the monoliths seemed to aggressively challenge the sights we saw the day before, rising up even higher and more magnificent than the “Seven Sailors� formation or “Women in a Tub�. These perpetual cliffs seemed to commune with the sky as if you could walk off the cliff and onto the clouds. The atmosphere was preparing a good chuckle for us that evening, as the sun dropped in the sky and my shadow raced off into the distance, hoping to escape the sub-zero temperatures that were falling on us. With the last ray of sun, went the last positive degree of warmth. Set up camp and hustled around to keep circulation going while the food that we had, (5 minute rice and chili due to negligent planning once again) warmed up. We had a few beers, but found myself too cold to consume more than one and the other exploded, frozen in time in a fizzy slush.

“Damn it is cold,� I said. Over and over again, much to the annoyance of my companions who would rather not hear my endless whining. Oh and so cozy in the tent that night. I wore every article of clothing I owned and still tossed and turned all night. We survived the night and rushed towards a rumor of food just a few miles away. The pleasure of a downhill was missed when the freezing temperatures and wind chill, took away the circulation to my feet. I sought refuge in a diner where I employed the joys of another all you can eat buffet. This area has been favored for moviemakers for it’s incredible scenery, Hollywood has used it for films such as Forest Gump, Thelma and Louise, and most notably for How the West Was Won. Long before the sun went down we arrived in Arizona and in the small Navajo town of Kayenta.

“Dinosaur capital of the world,� proudly proclaims the quaint – bordering non-existant – town in the northwestern corner of Colorado. It is hard not to feel drawn towards Dinosaur City, after riding through so many desolate areas, where one can easily imagine, prehistoric creatures are romping through the wild when your back is turned. You’d almost believe that they manage to hide, the moment you turn, only….they’re so massive, animals like that just can’t hide.
Well, even after being extinct for millions of years, they still managed to hide their remains from us. Dinosaur national monument was closed because the building was liable to collapse. Constructed on an area concentrated with dinosaur bones that have been petrified in a layer of earth that was bulging upwards and exposing the prehistoric layer which actually operated to wreck the building. So, our highly anticipated glimpse of dinosaur remains was lost and we had to settle for the crudely disproportionate cement Triceratops near the city park. It was pathetic. I even went to the visitor’s center to solicit a few pictures of what I might have been able to see, but was met with a shut door bearing a sign that said “Closed�. Our travels continued along the 139, winding for about 35 miles to the Douglas Pass and then descended for the final 40 miles into Grand Junction. Kokopelli pictographs depicted a mysterious flute player with dreadlocks along the sharp sandstone cliffs. Our mountainous environment had been replaced by the desert canyons, only hinting at the marvels we would see when we got further south into the Canyonlands, and Arches National Park.

We pitched our tent back in a side canyon, far enough to lose view of the road. After our typical hearty breakfast the next morning of rice, beans, eggs and sausage we continued up the pass. It was a steady incline most of the way, until maybe the last 4-5 miles when it painfully tore it’s way upwards at a much more strenuous grade. Winding up and around the mountain, light patches of snow that had hid behind various bushes soon grew to envelope the entire roadside surface. Cars passed us and gave us enthusiastic thumbs up accompanied with a positive howl. Eventually we reached the top just before sundown. I watched a car slowly meander it’s way down the extremely steep, windy downhill, it’s lights would flicker in and out of visibility until it faded completely into the mountains. I looked forward to following the trace of lights down that same path. The wind howled past me, and caused me to shiver.

Many mountain passes hesitate to drop, generally winding along a ridge for a mile or so before falling back into the valley. This pass reached a peak and instantly bent towards lower elevation, and the top offered an amazing view of where we came from and where we were headed. It was so steep that there were hardly any places to set up camp, but behind a snowplow shed there was enough room for our humble tent. There was even firewood to make a fire, which we would have enjoyed a bit more if we would have set it up further from our tent and didn’t have to constantly worry about flying embers burning a hole in the fabric.

Riding downhill the next day fulfilled all my expectations. Hugging the turns at 35-40 mph, I could even pass cars as they raced us to civilization. After the initial steep descent it became gradual, letting gravity pull us towards Grand Junction for the next 35 odd miles. At some point during the 2 hours of downhill bliss, I almost forgot about the toils of yesterday’s riding.

We met up at a gas station and saw Goat hobble in shortly after we had sat down with a pint of ice cream. He had gotten run off the road and into one of the most evil patches of goatheads any of us had ever seen. It was as though the tread of his tire had incorporated a steady stream of the prickly seeds to add traction. They turned his tube into Swiss cheese and required methodical removal so that the new tubes wouldn’t be burdened by remaining shards in the tire.

Grand Junction was a cool bike town, with lots of bike related sculptures lining main street. At the library we met a man named Rob Wells. He approached Goat in the library and spoke as if he was talking to somebody on another level of the building, “I shouldn’t try and communicate, because I’m deaf. But I was wondering where you guys are headed on those bikes?� Goat scribbled on a piece of paper, “The southernmost tip of South America.�

The man held the paper and a great beaming smile covered his face. He spoke about how he had traveled halfway across the country on a bike when he was younger and loved to hear more about our trip. He lived alone and had not spoken more than 40 words in the past 4 years. Because of a hereditary issue, he had lost his hearing completely 14 years ago. He invited us to stay over at his house and gave us directions.

They were simple enough. Head down the highway until you reach 19-1/2 street and turn right. Keep going until you reach K Street, make another right, my house is 3rd driveway on the right. It had gotten dark by the time we had managed to leave the city and we were eager to get some rest. 19-1/2 street came soon enough, but K street was another 45 minutes away and his driveway was another 25 minutes from there. The expansive 3 story house seemed out of suite for a man living on his own, and we were unsure we had the right house.

We couldn’t just knock to get him to answer the locked door, because he wouldn’t hear us. And naturally, there was no doorbell. So we waited outside his house while the neighborhood dogs yelled at us relentlessly. We feared a lynch mob would follow the cries of the dogs, wondering who was disturbing the peaceful rural neighborhood. Eventually we saw Rob through the window and got his attention with a flashlight we shined through the window at him.

He was a healthy old man, probably around 70 years old, but active enough that you would never know. He had a full head of grey hair and brilliant smile, accented with wrinkles that transformed his entire face into a glowing statement of happiness. Bushy eyebrows adorned his face like wreaths, adding a good measure of depth to his profile. After the grand tour of the house he proudly built, we rolled out our Thermarest and got a good night’s rest.

Next was Thanksgiving and he loudly shuffled into the main room. His voice bellowed through the empty house, “Today is Gobble-Gobble day, you guys want to go to the mission and get a Turkey Dinner.�

We all thought that Thanksgiving day was still a few days away and woke up excited about the prospect of free food. All three of us were taken back, when his car screamed out of his driveway and onto the road. We were not used to being in a car, speeding across the countryside at 55 miles per hour. Despite his rushed pace, we had arrived at the mission way too late. It was only 2 o’ clock but everybody was gone and there seemed to be no leftovers. Rob suggested we go to the grocery store (K-Mart) to get some food and have our own “Gobble Gobble Day.�

We sat down around his table and enjoyed a huge meal. It was fascinating to communicate with somebody who had spoken so little, and who was so eager to exchange words. Of course we had to write everything down, and he unknowingly yelled at us with his every word. But ultimately, there was something surreal about spending Thanksgiving with somebody we just met, and quickly finding a comfortable space with each other. It was definitely a holiday we will not forget..

We departed the next morning and he gave us two self-addressed envelopes for us to write to him. Earlier in town, we had been told about the Kokopelli trail, that began in Fruita, a few miles west of Grand Junction. Said to be well-signed and would take us all the way into Moab on an off-road route. We blasted our way onto a trail among dozens of cyclists heading out for a quick ride. They warned us about a few hike-a-bike sections that would be challenging and gave us some advice on which routes to take. The well graded gravel road we began on ended and took us into a technical singletrack section which then became an even more impossible hike-a-bike section that we were told of. We cautiously maneuvered our bikes down steep ledges and narrow paths. Sometimes we pulled the bikes, often, they pulled us down the hill. It had been too long since we had been on the trails and relished even the misery of the hike-a-biking. Though, I can’t speak for Sean who’s grunts and moans spoke more of pain and misery than any kind of enjoyment. By the end of the day, we were all singing the same tune, when it had gotten dark and we had been battling our way up the same hill for the past hour. Extreme exhaustion set in, and we had pedaled or pushed our bikes, at most, a whopping 20 miles. Sean seemed the most disturbed by the hike-a-bike section and was relegating himself to sleeping on the steep hillside. Goat and I grabbed his bags and guitar against his wishes and carried them to the top, making it easier for him to get his bike up.

Throughout the night, trains snaked their way through the valley that we had ridden along. A massive serpent of steel, followed the beaming headlight and disappeared into the darkness of a tunnel. I had many nostalgic moments that night thinking about my adventures riding the rails. I had once hopped on a gondola railcar in the summertime on the same tracks, which would soon conform around the Colorado River and veer towards Salt Lake City.

The next day offered a much more steady stream of riding. Bits of slick rock here, sandy sections there, in between technical rocky ledges. Kokopelli trail was truly incredible, offering incredibly diverse riding conditions among some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. Canyons and rock formations manifested themselves in unearthly shapes and contours, leaving you to momentarily question what planet you are on. Sean had a lot of trouble with flat tires that day and found himself tailing a good ways behind. His misery on the hike-a-bike was always the most vocalized, often to the discreet humor and entertainment of Goat and myself. The light in the sky began running to the horizon shortly after I had just pushed my bike up a lengthy steep section. I asked Goat, “You seen Sean lately?�

“Nahh, not for awhile.�

“He had a flat tire, I haven’t seen him since.�

“Hmm. Hope he’s all right. I sure don’t want to have to push up that hill again.�

And then we saw him turn the corner in the distance.

“Think we should stick around and watch him suffer up his hill?� I asked.

Goat merely replied with his infectious laugh. We stood there catching our breathe and watched Sean get closer and closer. Darkness was setting in and we had been out of water for most of the day, so we opted to continue our path towards hydration. We sped through a singletrack section weaving through thick bushes and trees. The trail spilled us onto a paved road dropping quickly downhill. We saw on the crude map we printed up from the library that we were near the river and imagined a nice campsite around there. We hurried towards the water. My head was pounding from the dehydration. We toured the campsite and abandoned ranger station looking for the next section of the Kokopelli, and found nothing. “It would be all-right, deal with that tomorrow,� I thought.

We sat idly, waiting for Sean, since there was little we could do. He had the water filter, the cooking equipment and the weather was clear enough, so there was no reason to put up the tent. We got impatient and filled our Drom bags with water and purified it with iodine, while we eagerly waited for both Sean to appear and the water to be ready. 30 minutes later there was still no sign of him and we greedily began drinking the water. Instantly, a sense of sanity returned that we didn’t even realize had been lost. Exhaustion will do that to you, makes it mighty difficult to think clearly.

We built a huge fire hoping that would signal him. There wasn’t really any turns to take, we couldn’t really imagine him getting lost, and began to worry that he might have had debilitating bike problems. We dragged some coals under the grill and cooked individual oatmeal packets in my metal coffee cup. It was a really sad meal, and we worried about Sean. We rolled out our beds and went to sleep, figuring we would be able to work this out tomorrow with a bit more light. No sense wandering around in the dark.

After a short spell of sleep, a tremendous wind blew through our campsite. I could hear various things we left on the table blowing towards the nearby river. I jumped up to rescue them. Momentarily after getting back in my sleeping bag and feeling that familiar, comforting warmth of the Primaloft insulation, rain started sprinkling down. I got up and started dragging myself under the picnic table. I was too tired to realize that we had the top of the tent, but Sean had the pole that supported it. We frantically began staking out the tent, shivering all the while. Through the narrow and dim beam of my headlamp I was able to find a stick that could support the pyramid shaped tent, and our home was built. We hoped Sean was able to set-up a decent shelter as well. (Later we found out that his shelter involved his bike and it fell on him periodically throughout the night) As usual, however, the rain stopped the moment we got our tent set up anyway.

We woke up the next day without a sign of Sean. Being the master map readers that we are, it took us a little while to realize that the trail actually took a turn before hitting the river, a little more than half a mile back. By the time we got there, we could see his tracks in the sand. They ended abruptly about a mile into the trail. “Sean… SEEAAANNNN?!!!� We yelled. Nothing.

We followed his tracks back to the road, and did our best sleuthing trying to find where his tracks went. We discovered absolutely nothing. It was about 1:30 when we finally decided to go back up the paved road to the trail, thinking he might have left a note. We stashed our bags behind a bush and began our search for him. Our plan was to leave a note at the various junctions he would have encountered and then we’d wait out the day at the bottom of the hill, at the last place we saw his tracks. A group of dirtbike riders came motoring up behind us. One of them peeled off his goggles and lifted up his helmet and said, “You looking for another rider?�
“Yeah..Yeah. How’d you know?� I replied.

“We saw him a good, what?� He looked around the group for verification as he continued, “four hours ago, maybe more.�

Another rider chimed in, “He decided to take the freeway, said he had flats and got separated from you two. Didn’t know what to do and said he’d meet you in Moab. Oh. And just to mention there’s supposed to be a big storm coming, maybe a day or two.�

They put back their goggles, strapped their helmets and wished us luck.

“Damn, that man left four hours ago? We weren’t even awake by the time he chose to hit the pavement.� I said, astonished.

“And he has a good portion of our food, not to mention all the cooking equipment and the other half of the tent.� Goat added.

“Well…shoot.. Let’s continue on down the Kokopelli. No sense in taking the road, just yet.� I said.
“Of course,� Goat agreed.

“Shoot..man.. Good thing one of us wasn’t hurt, that was a sketchy sketchy maneuver to leave like that, no note, nothing. Damn his road fever� I said while shaking my head.

“Damn good thing the dirtbikers ran into us. We would have waited around all day for him� Goat said.

We loaded up our bags and continued down the Kokopelli. It was very strange riding without a trio. The trail helped lift our moods, as it was some of the most incredible riding we’d been exposed to since we began the trip. Epic singletrack and steep four-wheel drive roads absorbed our thoughts. One particularly memorable stretch of singletrack spanned along the riverside, at points tunneling through thick brush and undulating up and down with lots of little technical turns and drops. Challenging for a fully loaded Xtracycle, but we made off pretty well. I can remember watching Goat burst down an amazingly steep rock garden, filled with 12� boulders, as if he was on smooth pavement. I gingerly followed. It came as a surprise to me when I finally caught up to him and saw he was clutching his shoulder. He managed to fall on an insignificant flat turn, because of an issue unclipping his feet from the pedal. His shoulder took a good hit and it was not okay. We finished the day with a steep and likely miserable hike-a-bike for him. We set up camp under some cottonwood trees next to the river.

We built a fire and cooked the rest of our food one little cup full at a time. Our hunger spawned a bit of innovation and Goat grabbed an extra cog while I filled up some aluminum cans with dirt to set in the fire. We balanced the cog in between the cans and pushed coals underneath and grilled up the Jimmy Dean sausage to perfection, complete with cassette grill marks.

That was unfortunately the end of the Kokopelli for us since Goat’s shoulder was injured and our food supply was non-existant. We begrudgingly detoured to highway and began following the river towards Moab. There has been very few towns we’ve gone through and not been warned by somebody of an impending storm, “the big one� as we joke. The towns that didn’t warn us were usually the towns that were already blanketed in snow or drowned in rain, and they all seemed to say with disbelief and upturned palms that it is never like this at this time of the year. We faced a merciless wind most of the ride pulling behind it a powerful snow storm. As beautiful as it was, the delicate surface of me eyeballs were being attacked with sand particles and my riding was subjected to brief gusts of wind that would alter the direction I was hoping to take my bike. About ten miles out of Moab we saw a flagger stopping cars and I planned on asking her if she had seen another rider ahead of us. She was gorgeous, and it was shocking to see such a beautiful creature to be working a construction job out in the middle of nowhere. Whatever I was going to say or hoped to say pretty much turned into a pathetic slew of stuttered gibberish. I pedaled on, trying to make sense of the brief encounter, seriously wondering if she had been some strange windblown mirage.

“Goat. Did you s..� I began.

He interrupted, “Yeah.. What the heck was she doing working that job?�

“Well I doubt there are as many people who can stop traffic as well as her. I suppose she’s perfect for the job.� I replied.

We reached the edge of Moab and saw a sign that said “Bike Trail To Moab� and had an arrow pointing under the overpass. We followed it, saw that it started out as a nice paved path and quickly wound up and around and onto the very busy highway 191, with a tiny shoulder for cyclists. Semi-trucks blew past as and literally left us in their dust. I was behind Goat and was knocked off my bike by a dustdevil of incredible strength. Goat heard my cries and laughed as he watched me get worked by the tornado of wind and debris.

I saw Sean at the library and said dramatically, “Damn you Sean. You left us for dead out there. That was such a sketchy move.�

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I realized that after I left. I screwed up.� He replied sincerely and apologetically.

“Did you se..� I began.

“Yeah. The flagger. She was gorgeous.� Sean interrupted, “Why was she…�

Then it was my turn to interrupt, “I have no idea.�

There’s always a chance of precipitation in the forecast; this much we’ve come to accept in setting out on our days ride… When we were fed and dressed and ready to escape the small town of Pinedale, Wyoming tiny amounts of snow sprinkled from the sky, providing a merry farewell. Just two miles outside the town, a mild sunshine prevailed over the flurries, obliging us to pull over to the shoulder and remove our rain gear. We were entering the flats of Wyoming, a very mind-numbing expanse of high dessert, much of it dusted with snow. One tends to be consumed with inner dialogue or with attempts at reciting the entirety of a rock album rather than stare blankly across the sprawling monotony. We pass a little four-by-four trail intersecting the highway marked with a little wood sign: ‘Historic Mormon Trail’. The thought of driving brutish pack animals and a wooden wagon filled with a family of undernourished children and consumptive wives through this basin didn’t appeal to my sensibility. My reverie was suddenly interrupted by a large pickup truck screeched to an abrupt stop in the left lane, the driver rolled the window down and shouted at me; “You want me to fix your bike�. I recognized the bearded face as that belonging to a welder acquaintance I made in Pinedale. Goat and I had accompanied Annie –reporter for the Pinedale Roundup- on her quest to taste the perfect burger. Annie required just a bite or two of each burger from eight different restraints to complete her journalistic review, and so hired us to finish off the balance of the meal. Will, one of Annie’s friends had just gotten off his job working as a welder in the oil fields, and joined us for a beer at the All American Diner. I told him I would need his services before I left Pinedale, fearing the large rusty crack in my xtracycle frame would quickly turn into a full blown fissure. Here on the road our paths crossed once again, but I was too spaced out to realize the convenience of the situation.

“Uh… I’ll probably be able to get the job done in the next town�, I muttered.

“Suit yourself�, Will fired back, and without hesitation sped off down the highway.

Just as his truck was out of sight, the realization dawned on me that Will kept his Welding rig in the back of his truck. Welding the crack in my frame could have been easily completed on the side of the road. I shook my feeble fist in rage and would have hit myself square on my incompetent noggin had not my hand bounced harmlessly off my helmet.

Endless spools of barbwire held by splintering posts and huge wooden wind disrupters contained the flat highway as a channel for human transportation apart from the bleak expanses of desert. Goat had just overtaken me in the lead, and was pulling over to the left side of the highway to inspect a small valley for a suitable camping sight. A small road began from the shoulder of the highway, down toward a half frozen stream. We still had at least an hour left of sunlight to ride, yet this road presented the first break in the fencing in over an hour of riding; we decided to camp.

Late at night the winds kicked up, the snow began to fall and our tent, haphazardly staked to the ground, seemed ready to lift off its anchors and begin its own solo tour south. Snow blew in the gap between the tent floor and roof caking our sleeping bags and accumulating in small mounds beside our heads. The next morning we awoke to yet another white out, our bikes were white, the ground white, and the sky presented an eerie kind of ghostly grey. Long stretches of the highway shoulder were glazed in frosty ice causing minor annoyance when speeding cars wavered too close for cycling comfort. We did however enjoy a steady tail wind the entire day, allowing us to virtually fly through eighty miles of flat land on our way to Rock Springs. In a small truck stop town on the 191 south I gazed down the turnoff for an east bound highway that led toward the Great Divide Basin –where we would be headed if we were still following the Great Divide Trail. A road condition warning sign flashed the message in orange luminescence that the road was currently subject to heavy blizzards and dissuading any unnecessary travel. I imagined us attempting to decipher the correct route through the maze of snowy trails –the amount of crisscrossing dirt roads portrayed on the Divide map looked confusing enough. I could picture us arguing about the meaning of the different signs one inevitably encounters along the way that give completely different information then any and all maps one manages to acquire.

By sundown that day we had come within ten miles of the city of Rock Springs. Possessing little in the means of sustenance we pressed ahead toward the city limits knowing all to well what grim challenges urban landscapes pose to free camping. At the beginning of a steady downhill section I noticed a man outside his pickup truck, locking up the gate to a chain link fence.

“Are you the last one�, He called out to me.

“No, There’s still one more guy behind me.� So focused was I on arriving in the city before unbearable cold set into my limbs that I couldn’t fathom a reason for this man’s curiosity in our numbers.

“Well then, I’ll be picking him up�. I managed to hear the guy swear before I drifted out of hearing distance. I wanted to shout back, “Well good luck trying to convince Jacob that he needs a ride!�

A few miles outside of town Jacob caught up with me. “Do you realize we have our own private escort following behind us?� Looking back I could see the headlights of that same pickup truck blazing fifty feet away. The same man that had yelled to me from the side of the road was rolling slowly along the shoulder taking great care to ensure our safety. Once inside the city, we all pulled over to the edge of a shopping center to ponder our fate. Our shoulder guarding angle stepped out of his truck wearing a garage mechanics jumpsuit; a small patch on his chest read ‘Mike’.

“Yeah, Just wanted to make sure you guys don’t get splattered all over the pavement back there.� Mike began, “Its sort of trucker’s rush hour right now, they’re all hauling extra quick to get off the highway, and it’s likely that they just won’t see you.�

Mike asked the usual questions we hear from people unacquainted with the customs of the bike nomads. After we assured him that we were not insane, and that there was no telling where we would set up camp that night he invited us to pitch our tent outside his modest trailer dwelling on the other side of town. Cold, tired, and starving for calories, we followed his benevolent pace through town, biking up small but grueling hills till we came to the trailer park.

Mike’s wife Trish seemed a little shy about greeting us outside, what with not having groomed her hair appropriately, but their two dogs were riled up and ready to tear at our throats in ferocious embrace. It took a good fifteen minutes for the smaller dog –a Chihuahua- to calm down. The larger dog that had the features and meanness of a Chow but wasn’t a Chow held us in the same contemptuous glare for the rest of the evening, letting us know that dire consequences awaited any one of us who stepped out of line. Mike raked a section of his snowy lawn clean for us to pitch our tent. Eventually we were invited inside the trailer to throw back a few Budweisers and devour the remains of Mike’s dinner; “Trish always ends up cooking enough for four people anyway� we were assured. While eating dinner the glowing boob tube weaved its hypnotic spell over our weary continence. Any will power with which I usually manage to pry myself from the screen must have been depleted long before the last hill leading into town. Besides who could possibly resist watching Emit Smith paired with a voluptuous Latin beauty battle an especially dexterous young stud from ‘Saved By the Bell’ in a ballroom dance competition. Mike supplemented the T.V. entertainment with tales of his Navy service, descriptions of the beauty of Flaming Gorge (where we would be headed in the morning), and talk of the methamphetamine use afflicting his part of town.

“Even our next door neighbors indulge�, Mike admitted. Proving his assertions, we would hear the high-pitched voices of the neighboring couple arguing and rambling to themselves all through the night.

Being an early morning riser Mike managed to escape before we could thank him for the hospitality. Instead we spent an hour drinking coffee and watching the ‘Jerry Springer’ show with Trish. Amidst shouts and squeals of heavy set women bitch-slapping each other and pinning one another to the ground, Trish showed us pictures of her Chow dog straddling the seat of her Harley Davidson.

“The only time that dog changes its expression is when it feels the rumble of the engines between its legs, but it hates it when we dress it up.�

“Dress it up?�

“This last Halloween, Mike dressed up like the dog, and dressed the dog up like himself. Mike even made a scene screaming after his tail got stuck in the door of his favorite biker bar.�

We eventually made our way out of the trailer park and wandered into the heart of the city to buy supplies for the next four days of touring. Outside the supermarket, while dividing the grocery weight three ways, a trucker walked up to us, shaking his head in disbelief.

“You’re those crazy bastards who’re riding the Rockies in the middle of winter. I heard about you guys over the radio this morning.�

We were sure Mike was responsible for informing the radio station of our arrival in Rock Springs. We felt a little disappointed at having been subjected to the likes of Jerry Springer during the hour of the announcement. It would have been one hell of a wake up call to hear about our bike tour over public radio.

Just outside of Rock Springs, behind a Flying J truck stop, in a muddy ditch offering a small time landfill and a view of the freight tracks, I set to work cooking our breakfast. Jacob was feeling ill, and was scrunched up in a ball in his sleeping bag. Having witnessed Jacob spontaneously passing out on the side of the road many times before, I had hardly given any notice, until I heard footsteps two feet behind me and a loud firm voice that triggered my paranoia prone hand nerves to retract and pocket my five inch knife.

“Hey there, is your buddy alright there, looks like he might be dying�. A man in a sheriff’s uniform questions me, his face complete sincerity.

The same paranoid nerves at work in my hands just a moment ago now restrain a stupid grin from spreading across my face. “No, he’s doing alright, he’s just having a bit of a belly ache. Jacob!� I yell at Jacob, nearly throwing my cooking spoon to wake him up. Luckily he sits upright, rubs his eyes, and gasps at the sight of the sheriff beaming down upon him with a sardonic maternal impersonation that expressed Rise-and-shine you grungy bum.

The Sheriff had his assistant collect our Drivers licenses whereupon he conducted background checks on the in-car laptop computer. We spoke at length about how we were just on our way out of his fair city yet we; could not hope to be persuasive enough to convince this sturdy authority of our intentions.

“I suggest you boys hop on them bicycles as soon as possible and ride south… fast.� It was obvious that the sheriff had us pegged as vagabond hippy moochers. “There’s a huge storm that’s going to be coming over this area as soon as tomorrow afternoon.�

“Yeah, that’s no news to us,� Jacob retaliated “The big storm’s always following me; I’m a magnet for poor weather.�

The Sheriff set his big toothy jaw in motion to a hideous rendition of Goofy’s cartoon laugh. He then restated his previous warning; “yeah, the big ones coming around fast, best get south as quick as you can�. After we had entertained the sheriffs ‘subtle’ attempts to drive us far from his jurisdiction, he allowed his assistant to return our I.D. cards; apparently we weren’t on any wanted lists yet. I can only imagine that the Sheriff was just too busy to be bothered with the local news radio and hadn’t heard the flattering remarks about us Good’ole American Boys made earlier that morning.

The next day we experienced the tremendous good fortune of exiting the state of Wyoming. Scenic byway 191 leads along a ridge affording breathtaking views of red rock crusted valleys. Chilly Wyoming winds whipped us into submissive snails crawl paces up and over the hills, until we were exactly two miles past the Utah border. Suddenly, as if the Mormons themselves had willed it, the bitter winds ceased to batter our raw faces and the air began to feel considerably warmer. Upon the landscapes before us lay oily hues of orange, red and brown sand stones unadulterated with the familiar white fluff that had for so long been our companion. So ecstatic was I with the dramatic climate transformation that I nearly jumped into a crystal clear lake in the Flaming Gorge National park.

Goat and I waited around for Jacob at the Dutch John Trading post located just a mile away from the Flaming Gorge Dam. Jacob crept up to the storefront looking a bit haggard, and without saying anything went inside to buy Gatorade and Imodium ad. While checking out at the register, Jacob attempted some light conversation with the female store clerk.

“It’s a good ways up hill to Vernal, Right?� He pondered. “Lot of climbing?�

“Well, no, actually its mostly downhill.� The store clerk replied completely unaware of the absurdity of her statement.

“But there’s a giant mountain before us,� I cried out,� If I just step outside this store I can see some of the switchbacks.�

“Well, I just live here.� She pleaded trying to preserve her innocence.

We left the poor woman alone to restock the pitiful gas station food section and hurried up the hill to find a camp spot.

Even the evening air was warm around the Flaming Gorge. It was one of the first nights in over two weeks that it was warm enough for me to pluck my guitar for more than five minutes.

The next days ride was as had been expected, a grueling twenty-mile climb up a mountain range, followed by a fifteen-mile stretch of downhill. The downhill section consisted of sixteen switchbacks all graded from six to ten percent. Long lines of truckers roared down the hill on low gears; it was irritating for a biker to be stuck behind such giant monstrosities for so long a downhill stretch. All of us at some point ended up passing large double tankers in the left lane, taking thirty-five mile and hour plunges around the curves of the switchbacks. Terraced sections of distant hills revealed large-scale strip mine operations, and to the south we caught our first glimpses of giant red rock edifices jetting out from the desert floor. The sun was setting, it seemed prudent to save the grand entrance into our first Utah town for the pure light of morning, and so Goat and I stopped by a day-use hiking trail and waited for Jacob. A man in a cowboy hat trailing a horse trailer behind his grey 4*4 pickup smiled and rolled down his window to ask about our unique bike frames. After Goat gave his explanation of the xtracycle, I enthusiastically praised the raw beauty inherent in the wilderness. The man took the comment straight to heart without chaser; “why thank you, I live right down the road, that’s my property line down there!�

Unfortunately, as we would come to understand the next morning, the serene desert setting lost all appeal just beyond the city limits of Vernal. The city itself consisted of flat sprawling suburbia, complete with a surplus of identical shopping centers. A small café near the town bike shop offered pints of Polygamy Porter among few other beer options –Utah beer cannot have alcohol contents higher than 4% by volume. Naturally, after having had to patch the same stubborn flat tire three different times I settled down to sample a few of Utah’s finest, only to feel a lingering dissatisfaction of the taste buds –like someone suffering low blood sugar desperately chugging diet pop to get a fix.

After a bite to eat, we all gathered inside the town library till our welcome wore as thin as our withered break pads. I had noticed as early as noon that day a short stocky girl sporting a red sweatshirt with gold letters spelling out ‘Coca-Cola’. She appeared to be moving aimlessly among the grass lawn and rock garden in front of the city civic center with the determination of a runner training for a marathon.

I saw the same girl walking the same rounds nearly three hours later, after Goat and I had finished shopping for supplies. I had been searching for Jacob, and found him passed out under the shade of a tree bearing rotting apples. He asserted that he had felt light headed and ready to faint after enduring a miserable episode of liquid shits among the spotless porcelain bowls of Seven- Eleven. I am about to lay down upon the grassy knoll and feign illness as well, when the devoted pedestrian girl skews slightly from her route and comes to stand before me, her eyes begging to make my acquaintance.

“How long you’ve been riding?� she asks.

“Been on the road for four months now�. Trying hard to rap this one up quick.

“I used to bike� her eyes were burrowing into my own, perhaps searching for evidence of the same callous reservation lining the pupils of every other stranger like a three story retaining wall. I get the fear that I’m being distant and unfriendly for no good reason.

“My father took the bike away with him, so now I just walk around here.� She waves her hand over her precious domain. “Do you know, I’m twenty one and I already smoke?� The girl exclaims not without a touch of pride. “I don’t know what brand I like, I just smoke whatever I can find over there.� She points her stubby finger to an ashtray.

“Ah, re-fries�. I respond, wanting to wretch in disgust instead. There ensued a bit of awkward silence between us, yet the girl presses ahead, determined as ever to reach new heights in the delicate art of conversation.

“I saw a man from the prison put up these Christmas lights.� She points to the haphazardly draped roll of burnt out bulbs tacked on the rot-bearing trunk. I smile and devote all my attention to a careful study of the handiwork.

“My father’s in prison and I’m going to get to see him just before Christmas. He’s been locked up for over a year since he was caught running a drug lab.�

“How was he caught?� Jacob’s has finally found a point of entry into the conversation.

“Well, they usually catch you when you’re based out of a van or trailer.� She explains.
I nod and grind my teeth.

“I have a boyfriend, and we’re planning on beginning a life together.� She quickly inserts, still probing my face for some human characteristic. Perhaps she was experimenting to see if the mention of being engaged would provoke some jealousy.

“He’s getting a job that pays twenty five dollars an hour, so that we can save up for a house.�

“That’s uh…� I choke in the process of forming a reply. “I mean what kind of job is he getting?�

“Oh, I don’t know, all he tells me is that he’s been hired. He’s been fired from plenty of jobs; jobs at the oil fields, retailing jobs…�

Suddenly some young yuppie wearing a tattered beanie shouts something unintelligible in our direction and then darts down an alleyway.

Jacob, in his divine haggardness musters the strength to make his second comment. “He a friend of yours?�

“Oh no,� she replies objects. “The only way anybody would know me at all would be through knowing my boyfriend.� Her gay expression revealed absolutely no awareness of the tragedy she was imparting.
Sometime, much too late in the day I found my savior in the form of a Goat riding a bike down the street. He had finished up some phone calls and appeared as ready as Jacob and I to make a quick exit out of mind numbing Vernal. We had a real challenging ride ahead us; it would be ten miles of narrow highway riding before we would encounter non-private property suitable for camping. Those ten miles turned out to be some of the most dangerous of the whole trip. Deadly wide loaded tankers screamed down the shoulderless road. At one point the edge of the road crumbled into a cliff of dried mud upon which both Goat and I slid off of while avoiding impact with the rush of traffic. On the left side of the murderous motorway there appeared a parting in the barbwire fence. It felt too good to pronounce the word ‘home’, after surviving such a frightful ride –and for that matter such a terrifying town. The ground bellow us was grossly barren, naked as the moon and mysteriously full of humps and ridges.

“This looks like an off-road vehicles paradise�, Goat remarked.

We found a flat spot to pitch the tent, laid down our bedrolls, made a brief attempt to read but quickly extinguished our head torches in favor of the silent darkness.

Twenty minutes later the sound of a powerful engine drowned out the early whispers of blissful dreamscapes.

After at least ten minutes of the engine’s sustained roar Goat speaks up: “that has to be a generator, nobody lets their off-road bikes stay idle that long�.

“It’s a motorbike,� I predict, “there’s more than one rider standing side by side passing a bottle of cheap booze among themselves. We’ll hear a crash of glass and then boom…� It was after all a clear starry Saturday night, what the hell else were rebellious Mormon youths going to do in Vernal for fun.

Soon we hear the bikers kick the accelerators to their machines, and then our flamboyantly colored circus tent got caught in the line of blinding headlights. Our late night off-roading visitors wasted no time pondering the odd site of our bike camp, they zoomed right alongside our tent shouting out loud with jovial spirits.

I suddenly felt like an old man who’s only recourse was to strut out the tent door completely naked, slowly unlatch the bindings to my rifle case, and fake out the delinquents with my Martin guitar.

We heard a girl screaming with delight and then the sound of a bike slowly approaching our tent, the rider calling back to his friends, “you think they’re asleep in there?�
The brave young souls remain content to torment us for another half hour, while we lay impotently in our grease bags. As we heard the drone of the bike engines fade for a final time into the distance I heaved a sigh of relief, realizing that the weather was still mild and bearable.

“Best campsite ever!� Jacob mutters dreamily.

Until we get access to an internet connected computer that costs less than 15 dollars an hour, small updates will have to suffice.

We were able to get to the North Rim via the closed Highway 67. Prepared for a three day struggle through the snow, we were fortunate enough to encounter hard packed snow we could ride on. (We were told there was up to 5′ of soft powdery snow and that it was impossible to get to the N. Rim). We reached it in one day.

Since we couldn’t get backcountry permits to camp in the canyon, we had to hike from Rim to Rim in one day. We descended the N. Kaibab Trail and put our bikes & Xtracycle on a frame pack and carried them up to the South Rim via Bright Angel Trail. I forgot my headlamp and had to hike a good hour or so in the dark up the snowy/windy trail. Overall, it took us a solid 12 hours to get across the canyon.

We now have to go back down the canyon to retrieve the rest of our gear and hike back up again.

Goat’s Xtracycle snapped about a mile into the N. Kaibab Trail (he lashed sticks to support it for now), so unless we get that fixed in the Grand Canyon Village, we won’t be able to continue the Arizona Trail until after Flagstaff.

Soon we will have a lengthy update and a bunch of new pictures. Check back in a few days.