Friday, July 23, 2010

Throw away your preconceived notions about Utah

Goodbye Rockies, goodbye Colorado.  We were moving on.  It was slow at first, but now it seems like we’re plowing through states like it’s our business.  Which seems about right because I quit my job for two months to do this.  Riding my bike to new states IS my business.  I was better at bartending.

Start of Utah 100 Utah: Life Elevated. 

Welcome sign: Also Elevated.

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Utah didn’t hold anything back (I’m looking at you, part of Colorado that looks like Kansas) and impressed us right from the start with this huge slit cut out in the rock that led to an impressive valley and a fast downhill.  Colorado was supposed to be “colorful,” but Utah seems to have the best colors: deep reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and bright blue skies.  Start of Utah 155

Bridget and Dan in their downhill tucks.  The beauty and strangeness of the landscape was literally jaw dropping for me.  We’d be riding at “road level” next to huge, tortured rock formations and mountains that jutted out of the landscape abruptly and rose several thousand feet higher than us.  Criss-crossing the valleys were immense canyons that were just as deep as the mountains were high.  They were too deep to see to the rivers that created them, but the shade created by the canyon walls and the giant trees on their floor made me jealous that I was up in the road level desert and not down in their oasis.  So many environments visible from just one spot.  It was daunting to think of how long it had taken the elements to create a place like Utah.  Millions of years.  Even riding through at 15mph was too fast to examine and appreciate it.  It was like you could see Time itself.

On a lighter note, here’s a rock I thought looked like Jabba the Hutt.

Start of Utah 124jabbathehut

See any resemblance?  No, not really?  It’s ok, I was bored.  Every rock in Utah looks like something when you’re exhausted and dehydrated and going up a hill at 4mph.  I remember when I took this picture I was going so slowly uphill I almost fell over taking my camera out of my back pocket to snap a shot of the Jabba rock.  I hope you appreciate it.  Ben Chidester, I did it for you. 

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One of our first camps in Utah was on the banks of Lake Powell.  The lake was created in the sixties when the Glen Canyon Dam was built on the Colorado River.  Dale says that the shoreline of Lake Powell is longer than that of the Pacific Coast of the US.  And Dale is always right.  I took a geography class in college where we had to read a lot of books about Powell, his journey, and the dam.  John Wesley Powell was a one-armed Civil War veteran who took three wooden boats down the length of the raging Colorado River in the late 1860’s.  He makes people who ride their bikes across the country look like wimps.  The Colorado no longer exists in the capacity it used to; only a hundred years after Powell’s surveying trip it was dammed in several places and entire ecosystems (and towns) were destroyed.  Environmentalists are still pissed.  Let me say I’m totally on their side; however, since the dam is already there and there’s nothing I can do about it, I don’t feel guilty in saying that Lake Powell is SO COOL.  After riding my bike through the arid desert all day it was so nice and unexpected to find out that we were camping on a beautiful, clear lake.  I even had to get out because it was too cold.  I was too cold in the desert!  Sounds about right.  I want to come back to Lake Powell one day with a huge RV, a sweet boat, and some water skis.  It’s on the bucket list.

 Utah 2 001

I included this picture of Bridget, laying in a parking lot, using her tent as a pillow, drinking “teabag” coffee, and looking generally unhappy because I think her expression conveys how we all feel in the mornings. 

Utah 2 003What we put on our bacon and egg morning sandwiches.  It’s not cheese.  It’s not even American cheese.  It’s imitation pasteurized process cheese food.  We long for actual cheese food.  Imitation cheese food is no good. 

Utah 2 016

Me posing on a cliff overlooking Lake Powell.  We camped right down there on the shoreline and had to wake up and climb the giant bluff you saw in the sunset picture earlier.  It was a gorgeous but hard climb and totally worth it once we saw the view from the top.  I’d like to note that everyone else stood directly on the edge with their bikes and got sweet pictures where it looked like they were floating above the landscape.  I was too scared to get within five feet of the ledge.  If you learn anything about me from these blogs, I hope it’s that a) I hate the cold and complain about it a lot and b) heights terrify me.  I even have a bike that’s a full six inches shorter than anyone else’s in the whole group.  That’s six inches closer to the ground, if you ask me!

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No, it didn’t cook.  Although my skin did, in fact, feel like it was on fire.  Perhaps the desert of Utah is more comparable to an oven than a skillet. 

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Cutest, happiest picture ever.  Left to right: Seth, me, Bridget, Alex, Liza, Dan.  We were riding along in the desert and happened upon a waterfall.  It seemed strange to even see trees and a stream, but a waterfall was just too much and made it impossible to cruise on by without stopping.  Swimming that day was one of the best decisions I’ve made all trip.  FYI, our clothes dried in literally ten or fifteen minutes.

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Petroglyphs drawn by the Fremont Indians a thousand (!) years ago.  They look like alien people.  They make me think of my sister, Allie.  She works in Virginia Beach amongst alien sculptures and legal alien immigrants.  Ha.

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Liza and I taking a stream shower.  We spent all day sweating in the desert and only to spend the last two hours climbing several thousand feet back to the alpine environment.  It’s better to sleep at 9,000 feet where it’s cooler, although it would be even nicer if we didn’t have to get to that altitude on our bicycles.  Campsites up in the mountains never have showers or sinks but seem to always have freezing cold streams.  It’s a trade off. 

Side note about whatever day this was in Utah: We were riding through on a Friday or Saturday and there happened to be an actual cycling road race going on with serious cyclists riding on bikes that cost more than… well, everything I own multiplied by an exponent of five.  I was actually in the Tour for awhile!  Well, they were all pretty fast, but it was fun to pretend that I was so good at cycling that I was racing.  Also, best trail magic of the trip: a lady was standing on the side of the road watching the race in her yard with a garden hose.  She sprayed us down.  It was magnificent.  If anyone reading this lives on the Trans American or Western Express Trails, please spend your summer afternoons shooting cyclists with your hose.  We’ll love you forever for it. 

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Given my aforementioned fear of heights, this road scared me horribly.  There were 1,000 foot+ drops on each side with a very small shoulder and (as pictured) steep downhill grades and sharp curves.  Time to put the camera away and pay attention.  So, of course, I put my camera away and took out the Bike the US for MS video camera to try to film the ridiculousness of this road.  I doubt any of my footage will make the final cut.  It’s hard to film while biking and terrified. 

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It’s cool to get to the top of bluffs sometimes and be able to look back and see the road you were just on.  I rode my bike on that?  All the way to here?  Wow. 

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We went to a Mexican restaurant that had weird stuff in it.  Here’s a painting of a cat wearing a sombrero on a dinner plate.   Ron, I included this for you. 


  1. I've been wanting to visit Utah and now even more so. Love the swimming and bathing picture. Ya'll look so healthy, tan and fit. I can't believe only 2 more states, it's gone by so fast for me, ha, as I sit at my desk reading about the trip. Can't wait to see you on the 11th. Love Mom

  2. Tara, Please pick up 3 sombrero cat plates for Lola, Bexar and TomCat.

    Wes says we have also learned that besides you a) not liking the cold, b) or heights that c) you truly appreciate good food.

    Forgot how beautiful Utah is, I want to go back, thanks for the pictures. Love, T and Wes

  3. Glad to hear that random rock formations in Utah that look like Jabba the Hutt remind you of me. We are about to leave for Grand Teton and Yellowstone for a week. Can't wait to see out West. Looks like you're still doing awesome, only a few more states to go!

  4. tara, it is a pleasure to read your fun blogs. it always brightens my day with the witty remarks and fun pics. thanks! i'm really proud of every one of you. lisa (colin's mom) schmidt

  5. I immediately thought of T when I saw that picture of the cat plate. Now were all of the dishes with cats or did they include other household pets with sombreros? I'll bet a hamster would be cute!


  6. Tara,
    Your Aunt and I were discussing your fear of heights the other day and were wondering if earlier in the trip didnt you jump of that rock ledge into the river. We both thought you said you did.....