Ray’s Tavern is empty. Virg is behind the counter prepping for the day. It’s 11 A.M. I’m hungry. And had been thinking about the massive bacon cheeseburger and steak fries that were about to be placed in front of me since somewhere near Buck Canyon—some 60 miles into the White Rim Time Trial. I sit in the wooded booth and marvel at the unnumbered t-shirts framed on the walls: White Water Rapids Expeditions, Green River, UT. Bighorn River Trips, Grand Junction, CO. And many, many more. Behind the bar are neon signs advertising various brands of beer. An old television is playing the latest sports highlights. In the back of the room a dormant, softly glowing juke box rests from a night of heavy use. The grill sizzles. Melting cheese over ground beef. The smell of bacon wafts through the air. A sign above the till reads “PB&J and Fries: $75.00.”
I drift back to the circumnavigating wasteland of the Canyonlands and revisit the dirt and the blackbrush. The horizon, littered with natural watchtowers, the Henry mountains purple in the haze. The Abajo’s obscured, only barely there. By midday the sun had retreated behind the dark gloom of an approaching storm. It came from behind, steadily gaining ground as I pedaled furiously, hoping in vain to outrun the natural pursuit. Among the distant box canyons and mesas I could see the misty rain swirling like watercolor paint through the air.
But it never rained particularly hard. A thin, refreshing mist filled the air. Droplets of water pattered off the brim of my cap and dripped onto my face. The wind, not overbearing, tugged at the sleeves of my rain coat. I pedaled onward. Passing an untold number of riders, support vehicles and scout troops. I had never seen so many on the White Rim at one time. A veritable highway. And yet, still, I was an anomaly, speeding through groups lunching or regrouping or digging into coolers for this or that form of sugary fuel and refreshment. But mostly, I pedaled alone.
Without a GPS or a watch, I measured time and distance with the known landmarks, and the tolerable eye sores that are the Park built toilets—Potato bottom, Labrynth, Candlestick, Murphy’s, Gooseberry… and so on. Time became irrelevant. Odd, in a time trial. But I had no choice, other than to stare heavenward, through the misty cloud cover and guesstimate the position of the desert sun. And who has time for such frivolities when the clock is ticking away?
Virg has set a plate in front me. Large, thick French fries sizzle. The burger, as round and big as the plate, waits patiently to be devoured. I indulge. Pausing only occasionally to enjoy the greasy, fried elysium that invariably follows a day of isolated and remote pedaling. By now the tavern is filling with people. A group of motorcycle tourers settles in for burgers and beer. A local pair of old buddies discuss the latest town news. A sun-worn couple gawk at the walls and speculate about the menu. Outside the street is empty and desolate. Ray’s is the only open business this far into town. Green River is a living ghost town. Old motels and gas stations rot unceremoniously. The activity is found near the interstate exits—the convienience stores and wooden watermelon stands. We point the car northward. Homeward bound. Satiated and happy.
I call my wife to tell her that I’m on my way.
That night, after scrubbing and shampooing and rinsing repeatedly, I hug her and lean in for a kiss. She recoils involuntarily, reflexively.
“Your beard still smells like campfire smoke.”