I could have spent Friday night watching college basketball, or at dinner with my wife. I could have been warm, comfortable, and entertained. That’s how my colleagues, friends, and most everybody else spent the evening.
But not me.
Instead, Ty and I were riding our bikes through the dark, cold, high desert, and into unknown territory. I was underprepared for the cold. We had underestimated the difficulty of the route, and were becoming increasingly concerned about our plans to spend the night in the mountains. When we reached the only possible short-cut, an un-maintained dirt road that dropped 4,000 vertical almost instantly, we dove out of the high country, and down into the outskirts of Scenic, Arizona.
Despite the lower elevation, I shivered away the night in my light, but inadequate shelter.
Why didn’t we stay at home? Why didn’t we gather at a sports bar with every other middle-aged American to watch basketball? Why were we in the desert; cold, hungry, and a little bit lost. 45 miles behind us, and still 60 more to go.
Eh. Why not?
I spend most of my life comfortable. Too comfortable. I work at a desk. I live in a nice home. I drive a dependable car with a good stereo and cruise control. I eat when I want to eat. And I’m rarely too hot or too cold. Life is soft. Life is easy. And while that’s perfectly fine, I think it’s important to be uncomfortable once in a while. Most of human history is a tale of hardship and want. I have it easy today, because people before me, didn’t. They carved the modern world from the bedrock. They discovered how to harness electricity, irrigate fields, and feed massive populations using agricultural breakthroughs that made wheat, rice, and corn household staples.
The modern American can benefit from the joy and relief that comes from a brimming water tank in the middle of the desert. After a night in the dirt and among the creosote bushes, he can better appreciate his king-sized mattress and central heating. A little hunger, cold, and physical exertion, coupled with geographical insecurity, can help a man remember his priorities, and add a layer of perspective to his hurried world of artificial, self-imposed busyness.
Ah. More than all those bromidic lessons, we went into the desert to have fun. To have a little adventure. And to prepare for the much bigger, more ambitious plans that are looming on the horizon. And we did have fun, despite (because of?) the discomfort.
The Arizona Strip is vast and empty. And it’s also surprisingly beautiful. Its variation is plentiful, from low scrubby blackbrush, to piñon pines and snow covered peaks, the region extends far deeper than the monotone plains visible from I-15. Beyond the roadway, among the folded canyons and tablelands, is an amazing world. Desert, mountain, plateau. Running streams, wildlife, and enough acreage to last a lifetime of exploration. Who knew that the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument even existed? Not me. Not until I had pedaled through a small corner of it, wishing for daylight, not only for the heat, but also to illuminate the views that I knew we were missing.
Eventually we had to pedal up into (and out of) Mesquite, Nevada, and then up Old Highway 91 and through the low desert Joshua Tree forests, Woodbury Desert Study Area, and over the endless rolling hills that mark the northern terminus of the Mojave desert. Up, down. Up, down. And then, at last, Down, down, and into St. George, where the car (and In N Out) was awaiting our return.
2 days. 3 states. 107 miles. 11,500 vertical. Good numbers. Better memories. Lasting lessons.
Each of us is a little bit more prepared for the Colorado Trail. And each of us is eager for our next trip into the blank spaces of the map.
And I’ll trade an evening watching sports for those empty spaces every time.
A tip of the hat to Dave, for the route beta and GPX.