The road curled smoothly through tall, straight rows of aspen trees. Sunlight dripped from the branches, casting striped shadows across the pavement. A small stream trickled in the undergrowth, making sweet music.
And that’s where I threw up.
Six hours earlier I set out from my driveway for what was supposed to be a 2-day, 150 mile dirt road tour of the Wasatch Plateau. The route was big and ambitious. It’s always easy to take big bites of terrain while staring at a digital map. So easy. 150 miles? “No problem” I thought. It’s all on dirt roads. “28,000 vert?” That’s not too bad. Not too bad? That’s enormous. And all on dirt roads? Yeah, sure. But these are Wasatch dirt roads. Which sometimes are not roads at all, but instead, just loosely piled rocks.
Oh, and it was Keith’s first bikepacking experience.
I should have spent more time with the map.
I felt better after I puked. A lot better. But now I was worried about eating. The sun was setting. Keith had bailed in Heber City, and Ty was somewhere up the road. I pedaled the last of the pavement and found Ty waiting under a tree where the dirt road began again. Gloamy dusk had settled into the folded hills. RVs and SUVs zoomed by, kicking dust and rocks into our faces.
We found a quiet camping place away from the road. My stomach was empty and hollow. Same as my mood. After some time around the fire I crawled into my sleeping tube.
“What a dumb route.” I said to myself. “You should have come up with something shorter, more fun.” I tossed and turned in my bag. The bivy was cramped. The ground hard. I was sweating. The mountain was silent. No breeze, no chirping crickets or scurrying critters. Eery. Spooky.
“Thump. Thump. Thump.”
“Thump. Thump. Thump.”
Perfect rhythm. Maybe Ty was walking around?
“Thump”. Oh. right.
It was my heartbeat.
I slept fitfully, as I always do in a cramped sack in the woods.
“Let’s see how you feel in the morning” Ty had said “and we can decide to alter the route if we need to.”
The shortest way home was the way we had come. 60 miles. Not so short. The way forward was more than that. But ahead of us was a long descent. Easy miles. Fast miles! And after that? A nice climb up to Strawberry Ridge, which I had remembered as being swoopy doubletrack. “It should be a lot of fun”. I told Ty.
The morning came. Soon the bikes were packed and ready to go. “Let’s continue as planned.” I said. “Let’s go find some food at Strawberry Reservoir.”
We went downhill, and then uphill. And then down again. The road was smooth. The riding fast. We crossed Highway 40 and pedaled the 4 miles off-route to the Strawberry Marina General Store.
The small store was crowded with people. The check-out line wrapped around shelves of junk food, fishing tackle, headache relievers, toilet paper and other useful things. Everyone looked agitated. I wandered around for a few minutes, surveying the options. Chocolate milk! Ice cream! Chocolate ice cream! We sat on the wooden porch and ate slowly. The morning aged. My gut gurgled. And I remembered that we still had miles yet to travel.
“Why?” I wondered. “Why bother with this stuff?” It’s the same question that pokes at me every time I’m tired, hungry, sore, and sick. Fear, doubt, and Resistance try to foil my ambitions and ruin my plans. “Why?” Who cares why! Not everything needs explaining. Not everything needs reasons. Sometimes a thing is just worth doing. And bikepacking is one of those things.
I climbed hopefully toward Strawberry Ridge. I had nothing to complain about. The weather was nice. The scenery too. And a truck driver even slowed down when he passed by.
When we reached the ridge, the road swooped like a roller coaster. For about a mile. After that, it deteriorated into a mess of chunky rocks, broken boulders, deep dust, and ruts. So much for fun doubletrack.
The hot sun leaned on our backs. Water bottles were empty. Water sources were dry. When the “road” finally twisted off the ridge and down into Hobble Creek Canyon–boulder-laden to the last–Ty and I had both decided to skip the final climb over Camel Pass, and instead coast into Springville.
“Can you come and pick us up?” I asked. I was on the phone with my wife. “In Springville. At the 7-11 on 3rd North and Main.”
When she pulled up, I was drinking chocolate milk and looking at numbers on the GPS.
125 miles. 13,000 vertical. I think the map’s estimate of 28k was off. But no matter. I had no regrets about cutting the ride a little short in favor of chocolate milk and a speedy ride home on the Interstate.
Later on, I was having more doubts about the future. “Why can’t I just do normal things?” I wondered. “Why do I want to ride a bike across mountain ranges?”
Bah. Too many questions. Too much navel-gazing.
Questions like that never have any good answers. They just lead to doubt and second-guessing. The best answer is always the same anyway: ride.
Ride over big mountains, and across vast deserts. Ride through forests and over plateaus. Ride.
Not long after, I was back at the computer drawing lines on another map.