Bike (USA) - - Contents - BY KRISTIN BUTCHER

I didn’t have a plan, be­cause I never have a plan when it comes to ride week­ends like these. Oth­ers like to sali­vate over trail maps fan­ta­siz­ing about the fu­ture pain of masochis­tic ex­pe­di­tions. They set their sights on a lofty goal and don’t flinch no mat­ter how much beer is con­sumed the night be­fore or how ap­peal­ing it is to crawl back into the tent for a lit­tle more sleep. It turns out my road trip co-con­spir­a­tor is one of those people.

“Let’s ride the Whole En­chi­lada,” he said. “From town.”

Like most iconic trails hours from my home, I knew this clas­sic Moab trail by name only. With a few dozen miles of tech­ni­cal rid­ing that start in the La Sal moun­tains and slowly de­scend thou­sands of feet, the Whole En­chi­lada is a big day of rid­ing on its own. Adding 5,000 feet of climb­ing be­fore­hand was a stupid plan, es­pe­cially given that a much shorter ride com­pletely de­stroyed me only a few weeks ear­lier.

For bet­ter and worse, stu­pid­ity has never made my list of rea­son­able grounds for re­ject­ing plans, or people for that mat­ter.

“Ugh, fine.” I re­luc­tantly agreed. As Satur­day morn­ing rolled around, the process of caf­feinat­ing, break­fast bur­rito-ing and gen­eral pro­cras­ti­nat­ing was punc­tu­ated by a sin­gle ques­tion: “Are you ready for this?”

“We’ll find out,” I said, know­ing that if I let the other an­swers rat­tling in my head es­cape my mouth, I’d doom any chance of fin­ish­ing. Stub­born­ness only goes so far, and then it’s a mat­ter of wait­ing to see whether the brain or body quits first. I could al­ways hitch a ride from one of the pass­ing trucks with bikes hang­ing over the tail­gate. Or do the ride of shame back down, suc­cumb­ing pre­ma­turely to the siren call of trail­heads lit­tered along the route.

Desert heat fu­eled my de­nial that the snow-capped peaks in the dis­tance were merely the halfway mark. My legs, be­ing the in­so­lent jerk­wads they are, tested my re­solve im­me­di­ately by whin­ing, “Are we there yet?” be­fore the car was even out of sight.

It was slated to be hot, not mid­dle-sum­mer-Moab hot, but hot enough that heat­stroke was on the list of out­comes I feared, sand­wiched be­tween fall­ing crotch first onto a cac­tus and con­sum­ing enough en­ergy gels that they’d leave my body through the near­est exit without warn­ing.

Some­where be­tween climb­ing and more climb­ing, my au­di­ble mouth-breath­ing was bro­ken by the rum­ble of of­fi­cial-look­ing ATVs head­ing to­ward the trails. Word was that some­one broke a leg. Like ev­ery­thing else in the desert, rocks have their own un­for­giv­ing plans.

Hours ticked by as cool moun­tain air re­placed the arid morn­ing heat. Trail­heads came and went, but none called my name loud enough to an­swer.

I ped­aled un­til I couldn’t, then pushed un­til I could pedal again. I’d men­tally com­mit­ted to the fact that slog­ging up­hill was my new life now, when we came to a stop. “We can drop in here and save an­other hour of climb­ing,” my ad­ven­ture co­hort in­formed me. “But we’ll miss out on a few miles of trail. It’s up to you.”

Un­like the morn­ing, this time I didn’t have to fil­ter the thoughts rat­tling in my head. I knew I couldn’t go fast, but I could keep go­ing.

“Let’s stick with our orig­i­nal plan,” I de­cided. When we reached the top and set­tled in for lunch un­der a sliver of shade,

I ate the finest smashed-to­hell PB&J that ever ex­isted, and you can’t con­vince me other­wise.

I ex­pected to tackle the long down­hill with ex­hausted reser­va­tion, but in­stead I cruised through sec­tions that would have given me trou­ble had my legs been fresh and my mind still en­cum­bered with doubt.

Wide-open, rocky runs gave way to sin­gle­track that weaved through gi­ant rock out­crop­pings that of­fered trac­tion in ex­change for blind trust. Even now, when I close my eyes to re­live hours de­scend­ing to­ward the spires sur­round­ing Cas­tle Val­ley, I don’t see a lin­ear record­ing of the ride, but a buck­shot of mem­o­ries.

Smells of ju­niper and sun­block mix with pal­pa­ble tem­per­a­ture changes as my eyes ad­just be­tween shade and sun. There’s the fear-born dark­ness of be­ing un­able to open my eyes, death-grip­ping the ground sev­eral feet from a sheer drop-off where ev­ery­one and their mother takes a pic­ture. Next to that is the feel­ing of con­fi­dence I have rid­ing my bike over rocks next to the same cliff­side, not en­tirely sur­prised that I’m more con­fi­dent on my bike than on my feet.

I can hear the hard thud of push­ing my lim­its too far and the echo of laugh­ter af­ter stuff­ing my front wheel into some­thing hard enough to leave a vis­i­ble bruise on my lady junk. Re­silient desert flow­ers and ex­panses of sky com­min­gle with trees scarred from years of han­dle­bar kisses. All these mem­o­ries and so many more swirl to­gether un­til they be­come al­most in­de­ci­pher­able from one an­other, a bit­ter­sweet re­minder that ev­ery­thing I ex­pe­ri­ence in this life is fleet­ing.

The sun hung low as we ne­go­ti­ated the fi­nal turns be­fore drop­ping onto the bike path for an easy spin back to the car. Rolling next to the Colorado River amid tourist­ing Tex­ans and dog walk­ers, my legs strug­gled to keep my speed in the sin­gle dig­its. I found my break­ing point. As I eyed a com­fort­able rock be­neath some shade, my speed be­gan creep­ing back up as a hand at­tached to legs fresher than mine pushed against my back. I wouldn’t have done this ride without a lit­tle push, so it was only fit- ting that I fin­ish the ride in the same way.

Pulling back into town with nearly 50 miles un­der my legs, I sprawled on the ground next to the car with a smile on my face and a cold beer in my hand. There’s much to be said for feel­ing your­self break. It makes ice cream taste a lit­tle bet­ter, sleep feel less rest­less, and the next big ad­ven­ture seem that much more doable.

On the drive back home, ideas for the next ad­ven­ture were al­ready churn­ing.

“We should ride Monarch Crest,” he said. “From town.”

“Sounds like a plan.”



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