Harry on his Bike

Days 19-21

Click on any thumbnail for a larger photo

Day 19.   September 22
     It seems that the wind dies down during the night, so I got up early
hoping to beat it. I biked in the dark a few blocks to a cafe where I had
some excellent biscuits and gravy. I stalled over my coffee until it was
light enough to bike, and left Green River under clear skies with no wind.
     On the previous evening I'd read some messages in the newsgroup
rec.bicycles.rides under a thread entitled "Bicycles on the interstates".
One contributor had done research and reported the results for all the
western states. The policy for Utah was "bicycles on interstates are
allowed except in the vicinity of Salt Lake City". So, unless "vicinity" is
defined as a 150-mile radius I was OK.
     However, a completely-unused frontage road paralleled the interstate
for about 14 miles so I chose that path. Then I had to get on the noisy
freeway for a few miles before turning south on highway 191. I'd been
making pretty good time until that point, but then the wind turned on.
Past experience has shown me that my no-hill speed (in miles per hour)
on my loaded bike is given by the formula
      speed = 13 + tailwind/3
where a headwind is a negative tailwind. My figures this day over the flat
terrain supported that formula, since the wind was about 15, and I was
maintaining only a frustrating 8 miles per hour.
     The level road entered some attractive sandstone hills, and I passed
the entrance to Arches National Park.  A few miles later I crossed
the Colorado River  just before entering Moab, the mountain-biking
Mecca of the western world. Although there are many hardrock bike
trails in the area, such rose-smelling would have to be postponed for
another day.
     When I started my day in no-wind conditions I intended to reach
Monticello (for a 103-mile day), but the struggle during the past few hours
had dashed that hope. Perhaps I'd call it quits after 50 miles. I stopped
at the edge of town and pulled out my Utah tourist guide to see what motels
Moab had. They had plenty---about 40. Scanning down the list, only three
were marked $ (all the others were $$ or $$$ or $$$$), and the key told
me that $ translated into "under $45". That, together with seeing several
"no vacancy" signs at 1:30 on this Friday afternoon, gave me renewed
strength,and I decided to forge ahead and camp that night.
     I stopped at Arby's, got a roast beef sandwich and another for the
road. Across the street I stopped at a Subway and got a six-inch BLT
to take for supper. With filled water bottles I then renewed my battle
against the wind.
     Moab was around 4200 feet elevation. I immediately began to fight
gravity as well as the wind, and was able to average 7 miles an hour
for the next 25 miles. The temperature was about 85, so I was consuming
large quantities of water. At a beautiful rest stop a few miles south of Moab
I filled up again, and my map showed that the next opportunity for water
would probably be at La Sal Junction, another 15 miles.
     Although La Sal Junction had several buildings, a half-dozen house
trailers, and about 20 vehicles parked about, there was no sign of humans
and no visible faucets. I biked on to a picture-taking spot a few miles
farther and noticed a large motor home parked on the shoulder. Perhaps
I could get water from them. But they pulled away just as I was arriving.
I stopped and photographed the impressive Wilson Arch,  waited a
few minutes to see if any other motor homes might arrive, finally gave up
and biked on.
     I was not dangerously low on water, but I prefer to camp with full
bottles. Traffic was not heavy, and begging for water by waving an empty
bottle is not a pleasant way to pass time. I decided to stop, still more
than two hours before dark, figuring that I would need less water during
the cooler hours of tomorrow morning. Besides, I was bushed.
     Some optimist had hopes of selling lots out there in the middle of
nowhere, and had put in a graded road that led about a third of a mile
from the highway. I followed that road to the end, walked the bike about
100 feet between thornless desert plants, and pitched my tent with great
difficulty in the strong wind.  Although my tent is self-supporting,
it would have ended far away had I not used the emergency stakes I'd
     The sky was almost cloudless, the temperatures pleasant. I decided
to gamble on no rain and leave off the fly, enabling me to see the stars
through the mesh roof. I inflated the air mattress, lay on the sleeping
bag and got out a tape. The music drowned out the roar of the wind,
which began to abate about sunset. I ate the Subway "veggie delight",
and had a very comfortable night.

Day 20. September 23
     Except for my air pillow going flat in the middle of the night, my sleep
was uninterrupted. I pulled the plug on my air mattress just as light
appeared in the east, and the lumpy desert floor forced me into action
a few seconds later. Put on the dirty clothes, cram the sleeping bag into
the garbage bag inside the stuffing bag, suck the last bit of air from the
air mattress, and then I'm ready to exit the tent. After another 20 minutes
of packing, updating my log, zeroing out my cyclecomputers, and taking
a GPS reading, then I'm ready to roll. It was just light enough to see
the road.
     Although I went to sleep under clear skies, there were now threatening
clouds in all directions. I blessed my luck in not receiving rain after
off the tent fly, but as I turned onto the highway I cursed my luck as the
wind suddenly turned on.
     Thus began my worst day of biking to date. Not only did I have to
gain 2000 feet during the 29-mile ride into Monticello (interrupted by a few
unwelcome downhills), but the wind increased to a steady 30 miles per
hour, directly in my face. Just when I thought things couldn't get worse
it began to rain. The wind blew the drops onto my glasses, so when I
couldn't see I took them off. Then I had to put them back on because the
drops were stinging my eyes.
     Later the TV weather reported the winds as steady at 30 mph with
gusts to 40. I knew exactly when those gusts appeared because I would
come to a standstill and have to wait until it died down before resuming.
One of my cyclecomputers doesn't register speed under 3.5 miles per
hour, and turns off its clock figuring that the bicycle is at rest. There was
a period of 45 minutes when that computer said that I'd been biking only
five minutes. I begged to differ.
     Now here is the real crazy part: I was actually enjoying this. After
being startled by this sudden awareness I figured out why: 1) Within a
few minutes of beginning the battle I decided that I definitely was going
to stop at Monticello and get a warm room regardless of price; 2) I had
eaten the second Arby's roast beef sandwich and it hit the right spot;
3) I could see that my water supply was enough to get me into Monticello
without resorting to begging; 4) I was comfortable and had plenty of
energy; and 5) I was obviously insane.
     So in this mental state I continued to bike, occasionally laughing
hysterically when an especially strong gust would almost blow me over.
I managed to maintain an average speed of 5 miles an hour, reaching a
maximum speed that day of 9 miles an hour while pedaling furiously
during a downhill accompanied by a lull in the wind. Six hours later I
entered the small town of Monticello, pulled into the first motel I came
to, and got a nice room at a reasonable price.
     I wasn't so tired that I'd pass up my orange juice, so I biked to the
only grocery store and got two 12-ounce frozen units. Outside the
store was a cyclist talking on the phone. He stopped his conversation
long enough to talk with me for a few minutes. He had a big smile on
his face because he was on his way to Moab (after starting his ride a
few days earlier at Cedar City). I advised him to get on his bike and
take advantage of the downhill-downwind conditions, and he could be
in Moab in two hours easily (it took me 10 hours going the other way).
He thanked me, hung up, and hopped on his unloaded bike (he was
with a group and they had a sag wagon). I didn't envy him, one more
bit of evidence of my mental condition.
     My sanity returned slowly as I stood for 20 minutes in the hot shower,
occasionally reaching outside the curtain to take a sip of orange juice.
Then nap time.
     In my search for the grocery store I'd passed a Mexican restaurant,
so around six o'clock I walked over, went in, and asked to look at their
menu. One glance and I was hooked, for they had sopapillas.
     A sopapilla (so-pah-PEE-yah) is a type of bread served in most
Mexican restaurants in the New Mexico area. The dough is rolled thin,
and pieces (usually rectangular or triangular, perhaps three inches across)
are placed in hot deep fat. After a few minutes they are removed, with the
cooking having puffed them up like a small pillow, ideally with a golden
brown crust. They are served with a squeeze-bottle of honey. You bite
off a corner, pour honey into the cavity, swirl it around to spread the
sweetness, and consume. The best Mexican restaurants keep the
basket of sopapillas filled as they would your water glass. The stingier
places make it very clear that you will get one and only one sopapilla
with your order. Extras might cost as much as a dollar apiece.
     Well, this place had an enchilada plate that came with a choice of a
tortilla or a sopapilla, which is about like giving you a choice between water
and wine. I ordered the enchiladas, and specified the sopapilla. My
enchiladas arrived, but I had to repeat my request for my sopapilla well
into my meal. They had been hoping I'd forgotten, for evidently I was the
only customer that had ordered one, and heating up the fat was a bother.
But by the time I finished my meal, along came a generous-sized sopapilla
and I had it for desert.
     The rain had nearly quit, but the wind was still blowing. With a little
bit of luck it might blow in the right direction tomorrow.

Day 21. September 24
     The rain stopped during the night. Winter almost caught up with me,
for there was a dusting of snow a thousand feet higher in the mountains
a couple of miles to the west. The wind had diminished to about 10 miles
an hour, and as I headed east on highway 666 I was afraid it would be one
devil of a day. But, after leaving the influence of the town's buildings, I
that the wind was coming from the west. I stopped at a small cafe and
rushed through breakfast before the wind could change its mind.
     Seldom can a 65-mile day be classified as a rest day, but this day
came close. I lost nearly 1000 feet during the trip to Cortez, Colorado,
met only a few gentle upgrades, and was helped along by a gentle breeze
from the rear. So even though I started biking around 8:30, I pulled into
Cortez around 2, and began the search for a good motel.
     I found one with no trouble. The first room I looked at was OK except
I didn't see a remote. Sometimes I'm given the remote at the office after
registering, since remotes seem to have a nasty habit of walking off.
When I asked, the friendly transplanted Long-Islander cheerfully changed
me to another room, which not only had a remote, but also a refrigerator,
more space for the bike, and a king-size bed. Glad I asked.
     In the room was a visitor's guide to Cortez, which had a map that showed
the locations and the menus of all the restaurants in town. About a half-mile
away was a Golden Corral, a franchise restaurant that I saw and enjoyed
often during my previous cross-country trip a few years ago. They have a
huge salad bar, which also has such goodies as baked chicken, pizza,
soup, and desserts. You can order a steak and then get the salad bar
for a bit extra. Some people order that combination, put their untouched
steak into a box to take home, and then have a great chicken dinner at
the salad bar. Some places actually post a sign saying that take-out
boxes are not allowed if you opt for the salad bar, having deduced that
some customers stock their refrigerator for the next week.
     This place didn't have such a sign, and a refrigerator is an item I'd
overlooked when packing my panniers, so I just opted for the all-you-
can-eat salad bar. The waitress put a stack of plates on my table and
the challenge was to keep going back for more food until the plates were
all gone. But she won, since when I got down to just one plate she
brought another stack. Stuffed, I staggered back to my room.
     The weather channel gave a favorable forecast for the next few days.
Albuquerque (which has a wonderful Mexican restaurant that serves
unlimited high-quality sopapillas) is only 260 miles away. The comfort
and good cooking of my sister-in-law Jean beckons. Perhaps I can get
there in three days.

                        Back                    Next