Saturday, Feb. 1 saw the warmest temperature on record in Utah, a blazing summer-like heat filtered through undefined clouds and a lingering haze. I labored up a rocky path that carved its way up the Book Cliffs, a little-traveled wilderness area near Price. Relatively new to the mountain bike and the unforgiving grade of the road, I struggled to keep my balance, let alone keep up the pace with Geoff. The ice-coated Price River meandered hundreds of feet below as I climbed toward snow-dusted sandstone ledges. My head was spinning, and the thinly-veiled glow of the sun only contributed to dream-like, disconnected thoughts.
As the Eels say, "goddamn right it’s a beautiful day." This uneven ladder of a "hill" was kicking my butt, but I relished in the climb. We reached our final ridge and looked over the maze of canyons cutting through the soft layers of earth below. The only thing that lay ahead was the exhilarating descent, and miles upon miles of untouched sky.
Driving home that night, the fatigue really set in. The sleepy contentedness that rewards a really exhausting ride. Rural farmhouses became shadows in the deepening twilight, definitive silhouettes of roofs and chimneys and mailboxes and flags... but why were the flags at half mast?
“It’s Gone,” read the headlines. We lost it. Lost the Columbia. A disaster. A shuttle came down in brilliant flames, scattered debris across the wide Texas plains as a nation watched. And mourned. Mourned the gentle loss of enlightened lives striving for an enlightened world - the brave astronauts, the scientists; mourned the destruction that scratched a jagged line in the sky; mourned the fragility of their dreams. They watched with horror from great distances, from the cold comfort of rooms and offices, and they mourned.
We are a nation defined by tragedy. Sharp images that contrast the dull, insignificant moments of our lives. I was seven years old when the Challenger exploded, struggling with math problems in the corner desk of my first grade class. Mrs. Conklin, my teacher, called on us to stop and directed us into the TV room.
"Something important happened," she said, "and we think you need to see it." Her soft black hair dangled over her face; her glasses sat on the end of her nose. She wore a purple sweater and her eyes were dark; abysmally dark. Why do I remember this?
These are the defined moments that haunt us; we relish in a hundred thousand repeats of a single image, relish in the pounding emotion and fear that evades us in work-a-day life, in our own everyday lives. Were it not for my bike trip, I might have been home, glued to that image on the TV screen. All the instincts I have, to create and recreate those images on paper, on film, in my mind. All the journalistic instincts that I have, to burn that moment on the world lest it slip away from history forever.
So I was lucky, really, blessed to be on my bike, pedaling up that steep hill, disconnected thoughts slipping into the back of my mind. My 140 pound frame can barely carry itself up those cliffs, let alone carry the weight of the world.