Day Ten. Just over a week into the trip, and I was already getting
cocky. We coasted through the previous day after that 67-mile scorcher,
and all we knew of the road ahead was a sprawling desert vista slowly
dropping into the Colorado River basin and Lake Powell. Highway 95. Easy

How wrong we were. The fact that we had dropped all the way back to the
level of the San Juan River yesterday had not quite registered, and the
day began with an immediate climb through a mountain - literally,
through it - - blasted and chiseled for our traveling convenience. On
the other side of the scar was a steep descent into a valley, and less
than five miles away was an equally-sharp climb, disappearing into yet
another mountain.

Little did we know, the climb out of the narrow valley was only the
beginning. It would be twelve more miles on a constant 5 to 8 percent
grade before we would reach the high plateau, essentially rising over
3,000 feet above the comfortable elevation of the river.

At the beginning of the climb things were good - changing sandstone
formations and hand-made road signs kept me gainfully occupied. But as
my lungs struggled to grasp the air needed to oxygenate burning leg
muscles, everything else started to deteriorate. Mental disintegration
began with the swerving - slowly edging off the shoulder, scraping some
sagebrush, then jerking back toward the road at a dangerous angle. Then
came the bunnies - those dark, darting shadows that don’t really exist -
and they cut me off every few yards. Finally came the blurred vision,
which I didn’t even notice until I reached a mile marker and couldn’t
focus enough distinguish an “8” from a “6.” (To my disappointment, it
was an 8 - meaning I had gone two less miles than I had hoped, since the
markers counted down.)

Time for a field sobriety test. Luckily, Geoff had already pulled off to
the side of the road for lunch. When I met him five minutes later he was
already preparing tuna and apples on a spiny carpet of dry pine needles.
I didn’t even realize I had been boiling over until I sat down beneath
the thin shade of the pinion tree, shirt and forehead drenched.
“Tough hill,” Geoff told me. Truer words have never been spoken. Despite
the fact that we had traversed an entire mountain range, rising above
10,000 feet in the process, this was by far the toughest climb of the

“No kidding,” I said. “Are you seeing the bunnies?”

I got a strange look, and a dry sandwich on a four day-old bagel. At
least I didn’t have to make the effort to reach over to Geoff’s pack to
make my own lunch. Flakes of tuna slipped through my hands and stuck to
my dust-coated bike shorts. I didn’t brush them off.
Lunch ended on a somber note. Rather than recharged for the rest of the
way, I stared at the road’s sharp horizon and felt the guilty pangs of
defeat. Guilty because at this moment envy is unavoidable - because RV’s
had been passing us all day - some kind of convention, I suppose - and I
imagined springy RV sofas and tiny RV refrigerators stocked with icy
cans of Pepsi next to the tiny TV/VCR broadcasting “Star Wars” for the
17th time. Guilty because I wanted to be there. And when I’m camping,
that’s never where I want to be.

Geoff reminded me that there’s no shame in stopping, that anywhere along this road we could pull over and set up camp, but the beating sun and
unconquered hill beckoned us forward. Through the sweat and wheezing I
learned to relax, to sit back on the saddle and soak in the scenery with
my blurry vision and bunny hallucinations. We reached the rolling zenith
just beyond Natural Bridges National Monument, looking toward mountains
over 100 miles away. From there, we drifted through a cathartic,
comfortable coast all the way to our best camping spot of the week -
White Canyon, Utah.
The Uphill Battle
Getting over the real hills, Day 10

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Day Ten: Climb on Highway 95 near Natural Bridges National Monument; 35 miles; sunny and warm; September 22, 2002
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