We made it all the way to Bluff, Utah yesterday - a total distance of 67 miles we were half expecting not to finish. So the trip up to Blanding today should be easy. We would leave the rolling tamarisk of the San Jan River valley and climb up a steep sandstone canyon to the plateau - rolling, juniper-dotted hills.
We’re back on the major highway that we started on, U.S. 191. We have 25 miles to go before we’re safely back on the scenic side route, but it’s Sunday and truck traffic isn’t too bad. Something that has struck me about this trip is the absence of other cyclists. We passed only one other touring group this trip, headed up the Dolores River canyon as we came down; many, many “bikers” (the motorized kind); but very few people on bicycles. One could blame the sparse population of this remarkably undeveloped area, but it’s a beautiful place to ride- perhaps one of the most beautiful places in the country, and the lack of traffic is just a bonus perk. I wonder why more people don’t come out.
One of my favorite places to ride in Salt Lake City is the frontage road that parallels I-80 - a flat straightaway that stretches across the Salt Lake shoreline. On this road, I can travel long distances in short periods of time while watching migratory birds circle the amber salt marshes. This road sees a lot of bicycle traffic - seems to be a popular route among the racers and trainers who travel in large groups. In other words, its a traffic-clogged throughway for roadies.
Packs of roadies have always puzzled me. Many times, I’d set out on the route looking much the way I do when I’m touring - by myself, sitting tall on the saddle, baggy pants tucked into my socks, camel pack strapped around a large cotton T-shirt, bare hands juggling a bag of Skittles. This, to me, seems normal. But the frontage road is dominated by roadies - traveling in large flocks, back and neck parallel to the top bar, lycra clothing shining in the midday sun, hands wrapped around two special knobs in the center of their handle bars. And they fly. I’ve willed myself to keep up with them before, to no avail. My fastest stroke could maybe draft them for about five minutes; after that they’re a dot on the horizon.
I take the humiliation in stride and return to my comfortable pace, alone, again. I always look forward to days that seem to scare roadies away... cold January mornings with drizzling rain, in a haze so thick it would put L.A. to shame ... not because I particularly enjoy these conditions, but because those are the days I can shine.
See, roadies are a delicate breed. They run fast, in packs, toward the ultimate goal of getting to the front, but there’s a catch. They need smooth roads and sunshine and warm air lest they freeze in their skin-tight clothing. They are the greyhounds of the cycling species.
Tourers, on the other hand, are St. Bernards. Big, bulky, slow, but built to last, built to withstand the rain and wind and snow, and lumber along through the nastiest of conditions. And when I’m out on a virtual bicycle interstate by myself, battling the harshest weather with my very survival strapped to my rack, I no longer feel slow and awkward. I feel strong.
So why aren’t there more cyclists pedaling the lonely streets of the Colorado plateau? Because it contains a lot of the extremes that drive “serious” cyclists away. No water. No food. No shade. Extreme heat in the summer and cold in the winter. And it’s more distance that most, save superhumans like Lance Armstrong, are willing to bicycle in a day.
I am in no way saying that roadies are wimps. They’re physically stronger than me in every way. An most would say they’re smarter, choosing to save their strength for the best conditions. But the people I see spinning down the frontage road on beautiful June days lack a certain quality that I can’t quite pinpoint. Endurance? Stupidity? Masochism?
For me, that quality is basically the will to survive, to stay strong and keep biking, regardless of circumstance.