That annoying little voice inside my head tells me to crank it. My wheels are spinning, barely. Sweat drips through my helmet and streaks of red dust stick to my arms.
You never realize it when you're driving, but the only way out of Moab, Utah is up, a nearly-continuous climb. As Geoff and I lumber up the shoulder of Highway 91, I fix my gaze on distant buildings scattered near towering vermillion cliffs. They take forever to reach me.
Before this trip, it's hard to remember what exactly I thought bike touring was. Lingering views, sprawling vistas, maybe a little work. I sure didn't imagine burnout on the first day. When daylight will allow us to go no further, we pull over and park a mere 50 yards from the road.
And thus ends the first day of my very first bike tour, Moab to Moab via the San Juan mountain range and 600 miles of the most remote highway the lower 48 has to offer. It was supposed to be a simple day 30 miles from the Colorado River valley to the base of the La Salle mountains. In front of me now is an expanse of sagebrush-dotted range cut off only by the horizon, deep orange and shimmering in the September sunset.
We kick cowpies from a small clearing and set up our tent just as the landscape descends deeper and deeper into shades of purple. As a lay in the spiny grass watching erratic bats chase bugs visible only to them, I regret not getting in shape before the trip. Every muscle, every bone in my body is melting into the warm soil and I doubt my ability to get up, even to go to bed. The camp site, hidden behind a barb wire fence in a cluster of pinion pines, feels stark and uninviting private property, a grazing range. We should have made it at least 10 miles further tonight, but night snuck up on us. The next 500 miles feel like an eternity away.
Geoff, most likely just as worn out and tired, musters up the energy to lean toward me.
"Isn't it amazing?" he says. "We just biked here."
While working as a journalist during the 2002 Winter Olympics, I only heard mirror responses from everyone I talked to ? "the experience of a lifetime," "a once-in-a-lifetime experience," "a lifetime of experiences in one." The Olympics were a splash of snow in a colorful racing whirl. The world blinked, and they were gone.
Bicycle touring is anything and everything but a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is tamarisk dancing incessantly on the layered shores of the San Juan river. It is a flapping tent standing against a lightning storm on the open plateau. It is a tiny roadside grocery store in a town that by car would be nothing more than a blur. It is wildlife in the form of flattened fur on a roadside and literature in the form of faded billboards. It is slow and lumbering, discarded bolts rusting on the highway. It is adrenaline-inducing at 35 mph and agony-inducing at 5. It is hills that will stop your heart and views that will stump your soul. It is pinnacles and peaks and houses and streams and desert and forest and road, open road, endless roads, but it is not, I am convinced, not a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It, simply, is life.
One that I should keep on living.
My definition of bike touring An account of the first day of my first bike touring trip
Day One: Camp south of Moab; 30 miles; Sunny and hot; September 14, 2002; after we got to camp we laid down and slept for nearly 12 hours.