Biking Canyonlands, Utah
Unexpected highs in the depths of Canyonlands
- December 7 2018, by Julie -
There are few occasions in my life that I can recall having been able to add time to a trip without hesitation. But when the park ranger at Canyonlands National Park in Utah asked if we had the flexibility to add a day to our itinerary, we looked at each other and almost instanteously said, sure why not. We had nowhere to be afterwards, and yet the luxury to voluntarily and spontaneously slow down was unexpectedly refreshing.
We were there with our friends Jamie and Gabi to reserve campgrounds that would allow us to bike a 156 kilometer loop through the multi-layered maze of canyons and mesas that form one of Utah's many stunning protected desert areas. Our trip would involve a steep 10km hike the first day without the bikes but with heavy bags to drop off water for pick up along the route, followed by four days of dirt-road riding and three nights camping.
Throughout the first hot and bumpy day's ride, we wondered if curious ravens would have pecked open our stash that we had carefully wrapped up and labelled the day before. When we found it untouched, we were almost giddy with the satisfaction that the first step in our expedition logistics had worked! Not finding our water would have meant turning back as there were no sources of water for another day and a half.
Then we spotted an unsigned note tucked under the rocks that said "we thought you might be thirsty - cheers!" and immediately a new expectation was introduced: perhaps someone had added some cold sodas or beers for us? We excitedly opened up the tarp, but there was nothing more than what we had packed there ourselves. Had we misunderstood the note - or had someone else taken our gift? We were surprisingly frustrated at the loss of something that had never been ours.
We never did figure out who wrote the note or why, but it made me think about how easily a sense of misplaced entitlement can be sparked. Fortunately our frustration was soon washed away by the red glows of sunset and wine - a treat that we had been able to fit in our bike frame bags since we hadn't had to carry as much water. It seems to me that we had entered a softly timeless place where our emotions could rush in and out unencumbered.
Over the next few days, tucked a few levels below the real world, we pedaled on the precipice of sheer canyon walls and past precariously balanced rock pillars stopping frequently for photos, snacks, and revelling at the Mars-like world we were in. Despite the harsh terrain, I felt that during those days we experienced a sense of ease made possible by unhurried exploration.
On our last morning, our food supplies were running low, what with the excessive snacking that a leisurely pace had allowed us to indulge, and despite the scenery, we found ourselves in a hurried state of mind. As we passed a group at a campsite, one of them shouted "have you had breakfast?". Torn between reluctance to be slowed down and our appetites, our appetites of course dictated our decision and we veered off our route and found ourselves among a group of 12 retirees in their 60s and 70s from Salt Lake City enjoying their annual White Rim trip. They had set up a base camp for a long weekend of hikes and bike rides, and insisted we help them finish some of their breakfast - in exchange for stories.
They piled frittata, guacamole, hash browns and more onto our plates, made a fresh batch of biscuits in a cast-iron dutch oven, poured us coffee, sat us down in their circle and we spent the next hour trading inspiration. While we ate they fed off our stories and new friendship, their excitement building and bubbling over in the form of jokes and laughter. We filled our bellies and hearts with the warmth of the friendship that had kept them coming back to the White Rim every year together for over 20 years.
When we pulled together for a photo before leaving, a woman with twinkling brown eyes set in an adventure-etched face grabbed my hand and held it tight. Though I had been the one in awe of her recent wild rafting adventures, I had the sense each of us had seen past and future versions of ourselves in each other: women fuelled by not just adventure, but also by friendship and the magic of unexpected moments of joy.
The deep and ancient White Rim was beautiful, rugged and other-wordly - and I will hold great visual memories of our time there, but what I will savour even more are the memories of meals and emotions shared between friends new and old, the kindred spirits that remind us to stay open to the unexpected.
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