Woody’s Wheel Works, Colorado
Roughly 1,000-killer-miles straight from Death Valley to Denver, we worked our cockadoodle guts to get there. But then our friend Woody is like L’Oreal, he’s worth it. A guy that can only be described with any real accuracy as Jack Nicolson meets Father Christmas. But first, it was a challenging test to see if Jason’s balding front tyre would make it. To wring a tad more life out of it, he turned the rubber around in Death Valley and attempted to coax a little more wear from the waning bars. Aside from visiting our dear friend—someone who has undergone aggressive surgery on his neck and is now recovering from the same down the length of his spine—Mr. Jangles was now scheduled to get the superlace treatment. OH MY WOW! That is, courtesy of master wheel-smith Jerod (and his co-worker) who had worked his magic on Jason’s F800GS two years previous.
As wheels go, Woody’s are beautiful beyond compare. After a blessed few days hanging at Woody’s place, with two royal hoops of my right hand, a few pips of the horn and a toot of the bicycle bell (reserved for special people), we left with heavy hearts. Still, a bolt of joy passed through me. For a good reason; friendships like that are anything but ten a penny.
Through a long shuffle of dreary farmland, the clouds spanned in thin rolls like grey pencils in a box. At least the sky was blue, the weather was calm and visibility unlimited.
Ship Rock, New Mexico
Cue fissured land and cracked cliffs in volcanic glazes. It was though I’d dreamed of this place once, forgot it later. Reminiscent of Mordor in Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings, Ship Rock is an extinct volcano that erupted about 27-million years ago. Its eroded remains rise above 1,500-feet with two narrow wall-like sheets of volcanic rock that stretch from the Mother Ship for several miles. According to one Navajo legend, after being transported from another place, the Navajo tribe lived on the monolith, “coming down only to plant their fields and get water.”
According to legend, one day, the peak was struck by lightning, obliterating the trail and leaving only a sheer cliff, where women and children were stranded and without provisions on top. The presence of people on the peak is forbidden “for fear they might stir up the ghosts, or rob their corpses.” Fair enough. Undeniably, it looks out of place sat on a vast flat plain, an otherworldly place.
A place that seemed poised on the lip of the void. No human sign, nothing, as though we stood alone on the planet. How would it feel, I wondered, to be balanced on that bladelike ridge, worrying over the storm clouds building in the distance, hunched against the wind and dunning cold, contemplating the drop off either side. Because we were alone in this empty, lonely wind-scoured expanse, even the air seemed charged with meaning.
Cream-crackered after a 320-mile stint already, there appeared to be no quiet camping spot in the vicinity of Ship Rock. Alas, Jase urged me to get a “lick on”. I understood why; the pair of us just wanted to reach a place to set up camp and relax. Why elongate an already long day even further? I sped up to around 70-miles per hour to make the going faster upon which I was promptly told to “SLOW DOWN!” Through a mouthful of dissatisfaction, “Lisa, you’re burning right through your fuel”. Oh, go spell ‘pterodactyl’. Through no fault of Jason’s, I was tightly wound, emotional and loathe to give ground. A mardy mare at times, I could be.
The sky blended imperceptibly by the cloud coverage. The clouds had a thick look to them, a kind of moody rage. I began to measure the day’s events on a child’s scale of fair and unfair. The wheels had to keep turning as the cogs enmeshed. Like many that spend the entire day wearing a helmet under a hot sun, a headache ensued and strengthened. I could feel its shape and colour, a gigantic Y that curved from each temple, over my skull to each eye, a reddish-black like grilled meat.
Utterly spent for no other reason than a long ride day, I went slack when I finally sat in my camping chair. Sprawled and spread as if luxury jellied my muscles. ‘Woman Doubles as a Party Jelly’. I was thrashed. “Lisa, which hydrated meal do you want?” By then, it mattered little and less. I don’t care whether it’s limes or potatoes, fish or fried. Devouring a packet of salted sesame sticks seemed to achieve some sort of internal balance, an unexpected harmony of feeling soothed despite the bone-hard dog-tiredness. Some days on the road are just like that. Unwarranted tetchy attitudes notwithstanding, at least I didn’t scratch Jason’s eyeballs out.
In the morning, ravenous with hunger and euphoric with new sights, not a care or grudge in the world, sleep had restored me. I looked at my watch, astonished how the months had fallen out of it. We’d been stateside more than four months already with less a couple left before we would be once again Canada-bound. But this time, heading east.
Valley of the Gods, Utah
Thanks to a friend’s timely advice, onwards we rode through a scenic sandstone valley near Mexican Hat in southeastern Utah. The Valley of the Gods is one of those backcountry, red-rock pleasing places on pukka dirt—despite dropping my tall bike upon dismounting to turn Mr. Jangles around. Vertically-challenged leg inseams will do that to you time and time again, eh Jase..! After a fill of statuesque formations sculpted from Cedar Mesa sandstone, we reached the Muley Point turnoff; a steep, switchbacking descent on the unpaved Moqui Dugway. Also worth a peek. Around eight or nine miles later, pavement resumed so we headed for Goosenecks State Park for the evening.
Goosenecks State Park, Utah
After only a half-mile and a right turn onto an unpaved spur, the paved road quickly led us there. It’s tempting to edge closer to see more of the San Juan River Canyon. From atop at our vantage point, slopes dropped precipitously down to the river, some 1,500-feet below travelling six serpentine miles until veering off west for another mile. A very similar overlook to Horseshoe Bend just 150 miles west where a young male had plummeted to his death three days earlier.
This was when we met Mike who, like many textbook engineers, assiduously talked for America but unlike any preconceived stereotypes mingling wildly with my thoughts, was also a desert rat. Mike had spent much of his life exploring the backcountry in New Zealand, and even become a resident whose best line for me went along the lines: “Yeah, I’m actually a billionaire. Dating back to 2001, when I started collecting million-dollar views.” You’ve got to love a bit of corny, now and again.
Like a flock of birds on fire, the sunset was so beautiful I could hardly believe it, and I’ve seen a few sunsets. Coloured strings from the wispy clouds shot down, it was like fibres of light pouring down the horizon like luminous eels. The immensity of a Utah sky roars above you, instinctively you might even raise your hands to keep it off.
A few torn pieces of early morning cloud ensued the next day, the shape and colour of salmon fillets. The tender pinkish sky hardening. Another rim of light flooded down, which drenched the sky in coral pink as we set the pot on the stove for some of Mike’s real coffee. Goosenecks State Park had been sublime for us but don’t take it for granted, places like this will snap you at breakneck speed if you let it.
Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Back at Upper Antelope Canyon for a second viewing, Jase was keen to pursue a specific shot in mind. It’s all good love: I’ll take one for the team and stay with our stuff back at camp for 48-hours. Absolutely nothing to do with Peter Lik’s picture shot at the same spot and sold to a private buyer for $6.5 million, I’m sure. The proof’s always in the pudding, but to me, it was as though Jase had found a lens that deepened and intensified all seen through it. Overjoyed at Jason’s imagery more than the photographer was himself, my features distorted in a rictus of ecstasy and amazement like some unemployed bum who’d gone to Reno and won the jackpot.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
A stripe of incandescent sky burned beneath a cloud base on the northwestern horizon. Like the never-resting forces of weathering and erosion on Bryce, I too felt restless for some reason. The written guides suggest that it takes a minimum of three hours to drive to the 13 viewpoints along the park’s 38-mile (round-trip) drive. It took us a shade less. Where Bryce Canyon was concerned, I’d held onto an overwhelming feeling I was going to see something special for all of eternity.
Upon scenic stop after scenic stop overlooking an abundance of canyon walls, cracks, turrets and towers—all mesmerising in colour and their own right—after a long beat I declared to myself more than Jason, “I’m not exactly under-whelmed by Bryce, it’s just I feel I’m not really here. Not really in Bryce National Park. It’s not enveloping me like I want it to. Sound crazy?” When the national park was established in 1924, it was named after the region’s first white settler, a Mormon farmer—Ebenezer Bryce—who was neither colourful or crazy. “Come on, let’s go and keep looking,” was the pragmatic response. At that point, I exacted a promise from Jason that we would visit Zion with a look that brooked no argument and a will not easily deflected from its trajectory. Relax. Be patient. Don’t force the dramatic.
And there they were. Right by the park entrance after Red Canyon with two stone archways welcoming one’s arrival but in fact, it was our final stop. The hoodoos. Red stone spires reaching 1,000-feet jabbed at the pillowy cloud and now crystalline blue Utah sky, the towering rock pillars beckoning somehow. What I wouldn’t give to ditch the bikes and suits, hit the nearby hiking trails or a horseback ride and camp among those.
When you get the right spot, Bryce is a place of colour and texture of pinnacles, rocky temples and sculpted spires in a huge amphitheatre from a red-orange colour palette. Orange-sherbet, cotton-candy pink and frozen fire in red rock. It’s the visual equivalent of an earsplitting hurrah!