In anticipation of the wet and muddy conditions in the canyon, I'm wearing a pair of beat-up running shoes and thick wool-blend socks. Thus insulated, my feet sweat as they pump on my bike pedals. My legs sweat, too, compressed by the Lycra biking shorts I'm wearing beneath my beige nylon shorts. Even through double-thick padding, my bike seat pummels my rear end. Up top, I have on a favorite Phish T-shirt and a blue baseball cap. I left my waterproof jacket back at my truck; the day is going to be warm and dry, just like it was yesterday when I biked the twelve-mile loop of the Slick Rock Trail over east of Moab. If it were going to be rainy, a slot canyon would be the last place I'd be headed, jacket or no.
Lightweight travel is a pleasure to me, and I've figured how to do more with less so I can go farther in a given amount of time. Yesterday I had just my small CamelBak with a few bike-repair items and my cameras, a measly ten-pound load for the four-hour loop ride. In the evening, paring out the bike gear, I hiked five miles on an out-and-back visit to a natural arch out toward Castle Valley, carrying only six pounds total of water and camera equipment. The day before, Thursday, with my friend Brad Yule from Aspen, I had climbed and skied Mount Sopris, the 12,995-foot monarch of western Colorado, and had carried a few extra clothes and backcountry avalanche rescue gear, but I still kept my load under fifteen pounds.
My five-day road trip will culminate on Sunday night with an unsupported solo attempt to mountain bike the 108-mile White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. If I carried the supplies I'd used over the three days it took me the first time I rode that trail in 2000, I'd have a sixty-pound pack and a sore back before I went ten miles. In my planning estimates this time around, I am hoping to carry fifteen pounds and complete the loop in under twenty-four hours. It will mean following a precision-charted water-management plan to capitalize on the scarce refilling opportunities, no sleeping, and only the bare minimum of stopping. My biggest worry isn't that my legs will get tired -- I know they will, and I know how to handle it -- but rather that my, uh, undercarriage will become too sensitive to allow me to ride. "Crotch coma," as I've heard it called, comes from the desensitizing overstimulation of the perineum. As I haven't ridden my bike any extended distance since last summer, my bike-saddle tolerance is disconcertingly low. Had I anticipated this trip prior to two nights ago I would have gone out for at least one long ride in the Aspen area beforehand. As it happened, some friends and I called off a mountaineering trip at the last moment on Wednesday; the cancellation freed me for a hajj to the desert, a pilgrimage for warmth to reacquaint myself with a landscape other than wintry mountains. Usually, I would leave a detailed schedule of my plans with my roommates, but since I left my home in Aspen without knowing what I was going to do, the only word of my destination I gave was "Utah." I briefly researched my trip options by consulting my guidebooks as I drove from Mount Sopris to Utah Thursday night. The result has been a capriciously impromptu vacation, one that will even incorporate dropping in on a big campout party near Goblin Valley State Park tonight.
It's nearing ten-thirty a.m. as I pedal into the shade of a very lonesome juniper and survey my sunbaked surroundings. The rolling scrub desert gradually drops away into a region of painted rock domes, hidden cliffs, weathered and warped bluffs, tilted and tortured canyons, and broken monoliths. This is hoodoo country; this is voodoo country. This is Abbey's country, the red wasteland beyond the end of the roads. Since I arrived after dark last night, I wasn't able to see much of the landscape on my drive in to the trailhead. As I scan the middle ground to the east for any sign of my destination canyon, I take out my chocolate muffin from the Moab grocery's bakery and have to practically choke it down; both the muffin and my mouth have dried out from exposure to the arid wind. There are copious signs of meandering cattle from a rancher's ongoing attempt to make his living against the odds of the desert. The herds trample sinuous tracks through the indigenous life that spreads out in the ample space: a lace of grasses, foot-tall hedgehog cacti, and black microbiotic crust cloak the red earth. I wash down the rest of the muffin, except for a few crumbs in the wrapper, with several pulls from the CamelBak's hydration tube fastened to my shoulder strap.
From Between A Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, pages 1-30. Copyright © 2004 by Aron Ralston. All rights reserved, no part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without specific permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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