As I walked into Utah, it looked like I was entering some strange post-apocalyptic world where the weeds have grown through pavement, the sky is dark and ominous, and the only traces of human life look decades old. I was on Old Route 6 & 50, what used to be a major travel route across the US before I-70 was made. It was stormy and grey, and instead of a shiny “Welcome to Utah” sign, there was a stone obelisk bearing the remnants of the letters “UT”, graffitied and chipped away by vandals and hooligans like myself. It was fitting to my mood. I just lost my camera, I was trying hard to pretend that I didn’t hate my awkward metal wagon that made my shoulders sore, and I felt as worn as the road itself. Before I woke up the next morning, there was no trace of moisture in the ground or in the air, and the Book Cliffs were stunning from 15 miles away.
Later that day, I passed through the abandoned ghost town of Cisco, and as if the ghosts could see I was in a sour mood, the wagon wheel that had already blown out twice suddenly, and entirely, snapped off the axel in the middle of open desert.
I should have swore and kicked the dirt, but I bit my tongue and tried duck tape. Yeah right. Then, as if God himself was pleased with my patience, a man pulls off on the road and asks if I’m OK. He says he likes to practice random acts of kindness and that this seems to him like the perfect opportunity. Not too long after, he drives me forward into Moab on arguably the most beautiful road I’ve ever been on, broken wagon in the bed of his truck. He offers to put me up for the night and bring me back in the morning but vows to put me back on my feet. Is this luck or providence? Either way, my foul mood disappears and is replaced with much excitement when we find a suitable jogging stroller at the thrift store- the lady even let us in after closing to help me out! I learn a lot from my desert rescuer while driving to and from Moab, and over dinner and breakfast too. Soon enough he brings me back and I set forth on that beautiful road at a much slower pace than before.
Colossal canyon walls surround each side of the winding and mighty Colorado River, with the road skirting the river’s edge and one canyon wall towering over nearly all the time. I pass petroglyphs on rocks, swallows catching flies a half inch above the water, and tons of tourists in RV’s and cars with rafts or kayaks on every roof. A group of younger people stop to see if I want a ride, and when I decline the driver seems surprised but insists that I come to Red River Adventures once I get into town. “Just go South” he says, “You’ll find it”.
It took me 2 days after that, but with flip flops on, cold spring water in my bloodstream, and encouraging cheers from the passing Red River Adventure busses, I pushed out 28 miles the 2nd day and arrived just in time for their company cookout.
I was welcome by the entire staff, all of whom are very chill and friendly and share my love for the outdoors. One of the guys offers to let me hop on a tour he’s giving in Arches National Park the next morning and I enthusiastically accept. Later in the night, with spirit juice in gut, I find myself doing acroyoga and spinning flaming fireballs from the ends of ropes. “This place is really something else”, I stammered around 3am. At 7am, my tour guide picks me up and we meet the family group I’m joining at the park. We get an astonishing personal tour of Fiery Furnace hopping from rock to rock under natural arches and amongst pinyons and lizards alike. Before going back to Red River, I meet his boss, the pioneer of the Hayduke trail, a notoriously challenging long distance hiking trail in the Southwest US. That same night, the entire staff goes on a private rafting trip down the river and lets me join them too. The water as freezing and I was criticized for my poor paddling, but I was in a pure state of ethereal bliss. So much for my bad mood the week before. I left Moab the next morning and again walked into open desert.
I saw people tandem jump out of a plane at the Moab airport, and a former coworker of mine happened to pass me on the road in the middle of nowhere. I told a friend of mine that my campsite that night was the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my entire life. I’ve never felt more sheer joy than when I woke up at 5am the next morning to watch the golden-orange sunrise change the shapes and shadows in the surrounding far-off rocks. Then, a test of my inner peace. As I entered Green River, I saw what I can only describe as an act of senseless brutality. A clearly drunken man pulled off onto an old and unused exit ramp, yanked a pitbull out of the passengers seat and began to punch and kick its head into the pavement, showing no mercy and continuing until it was very uncomfortable to watch. He picked it up by its hind legs and slammed its head onto the road like a whip cursing and hoarsely yelling constantly. If that wasn’t enough, he threw its body back into the car, kicked it some more, then swept all the piled up trash from the floor of his car onto the road. That’s when he noticed me. I will not type all of the profanities he screamed at me, but I will write his threat- “If I get locked up for this, I swear to God I will come back to run your ass over!!”. The entire time I stood 100 feet away, mouth agape, body motionless, mind numb. He sped off before I could read his license plate.
I couldn’t sleep well for a few days- I would lie awake thinking about how drastically my attitude towards people had fluctuated in the past week. One moment, I can’t trust anyone because I think I’ve been robbed of my camera, the next moment I am saved in my worst moment by a man who is kind for kindness’ sake, I reach cloud 9 level happiness with some fellow adventurers, then am yanked back to reality by an abusive drunk. I finally fell asleep only to be followed by disturbing dreams. The next morning, I met the owner of the KOA where I had just slept. We talked a little about where I had been and where I was going and I complimented him for running such a nice facility (friendly and helpful employees, FREE BREAKFAST, clean bathrooms, etc.). He remarked that he doesn’t consider it work, but rather retirement. He gets to do what he loves- making people happy. The whole week leading to Mother’s Day he gives roses to moms that stay there, he does a big Easter egg hunt for the kids, and FREE BREAKFAST! All out of his pocket. I shook his hand with both of mine, and walked away smiling. What he reminded me is this- even if there are bad or mean people in the world, there are vastly more good and nice people. That said, be excellent to each other! When I was in that bad mood, those random acts of kindness meant so much more! Try it out yourself! You’ll make the world a better place!
Then it started to get hot- very, very hot. I set up my tarp at an angle from the handle of my stroller so I could lay in the shade during the day. It should have been expected, but it was hard trying to sleep in 100°. When the sun fell below the horizon, I started walking again, the moon lighting my way. It was quite comfortable and quiet at night and the stars were spectacular, but my brain and my body were not used to this altered sleep schedule. Even trying to sleep during the day was difficult, waking up to drink water every few hours so I didn’t become severely dehydrated. Screw this- I don’t like passing up all this scenery in the dark and I can handle the heat. I started walking during the day again and never tried hiking at night after that. I pushed myself, despite the overwhelming heat, and my pace reached an all-time high.
Still, it would take 3-5 days to get from town to town, and I would only stop to refill on water and get groceries, then walk on. There was no point in paying for a campsite because I would still be sleeping in the sand; I could do that for free on public land just out of town. I passed the hoodoos in Goblin Valley State Park, stocked up on supplies in Hanksville, then entered Capitol Reef National Park a couple days later. Millions of years ago, Capitol Reef used to be under a vast ancient ocean- now the former sea floor has been a desert for long time, and the rocks have formed many unique shapes and patterns from all types of erosion.
After a grueling 8% grade climb, I spent a day in Torrey at the Robbers Roost Bookstore/Coffee Shop meeting a lot of interesting people and watching a great acoustic concert. I spent the night at the house of a lovely intellectual couple I met at the coffee shop, and the next day, in Loa, a very kind family bought me a room at a hotel! What a pleasant night couple nights! Another intense hill climb the next day, then another couple days of camping in the desert. Once I hit Junction and approached the Tushar Mountains in the Fishlake National Forest, I experienced the most grueling and tiring climb of my entire journey so far. I gained 4000 feet in elevation, almost all at once. The view from the top was phenomenal.
When I descended, I reached Beaver and met up with some family of mine from Provo. They drove hours to pick me up and bring me to Provo to rest for a day. We visited Grotto Falls, which I remember visiting during my childhood, I learned a lot about Mormon culture (my family is not Mormon, which actually makes them a minority in Provo), I got some shopping done, we went to an awesome water park, I played ultimate frisbee for the first time in a long time, but most importantly I got to see my family! When they dropped me off, it only took a few days to get into Nevada, but it was hellish hot. This was more desert than before!
Overall, Utah was an extremely scenic and beautiful state. It sucked not having my camera, but getting the chance to camp so often and be at one with the nature around me helped create more memories and a new perspective on life, which to me, is much more valuable than a couple chance photos. I still took pictures with my phone, and in fact was even given a new camera by a friendly stranger while seriously in the middle of nowhere. I felt inspired by the few cross-country bicyclists I met, but I would soon meet many more.