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Day #54

I’m in Escalante, UT. I’ve been riding through the desert for several days now, so water has been scarce, libraries few and far between, and cell phone service has been non-existent. For the second time, my parents have called my phone which I cannot answer, left voice mails which I cannot check, and sent emails that I cannot receive to check and see if I’m still alive. Yes, Mom & Dad, I’m alive!

Here’s a video I took as I crossed into Utah:

As I said in the video, the day before one of the MS guys was hit by a truck. It was dusk and Collin was in a pace line up a hill with the sun blinding the driver. The side view mirror of the truck was ripped off the car as it smacked into Collin’s back. Fortunately, the injury was relatively minor. He had a few scratches, but nothing was broken. In fact, Collin is in the video above the next day–right back in the Carbondale pace line!

At this point, my memory is a bit hazy, but a few days ago we entered the desert with one of the longer stretches without services on the Western Express. It’s a 120 mile desert stretch with only 1 camp site & gas station in the middle. Heading west, we had 70 miles of no services, then 50 miles the next day.

Thankfully, I had been anticipating this stretch ever since I was forewarned by a couple British cyclists coming the opposite way in Chester, MO. I filled my 6 water bottles (just as every day) *and* my 2.5 gallon reserve tank. Damn, that tank weighed a ton! It was hard to steer, and it slowed me down, but it was a necessary weight–especially for my first stretch through the desert!

In the end, I had about a gallon of spare water. Unfortunately, though, I ran out of food. I was totally drained of energy when I got to the campsite around 7PM; the gas station “grocery store” closed at 6. So, I had to stick around the next morning until 9AM. Of the MS group, only Geordie stuck around. With all my weight, I had no chance of keeping up with him–which meant I had no chance of catching the MS van for water fill-ups in the middle of the next 50 mile no-service stretch.

When the gas station opened up, I was depressed by the lousy selection of food. I was hoping for at *least* some instant rice and mac & cheese, but even these commonly stocked gas station items were absent from their selection. I ended up buying 4 cans of spaghetti-o’s and 4 payday bars. Before leaving, I ate a bag of trail mix and downed a few bottle of water + 1 gatoraid. I filled my 6 bottles of water, and partially filled my reserve tank because of the surplus of water I had the previous day–which was 20 extra miles. Bad idea.

Unlike my clever MS friends, I don’t have the ACA maps. So, I was unfortunately unaware that those 50 miles were predominantly uphill. Riding uphill in a desert at 109 degrees F will drain you of water FAST. At mile 24/50, I made my second stop of the day under a bridge over a dried up river (the only shade I’d seen since I left). I thew down 2 more cans of the spaghetti o’s, ate a payday, and gulped down some water. As I was leaving, I realized I burned through 6 bottles of water in the past 24 miles. Counting, I discovered I only had 3 bottles left to last me the next 26 miles of barren desert. Not good!

Survival mode kicked in again. I started ignoring the scenery. I stopped taking pictures. When you’re sweating bullets and low on water, all you can think about is drinking–but I couldn’t! I don’t have a trip computer, but the road had mile markers every now and then. I rationed my water by the mile. I took SMALL sips and held the water in my mouth as long as I could stand before swallowing it–bit by bit. I cranked non-stop as the desert heat approached the high of 109 deg with limited water until, like magic, the town appeared on the horizon. When I saw buildings ahead, I hollered to high-heaven for providing me with a savior: Exxon.

I thew my bike against the wall of the Exxon next to a spicket, grabbed my largest (empty) water bottle, filled it to the brim, and chugged it until my eyes watered and I had to gasp for air–then I chugged the rest. I walked into the Air Conditioning and sighed of relief. I’d been cranking non-stop for 26 miles. Without breaks, my toes were aching. I limped towards the back of the store towards the drinks. I grabbed their largest, ice-cold gatoraid bottle, an orange soda, and a bunch of bananas. As I was checking out, a few of the Carbondale crew from the MS group stepped in. I hung out with them for a while in their motel–thoroughly enjoying my drinks & their AC before retiring to setup my tent in the camp site. As I was lying in my tent trying to go to sleep at 10PM, it was *still* extremely hot. It cooled down at ~1AM, but by 8AM it was already hot again.

Today I didn’t get a head start on the MS crew, so I lost the privilege of their water at the van stops. Fortunately, there was plenty of services so that I didn’t have to worry about water! Actually, I got caught in a pretty nasty thunderstorm. As I was going down an awesome 14% downhill, the drizzle turned into a rain. It was fun at first, but then the rain turned into thick, horizontal, painful sheets of water. Worst of all, I was riding down the top of a narrow rock with little shoulder and no guard-rails protecting me from the sharp drop-off down the side of the canyon. Eventually I found shelter in a rock. Here’s a video I took after the rain died down:

Jeff from the MS group says we’ve got 3 more nights in Utah. We’re just 14 days from San Fran/Berkeley! Curiously, I saw more California license plates than anything else today. I’ve sure come a long way, and I’m so close! I’m not there yet, though. First, we have a whole lot of desert to cross x_x

The MS guys all got hotel rooms, so I’m paying for a tent spot nearby. Fortunately, they have hot showers and public access computers in the co-owned cafe. Unfortunately, they close soon, so I’ll be forced out to a well-needed shower!

As always, be sure to check my picasa site for updates through Utah.

4 comments to Day #54

  • Nate Ballinger

    Hey Michael!

    Dude this looks like such an amazing adventure. You’ve inspired me and many others. I cant believe your almost there, It seems like you just started a couple of weeks ago. Its incredible what you can do when you put your mind to it. I rode 60 miles yesterday and felt whooped. You must be in the best shape of your life. Im proud to have such an awesome cousin. Finally someone and something I can relate to. Cant wait to hear more about your trip and hear about your plans for more adventures ( hopefully this wont be the last). Lets go riding around nc sometime. Be safe and enjoy your finish celebration!

    Nate

    • Anonymous

      @Nate Thanks. I definietely am in the best cyclist shape of my life. Last semester I was humbled by riding ~4 miles/day vs my current ~65 miles/day. I’m seriously considering biking with the MS guys next summer along the Northern Teir (Anacortes, WA -> Bar Harbor, ME). If I can save up ~$2,000 and fundraise $3,800 that is… x_x

  • Howard Rosen

    Don’t know if you remember me or not, but I am a good friend of and work with your uncle Bill. You and your family met my wife, sons, and I at the Weston Diplomat hotel several years ago, and you told us how to make our computer run faster. Anyhow, Uncle Bill told me about your adventure, and I am really impressed with what you are doing. Keep your mind on the goal (Cali), your eyes on the road, and your feet on the pedals. It sounds like you are having the adventure of a lifetime. As grueling as it may be, stay focused, and enjoy every second of it! Best of luck, and may you be blessed with many miles of downhills! Howard Rosen

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