Roses are red, Utah is too, I’m not a good poet, and covered in mud.
I was sharing the dorm in Rico with three other people, including a woman who, for some reason, had pitched her tent in the room. None of them seemed to be able to figure out how to open the door, so I had to go and help them out several times during the night. Tent lady gave me the iciest look, assuming I had locked her out, then started chirping about something I wasn’t too interested in at 3am.
Leftover spaghetti for breakfast was how the next day started and it was all downhill from there. Literally. The 80km route to Mesa Verde took me away from the mountains and into the sagebrush-covered plains of southwestern Colorado. I stopped in Dolores for lunch and opted to leave the highway for the quieter country roads. I came to regret this decision a few minutes later as I was chased down the gravel path by two farm dogs – thankfully on a downhill.
I pitched my tent just outside of Mesa Verde and used the next day to check out the National Park on an unladen bike. Unlike the other parks I’ve been to, which have all featured dramatic natural beauty, this one was more of a cultural experience. It contains the remains of ancient civilizations, as people settled in this area as early as 10,000 years ago. The park boasts impressive 12th century cliff dwellings, which require a certain level of physical commitment to explore.
I had spent the best part of a month in Colorado and it was time to leave, if I was going to make my flight in November. Heading west, I made my way through Cortez and Dove Creek into Utah. The colours around me gradually turned from green to red, signalling my arrival to the desert. In the late afternoon, I got to Monticello. What sounds like it should be a calorific Italian dessert turned out to be a fairly unremarkable town, so I pushed a bit further, until I found a small roadside restaurant that would let me pitch the tent in the back. It was an easy 80km ride into Moab the next day, through increasingly beautiful rock formations and desertscapes.
Moab is a place of opposites. It’s quite an ugly town, with RV parks and motels sprawled for miles along the main road. It is however nestled in the dramatic surroundings of red cliffs and spectacular canyons. It’s also very expensive, yet is home to the cheapest hostel I have come across on this trip. My usual luck had me show up and grab the last available dorm bed for the next four nights. I found Shane sitting in the lounge, so we went and sampled some beer from the local brewery.
I took half of the following day to run some errands, treat myself to a brand-new pair of socks, and drink copious amounts of coffee. In the early evening, I went for a short fun ride around the hills and returned just as a visibly shaken Shane burst into the door exclaiming he almost got killed by a rattle snake. His hiking partner Riley was over the moon as she had wanted to see a rattle snake for a long time. We went to a bar to calm Shane’s nerves and celebrate Riley’s bucket list success.
High winds, violent gusts, and a fierce hangover was what I woke up to the next day. I sat around looking sorry for myself for a while but eventually sprung into action and rode into Arches National Park. The conditions paired with a lot of traffic made it a bit of a struggle, but the bizarre shapes of the rocks all around me were beautiful in a surreal and outlandish way. Special thanks go out to the person using his windshield wipers in a gust while passing me. Your washer fluid tastes like ass. I eventually yielded to my hangover and fought my way back to Moab in the afternoon, for a relaxed evening and early night.
Shane had rented a car for his onward travels. In a last minute decision, we picked it up a day earlier and used it to tour Canyonlands National Park, which is a bit too far from Moab for a sensible day trip on the bike. Riley joined us a bit later and we went on a spectacular 5 hour hike, which involved a good amount of scrambling. We debated whether we should stick around for sunset, which would certainly have been glorious, but opted to reward ourselves with Mexican food instead, which was at least equally glorious.
It was time to leave Moab and all its parks, to go see even more parks in the rest of Utah. I packed up my stuff, said my goodbyes to Shane (once again), and made my way north, taking a bike path out of town. This didn’t last very long unfortunately, and soon I found myself riding on Highway 191, which carries a lot of fast traffic and has no shoulder to speak of. Combined with an unrelenting headwind, this made for a fairly miserable time in the saddle. After a while I decided to try a dirt route through the desert instead. It wasn’t as sandy as I had anticipated, and I was soon cycling through a remote and fascinatingly barren landscape.
The trouble started when I had to cross a series of small canyons. There wasn’t really any water, but the dirt turned into thick and soft mud, enough to put any Scottish bog to shame. I tried riding through them at first, but that just earned me wheels clogged up in a thick layer of clay. The only feasible way forward was to carry the bike through the these canyons of desert-slime. I still look like I’ve been pressure washed in a cement mixer.
I eventually made it to the town of Green River. The colour of its namesake can only be described as diarrhea-yellow though, at best. I have pitched my tent in the local state park, visited the local taco truck, and am now fighting the local mosquitos.