Slowly, at our own pace, we were cycling east, through the dry state of Utah. Surrounded by a landscape that could be easily taken as the set for a science fiction movie, we started to quite like the daily routines. The unbearable heat of the day forced us to get up early in the morning. We had a narrow window in which we could spend time outside – after 10 am we had to start looking for a place in the shadow.
Half way across Utah, we cycled through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a huge area of natural wonders. We had already visited Bryce, and wanted to experience something a bit different, have a bit of our private adventure. Just before Boulder, we discovered a slot canyon (a narrow corridor carved in soft rocks by water and sand) marked on our map – not the most spectacular one, but much closer to the main road then all the other ones. We decided to give it a try!
After an hour or so on a gnarly gravel road, we discovered a narrow trail leading towards what was supposed to be the Zebra Slot Canyon. We managed to cycle towards it for a while, but were forced to push our heavily loaded bikes (we had to carry quite a lot of water to stay on the safe side in that dry environment) the closer we came.
When – after over an hour of pushing and picture taking – we made it to our destination, we were really disappointed. Not only the canyon was pathetically unimpressive – it was flooded by muddy, cold water, making it impossible to pass through.
After a bit of scouting and map gazing, we decided not to come back to the main road where we came from (we are too stubborn to ride the same path twice), but to find a way that could lead to another gravel road that would eventually put us back on track.
When we finally pushed our bikes up a really steep dome-like hill, we discovered that we were right in the middle of a pathless, rocky desert. Welcome to the slickrock hell!
As far as we could see, there was that flat, wavy surface, interrupted only by patches of loose sand or odd, round rocks. Looking like pale, orange lava it was strangely tempting to have a ride on.
With absolutely no idea if we could continue riding all the way to the gravel road lying 10 kilometers ahead, we plunged into that moon-like no man’s land. Not the smoothest surface to ride, but solid, challenging yet fun.
Some sections of the rocks were as flat as a table and looked like being covered in terracotta.
There was no presence of humans there – no path marked, no signs, no trash left by careless visitors. We navigated using our phone and the compass, trying to guess where to go.
As always during spontaneous adventures, we overestimated our abilities to ride in a totally unrideable terrain. The sun was high up when we decided to take a break. Usually at that time of the day we would be lying somewhere, pouring water over our clothes to avoid a heat stroke. This time there was no time to waste – we had a WarmShowers host waiting for us in Boulder and we promised him to meet in the afternoon.
We had some of the rock structures marked on our map, but there was no track there to guide us through that dry, slickrock maze.
It was tough. At one moment, we were super tired and started to get dehydrated. We went too far to go back. There was no other option but to continue.
After some hours of pushing, we were so exhausted that we stopped paying attention to the changing surroundings. It was a right moment to find water, and the time was running!
We drunk the last sips of precious liquid when we spotted a perfect place to refill our bottles. We passed by a few spots with standing water – the rock we cycled on is not permeable, so there were puddles of brown, stinky water here and there. We knew that in the worst case we could sterilize it, but our noses told us to wait.
We stopped at a little oasis, with two large trees and a pocket of water. It took us nearly 2 hours to fill up the containers we carry. Filtering of dirty water requires a lot of work and patience!
We rested a bit and continued cycling. Amazing how much your mood depends on fluids!
We quite enjoyed the area – there is nothing quite like being alone in the wilderness. We had a lot of fun cycling through that landscape, it was totally new to us. But after over 5 hours of constant labor, when we progressed only 8 kilometers, we had enough.
But after a whole day of pushing we finally made it to the road to Boulder. Our host started to worry a bit, so he drove towards us. When he stopped his car to welcome us, holding a huge jug of icy-cold water, we felt happy and thankful! We learned that the true adventure, the unforgettable one, leaves you with this strange mixture of joy, exhaustion and a relieve that it is over. We looked at each other, happy, and at the same time said: “never again!”.