Monday, May 25, 2009

Land o' Zion

I spent the past few days in the southwestern corner of Utah. The purpose of my trip was to get the Karate Monkey overhauled by master mechanic Dave Nice in Hurricane (pronounced Her'kun), and visit my grandpa in St. George (Saint Jahge). And these two tasks just happened to reside in an area with spectacular biking, and on a weekend where early-season monsoonal moisture kept high temperatures in the low 80s. (I was fully expecting 105.)

I had a late, slow start Thursday and showed up just a few hours before I was supposed to meet Mr. Nice. I stopped in the town of Virgin for a quick ride, and chose a random gravel road off the map and ended up rolling along a high plateau just outside Zion National Park. The views became more spectacular as the road climbed steadily, and I was more than 2,000 feet above my car when a front brake pad popped out, again. This had happened to me a few days earlier and I replaced it with a new one, but it didn't seem to sit right and I became convinced there was something wrong with the caliper. But it seemed to work at the time, so I decided it could hold until Hurricane. When I tried to wedge the brake pad back in the second time, it wouldn't hold at all. I finally just turned around and inched back down the steep, winding road, riding my back brake at 9 mph because I didn't want to shoot off one of the hairpin turns. It was still a bit of a white knuckle ride to the bottom.

This is Dave Nice. He marches to his own drum, in a good way, because you know no one is ever going to accuse this guy of not living his life. He has a shirt that says "Bike. Drink. Blog," which Dave says pretty much sums it up. But he adds an essence of "Daveness" that makes everything he does deeply intriguing. He works at a bike shop in Hurricane, travels around to enter endurance bike races every chance he gets, has awful luck in general but is always smiling, plans to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from south to north starting June 5, and, oh yeah, he rides a fixed gear 29er mountain bike. Dude is nuts. In a good way.

Anyway, Dave and I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. working on my poor bike. We crashed out next to the register at the bike shop and woke up bright and early Friday morning to head out to Gooseberry Mesa for a ride. Gooseberry Mesa is technical. It's covered in cactus, boulders, slickrock obstacles, sand pits and head-spinning ledges. I knew this going in, but I couldn't say no to such beautiful trail. I came out with bashed shins, new cuts, and yet more eroded confidence. I keep telling myself I'll never learn to ride the desert if I don't ride the desert. But it's been tough. I find myself actually feeling angry at the general consensus that technical singletrack is the ultimate mountain biking experience.

Dave, on the other hand, has mad skillz. Who says fixies can't coast?

Still, I ached to take on the terrain and find my flow, any kind of flow, even as I dodged cactus and kicked my back wheel sideways on loose rocks and knocked over boulders and tried to force back the dizzy sensations brought on by sheer ledges. Dave explained how to find the Gould-Jem-Rim trail loop - a Hurricane classic - and I set out to ride 24 miles of techy singletrack on my own.

Whenever I ride alone, I still think a lot about my relationship situation and how unhappy I am about it, regardless of what may or may not be best. Right now I'm in this phase where I think about going solo for good ... about how this biological need to form unions is as easy to suppress as sleep and food in an endurance ride, and I don't need it. And when I ride techy singletrack, I start to understand Geoff's views on monogamy. When you commit to one person, one narrow line over a vast plateau, you're rewarded with instant direction, a swooping, fun, often bumpy ride, and feelings of accomplishment and gratitude. But you become so focused on the task at hand - every rock, every cactus, every hairpin turn directly in front of you - that you completely lose sight of the surrounding landscape. Eventually, you're going to look up, and realize that your entire experience is that trail. You know almost nothing of the world around you. And you feel bewildered, and lost. But I've vowed to work to become more comfortable with technical riding. Then, when I go back to Juneau, I'm going to move into a studio apartment and get seven or eight more cats.

Yes, on to the "I hate men" phase. Except for Dave Nice. You're awesome. (Thank you, thank you for all of your help with my bike.) I headed down to St. George on Friday to visit my grandpa, a gruff old guy who likes to yell and can go from smiling to rant in 60 seconds, but who also has a kind heart and a high tolerance of granddaughters showing up an hour after his bedtime covered in red dust.

I headed out Saturday morning (OK, it was actually 12:11 p.m.) with my decade-old regional map and this idea that I wanted to make a loop out of some jeep roads east of Veyo. I climbed up Snow Canyon and found a dead end on the first road I tried. The second was rougher and quickly launched into a steep climb. I decided that was a good thing. After all, it was 79 degrees and I was roasting. :-) Elevation sounded good.

Climb, climb, climb. I went from 2,600 feet up to 7,000, and the road kept going while petering out to little more than a severely overgrown rock garden. I was not detecting any spur roads that I hoped would connect my loop, and pretty soon I was winding up a set of switchbacks toward what had to be a pass, because the GPS was nearing 8,000 feet. Down that pass was another possible route that seemed appealing, but it would have tacked 30 or more miles onto a ride that was already moving a lot slower than I had anticipated. (Who knew those roads climbed 5,000 feet? They looked so flat on the map.) I turned around, bummed that I couldn't test my route-finding skills on an actual loop of my own making, but reminding myself that I really don't have any route-finding skills. And, anyway, I had to be home before grandpa's bedtime.

On the way down, dark stormclouds moved in like a freight train. In an instant, the temperature plummeted 20 degrees, from the high-60s to the high-40s, and the wind gusts picked up from 20 mph to at least 50 mph - enough to knock me sideways off my line down the rocky trail, forcing me to slam on the brakes. I stopped to grab my jacket out of my backpack, and I didn't even have one arm in before sheets of rain began to pummel me. Streaks of lightning lit up the black sky, but they were fairly far away and I was well below treeline. Still, I was frightened. I fixed my eyes in the direction of the lightning and huddled down next to a little pinon bush, a good 50 yards down the trail from where I had left my metal bike. My bottom lip started to shiver. I kept telling myself that 48 degrees with heavy wind gusts and rain is nothing I don't deal with nearly every day in the fall in Juneau, but lightning is another uncontrollable factor altogether. Luckily, the storm moved past me as quickly as it arrived, the temperature returned to normal, and for the rest of the ride I was rewarded with a strong tailwind. The Southwest is such a strange place.

Dave and I got in one more early morning ride Sunday. He took me out to Sand Hollow Reservoir - the first time I had seen the body of water that covers an area I used to visit often as a teenager. If you squint, you can see in this picture a little sandstone island on the right. That was once a playground of redrock formations and sand dunes where I really started to cement my love of the desert.

"That right there," I said to Dave as I pointed at the reservoir, "is the image of childhood lost."

"I dunno," Dave said. "It's kind of pretty."

Time marches on. It always does.


  1. I spent a few weeks riding Gooseberry Mesa and the surrounding area shortly after my Mother passed. It is a beautiful, spiritual, hard place. A good place to do some healing, and grieving. And yes Jill, singletrack does rule!

  2. I like the I hate men phase you mentioned in your post. It reminds me of a girl in one of my college classes who announced one day "Men are all pigs !". I had to remind her "Not ALL men are pigs, just the ones YOU pick, don't blame US if you've got lousy taste in men".

    The same thing goes with the Geoff situation, don't get angry at ALL men just because you picked a goofball to shack up with. Of all of the guys you could've gone out with over the years you picked HIM.

    You decided to stay with him even after he took off last year, that SHOULD have been your first warning of what was to come later if you tried to stay with him. But no, you ignored it, Helen Keller could have seen what was coming next. Your relationship blog stories are like watching a movie where halfway through it you already know how it's going to end, but you choose to sit through the whole show anyways, and it ended predictably just as you'd thought it would.

    If you were so worried about being alone with a bunch of cats for the rest of your life you should have been working on a "Plan B" while Geoff was gone last summer.

    I don't anderstand how you could have helped him in that race in California right AFTER he dumped you. Any other woman whould have told him to go f*ck off. If that'd been me I would have pissed in his waterbottles.

    For some reason you like being the girlfriend who's a doormat. He wipes his feet on you as he comes and goes, and you just sit there and take it.

  3. Love the story, Jill. Great writing... again. Thanks for sharing.


  4. anon.....
    piss off. if you don't like what Jill has to write, stop reading. it is (for now) a free country, and a free web.

  5. Love is a real bitch, let me tell you. If you get really active cats you only need 2 or 3 to get the spinster-like feel of a roomful. To help with your singletracking, try adding some upper body weightlifting to your workout.

    29er fixed gear mtb? Dude is hard.

  6. Great post Jill - I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it. Maybe it's cause I know Dave and live in StG...but the way you color your experiences go well beyond that.

    Time heals all, nature will run it's course...but please don't get 7 cats cause that will back you into a corner!

  7. "Eventually, you're going to look up, and realize that your entire experience is that trail. You know almost nothing of the world around you."YOU can chose to explore the world alone or with someone. It is your choice. You just have to chose wisely, whichever choice you make.

    Geoff's view does not have to become yours.

  8. I rode in St. George for the first time in January. Unfortunately Gooseberry Mesa was to snowy. I did a couple other rides and realized I need to go spend some more time there.

    I have to admit there are times when I wish I could live more like Dave Nice. He is so happy with whatever life throws at him.

  9. That anonymous person Is a real DB. It's easy to judge people when you are looking from the outside, in.

    I think you have a long road to recovery, but you'll get there. You are one if the strongest women I know! And I think by you going to support Geoff, after the fact, just shows what a truly noble person you are. The fact that you wanted to try to salvage an 8 year relationship only makes sense to me.

    I'm glad you have found some time to really explore the Utah desert and it's beauty!

  10. Oh no - don't go all crazy cat lady on us - they are not very exciting to write about and all of your riding gear will end up stinky.

    I think before too long you will end up finding a "trail" that you do not mind becoming familiar with. The thing is - there are always new things to learn about those trails - always something overlooked that makes them seem new again and again. Familiarity is nothing to fear.

  11. Jill,
    I love this post. The photos remind me of when I ventured through the Capitol Reef area. A truly amazing area.

    (note the lack of advice)

  12. Jill writes about Dave:

    "Dude is nuts. In a good way."Funny, that just what I usually say about Jill. Except, you know, for the dude part. In fact, I can prove it:

    Jason Crane

  13. Geoff's opinion just may leave him alone in a room full of cats at some point down the road...

    Life will get better Jill.

  14. Sounds like anon has a crush on you! Yet another example of weird boy behavior. ;)

  15. Obviously "anon" suffers from many inadequacies.

    Jill...I'm a guy...and yeh, we can be asses. I am...and I am willing to admit it. Isn't that the first step?

    I love the post and pics. Mr. Nice is definitely out there, but that is what makes mountain biking so different from road biking.

    Enjoy your life Jill. You only have one.

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  16. that 'i hate men' thing's because i made you look 8'11" tall by a half-naked kenny, isn't it?

  17. Jill, "anon" needs some interpersonal skills instruction. One thing I personally believe though (and have for some time), you have too much talent, skills, and drive to be held back by someone, or to cater to their whims.

    Oh.....fergit the cats, get a Lab :)

  18. " And I think by you going to support Geoff, after the fact, just shows what a truly noble person you are."

    Replace "truly noble person" with "doormat".

    There's nothing worse than the person who got dumped trying to fix things back up. It's needy, clingy, and pathetic. You'd have been better off spending your time riding your bike or looking for boyfriend #2.

  19. (Just gotta get used to it)
    We all get it in the end
    (Just gotta get used to it)
    We go down and we come up again
    (Just gotta get used to it)
    You irritate me my friend
    (This is no social crisis)
    This is you having fun
    (No crisis)
    Getting burned by the sun
    (This is true)
    This is no social crisis
    Just another tricky day for you

  20. Anon – you too much of a coward to leave your name next to your unwarranted ravings?

    Jill, Your feeling is natural; none of us can ever picture you as being a doormat. You helped Geoff with his run because you are a mature adult who can handle hard times and still be a nice person. You made a commitment long before the break up to help him with this race and you fulfilled it – because you don’t let pain change what you have determined to do. Anger is one of the steps to recovery – so you are a good way there. Thank you for sharing – love your blog! We are all pulling for you!

  21. I'm loving these desert posts! It's been too long since I've been in the promised land (for mtbers) but your pictures and stories bring back great memories and make me happy that you are there now.
    Thanks for keeping us posted, take care Jill.

  22. Utah has much different biking experiences than the ones in Alaska, but I find them all vicariously thrilling because it's something I'll never do. You are getting the time you need to ponder your life.

    I went through an I-hate-men stage and then I got married and had two kids. My life's vistas has been expanded by all of that in ways I never could have anticipated.

    We are all on our own little trail through life, falling over, getting scraped up, getting up and pedaling on in one way or another.

  23. Mike In WI say's

    Great pics as usual plus another good ride report...thanks for making my dank office existence better!

    Dave N. on a 29er fixed MTB...WOW!

    Mike In WI

  24. Cats are a good idea. they ask for service, and deign to offer affection. Then there is the bonus of a rodent free household.

    I love the desert. It is a place of healing

    Your story,and pictures make me wish I could ride a bike.

    Thank you so much for sharing your stories with us.

  25. A friend gave me a good piece of advice yesterday ... "the bad things that happen to us usually aren't."

    Life would be pretty boring if you always knew where it was going to take you, and it would be especially boring if it was always easy. I don't believe in predestination, but I do believe that everything happens the way it's supposed to happen because it happens, period. We only have one life and it only goes one direction. Every rock and curve along the way shapes us into who we are. How battered we are at the end of it all is mostly our choice, because we choose our state of mind.

    I don't regret trying to save the relationship for the short time I thought it was possible. I don't regret the eight years before that, either. I don't regret not breaking up with Geoff the two times I came very close to doing so. I don't regret any of it, honestly.

    But as far as finding a new boyfriend ... who will I ever find to give me the independence I need who's not a commitment-phobe himself? And Dave's right, eight cats would tie me down, too. Maybe it's time, as my friend Brian suggested, to embark on what Aristotle would call "bios theoretikos," the solitary life of contemplation.

    You just never know where you will find happiness ... :-)

  26. Jill ~ I think the path you are on is an awesome one... if just life...

    like any bike ride there are parts that are suffer fests grunt up an seemly endless climb, hike a bike though deep sand ect...

    and times when your going so fast down hill you can't help but giggle with vistas around every corner...Thanks again for spending some time with me... Some time i truly won't forget..

    Maybe Forest Gump put it best: Life is like a box of chocolates you never know what your gonna get

  27. break it down with your badass fixed gear mtb self.

  28. Everything happens for a reason, I agree with you, no regrets, just lessons. However, an independent life can be a very lonely one too.

    EL Animal

  29. Wow thats a heck of a story. Makes me wan't to explore southern Utah. Thanks for the write up!

  30. One may play about in the desert, eschew the hard worn trail, get lost amongst the sagebrush and scattered rocks and think themselves enlightened, never to realize that there is a trail because it leads somewhere better. Once the trail rises out of the wasteland and the divide is crossed, everything you knew before seems as transient as the breeze and as significant as a mirage.

    Of course, you would will say it better in a few years.

  31. I find riding my bike really has two "states of mind" and one very good outcome: focus, required on some high speed descents near the Kentucky River followed by some physically intense climbs and then riding some very familiar rollers where I can sort of "zone out" and contemplate life; but most of all, even at 50, riding a bike just brings out the kid that still inhabits all of us. Riding a bike, that skill most of us learned at 7 or 8, rekindles that 13 year old who had mastered the Schwinn Stingray with the sissy bar riding wheelies down the street and that same smile invades my soul no matter what curves life has thrown my way. I know your riding is good for you. Keep writing, riding and snapping those amazing pictures.

  32. Um new boyfriend? Wait, I love flyfishing in Alaska, I love biking, ummm wait......being happily married for 40 years this august, and the fact I am over 30 years older than you MIGHT make it a bit difficult :) I will ask my wife though! (if you don't hear from me for a while, just check the nearest hospitals)

  33. I'm so glad you could ride some of the trails around St. George. Of course I'm biased but we moved to SG because we think this area has the best year-round biking anywhere. In the summer when the heat roars, we head to Brian Head or to the mountains above Cedar City where temps seldom cross 70 degrees. Next time you need to have your friend show you Little Creek Mesa -- similar to Gooseberry but less "known" and less technical. Next month we get to visit our favorite trails in Alaska, where we have a better chance of seeing bears and moose than people.

  34. I don't know you but I'm also a Jill with a web site. I won't sign in as Jill though, because that will confuse people. I have a brother named Jeff which I find coincidental. Anyway, I just dropped in to point out that just because Geoff had such a view of relationships (you only see the trail you're on, you lose track of the world around you, etc) doesn't mean you have to. A relationship isn't supposed to be your ENTIRE life, it's OK to look around at the scenery instead of focusing ONLY on the trail you're on. As a matter of fact I think that's a pretty telling metaphor, and not one you have to subscribe to at all. A relationship like that is bound to fail.

    Don't feel bad about not breaking up when you wanted to a few times before; heck, we've all stayed too long when we should have gotten out.

    That said, enjoy the hell out of being single. You will get used to it soon and you will love it. I promise. There are no shortages of bike partners for cute single mountain biker chicks.


  35. I'm happily married, and I am not living the blinkered life that Geoff describes - I have less time and more time for things, with a helpmeet. I chose well, for myself.

    BUT. Like most people I've been through this rough road of post-breakup soul searching, and I totally feel you on the "all men suck" phase. It is a very important phase to go through.
    You were graceful to support his race. Race support is not doing a guy's laundry - it is keeping him alive for a race he spent months preparing for. It was very big of you.

    You are doing great.

  36. THanks for this post, I really enjoyed reading it, and the pictures helped make it even better.

  37. Was I the only one who smirked a little when Jill said she was in Hurricane thinking about monogamy? Sorry. :}

    Beautiful pix and great writing as always Jill.


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