Posted by: Jack | April 3, 2007

Epic Journey: Day 10 – Natural Bridges, Moab

For the past few nights I had been passing on the bothersome task of setting up the tent and instead sleeping under the stars. However, when I arrived at Natural Bridges National Monument and saw no stars I thought I had better take the time. And it’s a good thing I did because a significant rain came through that night. In the morning it was still raining on and off a bit which was causing me to second guess my original plans. This national monument consists of a nine mile loop road with foot trails leading to three large natural bridges. I thought it would be fun to ride the loop on my Coker 36″ unicycle. Given the weather as well as my sore legs as a result of yesterday’s ride, I began thinking I might just drive the loop and hike more of the trails.

As soon as it opened I went to the visitor center to check the forecast and inquire about the amount of elevation change in the loop. I am currently sporting 112 mm cranks on the 36″ wheel. With an obviously fixed gear ratio of 1:1, steep downhills are a hassle and steep uphills are as hard on the hub as they are on my legs. I didn’t want to get into a long discussion about unicycling so I just asked if many people bike the loop and if so, how difficult it’s supposed to be. The very kind ranger explained that most cyclists describe it as strenuous and she also told me that the rain wasn’t supposed to stop until noon. We both agreed that I would be better off driving the loop.

Apparently all the reasons to not ride provided a challenge I didn’t know I was seeking. By the time I got back to my car I again decided to ride. I packed some food and strapped on my iPod and set out on my way. I was thankful to find that the road was pretty new and in great shape. However, I grew increasingly concerned as the first couple miles were mostly downhill. Keeping a good pace I arrived at the overlook for Sipapu Bridge after what felt like only a few minutes. I believe I read somewhere that this is the second largest natural bridge in the world.

The bridge is visible just to the right of my unicycle but as you can see, the view from above definitely isn’t the best. I decided that as long as I’m here I had better make the trek to the base of the bridge. It was a short but steep descent. And I mean steep as in climbing down a number of rickety ladders made from fallen tree branches.

This view was certainly better but I felt I might as well go all the way down to really get a feel for the size. This photo doesn’t quite capture the bridge’s length which is nearly that of a football field. Reaching the floor and looking up was a little unnerving as it just didn’t seem like that much rock could be suspended over such a distance.

It was when I began climbing back up to the road that I really felt the fatigue in my legs. I even considered riding back the way I came rather than finishing the loop. That idea was quickly dismissed due to its ridiculousness.

Continuing on I was discouraged to find the road descending further. When I reached the second bridge’s overlook I decided that I had better skip the hike and save my strength for the ride. Riding from the second to third overlook I felt a second wind coming on and as the rain subsided for a bit I began to really enjoy the quiet and relaxing ride. I hadn’t seen another person yet and wouldn’t until I reached the visitor center again.

It turns out that all of the uphill in the loop was packed into the last two miles or so but thanks to all the biking I had been doing back in Olympia I found that although my legs burned, I was able to keep them going and while my breathing certainly quickened, it reached a steady and maintainable rate.

As I returned to my car I certainly had no regrets having decided to ride instead of drive. Just then three women walked out of the visitor center and headed my way. I quickly recognized them as the same three women I had seen the day before while unicycling along the Calf Creek Falls trail. They greeted me with the inevitable, “So is this what you do, just go around unicycling in various locations?” I had to reply, “Well, yeah sort of.” It seemed quite coincidental that we had both camped at an obscure little campground, hiking the trail there at about the same time and then 24 hours later found each other 100 miles further along. We were even further surprised to discover that we were all taking the same indirect route to Moab.

I stepped back inside the visitor center for a drink of water but was stopped by the ranger asking “So is that a unicycle you’re riding there?” Thus began a half hour long conversation regarding the upcoming unicycling festival, interesting facts about the national monument and much more. She explained that it was unfortunate that the skies weren’t clear the night before since this monument had just been awarded the honor of “Darkest Skies”, meaning lowest levels of light and air pollution, among all the national parks. She also explained that the few rangers actually live at the tiny monument and the entire community operates on a solar collector field which was the largest in the world at the time of its construction. Later I went to see this field thinking it would be an endless array of solar panels, but was disappointed to find a little fenced off area measuring maybe fifty feet on a side.

As I continued conversing with the ranger, another ranger joined in the discussion and they both expressed their delight at my choice in transportation. Eventually they expressed their desire for a photo for their bulletin board. Having already packed my unicycle away I instead promised to send a photo I had taken myself. In return they promised to put up a new exhibit showing various ways to travel the loop and that my photo would be the first posted. So if you ever happen upon this site be sure to look for me. Also be sure to ask for Maureen. She is definitely the nicest ranger I’ve ever met.

I set out on the road heading for Moab and a couple hours later arrived. I checked in at the Slickrock campground and just sat for a bit looking forward to being in one place for a few days. After spending the better part of an hour on the phone with our energy provider ensuring that our power in Olympia would not be shut off, I anxiously made my way for the campground’s hot showers. My hair was getting a little longer than I prefer to keep it and having foreseen this, I had brought along my electric trimmer. This trimmer has a handy little vacuum feature which collects all the hair. Finishing trimming, I went to empty the hair trap and found that it literally contained more sand than hair. Climbing in the shower I rinsed about half of my tan off as the water ran dark brown for a good five minutes.

About an hour later I emerged from the bathrooms feeling extremely clean and comfortable. It was only at this point that I was able to recognize how awful my entire car smelled. Not really caring and having no means of doing anything about it, I ignored the issue and instead sat around some more enjoying having nothing to do and nowhere to go.

About five minutes later I got bored and drove into town for some beer. Back at camp I spent the evening reading and doing a bit of unicycling with the only other group of riders who had arrived this early.

I just realized how long this entry has become but I guess I felt I had to make up for the lack of pictures.

Continue to Day 11

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Responses

  1. Wow! What an awesome bloga! The pictures are awesome and so is this story. I felt like I was there with you. I also admire the fact you ride a unicycle, I have always been captivated by those. I have never tried to ride one of those, but I am impressed by those who do.

    Thank you for sharing,

    Thai


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