Why this blog?

Yonah Biers-Ariel refused to have a Bar Mitzvah. His parents insisted on an alternative rite of passage. In order to avoid leading a half-dozen prayers and dancing with his grandmother at his Bar Mitzvah party, Yonah pedaled a bicycle 3,804 miles—San Francisco to Washington DC—joined by his parents and little brother. Along the way, the family collected thousands of signatures on a global warming petition calling for the United States to undergo an energy rite of passage moving from our dependence on oil to a non-carbon energy future.

99 GALLONS OF GATORADE is the father’s memoir of this ordinary family’s extraordinary journey.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chapter 21 – The Toughest Day Yet, I'm Not Kidding

At the end of every day, I'd say something like, "This was the toughest day yet." The boys knew that after the Baker-Milford fiasco of flats, I was just saying it to say it. But the ride from Escalante to Torrey was the toughest. How tough? It started in the cool dawn air of 5:30 a.m. and ended in the cool twilight of 8:50 p.m. In-between the cameo appearances of cool weather was a whole lot of hot. There was a climb of over 5,000 vertical feet and another grade where gravity needed defying.

It was Yonah's first day as mapman. Though initially against it, he came to relish the job for it bestowed him with power and made him de facto leader. He was good, keeping us informed much better than I had. The day began with a steep downhill to the Escalante River. The river valley is a breathtaking piece of natural art made of enormous, smooth, naked rocks. But with constant braking around tight curves, only Solomon could enjoy the scenery. As we dropped closer to the river, the light grey rocks turned terra-cotta red covered with lush green flora.

An overlook stood a few hundred feet above the river. We brought out the petition and every overlooker signed. Even, "only three of the top twenty scientists in the world are convinced about global warming," took up the pen. I asked where he found his "fact." He couldn’t say, but I’m sure it was somewhere on the Rush-side of the Internet.

After crossing the river, there was a 14% pitch which Yonah climbed with nary a bead of sweat. Solomon, too, looked pretty fresh at the top. Djina and me?

“Honey, which pannier has the oxygen?”

“Front left. While you’re down there, could you grab me a couple Vicodins?”

After downing our Gatorade (our blood-Gatorade ratio was approaching 50-50), Yonah informed us that the dreaded Hogback was just around the bend. Yonah first noticed this particularly nasty bit of pavement while poring over the maps a half-year earlier. On every hard climb he’d remind us, "This was tough, but it's no Hogback." The following description is lifted directly from the Adventure Cycling map. "The highlight (or terror) on this section is The Hogback. It is a 3-mile stretch of narrow two-lane road along a ridge spine with no shoulders or guardrails and has drops on both sides."

And then we were on it. Yes, it was narrow. Yes, if you ran off the road you would slide significantly farther than Ricky Henderson stealing a base before a tree trunk or large boulder would arrest your fall. But the wide-open vistas from Hogback were exquisite, and the road itself was actually flat, and the wind light. I think I speak for the entire nation of bicyclists when I say we would gladly ride a road flanked by rivers of 15-molar hydrochloric acid as long as it was flat and no headwinds.

Into Boulder, not Boulder, Colorado that beautiful college town home of good eats and microbrews galore, but Boulder, Utah (population 180). Not for the first time did a town's size belie its character. The Hills and Hollows Market was more than Gatorade, Doritos, cheap beer, and racks of breakfast pastries with "January 07, 2018" expiration dates. There were homemade breads, granola, and real chocolate chip cookies. The store sold Persian carpets, locally found seashell fossils, and gasoline. In addition, the proprietor ran a small lodge. Other examples of multi-tasking stores in rural America include: Gas, Tanning Salon, Groceries, Watch Repair; Gas, Dentist, Tarot Card Reading; and Cafe, Gas, Deer Skinning and Packing.

We bought a feast and took it outside under the shade structure to escape the sun. We chugged quarts of Berry Rain Gatorade, and thirty seconds later returned to the store to purchase Tangerine Rain quarts. Only I needed thirds.

Boulder was at 6,800 feet. The 9,600-foot summit was ten miles away. In other words, it was steep. Thankfully, there was a tailwind. If not, the 3.6 mph average up the mountain would have suffered. No steep climb was ever complete without a couple of chain-wedgies on The Beast. All in all, the climb built character.

One highlight was being passed by a car club of Things. Volkswagen built their Edsel in the early 1970s. Following on the wheels of their perennial success, the Beetle, they launched this vehicle that was so indescribable, they called it the Thing. Think proto-sports utility vehicle with a lawn mower-sized engine, surrounded by metal the thickness of a coffee can. That's the Thing. Probably the last twenty that escaped the scrap yard passed us. We heard them first. They sounded like small planes with asthma as they crept up on us. Truth is, they weren't going significantly faster than us, and that was only because they had sag vehicles hauling their gear.

Near the top was an overlook with a stunning vista of a valley filled with huge red rock obelisks and a snaking river. In the foreground, wildflowers swayed in a large meadow. Trees sang in the wind. The world was alive. The entirety of Creation was dancing, and we were fortunate enough to be invited. Taking in the vista, it was easy to understand why the Transcendentalists saw the natural world as the real church/temple/synagogue/mosque. The Hassidic rabbi Shneur Zalman said, "All that we see, the heavens, the earth, and all that fills it, all these things are the outer garments of God."

I thought of Anne Frank, whose only access to the natural world while hiding from the Nazis was an attic window, and recalled the young girl’s words,

"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow...And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles."

I paraphrased Anne Frank and asked Yonah “What do you think?” knowing he’d come around, for how could he argue with the noble thoughts of this articulate fourteen-year-old girl?

“It’s the grass is greener. She was inside a house for over a year. Of course she’s going to think nature is great. I’m in nature all day, every day. It doesn’t give me comfort. We should get going. It’s still almost 1,000 feet to the top.”

I wanted to argue, but he was right, not about nature or God, but about having a lot more to climb. I reluctantly listened to the new jefe and climbed back on The Beast, who also wanted to take in nature as evidenced by its moribund acceleration. We came upon a forest of quaking aspen and participated in the running of the cows. A herd of free-range cattle grazed along the road. Wanting to initiate cross-species communication, we mooed. They raised their heads at our poor accents, and as soon as we passed the first cow, they ran alongside us with reckless abandon until we reached the day’s last serious climb. One look and I knew we were cooked.

(Dear reader, I know you are thinking that I say this all the time and somehow we’ll summon our strength to get the job done, like always. Perhaps you think I exaggerate in order to build tension. [Perhaps you’re right.] But this time it was real. It was the end of our most difficult day, I had serious lactic acid build-up, and the grade was scary steep.)

Desperation is the mother of invention. While we couldn’t get The Beast to the top with both of us on, maybe if…

"Solomon, do you want to get off the bike and race me to the top?"


He couldn't jump off fast enough. He beat me convincingly, and we didn't have to push The Beast. Victories for all.

It was early evening and still no Torrey, our destination. Yonah was on top of the map, but the map was mistaken. First, Torrey was farther than advertised; and second, the eleven miles from the summit was supposed to be all downhill, but it wasn’t. I had used up all my strength on the summit climb thinking we’d coast the final segment. Each subsequent uphill was a personal affront. The veneer of good, responsible dad peeled off revealing a cranky kid in the back seat of his parents' car.

"When are we going to get there?" I barked at Yonah. Since he had the map, it was his fault. Instead of taking the easy parental action of turning to his son in the backseat and yelling, “Quit yelling or I’m pulling over!” Yonah talked me down. "It's just a little farther. We can do it."

Give a kid a little responsibility, and he grows up on you.

We pulled into Torrey's campground at 8:50 pm, over fifteen hours after shoving off in Escalante. Pulling the panniers off The Beast, my arms couldn't bear the weight, so bags tumbled to the ground.

Every few years, I undertake a particular piece of extreme bicycle masochism. The Davis Double is a one-day, 200-mile ride. It takes 12-15 hours to complete, and for the next few days, I lie around the house mainlining ibuprofen while tending sore knees and complaining muscles. The Davis Double has absolutely nothing on Escalante to Torrey except being easier having multiple rest stops stocked with food and much, much cooler weather.

To replenish calories we went to Family Dining. Like Good Eats and Mom's, one doesn't enter this brand of restaurant with high gastronomical hopes. Our expectations were met. That night, Djina made a rule to never enter another restaurant of this ilk or of any place that misspells a word on purpose such as Kountry Kitchen. But she was just sore because of the flying cockroach that attacked her as we stepped out of the restaurant into the night air.

1 comment:

  1. I love yonah's dependable and provocative counterpoints. Ride on, man.