Moab, Utah. An eclectic mix of people living in a vibrant town embraced by towering ridges of red rock and the harsh, penetrating high desert sun. I have been here three days now and even amidst the constant sunscreen reapplications, high altitude (my lungs yet to catch up with the rest of my body), and guzzling of sweet, sweet water, I feel completely at ease here. Everywhere I go, people are clad in hiking and biking gear. Whether your shoes match your outfit or you’ve styled your hair doesn’t matter – it’s your spirit and person that matters. It’s refreshing.
Yesterday was beyond amazing, a perfect meeting of circumstances. It began when I got the foolish notion into my head that I could bike the crescendo and decrescendo curves winding through Arches National Park. The main road bisecting the park is 18 miles total in length and once upon a time I was an experienced biker. In this experiment of life with fibromyalgia, I figured, hey, why not give biking another shot? So I filled my pack with about 4 liters of water (for a day of high desert biking & hiking, this is the essential minimum of water to carry), high energy snacks, a picnic lunch, my emergency gear, and lots of sunscreen.
A couple of hours later, as my knees loudly declared their rebellion from any more up-hill pedaling and I walked my bike along the shoulder in determined defeat, an amazing entourage of savvy and friendly hikers stopped their caravan and offered me a lift to the next scenic turnout. Fibromyalgia was kicking my butt, yet serendipity had other plans for me. Don, a weathered taciturn man, a fount of local knowledge once he starts talking, hefted my mountain bike onto his bike rack and away we drove to Balanced Rock. I figured we would shake hands and part ways at the overlook as I recalculated my plans for the day.
Instead, I found myself adopted into the group, caravaning to various trailheads and hiking to the iconic arches of red rock that soar above the scrubby desert. Don’s wife Cindy, a trim, energetic woman two decades my senior, invited me to tag along. It was glorious. We soaked in the sight of the Windows section, climbing up and under Turret Arch, scrambling on the rust red slick rock, marveling at the vistas framed by the North and South Window arches. Hiked out the strenuous hike up bare slick rock, through sandy gullies, and along a narrow cliff ledge – guided by stacked stone cairns – to Delicate Arch.
If you have seen any photos of Arches National Park, this is the arch you’ve probably seen. And not without reason. Delicate Arch is sublime, an almost lyrical sculpted arch, graceful in its precarious perch and a chameleon of color, shifting in tones as the sun traces through the sky. In the middle of the afternoon, she was a silky soft red with hints of sand and white streaks. I stretched out on the rock and just drank her in.
The desert is starkly beautiful, a limited palette of colors that shape-shift with light and shadow from the moment the first tint of dawn appears and well after the harsh evening sun dips back into night. Red, sandy soil that flings into your hair and clothes with the wind. Scrubby little tufts of green, yellow, red foliage that clings to the fragile crust of soil. Towering, sculpted, stacked, and arched punctuations of burnished red rock. The snow-capped mountains far away on the horizon seem misplaced, a jarring reminder of plentiful water and shade somewhere in the world.
We ended the day with a “shake ‘n’ bake” ride through the Willow Flats road, once the main entrance into the national park by Don’s account, and now an off-road 4-wheel drive experience of rock, sand, ruts and craters of deteriorated road. A stop at a stretch of dinosaur tracks baked into the mud-turned-rock to marvel at deep imprints of three-toed feet crisscrossing the desert. Then a celebration with the group to end the day at Moab Brewery, sipping a rich Raven Stout and marveling at the turn the day took when all seemed impossible.
Lessons learned: one meets the most incredible people at the most random moments, the people of Moab are friendly and helpful and truly look out for others along the trail, and I may have to acknowledge once again my limits and bow out of certain biking situations, sticking to flat road biking or short bouts of mountain biking. This morning’s excursion on one of Moab’s easier mountain bike trails proved that biking is like downhill skiing for me – a couple of hours and my knees will be done for the day. Everything is wonderful in moderation.