Burning Gas-Moab-1

In nineteen seventy-one I went to the Schwinn Bicycle shop in Oak Lawn, Illinois to buy a bike for my wife. It was near Mother’s Day, and the kids (9,8,4) wanted mom to have a bike so she could ride with them. The shop owner was a middle age man who presented himself as an obnoxious oaf. How he survived with that attitude in a business dealing with customers made me wonder if attitude was necessary to succeed. I finally did buy a nice blue bike with narrow tires, hand brakes, and a five speed transmission for Barb. Maybe that is how the guy survived, he was the only game around.

In the course of my conversation with the man, I asked if Schwinn ever intended to make a heavy balloon tired bike with hand brakes and multiple speeds. He replied, “why would anyone want something like that?”  That was the day I invented the mountain bike in the flat state of Illinois. It wasn’t until a few years later that a kid from California cobbled together the bike I envisioned and began a craze that has not slowed down.

I finally bought my first mountain bike in nineteen seventy-eight, from Schwinn. I loved it. My town at the time was in Cook County, Illinois famous for crooked politicians and graft. One good thing Cook County has is a fabulous Forest Preserve District with thousands of acres of forested land around Chicago. Evidently the politicians of old owned horses because the Forest Preserve boasts of over one hundred miles of horse trails. Those trails became my private mountain bike experience for the next twenty-five years. Biking on horse trails became my passion. I also notched many week-long bicycle tours on my belt.

During the course of my cycling history Moab, Utah became the goal. Cycling magazines featured tours and photo essays of the fabulous bicycling on the rocks of Moab. I longed to take a tour there, but it has never happened. The lure to visit Moab, however, stayed deep in my psyche. When I began to winter in Arizona, I realized that Moab was really very close to where I stayed. Close is a relative term, Moab is still over four hundred miles from the Valley of the Sun. Nevertheless, I kept longing to visit and tour Arches National Park. Finally, the stars and the moon were in correct alignment with Neptune and it happened.

Moab, Utah has built an economy around mountain biking, rafting, rock climbing, off-road touring, and photography. The town is a mecca for young twenty and thirty something outdoor types fascinated by adventure. I believe Peggy and I were the oldest people in town.

We scheduled a day to tour Arches National Park, and I’m glad we did. The park is just a couple of miles from Moab, and very accessible by major highways. My heart beat fast as we crossed a bridge and I spotted a sign that said, “Colorado River.” Are you kidding me? I drove over the mighty Colorado. I’ve never traced the head waters of the Colorado and was totally unaware that it enters Arizona by crossing Utah as it comes from Colorado. Previously, the only glimpse I ever had of the mighty river is from the edge of the Grand Canyon. I asked Peg if she was up to a raft ride on the Colorado, she promptly put the notion out of my mind with a rather short “NO.”

At the gate, I flashed “The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass” I bought last year at White Sands. The attendant, one of my employees in a Smokey the Bear uniform, handed me a map and waved us through. Thank God there is a seventeen mile road that winds around Arches. We did see some hearty white-haired bicyclists pumping hard up a hill, but motorists out numbered cyclists by about a thousand to one. The scenery is better than Monument Valley of the day before.  There are many arches formed by water erosion of the soft orange-red stone. We saw most of the arches from drive-by view-point. The most popular ones need a vigorous hike to get close too. It made me appreciate all photographs of the arches because the photographer expended enormous energy to take the photos. I did take some point and shoot photos, but  they are not calendar quality. The drive took us four hours to complete before we cried uncle and headed for some food. Just sitting in the car and seeing all the fabulous rock formations that have taken four-hundred thousand years to form burned us out.

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