And sand, and fire, and plain old earth.
Coincident with completing the build of a years-deferred off-piste bike on Friday night, the urge to go deep struck. Jeny was out but Pete was game, so we hastily whipped together a plan then met in the desert loaded for brrrr.
Despite appearances, the desert is cold this time of year. Carrying enough layers and food for our hasty objective were legitimate concerns as we set out into a crisp morning.
Derelict shandy roads gave way to cottonwood lined washes, and though we climbed a fair bit the trend of the day was downhill.
We somehow missed a turn where there was no turn to be missed, then compensated by following a gully to a rock slab, and then dismounted to trundle ourselves down. Not quite to the river yet, but the water collected here told us it couldn't be far.
Blending wholly disparate genres -- rock and ice -- of our riding careers turned out to be less exciting than expected. Sure was pretty tho.
Eventually the wash opened onto a debris fan, across which ran a track that dead-ended at mining detritus above a translucent river. We thrashed through a bit of willow and tamarisk to find waters edge, then enjoyed late afternoon sun while transforming to aquatic mode.
Low angle sun was delicious for precisely one bend of the river, at which point the current oozed us into shade and it was hard to think about anything other than finding a spot to call home for the night.
One bend later that spot presented itself. I'm the guy that always wants to go one bend further, to cover miles now that won't then need to be covered in the morning. Pete's frozen hands insisted that this spot would do just fine.
We fed the fire with tamarisk as though the supply was limitless. Partly because the night was cold, and even once dinner was eaten and chores were done it was but 7PM -- way too early for sleep.
But also because it *is* limitless, as far as I'm concerned...
My self-employed status keeps me up late (by Pete's standards) most every night, while Pete's job as educator has him up obscenely early (by, um, any measure) most mornings. He was up, breakfasted, had taken pics and video, reviewed them, shot more, reviewed those, then had largely packed up while waiting for the sun to reappear. And for me to awaken.
It was the crashing together of plates of grease ice mere feet from my head that ultimately got me up.
I'd guesstimated that direct sun would find us by 8, and was surprised when I rolled out of bed that it still hadn't. I set about boiling water for breakfast and treating more for the day before I caught on that the sun wasn't going to touch this beach all day -- and maybe not for a few more months. That was interesting, but the news of the morning was that I'd somehow not rolled out of bed until 10AM.
Knowing that we'd just burned ~2 hours of precious daylight on a day where we had zero to spare, I apologized profusely to Pete while hurriedly heaving gear into a pile. He wandered up canyon to find some sun while I finished packing, then we shoved off into the slush.
I carried more insulation than Pete -- both the subcutaneous kind as well as the puffy sort -- and as such the temp seemed nice and I felt relaxed through most of the day. Pete spent the day chilled, with downright cold hands and feet, which manifested in him paddling faster, often to tag a tiny sunspot on the other side of the river before drifting back into shade, only to cut across the next bend in search of yet more warmth. As we paddled -- he with purpose and I with none -- we ogled heron and eagle, flicker and raven, all beneath a cerulean sky framed by sandstone walls. I detected not a breath of wind all day.
I know my Canadian and Alaskan friends will look at these pics and read the next sentence and roll their eyes -- and they have some right to. But the days are so short now that you can transit from mid-morning to late afternoon in the time it takes to round a bend of the river. Suddenly we were feeling the miles left to paddle, and ride, not to mention a healthy drive home still looming. We were moving as best we could, but the speed of the river is what it is -- we have no say in the matter.
The sun dipped below the rim minutes before our takeout appeared. Neither of us had been here before so the ideal spot was somewhat open to interpretation. We both know, now, that five minutes more on the river would have saved us ~45 minutes of dealing with mud, willows, crumbling banks, more willows, and cliffing ourselves out within sight of our trail. We know that now.
But in that moment getting out ASAP seemed the smart thing to do, and led to one of us (raises hand) falling knee deep into the river, almost losing a paddle in the ensuing flail, then both of us thrashing through over-the-head brush (Pete took a stick to the brain -- straight up his nose) before delicately passing bikes down the aforementioned cliff, only to then clamber through a ravine and finally onto the trail.
Whence finally we could pedal again we took stock of what remained: 20 miles -- all uphill and in the dark -- might have seemed uninviting to most at this juncture. My flash-frozen shoes made me grateful for it, and with Pete's company and what-me-worry attitude we unwound them without really noticing. I was off once or twice to walk warmth back into my feet, but those instances coincided with steep bits of road so I'm not sure any time was lost.
In the end we covered a seemingly inconsequential chunk of terrain in our brief time out. Yet most of it was new to us, and the things we saw, did, and learned there made it seem like more somehow.
It almost always feels like that, doesn't it?