Set off into a radiance and wind afternoon, an hour normally associated with a quick circuit to be back before evening, so there’s a sense of, not mystery but its gentler cousin, unusualness. The timing is just as anticipated, picked up Joel from the Grand Junction Airport at 11:30, lunch, load bikes, pedaling from center Fruita by 2, at the trailhead after 3 and onto the excursion proper. With Logan and Skyler in the area and willing to put off their Kokopelli ride by a couple of days to wait for our arrival, we’re four riding against sunset’s paradox of wanting it start in its beauty and wanting it to stay high so that we might keep going.
Ride until we’re tired and it’s dark, we agree, the resolution of not caring how far we get today a pleasant tone of giddy. Drop onto the Fruita textures, trails passably familiar to me but there’s wonder anew of the cliff edge river roil below, powder white khaki red rock layers stacked time and the scrubby bushes and prickly pear here and there. Loaded bikes kick and oversteer, a few times we grunt them over boulders leaning our shoulders into the bedrolls.
Skyler and Joel pedal with exuberance, Logan and I hang back, me, at least, under the pretense of wisdom and pacing. We have never ridden together, though S and L have been exploring the countryside for a few days and Joel and I pedal Prospect Park or pick our way over the Brooklyn Bridge from our neighborhood to collect Manhattan roadies on our way to places west and north from home. We’re a merry crew, two Krampuses and two Borealises, will in the fullness of it make for a good team.
The bulk of those first hours is taken up with negotiating the deservedly loved Loma Exit trails, by the time we get within view of the railroad tracks and as far as I’ve been, I count five fingers under the sun, an hour fifteen till dark but we make time on the gravel road. I flat in the waning seeable minutes, patch a tube, dropping temperatures. The rest is by headlamp, cooking, setting up camp, for me and Joel just our bags unrolled on sleeping pads on the rock. Already a brilliant time.
The next day, the first full one, a mix of gravel jeep tracks and dirt roads, we take the traditional mile out and back detour to the water tap at the Westwater Ranger Station. Eavesdrop on river rafters with their easy partying way before they put in, two are dueling with plastic swords, the rest slide seamlessly between their flirting and gossiping, carry music and alcohol and seeming carefree in equal bulk. Back on the trail, all rolling distance and dust and sunray’s heat, snack take pictures trade jokes when we’re riding close, sometimes not. Navigation is easy and I relax with the terrain, that steady cadence quiet conversation, rock and dust that I can come back to again and again, my reference point for sublimity wherever I am. This section is easy, a sense of gravitational motion.
At the overlook above Buck Spring and looking down to Dewey Bridge in the distance, second night camp this time in time for pink orange purple sunset and a bursting moonrise one day off of full. Later, the cold has me turning, sleep awake sleep. I open my eyes and see it with a hemicircular bite, reddish behind the shadow. “Logan. LOGAN,” I hiss across to his tent. Skyler stirs first, sleeping bag zipper then tent door. I call out for Joel who is on the other side. “The eclipse has started,” for no reason I’m loud whispering. Let silence.