Here’s a sentence that’s sure to resonate: It’s been over a year since I booked a flight and the idea of taking a trip was just a little scary. The last time I’d flown was another bike trip with my partner Cameron and close friend Yuhnke. Our flight back from the Baja Divide had been delayed due to airport shutdowns on the dawn of the pandemic.
A year for the record books had passed; I’d taken my first big kid job as a manager at a well-known theatre pub in Anchorage Alaska. Then the world turned upside down and we were in pandemic mode. Days were a blur of controlled chaos, some less controlled than others, each day seems more stressful than the last. I cared so much about the staff I’d freshly inherited who were suddenly furloughed. I worked way too many hours, and was too regularly reminded of the absorptive power face masks had on tears.
It took time to acknowledge I needed to seek help to bolster myself. Starting therapy was such a huge positive step in the proper direction, starting an antidepressant was life-changing. Half a year into this self-healing journey, Yuhnke invited me to Utah. I realized it was a trip I needed.
As an added vacation treat, I didn’t have to pack my bike because I was meeting my brand new gravel bicycle and the framebuilder in the desert. The framebuilder, Mark Hall of Mahall Bikeworks drove 950 miles to deliver my bicycle in person and join in the shenanigans. Mark and I were the only two of the group who hadn’t previously experienced the splendor of travel in Utah. Not only was I taking in the alien landscape for the first time, I was on a brand new bicycle designed for me. The bike was the brainchild of Mark and my partner Cameron of Renaissance Cyclist. The first production expedition gravel bike from Mahall Bikeworks was mine, cerakoted in Candy Purple it looked and rode like a dream. The long-wheelbase was confidence-inducing, and the geometry really let me know I was utilizing these quads of mine.
Backcountry permits obtained, we were off to Canyonlands National Park for a vehicle-supported 4-day bike trip along the White Rim Trail. Support came in the form of 4 badass retirees with truck campers and no shortage of stories, who’d often strike out early in the day to bike back to meet our crew. The rest were a group of 11 cyclists composed of 5 couples from all over the country, some veteran bikepackers and some on their first overnight via bike. A unifying thread closely connected 4 of the lot: behavioral health backcountry guiding. Conversations around the dinner circle ranged from the best backcountry meals to the benefits of various bike geometries, to the rigors of safely navigating troubled teens in sea kayaks on the Inside Passage.
This trip was such a mind-boggling combination of stark desert solitude and warm camaraderie. We were a jovial lot, with more than one tutu on hand. On day 3 of the trip, we stayed on the rim of a canyon overlooking the Green River. The sunset promised to be a real dazzler. As dinner was prepared, and the group scattered for walks, photos, and camp setup, the previously stowed bottles of champagne surfaced and a call for cups was made. A whispered announcement revealed there was a proposal to be made as to the sunset and we were to act cool as the group returned. An uproarious cheer was had as the champagne flowed for a group that ranged from newly engaged, coupled or wed for 3, 6, 10, 20, and 50+ years.
Each day I felt more connected and in love with my new bicycle, and more able to shift my focus to the delights all around me. The desert is vast; I felt as though I’d breathed out some of the stress weighing on me into those unforgiving surroundings. Another delight of the trip was the connections made. We were a convergence of friend groups, many having never met, yet we shared laughter and coffee brewing apparatuses at the beginning of each day, stories and laughter at the end of it. For many of us, it was our first big outing in a year. After a year of social isolation, my heart was left smiling.
I find myself back to the reality of everyday life in Alaska. With each new day comes added light. The snow piles and ice are melting away but spring breakup is no place for a gravel bike. For a proper springtime, my bike is with Russ at PathLessPedaled. We’ll be reunited in June for another desert rendezvous, this time in Eastern Oregon on an 870-mile route. To follow along with future adventures join in on Instagram @renaissance.cyclist.