Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ride to Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

A Major goal!
Today I asked a Navajo friend, "Why do the Park Rangers always tell me the road is too narrow, too muddy, dead-ends, and too dangerous?  When you're telling me it's fine?"

Because they think you're not a local...

"Oh you don't want to ride up Hwy 7 to Spider Rock Pull-Out.  Too steep - and too narrow.  All the crazy tourists not looking where they're going..."

When I drove up to Spider Rock Pull-Out in early March, just after a fresh snow,  I saw the challenge ahead - I'd have to climb from the Visitor Center up about 1600 feet to the Pull-Out.  The road was narrow with no shoulder like the Rangers said, way steep - and more people lived up here.  The burly Navajo guys drove big Ram trucks fast and pulled horse trailers - the Navajo women drove big trucks too, but were on the cell phone.   It was freezing and there were no tourists yet - but I was told they would be arriving in droves pretty soon.

I was buying into it, trying to talk myself out of trying to ride up here.

But somehow, something happened to my body - I got faster, and I certainly got thinner.  I don't know and can't explain it, but things felt right with me.  After seven or eight months my head cleared, blood was flowing - and now I felt like I'd gotten my lungs up-graded.  I knew the road down and back, and now when riding back up the mountain my chest didn't burn to the point where I felt I would explode.  My rides, always tough, conditioned me to ride to the lay of the land - and one with the road and wind and sun.  I felt powerful.  It is a pretty fantastic feeling, Gentle Reader of This Blog!

Feeling good!
I just decided to do it - ride to Spider Rock Pull-Out - and then back.  It would be a long one - 80 miles or more.   

I got everything ready the night before so I could just hop out of bed and saddle-up.  Tires aired up, water bottles filled, and bike clothes laid out.  This is so before I'm awake and somehow talk myself out of this , I'll automatically be dressed, etc - so there is no turning back.  I've learned to drink a big glass of water before I go, that way I don't drink up my first water bottle too soon.  If I eat just about 200 calories, or a Cliff Bar, that seems to do the trick so I'm not starving after about 30 miles (Eat before you are hungry.  Drink before you are thirsty - Old French Randonneur Rule)

So - I am charging off, and spinning down the road!  I make quick work of Benally Hill - just got to get up the Hill.  It is very tough but, like I said, my body seems to be prepped, and I get up okay - because one thing I know, I will fly down the other side of the hill at 40 MPH. 

The South Rim Drive of Canyon de Chelly
I want to tell you that I flew down the road and felt good passing the first Pull-Out, Mummy Cave.   There's just a little climb, enough to make you have to work hard, just about a mile after this first Pull-Out - then the rest of the way down, after this 12 mile dash, the road is all down-hill to Chinle.  There's no traffic, and I can see behind me cause I have my little mirror, so I ride in the road in the smooth groove of the pavement - I speed along even faster!  

The ponies in their stalls at the top of the bluff didn't even see me this time!  Not even one of the dogs barked at me.  I sped around Dead Man's Curve like a missile, and sailed down, and then over the bridge at Chinle Wash - then right into the Visitor Center Parking lot.  19.7 MPH average speed.  Holy Shit but that was fast.  Because there's no water and no place to take a pee if I'm going to Spider Rock, I take care of business.  I eat a Cliff Bar and then-

This is when you have to be careful; it's the first mental trap.  First, I'll be going into the unknown.  My brain says, "Hey let's do some breakfast, then see how we feel, okay?  This is gonna be hard, man, so you need to like, fuel up.  Take it easy."  but my body, my heart, lungs, legs are running hot, and my blood feels like high-octane - "The Power"  I was telling you about.

Snap that bike shoe into the pedal with a sharp jab, and that is the signal to press on and ignore the temptation to slow up and go for donuts.

Taken on the trip back down, when it's easier
Okay so it is very hard even just starting out - and I am using everything to get up this road.  You go up one hill and you climb and it curves, but the curve is just another climb.  This is brutal on your mind and body because both realize at the same time, "Whoa - Holy Shit."  If you were driving by and saw me I'd probably look like I was dying.  But I have to say, that believe it or not, that bit of Power did not fail me - and instead of suffering - I was holding my own, and riding strong.  The guys in the trucks waved at me and smiled.  I respect those Navajo Bronc Riders and Bull Riders - so when they give you their nod of approval, you can't let them down.

As things were starting to meld and I realized I was okay, I felt like I was about to reach some kind of cosmic revelation - that I was actually "In Beauty."  

But I'm over 50, still weigh too much, and there is only so much left in my engine - I'm getting tired.  The road is getting long.  It is steep - and it's getting hot.  I get blind-sided by the next mental trap: I see the sign for Spider Rock Pull-Out - I'm almost there.  But as I get closer, I see that it's Sliding House Pull-Out.  I have about ten more miles to go.  It's demoralizing because as I reach that sign, I know I am burning up all the fuel and energy and enthusiasm I had on the way out.  It's the Slog.

Now it's just pedal and focus.  Don't give up - drink water and don't make the mistake of shutting down because you didn't drink enough.   This time is a long and tough time and I know you know it - it lasts longer than it needs to - but you know it and you know you just have to ride it out, mon ami.

Finally - finally I start to see Black Rock.  This is a mental boost because I know where I am - I have studied the Park map and Google Maps this and that - and I start to see or think I see Tsaile Peak,  Tsaile Peak and Black Rock together.  This I must tell you is only a fleeting sight, as in a car driving you might miss or have only a second to see it - but on the bike - having to work for every step, and then feeling the spot where the sight will soon fade - well.  Take a quick picture.  Take the picture after taking a mental note of the how it felt and what it meant.  For me - three and a half hours of riding my bike just to know this sight is possible. 

Black Rock from the South Rim
You must know that from the sight I just described, I still have to ride to the Spider Rock Pull-Out, and it is like four or five miles to go - and the toughest part of my ride so far.  I just want to get it done so I can turn around.  I am really pretty much cooked and I've ridden 55 miles.  Does that mean I have to ride 55 miles back?  That's the brain getting all nervous - you just have to let those thoughts pass and not take hold.

Made it!
The last few miles to Spider Rock are the toughest, like I said.  In a car it would be nothing - but for me after all the climbing - I'm beat up.  When I do get to the parking lot, it's quite and still, and I take moment to think about it - wow I did it!

About two minutes later the SUV with the mom and dad and teen-age daughter, that I saw when I was getting water at the Visitor's Center, pull up and they get out.  Mom and daughter walk past me and try hard to act like I'm not there.  Dad sorta realizes I've ridden all the way up here, and he's like, "Holy shit, dude.  No way."  

I hear people speaking French.  They have climbed over the look-out barrier and are right on the cliff's edge, where it drops down 900 feet, to photograph Spider Rock.  A young teen-age girl comes back to their huge SUV parked in the parking lot, and she sits in the back seat and pouts.  Probably something like "It's just another fucking canyon - can we go now?" 

Black Rock, and Tsaile Peak back there.  Spider Rock just under the trees
If you were out here in this country, driving or even biking like me, you would see a vast distance covered by Pinion Trees, never realizing that the huge canyon lies eight to nine hundred feet below.   Tsaile Peak is about 12 miles from Black Rock, and Black Rock up there is about 10 miles or more from where I am at Spider Rock.

Riding back from Spider Rock to the Visitor Center will be fast - so fast that I thought I could slow up a little and take in the sights!  The Canyon is beautiful and breath-taking for sure!

Once I make quick work down to the Visitor Center, and Chinle, I refill the water bottles and start climbing homeward, back up Hwy 64 and the Park Boundary to the Chuskas.

I have to say that halfway up, I rode into a cool grey storm cloud - and a gentle rain fell just enough to cool me off.  Thank God!  That was Heaven sent.  For the last few miles, the sun was out again and my clothes dry again, but by this time I was coasting down to The College and to my trailer.

Cheers!  Bruce

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