Going Places: Tales from the road: Telluride to Moab, Day 6

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Virtual adventure: Telluride to Moab

A hard rain falls
September 13, 1996
7:30 a.m.: I wake up. It's been raining hard all night. Look around, everyone else is asleep so I get up and put a little bit of tea water on and sit down to read and have some pretzels for breakfast. The road conditions are still dubious outside. The last conversation I had with Jim, the hunter who helped me look for Mark and Paul the night before, was that the road, Uranium Road, down to Gateway, our next destination, is dubious at best. Before, when the rain was running, he said he'd driven through up to a foot of flowing water at a time, and most of it was red clay, like what stopped us up yesterday in only about three miles. So as the rest of the group wakes up, we discuss whether or not we want to try to ride that or if we want to try to hitchhike out.

8:15 a.m.: A four-wheel-drive pickup pulls up and there's a knock on the door. A gentleman named Tam Graham is standing outside. He's a pretty stocky guy, with a cowboy mustache, a broad-brimmed hat, and a rodeo victory belt buckle. He's a local rancher and the cabin we're staying in is on his land; the San Juan Hut System leases it from him. Tam's a real nice guy and he offers to take us down to the other side, toward Grand Junction, where we can ride on paved road the remaining 18 miles into Gateway. After a quick discussion, we decide to take him up on the offer. Keil expressed some doubts; he'd rather try out the other road. But he was outvoted. We hop in the truck.

We take a very enjoyable, about one-hour ride down to Tam's place. We stop a few times to see some sights. On of them is Carson's Hole, a big box canyon with only one entrance and exit, where Kit Carson supposedly built a cabin and holed up. In another spot, we see beautiful exposed redrock, part of the Colorado plateau. We're getting further west now, away from the high, exposed Rocky Mountains and further into canyon country where we see a lot of sandstone bluffs, getting into the convoluted formations around Moab.

12:30 p.m.: We finally get our bikes scrubbed down. My cogs and chainring were so packed with mud that it takes about an hour to clear them out with a brush. The debris makes it impossible for our chains to get a grip, so cleaning up is pretty much mandatory. After we get all the crud cleaned out, we go up to Tam's place and he lets us use a hose and we spray everything off. We head down to the road, to about 18 miles of pavement and on into Gateway. It's mostly downhill, so it makes for easy riding.

2:15 p.m.: We pull over at a small spot on the river to our right and take a dip. It's warmer now. We've dropped about 1,000 or 2,000 feet from the top of the plateau where we camped the previous night. The sun is poking through slightly. It's pretty pleasant taking a swim at this point.

2:45 p.m.: We make it into Gateway after a long, thrilling downhill ride almost 10 miles in length. We check into the general store here, to pick up a package that Brenda had mailed us. It's an adapter for the Hewlett Packard laptop. We're having difficulty with the reports because battery life has waned to such a degree. The solar charger that keeps them alive has been next to useless because we've seen only minimal sun breaks, on and off. There's a woman there who does a little wash for us for about $4, which is good. We gradually make our way to the hut.

4:45 p.m.: We're all sitting around at the hut trying to decide what to do next. We're in the middle of pretty classic sandstone bluffs and canyon country here. It looks more like southern Utah than Colorado to me, but it's beautiful. Keil, Annabel, and I go for a walk to check out some dead cows. old cars, and a log cabin on this spread that the hut is on. The huts are either on Forest Service land, temporarily, to be moved at the end of the season, or on land that's been leased from ranchers or other landowners around here.

We walk up the hill a ways, back into a slot canyon. You can see that in the last couple weeks that a torrential amount of rain has washed through this area. In fact, all the ground around the hut has been swept away. It's a miracle the hut is still standing on its blocks because the breakwater that had been built behind it to divert the water away from the hut has failed somewhat.

6:30 p.m.: We're walking back down from the slot canyon when we see a little white pickup pulling in. It's Joe. Earlier in the day, we found a very angry note from Joe in response to the note I had left previously addressing the issue of the lack of food and water in the second hut. This note from Joe was extremely irate and covered three paper plates in length.

So, we all stand around in a circle outside the hut, talking. Everybody had been pretty pissed at Joe before, but we're being friendly now. Joe won't make eye contact with me, though. Because I wrote the note and signed my name to it, he seems to think I'm the only one who was frustrated at the lack of food at the place. He's all smiles with everyone else and won't even look me in the eye. Gradually, though, his anger overcomes him and he finally addresses me. He's very, very upset that I would dare write that note. He tells me I'm lucky that I wasn't around when he came around earlier, because he was so mad he would have asked me to "go for a walk," if you know what I mean. So now, having been treated to this fine Colorado customer service--having Joe threaten to beat me up, which I have no doubt he could have done--I back off a bit.

Joe cools off a bit, but he's still clearly very frustrated. His side of the story was that dropping off our package interfered with him having a chance to stock the hut. He could have a point, but it's hard to say.

In any case, since that note, the huts have been incredibly well-stocked with lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, and water. And the garbage cans have all been emptied and clean. We'll let the readers draw their own conclusions. But if this had been the case all along, the trip would come a lot closer to being worth the $425 we each paid.

7:45 p.m.: Keil and Annabel are still talking to Joe outside the hut. I'm kind of tired of the conversation. Paul, Mark, and I head out the local tavern--the Hideaway Inn--to get a couple beers and a pizza. This hut is just about a half-mile outside the town of Gateway, Colorado. It has a population of about 100, which looks more like a population of about 50. The houses are modest here. It was a booming town during the uranium era. Before that it was an area of cattle ranchers and bandits who used to hide out here because there's only two entrances and exits to the valley where the town is located. Now it's surrounded by cattle ranching almost exclusively. It's extremely depressed. There's not a lot of economic activity here, which is unfortunate because it's in this incredible valley and it's got the makings of a beautiful town. All the folks here are incredibly nice and seem very happy to be living here.

The tavern is modest and fun. The 21-years-of age-or-older rule for entry doesn't seem to be too strictly enforced. There are a couple of elementary-school girls playing pool and a couple of high-school-age kids having a couple Cokes. It seems to be the social center of town and they obviously understand that it's the only places for kids to go, so they let them in. It gives it a very relaxed, family atmosphere that only enhance our feelings toward the town of Gateway.

After a couple of Red Baron pizzas served to us with charming formality, with napkins, paper plates, and silverware laid out, and a couple Coors--again, the local beer--Mark, Paul and I head back to the hut.

9:15 p.m.: We're all pretty tired. I'm exhausted after the showdown with Joe, still in disbelief that I was actually threatened by the guy. But I guess that's how they do business in Colorado. I'll just have to be more diplomatic in the future.

We've got a really long day ahead of us. We've got to ride 18 miles with 4,400 feet of elevation gain through mud and rain to the La Sal Hut at the top of La Sal Mountain, the last barrier on our path to Moab. We've got two more days of riding and this next day could be very difficult.

10 p.m.: As I nod off to sleep, the rains return and they're raining hard.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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