My weekly ride last week was to visit a friend, Vanessa, who works for BLM. She was working on some BLM land outside of Vernon, UT. In the 2000 census the population of Vernon was 236, and as I rode through, I saw 1 store, a handful of houses, and a church. This is a long post, feel free to skim. There are some interesting parts, and PICTURES at the bottom.
This was to be an overnight trip, so Saturday I headed out late afternoon attempting to avoid the scorching hot temperature of the day. I rode into Vernon just after 8, looking to buy some soda (for the liquor in my bag) and chips at the request of my friend and her coworkers. Unfortunately as is the case in small towns, the shop closed at 8, and wouldn’t open again until Monday. I headed on towards the GPS coordinates that she had sent me. It led me down a fairly maintained dirt road.
My bike isn’t made for off-roading, and thanks to the lowered suspension, my shocks don’t have a lot of give, so I had to be REALLY careful. Not only just to avoid dropping my bike, but I didn’t know where I was, had lost cell service and CERTAINLY wasn’t on a busy road. Overall it handled pretty well, minimal sliding/fishtailing, though I got a little nervous heading down a grated hill. After about 0.5 miles and 5 jackrabbit sightings I started to wonder just how far down the dirt road I should go (my GPS had stopped working and wasn’t sure I was in the right place.) I trudged on hoping I was on the right track. Approximately one mile down the road, 3 trucks appeared, and I scanned the campsite. I didn’t know any of the people, but then again I’d never met Vanessa’s coworkers. I had to slow to a stop to look and not crash. The Vanessa appeared, yelling “MANCH!” I jokingly told her I was stuck and she was going to have to come get me (she had offered to pick me up in the truck if I got stuck on the road.)I parked and unloaded my bike, and then Vanessa handed me a pot of pasta, broccoli and fresh corn, along with a “cleanish” fork. We sat on the gate of one of the trucks and caught up. After we ate I was formally introduced to “the crew”. The sun was going down, so found and set up our sleeping areas; Vanessa with her tent and me with my sleeping bag. We quickly determined I was not going to be able to comfortably squeeze in the tent with her, and I was OK just sleeping out in the open. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a ground tent and some stadium chairs to sleep on. Right about the time we were done, were heard rumbling and looked down to see Humvees cresting the hill. We walked to the edge of the road to watch them pass. At least 5 passed us (maybe more like 8 but definitely 5!), and the men and women inside waved. Now, in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt road when one car passes it’s interesting, but when a convoy goes by it’s down right gripping. We immediately went to find out what was going on down the road.
Since this was a spontaneous walkabout, I didn’t have my phone, which was mostly a problem because I wanted to take photos. It was twilight as we walked, we had to cross over a cattle grate, which until that very moment never realized how terrifying they really are. After crossing the military camp came into view. We pondered what they might be doing, and once I saw they had a fire going I wanted to chat with them. They seemed to be in a “meeting” though and so we kept walking for a little bit. The sun continued to set, and soon we chose to turn back and return to camp before all Vanessa’s coworkers went to bed. On our way back, we saw a strange bird, flying/crawling along the ground. It flew into a bush, and we (as biologists) decided to investigate. We couldn’t see much so Vanessa turned on the flashlight on her phone. Nothing. It had gotten away.
Using the flashlight did however get the attention of the soldiers (for the sake of the blog we will assume it was the Army). They thought we had lost something. We advised them we had not and were just looking for an animal. Vanessa asked how many of them were over there. We got a barage of responses ranging from “A lot” to “I don’t know” but my favorite was the guy who said, “A whole army!” Then they informed us that in about 20 minutes they were going to start training, and driving up and down the road with their lights off, so to be careful and watch out. I found this to be entertaining, while Vanessa was quite distraught seeing as she was exhausted and was ready for bed. She asked a few more questions about what exactly they planned on doing/how much noise they planned to make, and we headed back to camp.
By this time is was pretty dark. The last rays of the sun had retreated, and the only light left was that of the waxing crescent moon. The crew was mostly still up and about but were preparing for bed. We informed them of our military neighbors’ plan, and they all groaned and started looking for earplugs. Tom, Vanessa and I stayed up talking and sipping apple cider with the whiskey I had brought. After about 20 minutes, Tom got up to go to bed, and Vanessa and I headed down the road, so we could chat with out disturbing the others.
We sat on the side of the road; talked and told stories. Vanessa was pretty tired (it was way past her bed time!) so we decided to head back to camp. As we started to stand up we heard a motor heading our way. We moved back off the road and Vanessa turned on her headlamp. “Don’t blind them!” I hissed thinking of the men driving in the pitch dark, likely with night vision goggles on. “Well, I’m not getting run over” she said. The vehicle passed, and we fell in line behind it. We returned to camp, and went to our prospective “beds”. As I lay there staring at the stars I tried to figure out what I was going to do now that they had all gone to bed. It was only 11:00 PM and I wasn’t the least bit tired. There was no service, and I only have one game installed on my phone. So I lay thinking of my friends back in Salt Lake and imagined what the each might be doing. I wondered what they would think about my night in the middle of nowhere and what they might say when I tell them about the soldiers driving in the dark. I laughed and rolled over to sleep. I fell asleep soon after, lulled to sleep by the sound of military vehicles moving up and down the dirt road.
I woke up multiple time through out the night, not used to sleeping on the hard ground. One time I heard wolves howling in the distance, which was cool, until I remembered that I was sleeping on the ground… out in the open. I was also fascinated by the silence, the utter and complete silence. I was hesitant to move lest I disturb the whole and complete silence that was surrounding me. The only thing I heard was a train rolling by miles away, one of the times I awoke. I was an intense feeling to be laying there in the dark (the moon had set) staring at the thousands of stars I normally can’t see in the complete silence. Definitely brings perspective to a normally hectic and loud life.
I finally awoke around 5AM, The sun was coming up, and I had to decide whether to try and get a bit more sleep or go take the photos I had missed out on the night before. I chose the photos, feeling the need to explore and appreciate the beauty of such isolation before rushing back to metro life. The sunrise provided some nice photos and decent lighting, but I truly struggled with balance between the background and foreground. By the time I returned everyone was up, and tearing down the camp. I packed away my sleeping bag, and changed clothes. I brought the tarp and chairs to Vanessa’s truck and began to load my bike. Just after 7AM we were all ready to go the crew had their assignments and we said goodbye.
I had the whole day ahead of me, and I eager to make a plan to explore. I headed back up the road, fighting with the pot holes and gravel. I was incredibly careful fully conscious of the fact that if I dropped my bike, there would be no one to help me. I made it to the end of the road and stopped to appreciate the view and to plan my day. There were some limitations to my adventure most notably I had no food or water and hadn’t eaten breakfast, I was also in the middle of nowhere Utah… on a Sunday. I decided to head back towards Vernon on the off chance the store was open, but also because I knew where I’d be heading.
After many photos of my bike on the dirt road and also in the middle of the highway, I was ready to head out. Headed over to Vernon and the store was closed, as expected; so I just kept riding. The road was empty and I didn’t see another car for at least 10 miles. It was a really surreal experience and I found my self wondering about a world with out people, post apocalyptic I guess you could say. I started thinking about breakfast, I was getting pretty hungry and I knew it was still a while to the next town. I refused to let this get in the way of my adventure though and pushed the thought to the back of my mind. I rode past a sign indicating a Pony Express Crossing. I was hungry but I decided I was on an adventure, and should explore.
The road was paved, if only for a short way (~.5 mi). I passed a sign with a “Safety Warning” stating the road a head was desolate and baron… basically. Once it turned to dirt, not far past the sign, I turned around. I really didn’t feel like off-roading on an untraveled road, again. On my way out I took time to photograph some of this road, imagining the pony express and how difficult it must have been to be one of these couriers. Once back on the road, the day was starting to warm up. This meant animals were beginning to complete their daily activities before it got too hot. I saw lots of wildlife. Many, many birds of prey I could not confidently ID from my saddle, though I’m sure one wan owl. Maybe a barn owl, but looked bigger. I also saw some small mammals a deer mouse, and rat or weasel, and a snake who was crawling across the road and was not too happy when I stopped to photograph it.
Finally, I was so hungry I told myself I couldn’t stop anymore, it was starting to get hot, and I knew if I didn’t get food soon, this ride wouldn’t have a happy ending. It was still more that >20 miles to Stockton and I wasn’t event sure I’d find food there. I sighed, and rode off annoyed at myself for not at least having a granola bar. I rode another 5 miles or so when it appeared like a mirage, an oasis in the middle of this sage-y desert landscape. Penney’s. It was a small place, in fact I came upon it so fast I had to make a u-turn to go back. There were only a few cars in the lot, and the sign was full of holes and bird’s nests. I wasn’t even sure this place was open, but I had to check. As I parked my bike the smell of bacon wafted into my helmet. It was open! I couldn’t believe it, this little diner in the middle of Utah, miles from the closest town, was open… on a Sunday… Father’s Day no less. It felt like a true gift from the heavens. And it was. I took off my gear, grabbed my wallet and my camera bag, and headed inside.
Penny’s is your standard diner, a couple tables and booths, as well as a nice counter but they also serve the community as a small convenient store with drink coolers with soda and beer. I choose to sit a the counter, as I was alone and it felt the most natural. First thing I noticed as I approached the counter was the top was covered in pennies, hundreds of them. In the middle was the Penney’s “logo” made by some of the cleaner ones. It was really neat. After another few pictures, I reviewed the menu. It was a decent menu covering both breakfast and lunch. There were even some entrees that might as well be dinner. As is the measure of any good diner, it was reasonably priced. I ended up ordering the pancake breakfast that came with a pancake, an egg and bacon. As I waited I chatted with the waitress and an patron that had come in and sat a the bar with me. Soon my food was ready and I was SHOCKED when it arrived, my pancake was the size of a dinner plate. I was so shocked I had to grab my phone and instagram my food (not something I normally do). Not only was it a big pancake it was down right delicious, as were the eggs and of course the bacon. On a side note I like my bacon a little crispy, you know dissolve in your mouth kinda crispy, but this bacon was soft, “chewy” as it’s called. Maybe it was because I was hungry or maybe because it was bacon, but this was some of the best damn bacon I’d ever had. I’d ride the 45 minutes to an hour out there just for the bacon. Serious.
All in all it was an amazing trip, complete with adventure and still allowing me to be home by noon. Hopefully you were a champ and made it all the way through. And just know that on the way home I did stop at some other places but this post is long enough already. Maybe in another post. Enjoy the photos