Short Version: Went back, did it. Everything went smooth as silk.
Friday morning Fast Jimmy (FJ) called me on the way to work.
Me: Hi Jim, how’s it going?
FJ: Where are you?
Me: I’m in my car, on 215.
FJ: What are you doing?
Me: I’m driving to work.
Tangent: FJ almost always starts phone calls this way- curt, borderline-monosyllabic, mysteriously direct-yet-circumspect, almost with a tone that is somehow suggestive of something vaguely illicit, like phone sex or a drug deal. But it never is; that’s just how he is on the phone.
FJ: Monday. White Rim. Can you do it?
Fast Jimmy and I have ridden White Rim (unsupported) together before, and in fact we’d tried for a few weeks this Spring to schedule a trip before I gave up and went solo, resulting in the previously blogged-about White Rim Fiasco. In the weeks since I’ve stewed about it, wanting to do a re-take, but recognizing that it was probably too late (hot) in the season for another attempt.
But Fast Jimmy had been watching the weather, and he pointed out that our weird cold front this week presented an unusual late-season window of opportunity. So Sunday evening* I pulled into FJ’s driveway and started loading bike and gear in his truck.
*Following some non-trivial disruption on at least 2 of the 5 Axes Of Life…
Tangent: After I accepted the invite, it occurred to me that I’d be taking on not 1, but 2 demons on this trip. There was the whole recent Fiasco thing of course, but only later did I realize the date: June 8.
On June 8, 2005, I suffered the worst bike wreck- and bodily injury- of my life. A crash on Shoreline trail sent me to the hospital with a broken back and a concussion, and I spent the summer of 2005 wearing a turtle shell brace. I try not to be superstitious, but in the years since, I’ve generally avoided riding on June 8.
This Part Seems Trivial, But Will Turn Out To Be Important Later On In The Post
FJ had just finished dinner- homemade pasta with a very garlic-rich sauce. He apologized in advance for his garlicky aroma, and over the next 4 hours, in the enclosed space of the cab of his pickup, I was well and frequently reminded of it.
Tangent: I call him “Fast Jimmy” not only because he rides fast, but because he drives fast. On the way down we got nabbed in UHP speed trap set up under a bridge on I-70 between Green River and Crescent Junction, doing 86 in a 75 zone. FJ handled the trooper wonderfully. Apologetic, no excuses, pleasant (but not flip or dismissive) demeanor, calm, paperwork in order. The trooper let him off with a warning.
The next day on our way home were approaching the same bridge in the other direction. I usually try not to back-seat drive, but I stole a glance at the speedometer, then gently suggested to FJ that seeing as we were approaching the location of the previous day’s speed trap, a velocity of perhaps less than the current 92 MPH might be advisable. FJ concurred and decelerated. A moment later, a UHP car shot out from under the bridge, pulling over a car ½ mile ahead of us. As we passed, the trooper was getting out of the patrol car. Yup, same trooper. That would’ve been awkward…
We knocked out the climb and headed North on the paved highway to the Mineral Bottom road junction, and our water stash. On the fast ride down Mineral road I noticed the changes from only a few weeks before. Excepting a few hangers-on, the Primroses were gone, the Cliffrose flowers long-since shriveled and fallen.
As we descended Mineral switchbacks (pic right = FJ descending Mineral) and followed the Green River downstream (pic below, left), our drive-trains seemed inordinately loud. Stumped, we finally stopped and figured it out- thousands of crickets in the tamarisk and the willows clicking away, at a pitch and tone almost identical to that of a Chris King rear hub. We climbed, then descended, Hardscrabble Hill, then began the long gradual climb up onto the bench. The flowers of the bench were completely gone, with one exception- Prince’s Plume is still almost everywhere. Cicadas- absent (or rather silent) on my last trip- were everywhere, hidden in clumps of shadscale, their long, languid chirps reminding me of summer days growing up back East.
There were no Hummers (or German tourists) on the long climb up Murphy’s, (pic right = FJ climbing Murphy’s) and when I crested the Hogback I finally relaxed, having made it past the point of last month’s catastrophe. We took a good rest/lunch break in the shade of the outhouse (pic, below left), and though the Cedar Gnats were now awake and out in force, steady gusts of wind kept them at bay. We were grateful for the breeze, as biting insects are always a drag.... which brings me back to the previous night.
By this point in the post, a habitual reader of this blog might be thinking to him/herself, “Huh. It looks like he’s just blogging about his day out biking in the desert with his friend and what a great time they had. I guess there won’t be any real science in this post…”
That reader would be wrong.
The Night Before…
The night before, after arriving in “camp”, we set up our gear and bikes for the morning, and then rolled out our sleeping bags- FJ in the bed of the truck, me on the ground. I lay down and closed my eyes, and less than 5 minutes later heard the tell-tale whine of a flying mosquito next to my head. I promptly got up, assembled my “bug hut” and went back to bed.
Tangent: As I’ve also mentioned, I am an Excellent Camper. All Excellent Campers should have a bug hut. It’s a teeny-little freestanding dome (pic right) that fits over your head in your bag, protecting you from mosquitoes, gnats, etc. You just have to make sure there’s not an obvious gap between the edges of the netting and the ground.
I never got bit, but I awoke multiple times during the (short) night, always to hear the whine of one or more mosquitoes just outside the “hut.” After a while I thought of FJ, and how he-without a protective net- must be getting eaten alive.
Back East, Mosquitoes are a constant hassle in the Summer months. Out West they’re generally not. But every once in a while you find yourself in a situation in the West where they are a problem, and then you’re like, “What the hell? What are Mosquitoes doing out here?” But there are Mosquitoes out West and specifically in Utah, as there are all over the world.
Side Note: On the drive down Shafer Sunday night, I noticed big tire-ruts in the dried mud that weren’t there a month ago, suggesting heavy rains during the intervening weeks, which were probably responsible for the current Mosquito “bloom.”
All About Mosquitoes
There are over 3,500 species of Mosquito in the world, some 49 of which are found in Utah, and of those maybe 15-20 are fairly common. There are 2 real interesting things about Mosquitoes here in Utah you probably didn’t know. First, the mix of species varies dramatically across the state, even from county to county. For example, here in Salt Lake City, 70% of all the Mosquitoes in your neighborhood are Culex tarsalis (pic left). C. tarsalis is capable of transmitting some nasty encephalitis viruses and possibly the West Nile virus, and so is always a concern for health authorities.
But down in Utah County, just 40 miles South, only a quarter of their Mosquitoes are C. tarsalis, and almost ½ of their Mosquitoes are Aedes vexans (pic right), a species which accounts for only 2% of Salt Lake City’s mosquitoes. And as you bounce around the state, each county has yet another, completely different, mix of species.
The second interesting thing is the breadth and depth of the family tree represented by these species. Here in Salt Lake, 1 out of every 1,000 Mosquitoes you swat will be Anopheles freeborni (pic left) which hasn’t shared a common ancestor with our (locally) ubiquitous C. tarsalis in over 150 million years, roughly as long since we last shared a common ancestor with Kangaroos!
Mosquitoes are of course problematic for us because, like Cedar Gnats, the females (of most but by no means all species) require a blood meal to obtain the required protein and iron to produce viable eggs. Though many species prefer birds, and other species larger animals (cattle, horses), there are still plenty that regularly feed upon us. They appear to track us by scent, honing in on CO2 (exhalations) and possibly lactic acid.
The Deal With DEET
If you know anything about bug repellent, you’ve probably heard of DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) (C12H17NO) For over 50 years, DEET has been the most effective mosquito repellent known. And what’s so interesting about DEET is that despite its having served hundreds of millions of people for more than half a century, we still don’t know exactly how or why it works.
The traditionally accepted explanation for the last several decades is that DEET monkeys with the olfactory abilities of Mosquitoes, effectively masking our scent(s) from them, and so while we call DEET a “repellent”, we probably should have been calling it “camouflage.” But research just within the last couple of years suggests that this isn’t the case at all, and that DEET does actively repel mosquitoes after all.
Tangent: I am always fascinated by things that work and work reliably, but not necessarily for the reasons we think they work. Possibly the strangest example of this phenomenon is the airfoil (aircraft wing) the exact mechanism of which is still debated, and about which I try not to think excessively while flying…
Regardless of the functional mechanism, as you might suspect with a chemical so potent, there can be side effects. Skin irritation is common, and blistering or even scarring can occur (particularly on the inside of the elbow, which seems to be especially sensitive.) And DEET in the eyes or mouth can be extremely problematic. In very rare instances, DEET use has led to seizures in small children. For these reasons, many people prefer natural repellents, of which there are many- either real or supposed- but none anywhere near as effective as DEET. Such natural alternatives include citronella oil, eucalyptus oil, peppermint, thyme… and garlic. What scientific evidence there is for the efficacy of garlic- specifically consumed garlic- as a Mosquito repellent ranges from mixed to sketchy.
In the “morning” (4:30AM) I commented on the mosquitoes to FJ and asked how he’d fared. He reported that he’d heard 1 or 2, but they really hadn’t bothered him. I was incredulous, noting the swarm I’d heard most of the night. Then it hit us- the garlic.
Granted, it’s a pretty unscientific sampling, but FJ swears that Mosquitoes routinely do go after him in a big way. We decided right then and there that our future camping trips will always be preceded by heavy garlic consumption.
We descended Murphy’s and continued onward as high thin clouds shielded us from the sun. We rolled past the turnoff for White Crack and flew down miles of fast gentle rollers at 25-30 MPH, where the German and I had crept along at only 15 MPH or so in his Hummer. The miles rolled by, past Junction Butte, Monument Basin (pic right), the Washer Woman and Lathrop Canyon. We felt wonderful, we rode strong and, almost at the end, arrived at our favorite spot on the entire White Rim, where Fast Jimmy took this great shot of my backside.
Here’s my 2 cents: If anyone ever takes a really flattering picture of your ass, be proud of it. Better yet, post it on the Internet, as I have done here.
No, it’s not photoshopped. The “disconnect” you see between the rear tire and the rock is air- FJ caught this photo as I was coming off a bunny-hop. I’ve posted another photo of me pedaling out in the other direction (left) to confirm it.
Everyone carries around their own pile of regrets, and their own little demons of past disappointments. In most cases, it’s probably better not to get too hung up on them, but rather to move forward and focus on what’s ahead. But every once in a while, it feels just really great to bang out a couple of ‘em.
Now that was a great day off.