Issue Nineteen

DESERT AMNESIA

Returning To Our Secret Spot

WORDS & PHOTOS x Ben Kraushaar

3 April 2017
Part One

Youth

The Utah desert has been and will forever be, the place I go to forget, to disconnect, and to escape. Even as a child, when I was ignorant to the societal burdens of adulthood and the repercussions of political greed and malice, there was something rejuvenating about basking in the warm sun, sleeping under the immense night sky, and returning home coated head-to-toe in delicious red dirt.

Every spring throughout my entire youth, my family would load up our ghetto, rust-colored, slow as shit, Volvo station wagon with all the essentials (bikes, camping gear, firewood, snacks, water) and head to Utah from our home in chilly Colorado. Our destination was always our favorite BLM campsite – a true public land gem – nestled behind towering sandstone cliffs and down a dusty, desolate, dirt road on the outskirts of Canyonlands National Park. We called it our “secret spot”.

Growing up, I loved our secret spot and the experiences of roasting marshmallows on yucca branches, collecting bullet shells, whittling sticks to oblivion, and rompin’ my ridged, Jamis Explorer through sand pits and over rocks. Those are forever some of my fondest childhood memories. As I grew older and more capable, family trips to our secret spot dwindled but our desert adventures continued. We soon discovered the glorious White Rim Trail.

The White Rim Trail is a 100-mile, 4WD route that circumnavigates some of the most beautiful country in Utah. It is located in Canyonlands National Park, and the trail takes anywhere from 1-4 days to complete. We always opt for the four day, vehicle supported option to maximize desert amnesia, sunburns and camp chillin. Riding this trail has become somewhat of an annual tradition for my friends and I, and we have now done this trip seven times. It never gets old and after the recent election of the xenophobic sweet potato a White Rim trip provided us with a needed distraction from social media, graduate school, and our nation’s increasingly toxic politics. Sometimes you have to just disconnect, reset, chill, get drunk, and ride bikes in the desert. The White Rim provides the ultimate escape from reality.

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Part Two

The Chaos

Our crew is a shameless shit-show and our trips are typically defined by four characteristics: mayhem, tardiness, bikes and beer. I don’t think that any prolonged excursion we have done together has ever gone smoothly, but we thrive in chaos and we always end up having fun. Our most recent adventure was no exception.

We planned to rendezvous at another one of our beloved BLM campsites the night before. My girlfriend and I were coming down from windy Wyoming; my sister, her husband, and three friends were coming up from Durango, Colorado; and a couple more of my friends were making the pilgrimage from Flagstaff, Arizona. My three temporally challenged friends from Durango never showed up.

“Where the fuck are you guys?” I wheezed through labored breaths. I had just scrambled up 500 feet of sandstone boulders to the top of a nearby mesa with the hopes of finding some cell service so I could call up Dylan’s missing ass.

“Uhhh…we are working on the truck.” He replied through the crackling of the weak connection.

“We gotta finish putting the lift kit on. We will be there tomor – ” .

The connection abruptly failed and I was left with only peaceful annoyance and the subtle sounds of the desolate desert. The laughing of canyon wrens and rustling of juniper branches eased my searing frustration and a familiar smell – campfire – beckoned me back to camp.

I need a beer.

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Part Three

The Ride

Our turbulent start didn’t impede the pure euphoria we experienced when we dropped into the White Rim and began our adventures. There is something about the Utah landscape that is mesmerizing and therapeutic. Maybe it’s the sharp juxtaposition of the snowcapped La Sal Mountains against petrified sand dunes, maybe it’s the inconceivable and overwhelming sense of deep time preserved in the baked and battered geology, or maybe it’s the resilient patches of sage brush and yucca that somehow manage to thrive in such a harsh environment. At any rate, all our worries, stress and angst disappeared with that first pedal stroke down the trail. I was even able to forget, just for a moment, that Donald fucking Trump was our newly elected president.

For three days and four nights we were blessed by a rudimentary existence and our daily routine was distilled down to only the most essential actions. The mornings would begin with the consumption of massive amounts of bacon, eggs, and coffee followed by an hour of raunchy jokes and mindless bickering. The toughest part of the mornings was packing the truck. A tedious task reminiscent of my days as a child playing Tetris and Legos. I was never very good at Tetris.

Down the road, past arches, and around towering sandstone spires our bikes lead us. Through lonely landscapes we pedaled. Although similar, every day’s journey presented us with new beauty, new views, and a newfound respect for our public lands. Eventually, the trail would lead us to a new camp where we would unpack the truck, cook dank food, drink brews and fall asleep under the cosmic canvas. We are so lucky to be able to enjoy these wild places.

At one point during our trip we randomly met up with a group of friends from Wyoming, who by chance, applied for the same permit, and were camping at the exact same site as us. Needless to say, we partied and we feasted. Deep fried turkey, stuffing, biscuits, gravy, potatoes, and pie – you name it. We ate it.

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Part Four

Goodbyes

I watched another drop of sweat splatter on my top tube as I tried to shift into my granny gear. My chain – coated by a thick mush of lube and red silt and under immense tension – battled my command, but eventually settled onto the largest cassette cog. I looked up and gazed upon the steep switchbacks towering above me. At the top of the climb was the rest of our car and the end of our trip. The terminus of our dreamy desert delusion.

We cracked open one last beer as we unpacked the truck and divvied up everyone’s belongings. I felt refreshed with my mind at ease. The White Rim had, once again, provided me with a revamped perspective on the world. This trip reminded me of what is truly important in life: friends, family, recreation, and preserving the natural world. After a round of high fives and hugs we went our separate ways.

Back to reality. Back to responsibilities.

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Part Five

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

When it comes to other things that actually matter, like climate change, clean water, the protection of our public lands, the idea that “ignorance is bliss” is utter bullshit. The saying should be changed to: “ignorance threatens bliss”. Yeah sure maybe not knowing what kind of mystery meat you are actually eating in your hot and spicy sandwich from McDonalds might provide temporary peace of mind, but being uninformed about issues that jeopardize the very places that we go to escape, the places we go to forget, and the places we go to find bliss, is dangerous, irresponsible, and inexcusable. The natural world is the ultimate facilitator of euphoric existence and it deserves our respect and our protection.

While it’s absolutely essential to take a break, disconnect, and go on trips like the White Rim, it’s equally important to be cognizant of the threats and proposed [and now legislated] political legislation that imperils the natural world. We live in an age of information where anything and everything we would ever want to know is literally at our fingertips, and today, simply claiming ignorance is no longer an excuse. Ignorance is laziness and laziness gets you nowhere. Be informed and hold those with power accountable so maybe, just maybe, future generations can discover their own “secret spots” to drink beer and ride bikes with friends and family. The world could only be a better place for it.

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Thanks
Issue Nineteen
x

Thanks to Ben and all his friends for telling their story of escape.

A $6.50 donation to the Eskapee Carbon Offset Fund was made to offset the travel used in the production of this Issue.

The End
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