I found AdventureBus in the Sunday Travel section of the L.A. Times. I had one week of vacation before school began again and I wanted to exercise my brains out. After viewing online the different trips they offered, ranging from Baja to Alaska, I decided to join the Slickrock Express trip, a tour of the hot mountain biking spots throughout the Southwest. The thought of riding a 40 foot bus out to Moab, biking the infamous Slickrock trail (where your tires actually stick to the rock), exploring the Canyonlands, and going back to my favorite place on Earth - Zion National Park, was exactly what I needed before heading back to school.
For the price, around $625 for 9 days, I wasn't exactly sure what the trip would be like. I have to admit, I expected staple meals of beans and rice, cereal every morning, and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. I expected not being able to enjoy the freedom of a roadtrip like I would in my own car. Or the luxury of wandering off for the day alone or with a close friend into areas I chose. I also didn't expect the cool things I would learn about the Canyonlands, Utah, and The Valley of the Gods that came with traveling with experienced guides.
Waiting on the curb outside the pick-up spot in Santa Monica, I was anxious. Being a girl, a girl who usually does things on her own, often elicits responses, reactions and comments I usually don't enjoy, such as the stereotypical, "You're going where?" and "You're going by yourself?". I wondered if the people on the bus would stare at me as I loaded my bright green mountain bike or offer to help me with my stuff. By the time the bus arrived, other people had joined me on the curb, including other women traveling alone. No one, not a soul, asked me what I was thinking traveling alone.
That night the bus pulled into a grassy area on the edge of Zion National Park. The driver stood up, and announced that he could drive no further, and we would have to camp out for the night next to some Hot Springs. How unfortunate, I thought. That night, I stretched out in one of the hot pools, cradled by the earth, staring up at a starry sky. I would've paid three hundred bucks for this night alone! And still, nine days left to play!
We pulled out of the parking lot early the next morning and headed into Zion National Park. Once inside the Park, we were given the choice of things to do. The choice being we were on our own, be back at the bus by 6:00, ahh, I thought, freedom. I headed toward the Narrows, which is a canyon with red sandstone walls over a thousand feet tall carved out by a river that still winds through it today. I found myself knee deep in warm green water traipsing my way up the river watching the walls grow narrower and narrower.
When I got back to the bus I held my breath for a moment as I witnessed something I had never seen before. There were all these people around three fold-out tables busy cooking, chopping, stirring and making such a commotion. I was a little bit jealous of the people who had made it back to the bus earlier than me. I grabbed a knife and started chopping mushrooms wondering what was for dinner. We ate dinner (Calimari Pasta with Gorgonzola and Wine Sauce) that night circling a glowing fire. Everyone was quiet as they ate, then one by one stories began to filter through the air. Later that night the music of guitars and homemade drums rocked me to sleep.
I was eager to get to Moab. We traveled the next morning, passing ancient formations, Arches National Park, and dirty cars with bikes strapped precariously to their backs like strange hermits on pilgrimages. I watched as weary drivers and their passengers stared up at the split level bus and 20 bikes, straining to read the name with an amazed expression on their faces.
We pulled into the parking lot at the Slickrock trailhead. Excited bikers paused from their hurried preparations and watched as the strange looking bus parked and twenty passengers, fully clad in biking gear poured out into the parking lot. I had been waiting for this moment ever since I heard about the Slickrock trail. My bike was lowered down to me by its forks, I slid the front wheel into its place, adjusted the gears, my gloves and helmet and was gone.
Everyone had been right about the trail. My tires stuck to the rock. I felt daring, daring enough to head straight up an 80 degree angle of this amazing sandstone. Others were following me and I overheard the same emotional gasps and awes, as I myself felt, in reaction to the twelve mile trail that never left the same slab of rock rising up and down with crests of over 100 feet. A mile from the end of the trail I decided to settle under a tree and enjoy the shade, I turned to a fellow biker and let out a sigh, "I never want to leave this trail." "Looks like parts of your knees never will" he said, as he smiled and pointed to a few of my scrapes.
The remainder of our stay in Moab was filled with camping, rafting, rock climbing, hiking, and biking. Each morning we cooked breakfast by the river, which usually consisted of pancakes, fruit, french toast, and various cereals. Then we were taken to a new trailhead, given a little direction, but more importantly, the freedom to choose how we would spend the rest of the day. I spent most of my time biking, retiring early in the afternoon, hiking to a freshwater pool hidden in the valley for a swim and heading back to the bus early to help out with dinner.
We left Moab the Friday before we were due back. After another surprisingly comfortable night drive, we woke up the next morning miles away in a valley surrounded by monolithic rock formations. We were in the Valley of the Gods, we spent that day hiking the red sand canyons, exploring and looking for Petroglyphs. That night, around a blazing fire, one of the guys in our group shocked us all when he confessed to never having had a toasted marshmallow before. He must have eaten thirty that night, beaming a smile that restored some faith in the innocence of humanity.
The next day, I asked the guides if they wouldn't mind picking me up at the end of the dirt road. I wanted to bike out of the valley and meet the bus as it got back onto the highway. When the bus caught up to me I was ready to get back on. They loaded my bike onto the rack and we headed out toward Mexican Hat, a sombrero shaped rock that rests upon a tall spire. The guides announced we would be stopping at a Mud Spa next to Mexican Hat. They must be joking, there's nothing around here but a muddy river. Ha! I thought, a natural mud spa, with no fee for nature's gifts! I walked out to the river taking off my shoes and at once sinking into the ankle deep mud. Crossing the San Juan River, I found the perfect spot for sunbathing, and proceeded to cover my body in the finest therapeutic mud Utah has to offer. I spent the rest of the morning by the river, basking in the warm sun, feeling the mud harden on my skin. When it was time to go, I jumped in the river, gently washing off the mud, and slowly made my way back to the bus, with yet another great entry for my journal. It was time to head home with the satisfying realization that my week had come to and end and I was now ready to head back to school.