This might be the best moment of my life to date. A moment that I would not trade for any amount of money. A moment that truly is the endeavor of all overland travel. A moment that legitimizes choosing travel in a 4×4 vehicle and reminds me exactly why it is I have chosen to build my life this way.
Driving through Arches National Park yesterday, I made a comment about how a life of constant travel somewhat desensitizes you to the wonder of the planet. It isn’t that you don’t appreciate the incredible things that you see, it is that seeing such amazement with utter regularity makes you appreciate them less than others likely do.
The day and night that we have had to day has blasted this theory out of the water. Discussing it with my travelling companions tonight we have worked out that while everything we have seen has been jaw-dropping, for the most part it has been similar to our homes. The rugged and vast beauty of Colorado, for example, is like the British Lake district on a huge scale. Furthermore, the cultural parallels between the UK and USA mean that it is the landscape that really lets us know we are half way across the world. As such the best moments on this trip have been those that have captured our imagination through the iconic backdrops and general atmosphere of the American Frontier.
Well tonight we camp at the bottom of a colossal sandstone canyon, deep in Utah’s Moab Desert. Tom Petty gently strums from the car stereo, masking the background cacophony of Bull Frogs and Crickets. I have a cold beer in my hand, the blanket of stars and our campfire compete with one another to flicker their illumination on the blood orange sandstone walls of the canyon.
This is as equally distant from anything I know as we are distant from the nearest other human being.
Furthermore, we are approximately 8 miles into a 54 mile trail, that is one of the most grueling that Moab has to offer. We will awake with the rise of the sun over the valley walls and push ourselves and our vehicles through the intense 40°C desert heat. There is no going back now, so whatever the trail throws at us, we have no option but to find a way to complete it.
Judging by what today has brought, it will not be easy.
Back in the town of Moab this afternoon, we had purchased a map and sat in a coffee shop, simultaneously waiting for our laundry in the local Launderette and examining the map, looking at the trails, and trying to plan out a round circuit of the area.
We picket the mountain pass to begin with. A 5+ rated trail, the hardest that they get. We picked it as the route looked amazing, and it appeared that the most challenging parts were in the first 4 miles. We figured that although we have pushed our vehicles up mountain passes, through water crossings and had them in sand and mud, we had yet to truly see what they were capable of. We figured that if we could just push them through the first section, not only would we be able to complete the remainder of this trail, but we would likely be able to tackle a terrain that the Americas, North and South, are likely to throw at us over the next two years.
The first really challenging section was in the first 300 meters. A section of worn and scraped sandstone steps, each about 3 foot. significantly more than the seemingly ample clearance that the cruiser could offer. We resolved to use the cracked off rock and debris to bridge our way, and through a lot of gesturing, panicking and heaping of rock, managed to grind the first Cruiser over.
This first obstacle more than marked the point of no return. With the assistance of gravity, we had managed to make it down step. There was almost no way we would make it back up. Emboldened by our success and ingenuity in making it across this first obstacle, we pushed through the next 4 miles. A few muddy and rocky sections, a few diff scrapes and some particularly nerve jangling angles, but we made it through without much difficulty. Our biggest challenge through this section came in the half an hour of passing torrential rain, making the rock surface slippery and the visibility terrible. We managed to push on, with the big mud terrain tires and diff locks finally showing their use. It also made for some spectacular waterfalls, as the rainwater torrents from the rock surface, a visual reminder of how this stunning landscape was and is currently being formed.
After our 4 relatively uneventful miles, we came upon a section that at first glance was impossible for any vehicle to pass. A winding network of huge drops and boulders rolled down to a mountain stream, and the ascent on the far side looked to be even more challenging.
Pulling out our earlier technique of piling rocks beneath the biggest drops to catch the wheels and save the underside of our vehicles, we slowly bumped and scraped down the first section, rationalizing that we had no choice, and would figure a way up the far side when we had to. After spending 20 minutes with my rear axle painfully perched on a rock, white knuckled and shaking I made it to the stream at the bottom. The bridge that we had decided to cross when we got there was now upon us, and it was now very evident that it was going to be impossible to ascend further.
The inspiration and necessity of the situation struck and looking around it became apparent that at least at first glance, following the stream down, would lead to an alternate pass. The clay-thick water made it impossible to judge further without entry, so I stripped off and jumped in. Wading through with stick in one hand and my testicles brushing the surface of the murky water, I managed to find a route that seemed passible.
So I jumped back in the cruiser and went for it:
With the light now fast fading, we brought the second cruiser down the now established route. And pulled up on the rock above the stream, deciding that this would make an ideal spot to spend the night. A spot so good that it prompted me to write:
This might be the best moment of my life to date. The challenge of the route, the starlight and rugged and remote beauty of the landscape, all coupled with the knowledge that I have no choice but to push on along this route for at least the next 24 hours make me feel like a pioneer, make this finally feel like a true expedition.
If getting off road in the USA has taught me one thing so far, it is that the more challenging the route, the better you are rewarded for your efforts.
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.