I’m sore, I’m aching, I’m hurting in places that haven’t hurt for a long time, but I can’t put into words how elated and ecstatic I am at reaching Salt Lake City this evening.
This week has been a massive personal battle. The lows of yesterday were really kicked into touch today. It was emotional, I had to hold back tears of happiness and joy coming down the final hill, and that’s that something I’ve had to do often. Not because I’m never happy, but because today was such a stark contrast to yesterday.
I knew I had my work cut out after falling short of my target by 25 miles. My alarm went off at 4:30. Snooze. I opened my eyes again and it was 5:15. At this point dragging my ass out of the tent was not on my priority list – it wasn’t even light yet. Nevertheless I shone my headtorch into my eyes so I would wake up and get my ass in gear.
I was expecting the showers to be around $5, like the last truck stop I showered at. I let the woman sweep my jaw from the floor when she said it was $11. What the hell? $11? Yes the showers were nice and clean and all that jazz, but I expected a happy ending too for that price. Wafoob, the guy cleaning the showers, wasn’t into it though.
Burger King breakfast consumed and I was away at 7:30. There was little wind this morning so I could put all my energy into going in a forwards motion. Two big climbs awaited me before Evanston, but with those climbs came 2 monstrous downhills. I didn’t have my GPS on (the battery died) but I figured I was doing 30/35mph on the downhills. I got into Evanston at 10am. This is where I should have been yesterday.
The Interstate shoulder is littered with shredded tyres, roadkill, shards of metal and rocks. You not only need to keep your wits with lorries passing 5ft besides you at 75mph, but you need to concentrate 100% on the positioning of the bike – especially at high speeds. One blown tyre from riding over something at that speed and chances are you’re getting a faceful of concrete. I have pictures of a poor chap who suffered a similar fate. My face might not be the prettiest, but I still prefer it in one piece.
When I arrived at Evanston, I took the opportunity to charge my gear up so that I knew whether Salt Lake was going to be realistic throughout the day. It was noon when I left – 80 miles to go with 9 hours of sunlight left.
7 miles into the second phase of the journey and my bike starts to slow down and feel heavy. How on earth did someone know that this was just the thing I need, a puncture on my rear tyre. I cursed at the top of my lungs, pulled the bike next to a post and ever so carefully placed my three bags on the ground. That wasn’t sarcasm, I don’t see the point in breaking more things when you get annoyed!
Outer tyre check turned up no clues. I found the offending 1mm gash in the inner tube and then checked the inner tyre – still nothing to be found. Whatever it was, was in and out pretty sharpish. New (and last) inner tube switched in, I’ll fix the borked one soon. Armed with only a hand-pump I put as much pressure into the tyre as I physically could. Not as much pressure as I’d like but it would have to suffice – no one was stopping to help on the Interstate. Although I did have a lorry go past me closer than I was comfortable with – he decided to use the shoulder to make a U-Turn, arsehole, scared the shit out of me.
Onwards and upwards. A couple more climbs and I was beginning to feel as though reaching Salt Lake was possible, even more so when I began descending into the valleys of Utah. Thankfully my plan of taking the Interstate was now paying off – it weaved in between all of the mountains and was not only great riding, but spectacular views.
The bright orange sandstone rocks rose around, engulfing this busy road. It made me wonder how many people were taking in this magnificent view or simply taking it for granted on their daily commute. I took a break on the side of the road, making sure I was stood behind the barriers, and took on some needed food. Beans and sausage and granola bars to the rescue. Setting off again I came across a visitors centre a mile down the road. Another break, but this time more toilet orientated.
After confirming with the helpful visitor centre lady it was now about 45 miles to Salt Lake and it was 4pm. I needed to average 10 miles an hour to make it before sunset. The last thing I want to be doing is riding the Interstate in the dark. I may be tapped in the head, but I’m not suicidal. I left the visitors centre beaming with optimism – 10mph average, easy as pie. That was until after two minutes of downhill all I could see ahead of me was a constant climb.
Back to a crawl we go. At least it was fairly steady crawl but nowhere near the speed I needed to be going. I wasn’t disheartened though – I used logic to figure out there must be a downhill section soon, and there was, just as I passed a copper in the lay-by. Since I was now in Utah and not Wyoming, riding on the Interstate is illegal unless there is physically no other way to your destination. There were other ways – I just didn’t fancy getting lost or stuck again. I slunked passed the sleeping, doughnut eating bobby and stealthily zoomed off into the distance down the hill.
It was so picturesque around these parts. I could have so easily mistaken it for a miniature Switzerland – it brought back a lot of memories of roaming around Europe, gallivanting around without a care in the world. Now I’m just doing it on a different continent and with a slightly more arduous transportation method.
For as far as my eyes could see, the rest of this road was flat. That was another 10 miles out of the way with. I’m kind of glad that my eyes can’t see around corners because the next section was a windy elevated pass through more overlooking, loose rock bearing mountains. There were a couple of horn honks and fist pumps from passers-by through this section, they definitely helped boost morale and I was soon conquering this path.
By this point I thought I was close. I was nearly in tears of happiness with the expectation of making Salt Lake. Yesterday was a bad day, a real low point, and I had all but given up hope of making my self-imposed deadline of Sunday. I have a habit of underestimating how long stuff is going to take, and in learning about myself on the trip, my new schedule tried to take into consideration things I had learnt. This may seem like a small achievement to anyone else, but for me, this final 20 miles were huge.
Body parts that were sore at this point: shoulders, lower back, knees, feet, fingers and worst of all my right elbow. I was pushing through the pain barrier over what I hoped and prayed was the last incline. It was a tough one and a good two miles long. Even lorries and trucks were slowing to a crawl in the middle of this climb, they all had their hazard lights on.
It was at the top of this climb that I knew I had been right. There was a sign that I could’ve kissed. Downhill gradients of 3% – 6% for the next 10 miles. You should have seen my face, it was like someone had just given me a million quid.
After getting up to speed I assumed the tuck position and for the next 30 minutes I don’t think I pedalled once. I was never doing less than 30mph and often hitting 40mph. Dodging, weaving, judging the road perfectly I owned this hard shoulder. I could feel my testicles being replaced with something that resembled steel. One wrong move and I would be badly injured, but that was right at the back of my mind. The sooner you start thinking bad things will happen, the quicker they do.
I couldn’t look up too often but when I did the mountains either side of me were breathtaking. I was so focused on not hitting anything and remembering which exit I needed to come off at. Exit 129. It was here, the next exit, that’s exit 129, that’s Salt Lake City! After riding on Interstate 80 for the past 4 days I was here, I had arrived, this was it.
I could now see the city in all its glory from the top of the hill. It really was a magical moment for me. The last leg of todays journey was the last 8 miles into downtown Salt Lake and into the hostel. The time was 8pm, I had not only made, but made it an hour before sunset. Words cannot describe how chuffed to bits I was.
Sauntering through the city was all downhill and I passed the University and the main streets in town before making it to Utah International Hostel. I had made it, I had actually made it. Today was 108 miles long and it was finally over. At $16 a night it wasn’t the most glamorous, but it was a room with a bed, it was clean, and the showers were spotless! I was beaming none stop although my body was now aching as the adrenaline was wearing off.
The shower was a huge relief. Warm and powerful enough to clean my dusty, sweaty body. I had burnt around 8,000 calories today and was in dire need of that shower. I slumped on the bed afterwards and began to write before I fell asleep on my laptop. It was over, time to rest for a few days.