By Tim Notier
The following is an excerpt from the book 2Up and Overloaded.
We rode into Zion as far as we were allowed by motorcycle. The public road ends at a main hub with large hotels and restaurants. From there, you have to take a network of buses that shuttle you further into the park. The buses fill up and let people off at specific waypoints. Trails with names like Court of the Patriarchs, Emerald Pools, and Temple of Sinawava all sounded like the titles of fantasy books I used to read as a kid, and they all led to the Narrows, the end of the line of the park.
The Narrows Trail doesn’t actually end, but it turns into the Virgin River that spreads from canyon wall to canyon wall. The river gets progressively deeper as you twist along the bends of the canyon. Sometimes we were waist deep as we navigated further along.
“How far do you want to go?” Marisa asked.
“Let’s get to the point where it weeds out most of the hikers,” I replied. “I would like to get some pictures that don’t have a hundred people in them.”
We lurched forward, expecting the crowds to thin around every corner, but there were always more people, just as stubborn as me to find a secluded section of this wonder.
After a couple of miles, we sat down to have a lunch break on a small section of land that wasn’t submerged. As we ate our sandwiches, a couple were having a photoshoot not too far in front of us. The woman was strutting her best poses, taking off her shirt slowly to reveal the bikini underneath and raising her arms in angelic positions for her beauty shots.
Her boyfriend was nailing each shot as she worked the hell out of that camera.
“Why don’t you take a picture, Tim?” Marisa asked as I stared, refusing to blink.
“Sometimes I just want to live in the moment,” I replied. “Do you see all of the glimmering stars and rays of light surrounding her in an aura of perfection?”
Then it was the Khal Drogo’s turn to striptease the camera. The woman took the camera and aimed it at his marble-like stature. Same poses, but with a masculine tone. With his shirt off, he bent and flexed for what I can only assume to be the cover shot of ‘Men’s Health’.
“Do you see the glimmering, Tim?” Marisa shot back. “The shadows in the tone of his muscles?”
“All right, all right. These two are clearly the descendants of Nordic Gods,” I said. “Did you ever see any of those movies where they piss in the same fountain when lightning strikes and they trade bodies, or a Chinese fortune cookie swaps the souls of two people?” I asked.
“Are you really going where I think you are going with this?” she replied.
“If you’re thinking I want to attempt to exchange bodies with those two beautiful creatures, then yes,” I said.
“How are you going to get him to pee in the river with you?” she asked.
“We have to at least try and do something,” I said. “Just concentrate really hard and do your best ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ impersonation.”
We both sat there in a meditative posture, with our hands locked on our elbows, our faces scrunched and wrinkled in full-on wish mode, all while nodding our heads and winking every once and a while.
“I don’t think it’s working,” I said after a while.
“I think it did,” Marisa said. “You’re the most gorgeous man I have ever seen.”
Both accepting our fate as who we were, and who we chose to be with, we continued down the river until finally feeling like we had seen enough and headed back. The Narrow’s constant flow of water was matched by the flood of people wading through its water.
The one thing that stood out to us about Zion was the accessibility of the majority of the sights. With the exception of The Narrows, most destinations were a short hike from one of the many shuttle stops. Large groups of people gathered together at the main attractions. We had felt a little more secluded at Bryce Canyon and Arches. Marisa and I were able to roam down different channels and avoid large clusters of other tourists while hiking through the other parks throughout Utah.
Zion seemed to be a stream-lined, cattle-herding, all-business model of a National Park. The park was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt like we had bought admission tickets to an amusement park and had to wait in long lines to get to the most popular rides.
After a couple more walks to different sections of the park, we got back on a bus that would return us to our bike. It had been another amazing day filled with surreal sights. We searched for campgrounds on our phones and picked one on the banks of the Kolob Reservoir, just north of Zion. On the way, we stopped in a small town for lunch.
While in the parking lot of a Walmart, a woman walked up to us and introduced herself as Dana. She was so thrilled we were traveling via motorcycle and said we were more than welcome to stay with her. She said that her husband rides a motorcycle and would love to meet us.
We kindly took her number, but we had been self-sufficient up to that point and we were very much looking forward to some more camping. Besides, I felt awkward accepting someone’s invitation. I didn’t want to impose on anyone, nor did I think we had really done anything all that unique to be rewarded with special attention. But we thanked her for her offer and headed off to the campsite.
Once out of town, fields of Black-Eyed Susans lined the road on either side. The sky was a baby blue backdrop with clouds meandering around in no particular direction. The flat land yielded prairie-like grasses, shrubbery, and pine trees, then gave way to the jagged sections of rock that was Zion in the background. When we arrived at the reservoir, we knew we had found yet another slice of heaven.
We set up our tent and then brought our chairs to the lake’s edge as we just breathed in the day.
“Do you think this is another two or three-day spot?” I asked.
“I sure do. This reminds me of camping on the Rio Grande. It’s just so peaceful,” she replied.
There was a little store a couple of miles away that we could get vegetables and pasta from, and there was plenty of fresh water to filter, so we figured we had everything we needed.
When we woke up the next morning it was raining, then it started to hail. As we huddled in the tent, hail hammered the ground around us, causing splashes of water and mud to ricochet onto us from every direction. It was even getting at us from under the tent’s rainfly. We were stuck, and filthy, but there was no way I was going to pack up the tent while God’s wrath came down on us.
“We need food, love,” Marisa stated, after six hours of non-stop rain.
“We’ve eaten all of our peanuts and granola bars, and there’s nothing left.”
“All right. I’ll go to that little store and get some food,” I said.
“Good luck,” Marisa said as I got on my raingear and headed out of the tent.
I jumped on the bike and made my way to through some muddy sludge before turning right onto the gravel road. As soon as I turned right, my rear tire lost traction in the mud and kicked out to the left. It happened too quickly for me to counterbalance, and I dropped the bike not ten feet from where I had started.
“This is going to be awesome,” I said.
“Are you okay?” Marisa asked from the tent.
“I’ll be fine. The bike is unloaded, so there’s no reason for us both to get wet and muddy,” I grunted as I lifted the bike back upright.
I carefully continued on to the store. Most of the track was made up of water-filled trenches of mud and gook that I tried desperately not to fall into. The hail was coming down hard, clinking against my helmet, and each piece of frozen water that hit me felt like I was getting shot at with a paintball gun. I made it to the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ store that stood alone against the backdrop of absolutely nothing, and although I could not fathom who its clients were, I was thankful for its presence.
The sign on the front door displayed ‘Closed’. The little clock with red movable hands said that they would return at three. It was two. With nothing better to do, I sat underneath the awning of the store and chain-smoked as I watched the thick black clouds that blocked the sun deposit tons of hail on the earth below. Marisa was out there probably wondering if I was okay, especially after my not-so-graceful exit. I liked it when Marisa worried about me. It’s a guilty pleasure, but I liked knowing someone was thinking about my welfare and might even miss me if I were to perish. Even if only because her survival was directly tied into my own; but still, she cared.
Forty-five minutes and six cigarettes later, the owner came back and opened the door. It wasn’t even locked; he just opened the door and flipped the ‘closed’ sign around to ‘open’.
“If anyone were to come in while I wasn’t here, it’d usually just be Tommy, Frank, or Bill getting a pack of smokes or some bait, and most of the time they leave a note with some cash,” he said. “Not a lot of traffic around here, especially on days like today.”
“I just need some pasta, crackers, and some canned veggies to wait out the storm down by the reservoir,” I said.
“You may be there a while. The radar doesn’t show this letting up for a couple days,” he replied.
“Awesome.” I said as I grabbed a second can of beans, corn, and another bag of pasta.
I rode back in what seemed to be worse weather than I had ridden out in. It was one-hundred percent miserable, with a chance of awful. When I got back to the entrance of the reservoir, I saw a husband and wife duo that were two-up on an Africa Twin. One was covered in mud from helmet to boots, and they were putting the final pieces of luggage back on the bike.
“Where did you two come from?” I asked as I introduced myself.
“We camped here last night, and it has just been torrential rain since four o’clock this morning,” he replied. “I’m James, and this is my wife, Imogen.”
“Really? We camped here last night too. I just went out to get some food for my wife. Where did you guys camp? We’re just over there,” I said, as I pointed to the west side of the lake.
“We thought we saw lights across the lake last night,” James said. “We were on the opposite side, down that dirt hill that has now turned into a mudslide.”
“I had to push him up the bloody hill as he slipped around spraying mud all over me,” Imogen stated, pointing to the filth that covered her as she curtsied like a pageant queen.
“We’ve totally been there!” I laughed as I thought of Marisa doing the exact same thing.
They were from London and were the first world travelers I had met while on our own circumnavigation of the globe.
We stood there and chatted about their travels as well as our own short stint across the States as the weather beat down on us. We exchanged information and sadly had to part ways more quickly than I would have liked to. It had already been more than an hour, and I was sure Marisa was well past the worried point and probably completely freaking out. I got back on the bike and rode to camp.
“Oh, thank God you’re back,” she said as I crawled into the tent.
I showed her our survival kit of canned goods and pasta, and she immediately wished she had made the journey with me to purchase more nutritious food.
“We will survive, but we will not flourish,” I stated. “The guy at the store said it will be like this for a couple more days.”
“We should move on tomorrow, regardless of the weather then,” Marisa said.
“Agreed. I just met two other travelers who’ve packed up and headed off in this madness,” I told her.
It rained for the next fifteen hours straight. We went to sleep with nothing better to do except wait it out.
The next morning, the sky retreated from its hostile onslaught momentarily, and we seized the opportunity to get the hell out of there. As we packed up our gear, everything was coated in a muddy stew that added an additional ten pounds to the bike’s collective weight.
“This sucks,” I said in a cranky mood. “Not a single part of me is dry.”
“Let’s just make it to the next town. Everything we own needs to be washed, twice,” Marisa stated.
Hurricane was the closest town, and we pulled into the first hotel available. Marisa hopped off the bike to see how much the cheapest room was.
“A hundred-and-twenty bucks,” she said with a frown, as she came out the door.
We rode to another hotel. It was eighty dollars a night.
“We just can’t afford that,” I said.
I knew that all Marisa wanted in life was a warm shower and a bed, but those numbers were twice our daily budget.
“Call that Dana woman,” Marisa said.
“Really?” I asked.
“Why not?” she said. “We don’t have a lot of options here.”
“I feel uncomfortable asking for help from people I don’t know. And, we are not technically stranded, we’re just cheap,” I said.
“Then let’s get an eighty-dollar hotel room,” she replied.
“Okay, I’ll call her,” I said as I dug through my wallet looking for the piece of paper with her number on it.
“Hi, is this Dana?” I asked over the phone. “You met my wife and me a couple of days ago, and... said we might be able to stay with you if needed.”
“Of course!” She said over the phone. “We would be more than happy to have you stay with us!”
“Thank you so much. The rain just won’t stop, and we really don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a basic room. But we don’t want to impose at all and...”
“Oh, stop ramblin’ on about being a burden and get yourself over here. I’ll fatten you up with some hot food and some whiskey,” she said, interrupting my prepared pity speech.
She gave us her address, and I thanked her again before hanging up.
“I think that woman is my Fairy Godmother,” I told Marisa.
We plugged her address into our Garmin and rode through the rain with the hopes of a hot meal, shower, and whiskey in the very near future. What she provided us was everything she promised and more.
We spent the next four days with two of the most amazing people we had ever met. Dana and her husband Bill were like an aunt and uncle that we had not seen for years. During the days we talked about her past life in the Mormon church, a life she has now retreated from ‘gracefully’. It was interesting as an outsider, talking to someone who was willing to discuss all of the dirty little secrets.
At night, we slept in her ‘Glamper’, an old RV that had stopped being completely functional long ago, but was now an external extension to her house. There was a comfortable bed, window shades, and an extension cord running through the top of the door that provided electricity to a small lamp and whatever gadgets we wanted to plug in.
Her property was dubbed Red Hen Gardens, and for good reason. There was a huge garden complete with every type of bean, corn, potato, and all the herbs that I could imagine. There were, of course, chickens, as well as a friendly dog that kept a watchful eye on us as we made ourselves at home.
There was a trampoline in a corner of the yard by some lawn chairs and a fire pit. The entire property was amazing to walk around and see all of the care and special touches she had put in place. One of the trees had the face of a woman carved into it. It was so realistic that I didn’t doubt the possibility that she might open her eyes and speak to me in some elvish tongue.
On the last night, while drinking more whiskey than I probably should have, we sat in Dana’s living room listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn make his guitar weep with the blues. I started to think about our trip so far from an outside perspective. Not every day had been filled with pure excitement. In fact, there had been moments of complete frustration, either with the weather, the KTM dealership, or disagreements between Marisa and me about where to camp, for how long, and where to eat. But we always got ourselves back on course as a team.
I play guitar myself, and some of my favorite lines in the twelve-bar-blues progressions are the turnarounds. Little personal licks of emotion, dirty and gritty as they can be, that lead back to the main rhythm and comforting progression of the song.
We had experienced moments of our trip that seemed to have led to the unknown, truly blues-filled trials that had eventually led back into the standard harmonious patterns of our trip that we are accustomed to.
Turnarounds in my attitude, and the outlook of uncomfortable situations have deepened my understanding of uncertainty, that “Life is Chaos”, or more simply, “Chaos is”. I started to realize that the world was not out to get me, and that everything seemed to settle back to normal if given enough time, attention, or acceptance that some things will just not change.
It hasn’t been all bliss and wonder, but every moment had been an experience that I wouldn’t have traded for an easier path. Some of the worst roads led to the most beautiful camp sites, and some of the most stressful days led to meeting the most amazing people that I have ever encountered.
It would mean the absolute world to us!
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We would love to be able to inspire you to travel this magnificent world, via two wheels, four, or even by foot. We live on an amazing planet, and our only hope is to get your adventure blood pumping to get out there and explore it for yourself once these tough times have passed.