The quiet and then… I-80: Manilla, UT to Rock Springs
Friday June 28, 2013, 62 miles (100 km) – Total so far: 2,325 miles (3,742 km)
I stand by the side of the road. The silence is absolute. The few cars on the road this early morning seem to be spaced about 20 minutes apart. In between, the only sound is my breathing, the whir of my freewheel on a downhill and the buzz of my tires on the pavement. When I stop, it is silent. Nothing chirps or calls or creaks or snaps. The silence pours forth from gullies and hills; it winds its way through gaps in the sagebrush; it flows down off the buttes and into my ears, filling my head with the nothingness and quiet that I love so much.
As I stand there soaking up the silence, I gaze off to the right. The ground is sandy, loose and dotted with sagebrush. It undulates and then dives away to the Flaming Gorge reservoir. The opposite wall of the reservoir is dark, pale and indistinct from this distance. The sun glare is blinding with its early morning low angle. To the left, tan-coloured buttes flow upward from the sage-covered plains below. The hills and buttes continue as far as I can see. To the south, the land rises in steps out of the Henry’s Fork of the Green River. The Uintah mountains jut above the gentle folds of hills, the highest mountain peaks covered with a thin wisp of frosted snow. To the north, the road continues climbing and falling, a wide line of asphalt curving to the contours of the landscape at times and driving right up drainages at other times.
Beyond the road and its paralleling power poles and fence lines, there is little direct evidence of humans. No homes, no roads, no tracks. No cars, no people, no cows. I love the harshness of this landscape. I love the hard, angular lines in the gullies contrasted with the smooth and rounded edges of the hills. It’s like an open-air gallery of wind and water erosion. The long views, the big sky, the low vegetation, the silence – these are all the things I will long remember. I don’t tour to meet the people; I tour to see the land. I know it’s taboo to say that the highlights of your tour aren’t people, but for me, it’s moments like this that are my exclamation points of joy.
This morning, before this stop to bathe in the silence, I left before the sun made it over the mountains. The sky was filled with thin and high clouds of brilliant oranges, reds and pinks. The air temperature was cool. The scent of sagebrush gave the air a clean and slightly sweet pungency. It felt so good to get on the road again with all my gear. I’ve loved sharing western Wyoming with my Mom, but I’m happy to resume my tour, too.
The sun climbs higher in the sky. It is warm, but really there is little indication at 8 or 9am that the day is supposed to top record highs. The warmth is pleasant at this point.
The road dips and weaves and climbs. At one point, it falls sharply down to a dry arm of the reservoir. After this, there is a long and sustained, multi-mile climb up between rounded hills.
Eventually, the crew and I crest the climb and traverse along the high plateau once again. The road begins its curve to the northeast. Again, the views are long and expansive.
Since I began the climb out of the reservoir, I’ve been able to see a smoggy haze in the sky to the northwest. Now that I’m up on top of the plateau, I can taste it. I can smell it. And I can see the full extent of the pollution. It disgusts me. I can see the sources of the pollution down below in the valley – white buildings are spaced throughout the valley below. I’m pretty sure they are trona mines.
Trona is very important to Wyoming – and to you and me. Trona is the rock that produces soda ash. Soda ash is used in the manufacture of glass, detergents, baking soda and other products. Two-thirds of the world’s supply is found in this area (in the rock layers of the massive lakes that covered Wyoming 50 million years – the same formation where the fossil fish are found). Trona is Wyoming’s fourth largest revenue-generating material after oil, coal and gas. I understand that this industry is absolutely necessary, but good grief, this level of pollution should just not be socially acceptable in 2013. In my opinion, the shareholders should have to accept slightly lower returns, and we should all be willing to pay a little bit more for our consumer products so that people don’t have to breathe this crap.
So I climb off my soap box, so I can sail down the final few miles into Green River. The descent is several miles long and continues right into town. You will be on your brakes hard at some point 🙂 I maintain 25 mph through the first two stoplights, but catch the third one red.
I like this little town. It feels progressive, in a way. It has green space, and bike trails and a mountain bike park. It has an art festival later in the year. It has independent businesses in the old downtown district. It has built a kayak and tubing water park on the Green River. Down at Expedition Park, there are many historical plaques and interpretive signs about whitewater rafting and the history of the town. It’s all good stuff. Yes, there is plenty of industry here, and it’s a major switching yard on the UP line, but it’s just got a good vibe.
Helping the good vibe today is a festival going on in the park. When I roll in, the three-on-three basketball tournament is well under way. They are setting up for a bunch of other sports competitions and the vendors are all putting out their displays. Very nice. I pass through all of this and ride down to read all the interpretive signs down at the park. I spend some time sitting with the guys down by the river – trying to imagine myself back in 1869 watching John Wesley Powell and his crew setting off on their journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers. On this expedition, he and his crew become the first white men to go through the Grand Canyon. His story and the story of this expedition (and his 2nd one down the river) are full of adventure and scientific observation. Sometimes, I’m certain I was born about 125 years too late!
After an early picnic lunch in the park, we have to get on I-80 to get to Rock Springs. There are no other options. So on we go. There are heaps of trucks on I-80. There is a lot of other traffic, too. I stick to the far right of the shoulder, but the nearly constant rush of traffic just 6-8 feet off to my left is pretty full-on. The noise bombards my ears. The trucks actually seem to move over the full lane when they can, but there are still a considerable number roaring by just off my left shoulder. The contrast between this and the absolute silence of this morning could not be greater.
Twelve miles later, I’m very relieved to get off the interstate. Phew- I rode hard to get that over with as quickly as possible! And I’m happy to be done with the day by 1.30pm. It’s only about 90 degrees F, but that is warm enough. After some chilli, an iced tea and a Frosty at Wendy’s I go check into my plush-for-me accommodations. Lovin’ life on the road again!