Aye, Danny Boy –

A pleasant surprise, your letter of Tuesday past, and one that stirred many memories, most of them fond, upon your mention of the White Rim Trail. I felt a little sick to my stomach, though, for opportunity lost, as the following morning I was to leave for … the White Rim.

Let this serve as an apology, then, for not extending an invitation; it was a little like having a Mt. Rushmore party and not inviting Abraham Lincoln, you being a founding father and all, participant in Wanda’s inaugural White Rim ride last century. My guilt was lessened somewhat by the knowledge that Wanda wasn’t coming on this one, and presumably the attraction for you wouldn’t be as great.

I’m fine with this: Even before dogs and babies, I knew when I hitched my horse to Wanda’s wagon that I would trundle through life thereafter as an accessory. She is usually referred to as the better half, but it’s really more like seven-eighths.

Here’s what you missed: A pre-dawn start through a white-out blizzard, truck loaded with bike, camping gear, and a small bathtub of pre-made chili for that night’s dinner, made with braised London broil, molé broth and many dozens of Pueblo fire-roasted chilies. Don’t like it spicy? Quit whining and put some sour cream on it. Otherwise, more for us.

The snow turned to sleet down valley and after an engaging hydroplane across Wright’s Mesa, the sun rose and the pyramids of the La Sal Mountains emerged from a dense gray blanket of rain. Climbing to the shoulder of the La Sals, the storm tore apart and the Needles District was graced with sporadic patches of sun, eliciting the wild hope that the worst was over.

The patches of blue sky proved to be the eye of the storm, however, as a glimpse to the north coming around the mountain afforded a view of a weather event resembling nothing so much as the black wall of a Category 5 hurricane advancing on the Atlantic seaboard. Moab was soon engulfed and it was in an icy rain at the City Market rendezvous, branches blown from the trees, that the party considered the prospects.

It was a disparate group, from Colorado, Michigan and the Bahamas — you may remember Pat McCully, blonde, genial, fellow Mt. Rushmore figure from that historic ride; it was he who landed the permit — but with a common purpose, determined to ride. We grabbed some groceries and headed up to Island in the Sky, wipers slapping the windshield.

The storm finally broke, leaving muddy, un-rideable roads in its wake. We fishtailed in the trucks through snotty clay over to Horsethief Point and prepared to drop down the switchbacks to Mineral Bottom, come what may.

A Jeep appeared from below, noteworthy for the mud caked on the hood and roof. We enquired about the conditions along the Green River. The Jeep people seemed a little shaken, eyes like saucers. They simply said: “DON’T GO.” They pulled out their phone and showed us footage of a river with Class 2 whitewater where the sandy wash out of Upheaval Dome usually is, and a large muddy lake, under which the road was, somewhere. We tucked tail, found a camp site up top in a chilly wind, found some slickrock to ride, enjoyed dinner around an inadequate fire made less inadequate by hot cider and rum, crawled into our sleeping bags early and froze our butts off.

There is redemption after trial, and the morning broke clear. We dropped down the Schafer switchbacks on the Colorado River side and enjoyed a halcyon afternoon, casual riding through an epic landscape, ramparts vibrating with pastel light, bound for Murphy’s Hogback. We passed Airport campground, where so many years ago Scott Russell broke out the 5-gallon jug of margaritas which enabled us all to break on through to the other side. Where Jeff Downs had his famous midnight wrestling match with his tent in a windstorm and lost. Where sand blew into our teeth. Where freedom rings.

Sunset found us only as for as Gooseberry, we decided we weren’t wuff and tuff enough to night-ride, and poached a campsite, rightful owners showing up at nightfall and graciously allowing us to stay, persuaded by some Coors in the can, and puttanesca. A jolly campfire was shared, songs ringing into the night with a river guitar that stayed mostly in tune.

The ride out the next day left us wondering what we were doing with the rest of our lives that was so important. All this you missed, and more, on the regular trips that Scott has organized though the years: the girl with the blue shag carpet bikini; the dance routines of the Golden Girls from Ashland and their lamé miniskirts; the SLC cougars on the prowl; the guy from Texas who rode the circuit in open-toed sandals, smoking cigarettes the whole way.

On each one of these trips, in the wee hours, around the fire, the legend has grown, of the poet/philosopher/arborist from Lawrence, who rode like a madman, who eschewed a helmet, who ran barefoot down Lathrop Canyon and back on a whim, who maybe got a little happy with the margs and slipped into the shadows, reappearing to declare cryptically, in true poet fashion, that he had “fed the raven.”  The legend grows more fantastic with each telling.

So consider this an invitation, as Wanda has declared that she’s going to put together a trip next spring and show us all how to “do it right.” Lube up the bike. The desert is calling.

Sean can be reached at seanmcnamara58@gmail.com.