By David Ward
Riding along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in Salt Lake where it approaches Parley’s Canyon from the north, I saw about thirty yards ahead of me a large brown spot that stood out against the black asphalt. As I drew close and rode by, this brown spot clearly resolved into a huge tarantula, 4-5 inches in diameter, crossing the trail.
Well, I had never seen a live tarantula, expect perhaps in a zoo somewhere. The largest spider I had ever seen was maybe an inch in diameter. I never knew tarantulas lived in Utah till someone happened to mention that in conversation one day. Now, here was one right in front of me. I made a quick u-turn once I realized what I had seen, and doubled back to get another look and a picture. By the time I was able to fumble my phone out of my jersey pocket, get it turned on and the camera app open, Mr. Tarantula was across the path and into the rocks. I still got a couple of pics, but he no longer stood out like he did on the path, and had soon escaped into the underside of a large rock.
That is just one of the many wonders I have experienced being on a bike. Many years ago, a friend and I, while spending a few autumn days in Island Park, a beautiful forested area just outside of Yellowstone Park, went mountain biking on a trail where we would often cross-county ski in the winter. We had ridden across a large meadow a few miles back from the Island Park Dam and had stopped to eat some snacks on the edge of the meadow.
But as we were snacking, we heard a high pitched bugling, and then more bugling in response. Suddenly, scores of elk started entering the meadow from the surrounding forest. We realized it was the bugling of the elk we were hearing. I had known that elk bugled, but had never heard it before. Then suddenly again, elk were entering the meadow from the trees right behind us, crossing within yards of where we sat, with some of them also bugling.
The sun had already set, and we knew we would be riding in the dark on our way back. But with the orange and crimson sky, the fresh autumn air, this forested setting and the fall colors, a meadow of a hundred or more elk around and in front of us, and the bugling elk engulfing us, it was a surreal, wondrous scene, hard to leave behind. To this day, I count this as one of the great moments of my life, a reaffirmation of this beautiful world and the wonder of living in it. For me, it was and remains a reaffirmation of the artistry of God’s creative work and love.
Then there was the time my wife and I were visiting my daughter, Jessica, in Dhaka, Bangladesh where she was posted with the State Department. She was able to hook me up with some people in the British Embassy who would go on weekly rides in and around Dhaka. They furnished me with a bike and I joined them on one of their rides. We were there during a rainy period, so all the rivers and streams, of which there are a lot in this watery region, were running high.
We came to a spot where people normally crossed a large stream by way of a swinging bridge. However, the water was too high, so there was an enterprising man with a small boat who would ferry people across. Two at a time, our bikes were precariously balanced on this small boat, we were seated and, fingers crossed, ferried to the opposite shore.
On that same trip to Bangladesh, we took a short flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. After we arrived, I happened to notice an advertisement for mountain biking tours. I didn’t have time for a long tour, but called anyway and asked if they had half day tours. They said yes, and told me when to show up. I arrived at the appointed time and discovered that I was the tour group, and so had my own personal tour guide.
Well, you can’t really head out of town for a half day tour, so my guide said we would simply work our way partially around Kathmandu. Lest you think this was an urban ride through the paved streets of Kathmandu, let me assure you otherwise. For the next four hours he led me up and down the hills and vales and across the roads heading like spokes into the hub of Kathmandu. We road on some pavement, but mostly dirt roads and paths. We had to hike our bikes across streams. And we wound our way through rice paddies on the narrow, elevated dirt paths separating the paddies. It was one of the most arduous days of riding I have experienced. I wrote an article for Cycling Utah about this experience, exclaiming that my toughest day of mountain biking ever had been around and through the streets of Kathmandu.
And all that is to say nothing about the experience of simply riding a bike in these two countries. It was an amazing experience. The colors, culture and organized chaos on the streets of these cities make these excursions forever resident in my mind and heart.
There was also the time my wife and I spotted a wolf on the side of the road while cycling in Yellowstone National Park. On that same ride, we took a side excursion to see the location of a geyser that erupts infrequently and erratically, only to arrive just in time to watch it erupt.
On another trip to visit our daughter, this time while she was posted in Belgrade, Serbia, there was a Serbian working in the embassy who was into cycling, and Jessica arranged for me to borrow one of his bikes. I was able to take that with me on a road trip we took through Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. While in Croatia and staying on the island of Korçula just off the Croatian coast, I took a ride to the end of the paved road which found its terminus in the small town of Račišće. It was a classic picturesque, sleepy little fishing village surrounding a small harbor with its colorful skiffs and boats. As I rounded the final corner before reaching this jewel and began descending a small hill leading downward and out of the trees, it was the sight of this beautiful little village that greeted my eyes and imprinted itself upon my mind.
Well, I could go on for a long time about the wonders I have experienced while cycling. The list is extensive. But the point is that it was being out on a bike that made these experiences possible, or at a minimum greatly enhanced the experience. Somehow the freshness and clarity that comes from being outside, and the synergy of my bike and me, make these transcendent experiences special and even more memorable.
So, when possible, take your bike with you when you travel, and take time to get out and ride. You will experience your locations in a much more personal way, and you will find wonders and have experiences that you otherwise would have missed.
For more on tarantulas in Utah, see http://wildaboututah.org/tarantula-tales/