Most people traverse Utah via the interstate system. You can go from Evanston, Wyo., to Wendover, Nev., along the I-80 freeway and never have to exit. Or you can travel from the southwest corner in St. George along I-15 and then along I-70 to central Colorado without having to get off for anything other than another tank of gas.
The heaviest-traveled traverse is the north-south corridor along I-15 that links Arizona to Idaho. It is possible to drive the entire distance, more than 500 miles, without encountering a single traffic signal.
Then there are the roads less traveled. I just spent eight days on them, crossing Utah on highways much older, and much less popular, than the freeways.
All along these roads are reminders of bygone days when they were the mainstream. One in particular stands out in my mind. It's a large sign on Highway 6 in Helper that says "Balanced Rock Motel." The sign itself is in decent shape, and for a moment you think the business might still be in operation until you look past the sign to a dilapidated building that obviously hasn't been slept in in years.
I pedaled down the lane to the old motel and looked around for a minute, imagining the scene 50 years ago when the place was in its heyday.
I then looked up on the hill to the balanced rock that has long been a local landmark. The rock is still defying gravity holding its own, in sharp contrast to its namesake motel.
Not everything is obsolete or outdated along the roads the freeways bypass. Many businesses are thriving, and the people who live there sure aren't has-beens, but it's obvious things are catered to a local clientele instead of people passing through.
In 400 miles, I did not see a single police car looking for speeders.
The prices off the beaten path can be a nice surprise. Here is where you can still find a motel room for $45, where you can get a Pepsi out of a vending machine for 65 cents, where you can order a rib-eye steak dinner for $15.95, including dessert.
In Delta, my wife and I saw a movie for $11 that was for both of us.
Another fringe benefit: some places don't have cell phone service at all. It's amazing how relaxing it can be to not check messages.
Other random reflections from my time in the Utah Outback
• Most curious highway sign(s): On the "loneliest highway" from the Nevada border to Delta, there are two signs opposite each other. The one on the east says "No services, next 43 miles." The one on the west says "No services, next 40 miles." Besides the two signs and a lot of sagebrush, there is nothing else in the vicinity. It's as if a masochist put up the signs almost exactly halfway between help. They might as well say, "You're Toast."
• Here's to the Second Amendment: It was 7:45 a.m. on a sleepy Thursday morning when I rode by the public gun range outside of Delta. The parking lot was full.
• Note to state mapmakers: The "36" marking the mileage on hilly Highway 191 between Helper and Duchesne is wrong. It should be "44." If you don't think eight miles makes a difference, you go ride it.
• BMOT (Best Meal Of Trip): I
thought for sure it would be Lisa's Cafe in Nephi until I had the salmon filet at the Horseshoe in Mount Pleasant. Superb.
• Thanks to the highway department: The rumble strips in the shoulder along heavily-traveled Highway 40 in the Uinta Basin are well-placed to keep traffic from veering onto the shoulder and bicycles from veering onto the roadway. Plus, the shoulder is generally sufficiently wide. This ought to be a prototype for all roads in the state.
• Thanks to Shane and Vonnie of Duchesne: I forgot your last name, but you know who you are, and I won't soon forget your kindness in letting me use your Grand Am to drive back to Price and pick up my bags.
Finally, several readers have inquired about details of making such a bike trek. I ride on a regular road (not touring) bike, with Ultegra components and lightweight sturdy Ksyrium wheels (a perquisite from my inaugural Utah tour two summers ago). I got a new frame this year, an all-carbon Serotta, which may or may not have helped me go any faster, but I'm saying it did. My wife, Kerri, drives support and this year saved the day, once again, when my bike shoe cleat broke and she repaired it with Super Glue.
I ride alone much of the time but welcome companions. This year two biking friends, Walt Chudleigh and Dave Bradshaw, joined me for portions of the ride, as did my sons Eric and Tanner and my brother, Dee, the family genius, who joined me one hot afternoon in Mount Pleasant after riding 97 mostly uphill miles from his home in Sandy into a stiff south wind and then wondered why he was so tired and hungry.I get the occasional comment that it's crazy to do something like this. But every year when I finish I feel better than when I started. I tore my ACL in my right knee years ago, shortly before I ruined my rotator cuff in my right shoulder. I can't run, play tennis, basketball or a bunch of other stuff any more. But I can bicycle. I think it's crazy not to.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.