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Humphries promised places I’d never seen; some I’d never even heard of. In the closing days of summer, several of us meet in Grand Junction, Colorado, to stock up on whiskey and provisions. The radio shrinks to two options: country or western, with Fox News on the hour.The last peopled dot on the map is Hanksville, a dried-up town of 200 in eastern Utah, its mobile homes as lonesome looking as beer cans in a ditch.I’ve known Humphries for several years, and I like his simple philosophy.He offers the kind of adventure trips that he wants to do, as a passionate cyclist and mountain biker.“There will be walking of bikes—if you ain’t hikin’, you ain’t bikin’. When in doubt, chicken out.” We break camp and pedal into the already warm day. ” We follow the signs toward Poison Spring Canyon on doubletrack edged with blooming snakeweed and rabbitbrush. The land takes on the pinkish cast of a Brit left on the beach too long. Tall clouds pause over them for our snapshots before drifting off toward the Rockies. Today’s ride was a gorgeous new variation he’d wanted us to see.” We’re heading into the backyard of the boondocks, he reminds us. Leaning over our shoulders are the lumpy Henrys, a passel of frustrated volcanoes that never erupted. Soon we’re bouncing over cobbles in a wide gully that seems to have had some water coursing through not so long ago. Anywhere else this landscape would be an attraction. I have a sudden urge to light a Marlboro and spur a big bay toward Mexico. The world shrinks to the want of a cool glass of water, a ham sandwich, a cot. But the mileages on signs were wrong, and unforeseen washouts meant the truck had a hard time reaching us. Humphries leads some of the best trips around, but once in a rare while riders pay for his exuberance. There’s a name for days like this, Tucker says later: type-two fun. “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.” Sleep and mugs of cowboy coffee brush away the previous night’s despair.
His confirmed belief is that there’s another world to explore on knobby tires, beyond the slickrock rabble in their I GOT (SAND) STONED IN MOAB T-shirts.At sunset Hanksville looks like it’s been set on fire. “Cycling is a humbling endeavor,” he says as we stand around at a camp beneath some cottonwoods.“There are highs and lows.” Our leader is short-ish and seems built of copper wire, through which run frequent jolts of exuberance, even when he’s discussing adversity. Humphries, who was driving, is embarrassed and contrite.You bike with it, because the topography demands submission. To the sun, the wind, the predilection of every living thing to want to bite or sting or prick. That night on the edge of Sheep Canyon, I stand beneath the solar shower and scrub at the top two layers of dust, then I sit by the campfire with a map and trace the route with a finger.We skirt canyons and pedal beneath mesas on a dusty track that’s obedient to every curve of the land. You must absorb the challenge and reply with equanimity. The names that Utah’s white settlers gave to the landmarks that steered their days were born from the pioneer’s practical squint.