We pick up the story of the second leg of the tour from here... the day grows darker as I wait for my touring companions...
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I must have sat there for at least an hour. I got fifty pages into the book and four cigarettes lighter in my pack as I continued glancing back up the road, waiting for Zeke to come barreling along with Wiley in tow. The clouds were looming ever more ominous overhead, the sky threatening to open a deluge of rain upon my head any minute. I started wondering if I should start thinking of heading on toward a better campsite when I just made out a bicycle rounding the last curve out of the canyon and into town.
They meandered toward me, coasting along the trail. Zeke had been harboring similar thoughts about the weather as he had worked his way along the Hoback. We pulled out our map and surveyed the options. Ahead of us was several thousand feet of climbing out of this valley toward the high-desert plateau beyond; there seemed, by what we could discern, to be few attractive places to settle for the night if we decided to continue. Plus, we would have no chance of getting up a slick mountain pass in the rain with all the weight on our bicycles. Zeke suggested that we turn just back up the road and try the dirt road we had seen heading east into the northern section of the valley. I agreed quickly, and we started searching for a suitable campsite.
The road was pockmarked with boulders, a tattered ranch access which had seen better decades. We wound up a bluff, passing by long stretches of fencing delineating the ranchlands into plots. Zeke and I rode side by side, the valley spreading before us as we climbed closer and closer to the clouds hovering overhead. The road curved to the left, running along the ridge toward ranches beyond and back toward the Hoback. A wide unfenced space spread out from the road, the curve creating a natural grassy space.
We took our chances and stopped the bicycles. There was always the chance that someone would come along and turn us away, but time was running short before the weather would break. I set my bike up against the fence and grabbed out my tent. Frantically stringing poles through the nylon flaps, the tent arose in record time. I tossed the outer rain shell over, staking down the corners to prevent any water from coming inside.
Zeke was doing the same the whole time. Wiley, unshackled, sniffed around, marking territory here and there along the fence line. I unhooked my panniers from the racks and tossed them on top of my sleeping bag, closing up the tent. We were running low on water, so I grabbed our water bladders and rode back down the hill while Zeke started up the rest of the water for coffee. Wiley howled for his supper as I pulled away, headed back toward the store below.
The lady at the register remembered me -- a cyclist in full regalia is a rare sight in these parts -- and kindly led me toward an outdoor water spigot, where I pumped full the bladders and tethered all three to the bare rear rack. It felt strange riding with so little weight, the bicycle responding so vibrantly to every push on the cranks. I practically levitated up the rocky access road on the way back toward camp, arriving just as Zeke poured coffee off the French press and began mixing in protein powder. He stirred in half a packet of hot chocolate mix into each up as well, our first proteinated mochas of the journey.
Above us the sky darkened, yet the precipitation refrained. Zeke and I sat around, our bikes unpacked and locked together to a section of the fence. As the late afternoon passed into evening without a drop, we started to question our decision to make camp for the night so early. It was too late now, though, to repack and get headed further up. No one had bothered us in our spot yet, and it was imperative that I remember in all my touring innocence that ten miles further up the road might not necessarily yield such a prime location to sleep.
So as nightfall set in, we both retreated into our separate tiny abodes -- Wiley and Zeke into their tent, I into my own. I flipped on my headlamp and hooked it into a strap in the ceiling. Leaning back, I listened to the wind rustle the sagebrush through the valley and read more Castaneda. Smoking the evening's final cigarette, I turned the pages and curled deeper into the bag. The weather was holding, rendering our premature halt to the day moot. But the canyon had shot me out of home boundaries and into a new realm, the world of the tour. I lay back, shutting off the light, allowing fatigued bliss to wash over me and lull me toward slumber.