I’m lucky to live in a city I can escape from in about five minutes. That’s how long it takes before I’m tooling up Emigration Canyon, retracing the route by which Brigham Young entered the valley in 1847. I go much faster than he did–astride Yellow Peril, whose dual-plugged, fuel injected boxer engine doesn’t strain even in top gear. I only need to downshift in the turns—which, happily, are many.
My goal is to escape the persistent summer heat—the hottest summer on record in Salt Lake City. Not until I crest Big Mountain does it begin to feel a bit like September. The aspens are still green, but the oak brush is beginning to turn—more brown than red, alas. In order to have beautiful fall colors, you’ve got to have a bit of rain during the summer, and unfortunately we’ve had nothing.
Off to my left I see a puddle that used to be East Canyon Reservoir. This is as far as I normally go on a day trip, but today I’m determined to go farther. I press on to Mountain Green, thence north on a road that leads to the mountain hamlet of Huntsville, site of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity—currently home to a dozen elderly monks.
“You could call it a nursing home,” declares Brother David, who at age 66 is the youngest of the bunch. The median age is 84, which means less work is getting done than before. No longer can one buy homemade wheat bread and flavored honey in the gift shop. Instead, there are a lot of books, pendants, rosaries, votive candles, and a large selection of Trappist Preserves—all shipped in from another abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. I buy a jar of lemon marmalade and another of rhubarb-orange conserve. Brother David takes my ten and hands me a dime.
“I used to be the honey monk,” he laughs, “but now I’m the money monk.”
Thanks to the ongoing drought, the abbey’s public restrooms are closed. Sometimes even the showers abruptly run dry—which I imagine must be a challenge for someone who has taken a vow of silence. But somehow the monks carry on, and I admire their commitment to the meditative life. I always make it a point to spend a few quiet minutes in the chapel, which from the looks of it is a repurposed military Quonset hangar. Talk about turning swords into plowshares!
Out of Huntsville, State Route 39 runs west and north over the Monte Cristo Range toward Wyoming. I had never taken the scenic byway before, and now I’m wondering why. It’s absolutely the perfect motorcycle road! Lots of twisties, very little traffic and spectacular scenery. The air is an aromatic blend of rabbit brush, sage and creosote, and I’m transported back fifty years to blissful summer days spent exploring the back roads of Eastern Utah on a 50cc Honda Cub. Oh, I hit the pavement a couple of times and once my little bike caught fire; however, I survived, a bit sadder and much, much wiser.
Off to my right I spot a little cemetery and of course I always stop because graveyards—next to monasteries—are the most restful of rest stops. This one is a gem, with tombstones attesting to the hardships endured by a pioneering family named Eastman. Evidently Rich County is no country for old men; those who don’t perish in babyhood seldom survive adolescence. I blame horses.
Horses are more dangerous than motorcycles because they have brains, and they spend most of their waking hours plotting to throw their riders to the ground. Yet for some reason, people in this part of the world insist on climbing into the saddle—with the resulting tombstone and epitaph:
Whenever God requires more ghost riders in the sky, He looks to Wyoming, which—thanks largely to horses—is our least populous state. Sure, the winters there are hard—but so is the floor at the MacDonald’s in Evanston, where little kids are required to sit in saddles instead of booster seats while ingesting happy meals. This prepares them for future employment, however brief, as jockeys, rodeo performers and cowboys on Breakneck Mountain.
From Evanston I head south on Route 150 toward the Uinta Mountains, and it is here for the first time in months I’m pelted by raindrops. In fact, I am drenched, but the storm cell soon passes and the sun reappears. The high country hay fields hereabouts look healthy, and from the looks of the haystacks, the ranchers are happy. So am I. By the time I crest the summit, 10,700 feet above sea level, there’s a huge grin on my face.