I slept in the Utah desert for three nights last month. Just me and my bike. Like I do. And like I do, fear set in as soon as the sun started going down on that first night. It’s scary out there, alone in the wild. I tried to talk myself down on the drive–I was more likely to die in my regular life than biking in the desert. But strange things feel scary and normal things don’t.
Every time I go out there I question myself–why did I do this again? Being scared is uncomfortable and I don’t like waking up to weird sounds and not knowing what’s out there. The tent walls are so thin (to make it easier to carry by bike, my dear). But anyway I survived. I always do. And on the way back over I-70 (where I was truly most likely to die) I listened to an audiobook about swimming. Bonnie Tsui writes,
Maybe it’s a kind of dress rehearsal. The sea is a deep, alien place. There’s an energy to it, an element of danger that requires a giving over of the self, that makes swimming in heavy water a kind of sacrament. It is a suitable environment to engage with the deep strangeness of the human mind and its fears.
I liked that she called it a sacrament. We don’t really do sacraments much anymore but what I know of them is that they’re not comfortable. You get dunked in water, eat weird shit, a stranger rubs oil all over your forehead. And I liked thinking of my last night in the desert as a sacrament. I stood outside my tent to look at the stars. Capitol Reef is a dark sky park–hardly effected by light pollution–and so the stars are obscenely bright and the milky way is on full display and I checked in often enough to witness the Big Dipper spin around the North Star. It didn’t feel good–the temperature was below freezing and in every direction there was just dark, empty space and for some reason I imagined being charged by a distant coyote. But if Tsui knows what she’s talking about maybe I was anointed out there. By the red sand, the prickly cacti, the stars, the sky.