Blanding to Hite - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 30, 2014

Blanding to Hite

Sunrise over the plains
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THE RANGER at Hite is called Huggy Bear. Well, actually, he's not: his name is Ben and his opening initials are B. H. Look at his name badge, though, and they've been reversed, to make H. B. - for Huggy Bear.

He laughs. "Everyone calls me Ben. That's my name. But one day my colleague here heard my wife call me Huggy Bear, so next time he ordered name badges, he changed mine to H. B."

I told Melissa, the lithe and Chinese-speaking 35-year-old who runs the store across from the ranger station and behind the dusty campground. It was the funniest thing she'd heard all day.

Man-made but an impressive canyon nevertheless
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I met Huggy Bear at the end of 135km across, well, not desert in the sense of sand-dunes and camels but arid countryside of strange rock formations and struggling trees unbroken by a single house, ranch or even stream. The water you drink - and for much of the day the temperature was around 35 - is the water you carry or scrounge from roadworkers.

We'd spent a couple of nights in Blanding, getting over minor ailments, and we set off at dawn to get the worst over before it became truly too hot. We crested a minor col, to Salvation Knoll, where Mormon explorers who'd run out of food and become lost worked out where they were, cruised down to Natural Bridges and pushed on against the wind on the ups and downs of the bleak road to Hite.

The road climbed straight out of Blanding
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Karen says I looked red-faced. I can't deny it. It was hot. She says I was miserable. Again I can't say otherwise, because I was still struggling with a chest infection and 135km is a long way with no more than a break for sandwiches.

The first strange shapes appear
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She was watching me closely, therefore, when we got to the final hill to Hite, with all of six kilometres to go. And she noticed that I felt dizzy when I stood up from a rock beside the road. Convinced I'd become overcome by the heat - I think I was just giddy from standing up - she stepped into the road to stop Céline and Laure, two Swiss women from Aigle, which happens to be the headquarters of the UCI, the international cycling body.

And then started a comedy of timing which led to a rescue helicopter being alerted to pluck me from the roadside.

Céline and Laure agreed to take me and my bags to Hite. Karen would wait with her bike and with mine and hitch a lift. It happened that the first to pass were a couple from India who, not too good at English, nevertheless agreed to tell the ranger at Hite that someone - they probably weren't sure who - was suffering from the heat.

So far, so good. Except that Céline and Laure overshot the turning and carried on for several minutes before we realised. In that time, the Indians had found Huggy Bear and told him an emergency was unfolding on the hillside.

"Out here," Huggy said, "we're a long way from medical attention and simple heat exhaustion can turn really quickly to heatstroke, and that's dangerous. So I alerted the rescue helicopter to stand by."

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Somewhere, the pilot was waiting with rotors turning to be told where to fly. And Huggy set off in his police pick-up, blue lights flashing, to find where that might be. He must have turned right out of the exit moments before Céline, Laure and I, by now chatting happily in French about touring America, arrived from the left. Six kilometres down the road, he found Karen sitting healthily by the roadside, smiling at the thought that she no longer needed to hitch.

I was already sitting in the shade of the office when they arrived, having thanked Céline and Laure and exchanged addresses.

Back in his office, now telling of the years he spent with the USAF in Britain and how he came to move from Virginia to Utah, Huggy Bear eventually picked up the phone to some distant office and, knowing the voice on the other end would understand, said: "Hey, let's save the paperwork. Just put it down as 'an incident with a tourist' and we'll forget about it."

We all smiled, understanding.

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Today's ride: 122 km (76 miles)
Total: 4,503 km (2,796 miles)

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