“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
This last fall I recently had the opportunity to experience Capitol Reef National Park from the saddle of my Dad’s old 1960’s road bike that I had restored the previous summer. I must admit that not only was I pleased by the easy going experience of touring through red rock cliffs and desert land on two wheels but, I was amazed by how many of the small details I had missed the day before on our drive in the same area. The medium pace of bicycling (somewhere between walking and the comparative breakneck speed of driving, even at a mere 25mph) seemed to be the perfect speed to gawk in awe of the beautiful landscape, while still having enough movement to keep it interesting and exhilarating. That may seem like a statement saturated in clickbait hyperbole but I must admit that I have always been a sucker for the feeling of gliding. Whether it is ice skating, skiing, biking, rollerblading, skateboarding or any other self powered device that can be used to give that sensation where the wind is blowing in your ears and you’re going faster than you could ever run, it’s always a feeling that I’ve loved.
My inclinations aside, biking through a national park brings one closer to the scenery and the land more than a vehicle for very specific reasons: First being, the intimacy of experiencing the elements.
Sitting in a comfortable seat that you could sit in for hours with air conditioning blowing in your face is an isolated and far cry from what the land itself is offering. Feeling the dry desert air (or humid if that is the climate of the national park you happen to be visiting) blow across the entirety of your body as your refresh yourself with cool water from your hydration-backpack is persuasively more raw. Or feeling the land roll as you pedal through ridges and valleys with your own feet and legs, gaining a first hand experience of the magnitude and vastness before you, as opposed to mundanely pressing your gas pedal down a centimeter farther to excite the cylinders of your V6, is beautifully elemental. While some may consider this unnecessary and purist there is a whole other segment of people who seek to have a more slow paced natural experience. If that’s you, this next point is for you.
Second having a slow paced experience. While cliche, in today’s world of “go go go, do it now and ‘why won’t it load faster?’ – particularly in urban centers – it is pleasantly relaxing to experience the scenery on such a simple level. Have you ever tried to text and ride a bike? Despite the lower speed and magnitudinal mechanical simplicity, it’s considerably more difficult than driving and I don’t recommend trying it if you haven’t already. Hence, gripping the handlebars you are (happily) forced to relax and take in the scenery.
Some national parks encourage biking and have dedicated paths meant just for cycling. One of the most notable being the Carriage Roads in Acadia National Park in Maine. Made of crushed rock, networking for a total of 45 miles of riding and closed to vehicles, this is one of those cycling friendly national parks. For mountain bikers the Canyon Rim ride in Canyonlands National Park is one of the most notable stretching for 108 miles in several sections. Biking the canyon rim, one can experience the core of Canyonlands just short of floating the river (another experience I also highly recommend but will cover in another post). The eastern district of Saguaro National Park has a one-way loop road that has some challenging climbs and is shared with motor vehicles but wide enough to be shared – perfect for the cycling enthusiast.
So whether it’s in the east, west, northwest, south or great planes we’d highly recommend planning a trip just to bike through a national park this summer. I’ll bet you’re going to be surprised.