08.15.11 – The Salt Lake “Affect”

NOTE: Judge my use of “affect” only after you’re finished reading.

By the time I reached SLC proper, I had made several new friends over the days leading up and had several old friends I had already planned on visiting. To experience a new place through a dozen different eyes was something I hadn’t done since Chicago.

My first day in the downtown area was spent playing dad. Simone is an old friend that I met while rafting down the Colorado River at age 13 (give or take a year or two). Though we grew up on opposite sides of the country, we kept in touch and always hoped to see each other again. Since then, Simone got married and has had two wonderfully beautiful children, Thaden and Blake. I was given the opportunity to play “dad” with them at a playground and boy was it fun! If I remember correctly, Blake is not quite a year old so it was interesting to see what captured his attention from moment to moment. From copying his older brother, Thaden, to running clear away from the playground for no apparent reason, it was always an adventure for him and even for me. The highlight was putting them on my lap and going down the little slides though my butt could barely fit. After the park we went over to a convention that I had noticed earlier. It looked like it was for outdoor products and apparel so it only seemed right to visit.

With Thaden and Blake safely in a stroller, we walked around the outside vendors for a bit, played on some adult-size big wheels and then headed inside. The huge convention center had probably over 100 vendors advertising their latest products from kayaks and dog treats to headlamps and energy bars. Many vendors were giving away samples, which I was more than happy to receive. After a few minutes I began to notice that everyone had printed badges and I felt this might be a private event. As it turns out, it was in fact only for employees of these retail product companies and Simone and I had unknowingly wandered into an open, unguarded door! I felt as if everyone there was just as overwhelmed as we were and either didn’t notice or didn’t care that we weren’t supposed to be there. Even though we were the only people with children and a stroller (that sometimes blocked entire aisles), everyone was super friendly and even enjoyed interacting with Thaden and Blake. I felt kind of like the man who knew too little, and as a result was perfectly safe in his own ignorance.

Did I mention I got free local beer?

In the evening I was invited to join Dave and his housemates for dinner. They made delicious Jambalaya and I was more than happy to join the feast. We then attended the weekly Twilight Music Festival held in Pioneer Park. By the way, I think every single town in Utah has a Pioneer Park. They must really love their pioneers. SLC is one of the best places I’ve been to for people-watching. There were young and old, well-dressed and barely dressed, people chugging beer and people enjoying a picnic. Dave and I weren’t having a particularly good time so we left and visited a few breweries. Bar-hopping by bike on a weeknight when traffic is scarce is quite relaxing. Between each stop you get to enjoy a quick and refreshing bike ride. The responsibility of biking around also limits your intake, which makes for a more manageable night.

Okay so remember the girls I met in Moab? I should probably introduce them because they reappear here in this story. Kristen, Andrea, and Madison all went to school here at the University of Utah and though Madison has moved to NYC, I got the opportunity to see Kristen and Andrea again. While Kristen waited to start medical school, she had tons of free time to be my chauffeur and try to earn my friendship (joke!). In her first attempt, she invited me to Park City, which is right up in the Wasatch mountains. Park City is one of those quaint-looking towns with lots of tourist shops but done quite well. The highlight of the day was coasting down these concrete chutes on what I can only describe as amateur luges. You controlled the brake…nothing else. What a rush to be super low to the ground and flying around these banked turns at what must have been 20 mph. Driving home listening to Kristen talk about the different canyons in the area made it obvious how much she enjoys traveling and exploring. I don’t think it was an invitation but when she mentioned thoughts of driving up to the Tetons and Yellowstone I immediately expressed interest. It took a moment for us to believe that the other person actually wanted to do an impromptu trip two states away. With the interest confirmed, we had to do some schedule checking (though for me it was more like confirming that a diner serves coffee).

We returned to SLC, met up with Andrea and went to One World Cafe. Like Yats in Indianapolis, they care much more about feeding people than making money. The cafe’s small room has no indoor seating and looks like a combination of street vendor and mother’s kitchen. While Yats allowed you to pay next time if you didn’t have cash, One World only suggested a price to you and it was up to you if you wanted to pay the full price. With a reasonable suggested price I paid in full. Andrea is a home-care nurse and while we tried to get her to join us to the Tetons, she couldn’t take off. Lives needed to be saved and Andrea might be the best nurse I know in SLC. I hope you get out on your own awesome adventure soon, Andrea!

On Saturday I got to experience the SLC farmer’s market at, you guessed it, Pioneer Park. There were a lot of specialty product vendors and not as many farmers as I would’ve liked to see but still a good selection. Dozens of musicians were also around the market and one of them was Dotan, the traveling piano player. He has been encircling the country in a Penske truck with his upright piano playing at venues such as this and spreading his love of music. Perhaps someday I will be able to play piano as well as Dotan. Check out his website at Piano Across America. On Sunday I finally made it over to see Jeremy’s Burning Man project. In case you forgot (or maybe I haven’t mentioned this), Jeremy is the mechanical engineer I met while riding into SLC. In his free time he’s been working on this amazing giant scorpion for the Burning Man Festival. My words cannot do justice to this awesome creation so check out the photos in my album and visit Mantis Entertainment to see more. That evening I had dinner with Simone and her family. She made the most amazing sandwiches with homemade bread and it was really nice to meet her husband, Shane. Thank you for having me over and I wish you and your children only the best.

Monday rolled around and though I had originally planned on leaving today, it was way more important to visit Yellowstone and the Tetons than ride a bicycle through suburbia. A pre-dawn departure made for one of the most beautiful drives up into Idaho. The sunrise over The Wasatch mountains seemed to last forever and I wouldn’t have complained if the drive lasted just as long. We explored Jackson Hole and had an amazing drive through the Tetons with numerous stops to take pictures. We decided to spend a lot of time taking in the view from the road because we also wanted to make it from Yellowstone’s south entrance to the west entrance. Yellowstone is like an amusement park for nature junkies. Geysers, hot springs, lakes, fauna and varying landscapes are in abundance…except for fauna since we only saw a single (bleep) elk! Before leaving the park, we sat by the Madison river to sit and soak up and recap on all that we saw. I think I’ve finally realized why people travel and seek adventure. Putting it into quote form, “We can only sit in silent admiration for so long before our hearts pull us to experience it for ourselves.” With that in mind I ripped off all my clothes and jumped into the water! Okay, maybe not all my clothes but I did go for a swim. Even though it was freezing at first, it was amazing to feel more like part of a nature than a traveling observer. What a great way to spend my 100th day of traveling.

Though we planned on a late night drive back to SLC, Kristen’s boyfriend suggested we stay at his family’s place in West Yellowstone. They were super nice and I met the cutest little dog Odie. He would have been the perfect travel companion if only he came with a puppy trailer. The next day we visited Yellowstone one last time and made the long drive home. On Wednesday I finally left town but not by bike. For Kristen’s final attempt at winning my friendship, she drove me out to see Antelope island and dropped me off in Ogden, about 50 miles north of SLC. Remember it’s more important to spend time with good friends than bike through boring suburbia. The Great Salt Lake was smelly but interesting. Though we didn’t swim in it, we did take off our shoes and wade. The flies along the shore looked like a living swarm of black sand moving from under you only as your feet hit the ground.

In Ogden, I arranged to couchsurf with Candace. Though she was out of town, she was okay with me staying at her place alone. I think it’s safe to say we’re friends now, Kristen. You know I mean it because I used your name.

To all of you that I mentioned in this update, thank you so much for making this part of my ride one of the most memorable. From playing daddy and swimming in Yellowstone to seeing a 30ft scorpion and sharing dinner with David and his housemates; I can honestly say I see Salt Lake City as a town with good people and good stories.

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