03293_000_012A rough-riding priests quorum tackles the White Rim Trail
“All right, let’s fire ’em up and roll ’em out!”
Eighteen trail bikes coughed and roared awake in the early morning silence, filling the canyonlands with their chain-saw burr. The predawn light gleamed on bright-colored fuel tanks as the double column spun off in formation through the cedars and pines of Dead Horse Point State Park. Behind them, churning wider plumes of dust, came three four-wheel-drive vehicles, one towing a trailer for wounded bikes.
The Orem (Utah) 15th Ward priests, almost a part of their bikes, rode easily over the rough ground. It was clearly not the first time they had done some hard riding.
It had all begun under the stars and the moon one night in Wyoming in a mad flight of spinning wheels and flying shadows known forever after as the “midnight ride of the Orem 15th.” The quorum was on a camping trip and a few priests brought along their motorcycles. One night about bedtime their adviser, Dave Anderson, jumped into the saddle, called his cohorts to horse, and they flew away over mountains and moonlit meadows like so many Paul Reveres. The night seemed to be alive. More animals than they had ever seen stood watching them pass as if hypnotized by the string of moving lights.
They got back to camp about 2:00 A.M., feeling that they were much more than just a few people assigned to the same quorum. They were friends.
Fired by the enthusiasm of the midnight riders, the whole quorum joined in, and in the weeks that followed they framed a lot of territory between handlebars.
Once they followed the old pony express trail for about 200 miles, stopping at the way stations just as if they were carrying the mail. They came home feeling like authentic time travelers.
And now, several months later, they were following the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah, where the Colorado River and the wind have carved a canyon full of sandstone miracles.
They set up camp Friday afternoon at Dead Horse Point and began exploring on foot and bike. They walked the observation trail that winds around the edge of the canyon, overlooking a sheer drop of 300 million years. They saw an unbelievable panorama of sandstone filigreed with peaks, spires, ridges, and wrinkles. The whole broad chasm was a huge river of colored shadows, with the great brown and green Colorado winding through at the bottom.
The enthusiasm of the quorum had long since overtaken the rest of the ward, and there were more adults than priests on the trip. It was a great opportunity for a father to explain some of the wonders of nature to his son.
“Do you know why they call that the Green River, son?” asked one father, leaning over the edge of the observation wall and looking at the river far below.
“That’s the Colorado, Dad,” his son answered.
After awhile the group started drifting back, lured by the aroma of steaks sizzling on the campfire grill. The four-man cooking crew went about its work with the efficiency of old pros, using one fork and several convenient sticks for their tools.
“What do you mean, hot?” a young Navajo asked, reaching for a foil-wrapped, baked potato while his cooking partner licked burnt fingers.
The steaks cooked quickly, and what steaks! They eclipsed the paper plates and hung over the edges. Tender, juicy, and savory, they soon disappeared. Everyone said, “I can’t eat all that,” and then did.
Approaching the table one young man asked, “Do we have to use manners?” But no one stopped licking his fingers long enough to answer.
Later there was time for some fun and games, including an impromptu Olympics that featured long jumping from a sandstone boulder to the soft sand below. In the middle of it all, a huge moon came up and became an audience of one. The Indian youth pointed at it and said softly in Navajo, “Ooljee!” And everyone echoed still more softly, “Ooljee.”
An asthmatic bugle dribbled taps from somewhere in the darkness, announcing bedtime. Before climbing into their sleeping bags, the whole party got together for prayer. The priests quorum group leader called on one of the adults to pray, but before he could begin, a young man slipped to his side and whispered, “Pray for R.G.; he’s not feeling well.” It was done.
Stars seem to be made to lie awake under, but wind in pine boughs is the sleepiest of sounds, and soon most were unaware of the crackling red fire by which a few hungry young men were still roasting marshmallows.
At 4:30 the cooks were up, frying ham and scrambling eggs, long before the sun even hit the mountaintops. Before long an uproar followed as hibernating cyclists were turned out, and a frowsy-headed crew was soon attacking breakfast.
About halfway through the ham the bugler woke up. A sleepy reveille crawled from his tent and lay dying on the ground.
“What’d we bring you for?” someone asked.
Someone began singing a lively version of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” but trailed off under a barrage of glares.
Before sunup, breakfast was finished, and the cycles were gassed up and lined up in their assigned order, two abreast. On the handlebars of each cycle hung a helmet. Everything was ready.
The group formed a huge circle, and Kent Keller, the group leader, spoke with a suppressed smile.
“I guess you’re all wondering why I called you here …”
Safety rules were reviewed, last minute instructions issued, and the group knelt in prayer. Then it was to the cycles and away.
Along the rim of the chasm they went—sometimes over a thin layer of sandstone undercut with thin air—to a spot where the road gave up all inhibitions and dropped down the face of the all-but-sheer stone wall in a series of razor-sharp switchbacks hanging nonchalantly onto the edge of nothing. It was the first of many such roads. The priests zigzagged down as slick as slalom racers. The adults zigzagged down too, but some of them looked more sick than slick.
But the view made up for the nervous stomachs. The group stopped about halfway down just to look for a while.
“What do you think, Dad?”
A strong arm tightened around the young man’s shoulder. “I think it’s great, son.”
And then it was ride, ride, ride, through and over awesome desert valleys, passes, and peaks, on a road that sometimes degenerated into a trail and sometimes into an exercise in imagination. The riders often found themselves standing up more than they were sitting in order to absorb the jolts. But every bump and hill was an invitation to jump, and some young men were airborne so much they should have been licensed pilots.
They paused at the edge of the last plateau above the Colorado to make some minor repairs and adjustments on their bikes. All had been trained in bike maintenance and had received instructions in riding safety.
“Who’s got the chain lube?”
“Can I use your spoke wrench?”
Then over country steep, bumpy, and rugged, dotted with huge sandstone monoliths balanced on thin stone columns and fringed far away with pale mountains and colored mesas. Once the group went down a wash to the shore of the river, a road rough enough to test the most expert cyclist. They cut willows by the river for the wiener roast later on. Several million climbs, dips, and jumps later, they ate lunch on the wide stone ledge overlooking Monument Valley.
They built a wiener-roasting fire with the wood they had brought with them. One of the adults whittled kindling from the end of one of the huge, squat stove lengths.
“That’s not necessary, Brother Rasmussen,” one of the priests said kindly. “We’ve already got enough sticks, and you’ll never get that thing sharp enough anyway.”
Soon there was a roaring fire, just right for cremating wieners, and everyone did.
More roads, more bumps, more ruts, more breathtaking climbs and heart-stopping descents, more ravines to go around, more hours, and the group found itself down to the level of the Colorado again. By now the faces of the riders were a grimy, mottled brown. The young men were beginning to feel the wear and tear of the long ride, and some of the older men were past feeling it; and it wasn’t over yet. Ahead lay the ascent from the river back up to the top of the canyon.
It was done down dirt roads and up dizzy climbs, and finally down the home stretch through a pouring rain, and back into camp wet, muddy, tired, and happy, with 105 miles of hard biking under their belts. Had the rain come ten minutes earlier it could have made the climb out of the canyon very difficult, perhaps impossible. As it was, the four-wheeled vehicles had to grunt hard to make it.
In camp the bikes were loaded back into their trailers and the long haul back to Orem began. And in every car, jeep, and pickup, accompanied by the hypnotic squeak of windshield wipers, they all talked about the same thing. “Where shall we go next time?”
But to think of these young men just in terms of bike riding is to miss the whole point. Their quorum is a spiritual university to them. They’ve got a 100 percent attendance record going in their quorum meetings; they’re preparing for missions; and they’re learning to love each other. For them, fun, religion, spirituality, and all good things are getting tied up together, each supporting the others.
Their bishop once offered them a camping trip if they would maintain perfect attendance. “No, thanks,” they said. “We’ll attend our meetings all right, but for the right reasons—not for a prize.”
Their bishop goes along on their trips, and so does their adviser, but the priests themselves are in charge, right down to the last hot dog bun. Their adult leaders have been wise enough to recognize leadership potential in the young men of the ward and to let them develop it. They haven’t been sorry.
The group leader says, “It’s not just getting on the bike and riding and loving bikes. We’re getting out with each other, and that’s really the part we’re going to remember the most. On a trip like this you get to know each other. You take off the mask, and everybody really gets to understand each other. It’s not like at school where everybody goes down the hall, and when you meet somebody it’s ‘hi,’ ‘hi,’ and it’s not really the real person you see at all. You get out in the wilderness, and you know there’s not that much security all the time like we’re used to having, and there aren’t the luxuries—that’s when the masks come off.”
Another says, “It’s great! Everybody tries to help everybody out, not just in motorcycle riding either. If someone needs help in anything, everybody helps out. It’s almost like a family. When we plan meetings we have the Spirit there to guide us and tell us what to do. If you’re just in a group talking, it’s hard to get the Spirit there, but if everybody’s friends, and everybody knows each other well, it’s easier to get the Spirit there, and you’re able to get closer to the Lord.”
The spiritual balance of these young men surfaced in a van full of priests traveling from Orem to Dead Horse Point the day the outing began. The conversation was about motorcycles for a while, but then it shifted somehow to the scriptures—so smoothly and naturally that you couldn’t quite remember how it had happened. It was as if trail bikes and Bibles might have something to do with each other in the lives of these young men.
And maybe they do.