Thursday 19 September

Logan to Meadow Creek

Left the conference at about 1600. Cool and overcast afternoon. Tim asked for a ride down to Ogden, where he has a friend at Hill AFB. I think this is the first base I've been on, and it struck me as a Museum of American Suburbia. Just down the road from hardened concrete hangers holding the fighters we found ourselves in the winding, shaded streets of a sixties subdivision. Every driveway held an RV or a motorboat and a 4x4. We eventually found Tim's friend's house, and I dropped him off. Before I left, they gave me a handful of goodies for the road-a coke, an apple and several tiny packets of crackers and candy-all dug out of kitchen cupboards as though they were used to seeing strangers off on long distance road trips.

Utah SunsetThere was plenty of frustrating rush hour traffic through SLC and Provo, but I eventually worked my way into the open and set the cruise control for 75. There was a break in the overcast away to the south, and I managed to hit it in time for a delicious orange sunset. Interstate 15 cuts north-south through Colorado Plateau trying to keep mountains to its East and flatlands to its west. The western American highway is a monument to distance: smooth asphalt and sweeping turns punctuated by small truck stop towns-now used as much by tourists as by professional teamsters. The pros are still there, though, in massive polished Peterbuilts looming in the rear-view mirror. From the lowly vantage point of the rent-a-car, I usually couldn't see the drivers, hidden in their cool cabs, and the trucks were ghostly, tanking down the road driverless full of Greenland Halibut bound for Vegas.

I stopped in a nowhere called Nephi, 80 miles south of SLC to get fuel and food. I found it hard to control myself in the junk-food hall of fame. Doritos, Fritos and Cheetos clamoured for a place in my bag. Ho-hos and Pringles, Kraft Dinner and Spam. All the patriotic brands of my home country triggered an impluse I barely suppressed. I got Fritos (still unavailable in the UK) and a can of Dinty-Moore beef stew to cook later for dinner.

Back on the road, heading into one of the broad mountain passes leading to the high desert, the mountains looked like a sheet of roughly torn black paper glued onto the sky-one of my favourite effects of sunset travel in the west.

I tore along in the dark for another hour to Meadow Creek, which had a National Forest marked on the map. There was only one sign to the Forest, and then 10 miles of gravel road leading east through jackrabbit country into the mountains. By this time it was completely dark. After an unmarked fork, I ended up on a soft, newly graded road which got steadily worse. Just after turning around to head back, I realised that I might just as well stop the car right there and camp. There certainly wasn't anybody to disturb. Recent news coverage from the New West, and some instinctive fear of bedding down in the dark with no idea of one's surroundings made me uneasy. I kept expecting bearded bomb makers to appear from nowhere and take me away. So I made a small fire (carefully) and sat around it while cooking my Dinty-Moore over the methanol-burning camp stove. (Can one person be accurately said to "sit around the campfire?")

I bedded down a few yards from the road in a small thicket from which I still had a good view of the brilliant night sky. It was a typical night on hard ground beneath the stars. Somewhere beyond the car I heard a deer snort and snuffle, and wondered if it could see well enough to avoid stepping on me. I slept in my narrow "mummy style" down sleeping bag, inside a Goretex bivouac sack ('bivvy bag')which actually zips up over your head like a body bag. Beneath, I use a thin foam mat. Turning over regularly is essential, as the hip bones cry out from the hard ground, but it requires near full waking to roll the sleeping bag inside the bivvy bag. (This is similar to the operation we undertake at home when Karen needs to roll herself and the bump over.) Each time I completed this manoeuvre, I would unzip the head flap and look out at the stars making their way across the sky. This celestial clock watching is my abiding memory of many nights out under the stars.

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