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The Herald July 21, 1989
Utah a 'people place'
I rolled into Vernal, Utah, at lunch on the 33rd day of my bike ride from Rock Hill. The weather was deteriorating, and 175 miles of mountainous pavement still waited between Vernal and Salt Lake City, my target.
Vacation time was running out, and I was doubtful that I could make it to Salt Lake in time to catch my flight home. Vernal was my last chance to catch a bus and meet my flight in a safe and timely manner.
All this was running through my mind when I leaned my bike against the window at the Kentucky Fried Chicken. As I took off my helmet, I was startled to see a man plastered to the window, giving my bike a close inspection from inside the restaurant. He wasn't the least bit bashful.
Meet Al Beck, an instantly likeable guy who would rather ride his bike than drive. Over lunch, Al asked about my trip and equipment. He described the hills and desolation that lies between Vernal and Salt Lake. I gazed out the window at the thunderstorms brewing in the mountains and made up my mind. Vernal was the end of the road. Here I could rest my body knowing I had safely pedaled 2,200 miles across America.
Al recommended one of the local motels, and I agreed to meet him later at the Gateway Saloon, a nearby restaurant /watering hole.
The Gateway was a laid-back establishment where, just like on "Cheers," everybody knows your name. In one corner is an electronic dart machine that keeps score and indicates whose turn it is. I had never thrown darts before, so it took Al a few minutes to verse me on the object of the game. I then watched in disbelief as Al made one impossible shot after another. Finally he pointed to a 3-foot trophy he and a partner had won in a tournament. I was glad I hadn't suggested that we play for money.
The next afternoon Al and I went for a bike ride along with Rex Voight, one of the Gateway's employees. Rex was riding his home-built recumbent bicycle, with 38 speeds transferred through 8 feet of chain.
On a recumbent bike, you sit about a foot off the ground and the pedals are way out in front of you. Your back is against a rest so it feels like you are sitting in a lawn chair.
I also chanced to meet Ray Maestas, a vocational rehabilitation officer for the state of Utah. Ray is an outgoing guy, and he invited me to visit with him in his office behind the police station. There, we joked that I had ridden my bicycle 2,200 miles to get rehabilitated. We swapped stories about our towns and current events, and Ray used his lunch hour to haul me and my bicycle across town to get my bike shipped home.
And Rex even visited me at the motel while I waited for my bus, and told tales about his many jobs, including some hair-raising stories of his days with an oil-drilling crew.
It seemed strange that I had crossed most of a continent only to find a town where I felt like I belonged.
I really hated to leave such a comfortable "people place."
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