Utah, 1974-76

Great Salt Lake Desert from the Deer Creek MountainsI remember distant mountains
where we arrived at the end,
wild roses nurtured by a stream tumbling
to an ancient seabed that glittered below us.
Utah landscape desolate as our spirits,
the arid summer sky
streaked like tearstains on my dusty face.

Your heart was filled with tacit hostility,
mine with uncomprehending hurt.
One couldn't ask for the truth
and the other couldn't tell it.
We said goodbye there in guarded pretense
and the hopeful stream sank into the desert.

In the early spring of 1974, with our belongings on the road west in a moving van, Rob and I handed over our one-way tickets and boarded a United flight to Salt Lake City. Our bicycles and some clothing accompanied us as checked baggage.

 

OgdenThe trip was providential. We had The Original Plan. We would live for the summer in a tent on property my parents owned. By winter, we would have built a geodesic dome under which we could live snugly and raise at least part of our food. We had our bicycles, a tent, and a Coleman lantern. Anything else we needed we would buy out of our pockets, well-lined with savings from our sumptuous east-coast wages. While The Plan fell into place, we would live in Ogden at Rob's parents' house, high up on the respectable east bench.

Our first challenge was the altitude. It doesn't take a body long to acclimate to sea level, where we had spent a couple of years and grown accustomed to the oxygen squeezed into its ample air pressure. The first morning after we arrived in Ogden, we took a walk up 28th Street. Within 40' from the house, I was shortwinded. We laughed about it, figuring I would adjust, and continued the walk. By the time we returned to the house, my legs were shaky. I was a bicyclist with strong lungs and legs, so these symptoms came as a surprise.

The next challenge came a few days later in the form of a respiratory infection. We chalked up my sore throat and shortness-of-breath to altitude sickness, since we didn't really know what altitude sickness is. The malady turned into bronchitis and I kept the household awake all night coughing. Rob's mom insisted that I seek medical attention, which garnered me some cough syrup. That helped the cough. My shortness of breath improved, but didn't quite go away. Time would fix the problem, we figured. Time did not fix the problem. For the duration of my time in Utah, I remained slightly out-of-breath.