With a phone call my weekend plans were finalized…a two-day, self-supported, solo mountain bike ride of Utah’s famed White Rim Trail. It was going to be a great weekend of bikepacking!
As stated in past blogs, I believe I have one of the best jobs in the world (the director of a collegiate outdoor program), but during September and October it is rare to have a free weekend where I am not adventuring somewhere with a group of 8 to 12 college students. Each year I add to the list of fall adventures I am going to embark upon once I retire. The rare opportunity I had last weekend to realize one of these adventures was a surprise in itself and one that I was not going to squander. When I found out I had the weekend off, I began scheming as to what I would do with the weekend…head to Indian Creek for some climbing…stay around Durango and organize the ever-cluttered garage…travel to Gallup, New Mexico to check out the area’s mountain bike trails (which I continue to hear good things about)… take one last trip to the high peaks before the winter snows close off the trails until next spring…or…aahhh…I’ve got it…THE WHITE RIM. Another one of Nicky Crowther’s Classic Mountain Bike Rides of the World.
The White Rim Trail is a 103-mile loop in Canyonlands National Park which follows on old road that the Atomic Energy Commission completed to aid in the exploration of uranium mining. Today it is a Mecca for mountain bikers and jeepers looking to explore an amazing landscape of canyons, desert washes, and towering buttes. It is possible to ride the trail in a day, but most bikers take three to four days to complete the circuit, camping at designated sites spread along the route. In order to do a multi-day adventure on the trail, one must have reserved a backcountry permit which allows individuals to camp along the route. Scoring these backcountry permits can be difficult as they can be reserved months in advance, with the spring and fall seasons being the busiest. My “on a whim” Friday afternoon phone call to the Canyonlands Backcountry Permit Office yielded a glimmer of hope, as Ranger Jim stated there were some unclaimed permits for Sunday evening. With that said, I made preparations to be out of the office on Monday and began planning for my two-day journey around the White Rim. Wahoo!
Having ridden the Great Divide Route this summer with Salsa Design Engineer, Sean Mailen, I had all of the gear necessary to easily make this trip a reality. I loaded up my Fargo Ti with all of the usual bikepacking fare (frame bag, seat bag, handlebar gear sling, sleeping bag, bike repair items, sleeping pad, extra layers, etc). Of concern was my ability to carry enough water for the two days I planned on being on the trail, as there is very little water along its length. Fortunately, the Fargo fork is equipped with water bottle mounts which would help in my need to carry over two gallons of water.
Fargo Ti ready to roll…
Most White Rim riders undertake the trail with a support crew cruising along behind them in a four-wheel drive vehicle, carrying all of their equipment and more. As I would soon learn, a ride around the rim is an annual pilgrimage for many groups. During my journey on the rim I encountered two groups who have being doing White Rim trips for 20 years or more. Both of these groups were well outfitted with full river trip-style kitchens (multiple stoves, tables, lanterns, etc) and all of the amenities to camp in style (including solar showers and camping chairs). Needless to say, they were surprised to see a solo rider carrying all of his belongings on his bike, with no solar showers or kitchen tables in tow.
My drive over to Canyonlands on Saturday night set me up perfectly to be at the “Island in the Sky” Ranger Station at 8AM on Sunday morning. While waiting for the station to open I watched the new day dawn over the La Sal mountain range and spread its light across the canyon country. Once in the ranger station the mountain bike gods were shining upon me as I was able to secure a backcountry permit for the Hogback Murphy camp, about the halfway point around the circuit and one of its premier camps. Wahoo! Just a little over 50 miles to ride each day!
One can ride the White Rim in any direction, though it is suggested that it is easier to ride the trail in a clockwise direction. Departing from the Mineral Bottom road parking area I began my circumnavigation of the rim with eight miles of pavement before dropping quickly down the Shafer Trail.
The Shafer Trail…
After a 1400 foot descent, I found myself on the White Rim proper with stunning views of the Colorado River and magnificent sandstone arches. It was just me and my machine of choice…the bicycle.
The Colorado River carving an ever deeper canyon…
Musselman Arch…a scary walk across for those who dare…
As I pedaled along through the harsh and beautiful landscape, my mind began to relax from the constant distractions that daily life provides. As with everyone, my life is constantly filled with busyness. From work deadlines and personal engagements to car troubles and unexpected hassles finding time for yourself can be a challenge in our ever-demanding lives. As I rode along the relatively easy dirt track, I began to rejoice in this rare opportunity not just to have a fall weekend off, but to have it in the solitude I was experiencing. The stress of long work weeks and a busy personal life was ebbing way with each pedal stroke along the track. Life was simple once again…ride, eat, ride, eat some more, sleep, and ride.
My route along the rim took me past Washer Woman Arch, Monster Tower, and Monument Basin. The views were stunning in every direction, with each outlook more breathtaking than the next. What a beautiful world we live in indeed.
After the longest and steepest climb of the day I came to my evening’s camp. The Murphy camp is perched high above what is known as the “Hogback”, a plateau affording expansive views of Soda Springs Basin and Candlestick Tower, as well as a stunning place to take in a desert sunset. Given the amazing fall weather we were experiencing, I travelled light without a bivy sack or a shelter. My roof would be the night sky with its brightly illuminating, nearly full moon.
The capstone of an amazing day of bike riding…
My morning began with the call from an ever-present desert friend: the raven. These crafty and opportunistic birds are masters at thriving in the desert environment. Unattended packs and coolers have been pillaged by these scavengers. I guess my slow morning of lounging in the sleeping bag was a temptation to my raven friend to check out what my frame bag had in store for him.
The first pedal strokes of the day took me toward Candlestick Tower and the Green River as I made my way north towards yesterday’s starting point and today’s ending point. The terrain continued to undulate high above numerous canyons, alternating between slickrock, technical dirt tracks, and deep sandy sections. One thing is for certain: there was no shortage of panoramic views.
Another day in the saddle…expansive views of Candlestick Tower…
The Green River slicing through canyon country...
On the final climb of the trip I took time to relish in the weekend of solitude that I was lucky enough to experience. The deep, heart-stopping canyons, and soaring towers and buttes all penetrated through the distractions of everyday life. For a brief moment life was simple and without complication. Though these moments may come few and far between, they play an important part in my life. They quiet my mind…they act to give me perspective…they reenergize my passion for living the best life possible…they rejuvenate my soul.
As I took my final pedal strokes on the White Rim and arrived at my truck which was waiting to take me back to my hectic fall, I thanked the mountain biking gods for the amazing two days of riding, and for yet another opportunity to experience our natural world from two wheels.
Share this post: Tweet
I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.