Bikepacking Through Geology: Part Two

Click here for Part One of this story...

After completing our two-day ride in the Flagstaff area, we headed north to the mountain biking mecca of Moab. Cook groups prepared impressive meals for the whole crew when on the road, delighting us with dishes like curry, Dutch-oven pizza, and delicious deserts. In Moab, students got their bikes ready for the next ride, caught up on homework and research for presentations, and continuously debated what gear to bring along (or rather leave behind) for 2.5 hot days of hammering jeep roads on Canyonlands’ White Rim. But even high temperatures and a stiflingly strong sun didn’t slow the students down on the ride. On the first day, we covered 45 miles; the farthest most of them had ever ridden in a day. On the third morning, I watched in amazement as we climbed the steep switchbacks up Mineral Bottom Road, catching and passing another large group of riders who were pedaling unloaded bikes. The students were getting stronger with each day!

After a couple rainy days in Moab filled with more bike repairs, more homework, more food buying, and more delicious cooking, we drove south to the Kaibab Plateau. The foul weather continued, and we were treated to steady rain and endless mud on our first day. The students’ goal was to make it to the rim of the Grand Canyon to camp that night, some 45 miles through challenging terrain from where we began. The day was a cold, wet struggle. Drivetrains objected. Hattie’s left crankarm decided it no longer wanted to be attached to her bike. Bodies protested. Nicole managed to eat all her snack food as her metabolism skyrocketed. But by early evening, the clouds parted, the sun shone down strongly, we navigated a series of flooded meadows, and then found outselves gazing down into a canyon filled with an eerie mist. Over the following two days, we explored the geology of the canyon, the formation of the Colorado Plateau uplifts, and rode some more unbelievable Arizona Trail singletrack.

The final ride for the course was a challenging 135-mile route through the high plateaus of central Utah with geology that tests the students’ ability to interpret what we rode through and tie many other parts of the history of the region together. The students would also take turns on this route being in charge of the group, leading, navigating, and making all the decisions along the way. Sticky mud forced some on-the-fly route changes on the first day. The difficult late-afternoon hike-a-bike to reach the high point of the route barely phased anyone, and we were rewarded by a spectacular sunset above the distant ranges of the Great Basin. After the sunset, the two student leaders debriefed the day, passed the maps on to the next day’s leaders, and Kaitlyn and I helped them plan a strategy for the toughest part of the route. That strategy delivered us to camp the following day.

The last two days of riding were mellower but through some of the most incredible scenery in the area. We meandered through orange and pink towers, climbed through deep sandstone canyons, and stared out across the plateau we had just traversed over the prior two days. The students stood at a blustery overlook and marveled at how much ground we had covered and realized they were falling in love with bikepacking. They expounded on how they had never before become so immersed in and attached to such huge landscapes. They had never realized how little gear one needs to carry to be entirely self-sufficient in the backcountry. And they laughed about all the mistakes they had made over the past few weeks. We pedaled on, made camp, talked geology, and enjoyed another starry night on the Plateau. The following day, I watched the group from behind for most of the day, laughing as riders showed off their newfound bunny-hopping skills over ruts and forced me to push harder than I wanted on steep climbs. I marveled at what everyone had accomplished, and now I look forward to hearing about the future bikepacking adventures on which the students embark.

Before long, we found ourselves back in Prescott. The students reluctantly returned their bikepacking bags, lights, and other borrowed gear. I now have all this stored away for next time I teach the course. I’m already missing the students and all we experienced together.

I must thank everyone who made this course so successful in its first offering: Salsa Cycles, Revelate Designs, Fenix Lighting, Ed at Southwest Sounds and Cyclery in Prescott, Martin in the Prescott College Gear Warehouse, Rachel in Prescott College Field Operations for getting everything permitted, all my colleagues here that were so supportive of this idea, Kaitlyn for helping make this course so much better than even I had envisioned, and our students for being an unbelievable group. Thanks to all of you!


This post filed under topics: Bikepacking El Mariachi Explore Kurt Refsnider Mountain Biking Sponsored Riders Touring

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Kurt Refsnider

Kurt Refsnider

After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. [url=][/url]


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Bagus Gowes | November 26th, 2013

Nice bike. Nice story! :D

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brianW | November 27th, 2013

As a high school physics teacher, I would love to take a mt bike/geology class like this.  Any plans on doing something like this geared to teachers?

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Dan | November 27th, 2013

Wow, I wish my geology class was like this when I was in college. What a memorable experience!

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Jerry | December 10th, 2013

What are they all using for handlebar bags? I dig it.

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