It's hard to explain the serenity of pedaling along mile after mile through the spectacular desert vistas of southern Utah. For a month or more I had been feeling the need to get away for a long ride down south to, in a way, end the season. I considered a few road rides, but when the opportunity came up to mountain bike the White Rim In One Day (WRIAD), I knew that's what I wanted to do.
On the drive down Friday afternoon I popped in a Bob Seger CD and the first song hit me with an emotional punch. I know the song is about a motorcycle ride, but at that moment it was a cycling anthem. Take a listen to "Roll Me Away" and see if it also expresses some of what you feel when you ride. A good way to start an adventure. Here are some selected lyrics:
We rolled across the high plains
Deep into the mountains
Felt so good to me
Finally feelin' free
Stood alone on a mountain top,
Starin' out at the great divide
I could go east, I could go west,
It was all up to me to decide
Just then I saw a young hawk flyin'
And my soul began to rise
And pretty soon
My heart was singin'
Roll, roll me away,
I'm gonna roll me away tonight
Gotta keep rollin', gotta keep ridin',
Keep searchin' till I find what's right
And as the sunset faded
I spoke to the faintest first starlight
And I said next time
We'll get it right
I arrived at sunset and stashed 2 gallons of water at the fee station then drove down to Mineral Bottom. The dirt road out to the rim was really good, and even driving down from the rim was good, just steep with several sharp switchbacks. I did wonder if my little Pontiac Vibe would make it back up.
Down in Mineral Bottom I saw one car parked just off the road with two people in the back. I asked if they were part of the MTBR White Rim group - they were and we made introductions. I pitched my tent, checked the bike, stocked my CamelBak then went over to visit. I ate a sandwich as I talked with Brian and Carol Ann about bikes, work, this and that and the ride tomorrow. Eventually another car rolled in - it was Geoff from Alaska. Yes, he had flown from Juno to Vegas, rented a car, stopped in St. George to borrow a bike from Dave Harris, and now here he was. We chatted a bit as he got settled and put the last few pieces on the bike. Later (around 11 pm) Chris and Dan rolled in.
I tried to sleep, but my mind kept racing so I got the 2007 Specialized catalog out of the car (I picked it up at a bike shop months ago) and read through some of the bike descriptions - reading calms my mind. I was warm in my new Marmot down sleeping bag - maybe too warm as I woke up at 3:20 am in a sweat. I relaxed until 4:20 then got up and started getting ready.
It was warmer (46 F) than I thought it would be so I went with wind breaker, jersey, arm warmers, regular biking full-finger gloves, Perl Izumi shorts, pants, and cotton socks. Everyone was up getting ready. I had some muffins for breakfast and was ready to roll so I headed out. I opted for the Petzl Tikka XP over the heavier but brighter Light & Motion Solo Logic - with the nearly full moon and slow speed (it was almost all uphill), the Tikka provided enough light.
Arriving at the rim there were some cars parked there and some people milling about. I asked around for more members of our group and found Jefe and Todd. I informed them the others were on their way up. After some introductions we were on our way.
I knew many of these guys were stronger (and all were younger) than me, but the talk on the forum was that this would be a mellow ride. Still, I know that when riders get together it's hard to not go fast. But I've done enough road centuries to know that for distance I need to watch my pace so I don't run out of gas, so I started out with a moderate pace. I mostly rode with Todd to the fee station. We could see the lights of the other guys out in front. Carol Ann doesn't like to push hard when she's cold so she was back with us. The dark of early morning made that road more interesting. My feet got a bit cold, but otherwise I felt good. It rolled on and on, but soon enough we reached the paved road and after a few more rollers we arrived at the fee station. The sky was getting light and we topped off with water and paid the park entrance fee ($5 for bikes).
A short distance after the fee station was the turn off for the Shaffer trail and the end of pavement. The sun was rising as we headed down into the abyss. The road dropped quickly at first, then leveled as it followed a shelf - it was here my chain came apart. Nothing dire - the vibration jostled the quick-link apart. I had a couple spare quick-links so it only took a few minutes to install the chain and link it together again. By this time the group was long gone and I descended the steep, loose and rocky switchbacks alone. Not a worry, but I didn't want to keep the group waiting nor did I want to go too fast and crash. It's a pretty wild route - so exposed. I rejoined the group as they had stopped to make sure I got down OK (thanks guys!), then we were off again.
After Shaffer is where you start to settle into a rhythm. It's mostly flat, but there are rollers and small climbs here and there. The road changes with just about the right frequency from hard-packed dirt, sand, rocks and rough slickrock. More than half the group had hard tails, but it's rough enough I was sure glad I had a full suspension bike. Soon enough we arrived at the first landmark - Mussleman Arch.
With the sun up it was warmer so I took off my jacket and pants. More rolling along enjoying the feeling of movement and the ever-changing austere scenery. We passed Lathrop Canyon and Washer Woman Arch/Tower (where a few guys looked to be getting ready to climb it).
I don't remember many distinct details along this section. Sometimes I'd chat for a while with another rider, but mostly I rode alone and enjoyed the solitude, watching the scenery roll by and the pleasure of cycling. Bicycles are the fastest human-powered locomotion and as such share some of the purity of running but multiplies the speed - a combination that I find intoxicating.
White Rim Panorama
I had read about the Vertigo Void on Fatty's blog so I was looking for it as I rode. I came to a place where the road approaches the rim at a 45 degree angle then goes right along the edge for 10-20 yards then wanders away and I suspected this was the Void. I got off my bike, laid down on my belly and wormed forward to stick my head over the edge. Sure enough I could look straight down 80-100 feet and discovered that ledge I was on cut back underneath me to create a 30 foot or more overhang. It was indeed vertigo inducing and made you feel like you were hanging in mid-air. Very freaky and a good thrill.
Somewhere along the way we regrouped and ate some snacks. Here I noticed I had lost my derailer hanger screw. Fortunately Chris had a spare and gave it to me (Jefe also had one - sure nice to ride with guys who carry spare parts!). Moving on we reached another landmark: Monument Basin.
Monument Basin Panorama
Continuing on we had a few sandy spots but it was generally good riding. Then I decided to crash. The thought came to me that I should take the corners faster so I did and went down on the first one. Two conditions conspired against me: my front tire was running pretty high air pressure to decrease rolling resistance so it doesn't grip the ground as well, and the berm I was counting on turned out to be just a pile of loose dirt. My front tire washed out and down I went. It wasn't a bad crash - I scraped up my knee a bit - but the worse part was the cramps that hit my left thigh and right calf. I tried to quickly stretch them out, but the damage was done and the muscles hurt and I could feel the dull pain for the rest of the ride. Brian and Carol Ann came around the bend just as I was getting up - the shame to go down with no obvious reason in sight. Oh well, there would be more shame to come, which brings me to Murphy Hogback.
I had read several descriptions of the White Rim and knew Murphy Hogback was a steep, tough climb, but I still underestimated it. By now I had pedaled 60 miles and I made a strategic decision to not chew up a lot of energy on the Hogback (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). I made the lower stuff, but I couldn't make the steep stop. Rode some more, but pooped out before the top. Pride compelled me to ride the last section to the top - a hollow victory, but better than nothing. The road drops down off really steep at first, then just steep. This side seemed worse than the other side - maybe it was just an illusion, but it made me thankful for the direction we were going.
More rolling along. We ran into a few other cyclists and vehicles here and there, but mostly it felt like we had the place to ourself. The sky had stayed overcast which meant we stayed cooler, but the light was flatter (I won't complain).
Past Candlestick we encountered a few more spots of sand, but it wasn't too bad. A few steep climbs, but mostly cruising. After Potato Bottom we got a good look at the Green River.
The came Hardscrabble - the last big climb. It started off OK and with only 10 miles left I felt I could give it a better effort than Murphy Hogback because I felt I could get back to camp on fumes if I had to. My determination pushed me up the bottom half even though it hurt and I was panting like a big dog. Then a short rest as it flattened out. I got a little excited thinking that was it. But no, the steepest section was next - right after this hairpin turn.
I gave it a try, but the top was too loose and I didn't have enough power. I started riding again but around a corner came a pitch that just totally demoralized me. I made a mock attempt to get up it a little ways then just walked the bike up. The White Rim had humbled me for the second time.
The road went along up high above the river for a ways then dropped down steeply with lots of deep dust. My rear brake started making a horrible grinding noise. I pumped the brakes but it didn't go away. Turns out all the descending had heated up and expanded the brake fluid to causing the pistons to extend and drag the brake pads on the rotor. When the slope mellowed I used only the front brake and the rear cooled and went back to normal operation.
Now there were just 10 more miles and the White Rim was done, but it wasn't that easy. I hadn't exhausted myself on Hardscrabble, but I'd used a big chunk of the energy I had remaining. The next 5 miles OK, but at a slower pace. I ate some Shot Bloks and they tasted soo good. The last 5 miles I was in robot mode - just trudging along. This was also the section with the most sand - not horrible, usually short stretches but more than the rest of the White Rim. I finished off my water with a few miles left (I still had a full bottle of sports drink). It seemed like a long 5 miles, but eventually I recognized the spot we had camped and saw the rest of the group up ahead. I was the last person to roll in. Back at my car I went straight for what had crossed my mind many times during the last 10 miles - an icy cold chocolate milk. I chugged it down - oh, it tasted so good. Then I ate some more fig newtons, a banana and washed it down with some cold sports drink and water.
Some of the group was heading into Moab to eat. It sounded good, but it was 4:00 and I wanted to use the daylight to get home, if I could. I got packed up, said good-bye to my fellow White Rim riders and headed for home. I was a bit concerned about going back up the steep dirt road I had come down in the dark, but it was mostly hard-packed dirt and I made it up without incident.
I did OK driving for a while, but I could feel the fatigue and drowsiness setting in. I stopped at Green River to get gas, wash my face and buy a big energy drink that kept me awake and alert all the way home.
My cycling computer recorded: 10.7 mph average, 99.6 miles, 9 hours 15 minutes riding time.
The White Rim In One Day was a fulfilling experience and great ride. No question I'd do it again.
White Rim photo album (some photos courtesy of Chris Plesko)
(Read more about the White Rim trail or watch a White Rim video.)